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Stop Begging and Start Giving: Why Perks Work to Build Your Email List

A photo of a hand breaking into a blue background to hand out a red gift box

Want to build your email list? Here’s how it used to be done, and how to do it today.

Years ago, sitting on the cashier’s counter of any local business, you’d find a clipboard with “Join Our Mailing List” scrawled across the top.

You filled in your name, mailing address and phone number in exchange for finding out about their special customer-only sales, or priority notification when high-demand merchandise arrived.

Those days are gone. Now, everyone wants to build an email list, not a snail mail one.

It makes sense: email is more cost effective, faster and easier to create than printed postcard or letters. But what kind of business should have an email list?

Why build your email list in the first place?

Almost every business can benefit from building an email list. At a minimum, it’s a good idea to have one list for current customers, and another for prospects. This allows you to send slightly different email marketing messages to each group.

Why is an email list powerful? Email is an efficient way to:

  • Establish your authority by sharing information about the service or product you offer
  • Create a communication link to your audience: a simple click to reply is all your prospect needs to do to send a question
  • Track interest by checking which kind of email messages get opened most frequently
  • Keep your business “top of mind,” so when your prospects are ready to buy, they think of your business first

Related: How to Build an Email List: The Fast and Slow Methods

Related: Email Marketing Best Practices: How to Connect, Deliver, and Profit in the Inbox

How NOT to ask for an email address

Have you ever met someone who’s worried they don’t receive enough email in their inbox? Me neither. Most of us are dealing with too many messages to sort through and act on.

Because of this, most people are reluctant to add their name to an email list unless they’re convinced the benefit will outweigh the bother of having to process more messages.

That’s why I cringe when I land on a website that says “Sign Up For My Email List” — and offers nothing in return. If you want to build a list, you’ve got to give people a compelling reason to hand over their email address.

Read on for how to do it right.

How to build your email list the right way

The most effective way to get an email address is to offer something in exchange for sharing it.

People won’t sign up for the sake of signing up: they’ll sign up to get something.

Your perk should be free, instantly accessible, and valuable.

Here are some perks you can offer in exchange for an email address:

  • An e-course delivered over several weeks via email autoresponder (timed, automated emails you set up once and let run as long as you’d like)
  • An offer to find out first about new merchandise or get a discount on upcoming offerings
  • An exclusive audio or video recording

My favorite perk of all? A short ebook.

There are so many solutions you can deliver in an ebook!

  • Answer a pressing question your prospects have
  • Create a buyer’s guide for your product or service
  • Write a resource guide, white paper or special report about what your business offers
  • Create a helpful quiz that guides your prospects through the decision-making process they need to go through in order to make a purchase
  • Build a content upgrade that expands the information in one of your most-popular pieces of content

But remember, people are busy — a 75-page ebook isn’t the way to go here! Focus on giving your reader a quick win. They’ll love you for it.

Related: 9 List-Building Gifts You Can Make This Month

Related: Profit from Your Online Brand [Free Roadmap]

Related: How to Profit from Your Email List with Content Upgrades

Stop begging, start giving to build your email list

Investing some time and effort into creating a “perk” for your prospective subscribers is a great use of your marketing efforts, even if it doesn’t come naturally to you.

I know that putting this together may feel daunting. Need some inspiration? Read my article, That Exhilarating (and Terrifying) Feeling of Learning a New Skill.

Your brand-new perk with give site visitors a powerful reason to hand over a precious commodity — an invitation into their already crowded inbox.

If you’re building your email list and a high-value online offer, you can get personalized, in-depth help. Take the next step and apply for the Offer Accelerator.

Pamela Wilson

Pamela Wilson is the Chief Marketing Officer at DCS. She’s the creator of the Offer Accelerator Program. Learn more about Pamela’s content marketing books, and read reviews of the tools used to run this site.
Pamela Wilson coaches people in midlife to build profitable online businesses
I’m Pamela Wilson

In 2010, at the age of 45, I started this site and grew it into a business that offers freedom, flexibility — and consistent revenue.

13 thoughts on “Stop Begging and Start Giving: Why Perks Work to Build Your Email List”

  1. I have heard this over and over again. To offer something – and I have had some great ideas, but the fact is I feel like I am giving so much away already. I am publishing my e-book, ‘Marketing for Daydreamers’ live in segments on my blog, the first segment went up today and I also publish my poetry every Friday. Something that most poets probably see as blasphemy. Most of them sell their books but don’t give their poetry away. I think rather that poetry opens doors. I think in my case I would be better off to think of a way to say, ‘I’m giving it all away!’ as my opt in message or something like ‘Watch crazy Nicole write her e-book and learn about online publishing live in front of the world.’ My blog is a fun space for me and it is very experimental, which is the way I see life. I am currently doing dreamwork coaching and workshops offline and I am working on implementing this into my blog. This part of it – I don’t give away. It is a paid service and a membership. Anyway, just my thoughts. I think I just need to work on my message.

    • Thanks for this comment, Nicole. It sounds like you’re doing a lot right already!

      It seems that people value information more if you package it up and present it in an ebook. Maybe you plan to do that with your posts?

      You could also create an ebook with your poetry! As long as it supports your overall business model and helps establish you as trustworthy, it might be a wonderful perk to offer.

  2. Hi Pamela,

    I do have an ebook as a giveaway on my blog, and it seems to have helped with subscriptions. I know realize the title isn’t the best, so I’m going to change that which hopefully will make it more of an incentive. An audio or video version is a good idea. I will consider that as an addition. I usually read blogs, but I know many others like video and/or audio as a way to get information.

    • The data I’ve seen shows a pretty even split between those who prefer to read, those who enjoy video and those who like audio. So if you can give people options, you’re bound to attract more of them.

  3. In the first two weeks since I launched my brand on New Year’s, and offered Ryze’s Free Sexy Success E-Course, I had 10% conversion on my sign-ups, which is absolutely thrilling. I’d like to increase it and I think Big Brand + Social Triggers has some gold tips for me 😀

    Thanks Pamela!

  4. I may be viewed as “the odd man out here”, as the saying goes, Pamela.

    This past week, I removed my freebie offer from my blog.

    The short and sweet of it is that using freebies to build an email list can be both good and bad. I’m one of those folks whose had a bad experience, unfortunately, and I know I’m not alone.

    Not to put a damper on your wonderful post and I’ve already told you your Weekend Digest is something I ALWAYS look forward to. However, back to the subject at hand …

    The “risk” in offering something great (for free) in exchange for an email address is the chance you’ll have all the freebie chasers coming out of the woodwork to grab it.

    And, trust me, they will! They’re out there in droves. We’ll never experience a shortage of people who want (and expect) something for nothing. Ugh.

    Sad to say, but you can find yourself trying to nurture a group of non-responsive, NON-BUYING, non-engaging subscribers. In other words, all the WRONG EYES on your expertise, valuable content, and promotional offers.

    And sometimes what the “hardcore” freebie seekers do is opt in, grab your amazing freebie, and then immediately opt OUT. 🙁

    The good news about using freebies to build an email list is that if you’re lucky enough to get the RIGHT EYES on your freebie, you’ll be fine. These folks will actually open your emails, read them, interact with you, and respond to your calls to action.

    In essence, as a small biz owner or online marketer, if you’re growing a list of potential customers or clients (buyers) — people that actually want to spend money with you, you’ll be in great shape to succeed. On the other hand, if you’re growing a list of freebie chasers, you’re toast!!

    Just thought I’d offer a room with an alternate view. 🙂

    • That’s really interesting, Melanie. You’re right: we see this issue differently. I wonder, how do you plan to develop your leads now?

      When I think about this issue, I end up looking at my offline business and how I ran it in the pre-Internet days. There was a certain percentage of people I interacted with who never turned into clients. I’d meet them at events, or someone would recommend me to them. We might have a conversation or two, and I might go as far as sending them an estimate … but they never turned into clients. I consider this kind of prospecting an essential part of doing business. It’s frustrating at times, but it has to happen.

      Offering “perks,” on the other hand, costs me next to nothing. I create the item once, and don’t ever have to pay for it in time or effort again. The only cost is the rising cost of my email marketing provider, because my list is growing.

      I know that a certain percentage of people sign up to get my giveaway item, and then drop off immediately: I see them come and go! I also know that a good percentage of the people on my list will never, ever buy a thing from me.

      But even though they don’t buy from me, they may recommend me to someone who does. They might tweet my information or share it on Facebook, and someone they’re connected to could turn into a lifelong customer. You never know how your content spreads, so I try to get it out there as much as possible.

      And I must confess: I’ve been that freebie seeker myself! I’ve downloaded information from people knowing that I’ll never be their customer. But I’ve also turned around and recommended them to others once I’ve seen the quality of their work.

      So for me, it’s worth it. Come one, come all: the more the merrier!

  5. Hey Pamela — you mentioned ” … the rising cost of my email marketing provider, because my list is growing”

    That’s another important issue for everyone to think about. It’s a good idea to “purge” subscribers from your list once in a while. You know, the people who haven’t opened an email from you, let’s say, in the last six months. It’s good business practice to remove them in an effort to keep your costs down.

    Don’t get me wrong about building a list of email subscribers — I’m totally 100% in favor of doing that!

    And I love the way you view your list and what those who may never buy from you can do to support you (social media sharing, lead you in the direction of a potential customer, etc.)

    I’m simply at a crossroads point with the use of freebie offers as an opt in strategy. I’ve been using this strategy for 3+ years now and it hasn’t worked. The main problem is that I have been growing a list of freebie chasers — 98% of whom NEVER open my emails.

    The monthly fee I’ve been paying for my contact management system is dollars I may as well flush down the toilet. Not to sound extreme, but every penny counts on a single mom’s budget.

    Time to try a new approach to list building!

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