Building an email list is nothing new - it's a tactic that savvy internet marketers have been using for well over a decade.  But for a lot of bloggers, email marketing is a struggle. So we're starting our Building Your List series to help food bloggers start, grow and leverage the power of their email lists!

Today's article is on how to get started with building your list.

How to Get Started Building Your Email List | Food Bloggers of Canada


If you've been following along in our Building Your List series then you know that in the first week when we outlined why bloggers need to have an email newsletter list, we gave you some homework to do. If you missed that post we'll recap (but we do think you should check that first post out - we think it's a helpful starting point!).

Before You Get Started With Building Your Email List

Before you can get started you need to try to answer six basic questions to the best of your ability:  5 Ws and How:

  • WHO is your community?
  • WHY do they like you?
  • WHERE do they hang out? And WHERE do you want them to hang out with you?
  • WHAT do they need?
  • WHEN is the best time to talk to them?
  • HOW can you make their lives better?

Answer as best you can even if you're not 100% sure.

If you're brand new to blogging and you simply don't know who your community is or why they like you or the answers to any of the other questions that's ok. Instead answer with how you hope they would react:  Who you do want your community to be? Why do you want them to like you? Where do you think they hang out, etc.

You need to have at least some idea of who you're going to be speaking to and how to best serve them.  Newsletters aren't like social media where the tendency is to spit out content and hope that as many people as possible see it.

When somebody gives you access to their email inbox it's a privilege they're granting you and an act of trust on their part. They won't hesitate to toss you out if you're not providing them with something of value or if you break that trust (think about your own inbox!).

In other words, to be blunt, you can't shout at them. You can't shove your content down their throats and you can't harass them constantly to buy things.  You need to behave like a guest in their home - considerate, thoughtful, a good conversationalist, a good listener and hopefully somebody who's entertaining and always brings something interesting to the party.

You want to be that guest everyone wants to invite back.  Not the crashing bore who only talks about themselves or tries to sell their multi-level marketing products at every opportunity!

The Who

You need to have an idea of who you're talking to before you can start. If you're talking to vegans, you don't want to talk about grilling ribs.  If you're talking to BBQers you probably don't want to talk about InstantPots.

Create a quick outline of who your audience is. You should already have a pretty good idea of who this is because in theory, this is who you're writing your blog or filming your videos for.

It might look like this:

  • busy, young families with children under 12
  • both parents work
  • children have a lot of activities and may be picky eaters
  • they're urban and suburban
  • they're strapped for time and don't have a lot of patience
  • they may not have big kitchens

Now you have an "avatar" and a place to start!  Your newsletter content should reflect this.

The What, Where, Why and When

You need to try and fill in these blanks as well.  Using our example from above... (and by the way... this is a great exercise to do not only for your newsletter but for your entire on-line platform: blog, video content, social media, etc)

Why Do They Like You? Hopefully it's because they relate to you in some way - you have kids, you're a busy parent with picky eaters etc - you live the life that they do. Or, you've been there and found a way to manage it and you're sharing that with them.

Where do They Hang Out? Are they on social media? Which platform? Do they look for help and advice in Facebook groups? Are you in those groups? What are they talking about there? Are they on Instagram or are they too busy to scroll much? Do they love Pinterest for gathering ideas about what to cook? Think about how you can hang out with them OR create a place where they can hang out with you!

What Do they Need? Meal plans? Meal prep tips? Shopping tips? Pantry storage tips? Sneaky ways to get veggies into meals? School lunches? Quick 5 ingredient meals? Somebody who makes their life easier? Think about how you can give them what they need in your newsletter (and in your blog/vlog content).

When Is the Best Time to Talk to Them?  When do you think they have a moment to themselves to sit down and read an email? Is it Monday at 5pm? Probably not for this audience.  Sunday morning at 8am? Maybe! Or 9pm on a Tuesday night after the kids are in bed and they've got some breathing space? Quite possibly!  Timing is everything with emails so you need a good idea of when your audience has a little bit of free time (it could even be while they're at work procrastinating - we've all done that!)

So now you should have a pretty good idea of what you'll need to do next...

How to Get Started Building Your Email List | Food Bloggers of Canada

How Can You Serve Your Audience In A Newsletter?

Serving is a word that doesn't get used often in the food blogging space but it's so important when you're building a community and when you're building an email list.

As we already mentioned, newsletters are not like social media where more is more.

There's a very different tolerance level with newsletters and you can't bombard, overwhelm or come across like a pushy salesperson. It won't work.

Newsletters have to be just as much, if not more, about your audience than they are about you.  You want these people on your side, rooting for you, supporting you and, in some cases, occasionally buying from you. You need to give them reasons to do that.

So after doing the above exercise, how can you serve your audience? And what kind of content can you create that's exclusive to your newsletter?

Make a list of the types of content you can create outside of your blog that would serve this group.  We'll have a follow up post next week with lots of content ideas to get you started but you know your niche best so start brainstorming things that would be helpful to them.

Getting People To Sign Up For Your Newsletter

This is your first big challenge - how do you get people to give you their email address when you're just starting with your list???

Make Sure You Have A Mechanism On Your Site For Sign Ups

This might sound so obvious but we see so may sites that make it so hard for people to sign up for a newsletter!

Before you can do anything, you need to give people a way to get on your list!  There's multiple ways to do this:

  • a sign up box in your sidebar or footer
  • a hello bar at the top of your site
  • a pop up when people land on your site or exit your site
  • a sign up form at the bottom of each post
  • you can also embed a sign-up form onto your Facebook page like we did here.
  • create a specific signup landing page that you can promote around the web and on your social channels

Tools To Help You Make Your Email Sign Up Forms More Visible

There are a lot of tools out there to help you create slick sign up forms, popups and just generally grow your list.  Most have a fee attached to them.  Some have fees that are based on services, others are based on your website traffic.

The first, and least expensive place to start is your email marketing provider - if you still haven't got an email newsletter provider check out our article on five email newsletter platforms that are great for bloggers.

Your email provider will have tools and code snippets to help you create sign up forms you can put in your headers, footers and other spots on your site - like a sign-up specific landing page. They're not always as slick as some of the other services, but they'll do the job.  We used Mailchimp's form builder to create our Facebook newsletter sign-up form.

There are other, more sophisticated, tools that are designed specifically to help you grow your list.  Here's just a few to check out

These more specialized tools can help you insert sign up forms on specific pages or blog posts, create sign-up pop-ups that are triggered by certain user events - like when a reader makes a move to leave your site or when they first arrive.

They also let you limit how often a user sees a popup. For instance, if they close the pop up without signing up, they won't see it again for 30 days.  If they do signup, they won't see it again for 365 days. You can change those setting to suit you and your audience.

The pop ups you create can include your own imagery so you can promote specific lead magnets, and design them to fit your branding.

Most will also provide tools so you can see how each different pop-up converts (the fancy term for telling you how many people signed up). This is really useful because you can see which pop-ups really get people's attention and create similar ones or reuse those ones.

A Note About Pop-Ups on Mobile Devices

Google has made mention in the past year that pop-ups on mobile devices should be avoided.  Most of the tools mentioned here will have options for you to turn your pop-ups off on mobile devices and we recommend making use of that function.  Google is very focused on mobile experience at the moment and mobile experience can impact your google rankings.

RELATED:  5 Email Newsletter Marketing Platforms For Bloggers

How Do You Make People WANT To Sign Up For Your Newsletter?

Ok, great... you know who your people are and what they want, you've made it easy for them to get on your list but... how do you make them sign up?  You built it and they still haven't come!

Now is the time to talk about lead magnets.

What Is A Lead Magnet?

We're so glad you asked! A lead magnet is something you create to coax people to join your list. It doesn't have to be complicated, big, or expensive for you to create.  It just has to be something people want.

The deal is, you have something cool to give people who sign-up.  They give you their email address in exchange for the cool thing you have.

So what kinds of cool things can you use?

  • An exclusive recipe that's not on your blog
  • a shopping list
  • a list of your favourite secret dining spots in your city
  • a cheat sheet for baking substitutions
  • 5 easy smoothie combinations

The point is, make it simple. Make it useful. Make it one to two pages. And don't spend weeks on it.  Spend an hour or two at most.

Make it something that fits your niche and the type of content you'll be sending out regularly in your emails.

TIP: if you already have a well trafficked blog, you can monetize your list right away. Suggest a partnership with one of your regular brand clients where you create a short 5 recipe ebook of recipes using their product which you will use as a lead magnet for your list.  The brand pays for insertion in the ebook and the use of their product in the recipes and they get their name in front of every person who signs up for your list!

You'll make the lead magnet file available via your email newsletter provider.  You'll need to set up a little bit of automation so that when a new subscriber joins, your newsletter provider automatically sends them a welcome email that includes the link to download the freebie, which you will have uploaded to your provider.  Check your provider's help/FAQ section - most have very helpful tutorials to make it easy to set up.

Running A Contest To Build Your Email List

A contest is a sure fire way to build your list quickly but it comes with a big warning.  The people who sign up during a contest are much more likely to unsubscribe as soon as the contest is over.

It can be very disheartening to have a mass unsubscribe when a contest wraps.  But it's important to understand those people were never your people to begin with.  No point in paying to have them on your list when all they were interested in was a prize and not you.

If you are going to run a contest to get subscribers, run it for something that's very specific to your niche. Ie, don't run it for an iPad.  Maybe run it for a subscription box that your audience would love like a vegan snack box if you're a plant based blogger. Or a cool oven thermometer for a baking niche.

Don't spend a ton of money on the prize knowing you will lose a lot of subscribers post-giveaway.

You CAN run exclusive contests for subscribers once your list is up and running and you've been emailing regularly.  We do this from time to time in our Food Lovers Newsletters but we never advertise the giveaway.  

It's a perk for people who are already subscribed and who take the time to open the newsletters. It's always a nice surprise for a regular subscriber to get access to a contest nobody else knows about and it can keep them engaged and always looking forward to your next newsletter.

Use Social Media to Grow Your List

Use your existing social media platforms to let your followers know you're starting a newsletter and they can sign up now! This is a great way to get the word out.  Let them know what they can expect to get in each newsletter and why they don't want to miss out.  Have your lead magnet ready to go to tempt them to sign-up.

Include the link to a sign-up landing page in your Instagram profile. Talk about your newsletter in your instastories - use the swipe up feature if you have it or direct them to your bio.

Create a signup page on your Facebook page.  Talk about it on your Facebook page or in any Facebook groups you run.  Let your friends know if you think they'd be interested.  Tweet a link out to your sign-up page.

Create Pinterest pins for your lead magnet and pin them - the pin will, of course, take them to your signup landing page where they can enter their email address and then get their free resource.

Get creative - there's lots of ways to get the word out.

Some Email List Building Warnings To Heed

There are a few things you need to do to keep your list safe and to stay on the right side of the law.

More and more countries (Canada being one of them) are adopting anti-spam legislation and increased privacy rules that you must abide by, even if you don't reside in those countries.  Most email marketing providers will provide you with tools to stay legit because it's also in their best interest that you do.

Double Opt-In

Require people to go through a double opt-in process before joining your list.  This is where they have to confirm their subscription by opening an auto generated email sent by your email list provider and clicking on a link to confirm their subscription. You can set this up when you create your account or adjust it at a later date.  This will keep you compliant with some of Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation.

It's also a really good way to make sure that the people who sign up, really want to be there. Your job will be to make sure you live up to their faith in you!

Set Up A Privacy Policy

Have a privacy policy on your website that lets people know what you do with the user data you collect.  You can have a lawyer prepare one for you or you can find a template on like that will work - just make sure your template is appropriate for the country you live in.

Be Clear About What Subscribers Can Expect

Be up front about what your subscribers can expect in your emails.  If you're going to be selling to them, let them know that they may receive occasional offers from you as well as information and tips.

Respect People Who Unsubscribe

If you get unsubscribe notifications, respect them.  Don't add them back on to your list.  This is a big no-no and can get you in trouble with your email newsletter provider. If somebody doesn't want to be on your list, then they're not the right people for your content. Don't force it.

Watch Your Affiliate Link Usage

If you're an Amazon affiliate be up to date with their Terms of Service (which changes frequently).  Generally, you are not allowed to include Amazon affiliate links in your emails (this includes your RSS feed).

You can include links to articles on your site that include affiliate links and to your Amazon Influencer page (if you have one).  Check your TOS regularly as this may not be correct when you read this - they change very frequently.

So don't do a cookbook roundup in your email that has affiliate links to those books - instead, do the roundup on your site and link to it in your newsletter.

Check the Terms of Service in your other affiliate link programs as well.  Some may allow it, others may not.

Your Homework

So now you have the tools to get started.  Just take it step by step and don't rush it. Newsletter lists are long term projects. Your homework this week:

  • come up with an idea for a lead magnet and prepare it
  • start researching your email providers tools to add sign-up forms to your website
  • research a simple automation sequence so people who sign up can get your free lead magnet (here's a link to Mailchimp's automation tutorials)

Next week we'll have lots of content idea suggestions for your newsletters (i.e. what on earth should I talk about!).

How to Get Started Building Your Email List | Food Bloggers of Canada

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