Get started right from scratch: create email distribution lists in 7 easy steps

Through email marketing, they get in touch with their customers directly and easily. But before you can design your first creative and entertaining email of your own, you need to create an email list to send the emails to.

Fortunately, building an email list from scratch is much easier than you might think.

If you want to use email marketing to drive your business forward, this guide is for you. We'll walk you through seven easy steps to building a mailing list - from scratch.

Step 1: Decide on an email marketing program.

First things first: you need to use the right tool for your plan. Dedicated email marketing platforms, such as Mailchimp, are relatively inexpensive and handle the majority of email marketing tasks.
Usually, such services are available from as little as $10 to $20 per month, and there are even free offers if your mailing list is less than a few thousand contacts.

What should you look for in an email marketing tool? Many important features - like A/B testing and personalizable templates - are more directly related to email campaigns than to building a recipient list. However, there are definitely a few features that could come in handy if you're looking to build an email list.

Sign-up forms

An important part of your mailing list building efforts is the sign-up form on your website. Therefore, before purchasing an email marketing program, find out if it offers features for capturing new subscribers. Most applications can generate a form and provide appropriate embed code for your website.

Self-managed registrations

Any good email marketing program will allow its users to subscribe and unsubscribe themselves and change their preferred settings themselves. You can still add and delete contacts manually, but most of the list management happens in the background.

List segmentation options

If you want to send different emails to different types of subscribers, you need a feature to sort and filter your mailing list. This type of group customization is called email segmentation. Email marketing programs that have features like tags and filters make this task easier.

Step 2: Design a strategy

Before you create an email list, you need to have a rough idea of who you want to receive emails from and what you plan to do with them. The plan doesn't have to be detailed or set in stone, but there are a few basic aspects you need to clarify.

Clarify these points first, because they will influence how you proceed.

Who is your marketing aimed at?

Do you want to appeal to your existing customers? Do you want to show new customers what your brand has to offer? Are you looking for subscribers from a specific industry?

By creating customer personas, imaginary personality archetypes of your 'typical' customers, you can develop a strategy that best addresses your target audience.

What do you want to achieve with your email marketing?

This point seems obvious. You want more sales! But think about the ways in which you want to execute your email marketing efforts to achieve that goal.

This may focus on short-term goals, such as promoting a specific product or reaching a new type of customer, or long-term considerations, such as brand building. With every email, you're carrying your brand presence into your customers' inboxes. So start with your brand strategy and work backwards 

when deciding what emails to send.

What added value do you offer your subscribers?

Successful email marketing is symbiotic. People will sign up (or stay signed up) only if you deliver content they find useful.

Perhaps that value is financial (in the form of discounts and special offers, for example). You may also be giving them interesting insights into the industry that they can't get anywhere else. Whatever it is, you need to be clear about the added value of your emails before you can communicate it to your subscribers.

Step 3: Craft a welcome email.

Writing an email without having a recipient may seem counter-intuitive at first. But should someone join your email list, you need to greet them right away with a welcome email.

This will give your email relationship a positive start and prepare the ground for what will follow.

Using email automation, you can specify that all new subscribers should receive a welcome email. Accordingly, you need to prepare such an email before proceeding to the next step.

Step 4: Put a sign-up form on your website

Most businesses use a highly visible email sign-up form on their website to quickly grow their contact list.

You should pay attention to these points to ensure that your form has maximum success.


Your email signup form needs to be placed somewhere on your website. There are three ways to do this: a dedicated email signup page, a box on an existing page, or a pop-up window.

If your main goal is to grow your list of email subscribers, a pop-up form is the best choice. They work much better than inline forms. You can't miss them, and they require a response: either you sign up or you close the window.

Program your pop-up window in such a way that your website visitors will not be annoyed as soon as they enter the page or that it will interfere with their browsing behavior. After all, you don't want to distract someone who is about to make a purchase!

There are also forms that appear when mouse movements signal that the user wants to close a window or leave the page - a great way to time it just right.


The second important consideration for an email signup form is the introductory text. Clearly lay out how your subscribers will benefit from joining your email list. Will they be the first to know about new products and promotions? Might they receive exclusive content directly to their inbox? Or do they get a discount simply for signing up?

Whatever the benefit, you can't beat around the bush now. Make your text short, sweet and clear.


The simplest sign-up forms are often the most effective. After all, you want your customers to do something. Make it as easy as possible for them! Only ask for the information you really need - an email address is usually enough.

In some circumstances, you may need more information. A fashion company may want to know the gender in order to sell men's clothing to men and women's clothing to women. A B2B company might need a contact's job title or industry so they can tailor their emails accordingly.

Step 5: Attract visitors to your website

Now that you have a signup form on your website, you also need to make sure your visitors see it. The following strategies can be considered.


Every marketer knows that digital ads are a great way to reach new audiences. You probably already use ads and search engine advertising to market your products. These ads serve a dual purpose. They increase your brand awareness and drive more visitors to your website, where they will also see your sign-up form.

Lead magnets

You can also attract new email subscribers to your website with so-called lead magnets, another classic method of email capturing. Lead magnets are high-quality content (reports, webinars, templates, etc.) that entice prospects to fill out your email sign-up form. By placing this content behind a form, you're offering visitors something of value in exchange for their email addresses.

Once you've created a lead magnet, promote it through digital ads, organic search, and social media to draw prospects to it.

Step 6: Integrate email into your workflows.

While the email sign-up form is the best way to gather contacts if you want to create an email list - it's not the only one.

For web stores and other online platforms, capturing email addresses is part of everyday business. Even brick-and-mortar stores can incorporate email into their day-to-day customer interactions, such as booking appointments over the Internet or sending digital receipts.

However, there's one thing you should never do when creating or expanding your email list: Buy email addresses. With purchased e-mail lists, your mails end up directly in the spam folder, and this also affects your e-mail deliverability in the long run.

Step 7: Continue to maintain and use your email list

Once your efforts have paid off and you've built a working mailing list, the fun really begins. Now you can design campaigns, target your customers, and learn from your email evaluation.

But don't forget to take care of growing your list further. Continue to plant the seeds for healthy growth and take some time to do it, because you need to manage the email list! That way, when you run future campaigns, you can be sure they're built on the stable foundation of a successful mailing list.