How to Set Up an Email List – For Free
Whatever you write, and whether or not you have a blog or even a website, it’s a great idea to have an email list.
You might have heard this called an “email newsletter” or “mailing list” – it’s basically the same thing. The idea is that you let interested readers enter their email address on your site, so you can send them updates.
Some writers and bloggers do this on a regular basis, with a weekly or monthly “newsletter”. Others just email when they’ve got a particular bit of news to share – like a new book coming out.
It’s up to you how you use your email list … but it’s crucially important that you have one.
Why Email Matters So Much
You might wonder why email’s so important. Wouldn’t it make just as much sense to encourage people to “like” your Facebook page, or follow you on Twitter, or engage with you in some more dynamic way?
The crucial thing about email is that you are in control. When you post on social media sites:
- You’re limited to a certain format and length for your message – yes, you could write a very long post on Facebook, but people are unlikely to read it all!
- You won’t reach more than a fraction of your followers. On Twitter, things move fast; on Facebook, algorithms mean that most people won’t see your updates.
- Your audience may come and go – perhaps they joined Twitter intending to use it, but now they rarely bother to login.
With email, yes, your message might be just one of many that someone receives … but they’re much more likely to actually see it than with a social media post. (For some detailed thoughts and graphs related to this, check out Priit Kallas’ post 11 Reasons Why Your Email List Beats Social Media.)
You can also write as much as you like, and make it look however you like. While people occasionally change email addresses, many will stick with the same email address for years – they won’t drop out like they would with social media sites.
There’s also data to suggest that it’s easier to sell people things by email than on social media. If you think about it, you can probably see why that’s true: when you’re scrolling through Facebook or Twitter, there are loads of different messages instantly competing for your attention. (You’re also probably looking for social connection – not expecting to be sold something.)
In your email inbox, once you open up a message, that’s the only one you’re seeing. Plus, you probably get lots of email offers from various companies (Photobox seem to email me nearly every day!) – so it seems quite natural to click an email link then buy something.
Hopefully, the idea of an email list is starting to make more sense to you. Here’s the next thing you need to know …
You Need to Use a Special Service for Your Email List (Here’s Why)
I’m on a couple of people’s “email lists” that they run through their regular email account. They email me, and a bunch of other people, using the “BCC” feature.
This is fine if you’re co-ordinating a small volunteering group or staying in touch with the supporters of a tiny charity, or updating family and friends on your travels.
If you’re running a business, though, it definitely isn’t a good way to go about things!
There are loads of reasons why NOT to email people straight from Outlook / Gmail / etc:
- You’ll have to add new people to your list manually. This means it’s easy for people to drop off the list if you accidentally use an old version – and it’s horrendously inefficient.
- You may be tempted to add people to your list who haven’t told you they want to be on it. This is not only potentially annoying for them: if you’re in the US, it could land you in legal hot water as you won’t be complying with the “CAN-SPAM” requirements.
- You won’t have any idea how effective your email list is. You won’t know how many emails were opened, how many people clicked on a link in your emails, and so on.
- Your email account may well be limited in terms of how many emails you can send, or how frequently you can send them. (With mine, for instance, I can’t send any message to more than 100 people.)
An email service solves all these problems. And, at least when you’re first building your list, it doesn’t need to cost you anything either.
While it can take a little while to get to grips with how each particular service works, once you’ve sent out a couple of emails, you’ll find it’s a far more efficient process than trying to run things through your email account.
(Note that you’ll still use your normal email address! When people receive your update or newsletter, it’ll come from your regular email address – so they can easily reply to you.)
How to Set Up Your Email List
There are loads of options for setting up an email list, and you may want to ask around the writers or bloggers that you know to see what they’re using.
Two good free options are:
- MailerLite (free up to 1,000 subscribers, then from $10/month)
- MailChimp (free up to 1,000 subscribers, then from $20/month)
There are plenty of other options out there, but if you’re just starting out with a mailing list, I’d suggest you choose one of these two. Both are free up to 1,000 subscribers (people on your email list) and both offer all the features you’re likely to need in the early stages.
That means you’ve got plenty of time to build and establish your mailing list without having to spend any money on it.
For help getting your account set up with an email service, check out:
Creating Your Welcome Email
Once you’ve got your account set up, and before you put your “sign up” form on your website, you’ll need to create a Welcome email: this will be the first “proper” email that people receive from you (after the email asking them to confirm they want to be on your list).
Some writers and bloggers will have a sequence of welcome emails across the course of a few days or even weeks, to engage with new readers. You may well have joined some email lists that work in this way – and it can be a great way to get up to speed with a particular blogger or writer’s work.
When you’re just getting started, though, I think one welcome email is fine. Mine begins like this:
I then go on to tell readers:
- How to get their free ebooks
- That they can get my Blogger’s Guides at a discount
- How to get in touch with me by email / social media
It’s entirely up to you what you include in your welcome email. I’d suggest:
- Be friendly and personable – you may want to share a few brief details about your life.
- Let readers know what they can expect from your newsletter (e.g. weekly emails? Special offers and advance access to everything you create?)
- Encourage readers to get in touch. Most won’t – but those who do can be a great source of ideas and feedback.
And that’s it! Your email list is up and running. (Don’t forget to test it out just to be sure.) There’s lots more you can do from this point – like setting up an “incentive” to encourage people to join – but for now, have a well earned drink to celebrate getting this far. 🙂
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
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