Building an email list from scratch can feel like a near impossible task.
Everyone who’s done it knows—the struggle is real. Staying motivated and consistent when you only have a few subscribers can feel daunting and unrewarding. That’s one of the top reasons why many creators give up at this stage.
Not everyone, though. We spoke with David Perell, a writer with more than 43,000 newsletter subscribers. Also known as “The Writing Guy” on Twitter, David sends three newsletters a week—every week—to his rapidly growing list of subscribers.
— Nathan Barry (@nathanbarry) December 17, 2020
While he keeps busy with writing, hosting a podcast, and running his writing school called Write of Passage, he took some time to share with us the brilliant approach he uses to kick-start email list growth.
The road from 0 to 1,000 subscribers
When it comes to email list growth, you can start by asking your friends and family to join your list…but you’re going to want a bigger audience than that if you want to build something sustainable for the long-term.
Perell says that when you first start growing your list, it’s best to look at email as a way to stay top of mind with subscribers and as a place that allows you to create moments of digital serendipity. Instead of putting too much pressure on yourself, look at it as a way to keep in touch with your audience.
Rather than hard-selling, talk to your subscribers. Tease out their pain points and offer solutions. Perell believes the key to keeping your email list engaged is to educate and provide real value.
When you look at email as a tool that helps you communicate and build relationships (instead of something you’re supposed to do), it will be much easier to focus on the things you create and later share with your subscribers.
Understanding what resonates with your audience, knowing what they want to read from you, and then creating valuable content is the best way to get new subscribers.
Most of the insights are in front of you. You just need to recognize the meaning behind the numbers.
- Send a survey to your audience asking them what would they like to read more from you (you can offer an incentive for their feedback to spur responses)
- Always check your email open rates to see which ones perform best (so you can focus more on those topics in the future.)
- Check the social shares and engagement around your email newsletters to see what performs best.
“Building an email list will be a smart strategy for the next 10 years, but the best way to grow an email list will often change.”
Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to get to the nitty-gritty of how to start growing your list to 1,000 subscribers and beyond.
How David turns casual browsers into avid subscribers
Many creators start by creating long-form content with actionable advice via lead magnets (think eBooks and whitepapers), to increase their number of subscribers. Subscribers opt-in to get access to the material in exchange for their email address.
Perell started his list growth with lead magnets, but he soon realized that this type of content was not working as well as he expected it would. The main reason: lead magnets were not as helpful to the audience as the email courses he was offering.
As a result, he adjusted his approach and started using different tactics to grow his audience.
Turn Twitter followers to newsletter subscribers
Whether it’s to share ideas, promote the things you create, or collect feedback, Twitter is a great way to communicate with people and turn your followers into newsletter subscribers.
“If Facebook connects you with people from your past, Twitter connects you with people in your future.”
One area of untapped potential: Twitter threads. Essentially, these are connected tweets from one person—a chain of ideas that build upon each other. David uses Twitter threads (like this one on finding interesting topics to write about) to attract the attention of his followers and to entice them to sign up for his newsletter.
“One of the things I found works really well is creating Twitter threads. They’re fun, they take me about 45-minutes, they crush, and if I have a good one, it will get more than a million impressions. I know that if I link to one of my courses in them, with a 1-2% conversion rate, that can lead to thousands of new subscribers.”
If you haven’t tried creating many Twitter threads before, here are some pointers on how to do them well:
- Get right to the point: The first tweet should say what people are going to get. Make sure it’s something surprising or something intriguing to get their attention.
- Provide a large amount of insight in a short time: Use threads to provide additional context.
- Focus on the essence: Don’t use threads to share more meaningless text. Cut the fluff and focus on essence.
- Break info bite-sized into nuggets: Each tweet should be a separate thought with a clear, valuable point or tip.
Offer free email courses
By doubling down on the email courses—and doing what he enjoys most (writing)—Perell significantly increased his subscriber base.
You’ll often see Perell promote his five-day Twitter course, a seven-day writing one, and a 50-day writing one—all of which he delivers by email using ConvertKit. Each lesson is a separate email that targets a specific topic.
Unlike traditional courses and lead magnets when people share their email address in exchange for content (a one-time interaction), with email courses you can build a one-on-one relationship and stay top of mind with subscribers.
“People check their emails religiously, and email is good for retargeting people, too.”
A big part of the success of Perell’s email courses is the fact that he uses Twitter as his primary distribution channel. He first focused on building a Twitter audience, and then he works to convert them to email subscribers.
Double down on what works
Once you’ve figured out what works for your unique audience, it’s time to double down on those activities and lean into the most effective tactics. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind as you do that.
Avoid generic CTAs
There are so many newsletters out there, so it can be tough to cut through the noise. The key to getting more people to sign up for your newsletter is to show them exactly what they are going to get when they opt into your list.
Perell says that a general rule of thumb is to think about your Return on Attention (ROA). ROA for creators is what ROI is for investors. Think about it like this: For every unit of attention a subscriber gives, how much do they get out? This will help you focus on the things that truly move the needle.
He says that clear is better than clever, too. Instead of vague fluff, talk about the core of the content you offer.
Here’s Perell’s formula when it comes to creating CTA that converts subscribers:
Concrete + Specific + Useful to the reader
- In his seven-day writing course CTA he provides something concrete – a free email course.
- He talks to a specific audience – people interested in learning how to write.
- Plus, he offers a value – Seven free lessons that will help his subscribers build their own audiences.
Find a balance between consistency and quality
Another common question when creators are first starting is about the frequency of emails they should send to their subscribers. Finding the balance between consistency and quality is a difficult thing because it can be hard to know exactly what that looks like.
Perell says it’s best to focus on quality over quantity. He went on to say that if you’re not sure what the right dynamics are yet, opt for B+ content with A+ consistency.
Translation: create quality content, but pay extra attention to maintaining a regular sending schedule.
One of the things Perell is well-known for is his consistency. In Monday Musings, David shares the coolest things he learns every week. In Friday Finds, he aims to share valuable links that might be interesting for his audience. He never misses a weekly send of either.
For you, this means it’s important to create a regular (and realistic) sending schedule.
If you’re worried you’re sending too often or too little and are watching your unsubscribes with a critical eye, take Perell’s advice: pay attention to unsubscribers, but don’t get obsessed with them.
Those that find value in your content will stick around.
Create a “greatest hits compilation”
Many of the Twitter threads Perell shares are a form of content repurposing, which is what we’re covering next.
So many creators produce high-quality content, but they never repurpose it. This is not a paint point limited to creators, either: According to Curata, only one-third of leading marketers have a systematic process in place to reuse or repurpose content.
Instead of creating content you promote once and then letting it collect digital dust, consider compiling a resource with your best-performing articles and promote it to your audience. Creating a “best of” compilation allows you to leverage resources you already have. And the best part: it only requires a minimal time investment, and the benefit can be huge.
For Perell, this approach easily generates more than 100,000 pageviews and averages a ~6% conversion rate.
Within his approach, curation is critical. He makes sure to highlight only the best pieces, not everything.
So how do you figure out which are your top content pieces?
In most cases creators have a good sense of what’s performing well, but there are plenty of insights you can leverage to make data-driven decisions, such as:
- To find your most popular newsletters, check your open rate and your click rate.
- When it comes to your blog content, you can always use Google Analytics to check the number of sessions, the number of conversions, and time spent on site.
- You can also identify the percentage of readers that scrolled to the bottom of a blog page (to indicate full read-throughs or views) with tools such as Hotjar or LuckyOrange.
Start growing your email list today with ConvertKit
Building an email list doesn’t have to be daunting. From email courses and a “greatest hits compilation” to Twitter threads and strong calls to action, these tactics can help you with your journey.
Create your free ConvertKit account today and apply Perell’s pro tips to go from zero subscribers to a thriving, ever-growing community of subscribers that reaches well into the thousands.