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I “Accidentally” Gained An Email List With 600+ Members in 4 Months

No, I didn’t use MailChimp, ConvertKit, or Substack, I did not once ask anyone to join, and I haven’t written a single newsletter

Email lists are all the rage right now. Everybody is doing it. Email marketing is thriving. No wonder, emails are a personal way to directly connect with your audience. It’s an honor to be invited into someone’s mailbox. But it’s hard to get there, although many people on the internet make it sound suspiciously easy. It’s not! Not in the way most people tell you.

What didn’t I do?

As the subtitle says, I didn’t build my email list with the popular services, the ones everybody talks about: No Substackfor a paid newsletter, no ConvertKit landing page, no MailChimp email marketing. In fact, I haven’t even created a single online form for people to sign-up. I don’t post or send out links to do so either.

Don’t get me wrong, the aforementioned platforms are great choices for anyone looking to create a paid newsletter (Substack), or an email list through a beautiful landing page (ConvertKitMailChimpSendinblue, etc.). They also all have affiliate programs which is the reason you read about them often. That’s not a bad thing. It’s marketing.

Why are email lists important

Tim Denning— one of the most impressive writers — said:

“You need to write a lot, build the list, and email the list.”

Shivendra Misra wrote a fantastic post about email marketing and what he’s learned growing his newsletter to 1000+ subscribers. My favorite quote from this post is:

“The best time to start your email list was yesterday. The next best time is today.”

The big names make use of email lists. They’re essential for a content creator. From the get-go. Because it’s an opportunity to connect with readers, and of course, to make money.

But how? To us — newbies or small content creators — email marketing seems like a daunting task. We ask ourselves one question: Why would anyone sign up for an email list? Most of the time, we’re not even sure what to create or share via this email list. But don’t forget: The big names started just like you and me. From 0. Without a clue.

You need a “thing”

To get people to subscribe to your email list or newsletter, you need a “thing”. I often hear the term CTA (call-to-action), but that’s not the “thing” that gets people to sign-up. It’s just the method.

You need to offer potential subscribers something intriguing. And more often than not that’s a product or a service.

Look at Tom Kuegler. He has made an astounding amount of money with writing and he knows how to do it. So what’s his “thing” to get people to sign up? Well, it’s a course on how to get followers and earn with writing. Because he knows.

Great, but that’s nothing a beginner can do, right? Well, you could, but that would appear dishonest. Plenty of people do it, though.

What did I do as a newbie without a following? I discovered alternatives to gain subscribers without the need of creating an email list sign-up form, and the hassle of getting people to join. By accident.

Think outside the box… or stumble upon a chance

I noticed an ending trend back in December 2020. A trend that made many people a load of money. With a relatively simple idea. One that I knew I could take part in. Not to make money, but to build an email list with over 600 entries to date.

The funny thing is, I didn’t even know that this could lead to a lucrative email list.

That trend was iOS icons. Designing and creating custom iOS icons. It’s not important how it works for this story, but let me give you context: With a then-recent software update, Apple made it possible for any user to change the default app icons on iPhone or iPad. An opportunity that many designers took advantage of. And made thousands of dollars.

But I was too late. The market was saturated. I’m also not a professional designer, not even close. But I knew how to quickly create a few icons. It’s not rocket science. After trying to sell them and utterly failing, I noticed another opportunity: Giving away free icons.

The power of free stuff

How is free stuff going to benefit you or me? Well, indirectly is the best answer to that. The market was saturated, and selling these icons failed miserably, even with a few paid Facebook and Instagram ads. After this failure, I made my icons available for free. Not realizing what this would mean.

The next day, the first download came through. And then more and more… and more. No wonder who doesn’t like free stuff? But with those downloads, something else increased: the customer list.

Within 3 months, I had a list of 500 people that downloaded these free icons. They signed up with their email address to get the download link. All handled through Gumroad, a digital marketplace. Not once did I have to ask anyone to sign-up, create a form, or a landing page. And the list kept increasing. It’s close to 700 people now. About 4 months in. The few things I did to promote my free icons: A couple of Tweets and posts, and linking to the icon page on my social media profiles.

The real work begins now

All that is great. It happened to me by accident while I was trying to build another income stream. Now the actual work begins. I have to figure out what to do with this email list of 600+ people. I see two options right now:

  1. Creating more iOS icon packs and trying to sell them to this existing customer list. It might lead to better outcomes than my first try because the customers already know my designs and how to use them. They’re also already interested.
  2. Creating content that fits the niche of these customers. Which is iOS. You also have to be a little nerdy to want to change iOS icons on your phone. This could mean that these customers are interested in other nerdy Apple content. Good for me since I write about tech and Apple a lot.

The bottom line

The takeaway from this story is: Building an email list from scratch just by creating a landing page with a huge “sign up here” form won’t lead a beginner without a following to success. It sometimes happens, but that’s not the norm.

Upping your chances through a great CTA is one way to go. It might lead to more success. But in my humble opinion, you need to take a look outside the box.

Don’t try to create an email list for the sake of an email list.

Think about what you can offer — for free or paid — that’s intriguing enough to get people to join. You might even have such a thing already… as I did. Without realizing it. And from that point on, only one thing matters: great content. That will establish a lasting relationship with your subscribers.

P.S.: First of all, you should get my posts in your inbox. Do that here
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