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I Earned $150 For Building an Email List Of 1800+ People

A real-life example of growing an email list while earning money for it

Email marketing is everywhere. “You need a newsletter”. On Twitter, Dylan from stated:

“Don’t start a blog. Start a newsletter.”

Medium offers a subscribe button to build an email list, Twitter integrated newsletters directly into user profiles via Revue, Substack went through the roof, and even LinkedIn started a newsletter section.

It’s fair to say, email is back. It never left, actually. But it’s on somewhat of a huge comeback.


Taking matters into your own hands

It’s simple. You own your audience.

You grow a mailing list that you can take with you from platform to platform, from service to service (given you follow legal regulations like GDPR, etc.).

A platform can go away, shut down, or start to suck. If you’re only invested in that platform, you’re going down with it. Unless you have taken matters into your own hands by creating and growing your own audience via an email list.

It’s powerful.

You can write, create content, market digital goods, sell courses, or just talk about whatever the heck you want in an email (with the readers’ interests in mind, of course).

How to use an email list

You might be asking how can I make money off such an email list?

At first and in general, email lists are a free, non-paid marketing tool.

Sure, there are ways to directly monetize email lists, like:

  1. A subscription-based plan (for example, on Substack or Revue)
  2. A hybrid model with both free posts and paid content
  3. Affiliate marketing and targeted ads within your email content

and more.

Oftentimes, these aren’t viable options for beginners. Nobody’s going to pay you $5 a month if they’ve never seen or read anything from you. And no audience means no clicks on affiliate links.

In that case, the first goal is to grow your mailing list for free by providing valuable content. Through regular and consistent posting. Daily, bi-weekly, weekly, you get the idea.

The problem: That takes time and effort, both of which aren’t going to be compensated for a long time, in the worst-case scenario.

How to make money FOR building an email list

The solution for or rather a circumvention of this problem is the following.

Consider this:

Instead of making the growth of an email list your goal, set another goal which — on the side and passively — grows your email list.

Let me give you an example.

Newsletter beginnings

A couple of months ago, I started using Substack to write a newsletter. Soon after, I realized that this took time out of my almost non-existent spare time without doing much good. A few subscribers, few views, and little engagement.

I quickly ditched that newsletter.

Email list backward

Then I realized another thing. I already had built a large email list. And also made money from it. But sort of backward.

I didn’t try to grow an email list, I did something else… that grew an email list.

$150 for 1800+ email subscribers

I’ve grown an email list of 1800+ subscribers without trying to grow an email list. And even better, I earned $150 while growing that list.

Here’s how.

In late 2020, I opened a Gumroad shop. I started offering free products. In my case, iOS app icons to customize the iPhone home screen experience with sleek, minimal icons sets.

After trying to sell them (which failed miserably because the market was already saturated and overflowing with icons packs for bogus prices of up to $50 per pack!!!), I decided to offer my sets for free. Not really thinking about the consequences, other than obviously not making money from it.

I was wrong.

I did make money. And more.

The power of free stuff

Free stuff ideally does two things:

  1. It establishes you and your craft/content in one or more places online
  2. It drives views. Who doesn’t like free stuff, right? Especially if this free stuff would cost anywhere between $5–$50 elsewhere.

The side effect

More importantly, offering these products for free did another major thing for me. The thing I’ve been talking about this whole post: Growing my email list.

With this free stuff, the downloads came in, and with the downloads, the customer list exploded. To over 1800 within a year.

How did I make $150 for it?

Simple: I offer the products for free, but I give the option and incentive to tip me for the work. I didn’t think it would do much.

In the end though, it has made me $150 while building an email list of over 1800 people. For one day of work creating the icon sets, I might add.

The bottom line

“Don’t start an email list for the sake of an email list.”

EITHER grow an email list through the work you already do, like gaining more and more subscribers on Medium through your Medium posts, OR make use of a skill you have by selling products or offering a service that — on the side and passively — grows an email list with it!

This way, you don’t have to start from scratch on a newsletter platform and build a completely new audience, and consequently spend many unpaid hours doing it.

I’m no guru. I don’t know everything. In fact, I’m not even an intermediate. I learn these things by doing and I share the insights along the way. Furthermore, I tell about and learn from my failures.

This one was a win for me. I passively grew an email list that is 6x larger than my Medium subscriber list while being paid a little money for it.

By the way, a huge shoutout to Mike Lewis who came up with the title of this post by commenting on a previous post where I detailed the Gumroad work a little more.

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