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How to Build an Email List in 2021

How to Build an Email List in 2021

marketing tips online business social media Jun 21, 2021

Let’s imagine that Facebook and Instagram *poof!* disappear tomorrow. Would you be able to reach your customers and seamlessly continue to market your business?

Part of being strategic with your social media is having a way to get your followers off the platform. Because if the only way you can connect with your audience is through social media posts and stories, your business has a big marketing risk.

The best way to protect your business from this risk? Building your email list.

Your email list is one of your business’s biggest assets. You don’t “own” your followers; they are simply on rented land. However, you do own your list of subscribers. When you have your customers’ and leads’ contact information, you can quickly (and strategically) communicate with them. This is especially important so that your next launch or offer can be more profitable.

Your email list should be nurtured and should continue to grow—legally and ethically—as your business grows.

In order to comply with Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL), business owners are required to obtain express consent from subscribers. Make sure that you have an opt-in process that is compliant. This ensures that your list consists of people who actually want to subscribe and that your deliverability is not impacted when people mark your emails as spam. It’s worth mentioning, too, that it’s a big no-no to buy subscriber lists. Don’t do it.

So how do you grow your email list? There are many tactics that you can incorporate into your email marketing, as part of your overall marketing strategy.

1. Have a freebie lead magnet on your website

All too often, I see websites that don't offer some sort of freebie download or opt-in offer, in exchange for email addresses. This is a missed opportunity because you need a way to capture and nurture your website visitors; an email list is a great way to do this.

A lead magnet is an irresistible freebie, giveaway or something of value that your audience can't wait to get their hands on. It's a valuable piece of content that you give to people in exchange for their email address. It should be simple and value-packed, easy to digest and leave them wanting more. Effective lead magnets help solve some problems that your ideal audience faces. Your lead magnet opt-in form should appear near the top of your home page and throughout the rest of your website.

Having an opt-in form on your website for people to subscribe to your newsletter isn’t enough anymore. You need to give people immediate value—something tangible they can download or participate in—that doesn’t require them to wait for your next monthly newsletter.

Here are some lead magnet ideas to try:

  • PDF download: this could be a how-to guide, template, short e-book, cheat sheet, checklist, etc.⁠
  • Email training series: this would be a series of emails delivered to your new subscribers with training content on a specific topic (bonus points if each email includes a video!)
  • Mini-course: this is similar to a training series but typically delivered all at once
  • Challenge: this lead magnet is especially effective in the health and wellness industry; consider offering a three- to five-day challenge; anything longer than that may lose people’s interest
  • Quiz: remember those fun quizzes in teen magazines? People often can’t resist learning more about their personality type or what type of animal they would be, for example. To offer a quiz strategically, have the person go through all the questions first and then require that they provide their email address in order to receive their result.
  • Guided meditation or audio training: audio content is growing in popularity in 2021. Consider sharing valuable content in audio format.
  • Video training / live event (e.g. masterclass or webinar): run your video training as a live event the first time and use the recording as an evergreen lead magnet in the future
  • Discount, deal or free shipping: this lead magnet works well for first-time customers visiting a product-based website. People would need to provide their email address in order to receive the coupon code they can immediately apply to their order.
  • Sample: this lead magnet is effective for businesses that sell products—either digital or physical products. Samples give new subscribers a “taste” of your product and should make them want more.

Your lead magnet is typically the first step in your customer’s journey and is a great way to welcome people into your world. In order for your lead magnet to be most effective, I recommend having an automatic welcome email sequence in place to nurture your new subscribers, introduce yourself and your business, and lead them to the next step of working with you. 

Here are some ways to share your lead magnet to reach a larger audience:

  • Facebook groups: share your freebie in Facebook groups where your ideal audience hangs out (only when/where this is allowed; different Facebook groups have different rules)
  • Spread the word: talk about your lead magnet in guest blog posts, podcast interviews, Clubhouse rooms, networking events, everywhere!
  • Paid ads: promote your lead magnet with paid ads on Facebook or Instagram, targeting your ideal audience
  • On your blog: include an opt-in form for your lead magnet on your own blog, so people can opt-in if they come across your blog via a Google search or from social media
  • In bios and public platforms: include a link to your lead magnet opt-in form in your email signature, on your Facebook page, in your bio on Instagram and Clubhouse, and other public-facing platforms or directories
  • Leverage your network: ask people to share your lead magnet e.g. when posting on social media, ask people to “Tag 3 friends in the comments who need to hear this.” Leverage your current subscribers by asking for referrals and shares. 

You really only need one lead magnet to grow your list, but remember to talk about it often and keep sharing it!⁠ If you find that people are not as interested in your lead magnet as you thought they would be, try a different topic or a different format. Consider introducing a new lead magnet every few months to keep things fresh and to re-engage your audience. 

2. Have an exit pop-up on your website

Pop-ups are controversial because many people find them annoying. But there is a way around this—configure your pop-up to appear upon exit intent only, not as soon as someone lands on your website. 

Allow your website visitors time to read your website content and click around. Then when they are about to “x” out of your page, your pop-up appears with a “But wait! Before you go…” message. This is a great opportunity to share your lead magnet and offer value (not your newsletter!) in exchange for their email, before they bounce off your site.

3. Have ways for social media followers to join your list

Remember, being strategic with your social media is having a way to get your followers off the platform and onto your email list.


Make sure your opt-in form or lead magnet is available as a link in your bio on Instagram. I recommend using a free tool like Linktree to offer multiple links in your bio. Regularly post about your lead magnet on social media and frequently share it in your Instagram stories.

Facebook Group

If you run a Facebook group, you can leverage this group to grow your list. There are a variety of ways to do this:

  • Collect emails with Facebook group onboarding questions: Facebook allows group Admins to ask up to three questions of people who are requesting to join a group. I recommend that one of these questions request consent to add their email address to your email list. (Note: someone will only be prompted to answer questions if they click the link to join the group; they will not have an opportunity to answer questions if a group member simply adds them to the group. Don’t “mass add” people to the group; instead, send them a personal message with the link to click to join.)
  • Do a weekly welcome post with the link to your lead magnet: Welcome new members weekly in a post that tags new members and includes the link to your “free gift” lead magnet. This will remind members to opt-in to your freebie and will hopefully capture those who didn’t provide their email address when they requested to join the group. Select Members > click Write Welcome Post under New Members this Week. Facebook will automatically generate a welcome post that tags all new members; this post can be edited.
  • Pin announcement with the link to your lead magnet: Pin a post with a link to your lead magnet opt-in to make sure group members see the post. Mark this post as an Announcement so it appears at the top of the page.
  • Include the link to your lead magnet in the group description: The great thing about this tactic is that even people who aren’t in your group will see the link to the lead magnet because the group description appears publicly. In other words, you create the opportunity to gather leads from people even if they don’t join the group.
  • Post the link to your lead magnet: Periodically, share posts in the group that point toward a lead generator or lead magnet e.g. blog article with free worksheet download. Share freebie videos, meditations, etc. that require email opt-in to access.
  • Promote Free Facebook Lives as events that require opt-in: If you’re planning to do a Facebook Live or free webinar, promote it as an event in the Facebook group. When you create the Facebook event, set the location and/or tickets as the page on your website where people can register.

When you have a freebie lead magnet and exit pop-up on your website, as well as ways for your social media followers to join your email list, you will continue to grow one of your business’ biggest assets. After you’ve worked so hard to build your list, be sure to give your subscribers attention by regularly sharing valuable content and offers with them in the future.

Keep shining bright!

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