8 Effective Strategies to Grow your Startup’s Mailing List

cell phone emails

Email marketing has been lauded in every corner of the internet. The bigger your mailing list the better.

Why is that?

According to the direct marketing association, returns can be as high as 38x. Some companies report an ROI of 70x.

No other digital channel consistently delivers those kinds of results.

People who succeed with email marketing do three things well:

First, they identify the strategies that help them grow their mailing list quickly.

Second, they double down on those techniques and ignore other distractions.

The third thing they do is constantly test and tweak their campaigns until they’re lean, mean, conversion generating machines.

In this article, I’ll focus on the first step. You’ll learn eight effective list building strategies that have been proven to work for small businesses in multiple industries.

Simple Tools

There are countless software companies that help make your business more efficient. You can track time, send invoices, access deep analytics, and more. People have become accustomed to paying for these services.

Stand out from the crowd by delivering a high-quality tool that’s simple for you to make and maintain. This doesn’t have to be software, a simple excel calculator is just as valuable and effective for growing your mailing list.

For this strategy to give you tangible results, the tool should fulfill two criteria:

  • It’s simple to use and understand
  • It’s relevant to your business while delivering value to your target audience

The second one is, arguably, the most important factor. For example, you could make a tool that allows your audience to edit their photos but if you were selling designer shoes it wouldn’t be relevant. You’d attract a lot of unqualified visitors and email subscribers.

Hubspot is a marketing and sales platform that helps customers increase traffic and revenue. It created a website grader which helps visitors understand how well their website is performing.


Screenshot by Daniel Ndukwu: June 2019

Coschedule is a marketing calendar that lets customers consolidate all their campaigns in one place. It knows the audience it caters to consists of entrepreneurs and marketers that are creating content online so it developed a headline analyzer.

Screenshot by Daniel Ndukwu:  June 2019

What kind of simple tools can you create that help your audience and are relevant to your business?

Exit Popups

Popups are a mixed bag. Some people swear by them while others feel they’re the worst thing to happen to the internet.

Whatever your personal feelings, popups have been proven to work time and again. While there’s no way to get around the annoying factor completely, you can reduce it by using exit popups. These are popups that only appear when someone is done with your page and is ready to leave.

It’s your last opportunity to present a relevant offer to them.

There’s a caveat to this strategy. If someone lands on your page and saw nothing that interested them, presenting a popup when they’re trying to leave probably won’t help. It’s important to target exit popups correctly and use them on the pages where they’ll have the highest impact.

Places to start using them are:

  • Product pages. If someone has viewed a product but hasn’t added them to the cart you may want to sweeten the deal before they leave the page.
  • Landing pages. When the message on the page isn’t quite enough to get people to bite than an extra incentive may do the trick.
  • Cart abandonment. If someone has made it to the checkout page and wants to leave, they might just need an extra incentive like free shipping or a discount. An exit intent is a perfect way to capture otherwise lost revenue.

There are many list building tools you can use to accomplish this. Instead of spending too much time there, look at your website to see if there are any strategic places you can use an exit popups to grow your mailing list.

Interactive Quizzes to Grow Your Mailing List

In December 2013, The New York Times published a quiz named How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk that let participants know where they were from based on the way they spoke. Within a few days, it became the most popular piece of content of the year.

Screenshot by Daniel Ndukwu: June 2019

It beat out content that had an entire year to be discovered. This is just one example of how powerful interactive quizzes can be. You can use software to create quizzes for list building and segmentation based on answers to your quiz questions.

There are a few things to keep in mind when creating your quiz:

  • Quizzes that reveal insight about someone’s personality work best (what kind of x are you or what does x say about you?)
  • Keep your quiz between seven to ten questions so it’s long enough to be relevant but doesn’t get tedious
  • Give them a reason to subscribe beyond getting their quiz results

Think about what topics interest your audience the most and craft a quiz that takes advantage of it.

Gated Content

Gated content is much more common than many people realize. White papers, case studies, ebooks, checklists, and more are typically behind a form visitors need to fill out before they can access it.

Not everything can or should be gated. If that were the case then you’d need to sign up before reading this particular article. Most people aren’t willing to do that and for good reason, spam is a real concern on the internet.

Typically, gated content is the most valuable content you have to give your audience. You’ve invested time, energy, and other resources into creating it. The main reason for the subscription gate is to qualify people who are serious about topics relevant to your business.

Brennan Dunn requires an opt-in for an in-depth freelancing course and uses it to sell his paid product.

Screenshot by Daniel Ndukwu: June 2019

Before you jump in and create a twenty page Ebook, it’s important to understand the questions your audience is asking. When you have that information, you should also think about the best format to deliver it.

Would your audience prefer video over text?

Do they love slideshows?

When you have the answers to these questions, you’ll be able to create gated content that has a tangible impact on your mailing list growth.

Giveaways for Mailing List Growth

This list building strategy is a mixed bag. At times, you’ll get a lot of subscribers but they’re not qualified or interested in your brand. Other times, you won’t get too many subscribers but they’re engaged and are the perfect prospects for your products.

How do you get the latter outcome?

You give away a prize only your target audience would be interested in.

I was looking for a pair of shoes on my wife’s Instagram so I could surprise her. While scrolling through her feed, I saw a post from a B2B software company. I asked her why she was following the company. Her eyes glazed over for a moment while she tried to remember. Eventually, she told me that the company was giving away an iPad and the entry requirement was following them. Her next comment was “please unfollow them for me.”

The same scenario will play out if you offer a general prize. Your subscribers will forget why they signed up for your mailing list then unsubscribe.

Before you set up your give away, choose a prize that would appeal to your target customer and is still relevant to your business. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Keep your giveaway relatively short (less than thirty days)
  • Create a series of emails during the giveaway to keep subscribers engaged
  • Submit to relevant giveaway websites
  • Use software that incentivizes people to share the giveaway
  • Promote it far and wide

On-Demand Tutorials or Webinars

Educating your audience has dual benefits. It builds trust and goodwill while helping them understand the value you bring to the table.

Webinars are a way to educate a large group of people and still create a more personal connection. An email address is a small price to pay for a webinar that delivers on its promise. Another benefit of webinars is that people are more receptive to sales pitches after the presentation.

To reap the rewards of a webinar, you’ll have to promote it far and wide and get people to sign up. There are countless ways to get the word out such as linking to it from your blog or creating ads with Facebook or Google.

The other element of getting people to sign up for your webinar is the landing page itself. People on the internet are skeptical so it’s important to tell them what’s special about the webinar, what they’ll learn, and why you’re the best person to host it.

Here’s an example from Unbounce that checks all the boxes.

Screenshot by Daniel Ndukwu: June 2019

Joint Venture Partnerships

As your business and mailing list grows, you may get pitches for guest posts, advertising, and joint venture partnerships.

Speed the process up by being proactive and reaching out to businesses you’d like to partner with. Choose businesses that aren’t competing with you but have an overlapping audience.

For example, Videofruit produces courses to help customers build their mailing list. My company produces software that helps businesses build their mailing list. We’d be ideal joint venture partners because our audiences are so closely aligned but we don’t have competing products.

Finding other businesses you’d like to partner with can be a challenge. Here are a few strategies you can employ.

  • Good old fashioned networking. Join Facebook groups, local meetups, and industry-specific slack channels to connect with others in your niche and find partners.
  • Google search. Type in your major industry keywords and search for websites that aren’t your direct competitors and pitch them a joint venture partnership

When pitching potential partners, include information about what they stand to gain from partnering with you. If you have an audience of one million then mention it. If you can fill up a webinar then let them know.

When you get a partnership lined up, decide ahead of time how you’ll share the subscribers you generate from the promotion.

Content Upgrades

This is a relatively new strategy but is effective nonetheless. Typically, popups are related to the general topic of a website. For example, a popup on a copywriting website could be thirteen tips to write better sales copy.

Content upgrades are lead magnets that are tied to specific pages on a website. For example, If I were to create a post about invoices, a content upgrade could be Three Ready to go Invoice Templates you can use Today.

It’s incredibly specific to the article about invoices. Anyone reading that article is interested in invoicing and would find value in the content upgrade.

This is what we did at KyLeads, my company, in our post about affiliate marketing tools.

Screenshot by Daniel Ndukwu: December 2018

The only drawback of content upgrades is that they add an extra layer of work when you’re creating content. Take advantage of the 80/20 rule to make your job easier.

Log into your analytics account and find your five most popular articles over the last six months. When you’ve found the posts, create content upgrades for them. Repeat this process every month and slowly add more content upgrades to popular articles.


Your mailing list is one of the most powerful marketing channels you can use to grow your business.

Before you can utilize it, you have to grow it. This post has outlined eight solid strategies you can use to explode your mailing list growth. Not all of them will be ideal for you.

Test a few and choose the ones that work best for your situation. When you find it, double down until it starts to deliver diminishing returns then move on to the next one.