How to Build a First-Class Email List in 30 Days — from Scratch

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If you want to quickly build a responsive email list in the next 30 days — especially if you’re just starting online and don’t have a lot of money — the following strategy can get the job done.

Here’s the story:

Several years ago, I was struggling to build my email list and nothing seemed to work.

I wrote hundreds of ezine articles. I tried setting up joint ventures with other list owners. I even added loads of fresh content to my site hoping to attract search engine traffic and leads.

All of these things were helpful, but they didn’t deliver the big “hit” I wanted.

Then one day, I decided to try something completely different. Something entirely obvious …

Hardly anyone was doing what I was going to attempt (must less teaching it).

The simple 30-day email list strategy

What I did was “trade” writing a half dozen press releases to a marketer I knew (who had a big email list) in exchange for plugging my site a set number of times to his list over the course of a month.

Did it work? Oh yeah!

In fact, it only took a few hours to write the press releases, and every time he plugged my site a new batch of leads came in like clockwork. Before long my list was up and running with dozens of fresh, new responsive subscribers.

The total cost? A few hours of my time doing something I enjoyed.

And guess what?

You can do the exact same thing.

You probably have a skill other email list owners in your industry want.

It could be writing … web design … programming … SEO … editing audio/video … building websites … or just about anything a list owner in your industry can use.

If you simply find these email list owners, you can leverage your time and skills to build your list by trading that skill for endorsing your website.

Of course, the “devil” is in the details, isn’t it?

How — exactly — do you find deals like this?

Here’s 5 ways you can get going on as early as today:

1. Intentional social media networking

Mostly, I think social media is overrated as a marketing tool.

But one thing I do like about it is how easy it is to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise get to know.

With FaceBook, for example, you can friend someone and get to know them (by chatting them up about common interests, responding to their updates, etc). Sometimes that can naturally turn into a valuable contact.

That contact may or may not have a list of people who would be interested in your joining your list. But he/she probably will know someone who does and can give you an intro.

2. Ask your colleagues

Chances are you know other business owners.

It can’t hurt to ask them:

“Hey, I want to build my list and am wanting to trade my XYZ service/product in exchange for other list owners plugging me to their list. Do you know someone who needs an XYX service/product?”

All it takes is one referral like that, and you’re off to the races.

3. Forums are not dead

Go to online forums where list owners in your industry hang out and look for people asking questions you can answer.

Don’t try to pitch them your offer. Just answer their questions and be helpful.

Eventually, you’ll create relationships with people you help.

And when the time is right, simply make them your offer to trade.

4. Starting small is not a waste of time

Don’t poo-poo the smaller email list owners!

Someone with a small list is FAR more likely to accept your offer. And, after you’ve helped them, simply ask if they know someone who might be interested in the same deal … and would they mind giving you an intro?

Again, it’s simple referral marketing.

Starting small lets you leverage social proof to the hilt as you work your way up the food chain to bigger list owners.

5. Excel at what you do

Finally, as the great negotiator Jim Camp says:

“The more effective people are, the more we respect them.”

When you’re starting out, it’s tough getting anyone to take your calls. But as you rack up successes … and as people on the lists you’re promoted to see your name … and as word spreads about how groovy you are at what you do …

People will eventually start promoting you without you even asking them.

They’ll want to do it.

It makes them look good to their lists.

Believe it or not, this happens all the time, and it can happen for you, too.

Get good. Then, get better.

Start implementing the simple tips in this article.

Of course, building your list is just step #1. The next step is to monetize your list by mailing offers to your new subscribers.

To learn 24 proven ways to write emails people love reading and buying from, click the link in my bio below and subscribe to my email list.

About the Author: Ben Settle is a direct response copywriter and email marketing strategist. Although Ben no longer accepts clients, he gives away over 700 pages of his bestselling ideas and insights free at

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Reader Comments (52)

  1. says

    Funny I just setup two mailing lists 4 weeks ago. One was to send out updates when I post a new article on my web site, the other one was a weekly newsletter where I collect, cherry-pick and annotate links to a bunch of news items in a very specific subject: The Perl programming language.

    The former got I think 7 subscribers, not a huge success.

    With the latter I already have more than 500 subscribers. It is not as impressive as the numbers we can see for the copyblogger free updates (top right on this page, if you missed it) but it is certainly more than what I expected.

    Most of the subscribers came from Tweets, ReTweets, Google+ comments and Facebook mentions.

    Now the hard work starts. Keep sending the newsletters week by week.

  2. says

    #5b: don’t just Excel at what you do. Keep an Excel spreadsheet to track your contacts and tasks, or the proceedings will soon get very messy. True story.

  3. says

    Brilliant! I know I probably shouldn’t be writing all just love what you’re saying here. But “love” what and “how” you are saying this here. I haven’t done the email thing yet, it’s something I’m ready to do and would benefit from too. But reading this today – found myself wanting to say, I would have wrote that – I want to copy and paste and tell others because you saved me the answer to myself being asked how do you do it Jane or errrrr zJayne!

    Thanks! You rock!

  4. says

    Huh – What an interesting idea :)

    I’m working on slowly and steadily building up my list and hope to start incorporating things like this and guest posting to my strategies soon.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. says

    Everything in business ultimately boils down to relationship-building. I have a few list owners on my radar (who are clients), but until I feel that our relationship is where it needs to be, I’m nervous to make this request. But I will…and I’ll report back!

  6. says

    Horse trading for list building. lol I think it’s a great way to maximize your strengths by trading your services for promotion. It’s not new but it’s certainly a great tactic. Thanks for sharing.

  7. says

    Set up a newsletter for my finance-oriented website back in December — now roughly 75% of my income is directly from the newsletter. I wish I’d set it up several years ago when I first started. :)

  8. says

    Well said, Ben. I’d take your advice any day – you ARE the king of email marketing, and anyone who is looking to build or grow an email list should definitely listen to you!

  9. says

    Ben: I’ve picked up an idea or two from your newsletter. Today, this post tempts me to go on a Guest Posting spree. With the goal of directing people to my opt-in page of course… :-)

  10. says

    Thanks for sharing this idea. What I love most about your strategy is that by giving a list-owner a sample of your services, you are creating the opportunity for an honest, heart-felt testimonial about the value of those services. The resulting “plug” will be so much more sincere and valuable because it’s based on true appreciation for the service you have provided. :-)

  11. says

    Great article. Thank you. I’ve just started a blog and eZine. Swapping services with another company is one of the first things on my list. They are plugging my work in their newsletter, and linking on the basis that we co-refer through our emailings. We are in the same general market but our niches complement rather than compete. The reason they agreed was because they like having extra content for their list.

  12. Diane Bianchi says

    Great tips. I am getting ready to start my own business, so this information is very valuable to me. Thanks!

  13. says

    What a great idea. Takes us back to the origins of marketing and trading/bartering – offering and matching something (product/service) with the needs of a person.
    The fact that you’re exchange of services has also gained you a priceless endorsement from them to their list members, is brilliant.

  14. says

    Hi Ben,

    A super creative way to build your list.

    We all have unique talents we can exchange for a service. The key is to be really good at what you do, so people with influence will be more than happy to do the deal.

    As for social media, it has been a powerful marketing tool for me because I intend to connect with as many people as possible. People know people, and if you develop a caring connection with someone you leverage your presence like no other practice. The key is to make things personal, not business. Reverse the famous Godfather quote and you’re good to go.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Ben!


  15. says

    Great post that you have here but when it comes to forums you really have to set a HIGH amount of energy and time to get noticed and to receive an abundant amount of clicks to your specific email campaigns. Some times the best way to increase your list is to let others review your product you’re trying to offer and link back to that specific squeeze page your having them download from.

  16. says

    I really love this idea. I do have skills that would benefit people with online businesses (writing, proofreading, virtual assistant work), but I had never thought of trading those services for “plugs.” Now I just need to decide who I want to approach and get up the nerve to do it.

  17. says

    I like the ideas on this post Ben, and I’d add this to point #3.

    Instead of just helping answer their questions, and “hope” they will make a trade. Why not go the extra mile and create a quick video to help solve their problem?

    In the past, I’ve done this on private forums. I search for the most popular viewed posts, and create a video that answers their questions.

    Granted, the sites allowed external linking, so I was able to send them to my site to watch the video answer, and captured some new leads.

    Jared Kimball

  18. says

    I will be using your list! I’m planning to build an email list and seeing your post, I’ll be sure to use it! I think it’s very important to get the right people because there are some people who get annoyed with emails.

    – Jack Leak

  19. says

    Ok, I’m an SEO expert and am willing to trade some consultation time for a banner ad or inclusion in an email blast. I thought I’d just get the ball rolling right here right now :)

  20. says

    Thanks for this information. It is very interesting and useful. I understand the importance of a list but just not exactly how to get one going.

  21. says

    I can always appreciate very creative solutions to what appear to be very complex problems… it kind of clunks you on the head and makes you say ‘now why didn’t I think of that?’ Your approach here is brilliant… thanks !

  22. says

    The post is a reminder about the power of mastermind and the power of contributing value to a bigger flock. It breaks down the steps to do it. I like the part where you said not to oversee the smaller lists. It is an awesome pointer that greatness is built by little victories.

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