Last Month’s Earnings


How to Start an Email List in 2018: Step-By-Step—UPDATED!

Learn how to start an email list with this step-by-step tutorial! I'll walk you through the basics of setting your business up for email marketing.

Pat Flynn
How to Start an Email List in 2018: Step-By-Step—UPDATED!

Don’t Do What I Did

Don't Wait to Get Started

You’re on the right page if you know you need to start an email list, and you want to get it done the right way—and fast.

After this step-by-step tutorial, you’ll have an email list up and running, an autoresponder sequence laid out and ready to go, and even learn some more advanced stuff that’ll help you stand out from your competitors, too.

Looking back at the first business I created back in 2008, not having an email list was like shooting myself in the foot. It was a huge mistake, because I sold products, but had no way of letting people—interested people —know that they existed.

Even here, on Smart Passive Income, I didn’t collect my first email address until 1.5 years after I started the blog. Big mistake—and I made it twice!

That’s exactly what I want to help you with in this tutorial, because you need an email list so that you can grow your business, or even start one if you’re right at the beginning stages of your online business journey.

Keep reading, and then get ready to take some notes, and take some action, too!

How Email Lists Have Helped Me

Email Lists Are Crucial For Your Business

Since 2010 when I first started my email list, I’ve learned so much. Here are a few fun facts about my email list, and how it has been crucial for my business—and how it can be crucial for yours too:

  • I’ve grown my email list to 200,000+ email addresses.
  • Email has helped me discover the top pains and problems of my audience, which can then be used to craft content and product ideas to help alleviate those pains and problems.
  • A single broadcast email once helped me earn over $60k in affiliate earnings.
  • More than $1,000,000 in total earnings can be directly attributed to my email list.
  • Email lists have proven to be versatile for driving new traffic to SPI by promoting new posts, and also resurfacing older posts. They also let me send out notifications when I add new information to an older post.
  • Automated follow-up sequences have allowed me to serve my audience with additional content that allows me to keep in contact with people over time so that I end up with higher open and click through rates.
  • My email segments let me send updates directly to the people on my list I know will be interested in a particular product or post, and skip notifying people who I know aren’t ready for it yet.

That One Time My Email List

Saved the Day

In March 2013 I was in San Francisco shooting promotional video for my book, Let Go, when hackers took my website down—for an entire week. I couldn’t log in to the site. Everyone who came to the site got an error screen, and the only way I could communicate with my audience was through my email list.

The email list I had built literally saved my business for a week. I was able to keep my audience up to date, I shared podcast episodes and YouTube videos that were coming, and kept my business up and running even though my blog was completely out of commission.

Your email list is a huge asset and the experience of not being able to use my main communication tool—my blog—hammered home the benefits of having a solid email list.

Don’t Forget: It’s Not About the Money.

It's About the People

Before we get into the meat of the tutorial here, a couple of things:

  1. Thanks for reading through this, because seriously—most people miss this stuff and it’s so important for your long-term success in email marketing.
  2. So many people in the online business space will tell you that “The money is in the list.” While that’s not entirely untrue, I happen to think that it’s just a small (but still important) part of the picture.

You see, I believe that the money is in the list because that’s where the people are. That may seem obvious, but let’s break it down a little bit more.

When you create an email list, you’re allowing a group of fellow human beings to come together in one place where they expect to hear from you. You have a huge opportunity—responsibility, even—to provide value to them. When someone essentially says, “Hey, I like you enough to give you my email address,” you owe it to them to offer up everything you can to ensure that they make progress, stay informed, or are entertained.

It’s not all about money and it’s not all about the numbers, either.

I have so many people reach out and tell me that they feel discouraged with their small email lists. But, since we’ve already established that these are actual human beings, I like to take a much more visual approach. When you think about the 50 or 100 people on your list, think about having that many people in a single room to hear you speak. They’ve all shown up to hear whatever it is you have to say.

It can be frightening to think about, right? But that is exactly how I think email lists should be treated. When you think about it this way, you can begin treating your email list more like people in a room who are there waiting to hear what you have to say and, ultimately, continually deciding if you and the information you provide is still worth being in the room for. This approach will help you craft effective emails, build trust, and remember to treat your list with respect.

And, if generating an income is one of your goals, you’re likely to do very well.

First Things First

Find the Best Email Service Provider

Now, you may be thinking, “Why do I even need an email service provider? I’ve got a Gmail account and can just send emails to my friends and family that way.”

Here’s the thing: don’t send bulk business emails to your list through your free email service. Not only will you be breaking email marketing opt-in laws, you’ll also have no real way to grow your list.

When considering an email service provider, you’ll want to make sure you can:

  • Build a database of subscribers
  • Send emails to several people at the same time
  • Setup automated follow-up sequences
  • Place signup forms on your website and landing pages
  • Tag or segment your users

Signing on with an email service provider (ESP) that’s built specifically to help you manage and grow your list is incredibly important and, in my opinion, ConvertKit is the way to go. I use it currently, and it’s especially friendly to those just starting out. [Full disclosure: I am a compensated advisor and affiliate for ConvertKit.]

Also, they’re offering a 30-day free trial if you get started today!

You can use the strategies and tactics you learn in this tutorial with any ESP; however I’ve personally experimented with a lot of different ESPs over the years, and I recommend ConvertKit to you because it’s the one that has everything I need to grow my business, while still being very intuitive and easy to use.

You can read more about my choice to switch over to ConvertKit (from two other providers) here in this post.

As I mentioned above, I want full disclosure here: I am a compensated advisor and an affiliate for ConvertKit, but that’s because I believe it is the best email product on the market for online businesses. Here are just a few reasons why I love it:

  • The platform is well designed and extremely easy to use. The names of the tools are clear and easy to understand: forms, automations, sequences, broadcasts, subscribers.
  • Emails are delivered reliably and as expected.
  • Their customer service team is super helpful, and they have 24 hour online chat available (a feature my team uses often when we have questions).
  • The autoresponder sequences are easy to implement.
  • It comes with powerful tagging and segmentation features.
  • Visual automations make it easy to create complex “if this, then that” rules.
  • It’s extremely easy to make changes and updates. For example, if you decide to change a tag’s name, that name automatically updates everywhere you’re using the tag.

Now, let’s get to the tutorial videos! These videos are a completely free resource for you, and they walk you through the process of setting up your list, step-by-step, right from the start.

Here’s what we’ll be covering, video-by-video:

  • How to setup your list and place an opt-in form on your website.
  • How to start getting email subscribers, including information about creating “lead magnets.”
  • Advanced strategies people are using to scale the list building process.
  • How to setup a winning autoresponder series.
  • How to send broadcast emails that get opened and clicked.
  • How to start segmenting and tagging your email list so you can learn even more about your subscribers.

Let’s begin!

Tutorial Videos

Thumbnail of How to Setup Your Email List—Email Marketing Tutorial Part #1

In this video, I’ll explain why email lists are essential components of your business, and share some personal stories about my experience with email. I will also teach you how to setup your email service provider and show you the basics on adding a signup form to your website. Lastly, I share a demo and setup instructions for ConvertKit, my chosen email service provider, but the lessons I teach you will apply to any platform. [Full Disclosure: I'm a compensated advisor and an affiliate for ConvertKit.]

Thumbnail of How to Start Getting Email Subscribers—Email Marketing Tutorial Part #2

In this video, I’ll teach you how to make your visitors want to sign up for your email list. I will explore the biggest mistakes people make when starting email lists, eight types of incentives you can use to get people to sign up for your list, and ten specific places on your website you can place an opt-in form.

I also mention 100 Emails, my new (and free!) email marketing challenge that will help you get from 0 to 100 email subscribers in 3 days. Interested in joining the challenge? Head to!

Thumbnail of Segmentation and Triggers in Email Marketing—Email Marketing Tutorial Part #6

Want to take you email list a step further? Are you ready for a little more advanced information? Excellent! In this video, I’m sharing the best ways to incorporate list segmentation into the list building process.

I give you the basics of what segmentation is, how segmentation can be used, and how you can masterfully set up segmentation for your own email list.

Happy email marketing!

How to Setup Your Email List—Email Marketing Tutorial Part #1

My preferred email provider is ConvertKit, but all this advice applies to any email service provider you choose. [Full Disclosure: I’m a compensated advisor and an affiliate for ConvertKit.]

How to Start Getting Email Subscribers—Email Marketing Tutorial Part #2

Here are two guides I mention in the video. When you’re ready to create an ebook, my guide Ebooks the Smart Way will walk you through the process. I also highly recommend picking up a copy of the book Ask, which will teach you how to ask the right questions of your audience. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase Ask through the link to the right.]

10 Strategies to Get More Email Subscribers—Email Marketing Tutorial Part #3

These resources will super-charge your list-building process. I highly recommend listening to SPI Podcast #78 with Clay Collins (linked in More Resources), which is full of strategies for building your list. [Full Disclosure: I’m a compensated advisor and an affiliate for LeadPages.]

How to Setup a Winning Autoresponder Series—Email Marketing Tutorial Part #4

For creating and delivering surveys, I’m a fan of both Survey Monkey and Typeform. They both allow you to create in-depth surveys to ask questions of your audience. When you’re ready to create surveys, be sure to read the book I mentioned in Video #2, Ask by Ryan Levesque. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through the Survey Monkey or Typeform links to the right.]

Tips for Sending Broadcast Emails That Get Opened and Make an Impact—Email Marketing Tutorial Part #5

Smart from Scratch is a course I created to walk you through the process of choosing and testing a business idea, as well as getting your first customers. If you already have a business, this course isn’t for you, but if you’re just getting started—or you don’t know where to start—this course is for you. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through the Genius link to the right.]

Segmentation and Triggers in Email Marketing—Email Marketing Tutorial Part #6

My book, Will It Fly?, will help you choose and test your next business idea. If you’ve already got a business and are struggling to keep up with the workload, I highly recommend my friend Chris Ducker’s book, Virtual Freedom. Chris teaches you how to work with virtual staff to free up your time to focus on the important tasks in your life. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase Virtual Freedom through the link to the right.]

Email Marketing Questions Answered

AskPat On Email List Building

The first 1000 episodes of the AskPat Podcast featured lots of questions on email list building. I am featuring many of those questions here because I think they’re issues you’re likely to encounter as you work through the advice above.

Promise me one thing: when you hit a question or a problem, you won’t let it stop you. Questions will come up. A great place to ask those questions is in the Smart Passive Income Community Facebook group. This closed Facebook group is made up of both new and established online entrepreneurs from the SPI audience. It’s welcoming and supportive—the perfect place to find help to keep you moving.

AP 0062: How Do You Get People from Facebook into Your Email List?

Visit the show notes for AP: 0062.

AP 0073: Email Marketing: How Often Should You Send an Email to Your Email List?

Visit the show notes for AP: 0073.

AP 0128: Is It Worth Starting an Email List, Even Though I Don’t Have Many Visitors?

Visit the show notes for AP: 0128.

AP 0463: Why Aren’t People Subscribing to My Email List?

Visit the show notes for AP: 0463.

AP 0574: I’m a Musician. How Can I Grow My Email List?

Visit the show notes for AP: 0574.

AP 0608: What Should I Do When My Competitor Joins My Email List?

Visit the show notes for AP: 0608.

AP 0651: What Content Do I Send to My Podcast’s Email List?

Visit the show notes for AP: 0651.

AP 0684: Should I Worry about Spam Bots Filling My Email List?

Visit the show notes for AP: 0684.

AP 0800: How Should I Reach Out to My Audience to Start Growing My Email List?

Visit the show notes for AP: 0800.

AP 0880: Is It Better to Have People Find Your Email List Organically or to Use Pop-Ups?

Visit the show notes for AP: 0880.

One More Thing

Boost Your Email Smarts to the Next Level

As my dear friend Amy Porterfield says, “The energy of your business is directly tied to your email list.”

I didn’t want you to make the same mistakes I made when I failed to start an email list early on in my entrepreneurial journey. So I wrote Email The Smart Way, my free ebook designed to make sure you never run out of email ideas for your audience.

Email the Smart Way is designed to give you valuable insights into building a strong email practice. You’ll receive:

  • A playbook designed to help you write ten different styles of emails.
  • Advice on when to send each email style and what the call to action should include.
  • A strong understanding of the difference between broadcast and autoresponder emails, so that you send the right email at the right time.
  • My rules for what makes for a good email.

I want the energy of your business to thrive, and it’s why I recommend you read Email the Smart Way. It’s free!

Read Email the Smart Way today.

Thank You

You Are Why I'm Here

Thank you so much for reading this tutorial and watching the videos. I sincerely hope it has helped you to start and grow your own email list.

You are why I am here. Without your support and passion, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. So thank you for that!

If this tutorial has helped you in some way, I’d love to hear about it. And, if you’d like to help me out, please share this tutorial so others can benefit too!

I appreciate you! Cheers!

Email address required
No thanks, I'll pass for now :)
  1. 1. Free Stuff

    You'll get instant access to free resources, including my most popular book, Ebooks the Smart Way! (Downloaded over 125,000 times!)

  2. 2. Content Tailored to You

    Over time, I'll get to learn more about you and deliver content that actually matters.

  3. 3. No Hype

    Just real content that's meant to make a difference.