If you’re running a successful online business, chances are that you’re still making one huge mistake.

Don’t get nervous -- this article isn’t about guilt. I know you’re busy taking care of ten thousand details and hustling to keep up with orders, reports, suppliers, inventory, branding, Google Analytics -- the whole shebang.

This message isn’t about adding one more task to your overloaded schedule. I want to make sure you’re doing one thing that will take care of your business into the future.

Don’t forget to build your email list.

If you haven’t taken care of this essential step, please drop what you’re doing and create a list. Now.

Let’s Fix This

As a small business person, I’ve made a lot of great decisions and a lot of lousy ones. But the decision I regret the most is not building an email list when I put up my first website years ago. I know I’ve missed out on dozens -- or hundreds -- of easy leads because I didn’t have a list in action.

You can set up an email list pretty quickly with intuitive software like Drip, MailChimp, and ConvertKit. If you’re incredibly busy, these options are better than nothing. But if you take a little more time tweaking your website, you’ll pull in even more subscribers, which will mean more paying customers now and in the long run.

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Why is an email list so important?

The main reason you should have an email list collection system today is simple: an email list gives you direct access to people who are looking forward to hearing from you.


Instead of blowing money on expensive marketing in the hopes of snagging your ideal clients, you can reach out to them anytime for very little cost. This is called permission marketing, which was first given a name by entrepreneur Seth Godin.

Regardless of your business, this form of marketing works far better than interruption marketing, which creates the types of ads that say, “Hey! Pay attention to me!” when we’re watching TV or reading articles online. When someone gives you their email address instead, they are handing you the keys to their car and saying, “Drive me to where you want to go.”

That’s a lot of power. Leverage that influence to its full advantage by providing regular updates, which can be weekly or a couple of times a month. Just make sure they’re consistent and packed full of valuable content that establishes you as an expert they can always trust.

When you’re building your business in every direction, it’s tempting to skip the email list because you’re active on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or another social media platform. But think about it -- what happened to that MySpace or LiveJournal account you used to have? That’s right, it died, and any platform could shut down at any time. An email, on the other hand, has a much longer lifespan. Think about it -- people still have AOL and hotmail accounts!

Don’t waste your time

When you’re starting to build your list, it’s easy to get fixated on the wrong issues. I’ve seen too many clients get tripped up in these areas, so take a look at this list and keep moving along.

Don’t just use a footer or widget for your opt-in form. It’s the easiest and worst place to collect email addresses, in my opinion. People don’t even see them anymore, so the conversion rate is often less than 1%. Check out my list below for more valuable website real estate.

Unsubscribers aren’t worth worrying about. If someone drops from your list after one or two emails, let them go and focus on the people who are reading your content. It’s more important to follow the trends and clicks of the people who are engaging with your site. Give yourself a break and forget about trying to optimize everything.

Hours of research on the trendiest email list software can burn precious time. Don’t waste yours finding the perfect solution. Just start!


Even though I’m a software developer with loads of high-tech tools at my fingertips, I decided to go low-tech when I started my email list. I figured that if I could build my list using only my email account plus a pen and paper, I could convince my clients to start building email lists as well.

I went to Twitter, Facebook, and email and asked my followers and folks that I thought would find benefit in what my email list is about and asked, “I've started up a new project where I'll be writing up a new blog post on building a sustainable business as a freelancer, contractor, remote worker every week. It might be something you'd find interesting. Want in?”

Sure enough, after only a couple of hours of tweets, messages and emails to folks, I had over a 160 names! It was that easy, so please quit stalling!

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Start smart

I’ve seen the back door of hundreds of e-commerce websites, so I have a good sense of which techniques work best when it comes to placing email forms that reel in customers. These are my favorite places to entice customers before they leave your website.

-- Content Upgrades -- If you blog regularly, you can offer visitors a report, checklist or other download that’s directly related to the topic of the post if they leave their email address. If you create several of these content giveaways, you can fine-tune further so your readers get prime info or discounts.

-- Bylines -- Most articles post the author’s name right at the beginning. You can drop in a teaser like, “for more articles like these, click here.” Here’s an example from my friend Brian Casel.

-- Call to Action -- This is a well-placed opt-in form either coming in from the side or at the end of a stellar article that offers your readers more info, a special offer, or a content upgrade. If worded well, like the examples here and here, these have amazing conversion rates.

-- Exit Intent popups -- These mini-forms grab a reader’s attention just as they’re about to leave your website. Many readers think, “Why not?”, giving you another email in the bank. These function especially well when you offer premium content, like a report or checklist, on a page when someone is about to leave your site where they have to make a decision.

-- The top-performing pages of your website should always have an opt-in form. Make sure you know which articles are the most popular and have a place to collect emails there.

-- Welcome Mats are forms that appear before you can read any content. Some work well, and some can feel intrusive, so test out a couple of versions and see how they perform.

-- An upside-down homepage is a new trend that places a huge image with an email opt-in as the first text you see. Instead of a headline and tabs, readers get this call to action that inspires them to read more or click on the offer.

-- Timed Pop-up forms -- These are triggered after a visitor has read a certain amount of content, showing that they have more than a passing interest in your material.

-- Coupons or small discounts can be a very effective way of collecting emails. Usually only a 5-10% discount is all that’s needed to pique someone’s interest, so don’t feel pressured to set the offer too high.

-- Put a click-through link into your email signature and Skype description so people can find out more about you with a simple click. Consider choosing your best-performing opt-in form instead of your home page for the landing place.

-- All of your social media profiles should include a link to an opt-in page so people have a direct link to your content.

-- A call to action button on your Facebook is great at converting visitors -- as long as you are posting regularly and keeping readers engaged.

-- Stay in front of new readers by answering questions from potential clients. You can do this in rapid-response form on Twitter or Facebook, but your audience there is limited to your personal followers. On Quora, you can jump onto any question that readers are asking -- whether they’re in your city or halfway around the world. This unique format allows you to look like an expert in front of dozens to thousands of people, just for the cost of your time!

Test and confirm

Please remember that it’s best to test one or two of these opt-ins at a time. If you add a few of these to your site and walk away, you won’t have a good sense of what’s working and what’s not.


Rule #1 is to always, always monitor your changes and measure how they are impacting your conversion rates. Sometimes a pop-up form is a superhighway, and sometimes it’s a dud. The only way you’ll know is if you track the data.

If an opt-in isn’t working, no problem. Pull it down and try something else. When I’m working my magic on my clients’ websites, I often have to take down elements like low-functioning opt-in forms that are cluttering up pages and getting in the way of creating trust with your readers.

Here are some of the best strategies I have to track website activity.

-- Tag users as they come through specific opt-ins. Watching which forms are more appealing to visitors will help you create more content on topics that your readers like. It will also help you replicate successful calls to action or special offers.

-- Use Heat Maps, which give you incredibly helpful insight about where people are clicking on your website. You can move offers to places on the screen where people are already most likely to look. I like to test this when my clients aren’t running a special promotion so I get a sense of how the site functions on an everyday basis.

-- Check out Content Analytics, a free tool that lets you see the point on the page when people stopped reading. If you have an offer located after the sixth block of text, but most of your readers click away after reading two paragraphs, then the offer’s placement might be the problem, not the offer itself.

Start Right Now building An email list


Take a breath, look at your site, and choose a couple of places that you think would be a great portals for email collection.

Choose your most popular post or your lead image, but choose now. Your business came to life because you were able to connect with people who needed your services. Once they arrive at your door, take every chance you can to get to find a regular place in their inbox.

If you need help dialing in your opt-ins and other features of your e-commerce site, send me an email with a few notes about your business goals. I get great results for clients, and I’m confident that I can improve conversions for you.

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