30-Second Summary:

  • Learn why creating a large opt-in email list can make a big difference for your company.

  • Understand the difference between the traditional way of building a list and a new, more strategic way.

  • Find out how pay-per-click advertising can exponentially grow your list.


One night not too long ago, I was on Facebook and saw a video of a guy promoting a free webinar that promised to show me how he created an opt-in email list of 500,000 people.


That got my attention.

I had been grinding away for the previous six years, building what I thought was an impressive list of 20,000 or so. But all of a sudden, I saw that 20k really was small potatoes. Today, after only a few short months, I have more than doubled my list using the method I outline here.

Here’s how: I ended up watching this guy’s free webinar and it was excellent; in fact, so good that I coughed up some real money to buy his system. And I am very glad I did. In short order, my list has more than doubled and it continues to grow every day.

I put a lot of effort into creating my list because I know, from the e-newsletter guru herself, just how valuable an organic email list could be.

As the small business columnist for USA TODAY, I get to meet and interview a lot of very interesting people, entrepreneurs, business owners, authors, leaders, and so on. One of them is Gail Goodman, the former CEO of Constant Contact. Gail had joined the company as employee No. 8, went on to become CEO, and turned the once-small company into an e-newsletter legend.

Here’s what she told me:

“Getting someone to opt-in, Steve, is truly a remarkable thing in the world of marketing. Think about it – these are people who want to hear from you and your business again. In fact, by opting in, they are not only giving you permission to contact them later on, but they are hoping you will. How often does that happen in marketing? Right, almost never. So yes, an email list – a real one, not one you purchase – is marketing gold.”

There are two ways to mine that gold.

One is the old-fashioned way. And then there’s the way that the guy on Facebook taught me. Both work, indeed both have their place, but the new way is much faster and more effective. But, yes, its also more expensive.

Building a List the Traditional Way

Here is how we are all taught to create an email list, and what I did for years (until I did what I am sharing with you today):

  • Create great content
  • Share that great content
  • Have people like it so much that they agree to opt-in to read, watch, or hear more
  • Then funnel those people into your drip email system, communicating with them on a regular basis

That “great content” could be almost anything. It could be your super duper e-newsletter. It might be a clever video or video series. It could be an e-book or a webinar.

Whatever it is, it does indeed have to be excellent if people are going to share their contact info in order to get it. When I watched the Facebook ad, the guy’s message and value proposition was so strong that I was happy to share my contact info with him if that meant I could learn what he knew.

So that is Secret No. 1: Your content and hook have to be excellent if they are to get people to sign up.

The Problem With the Traditional Way

I bet you know the problem with this tried-and-true way of getting opt-ins. It is painstakingly slow, takes a heck of a lot of work, and the results can be dubious. Personally, it took me years to get to 20,000.

First, you have to create that great content. Next, you need to create a teaser, or sample, so that they know what it is they are signing up for. Next, you need to share it. And share it some more. And share it again. You need to post it and share it so much that enough people see it so that all of your efforts will pay off. Then you have to hope those folks like the teaser enough to opt-in. Then you have to hope that your emails to them don’t get lost in their spam folder.

That’s a lot of hoping.

It is sort of like television advertising. The station creates a show and then an advertiser buys an ad on that show, figuring millions of people might see that ad. Out of those millions, the ad will resonate with a few and they will take action. It’s all a numbers game.

The problem for the small business is that we do not have the time or budget to place ads in front of millions, hoping that a few will hear our call to action.

There has to be a better way, right?

Of course right.

A Better Way to Build Your List

The idea here is mostly the same, but it is accelerated through advertising and using the “loss leader” strategy.

In case you don’t know, a “loss leader” is a popular product that you put on sale for a ridiculously low price. Doing so serves two purposes:

  • First, it gets buzz and “How can they sell that 70-inch TV for only $499?”
  • Second, it gets people in the door

Once they are in the door, then it is your job as a small business owner to impress them, and, frankly, sell them more. Maybe that 70-inch TV is not a well-known brand and there is a nicer one that costs more. Or maybe they need a TV stand and installation. Maybe, while they are in your store buying the sale item, they keep shopping. And even better, maybe once someone new learns about your business and they like what they see and become a returning customer.

The loss leads to more sales, see?

And that’s Secret No. 2. To get people to opt-in and join your list, you are not only going to need a great product that they want, but you are going to need to offer a sample of it at such a ridiculously low price that they would be dumb to refuse.

The final step, and Secret No. 3, is probably the most important. Instead of organically sharing and hoping, you are going to microfocus on your target market and advertise the heck out of that offer.

Advertise, and Then Advertise Some More

Let’s take the ad I saw on Facebook as an example. The guy had a detailed system that taught people how to get more opt-ins. The system was a four-hour video course and Facebook Group that cost in excess of $1,000. How do you get people to buy something that expensive from someone they don’t know?

You offer a week of it for $1.

And then you advertise that $1 offer everywhere: On Facebook, using Google ads, with banner ads, on Instagram, USA TODAY, wherever, you name it. The great thing about online pay-per-click ads (as opposed to mass market ads like TV) is that you can micro-target your ads to get in front of only those people most inclined to want to buy it. In this case, small business owners. That’s the trick and the secret I discovered and I am here to tell you, it works.

So, this is what you do:

  • Create a great product people will want (A webinar, course, book, etc.)
  • Create a teaser sample of it
  • Make an irresistible offer
  • Advertise that offer to those folks who are most likely to want it
  • Finally, as part of the acceptance of the offer, make sure they have to opt-in

Now, instead of waiting and hoping, you are targeting and advertising. I happily gave the guy my email address and $1. A week later I gave him a lot more. And guess what?

Like I said, I more than doubled my own list in a few short months using this method. And it continues to work. Every day my list gets a bit bigger. That means that there are more people in my own personal network. As long as I don’t abuse that privilege (I don’t) and provide great, useful content (I do), I have a big list of entrepreneurs who like hearing from me.

How great is that?

This method really works for me, and it can do it for you too.