The Power of Email Lists for Web Designers and How to Get One Started


Imagine if you had a sea of potential clients who were one click away from working with you. How would it impact your web design business? The secret is building email lists that you can turn to to build relationships and generate leads.

There are many ways to grow and expand your freelance business and one of the most powerful is an email list. For little to no money, you can start a list, build your traffic, and gather more potential leads who will be pining to work with you.

If you are really serious about jumpstarting your web design business, consider email marketing as one of the strategies that will help you get to the top.

WHAT are email lists?

An electronic mailing list allows online webmasters and marketers to send electronic posts, announcements and messages to a list of subscribers at one time. Mailing list software saves subscribers’ email addresses and publishes messages automatically as determined by the webmaster’s schedule.

Twenty years ago, businesses had to stamp, address and physically send mailings to all of their customers. This not only cost money, but also required a lot of manpower.

Fast forward to today and email marketing not only costs pennies to implement, but it is also the one trend that has stood the test of time. While SEO, social media and even PPC have gone through major transformations, email marketing remains one of the most effective strategies to gaining leads and building an online reputation.

WHEN do I start an email list?

Most designers think they need to wait until they have a blog or more of an online presence before starting an email list. But, this simply is not true.

In fact, if you can manage to acquire some email addresses before you start your blog, you will have a number of readers ready to share. This will give you a head start along with instant traffic!

WHY do I need an email list?

Why would web designers need to build mailing lists? There are many reasons why, but we will cover the two most important here:

1. What happens to those potential leads/clients who visit your website but may not be ready to pull the trigger to contact you for services? The worst thing that can happen is they leave your website.

A potential client may be more inclined to give an email address than commit to starting a design job.

An email opt-in box will help you capture those leads and give you the ability to nurture them a little more to urge them to work with you. Your messages will be targeted towards giving helpful advice and also to remind them of your services.

2. Future Work – Potential clients may not need services the moment they subscribe to your list. But when they do, they will know where to come because they will remember who you are from your email messages.

An email list allows designers to build relationships with subscribers and offer advice which makes potential leads to want to work with them.

By building relationships you are creating a reputation for your business which leads to more customers and more revenue!

Are you ready to start a list?

First things first…

You will need an autoresponder. An autoresponder is the software that sends your messages to your subscribers.

Here are a few popular services:

Now that you are hopefully convinced about starting an email list, here are some first steps to get the ball rolling:

  • Invite your current contacts – Chances are you already have a list of past clients and their email addresses. Do not automatically add these addresses to your email list. Politely send an email with a link to the page where they can subscribe. Tell them you are starting a newsletter and state the benefits they will receive.
  • Subscribers – If you already have a blog, invite your current subscribers via a blog post to subscribe to your list.

How to Get People to Subscribe

To get people to opt in to your list, you must give them an incentive.

Some marketers simply offer updates and this strategy does work for popular websites. But, if you really want to boost your email marketing campaign, I recommend you give away a free gift.

Many marketers offer a free ebook, report, video or course. The gift can be anything as long as it offers value to the subscriber.

Here are some best practices to remember:

  • Make it Valuable! You can wrap a green rock in an emerald cover to make it look like a rare gem, but once people receive it, they will know it is a fake. Don’t view your freebie as simply something to give away to get more subscribers. If you do, that’s all it will be and though you will acquire a few subscribers, you will do nothing for your reputation and potentially harm it.
  • Who? Your freebie must solve a need for your subscribers. The first step to knowing what to offer is KNOWING your audience.

Who are your customers?
What are their needs?
What are their problems?

As web designers, your audience is not other web designers—unless you are a web design instructor or teacher. Therefore, giving away a report on web design that includes complex programming and tutorials will not be successful.

If your audience is composed of small business owners who run websites but need assistance with marketing, consider a report about optimizing websites for conversions, split testing, usability testing, or the latest internet trends.

The trick to nailing your conversions is to become intimately acquainted with the people you service!

Find out what their specific pain points are and you will find a stream of success.

  • Make it substantial! This is not the time for a two-paragraph report on what Aunt Matilda said about web design. If you are giving away a free report, it should be at least eight pages in length and look professional. Use a company logo and professional graphics throughout.
  • Edits are Crucial! Many of our readers hail from all over the world and we welcome a diverse group of people. Some, however, are not fluent in English, or they know English, but not well enough to write with perfect grammar. If you fall into these categories, I suggest you hire an English editor to proofread your report or ebook so it has maximum impact.

Hubspot published this short newsletter to further discuss Top Incentives for Driving Email Subscribers.

The Opt-in Box/ Sign Up form

The Opt-in box is the site of the email address query where subscribers add their email addresses. The design and look of this box is very important and will influence conversions.


The design of the subscription box should look like an extension of your website, but stand out from the page just enough to be noticed.

Here are some important design elements to remember:

1. Attention-grabbing headline

The headline must catch your web visitors’ eyes immediately. It should be in a different typeface than the rest of the copy and solve a problem for your visitors. After reading your headline, your web visitors should feel that you know their problems and your newsletter/mailings will help them.


2. Graphics

The graphic is not necessary in all cases, but it is a good practice when you are giving away a report or ebook. The graphic should look like the 3D physical form of the item you are offering in return for a subscriber’s email address.


3. Benefits

Mention a few benefits or even one so visitors will know what to expect. Inform them of what they will receive and why they will want it. If you are not offering a freebie, use the copy space to tell potential subscribers the benefits of joining your newsletter and what they can expect.

Remember that an email address is someone’s private possession. You have to earn the right to receive it.


IF you are offering a freebie, add the word “Free” to make a bigger impact. Also, don’t forget to tell your visitors to enter their email to receive free access to their gift.


Tip: It’s a good practice to inform your subscribers that you will never share their email and you hate spam just as much as they do.


5. Call to Action

Your call to action should be interesting and attention-grabbing. Consider text like “Get Instant Access” or “Sign Me Up”.


The location of the subscription form will also influence your conversions. It is recommended to test the placement to determine the optimal position.

Here are the most popular locations:

Below Blog Post


Notice how John Chow speaks DIRECTLY to the person by stating, “Did you enjoy this blog post?” This gets the reader’s attention more than a generic form.

Blog Sidebar

This is the most popular place to put an opt in because it is visible without being obtrusive to readers.

About Page

Don’t ignore the chance for conversions on your About page. As long as you are not overusing your opt-in box, the About page is a great place to capture email addresses.

Pat Flynn of performed a test and saw a marked increase in subscriber opt-ins when he added a form to his About page. He explains his results here.


Many marketers use a footer opt-in as a secondary source. However, some web designers use the footer opt-in exclusively. You will need to test to see which scenario works best. It may be a good place to start.

Pop Up

Popups actually perform very well even though they can be annoying. My advice is to use them at your own risk. Some very prominent marketers swear by them and others stay far away.

Dan Zarrella, social media scientist, has been using the popup for years now. It annoys me because every time I click on a new page it continues to disrupt my reading, but he offers incredible value with his information. If you want to try the popup, make sure to test different positions to see which location performs the best.


The Messages

The main goal of your email campaigns is to develop relationships, nurture leads and offer value WITHOUT selling repeatedly and spamming your subscribers’ inboxes.

What should the email messages consist of?

Here are some ideas:

  • Recent blog posts
  • Helpful industry tips
  • Recent projects
  • Links to helpful resources
  • Company news
  • Contests and promotions
  • Special offers
  • Incentivized surveys
  • Personal stories (occasionally)

When composing your messages, here are some important tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t send the same old content everyone reads. Even if it is similar, find a way to make it creative and interesting.
  • Keep it short! Use bullets and one to two sentence paragraphs.
  • Make your subscribers feel exclusive. Use their name, and address them directly as if you are talking only to them. Similar to how people feel when they pay thousands of dollars to be part of a club membership, your subscribers will feel special if you make an extra effort.
  • Don’t know where to start? Curate! If you are not a writer and you do not have the budget to hire anyone, consider researching the web for the top information and send the links to your readers.
  • Give people the option to unsubscribe.
  • Don’t take unsubscribes personally. Sometimes I unsubscribe from a list simply because I am trying to streamline my emails. It happens to everyone. However, when you notice a bundle of them at one time or a continuous flow, it may be time to adjust your campaign.
  • Be careful not to use words that trigger SPAM filters or your email will end up in your subscribers’ junk mail. Here is an extensive list of email SPAM trigger words.

What NOT to do

Worried about making mistakes? Hubspot published this free Ebook that addresses the top 12 mistakes made by email marketers.

Dirty Dozen: Email Newsletter Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes

Are we done yet?

We’ve just scratched the surface of the depth of email marketing. Here are some more fantastic resources to help you create highly effective, traffic-driving email marketing campaigns.

Need some more ideas on how to grow your email list?:

Success Stories

Here are three true life success stories of people just like you who grew their businesses by using email marketing:

Bella Web Design


Desiree Scales started Bella Web Design as a tool to make money while staying home to spend more time with her growing family. She touts her email list as the turning point in her business and the tool that helped her generate more leads and expand her horizons. She was also able to attract bigger clients which increased her revenue.



Neil Patel started QuickSprout as a blog to teach others how to market online. He also started many software companies such as Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics. He is known as a mover and a shaker in the industry and his huge subscriber list is proof of his success.

Smart Passive Income


Pat Flynn started from nothing and has built his list to over 25,000 subscribers. With his blog he teaches people how to make a passive income online and he has built quite a reputation for himself in a short period of time.

Let’s Get to It!

So now that you have nothing holding you back from starting a list, let’s get going! Actually, I know how difficult it can be to focus and work on a new business building strategy. I am in the middle of creating my free download so I understand how hard it is to juggle more work into an already hectic schedule. But if we keep putting it off, we will never accomplish our goals.

Let’s be accountable to each other and make starting an email list our goal for the rest of 2012! Who’s with me?