I received an email recently from a fellow asking me if I could provide some common sense list-building tips for his Online Marketing business. 

I emphasize “common sense” because too often new marketers have unrealistic expectations of what a list can do for them.

Worked correctly, an email list can yield both avid followers and enthusiastic buyers.

Done the wrong way, your list will become a barren field of frustrated and annoyed un-subscribers or worse.

If you're looking for some quick and dirty tips for spamming a bunch of people when you want to sell something, this post isn't for you. 

But if you want some serious list-building tips to create a long-lasting business asset that will serve you well forever, keep reading.


The big question that everyone wants to be answered is this:

How do I build a responsive email list of people who will buy from me?

First, I'll tell you that if you place your focus on YOU rather than your list, you won't have any success at all. 

The needs of your list members must come first.

I'm also going to assume that you already have an email marketing management account with Aweber or a related service.

If not, you can grab a free trial with Aweber here.

11 Common Sense List Building Tips for Serious Marketers

Here are 11 of my best common sense list building tips:

1.  Have patience and realistic expectations

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will your list be built in short order. 

Building a good-sized list of responsive buyers takes time, consistent effort, and undeniable persistence. 

Be patient!

2.  Do your research

Understand who your ideal client and target market is, and focus, focus. focus.

If your list consists of a diverse group of people who have very different goals in mind, your message will become diluted.

3.  Decide on the “theme” of your messages

Will you be providing information about a specific topic or more general tips and strategies as you learn them? 

Come up with a basic plan of action and get going.  You can revisit your plan later and revise it as necessary.

4.  Spend some time thinking of ways to entice people to join your list

Why should someone join your list? 

What's in it for them? 

Will you be providing an “ethical bribe” — a free giveaway to entice them to give up their name and email? 

If so, what will it be?

Hint:  the fastest way to grow your list is by helping others solve a problem.

5. Deliver on your promises

If you promised something as part of your free giveaway, be sure you deliver quickly. 

You don't want to get off on the wrong foot.

This is the first chance you have to start building trust with your email list members.

Don't blow it.

6.  Tell your new subscriber what to expect

In your very first autoresponder message, tell your subscriber how often you'll be sending them emails and the type of information they'll receive.

If you're going to be selling things in some of your emails (you should!), be sure to tell them that upfront. 

No one gets upset with an occasional sales message, especially when the product or service specifically helps them with a problem (again, know your target market!).

7.   Lead with value

One of the biggest mistakes I see new marketers make is that they only send an email to their list when they want to sell them something. 


You need to build trust and the fastest way to do this is to let your list members know that THEY come first and you come second. 

Your aim is to help them first and yourself much later.

What do I mean? 

Think of your relationship with your email list members as a bank account. 

You must make deposits into that account before you can make any withdrawals.

By deposits, I mean providing your list with information that will help them. 

Letting them know of free webinars or other free training is a great way to make deposits into your trust account.

For example, as a member of MLSP, I have the ability to invite my list to their free weekly training webinars

It's a win-win.

I don't have to actually do the training, and my list wins because they get training for free that can help them in their business. 

My trust level goes up each time I give to my list without asking for anything in return.

8.  Get your list used to opening your emails

Your success as an email marketer will depend in part on how many people actually open your email. 

Writing compelling headlines is one way to improve your open rate.

But in the beginning, you want to actually condition your new list member to open your emails. 

You can do this by emailing often during the first week after they subscribe.

I strongly suggest you develop an email series to send during that critical first week.

While the content of your series should be of interest to your reader, it doesn't need to be amazing (although it doesn't hurt, either!)  🙂

A series on “your biggest mistakes starting out” or “5 things I wish I knew when I first started” are great ideas for an email series.

If you have knowledge of a specific marketing tool or skill, this can also be the subject of your short email series.

The important thing is to get people used to receiving and opening emails from you, right from the start.

9.  Follow the 80/20 rule

In general, spend 80% of your emails providing value and building trust, and 20% of your emails asking your list to do something, like take a trial or buy a product.

In fact, I would say that 90/10 is a better split, especially when first starting out.

10.  Don't forget to ask for the sale

You'd be surprised how many experienced marketers get so focused on providing value to their lists that they neglect to ask for the sale when the time is right.  

I'm not sure if this is because they feel guilty asking or what, but the bottom line as a marketer is that you need to make money. 

It shouldn't come first, but you need to ask.

11.  Build separate lists

When you add someone to your list from social media, a person who already knows you, this list member is far different than a person who comes on to your list from an ad on the Internet.

This person doesn't know you from a stranger on the street, and you need to work harder to establish trust in these cases.

I believe it's good practice to keep more than one list, two at the minimum — one for social media who already know you and one for other forms of marketing like PPC or solo ads, where people don't know you upfront.

This is easily done within your email management account.

In this way, you can spend more time developing trust with your second list than you would need to with people who already know you.  

Remember, your list are made up of PEOPLE who come to you from different sources with different needs. 

  • Treat them well and you will experience unimaginable gains.
  • Treat them badly and your list will turn to dust.
  • Treat them well by putting their needs before your own.  Give them what they need before you think of lining your pockets.
  • Treat them badly — by sending them pitch after pitch to buy something — and they'll either unsubscribe or worse, make you irrelevant by not even bothering to open your emails.


Bonus List Building Tip!

Just for reading this far, I've saved the best for last.  

This is a killer bonus list-building tip given to me by my colleague Diane Hochman.  

It's so simple, yet brilliant:


Instead of passing out business cards or brochures when you meet someone, ask if it would be okay if you send them your email newsletter with the information they'll find useful.  

Collect their email address, and now you're one step closer to email marketing bliss.


Got Any List Building Tips of your Own?

This list is just a start.  Can you add to my list of list-building secrets?  

Leave a comment and add to the discussion!


Suggested Business Resources

Aweber - building your list has never been so important.  Grab your Free Account.

InMotion Hosting - my preferred web-hosting service

Descript - by far the best video and audio editor I've ever used.

TubeBuddy - if you're doing videos, this will be your best friend

Legendary Marketer - lead generation and business creation platform for affiliate and network marketers.

Fearless Influencer Academy - learn the skills and strategies for growing any business online.


It's Your Time to SHINE!


Dr. Bob Clarke

Email: Bob@BobandRosemary.com

Join our Part-Time Essentials Facebook Group


This post may contain affiliate links to products or services that I trust.  This means that if you make a purchase using the links included in this post, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.  Thank you for the support!


    38 replies to "11 Common Sense List Building Tips for Serious Marketers"

    • Eoin

      Great article. Very useful and relevant ideas for email marketing. Think I could use this as the basis of a blog for my site. Will provide a backlink!!

    • Aayna

      Thanks a lot for sharing these valuable tips. I completely agree if one follows these tips honestly, he/she can surely become a better marketer. It is very important on the part of the marketer to deliver a relevant message to the audiences after indulging in a thorough and genuine research.

    • Lora Colin

      Hi Bob. Thanks for sharing these ideas. These 11 common sense list could really give me numerous strategies in order to become a successful marketers. These could only not help me but you can help many people who want to be successful in marketing.

      • Bob

        It’s all in the list, Lora!

    • Sylviane Nuccio

      Hi Bob,

      Thank you for this full list of what to do to build a mailing list.

      I think that first making sure that we are targetting the right crowd, then deliver on the promises and telling our readers what to expect is the very minimum we can do.

      I think that when you write a very personal email telling your reader what to expect it makes you stand out right away and people will see you as a real person that seems to be trustworthy.

      Thank you for this valuable information, here 🙂

      • Bob

        Agreed, Sylviane.. people are sick of canned autoresponder lingo. When you give it the personal touch, you can really stand out to your list!

        Appreciate the comment.

    • Sonia

      Excellent post. I haven’t done much with my list either (bad girl Sonia) and this really helps. There is a wrong way to do things and you gave me some great ideas on how to do it right. Thankfully I haven’t done the bad stuff you said, so I am off to a good start, but the rest of your information is invaluable. I have seen other newsletters from stuff I follow and they either sell too often or don’t offer me anything that I deem a call to action.

      Thank you Bob for this because I needed this.

    • Mary Stuart

      Great post. These are really useful tips to use to become a successful marketer. If you want to be a successful marketer, it is better to follow all the thoughts and ideas on this blog.

    • Gwen Chua

      Great tips I agree we need to have patience all the time..Keep posting inspiring article.

    • Suni

      I super like this list. You almost tackled all the things that a marketer commonly miss. Great pieces of advice!

    • Samantha Fisken

      I couldn’t agree for more. We should value our customers because with out them we’re nothing and let’s improved more our services so that they will stick to us.

    • Sarah Smith

      My biggest challenge is having realistic expectations, I won’t become rich overnight. But taking an aggressive stance has increased my profits. Great post!

    • carol

      Brilliant tips.Reading these post make me realize everything about marketers.Thanks for your great ideas.

    • Stacy

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for sharing these tips! I haven’t put too much effort into my list yet so these are very helpful! I especially like the bonus tip, that’s thinking outside of the box! I feel like I have more tools to run an effective list now.


    • Mario

      Thanks for this great advice. This tips are so useful for me. And I will surely follow this. I’m all new in this kind of field and I am happy to get more information my experts like you.

    • Warren

      All great tips and the bonus one was one I hadn’t thought of or even heard of before! 🙂

      Manual permission marketing! LOL

      Setting targets for your email marketing campaigns can be a great help also.
      Improving open rates, clicks, etc. rather than just how many new opt in’s you got this month.


    • Elena Anne

      It important to identify your target audience and learn to communicate well with them. Communication through written word is essential. While we are in the technology age, we should not forget the importance of connecting with readers and clients on a personal level. People still like to feel cared for and served.

    • Marcos T. Rodrigues

      I love the way you value the customers and the method of entrepreneurship, very challenging.

    • Shawn Sparks

      Love these ideas. I am still new so I can always use some good tips like this. Thanks.

    • Adrienne

      Awesome tips Bob and Diane’s bonus was a great addition. I also liked Carol’s idea of just having your blog printed on a business card and nothing else. That’s a great curiosity cruncher wouldn’t you agree?

      I know that building a list can be so intimidating, it was for me in the beginning. I didn’t know what to share but as I’ve continued my journey here online I’ve learned that just by sharing what you know with your list, that will keep them wanting more from you. Never over promote anything but once they get to know, like and trust you, they’ll be eager to buy from you.

      I’ve also learned to ask for the sale. Heck, I’ve learned to ask for a lot of things because a good bit of the people online don’t know what you want them to do next. Never be afraid to just ask.

      I was on a webinar last week and was given a really cool PDF with some great headline grabbers for emails. I can’t wait to use them and see if my open rate goes up. Right now it’s pretty darn impressive but more would always be welcomed.

      Thanks for sharing these great tips Bob and I apologize for being so late in stopping by. Hope you and Rosemary had a wonderful weekend and you’re both looking forward to a really great week.


    • Nice article, Bob – list building can be painfully slow! I wish I had a magic answer but do not. Any magical list building is probably not going to respond. A small list that responds well by engaging and opening emails is better than a huge list that does not respond. Nice to get to know you better.

    • Nicky

      Some great tips here Bob on how to attract, keep and grow your list. Emailing regularly is definitely key to your prospect knowing who you are and what you helped them with initially. Congruency in the follow up is also key which boils down to knowing who your target market is – exactly as you say.

      I also agree that when you are starting out – give away SO much value in your first 7 days that they cannot be serious about their business if they choose to unsubscribe. Obviously a strategic link in the P.S on those first 7 days is a MUST – We are in business to make money after all!


    • Kellie M. Mercie

      Thank you for this effective tips it helps me a lot . I like you use of the words “common sense” as there are all sorts of strategies out there that seem to lack that element..

    • Jarmaine Jackson

      Very informative Rosemary and Bod. Never thought of building a list in that fashion. I will implement this ASAP.

    • Maja

      Hello Dr Bob

      List building is one of the core factor in online marketing but it is useless if your blog has no potential. I mean unique contents with consistency and frequency.

    • Carol Lynn

      Hi Bob, all great tips. I especially think that “asking for the sale” is so important because we’re hit over the head constantly by people telling us to “provide value” which is great, but we have to make money, too! That’s the whole point of business. Plus if you’re all value all the time, you’re basically training people to expect free stuff so at some point when you ask for a sale it’s going to come as a shocker. I recently had a conversation with someone who saw a huge jump in unsubscribes after her first “ask for the sale” because people were so used to the free stuff. Sad but true.

      Speaking of business cards, I actually had cards printed just for my blog. It doesn’t have my name on it, or my phone number or anything. Just an enticement to visit and sign up and the web address. I actually used a specific landing page so I could track how many signups I get that way (not perfectly, but at least I can get some idea). It’s been pretty good and a really interesting experiment! Cards are so inexpensive it’s worth the experiment.

      Thanks for your tips!

      • Nicky

        Carol – What a great idea to have a business card for your blog!

    • Ileane

      Dr. Bob, that killer tip almost did me in the other day. lol
      You remember me talking about my trip to AWeber, well imagine how embarrassed I was when people asked for my business card and I didn’t have any!! I could have kicked myself, so thanks for reminding me that I really need to move that up on my to do list! Thanks for all the tips and I’ll be sure to put them into practice.

    • Carol

      Awesome! Very interesting topic. I really love it. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post to all of us. this is so resourceful and I like your writing skills; very detailed.Amazing list 🙂

    • Amy

      Very nice post you share. I appreciate. Building a list requires all you mentioned above. It is necessary to know needs of customers rather than only building their email list. Making good headline is the most important thing when writing.

    • Sylviane Nuccio

      Hi Bob,

      Treating your mailing list right is a must. I agree that if you treat them bad you won’t get the results you are looking for. What amazes me is that there are still people out there who send one or more emails every single day and feel that it’s the right way to do internet marketing.

      What they don’t understand is that what it really does is that they lose credibility in the eyes of the recipient of those emails. Simply ridiculous.

      Thanks you for this very clear message about how to handle a mailing list and what NOT to do.

    • Richa

      Hi Bob

      The idea of building more than one list is great. The tips you have shared are really useful and informative. Knowing what you are doing and where you want to reach is important. Things definitely take some time, but if you are persistent, you can achieve it.

    • Irish Catson

      These are really effective tips for being a serious marketer. Following these tips will definitely give success in online marketing. Patience is really important when engaging on this sort of work. In order to get success, patience is a virtue on this work. Then, it is necessary to identify the target clients and focus on them to be part on the success.

    • bernard

      Great list of tips. I wouldn’t say all of these are common sense but almost all can be easily thought of and can be done easily as well. This is a great help for beginners.

    • Sue Price

      Hi Bob
      Great advice here for any of us building a list. I like you use of the words “common sense” as there are all sorts of strategies out there that seem to lack that element.

      I also think realistic expectations is important and I like the idea of building more than one list.

      Great advice Bob


    • Anne

      Leading with value and fulfilling promises are two topics I believe can create success by themselves. You have a great list, but value and following through are virtue’s lost in the business world as of late.

      You need to force people to read and behave as your list dictates under threat of messing up their balance sheet before tax season.

    • Danielle Parsons

      Hello Bob and Rosemary,

      You have provided an Excellent List Building Guide for new marketers to implement. I agree that you must build trust with your list or the subscriber will hit the delete button or worse hit the spam button.

      I know I have lost some excellent connections when I didn’t know the principle about giving value 80 percent of the time. One marketer replied that he never saw any messages from me that were not pitching something. I had to go rework my autoresponders and create Know-Like-Trust all over again.

      One principle that helps me is to mail your list at least once a month to help them remember you are still working your business. I get messages from some marketers once every 5 or 6 months and I have to think where I met them and what was I interested in at the time.

      Danielle Parsons

    • Donna Merrill

      Excellent advice Bob! Building a list requires all the above. You must know your target market and write to them things that will “fix” their problem. And yes, Rome was not built in a day. You have to be persistent in order to catch that fish!
      The 80/20 rule always works. Your catchy headlines that draw them in and giving them good advice is great, but you do have to sell them 20% of the time. And when you do write how beneficial it is to them.

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