How To Grow Your Email List As A Service-Based Business

Post by Alison Knott | Last Updated: May 11, 2023

Video: how to grow your email list

Growing your email list if you’re a service-based business can be challenging. Email marketing is one of the best investments small brands can make. It’s a direct line to potential clients who consent to hear from you on your terms. And that’s powerful.

But I’d just be another sleazy marketer if I didn’t address how tough it can be to build and grow an email list. So if you’ve found things slow to grow, I’m here to help. This article will cover

  • How to increase the visibility of your newsletter with owned media
  • How to drive more traffic with earned media
  • Tips to make sure you’re offering what your ideal audience values
  • A handy 20-item checklist of how to pull this all together
three women admiring each others potted plants
Let’s stop comparing our list growth to other brands. And instead, celebrate successes big and small.

Hard truth: email marketing growth will only happen if you’re willing to promote it.

I love you, but it’s time for some tough marketing love. You don’t get brownie points simply for setting up an email list. How much you promote your newsletter is directly linked to how quickly it grows.

I know. It’s a lot of work to set up your email platform, decide what you’ll write about, and put subscription forms on your website. But Darlin, unless your brand is well established with a large audience hanging on your every word… It’s up to you to promote that list in some way to grow subscribers.

Without prioritizing traffic sent to your newsletter signups and lead magnets, sluggish email list growth is bound to happen. The good news is that increased visibility is totally achievable!

I wanna challenge the whole “Email marketing is haaaaaaard, I don’t wanna promote it” shtick. You thought having an email list was valuable to your business – but you don’t believe it’s valuable enough to tell the world about it?

Common! I know what you want to share in your email marketing is hella valuable to prospective clients. So let’s get all the eyeballs it deserves by increasing visibility with “owned media” and “earned media.”

Give your newsletter as much visibility on your website as friggin possible.

When I evaluate client websites for newsletter growth opportunities, the #1 issue is that there needs to be more promotion! There are so many opportunities to show off your newsletter signup or lead magnet (more on that in a bit).

“wireframe of homepage and blog post showing where a lead magnet or newsletter signup CTA can go.”
(left) Consider placing your best lead magnet at the top of your homepage. (right) Experiment with your newsletter or lead magnet signup on your sidebar or within the post itself.)

Where to put your newsletter signup on your website:

Here is a short list of all the places on your website you can put a newsletter signup. Obviously, which ones you choose depends on the design of your website and how appropriate each location is:

  • Homepage: you can place the signup halfway down your homepage. If you have a lead magnet, try the top of your page. This is often our most visited page and an excellent opportunity for return visits to find it quickly.
  • On its own landing page: your newsletter needs its own page! This allows you to promote it more easily. Otherwise, you’re leaving it up to people to go searching for it on a sidebar or some other placement. This page doesn’t have to be long, but it should entice people to sign up. Tell them what they can expect, and how often, and place any positive feedback about it from other readers, too. Remember to include past issues so they can check them out before deciding. Check out my own newsletter page for inspiration (as in, totally rip me off!)
  • Top of your sidebar: if your website has one. Note that on smartphones, this will usually end up at the very bottom of the scroll, so manage expectations of how effective it is.
  • Within appropriate blog post content: you can play with a simple link that takes them to the landing page I mentioned above. Or, get a bit fancy with something more designed, such as an image to the left and a great CTA with a short signup form to the right.
  • 1 or 2 blog posts targeting concept: consider writing blog posts that naturally conclude with an ask to sign up for your lead magnet.
  • Delayed pop-up: controversial, I know. But pop-ups continue to get reasonable conversion rates. You can set them to only show up after a certain amount of time has passed or when a reader has scrolled down a certain length of your page.

No matter where you place your newsletter signup form, include the words “subscribe” or “join my email list” so readers know what they’re signing up for and where.

And remember that because you use email marketing, you need to clarify that in your privacy policy. I cover my favorite Canadian website privacy policy template in this article.

Free Guide: 20+ ways to grow your email list

Create a lead magnet to grow authority and your email list

One of the best ways to attract people to your email list is to have a lead magnet. Freebie, opt-in, downloadable, whitepaper. Whatever you want to call it, offering something valuable for free in exchange for an email address is one of the best ways to grow.

It’s kinda like the samples at Costco. You were thinking about trying those new mini samosas. By being given a sample, you’re more confident in making a buying decision on those delectable little triangles. Lead magnets are no different. They allow your prospects a low-risk way to sample how knowledgeable and helpful you claim to be. Then you can nurture your email list to buy from you in a more sustainable way.

Lead magnet ideas for service-based businesses

Service-based businesses and brands that offer ‘hard to sell’ items can create amazing lead magnets. No need to create from scratch, either! Use content you already have on hand, and turn it into something digitally accessible. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Guide or workbook: turn frequently asked questions or misconceptions about what you offer into a multi-page guide or workbook. Giving something that requires output on people’s part helps you stand out from a sea of useless one-pagers. Canva has a slew of workbook templates to get you started.
  • Whitepaper: if your ideal audience is B2B with moderate to advanced knowledge on your subject, invest in creating a juicy whitepaper. Have it tackle a pressing issue or discovery in your industry. Stats, surveys, and case studies are great for such content.
  • Audio: lead magnets don’t have to be PDFs! If you’re a consultant or coach, audio files can be incredibly effective for prospective clients to get a sense of your expertise and delivery.
  • Email Challenge: really need to break things down into smaller pieces? Offering a free email challenge where readers get a drip of content daily for a week. It also allows you to prototype a course without all the heavy lifting.
  • Webinar: if you’re a public speaker, turn one of your most popular talks into a pre-recorded webinar. People can tune into your genius by being directed to a private embedded video after they hand over their email.
artwork to promote a newsletter. One is for the actual newsletter content as a teaser. The other is a testimonial of a reader who loves the newsletter.
On the left is my standard social media artwork when I release a new newsletter. It serves as an overview for what readers can expect to see, along with the link. I will repost this image with slight textual variation a few times after original publication. On the right is a reader’s testimonial of the newsletter. I post one randomly during the month, and another a day before the newsletter goes out, with a prompt to sign up to get the next issue.

Promote your newsletter on social media more frequently.

Seems obvious that you would promote your newsletter on social media. But many brands only post about their newsletter when an issue is published. Here are other ways to promote it on socials:

  • Change your profile banners to showcase the newsletter or new lead magnet.
  • Gather testimonials and replies from your newsletters to show what current readers get from your content.
  • Tease followers the day before an issue goes out to encourage them to sign up.
  • Send a recap and post it the day the newsletter goes out, 4 hours later, the next day, and a few days later.

I like to use Airtable to create my calendar and Buffer to schedule posts. This makes it super easy to repeat every month.

Promote your newsletter in your regular email signature.

Your regular email signature can be a great place to let contacts know you have a newsletter or lead magnet. You never know who might be interested. And this is a much more CASL, GDPR, and CAN-SPAM-compliant way to get expressed consent.

Do note that many email providers don’t like tracking links. So while you could use UTMs or other link shorteners to track who came from your signature, I don’t recommend it. Use a regular URL to avoid getting sent to spam by accident.

Promote your newsletter on your podcast

If you have a podcast, add a call to action to sign up for your newsletter in your bumpers! Or, treat it like a promotional intermission in the middle of your content. Get creative with how you talk about it, so it stands out from your regular content.

The same “ad” placed at roughly the same time every episode will help with frequency for your listeners. They won’t sign up from hearing it once. But since most people binge podcasts, the more they hear the ad (and enjoy your podcast), the more likely they will sign up.

“Medium-dark-skinned influencer talks to her SLR camera on her bed, promoting a lead magnet to her audience.”

Get “earned media” (other brands) to promote your newsletter.

“Earned media” is when you get other brands to promote and create content about you. I know this might feel oogey, poking other brands and asking them to talk about your newsletter.

But Darlins, remember: you created a newsletter to add value to your ideal audience. Therefore, audiences of other brands will benefit from it as well. This isn’t shameless self-promotion unless you go about it shamelessly.

Who to collaborate with for earned media:

Some low-hanging fruit for earned media include associations you’re already a part of, past clients, and colleagues.

I’d consider them “warm contacts” where it will be easy to practice asking to collaborate on your newsletter. They already know you and your work and probably would welcome some content thrown their way!

Next level (and potent) earned media is reaching out to brands your ideal audience trusts, but you don’t have a connection to.

The worst they can do is not respond to your outreach. But it is worth asking if you’ve taken the time to research their audience and know your lead magnet is valuable to them.

Unsure which brands you should reach out to? No probs. Figuring out where your target audience hangs out online can be super simple.

How to get your newsletter or lead magnet promoted by other brands.

Getting other brands to promote your content can be a massive benefit for both audience growth and SEO. But how you go about it has to be thoughtful. And takes time.

  1. Research the brand before you reach out to them. That way, you’ll be sure you’re the right fit. Sign up for their newsletters and podcasts. Follow them on social media. Keep an eye out for what resonates with their audience.
  2. Engage with them. You don’t have to be a silent lurker and then come out of nowhere with an ask. Reply thoughtfully to their content publically, so they begin to recognize you. Make this about adding value to their audience… do not plug your own stuff.
  3. Pitch them a few weeks after your research. Ensure your subject line prompts curiosity. The content of your ask should be all about how this can help their audience. It is not about you. If you find writing these emails hard, write it in the first person “I” or “we” so you get the lead out. Then, work through the content and tweak it so you are using “you” and “your” statements.

Jay Clouse has the best summary of how-to pitch I have ever seen, btw.

Ask about being a guest on their blog or podcast. Then, use the URL to your newsletter list or lead magnet as your backlink in the show notes. Or, sponsor their newsletter or event and send people to your signup.

PS: make sure you create something subscribers actually want.

All the placement and visibility in the world will only work if your offer resonates with your target audience. Make sure what you’re creating is what your email subscribers want. People are more likely to sign up for something they believe will help them.

How do you figure this out?

Reference your marketing persona! I recommend you beef your persona up by interviewing your best clients to find out exactly what it is they want.

Another way is to spend an afternoon signing up for newsletters and lead magnets of your contemporaries and competitors. Especially if you know they have a healthy subscribership – it can be helpful to see what level of quality your audience expects.

It will also help you understand the right time to sell to your email list as you grow it.

Conclusion: growing your email list as a service-based business can be challenging, but it’s a valuable investment worth the effort.

There are several ways to increase the visibility of your newsletter and drive more traffic to it, including using owned and earned media, offering valuable content to your ideal audience, and utilizing various placements on your website.

It’s important to remember that promoting your email list is key to its growth, and with a little effort, you can successfully grow your list and reach potential clients. They deserve to know about your genius, darlin!