Internet Explorer doesn’t work well with our website. We recommend using a different browser like Google Chrome.

When it comes to promoting and selling online courses (or any product or service online for that matter), email marketing is hands down the most effective way to generate sales. That’s a bold statement to make, but I can back it up I promise.

When you build an email list of people who have expressed interest in your course topic and who have given you permission to communicate with them, you have tremendous power over your online course business that other marketing channels simply cannot give you. You have control over your ability to communicate with your prospective customers.

But the fact that email marketing is so effective isn’t exactly a secret. Over the past decade, countless surveys have been conducted and analyzed by online marketers in virtually every industry. The results are unanimous: email marketing remains among the most effective tactics year after year.


Hubspot’s recent State of Marketing Trends (2022) report ranked email marketing 3rd. And With google’s new third-party Cookie updates, 23% of marketers planning to invest in more email marketing software.

Email marketing as one of top marketing channels in 2022
Hubspot’s State of Marketing Report, 2022

So why is this important?

Because as an online instructor, if you are not actively building an email list of people who are interested in your course topic, convincing people to enroll in your course is going to be tough.

Ask any successful salesperson how many times they contact a prospect before they get the sale, and you may be surprised by their response. It takes an average of 6-8 touches to get a sale. Translation: the average buyer needs to hear from you 6-8 times before they decide to purchase from you.

How will you show up on your prospective student’s radar 6-8 times before they decide to enroll in your course?

Will you…

  • Publish 6-8 posts from your Facebook Page and hope your fans see them all? (not likely)
  • Call them 6-8 times and hope they don’t hang upon you? (yikes!)
  • Run 6-8 different ads to your course’s sales page and hope that will do the trick? (nobody ignores ads, right?)
  • Publish 6-8 Tweets about your course and hope your followers see them? (good luck!)
  • Write 6-8 articles on your blog and hope that someone reads all of them? (anything is possible right?)

Or would you rather…

  • Send someone 6-8 emails over a period of several weeks, each with helpful tips and advice related to your course topic (earning their trust in the process) before introducing your course to them?

As you can probably guess, the latter option is much more effective.

It takes 6-8 touches to get a sale. Every email you send to your list counts as one. #emailmarketing Share on X

But before you can start sending emails to people to promote your online course, you need to build a database of people who want to receive emails from you in the first place. This process, known as list building, is what I’m going to cover in this article.

I’ll start by going over a few of the benefits of building an email list, then I’ll get into how to set one up, how to create a lead magnet (a free resource that you give away in exchange for subscribing to your list), how to create opt-in forms and landing pages to collect email addresses, what to say in your first email to new subscribers, and lastly, how to get as many people as possible to subscribe to your list.

It’s a lot to cover, so you might want to make yourself a cup of coffee before diving in. My goal is to provide you with the exact steps and tools to start building your email list immediately.

Learn from creator economy change-makers at Think In Color.: Download Now
How to build an email list so you can sell more #onlinecourses (complete guide). #emailmarketing Share on X

Benefits of Building an Email List

Having an email list of people to promote your online course is definitely a huge benefit (after all, more course sales means more revenue!). But there are several other benefits of building an email list that often get overlooked. Here are a few of them:

1. Build an asset you own

The number one reason you should be building an email list is that an email list is an asset that you own. Having thousands of fans on Facebook is great, but you don’t own Facebook. Having thousands of followers on Twitter is great, but you don’t own Twitter. Having thousands of subscribers on YouTube is great, but you don’t own YouTube. You get the idea.

The problem with building an audience on a platform that you do not own is that those platforms can make changes that have a direct impact on your ability to reach your audience at any time and without much warning. Now, this doesn’t mean that building an audience on other platforms is a bad idea. It just means that as you build an audience on other platforms, you should be giving that audience a clear path to your website, and ultimately, to your email list.

The number one reason to build an email list is to build an asset that you own. #emailmarketing Share on X

2. Permission to communicate directly with your audience

The average person is exposed to several thousand marketing messages per day, the majority of which are unsolicited and purposely ignored. We have literally become experts at filtering through all of the “noise” that competes for our attention on a daily basis.

When someone subscribes to your email list, they are literally giving you permission to communicate with them. That permission is what makes every subscriber on your email list so valuable. These are people that have essentially raised their hand and said, “I want to hear from you.”


3. Low cost, high ROI

Compared to other forms of communication, email marketing is by far one of the most inexpensive. To give you an example, let’s say you have 1,000 people on your email list. You send your subscribers an average of one email per week. You pay $29 per month to your email service provider (we’ll go over those later). Let’s do the math:


In this scenario, you’re spending less than one cent ($0.00725 to be exact) per email sent. Compare that to the cost of running an ad on Facebook or Google (where you can easily end up spending anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars per click), for example, and you can see why it is easy to get a high ROI on your email marketing dollars.

How To Build Your Email List From Scratch

Okay, so now that we’ve covered why building an email list is so important for your business, let’s go over how to build one, step-by-step.

Step 1: Create an account with an Email Service Provider (ESP)

In order to build an email list, you need to create an account with an Email Service Provider (ESP). An ESP, in case you were unaware, is a company that offers email marketing or bulk email services.

Building your email list is NOT something you do from your personal Gmail account (or Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.). If you try to email a few hundred, or even a few thousand people directly from your Gmail account, not only will that take a long time to do, but your email will most likely get flagged as spam (not good!).

ESPs also let you do cool things like setting up automated campaigns (more on those later), segment your subscribers based on their interests and behaviors, send an email to everyone on your list at the same time, track your open and click-through rates, and give your subscribers an easy way to unsubscribe from your list (this is important). Basically, if you want to build an email list for marketing purposes, you NEED an ESP.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ESPs to choose from. Here are some of our favorites:

1. ConvertKit

ConvertKit is quickly becoming a favorite choice for email marketing among bloggers and online course creators. Instead of segmenting your subscribers using different email lists, Convert Kit houses all of your subscribers on one list, but instead allows you to tag each subscriber based on their interests or specific behaviors (since ESPs charge you based on your list size, this ends up saving you some money since you don’t pay to have the same subscriber on multiple email lists). They also offer one-click opt-ins, which we’ll discuss later. Overall, they are a great choice for marketers that require sequencing, segmenting, or automation features.

Learning curve: mild

Integration with Thinkific: direct

2. Aweber

Many people consider Aweber to be the industry standard for email marketers. In fact, many well-known online entrepreneurs started with or continue to use Aweber for their email marketing. They are competitively priced, and their plans include numerous features including email templates, time-based autoresponders, and A/B split testing.

Learning curve: mild

Integration with Thinkific: direct

3. Infusionsoft

For advanced users with large email lists and marketing budgets, we recommend using Infusionsoft. The learning curve is steep and they are more expensive than the other ESPs we recommend here, but they have a very robust set of features and marketing automation capabilities that other ESPs do not have.

Learning curve: difficult

Integration with Thinkific: direct

4. MailChimp

MailChimp is a popular option for people who are just getting started online. They offer a free account for users with a list size of up to 2,000 subscribers. That being said, the free account does have limited features (email auto-responders, for example, are not included in the free plan).

Learning curve: mild

Integration with Thinkific: direct

5. ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign is sort of like the middle ground between a typical ESP and Infusionsoft. In addition to email marketing, they offer marketing automation, sales and CRM systems. Their features include action-based and time-based autoresponders, email templates, landing pages, and A/B split testing. They also have a great customer service reputation.

Learning curve: moderate

Integration with Thinkific: direct

6. GetResponse

Although similar in price to most of the other ESPs listed here, GetResponse has a few features that aren’t typically included in other low cost options including the ability to poll your subscribers and create action-based autoresponders. They also have a well designed and intuitive interface.

Learning curve: mild

Integration with Thinkific: via Zapier

Top 6 email marketing service providers for online course creators. #teachonline #emailmarketing Share on X

Still not sure what ESP to use?

If you still aren’t sure which ESP is best for you, there is a great article on CopyBlogger that outlines some of the criteria you should consider when choosing an ESP. Feel free to read it here.

Keep in mind that if you are ever unhappy with your ESP, you can simply switch to another one. Remember, your email list is an asset that you own. You are free to move that list to another ESP whenever you want.

Your email list is an asset you own. If you don’t like your email service provider, switch. #emailmarketing Share on X

Step 2: Create a New List

Once you’ve set up your account with your ESP, the next step is to create a new list. Regardless of which ESP you use, creating a new list is a pretty straightforward process. You will be asked to name your list (for example: “John Smith’s Newsletter”) and provide some basic contact information such as your name, company, email address, and physical mailing address.

Keep in mind that the mailing address you use will be visible to your subscribers. If possible, use your company’s mailing address. If you work from home and you don’t want hundreds or even thousands of people knowing where you live, consider getting a P.O. Box number from your local post office and use that instead.

Step 3: Create a Lead Magnet

Once your email list is created, the next step to create a lead magnet. A lead magnet (sometimes called an ethical bribe) is a valuable resource that you create for your target audience and give away for free in exchange for their email address.

Since your goal is to eventually sell your online course to the people on your email list, your lead magnet should directly relate to your online course. This ensures that the people who subscribe to your email list have a high probability of signing up for your course.

Creating a lead magnet your target audience will love

The trick to creating a lead magnet that is enticing enough to get people to subscribe to your email list is to create a lead magnet that is both relevant and helpful to your target audience.

Creating a lead magnet that is relevant to your online course helps you to qualify the people who subscribe to your email list as being interested in your course topic. If they weren’t interested in your course topic, they wouldn’t have opted-in to receive your lead magnet. If you create a course on graphic design, for example, a list of 20 stock photography sites is a relevant lead magnet.

Secondly, when you give someone something for free that actually helps them, it builds trust. Think about the result that your online course helps someone achieve, then create a lead magnet that helps them get closer to achieving that result. Help them achieve a quick win. Without the trust of the people on your email list, convincing them to enroll in your online course will be difficult.

Your lead magnet should be relevant & helpful. Give your subscribers a quick win. #emailmarketing Share on X

Here are a few of the most common types of lead magnets:

  • Tools or resource guide
  • Checklist or cheat sheet
  • White paper or industry report
  • Video training
  • Free course (video or email)
  • Expert interview
  • Case study
  • Ebook or PDF guide

Notice that “Subscribe to my newsletter for free tips” is not on this list. That’s because the promise of free tips is NOT a lead magnet. Your lead magnet should be something more tangible than a promise. It should be something they can consume and/or download immediately after subscribing to your list.

“Subscribe to my newsletter for free tips” is NOT a lead magnet. Give away something tangible. #emailmarketing Share on X

Pat Flynn (Founder of Smart Passive Income), for example, has a lead magnet called Ebooks The Smart Way. In this detailed PDF guide, he shows people how to create and sell ebooks online. Tens of thousands of people have downloaded this ebook, subscribing to his email list in the process. Here is a screenshot of his lead magnet:

Pat Flynn lead magnet

Creating multiple lead magnets

One last tip I’d like to give you regarding lead magnets is that you don’t have to create just one. Once your first lead magnet is created, feel free to create another one, and another one, and another one.

The thing about a lead magnet is you never know for sure how effective it will be until you test it. Creating multiple lead magnets gives you the chance to see which ones work best for your audience.

Foundr Magazine, for example, created multiple lead magnets to help build their email list in the weeks leading up to the launch of their online course about Instagram marketing.


Related: 3 Ways To Create A Lead Magnet That Actually Converts

Step 4: Create Your Email Confirmation Process

Before writing your first email to subscribers, it is important that you understand the different types of confirmation processes that new subscribers must go through in order to join your email list.

Single Opt-in vs. Double Opt-in

Depending on your ESP, you may have the option of selecting a single opt-in or a double opt-in process. These are probably new (and strange) terms to you, so allow me to explain.

A single opt-in is where it only takes someone a single step to subscribe to your email list. That step is entering their email address into your opt-in form. As soon as they enter their email address into that form, your ESP adds them to your email list and send them the first email. Even though this makes it easier for someone to subscribe to your list, it also makes it easier for someone to enter a fake email address or someone else’s email address. If your emails are sent to a fake email address, they will never be opened. If your emails are sent to someone who didn’t actually subscribe to your email list, they may flag your email as spam. Both scenarios are bad for you.

A double opt-in is where it takes someone two steps to subscribe to your email list. The first step is entering their email address into your opt-in form. The second step is confirming that they want to receive your emails. In order to obtain that confirmation, your ESP will automatically send them an email with a link to confirm that they want to receive emails from you. If they don’t click on that link, they won’t be added to your email list and they won’t receive the first email in your sequence (ie. your welcome email). Although a double opt-in process is more complicated than a single opt-in process, it ensures that only people who actually want to receive emails from you are added to your email list.

In order to minimize the number of people who complain about receiving your emails or flag them as spam, I suggest you implement a double opt-in process. Yes, a few people will get lost somewhere in that confirmation process. But in the long run, it is better to have an email list of people who actually open and engage with your emails versus people who just wanted your free lead magnet and had no intention of ever reading your emails.

That being said, there is a way to help ensure that someone takes the extra step to confirm that they want to receive your emails: by optimizing the Confirmation Page.

Optimizing your Confirmation Page

When someone opts-in to receive your lead magnet, your ESP will typically to direct them to a Confirmation Page. Sometimes called a Thank You Page (as in “thanks for subscribing!”), this page is a great place to let your new subscriber know that they just signed up to receive your lead magnet but they have one more step to complete before they will receive it.

Here is an example of a Confirmation Page used by Lewis Howes (this page was created using LeadPages):

Lewis Thank you Page

Step 5: Create Your Welcome Email for New Subscribers

When someone opts-in to your email list in order to receive your lead magnet, it is important that they receive that lead magnet right away. Therefore, the first email that you send to new subscribers (your Welcome Email) must be sent automatically. An email that gets sent automatically is called an autoresponder.

Actually, right now would probably be a good time for me to explain the difference between an autoresponder email and a broadcast email.

An autoresponder email is an email that you create ahead of time that gets sent automatically to your subscribers on a pre-determined day and time (or after a pre-determined period of time). An autoresponder series, as the term implies, is a series of emails that you create ahead of time and that are sent to your subscribers in a specific order and over a specific period of time.

Your Welcome Email is the first email in your autoresponder series. It gets sent to someone immediately after they subscribe to your list. Technically, you don’t have to have any other emails in your autoresponder series, but if you want to send specific emails over a specific period of time to every new subscriber on your list, an autoresponder series is the way to do it.

A broadcast email is an email that you send to your list in real time. Most ESPs will let you choose between sending a broadcast email to your entire list or specific groups of people (segments) on your list, but the important thing is that it is sent in real time. If you have a new blog post, for example, and you want to share it with everyone on your list at the same time, you would send a broadcast email.


What to include in your Welcome Email:

First and foremost, in order for someone to read your Welcome Email, they have to actually open it. Your Subject Line is what will make (or fail to make) that happen.

Here are a few examples of common subject lines used for Welcome Emails:

  • Nice to meet you! Here’s your free gift
  • Thanks for subscribing!
  • Welcome to our community!
  • Download your free (insert lead magnet title here)

In terms of what to include in the body of your email, here are a few suggestions:

  • Thank them for subscribing and requesting your lead magnet
  • Remind them who you are
  • Remind them what your lead magnet will help them with
  • Give them the link to download or access your lead magnet
  • Set an expectation (what can they expect from your future emails?)
  • Invite them to contact you or connect with you on social media

Here is an example of a welcome email I recently received that I thought was very well done. This one was sent to me from Lewis Howes immediately after I opted-in to receive his Top 10 Online Business Tools Guide:

Lewis Howes Confirmation Email2

Related: 7 Ways to Personalize Automated Emails Based on Subscriber Behavior

Step 6: Create Opt-in Forms and Landing Pages to Collect Emails

Once you have a lead magnet to give to people in exchange for subscribing to your email list, the next step is to create landing pages and opt-in forms to collect those email addresses.

A landing page, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, is a web page that has a single purpose: to collect someone’s email address. So when someone visits your landing page, they only have two choices. They can either subscribe to your email list, or they can leave the page. There are no other options. We’ll look at some examples of landing pages in a moment.

A landing page has only one purpose: to collect someone’s email address. #emailmarketing Share on X

Opt-in forms, on the other hand, are forms that give someone the opportunity to subscribe (aka opt-in) to your email list. These forms are placed strategically throughout various parts of your website or web page, and can even appear as “pop-ups” after a specific period of time or after the reader takes a specific action.

Landing pages typically have a higher conversion rate than opt-in forms, simply because landing pages have fewer distractions than a typical web page or blog post (which will often contain links to other pages or blog posts, links to social media, etc.). That being said, it is a good idea to use both.

Here are some of our favorite tools for creating landing pages and opt-in forms:

Let’s have a look at some examples of landing pages and opt-in forms:

A landing page used by Foundr Magazine to give away an Instagram marketing guide:

Foundr IG Landing Page

A landing page used by Amy Porterfield to promote one of her webinars.

Amy Porterfield landing page

A welcome mat (also called an upside-down home page) used by Michael Hyatt on his website’s homepage. Welcome mats look like a landing page, but they disappear when you scroll down the page to view the website.

michael hyatt welcome mat

A pop-up on Natalie Sisson‘s website (Pop-ups can be timed, triggered by a click, or even set to appear just before someone leaves your website. In this case, it is a timed pop-up.):

Natalie Sisson pop up lead magnet

In a blog post on WP Curve‘s blog (and in their sidebar, too!):

WP Curve lead magnet

The top bar of Content Marketer‘s blog:

Content Marketer top bar

The bottom footer of Stefan James‘ website:

Project Life Mastery site footer

The sidebar of Jon Loomer‘s website

Jon Loomer sidebar optin

Content Upgrades:

Another effective way to build your email list is to use content upgrades.

A content upgrade is a lead magnet created specifically to complement a single piece of content (like a blog post, for example). Because the lead magnet is highly relevant to the piece of content where it is promoted, the conversion rate can be quite high. You may have noticed that we included a content upgrade at the beginning of this article. In case you missed it, here it is again:


When you enter your email address, you will receive the content upgrade for this article (our Email List Building Checklist), adding you to Thinkific’s newsletter in the process.

It takes more work to create a separate lead magnet for different articles on your blog, but the increase in sign-ups to your email list make it worth the effort.

One-Click Opt-ins:

Remember the single opt-in and double opt-in confirmation processes we talked about?

Remember how I recommended implementing a double opt-in process (to prevent fake or unwanted email addresses from subscribing to your list)? Well, there’s one big problem with the double opt-in: it’s a lot of steps for someone to take. The more steps you ask someone to take, the less likely they will take them all.

Let’s take a look at the typical steps involved in a double opt-in process:

-> Someone enters their email address into a form on your website or landing page

–> They are directed to a Confirmation Page that tells them to open the Confirmation Email that was just sent to them

—> They log in to their email account and scan their inbox

—-> They find the Confirmation Email (let’s hope!)

—–> They open the Confirmation Email and click on the Confirmation Link inside it

——> They are directed to a page that confirms their subscription

——-> They receive another email from you (your Welcome Email)

——–> They open your Welcome Email to find the link to your lead magnet

———> They click on the link to download your lead magnet (woo hoo, finally!)

That is quite a few steps for someone to take, wouldn’t you agree?

With a one-click opt-in process, the confirmation email that someone receives after opting-in to receive your lead magnet serves two purposes. It gets them to confirm they want to receive your emails (adding them to your email list in the process) AND it gives them your lead magnet at the same time. Pretty cool right?

Here’s what the steps in a one-click opt-in process look like:

-> Someone enters their email address into a form on your website or landing page

–> They log in to their email account and find your Confirmation Email in their inbox

—> They open your Confirmation Email and click on the link to download your lead magnet

—-> They are added to your email list and receive your lead magnet at the same time!

Here’s an example of a confirmation email I received from Pat Flynn after opting-in to receive his free ebook called Ebooks The Smart Way. When I clicked on the link in his email, I was added to his email list and given access to his lead magnet at simultaneously. He set this up using ConvertKit.

pat flynn confirmation email 3

Content upgrades & one-click opt-ins help boost conversions. #emailmarketing Share on X

Step 7: Test, Test, Test (Subscribe to your own list)

There is just one last step before you start promoting the heck out of your lead magnet, and that is to test everything. Remember Murphy’s Law? What can go wrong, will go wrong. When it comes to technology, anything that can go wrong usually does.

Test everything you’ve set up by subscribing to your own email list. Make sure everything is working as it should be, from the initial opt-in (via your landing page or opt-in boxes on your website) to the confirmation page, to the confirmation email, to the welcome email, to the link to your lead magnet. Go through every step to make sure there are no breaks in the chain.

Email List Building Confirmation Steps

Drive Traffic to Your Lead Magnet

Okay, so now that you’ve got everything up and running, it’s time to start spreading the word about your lead magnet. Basically, you want as many people as possible to visit your website or landing page, where they will be given the opportunity to subscribe to your email list. This process of getting visitors to your website/lead magnet is known as driving traffic.

Here are 11 ways you can start driving traffic to your website or landing page to build your email list:

10 ways to drive traffic to your lead magnet & build your email list. #emailmarketing Share on X

1. Blogging

Every time you publish an article (or a video) on your blog, you give your target audience a reason to visit your website. And with each new blog post that you publish, you increase your chances of being indexed by search engines like Google and having your blog posts appear in the search results for specific keywords that your target audience is using to search for information about your topic.

Sharing new blog posts is also a great way to earn the trust of your target audience and position yourself as an expert on your topic. Each time you publish a new blog post, share it with your existing email subscribers and also via social media to help attract new visitors to your website.

2. Paid Advertising

If you the budget for it, run ads to promote your lead magnet. The biggest benefit of running ads is speed. It can take months, even years, to build a large email list strictly by publishing content that brings visitors to your website. Placing ads online allows you to build your list quickly. Plus, once you know the conversion rate of your ad, you can predict how many subscribers you will receive based on how much money you spend.

If you’ve never paid for ads before, Facebook ads are a great starting point. You can easily target people based on their demographics, interests, and geographic location. Other options for running ads include Google Adwords, YouTube ads, Instagram ads, Twitter ads, and LinkedIn ads. Regardless of where you advertise, it is best to start with a small budget ($5-10 per day) until you find an ad and audience combination that works and scale up from there.


3. Guest Blogging

Guest blogging is a great way to drive traffic to your website because it allows you to tap into the existing readership of other blogs. The key to making this strategy work is to submit articles that are relevant to your course topic and also to the audience of the website you submit them to. Include a link to your website or lead magnet at the end of your article or in your bio.

The largest blogs in each industry receive a lot of guest post requests on a daily basis, and they typically only accept content from writers with no track record of guest posting. Start by submitting a few articles to smaller, lesser-known websites in your industry, and work your way up from there.  Never submit the same article to multiple websites.

4. Podcast Interviews

Just like guest blogging, getting interviewed on popular podcasts in your industry is a great way to get exposure to other people’s audiences. One of the advantages that being a guest on podcasts has over guest blogging for other websites is it takes less time. It might take you several hours to write an article for another website, but it will probably only take 30-60 minutes to hop on Skype and let a podcast host interview you. Most podcast hosts will also prepare a blog post with your interview on their website (often called a show notes pages) along with a link to your website.

Related: How To Get Interviewed On Top Podcasts In Your Industry (Complete Guide)

5. Social Media

Promote your lead magnet to your social media followers. You can do this by publishing posts to promote your lead magnet to your fans and followers, or by adding a call-to-action (CTA) to your profile bios along with a link to your website or landing page. Don’t worry about having a presence on every social media platform. Choose 2-3 platforms (the ones your target audience is on the most) and focus your efforts there.

6. Webinars

Hosting webinars is a great way to build your list because anyone who wants to attend your webinar must register for it using their email address. After your webinar is over, you can add everyone who registered (including those who registered but were unable to attend) to your email newsletter.

Another advantage of hosting webinars to build your list is you end up with a highly qualified list of potential students for your online course. A webinar demands a significant amount of time and attention to attend. If someone is willing to spend an hour with you on a webinar, they are most likely very interested in your topic.


7. YouTube Videos

YouTube is one of the largest video platforms in the world. Publishing a few videos about your course topic on YouTube is a great way to be discoverable by people who are searching for your topic. In the description of your videos (or in the videos themselves), encourage viewers to visit your website and subscribe to your email list.

Related: Marketing Online Courses with YouTube

8. Public Speaking

Speaking in public is not only a great way to build your list, it is also a great way to build your personal brand and increase your authority in your industry. When you speak in public, you are immediately perceived as an expert on your topic. Plus, you get the undivided attention of the audience for the duration of your presentation (something that is hard to obtain otherwise!).

If you’d like to start speaking in public, local Meet Up events are great starting point. Some event hosts will even let you present your course during your presentation, but if not, you can simply invite the audience to visit your website or landing page to claim a free gift (your lead magnet) after your presentation. After you get some experience speaking to smaller groups, you can work your way up to local conferences and seminars, and eventually national or even international conferences where several hundred or even several thousand people will be in the audience.

I once watched a speaker at a conference tell the audience to pull out their cell phones and text a specific number to receive her lead magnet. Not a bad way to get 1,000 people on her email list in one afternoon!

9. Direct Outreach

Last but not least, don’t be afraid to personally reach out to anyone that you think would be interested in subscribing to your email list. Send a personalized email or message via social media to let them know you are creating a free email newsletter about your topic and ask permission to add them to the list. Only add someone to your email list if they give you permission to. Nathan Barry (Founder of ConvertKit) recommended this approach in a list-building webinar that we hosted with him.

10. Affiliate Marketing

An online course affiliate program involves incentivizing someone to promote your course (or any other content) in exchange for a commission.

11. Tiktok

Social media platform (and now, search engine) TikTok has become famous amongst creator educators as a platform where you can gain tens of thousands of followers overnight.

Miss Excel started off making educational videos on TikTok for free, and after blowing up, she is making over six figures selling online courses.

Like her sales, most of her leads come through her social media following and a free guide — Top 31 Excel Functions to Increase Efficiency — that she offers as a lead generation tool.

Build a sales funnel & sell your products

Having a great product is just one of the requirements for succeeding as an entrepreneir. Another requirement is having a specific process for attracting and converting prospects into customers.

That process is called a sales funnel, and without one, enrolling new students on a regular basis is nearly impossible.

Read more:

Ready to start building your email list?

Congratulations, you’ve made it all the way to the end of this post!

List building (and email marketing in general) is a HUGE topic where the tools and tactics are constantly changing, so hopefully, I’ve done a good job of outlining the steps required to start building your list as well as specific tactics that you can start using today.

Before we wrap up, I would like to leave you with one last thought:

If you don’t currently have an email list, or you’re just about to start building one, don’t be discouraged. Every online instructor (and every entrepreneur, actually) begins their journey with a list size of ZERO.

Yes, it would be great if you had a few thousand people on your email list that like you, trust you, and are interested in your course topic, but getting there doesn’t happen overnight.

Focus on getting your first few subscribers, and build trust with them by sending them valuable information consistently. The size of your list is not nearly as important as the trust that you build with your list. Building trust takes time, but in the end, it is worth it. We’ve seen online instructors launch their courses successfully with only a few hundred subscribers (sometimes less) on their email list simply because they spent adding value to their list and earning the trust of their subscribers before they promoted their course to them.

The best time to build your email list is 5 years ago. The second best time is today. #emailmarketing Share on X

This article was originally published June 2016, and was refreshed in September 2023 with updated resources.