Email is one of the most effective marketing tools you have at your disposal. Many find this to be surprising at first, but the value of building a mailing list to grow your small business cannot be understated.

In this article, we are going to talk about how you can use email to spread the word of your business, keep customers interested in you, and – when the time is right – convince them to buy.

Please note this post is heavily inspired by How to Build a Mailing List and Send Newsletters as a Board Game Dev. It’s a post I wrote for board game creators in April 2018. Parts of this article are borrowed from that original post. The actual setup of MailChimp itself is almost unchanged.

Why should I build a mailing list in the first place?

My colleague Pierson wrote a wonderful short article addressing this question just a few short days ago. I’ll summarize the key points here for your convenience, though.

For every $1 spent on email marketing, $44 are made in return. For that reason, email marketing is known for giving you an excellent return on your investment.

Why does this work? Email marketing helps you to keep your customers’ attention and interest. That means customers will be more likely to remember your brand over others, building an air of authority. What’s more, at key moments, you can use email to push people to buy what you’re selling.

What do all these numbers mean?

Before we teach you how to set up a mailing list, we’re going to review a few common metrics that you will see. These metrics will tell you how well your emails are performing and whether you need to correct course.

Here are a few to get us started:

  • Open Rate – the percentage of your mailing list that opens your email.
  • Click Rate – the percentage of your mailing list that clicks on at least one link in your email.
  • Hard Bounce – happens when you send to an invalid email address.
  • Soft Bounce – happens when your email is sent to a valid email address, but they don’t receive the email.
  • Subscribes – the number of people who join your mailing list.
  • Unsubscribes – the number of people who leave your mailing list.

That’s a lot of numbers. Do they all matter?

All of these metrics are important to some degree, but if you had to narrow your focus down to three metrics, I would pick open rate, click rate, and unsubscribes.

As a rule of thumb, you want an open rate of 25% or greater. If you cannot manage that, clean your mailing list to remove people who are not reading your emails or segment it to send more relevant emails. Unopened emails drive costs up and customers nuts.

Next, always include at least one business link for customers to click on. It could be a sale, a blog post, or something else. It doesn’t really matter what – just pick an action you want customers to take and make a link that entices them to take that action. You want click rate to be generally higher than 2%. If it’s lower than that, your customers generally are not interested in what you’re offering.

Lastly, watch your unsubscribe rate and try to keep it to 1% or lower. Too many unsubscribes means that your email content is either really uninteresting or, much worse, you’re gathering emails from people who don’t care about what you’re saying.

How to Set up a Mailing List on MailChimp

There are a lot of wonderful email tools out there. MailChimp is the easiest to learn, though, so that’s what I will teach you to use today. Go to their website and click Sign Up Free. Provide an email, username, and password.

Once you’re logged in, create a list. Click Audiences and then click the Create Audience button. Enter the following:

  • Audience Name – I use Pangea Marketing Agency.
  • Default From Email Address – I set up one on my web server called
  • Default From Name – I use Brandon Rollins. More personal that way.
  • Remind people how they signed up for your list – I use:
    • Thank you for signing up for our mailing list! You will soon be receiving updates from Pangea Marketing Agency.
  • Contact Information – We use the Pangea Marketing Agency P.O. Box.
  • Enable double opt-in – This asks people to confirm that they want to receive emails from you before you start sending them. We believe that checking this is best practice.
  • Enable GDPR fields – Definitely check this. GDPR fields help you gather consent that holds up to the legal standards of the GDPR, which determines how you can use European residents’ data for marketing purposes.
  • Notifications – I leave all of them unchecked. They’re annoying.

Click Save. Then click Settings and click List fields and *|MERGE|* tags. Merge tags pull information from your sign-up form and they associate it with each email. For example, when I sign up for a MailChimp campaign, I might see Email Address, First Name, and Last Name. Naturally, I’d enter, Brandon, and Rollins respectively. That info is all stored in a database.

Each bit of information is associated with a merge tag.

  • *|EMAIL|* is
  • *|FNAME|* is Brandon
  • *|LNAME|* is Rollins

Someone can then write a newsletter that starts out as “Hey *|FNAME|*!” and it will show up as “Hey Brandon!” For my colleague Pierson, it’d be “Hey Pierson!” You get the idea.

This lets you personalize your emails with anything your users provide.

How to Create a Landing Page That Works

One of the qualities about MailChimp that I really like is that it gives you the ability to easily create landing pages. You are able to create forms hosted by MailChimp, and you can also get HTML code which you can insert on your own website. I’ve used both, but for simplicity, we’ll stick with MailChimp’s basic forms since the custom ones require you to know HTML. (You can learn HTML on W3Schools for free, if you’re interested in learning more about that.)

Click Signup forms. Click Select next to General forms. You can customize a whole bunch of forms, but we’re just going to talk about the Signup form itself since that’s the one you want to get absolutely right. This form will double as your landing page unless you decide to make a custom one and use MailChimp’s HTML code on your own website.

Customize Your Landing Page

With a little bit of effort, you can take MailChimp’s bland default landing pages and turn them into something much better. To do so, think about the data you want to gather on your landing page. You’ll definitely need an email address to start. We also recommend gathering first names and marketing permissions as well.

Everything you ask for beyond there is a bit risky. On the one hand, you’ll have more data to work with, which can be helpful. On the other, every additional question you ask increases the odds that they’ll drop off your page and not sign up.

Click on any fields you need to delete, rename, or relabel – you’ll have options on the right. Click on Add a field and then a button below to add a field asking for more information.

Once you’ve added and removed fields to your taste, click Design it. You can change the colors, fonts, and spacing of every part of your landing page – the page, the body, and the form itself. Click around in there and experiment to your taste. When you’re done, copy the Signup form URL that’s near the top in the screenshot above. That’s your landing page’s address. Share that address anywhere you need to such as your social media or your website.

How to Create a Template That Works

Click Templates then Create a template. I personally recommend that you pick one of MailChimp’s featured templates and modify it to your tastes. On the right side, click on the Design button – you’ll see items including Page, Header, Body, Footer, Mobile Styles, and Monkey Rewards.

You’ll be given lots of options on how to customize the page, such as colors, font sizes, line spacing, and more. I personally recommend staying pretty close to the original design, but swap out the colors for sure.

Once you’re happy with the basic colors, fonts, and spacing of your template, click on the Content button to see all the things you can put into your mailer. What you see in the screenshot below can be dragged and dropped right onto your template.

Drag all the elements you like into your template. If you don’t want something in your template, hover over the item and then click on the trash can symbol on the top right. Once you get all your content items in the right locations, click on each one on the left. Then edit the details on the right.

Details can be editing an image, updating text, changing where a button goes, and so on. Make sure to click Save & Close any time you make a change on the right side! When think you’ve got a good template, Preview and Test in the top right corner and then Enter preview mode.

Create a Template that Resembles Others

Now the whole time you’re doing this, you need to be looking at newsletters that you like and imitating their style. Pay particularly close attention to their “calls to action” – any articles they want you to read or buttons they want you to click. When you’re sending out your own mailer, you want to have one very clear call to action somewhere on the mailer. If you don’t, it’s pointless to send out in the first place. I personally put three calls to action in each blog email – one text link to an article and two image/text links to an article at the bottom – I’ve highlighted mine in yellow.

When you’re done with your template, click Save and Exit and give it a name you’ll remember. When you’re sending out email campaigns, you’ll be using your template. You can then swap out text and images and keep a consistent look and feel between all your emails. Go ahead and sign up for your email list and send out a sample campaign to yourself while you’re the only one on it. Make sure everything looks okay and go back and edit your template if it doesn’t.

An example of a typical email from my other website, Brandon the Game Dev. Note that links are highlighted in yellow.

How to Generate Leads for Your Mailing List

It’s wonderful to have a mailing list set up. However, it won’t do your business much good if the emails go to only a handful of inboxes. For that reason, you need to be able to generate leads for your mailing list. There are several ways you can do this, but we’re going to focus on just seven.

1. Create an opt-in incentive.

First and foremost, I’m not giving you my email without a reason. People need a reason to give you their email because doing so requires trust. The way you gain that trust is often by giving something valuable away in exchange for the email.

You can create how-to-guides and eBooks, which are downloadable opt-in incentives. Alternatively, you can give people a chance to win something in a giveaway. Lastly, you can build an online community and request that people provide their email to join.

The specific opt-in incentive will vary by business, but the principles are the same. Create something that’s so valuable that people are willing to give you their email and receive marketing messages in exchange for it.

2. Link your landing page to your website and social media and create strong calls to action.

Because your mailing list is one of your most valuable marketing tools, you want to promote it as often as you can. For that, you need strong calls to action on your website and ideally on pinned social media posts, too.

A favorite call-to-action of mine comes from my other website, Brandon the Game Dev. The call to action is “Learn to make board games. Join over 2,000 game devs, artists, and passionate creators. Click to get started!”

In those three sentences, I tell people what the site is for, offer them a chance to network with like-minded people, and give them a clear action (click here). This has been a remarkably effective and simple way to build a mailing list for years now.

3. Send direct messages on social media.

If you are truly trying to make something out of nothing, fancy opt-in incentives and call-to-action buttons won’t get the job done. If you already have attention online, then sure, they’ll work well.

But what if all you have are a few hundred followers on Twitter or Instagram? If that’s the case, you can send out personalized direct messages to each of your followers. It’s simple and here’s a basic template:

Hi (Name), I saw that you’re interested in (something). I’m offering (opt-in incentive). Is this something you’d be interested in?

If they say yes, then send them the link and tell them what they need to do next. That’s all you need to do! For even better results, personalize those sentences based on information they have publicly shared on social media to show that you took the time to get to know them first

4. Create content for others.

You can send the best direct messages in the world, but you will eventually run out of social media followers to contact for the first time. For this reason, you need to make content that gets people to pay attention to you, whether you’re blogging or simply creating something worthwhile on social media.

Now that makes a strong case for content marketing, but there’s another element to this. You want to create content for others. Ask people in your niche if you can write guest posts for them. Try to get interviewed for a podcast. Find ways to get your business’s name out there, and that will help draw people not only to your mailing list, but your brand as a whole.

5. Attend in-person events.

Conventions and trade shows provide wonderful networking opportunities. These kinds of events are fantastic for all kinds of purposes, but one digital marketing benefit is that you can create a simple sign-up sheet and start collecting emails. At a busy trade show, you can sometimes gather emails by the hundreds or thousands.

6. Give away prizes.

At Pangea, we’re huge fans of giving away prizes as a marketing technique. This is, by far, the fastest way I personally know of for building mailing lists. Offer something valuable in exchange for an email sign up. You can use tools like to help you get started. I recommend taking out $50-100 in targeted Facebook ads per giveaway for best results.

7. Advertise.

One of the best ways to easily grow a mailing list is by advertising. The downside, of course, is that it costs money, and sometimes a lot. The upside is that you can very quickly target people by interest on channels such as Facebook and Instagram.

Ideally, try to spend less than $2 per high-quality email address that you receive. I personally aim for $1 or less per high-quality email address.

Final Thoughts

Because email is such a powerful and effective tool for marketing your business, it only makes sense to use it to its fullest potential. As we have shown today, setting up a mailing list isn’t hard and there are a lot of effective ways you can grow your list.

Have you had any luck with email marketing? Share your experiences in the comments below – we’d love to hear them!