How to Start an Email List

[read time: approx. 12 mins]

Even in today’s world of social media networks email still stands tall as the best way to communicate with your user base. In business and even more so with online business, it’s often said that an email list your most valuable asset. I couldn’t agree more so today we’ll learn how to start an email list.

To start an email list you’ll need 2 things:

  1. an email marketing service provider account
  2. an easy way to collect email addresses

Luckily setting up those two things couldn’t be easier or cheaper to setup. Sound too good to be true? Well it’s not.

Step 1 – Setting up a MailChimp Account

There are several email marketing service providers on the market and most of the them are very good. They all have their advantages and disadvantages but for this How-To we will use the industry leader MailChimp.

ProTip: MailChimp is free for users with less than 2,000 subscribers who send less than 12,000 emails per month. For more info click here.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with MailChimp or email marketing service providers, this is where the collected email addresses will be stored as well as where you will send your email marketing campaigns from.

Go to MailChimp and click on the Sign Up Free button.


Enter your Email, choose a Username as well as a Password and click on Create My Account.


Go to your inbox and look for an email from MailChimp with the subject: Activate your MailChimp account. Open the email.


Click on Activate Account.


Confirm that you are a human by entering the text or number that you see and then click on Confirm Signup.


Fill out the entire form and click on Save And Get Started.


Click on Lists.


Click on Create List.


Fill out all your List details and then click Save.


ProTip: Create one Master List and use groups and segments within that list to send specific content to certain subscribers instead of several separate lists. This way you’ll also avoid duplicate subscribers which is how MailChimp will eventually start charging you. For more info click here.

So that’s it for now on the MailChimp side. Congrats, you’ve setup your free account and your first list!

Now we’ll learn how to add email addresses to your new list on your site.

Step 2 – Setting up SumoMe on WP

There’s a lot of different ways to collect email addresses but I haven’t found one that is as good as SumoMe and it’s completely free.

ProTip: For this example I’m setting SumoMe up on WordPress but if you don’t use WP you can still easily install SumoMe by adding a snippet of code in your header. For more info click here.

Go to Plugins > Add New.


Search for SumoMe and click on Install Now.


Click on Activate Plugin.


Click on Settings.


Read the four steps to learn more about the app.


Now go to your site, refresh the page if need be, hover over the little blue tab in the top right corner and click on the SumoMe crown.


If you’re a new users click on SIGN UP. If you already have a SumoMe account, enter your account info and click on LOGIN.


Enter your email address and choose a password.


There you go! You’re all set up. Now go to the Sumo Store and check out all the apps.


All the apps have very good free versions with the exception of “Leads” which offers a free one month trial but cost $100 per year.

The three apps that we will use to help you collect email addresses are: “List Builder”, “Scroll Box” and “Smart Bar”. Let’s set them up.


The first app we’ll install is List Builder. It’s a smart and customizable popup that will automatically appear and ask your visitors to subscribe to your list when it thinks they’re getting ready to leave. I know what you might be thinking right now… a popup… yuck! Regardless of what you think of popups they aren’t as intruding and abrasive for your readers as you might think and they’re really effective.

Click on List Builder, then on Free and lastly on Open.


Click on Popup #1 to setup the app.


By default the app is paused so you don’t have to worry about how it will look and react while you’re setting it up.

Popup #1 > General – This is where you will see the email addresses that you’ve collected.


Popup #1 > Fields – You can’t modify this section without upgrading to the pro version for $20/month but to be honest there’s no real need. The least amount of effort for potential new subscribers, the better.


Popup #1 > Design – It’ll be very important to change the default text to something more personalize to your audience and your content. Also make sure to play around with different copy as well as the text on the call-to-action button.

Wanna crash course on writing calls-to-actions? Click here to download a list of my favourite articles and learn from the pros.


Popup #1 > Behavior – Keep the mode on Smart at least to start off. SumoMe will determine when the best time to show the popup is. As for the Frequency, another parameter to test out over time but try not to get under your readers skin… push but don’t push too hard. And lastly, keep Yield Tech on so that the popup works smoothly with the other email collecting app.

Popup #1 > Display Rules – Speaks for itself. If there are any pages that you do or don’t want the popup to appear, this is where you would set that up with rules. Just add the specific URLs.


Popup #1 > Services – This is where the magic happens! Click on MailChimp if that’s your email marketing provider.


Popup #1 > Services – Click on CONNECT.


Popup #1 > Services – Put in your MailChimp Username and Password to connect your account.


Popup #1 > Services – Choose your list from the dropdown. Now when someone puts in their email address in the popup it will get pushed directly to your list in MailChimp. List Builder = Done!


The next app we’ll install is Scroll Box. It does exactly what the name implies. It scrolls up (or in from the side) when users scroll down your content and asks visitors to submit their email address at just the right time. Again super effective. Let’s jump in.

In the Sumo Store click on Scroll Box, then on Free and lastly on Open.


Emails – This is where you will see the email addresses that you’ve collected.


Design – Again it’ll be very important to dial in the right message. Make sure it resonates with your audience and don’t be scared to A/B test different text to see what converts better.


Behavior – Personally I keep the Trigger percent high. I want to make sure that it only appears to people who’ve read most of the article. Unlike List Builder, I’ll set the Frequency much higher since I believe that it’s more appropriate to ask for a visitors email address after they’ve invested the time to read your content. And lastly, keep Yield Tech on so that the popup works smoothly with the other email collecting app.


Service – This is where you’ll connect the app to your MailChimp account. Follow the same steps as the List Builder.


Display Rules – Again this is where you’ll tell Scroll Box when and when not to scroll. Personally I show it everywhere except for my Homepage.


Scroll Box = Done! Two down, one to go. Lastly, we’ll install the Smart Bar. Often referred to as “Old Faithful”, the Smart Bar appears at the top of the page and asks visitors for their email address in a non-intrusive but very visible way. Arguably not as effective as the other two apps but it should still provide a good, constant amount of subscribers especially if you’ve got a good bribe to offer 😉

In the Sumo Store click on Smart Bar, then on Free and lastly on Open.


Home – This is where you will see the email addresses that you’ve collected.


Design – If you’ve got a freebie for your visitors this is a great place to offer it. If you don’t maybe you should consider creating one. Put yourself in your visitors shoes and think of something that would a) be really valuable and b) save them time. That is usually a winning combo and don’t worry about hitting it out of the park the first time around. You can always go back and replace it with an improved version later on.


Behavior – Again up to your discretion but it you’ve got something amazing to give away why not offer it on every page?


Service – Connect your MailChimp account here.


Display Rules – Same as for the Behavior, if you’ve got the goods then share the wealth!


There you go; now the Smart Bar = Done!

You’re all set. Now you know how to start an email list. We’ve created a MailChimp account and setup three really proven email collecting apps on our site. Good job!

As always, if you have any issues setting this up on your own site just leave a comment and it’ll be my pleasure to help you.

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  • I have been a bit confused about all this for days now. If I have an autoresponder that I can build a list and capture email addresses, do I really need to use both SumoMe and an autoresponder?

    • Great question Suzette!

      The short answer is no but I highly recommend using it since it’s free and it should help you get more subscribers.

      SumoMe is a suite of tools, some of which such as List Builder, Scroll Box and Smart Bar are there to help you collect more email addresses from your visitors. Once collected, SumoMe will then push those email addresses to your email service provider (ESP) of choice (MailChimp, AWeber, Constant Contact, …).

      From there your ESP will start sending your new email subscribers the email(s) from your autoresponder.

      Make sense? If not, please let me know and I’ll further clarify.

      Thanks for reading!

      • Thanks for the very useful article.

        I have set it everything up, the only problem I am facing is that I have a list divided into groups in mailchimp and I don’t see any option to let the user decide on which group they subscribe themselves to.

  • By the way, the social sharing bar you have on the footer of this website is fantastic. What is it?

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