Your personal site is a hub of your personal and professional development. It's the core of your personal brand and how most people who don't know you can find out about you. If you don't have a personal site, build one now. Once you have one, you should build an email list.
Your personal site is the only place where you control 100% of the message of what they see about you. It's the only place where you can control 100% of the communication between you and them.
If you don't have an email list for your personal site, you have no way of communicating directly with them.
Before I ever decided to start treating my email list as a place for professional development, I landed (paid!) invitations to speak at schools, offers to work one-on-one with people, and great stories about how my writing helped people. None of that would have been possible had I not decided to put together an email list.
Why would you not have an email list?
Your Reasons for Not Starting an Email List Are Bad
I usually hear a few responses to that hypothetical question. They're not very good responses.
"I don't need an email list because I have a social media following."
This is a dangerous mindset.
Your social media following can be shut down any day, without warning, for no reason whatsoever. Yes, even if you don't engage in controversial politics (I was recently banned for 24 hours from Twitter for no reason - Twitter says it was a mistake). An algorithm change at Facebook or LinkedIn can cut your reach in half, or even more.
There's no central Email Corporation that can decide one day to ban you. If your email marketing provider shuts you down, there are plenty of other email providers out there. Write good, quality emails to people who want them (so you don't get marked as spam), and you're in the clear.
If you enjoy your Twitter or facebook followings, great! Keep growing those. But also send people to your email list.
"I'm not selling anything."
That's fine. You don't need to sell anything to have an email list (I started my email list long before I ever thought I would provide any kind of services to it).
Plus, if you choose to launch a business down the line or start a job search, you'll already have a list of people interested in hearing from you.
"I don't want to annoy people."
Asking people if they want to follow you and stay in touch with you is not annoying. You're doing them a favor. If they choose not to stay in touch with you, great.
This is like saying that you don't want to stay in touch with the people who choose to come to a party that you throw, even after they say they enjoyed the party, because you "don't want to annoy them." You're actually just harming them (and your potential to stay in touch) when you do this.
"I don't want to have to maintain an email list and keep track of it."
Go sign up for Mailchimp.
Create an email list.
Now you're 50% of the way there.
Starting and maintaining an email list is actually pretty easy. If you want to sell to your list or if you want to use it for professional reasons, you want to email it pretty regularly (at least once every other week). Otherwise, send emails when you feel like updating people on your work and your writing.
The most time-intensive part of starting an email list is building the lead capture, which we run through here.
Set Up Your Email List
Estimated time: 10 minutes
You want to do more than just rely on the Wordpress "newsletter" functionality built into the site. That just sends people emails when you write a new post (I actually forget that I even had this on my site except for when my dad occasionally forwards me my own emails from it).
Don't get caught up in using "the best" email service. There are plenty out there but most of them are positioned for large corporate clients who are doing complex and detailed client tracking and marketing. You just want something that is easy for you to use and let people unsubscribe.
I recommend MailChimp.
Once your list is set up, go in to List Settings and make sure you turn on "Send Final Welcome Email." You can edit the welcome emails in the List Settings and Signup Forms part of your account.
Your emails don't have to be fancy. In fact, sending fancy and over-designed emails to your personal list might look weird and off-putting. I've seen better performance with the plain-looking emails I send now than the newsletter-looking emails I sent back when I started my list.
Set Up A Lead Capture
Estimated Time: 15 minutes
The little box on any website asking for your email address is called a lead capture.
There are lots of different ways you can put lead captures on your site. If you use your personal website as part of a professional brand, I'd recommend using different captures.
For the purposes of crafting your personal site for your personal brand, don't get caught up in these.
MailChimp offers a feature called Custom Signup Forms that you'll want to use here.
The custom signup form lets you directly ask your visitors if they'd like to sign up for your list. You're not just going to ask them if they want to join your list, though (who has signed up for an email list with the ask, "join my list!" since 2008? Nobody, that's right).
You're going to offer them something.
ADVANCED: If you want an advanced option for lead captures, I recommend OptinMonster. This is what I use and it has great functionality for split testing and for exit intent. If you're just starting out, use MailChimp.
Create A Lead Magnet
Estimated time: 60 minutes
A lead magnet is a gift that you offer visitors for signing up for your email list.
It doesn't have to be fancy. It doesn't have to be a chapter from a book or a researched-and-developed ebook like my 12 Done-For-You Email Scripts.
It just needs to be something that you think the right person would like.
For a long time, my lead magnet on ZakSlayback.com was a discount on a few ebooks I published.
Later, I started sending out PDFs and ebooks of famous self-help books and biographies that were available in the public domain. My list loved these. I'd ask visitors to the site if they wanted to join "Free Book Friday - Where I send out a free copy of some of my favorite books."
Your lead magnet doesn't have to be fancy - it should just be something that your readers would enjoy and has something to do with your personal brand. If you want to be known as a music expert, for example, don't send out self-help books. Send your subscribers something that has to do with music.
Here are some ideas for lead magnets:
- Public domain books
- https://www.gutenberg.org/ has a list of most books in the public domain and links to PDFs and ebooks.
- Your top blog posts compiled into a PDF
- How you were able to achieve something remarkable related to your personal brand.
- "Get my guide for how I landed my dream job without a college degree."
- "Get my weekly emails on how I stopped drinking."
- "Get my interview on how I was able to travel the world while working a 9-5."
- Just a list of your favorite resources, books, articles, podcasts, etc. The people visiting your site are interested in you and what you write, record, or talk about. Give them personality.
MailChimp will let you link directly to the lead magnet from the signup form. That's fine. You can also link to the signup form in the "Final Welcome Email" a subscriber gets.
ADVANCED: Sometimes you just have a huge aversion to lightning/popup boxes and don't want to hit people with them. That's fine. You can try something more engaging like a quiz. I recommend Interact for quizzes. While they are positioned towards businesses (just like OptinMonster and MailChimp), it's an easy-to-use tool to drive email list signups.
Interact actually reached out to me while I was preparing research on implementing quizzes myself. I was impressed by the tool and agreed to include it in a future post.
The perk of quizzes is that, since they require a little more work than just giving up an email address, you tend to get higher quality people on your list.
You can also craft the quiz in a way that you learn more about your audience.
Let's say you want to be known as a music expert. You craft a quiz asking your audience what kind of music lover they are. One of your questions can be:
A) 5+ instruments
B) 2-4 instruments
C) 1 instrument
D) 0 instruments
If an overwhelming proportion of your followers select D, now you know to craft new content targeting people who love music but don't actually play instruments.
When it comes to writing content that people read, knowledge is power. Know what the people landing on your site want to read, what their friends want to read, and what you can speak to, and write that. Quizzes can help with that.