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Building an email list - a quick guide

codingmindfully profile image Daragh Byrne ・5 min read

I write my personal blog over at CodingMindfully.com. It’s a place that I use to share my thoughts about a number of development related topics.

If you spend any time on my site, you’ll be presented with several opportunities to sign up to my email list. I’ve been running this as an experiment for a short while and it’s slowly but surely growing.

Here’s how, and why, I did it.

Why build an email list

There are many reasons you might want to build a list. From building an audience to hear what you have to say, to monetization - here are the most common in my experience.

Share value through building relationships with your audience

The best reason to build an email list is to build an ongoing relationship with a group of people who find value in what you have to say. However long you have been developing, you’ll have a unique perspective that only you can provide.

Your experiences and knowledge are potentially valuable to many of the other approximately 18 million software developers out there in the world - so why not share it with them?

Reach audience reliably

Most people who own email lists have newsletters, or a YouTube channel, or write regular content that they need to share with their audience. Although Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook can be a great way to share content, you are somewhat at the mercy of their algorithms when it comes to reach.

Email is much more likely to get your content in front of your followers in a reliable fashion.

Drive traffic to your site or channel

Traffic is the lifeblood of your personal site or content channel. Your email list is a way of guaranteeing eyeballs on your content. Every time you write a new post, or create a new video, a quick email blast to your list will see a nice little spike in analytics.

Sell something

No doubt many of you are on email lists that try to sell you things. Some of them are annoying, some provide genuine value without the expectation that you’ll pay for anything.

Be like the latter ones if you’re going to start monetising your list! My favourite lists often have a product offer or two along the way, but it’s usually stashed in between reams of extremely valuable free content.

You can monetise by producing your own products (online courses or tutorials are a great example). Affiliation (where you direct traffic to other sites with the expectation of a commission on any sale) is another rock solid way to monetise, if done tastefully.

How to start building your list

It's quite straightforward to start building a list. A simple personal site with some valuable content and a signup form is all you really need.

Here's the detail.

Have something valuable or interesting to say

List building requires you to have something to offer to your potential audience! It’s time to get reflective and think about what you want to give to the world.

You can provide this content in a number of ways but blog posts or articles, or video content, are a great way to capture attention.

Finding topics to produce content about that you are both interested in, and you audience just needs to read about, is part of the challenge of starting to build your list. It's a great exercise in self-reflection.

Being a developer, it makes sense to start with technical topics. To stand out, you either need to:

  • Create really exceptional content
  • Offer a unique perspective. Exceptional content means helping people to learn, and/or having a unique writing style. Both of these come with practice - so get started!

There are so many people writing technical articles, it pays to think of ways to keep it fresh. Have a look at the dev.to front-page - there are many exceptional writers here who get hundreds of reactions. Study their work to see what makes them stand out.

Often it’s a combination of high standard and unique viewpoint.

For me, I find juice at the intersections of my interests. With CodingMindfully.com, that’s meditation and software development - pretty niche, but enough to interest a thousand or so readers every month (on the site).

You might be interested in weight lifting, or photography, or chess - see if there’s a way you can write to your niches. Teaching programmers how to take photographs, or list weights, or could be just the thing!

Give something for nothing

In order to get someone to give you their email address, you’ll have to give them something in return. This is known as a Lead Magnet. It’s a special piece of content relevant to your audience that you give for free when they sign up to your list (at your website or via another content channel like YouTube).

Examples of quality lead magnets include:

  • eBooks/PDF guides
  • Exclusive video content
  • A report or white paper
  • A checklist
  • A template (for the perfect email e.g.)
  • A tutorial
  • Quiz results

A good lead magnet will solve a problem that people in your audience often face. It will be of high enough quality that they won’t be disappointed.

I have three different lead magnets on my site (you only need to sign up once and you’ll receive all three)

Tech considerations

You are software developers and no doubt have an opinion on which tech stack to use to build lists.

I’ll tell you straight up that I’ve had a lot of joy with MailChimp running on a WordPress site. I don't use any fancy plugins - just standard embedded forms.

There are countless other options and I recommend this setup from personal bias and history only. Feel free to add suggestions in the comments.

Finding your audience

Once you have your site set with a few interesting articles and a lead magnet, it’s time to start driving traffic.

My rule here is: hunt where there are deer. Find sites that already contain your target audience (such as this very site!) and post there.

Sites that allow you to guest post will usually allow you to place a link back to your site in the article body somewhere.

Bingo - traffic!

Dev.to is very democratic, but sometimes you’ll need to go past gatekeepers to get permission to post. That’s usually fine - sites need content and are often willing to let people write for free!

I’ve also had success posting on freeCodeCamp, Hackernoon and other Medium based sites.

Let me know in the comments about other sites that devs read.

Conclusion

List building is an interesting exercise for its own sake, and to further your personal goals. It makes you think about what you have to say, and forces you to create valuable content to justify the efforts. I’ve made all sorts of interesting connections through building my list. It's resulted in conversations with humans in the development community

Oh, and if you haven't already, head on over to CodingMindfully.com and sign up to my list - if you're interested in what I have to say!

Discussion

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sandordargo profile image
Sandor Dargo

Nice, I should take this advice seriously! How did you choose MailChimp?

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codingmindfully profile image
Daragh Byrne Author

Almost by default. I didn’t think about it too much. It’s free for quite some time and for a reasonable number of users.

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francisisberto profile image
Francis Isberto

Thanks for this article Daragh! Is there anything else out there aside from FreeCodeCamp, Hackernoon and other Medium based sites?

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codingmindfully profile image
Daragh Byrne Author

I have also written for simpleprogrammer.com. As well as for several recruiters in my city!

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francisisberto profile image
Francis Isberto

Appreciate you sharing these links to the community. Please keep that blog posts coming.
I'm one of your avid readers!

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codingmindfully profile image
Daragh Byrne Author

That’s great to hear! Thank you!