For early-stage startups, building out an email list might seem like a “nice-to-have… much later” task.
But what if I told you that starting list building before you launch can get you:
- A list of potential clients who are a great fit for your product (so that you don’t have to play the numbers game with cold emails)
- Fans who are excited to spread the word about its awesomeness
- A list of people representing your ideal target audience you can reach out to develop your value proposition, firmly grounded in customer data, instead of trying to guess what’s likely to resonate with your ideal audience (and then get a paltry 1-2% conversion rate from your website)
- Access to a warmer audience than anyone you might reach with paid ads
Not waiting to start building your email list until after launch can get you that - and more.
As an email copywriter and strategist, I’m well aware of the power of emails - not only to sell but also to make your life as a marketer that much easier.
Here are some of the ways your pre-launch email list can make it easier to launch to an engaged audience - and smooth the way for your post-launch efforts.
3 use cases for pre-launch list building (with examples)
Building a list of future users before launching
Probably the most common route for early-stage startups, and especially for Indie Hackers is building a landing page with a “sign up to get updates” headline and an email form.
You might have also seen a variation with an invitation to “sign up to participate in the beta” taking prospective beta participants to a qualifying survey. Here’s a post by Samuel Briskar describing the behind-the-scenes of getting 400 signups for a product that didn’t even exist yet.
Either way, the main goal is to start building a list of people who are interested in your product, want to try it - and might be open to providing feedback. For the beta users, on top of that, they’ll already be using the product, and are therefore much more likely to become paid users once you come out of beta (because of the endowment effect - but also you’ll be using the beta-user feedback to build a great product instead of improving & tweaking post-launch).
For one example, check out SparkToro. You can listen to the interview or read the transcript of Rand Fishkin’s interview on FounderCoffee to find out more about using betas to improve your product: “That is where we did a lot of our refinement and making sure that we weren’t just building in a closet.”
Building a list of qualified prospects with a lead magnet
Especially for B2B, with longer sales cycles and a more high-touch approach, this is a great option for getting access to leads who might not be ready to buy, are not looking for a specific solution, or are not aware of your product (yet).
For example, Coworks, a coworking management software, offers templates & tips on conducting sales tours as a free download. This is an “in” to start talking to prospects that are not quite ready to book a demo.
Similarly, Hugo offers several lead magnets that are all about making meetings more efficient - and attract prospects interested in solving the problem of ineffective meetings, once and for all.
Improving your product pre-launch - and developing killer messaging
Last, but not least: if nothing else, an excellent reason to start building a list early is gaining access to a pool of potential customers that are interested enough in your product to help you make it better - and help you find the right messages to promote it.
Example: this article has a step-by-step breakdown of how FYI used it.
As a conversion copywriter, I’m much more interested in the messaging aspect of conducting interviews: specifically, the words that your ideal clients use to describe the problems (that your product is solving) and their desire for a better world (without the problem - and with your product).
If you’ve ever had to stare at a landing page template with “This is where the biggest benefit of using your product” prompt in the headline and had no idea what to replace it with, talking to your customers can help with that.
“That sounds great… but we’re already spread thin. Where do we even start?”
Avoiding email overwhelm: planning to do just 1 thing
If you’ve been in full-on developer mode and are only just now starting to think about marketing, step 1 is customer research.
Here’s why: without it, you’re likely to settle for a “Get news and updates” form on your website, or “Our product does X” messaging on a landing page - just because you don’t know what else to say and how to say it.
We all have to start somewhere, so there’s nothing wrong with a “not perfect, but at least live” page and making changes as you get closer to launch.
But without prior conversations with your ideal audience, and without information on the challenges they experience, your lead magnet or landing page messaging is likely to miss the mark (which means putting in all that extra work for nothing).
It’ll also give you some ideas on where to get traffic to come into your new lead magnets (or landing page), so that you’re not only getting Product Hunt or Indie Hackers traffic (nothing wrong with that, but how do you get *more* to grow?).
If you’re clear on who your audience is and what you need, then you can decide on which of the 2 possible strategies (lead magnets vs building a landing page) is appropriate based on your goals, your market, and your launch timeline.
The one question you need to answer before dropping a sign-up form on your website
The biggest question you need to answer: what’s in it for your subscribers?
I sign up for “Get updates” emails because I want all the emails for my swipe file. But I’m not your ideal client.
What would convince your ideal client to sign up? If the answer is “I don’t know” - you know you’re starting with research.
If you know the answer, make sure it comes across loud and clear in all of your collateral.
How to get your subscriber to stay on the list - and open your emails
With all the things that need to be done, you might be tempted to focus on just getting those subscribers in, and not giving much thought to what happens next.
Result: neglected list subscribers, slowly forgetting about your product (which they were initially excited about) and eventually not bothering to pull your infrequent emails out of the “Promotions” folder.
Here are the most frequently missed opportunities to get more value out of your list:
Not having a welcome email. Just look at the Campaign Monitor stats to see why this matters. Whether you’re asking your new subscribers to fill out a survey or to share the information about your soon-to-be-launched product on social media, make the welcome email count.
Not segmenting your list. The more you know about your subscribers, the easier it is for you to have meaningful conversations with them.
Getting distracted and shifting the stated topic of your newsletter so that it’s no longer aligned with your audience’s goals (at which point, why should they care?).
Making it all about you. Obviously, your newsletter is about your product - but it’s also (and more importantly) about helping your list subscribers achieve their goals. Even your new feature announcements.
The question is: how can you make it worth your subscribers while opening your emails?
Pragli sends adorable puppy gifs (awwwwwwww).
Balsamiq shares behind-the-scenes stories (and who doesn’t want a behind-the-scenes pass, especially if it involves descriptions of decision-making processes?).
Take a look at your own inbox, see what makes you open emails - and find ways to use the same techniques in your own newsletters and updates.
Not having a plan for nurturing your lead magnet subscribers. Whether it’s a hand-off of emails and form responses to your sales team, or designing a nurturing sequence to drive sign-ups for demo calls, make sure you’ve got a plan for what happens next, when, and how.
Recap: this is how starting list-building pre-launch can make your post-launch marketing easier
To sum up: you don’t have to save all marketing and lead gen activities until after launch.
In fact, you shouldn’t.
Instead, building an email list before you launch is going to help you achieve the following goals:
- Understanding your target audience better
- Building a list of beta-users or “ready to sign up the second you launch” users
- Building a list of potential clients who are a great fit for your product
- Nurturing an audience ready to help you boost your promotion efforts after you launch
All of it - just from saying “yes” to email marketing.
Ekaterina Howard is a conversion copywriter and strategist using the power of customer research to help her clients engage and convert their new users. She publishes “Onboarding Lessons” from different SaaS companies on her blog to show how to apply great ideas to your SaaS email sequences. Check them out and subscribe here: https://pinwheeltrans.com/blog