Why Every Freelancer Needs an Email List & How to Make It Grow

16 months ago I did not think I needed an email list.

I’m not trying to get famous. I’m just building a little boutique web design company. I don’t need that many clients to pay my bills.

I took many online business classes. All the experts hammered the importance of a mailing list. Since I paid good money for their advice, I followed it. Now I see they were right.

Here’s why.

Have you heard of the “Rule of Seven?” Essentially, the idea is your clients need to come in contact with you an average of 7 times before buying or reaching out.

It’s unlikely clients will contact you after their very first visit to your website (and you shouldn’t expect them to). You need to give them a reason (and remind them) to come back. Being able to send them helpful emails is the easiest way!

Another way to think of it is people like to buy from their friends. You’re more likely to buy when you know the person or you’ve been referred by someone you trust. You need to help them get to know you first. Poppin’ in their inbox from time to time solving problems they have is a great way!

In my personal experience the rule of 7 has proved true for my business. Besides referrals, the majority of my clients have been on my list for several months before reaching out- they tell me so!

It’s important to start that relationship as quick as possible because it takes time.

After you’ve setup your email list with a mailing list management company (Like MailchimpAweber and Convertkit). You’ll want to capture all that website traffic and snag your potential customers’ email address.

Here are a few tips to grow your mailing list.

1) Create a freebie to give them in exchange for their contact info. What problems do they need help solving that will help show your expertise? Help them solve that problem with a pdf, video or email series they’ll receive after they sign up.

2) Make this freebie (or opt-in) obvious in your web design. Don’t just let it blend in somewhere in your footer. Do a feature box, put it right in the header, embed between content on your about page, etc. Make it obvious, make it important. (My homepage feature box is the #1 place people sign up- it works)

3) Install the Magic Action Box plugin. WIth it you can easily add optin forms at the bottom of your blog posts to get potential clients to sign up to your mailing address. If they read all the way to the bottom of your post, they most likely enjoyed it. It’s the perfect time to give them the opportunity for more through your newsletter.

4) Create a squeeze page JUST for your freebie (no menu, header sidebar, etc). If that seems like a lot of work (if you don’t know how), you can always use the one given to you by your newsletter subscriber. This allows you to link directly to it without having to say, “sign up in the sidebar of my website” (where they will inevitably get distracted by other things to click on). Here’s what mine looks like.

5) Share your optin regularly on social media. Schedule recurring tweets and Facebook posts linking directly to your optin squeeze page.

6) Be consistent. Send emails to your list on a regular basis. This will keep you on top of their mind and start working towards those 7 touches faster. This can be hard at times. I recently have lost my regular level of consistency and notice a significant decrease in consult call bookings. But that shows me how well it works and that it needs to be a top priority.

Let me know in the comments

Do you use a mailing list in your freelance business? Has it led to more clients because of it? If you don’t, what’s holding you back?




All the emails you should include, plus pre-written scripts to make it easy!

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Leah Kalamakis Leah Kalamakis is the founder of The Freelance To Freedom Project and a web designer/developer for brilliant entrepreneurs. When she’s not hanging out in the FTF Community, you can find her people watching on the streets of NYC. Come say hi on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

{ 38 comments… add one }
  • Leah, you bring up some awesome points in this article. I had no clue about the “Touch 7” rule, but it makes complete sense! My optin freebie box is currently a the bottom of the page but I’m going to switch it to the header so it’s more visible.

    And great idea about sharing it on social media! Off to Buffer I go 😉

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Yay! So glad you got some good tips out of this. I love your site, but yes, your optin does get a little lost in the bottom. You should definitely leave one there, but maybe make it pop with a bit more color!

      The great thing about sharing your freebie on social is it’s so easy to schedule a bunch waaaaay in advance and then not have to think about it again!

  • Your post was SO timely this week. I was just looking at my analytics and wondering about the low level of consult requests compared to traffic, then I switched over to email and there you were talking about this exact issue.

    I have resisted the opt-in freebie and list-building for a year because it makes me anxious, but no more! I’m started to plan/write content two weeks ago and I here publicly declare my goal to start publishing by August. Thanks, Leah!

    P.S.: I’m so glad you started writing! I look forward to your emails every week.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Hey, good for you for paying attention to your analytics! I know the anxious feeling, I’ve been there, especially with a freebie. But you gotta at least try, and I’m certain you’ll see a big difference. Plus then your blog posts actually get read- you have your peeps to tell about it!

      Thanks for your comment and I’m so happy you enjoy my content, knowing that makes it so much easier to keep going!

  • Rebecca

    Consistently great content. Is there a general best practice about how often to send out newsletters?

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      I don’t think there is a tried and true “rule”. I like different amounts from different people. I think it’s really good to test because it depends on the content you provide and your audience. Here at FTF, I send once a week. For my web design business I tried that, but didn’t feel it was as necessary, so I go for 1/2 per month. The key is consistency to always be memorable and not receive one of your emails one day and think “Who is this person? SPAM.” Test it out and see what works for you!

  • You know, I lived in that “they say I need an email list but I don’t know why/how” zone for awhile. Mainly, I didn’t know what the newsletter would be or who I wanted to target necessarily. But I started anyway (without a particular goal in mind), and then a new opportunity developed that gave me clarity on how to use my list. I was glad that I already had it started, because then it was easy to narrow down the focus. =)

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Hope, that’s such a great point. I was in the same situation when I started mine, really having no idea who would read it or what to write. So glad I did it anyway because a lot of my first signups turned into clients and now I can build the momentum faster. I hear so many people say “I wish I started sooner”, so you’re a perfect example of just doing it!

  • Great little checklist and once again, you’ve made me feel like… “oh, that’s pretty simple.” From overwhelming to doable in 60 seconds flat. 🙂 Thank you so much, Leah!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      So glad Jamie, I love the stuff I can take action on the most so I’m glad you get that from me too!

  • I didn’t think about creating a mailing list either, because I’m a freelancer and small, etc. But, I finally did it and it’s helped! I have one client that with each newsletter, emails me about a new project. HAHA! It’s like my emails remind me that he needs a design done.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Oh my Jessica, that’s a perfect example! Wish I could have quoted you in this post with that! Thanks for sharing in the comments at least.

  • Thanks for the reminder Leah! I am someone who hammers this into my clients and now I can refer them to this post for a breakdown of WHY (and some helpful strategies!)

    Thank you!

  • Hi Leah — great article! Seven steps to success!

  • I’ve been growing my email list for a short time but I think you are very right about the consistency, especially in the case of the touch 7 rule. The things I have not done yet are adding an opt in at the bottom of my blogs, creating a squeeze page (I actually need some help with this, would love an easy to use plug in or something!) and the regular mentions on social media. Thanks for these tips, on my way to go implement now 😉

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Hey Teri! Yes, an easy to use plugin would be nice. Solutions do exist, but unfortunately are not cheap (LeadPages for example). It does depend on your theme or coding knowledge too. If you are able to take off the header/menu/sidebar of any page, then you can certainly plop some text and an optin (with Magic Action Box for example) on that page and you’re good to go. Thesis for example comes with a pre-made landing page layout that works like a charm for simple squeeze pages without coding.

  • Yes, yes, and yes. I also resisted setting up an email list (and blogging regularly). I thought it was just waaaay too time consuming and what I need to be doing is seeing clients, right?


    For the past year+ I’ve written a weekly blog post and accompanying email and my list has grown steadily. Once I put out my opt-in freebie (actually, I have 4 free ebooks!) and rebranded my website (Thanks Leah!), my list doubled in 2.5 weeks and has doubled a few times since then. Those peeps who hang out on my list for a while are well-vetted clients. They already know me, get my nutrition philosophy, and are at a place in their health journey where the DIY stuff isn’t enough. They are the perfect clients because they are ready to do the work and see the value of investing in their health. So all that time spent on blog posts + emails is non-sales-y free marketing.

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Oh man, great points Lily! I know your freebies are incredibly useful so it doesn’t surprise me a bit. But the point about your clients then being well vetted is so so important. Especially when you’re at a stage in your biz where you really only want the perfect fit clients. Knowing they’ve been hanging out with you for awhile and therefore know your methods, really must bring the right clients in your door. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Great points Leah! I wrote about the free gift on my blog only two weeks ago. It did wonders for my building my list. It definitely takes time to build trust with your list. Biggest thing is being consistent after they’ve opted in to your email list. Don’t want a month to go by before they hear from you again. Timing is everything!

  • Setting up an opt-in form on my site is the next project on my list! This article just confirms it’s something I need to do. I love the idea of offering up a freebie, too. Thanks for the tips!

  • This is definitely something I should work on, partly I don’t know what freebie to do, my blogging is a bit sporadic and plus I worry no-one would sign up still! I suppose I need to plan it all really. Thanks for the advice!

  • Leah, another high quality post! The rule of 7 touch points makes perfect sense, as we need to build a relationship with prospective clients for them to reach out to you.

    What are you thoughts on writing your newsletter yourself as opposed to your email system automatically sending out a snippet of your latest blog post?

    Have you tried both, if so, which method works better for you?

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      I haven’t tried both, but I personally prefer receiving written newsletters, even if it’s just an intro to the post itself. More personal, helps create actually connection with your subscribers, plus the automatic is obviously automatic, which I don’t love.

  • Having JUST set up my opt-in (obviously, with just launching my site) I was thrilled to see that anyone had signed up! It’s more friends and past clients right now, but even seeing those few names gave me a little thrill. And the tip about sharing about your opt-in (even though I don’t have a freebie) is a great idea!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      Yay, the first ones are the most exciting! I was my first 🙂 Yep, you can definitely share your newsletter even with no freebie for sure!

  • Yay! That guide from you and Heather is going to be epic!! Can’t wait!!

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah

      I’m so so excited Alistair!

  • Izzy Leroy

    wow Leah, what an engage audience you have! Look at all those comments 🙂
    The freebie ideas definitely works but i’m just not 100% sure about the light box interrupting the user’s experience (then again if you don’t ask…), so I may have to implement the Magic Action Box and see if it works (will monitor bounce rate and average duration on page).

    oh and just a little question, I was reading an article about leveraging social media channels to increase my email list (http://goo.gl/HH6IWu) and was hoping you could give me your opinion or even ideas that have worked for you in the past?

    Anyway, thanks for these amazing tips and thanks for the insights 🙂

  • Hey Leah,

    Thanks for writing this for us.
    I actually came over to your blog from a google search.
    This article is helpful to me. I have been able to learn one or two things from it.
    I would like to be one of your friends.
    I will subscribe to your list, always come here to read your updates,
    share your articles on social media e.t.c.
    Keep up the good work.

    Oloyede Jamiu

  • Hey Leah – thanks for this great article – my next big task is starting to build my email list. I’ve got a Mailchimp account etc sorted, and I’m trying to figure out how to put an opt-in in my website header – is there a plug-in that does this? Or is it something that has to be created bespoke by a designer? Cheers Emma

  • Hi! After reading this post, I am wondering if I should use my lifestyle blog as my online portfolio and create a page for my proofreading business, or create a brand new blog altogether. What are your thoughts?

    • Leah Kalamakis Leah Kalamakis

      Hi Barbara – it depends where you are at in your business. If you are just exploring it, then I think it’s great to start by putting a page up on your current site. That way the readers of your current blog might be interested and see it, plus it gives you a place to list your services and link to when you are promoting elsewhere. Next to think about is whether or not the readers of your lifestyle blog are are ideal clients for proofreading. If they are – great, you can use the one site for both things. If you want to target other people for proofreading that might not necessarily be interested in your lifestyle blog, then you’ll definitely want a different site. Without knowing your blog – in general I’d recommend having a separate site for your business. That way you are able to blog on it about solutions your ideal clients need and attract only people that need your services. Then you can keep your lifestyle blog readers happy by not bringing business stuff into that. When it comes to building an effective newsletter list – having a separate site will be very beneficial because you know those that are signing up are signing up out of interest in how you help as a proofreader – not about other things you might cover on a lifestyle blog. Hope that helps!

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