Earn Their Trust, Win Their Email: 9 Strategies for Newsletter Growth

By Jessica Albon

Get more subscribers with a signup sheet

When it comes to off line list growth, there are lots of opportunities to have an in-person sign-up sheet. If you have a brick and mortar location, you’ll have the opportunity every time someone walks through your doors, but even if that doesn’t apply, any time you do a trade show, an open studio, a workshop, a speaking engagement, or anything where you’re surrounded by a group of people who might be interested in your business, you should have a sign-up sheet.

It might seem a little old fashioned, but it works like a charm when you do it right. During a recent visit to Asheville’s River Arts District, I noticed lots of artists with sign-up sheets in their booth space (which is awesome!). Alas, most of those sign-up sheets were blank.

I made a few suggestions as I wandered through the booths, but I don’t like to offer unsolicited advice. On the one hand, I don’t want to begin such a conversation with, “For nearly 20 years, I’ve been helping businesses make lots more money with email marketing” and follow it up with my credentials. On the other, it seems like everyone has an opinion on other people’s businesses–and many of those opinions are flat out wrong.

So, rather than keep dolling out unsolicited advice in artist’s studios, I made notes so I could share some strategies for how you can use a sign-up sheet to get more subscribers.

  1. Prefill a few lines. 
    No one wants to be the first name on your list. Just like restaurants never have an empty tip jar on the desk, you should never have an empty list. Move the most recent address to the next page, or ask a friend to write their address in for you. It’s subtle, but people are a lot less likely to want to be the first person to write their name on a fresh piece of paper. Plus, we’re social creatures–when no one has given you their email address yet, we wonder if our contact information will be safe with you.
  2. Use large pieces of paper. 
    A teeny-tiny “autograph” book is the wrong size for an exercise like this. Rather, print out full-sized sheets of paper with easy to fill out, clearly labeled spaces for name and email address. Something large encourages people to write legibly, plus it fills up faster making your list look more popular. People don’t do a lot of handwriting these days, so make it really, really easy for them to write their name and address.
  3. Personalize it. 
    As I wandered the booths, and did put my email address down for the lists of artists I admired, I couldn’t help but notice there was no contact information for any of the artists on the page itself. Were it not for the stack of business cards usually nearby, I wouldn’t have known whose list I was getting onto. For an artist, this is an obvious missed opportunity because they could have personalized the pages with their own art. But, even if you’re not an artist, personalizing the sign-up sheet gives that new subscriber a glimpse of what they should look for in their inbox.
  4. Turn the signup list into a display. 
    In person signup sheets give you a huge opportunity to put up a physical display and turn the spot into a spectacle. Consider creating a banner, cupcakes, or even a big sign that says, “Join our list!” to make signing up a production. This makes it more fun and again, helps to solidify that relationship you’re building. Of course, it also draws people over to the list itself, making it harder to miss and making this relationship-building activity more memorable. Making it memorable is especially important when you’re at a location where people might be signing up for multiple lists (like a trade show) because you want them to remember having given you their contact information. Take this opportunity to turn their sign up into a celebration in any way you can.
  5. Be confident! 
    You wouldn’t believe how many artists said to me, “I don’t send emails very often. I promise I won’t inundate you with messages.” I get this temptation, I do. But don’t give into it. Your list is awesome! They’ll wish you wrote more often. (I know, everyone gets a lot of email and we’re all empathetic to that and that’s great! But everyone has control over their inboxes, if they’ve got too much email this week, they can delete your email–and they know that.)
    When you start this relationship by apologizing for what you’ll be sending them, you’re starting off on the wrong foot. Instead, take your time to craft great emails and offer those emails confidently to your audience.
  6. Verbally invite people to sign up. 
    Whenever I go somewhere with booths, there are booths that feel unwelcoming. That makes me less likely to stay very long. Here’s how to fix that: verbally invite people to sign up for your newsletter list. After someone has looked around for a moment, say something like, “If you’re interested, I’d love for you to sign up for my list. I send an email about once a month about [super interesting thing]. The list is right over here.” It goes without saying that you don’t want to be forceful or annoying about it, but do be confident, brief and complete. Offering this verbal invitation helps people feel more welcome, and that’s a great way to start a relationship with a new newsletter subscriber.
  7. Demonstrate something. 
    Obviously this isn’t going to work for every business, but if there’s anything you can possibly demonstrate: do. Get people involved in your process. Artist Dona Barnett showed me how her etching press worked and it was amazing and I couldn’t wait to sign up for her list. A demonstration gets people involved and curious and shows that you have something to say–all great ways to captivate your new audience.
  8. Remember, it’s not a numbers game. 
    Don’t take it personally when someone doesn’t want to sign up. Growing your list, especially in a high-touch way like this, is about building a relationship. You’re not looking for anyone who can fog a mirror–you’re looking for new, engaged readers. Some people might not sign up on the spot, but they’ll take your card and sign up later, and some people just don’t belong on your list.
  9. Send something immediately. 
    The day after you’ve had a signup list somewhere, email everyone who’s just signed up. Consider sending them some photos from the event, or just keep it simple and thank them for coming out. This immediate follow up helps cement who you are in their mind. Make sure your message is well branded to make it clear who you are. (In the case of the artists, I’d also include a couple of artwork photos.) It’s important that you do this immediately because you only have a limited amount of time for people to remember you, and getting this right builds automatic affinity.

You want to start the relationship off on the right foot and that means being professional and thorough with the sign-up process. It means giving people exactly what they need so that the right people want to say yes. By using these nine tips the next time you have a sign-up sheet, you’ll not only get more subscribers, but even better, you’ll be growing that engaged audience.