How To Start Your Email List

“How do I start a mailing list?”

It’s a question that I’ve been asked numerous times in the past few weeks. Hmmm … Where to begin?

One thing is for certain. “Start an Email List” is an overwhelming project that might stop you before you’ve even begun. Instead of looking at it as a whole, break it down into steps to make faster progress.

Here are the steps to take. They aren’t numbered because you can skip around until you get to the “Finally” section.

(If you have a mature mailing list and you don’t need these steps, please don't go anywhere. Jump straight to the end and share your experience with others. Your insights and encouragement are sure to be valuable to someone else.)

Start With Who You Know

Make a list of everyone you know who might want to hear about you and your art:

  • Friends
  • Family
  • Neighbors
  • Colleagues at a day job
  • Other artists
©Laura Bethmann, Mandala. Ink, watercolor, and pencil. 14 x 18 inches. Used with permission.
©Laura Bethmann, Mandala. Ink, watercolor, and pencil. 14 x 18 inches. Used with permission.

Don’t discount anyone because you believe they’ll never buy your art. You never know how they can support you until you bring them into your art life.

Save the following information for each person:

  • First and last name
  • Email address
  • City, State/Province, Zip/Postal Code
  • Country
  • Phone number

Yes, we’re talking about email lists here. But as long as you're collecting the first two pieces of information, you might as well record the rest.

You are not adding these people to a bulk email list. You are saving their names to invite them at a later date.

©Pat Bingham, Dive. Watercolor, 14 x 11 inches. Used with permission.
©Pat Bingham, Dive. Watercolor, 14 x 11 inches. Used with permission.

You don’t want to run afoul of anti-spam laws.

Register for an Email Service

Open an email account with a platform like MailChimp or Constant Contact. See this review of options.

You don't have to anything with it yet. Just get an account. Remember: Baby steps.

You will use this to email your growing list, which you cannot do from a regular email account without triggering the suspicion of your Internet Service Provider.

Join Other Artists’ Lists

Sign up for other artists' email lists for ideas on what to do and what not to do.

When you sign up, pay close attention to the experience:

  • Is the form easy to use?
  • Is there a thank-you page that looks like it's personally from the artist? Or does it appear to be cold and from the email company?
  • Did you receive an immediate thank-you?
  • What happens next?
  • What's the frequency of the emails?

You can model what you like and improve what you don’t like about the experience.

Map Out Your Communication

These three things can happen in any order:

  1. Decide on the cadence of your email. I suggest once a month to create a habit.

When you invite people to your list, you want to tell them what they’ll be receiving and at what frequency.

2. Begin gathering ideas for six months of emails. This is what we do in Creative Content Camp – develop ideas for email, blog posts, and social media – but you can do it on your own.

You can’t use the excuse that you don’t have anything to say when you keep a stash of content ideas handy.

3. Create an email template on the email service you have selected. This will be ready to go when you’re ready to send.

©Georgia Gibbs, The Docks. Cold wax, oil paint, 24 x 36 x 1 inches. Used with permission.
©Georgia Gibbs, The Docks. Cold wax, oil paint, 24 x 36 x 1 inches. Used with permission.


Ask those whose names you’ve collected if they would like to hear about your art on a regular basis via email. This can be done through personal emails or in conversation.

Plan to send an email within 1 week to anyone who asks to be on your list. This is when they are most interested in hearing from you, so you don’t want to blow the opportunity.

These people have trusted you with their email addresses. You should be full of gratitude in your opening missives to them.

Oh, and finally finally … Don't make the mistake of waiting until you have more people on your list to begin sending email updates. Your list won't grow until you start using it.

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34 thoughts on “How To Start Your Email List”

  1. Kathy Rennell Forbes

    Don’t be afraid to ask for this info, if you do not ask the answer is always “NO”.
    As long as you do not send too frequently, people love to read and see what you are up to.
    Always allow option to opt out of future emails and do not take it personally when someone does opt out of your newsletter. You only want people to be happy to receive your newsletter.

  2. I had no email list until January. Since I sell primarily on Etsy for one of my businesses, I went back to Etsy and got mailing/email information for everyone who had purchased from me within the last year. I added them to a Mailchimp free account and sent them all the first newsletter. At the bottom of the newsletter, I explained that newsletters were new and they were getting it because they had purchased from me withing the last year. If they want to unsubscribe, then….etc. The morning I sent my first newsletter, I had a few unsubscribes, but I also had $450 in sales by noon. Totally worth it!!

  3. I use an email newsletter once a month. At first I tried doing it on my own, keeping a database, and using my own email. It was way too hard to maintain. So many people change email addresses frequently, and move or unsubscribe. Using a service like Mailchimp makes it much simpler once it is all set up. I don’t have to type in emails – I can use my phone or laptop to get signups at classes or shows.

    I like Mailchimp’s free policy, and would recommend them. Even if you feel like you’ll never go over the free limit elsewhere, it is surprising how quickly the names add up!

  4. Alyson is right, include everyone you know on the list; friends, family, service providers. I even added the local company who shampoos my carpets and the one who cleans my windows every spring. They send me email updates on their business, so I now do the same.

    I also set out a guest book at my open studios to gather names and mailing info. I give them the option of leaving a postal address, email or both. I love it most when I get a postal address. That way I can include them in postcard mailings. They hold onto those longer. My last postcard mailing created over $400 in sales.

    1. Good work, Paula.

      I would caution against this: ” They send me email updates on their business, so I now do the same.”

      You paid for their service, which is pretty much a signal for them to stay in touch. But they didn’t ask to hear about your business.

      I’m sure it’s not a big deal (except in places like Canada where it IS a big no-no), but I get a little annoyed at all of the artists who send me their newsletters just because they signed up to receive mine. I have no idea who most of them are.

  5. We have a lengthy list inside of our Mac “Contacts” app, with subsets of people who’ve purchased, people who have expressed interest, etc.

    Must a separate email list (and app) be created?

    Does that mean yet another list need to be created to do mailing labels?

    And separately, elsewhere … any notes about where we met & what they are interested in?

    No one place for unified info to be maintained to handle all?

    1. Sandy: Your Internet Service Provider does not like seeing you email lots of people at once. Your setup with them wasn’t created to do that.

      We keep our notes in our email database as well.

  6. Started on Mailchimp about 6 months ago set everything up Except -‘Confirm You Wish to be Added’- somehow/someone hacked into the list and Mailchimp have banned me !! Tomorrow is in the diary to sort it out – wish me luck !

  7. I was holding off sending out an email because I literally had only 11 people on my list. When I sent out that first email to those 11 people I had a $250 sale (the click through link to my shopify site) within hours. It was family but that was a sale I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Don’t wait! I’ve now made a list of 364 emails pulled from my gmail account and of colleagues from my day job that I think wouldn’t mind a personal invite to join my list. I’ll be working through those personal invites over the next little while. Does anyone have any tips for an onboarding sequence of emails to automate a welcome once people sign up in MailChimp?

    1. Hi Marnie Joy,
      I sequence a welcome gift over 5 days after a person signs up on my web site. Not being tech wise, I hired the help of a woman who has helped me in the past do tweaks to my site. I’m using Mail Chimp and she set it up for me. Getting someone to do it did not cost much and she did it in record time and I also get an email when anyone joins. If you don’t have someone to do this, I’m happy to give you her contact info.

    2. Thank you Paula. It really makes sense to hire experts sometimes, doesn’t it?! I am going to give it a go on my own first. I was also just curious about what kind of content for those first few automated emails. I will sign up for a few and see what might work for me. Thanks again!

    3. Marni I use MailChimp and there is in the sequence a ‘Welcome’ email you can set up. It’s right behind the confirmation email in the form design section. They also have new features for automation for free members. If you are on Facebook there is a Mail Chimp Group called MailChimp Answers that has a lot of helpful info on the program.

    4. Thank you Melissa. I really do have to get more familiar with MailChimp. It has taken back seat tech-wise to website workings. I will definitely join the FB group – thank you so much for that tip!

  8. How to add 100 emails to your list? We all get requests for donations and fund raising events.
    I like to offer items at Studio Tours, Parade Homes that I have artwork displayed, First Friday art events at a gallery.
    Do a giveaway of an original small piece, an Art Lesson, a series of original greeting cards.
    Register to win, name, email.
    Over 2 years I have built the mailing list to over 1100 emails that I contact 2x per month for art workshops and events.

  9. I’ve been sending a regular Newsletter (~ monthly) since the end of 2012. The list has expanded to about 300-400. I get the occasional request to Unsubscribe but not many. I still get positive responses every month! I’m painting less due to AMD so I’ve been Profiling other artist friends which has been well received.
    Lately I’ve been tracking the outgoing email Newsletters to see what is going on. Very interesting! Several open and read but some delete before reading. They tell me when the Newsletter is posted to their Mailbox but it doesn’t always tell me when it is read.
    I’m planning to decrease the frequency of the Newsletter next year because I think that it is not always getting read or is blocked. It takes a lot of time to put it together and I think that those who enjoy it will read and respond as usual but it won’t “bother” those who don’t have the courage to “Unsubscribe”!

  10. Susie Seitz King

    I am reading a lot about Mail Chimp. My website is currently under construction. My webmaster used Constant Contact. I’m totally new to the workings of the backside of websites. I’m also very technically challenged. Does anyone here have any experience with Constant Contact and have ideas to share for that? I’d appreciate reading some posts on that program, as well. Until then, have a great Friday!

    Susie Seitz King

  11. I actually feel an odd sense of victory when people unsubscribe…to me it means that less people are getting the emails who don’t want them…so I feel like my list gets more concentrated….my average open rate is between 38-40% so I feel pretty good about that…and feel inspired to remember the monthly newsletter…even though I have had a list for years…I realize haven’t invited anybody in a long time. Thank you…and I’m fired up about Content Camp:) woot woot!!!

  12. I’ve been helping a mixed media/abstract artist with her Mail Chimp account for 5 years and we have grown the list from her initial “paper” list of about 100 to 1700 today. She is also a teaching artist and we collect info from her workshops, classes, demo sign-in registration sheets primarily but also include a FORWARD TO A FRIEND link on all send outs and a link to subscribe to her list. She adds this hosted sign-up form to the footer of all her emails and on her website. We only gather name, city, state, country + email address for her database. I then add a geography ID so we can use Mail Chimp’s easy “segmentation tool” to be able to send to specific parts of the country. Finally, after every send we look at the send report to check open rate, unsubscribes, bounce backs and most importantly….how many folks used the links that we embedded in the materials sent. Mail Chimp makes it very easy to use Excel to import new names and to download your entire database for back-up. Mail Chimp is free up to 2000 names, you can schedule your send by date + time, and their HELP info is pretty complete + self-explanatory but the FREE accounts no longer have access to on-line or by phone support. Mail Chimp makes it easy to design materials to send to your list, easy to embed images of your art, videos and pdf files and links to web addresses. Neither of us had ANY experience with Mail Chimp before we launched this endeavor and I found it extremely easy to learn and create marketing materials for my friend’s art biz. I highly recommend it !

  13. I use FASO (Fine Art Studio on Line). They send me an email when someone subscribes and have and auto respond that you can use, etc. But I’m totally negligent in posting emails.

    From reading emails I receive from others. I wouldn’t worry about ones that don’t open, but don’t unsubscribe. I quite often don’t open emails because I’m too busy. But when I do have time to open one and fine it interesting. I’ll go to the person’s site and read past emails. And when I do this I’m more in the mind frame of buying.

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

Where can we send it? 

To ensure delivery, please triple check your email address.

You’ll also receive my regular news for your art business.

Privacy + Terms