3 Ways to Use an Email Referral System to Grow Your List

When you’re trying to grow your email list, there are a few tactics that easily come to mind. First, place opt-in opportunities on your site. Then, create a lead magnet to attract readers.

But if you’re ready to move beyond the basic list growth strategies you started with, it might be time to tap into a resource you’ve been neglecting: your own subscribers.

An email referral system can be the key to taking your list growth to the next level. Everyone loves sharing cool stuff with their friends. If you’re providing great content that your readers love, it just makes sense to ask them if they know anyone who would also be interested.

Ready to create an email referral system of your own? Read on for some of the best ideas to help you create the right system for your list.

Level One: The Easy Ask

The easiest way to create an email referral system is just to ask your readers to share the newsletter they just received from you with someone they think might enjoy it.

Depending on your brand and voice, there are a few different ways to ask readers to forward along your great content. It can be as easy as a little reminder at the bottom that says “forward to a friend.”

But you can also mix it up. Try writing a more personal appeal, if that fits with your brand—something like, “This community would be nothing without each of you, and I frequently get asked how you can help grow this community. The best way is to share with friends who would be interested!”

Alternatively, you could write from an angle of exclusivity—try something like, “Who do you know who should be getting this info every week? Forward this newsletter along so they don’t have to miss out anymore.”

Whatever tactic you take, a simple ask can sometimes be enough to get readers to share your content. Be sure that it’s easy enough for their friend to find out how to sign up if they end up clicking over to your website.

Of course, only include an ask like this on emails that you want to get forwarded along—it’s probably best to leave it off of any welcome emails or automated messages. Getting those forwarded would likely just be confusing.

Level Two: The Signup Option

While level one appealed to the reader, this next option is tailored for the friend they forward their email to.

By including a link to your signup page in your email newsletter, you can make it extremely easy for someone who received your newsletter from a friend to opt in to your list. Making that process easy can only help you grow your list.

Paved publisher Need2Know, a daily news update newsletter, does exactly this at the bottom of their newsletter.

Referral Systems to grow your email list

You can create a similar call to action in the tone of voice that best fits your own newsletter brand.

This can be in addition to the CTA for readers to forward along your email, or you could just have a CTA for those who receive an email from a friend.

Even if you only include a CTA for those who got your email from a friend, like Need2Know does, it can still serve as a little reminder for your regular readers that their friends might be interested.

Whatever you do, this is a small tweak that means you’ll have a better shot at getting more email sign ups from a pre-screened, relevant readership: friends of your readers.

Level Three: The Rewarded Referral

Once you move on from a simple ask for referrals, you start getting to the point where your readers will want to know what’s in it for them if they help you grow your list by sharing with friends.

A rewarded referral is not only an ask for a reader to share, but a promise that, when they do, they will get something in return.

These rewards totally vary from one list to another, but can include everything from swag, to shout-outs on the newsletter, to coupon codes. Get creative and think of what your audience really wants—those are the rewards that will really motivate them to send subscribers your way.

You can also do a double sided referral, where the referrer and the referee both get something intriguing when the referee signs up.

Big newsletters like Morning Brew and Th Hustle give away swag like stickers, hats, branded t-shirts, and hats for referrals. It’s a proven method that works for the big publishers.

On the flip side, many small publishers have had success giving away different rewards like entries to a giveaway or a personal meeting.


Use referral softwares like Sparkloops, Ambassador or Mention Me if you need more support for your referral marketing.

Implement Your Email Referral System

Everyone loves being the friend who knows about the coolest new things first. Give your readers the chance to be that friend by setting up an easy email referral system. Whether you go for a simple ask, an easy sign up, or an incentive-based referral system, it can be a small step to see huge growth.

Once you’re ready to monetize your email list, it’s time to try Paved. By creating a listing in the Paved marketplace, you can have advertisers come to you, showcase the value of your list, and even get paid the same day you send. Sign up for Paved to see how easy email advertising can be.