How to Build a List of Subscribers for Your SMS Campaigns

Picture of a woman looking at her smartphone


So you've decided to promote your business with text messages—good call!

Nothing bypasses the clutter of social media and email like a text message, delivering your business' marketing message right to your customer's most valued and intimate communication channel.

However, before you can begin messaging your customers, they need to provide you with consent to do so by subscribing to receive your promotional messages.

That's right, in both Canada and the U.S., the countries in which we operate, text messaging is by opt-in only, no different than email. This article will show you how to build a massive list of customers using a number of “subscription systems”—simple, mostly automated systems that build your customer list by autopilot with minimal effort from you and your staff.

Canadian law does allow for messaging based on an existing business relationship, or “implied consent.” However, in 2022 and beyond, bulk messaging in Canada is done over a registered toll free number or a short code, both of which require express consent for approval. Unfortunately, this means you can no longer use implied consent to message customers by SMS/MMS.

Before We Begin…

Before you implement the subscription systems outlined here, it's important that you have…

  • Established the benefits of being subscribed to your program (exclusive deals and coupons, early bird access to sales, etc.).
  • Brainstormed a compelling incentive for doing so (i.e., an instant discount or coupon).
  • Addressed your customers' potential privacy and messaging concerns (i.e., opt out anytime, we only message 2x per month, etc.).

These systems work best when your customers feel like there's a real benefit from being subscribed to receive your messages.

In other words, the advantages of being subscribed to receive your text message promtions outweigh any possible reservations they may have about sharing their cell phone numbers with with you.

Subscription System #1: In House Via Tablet

Your BROADCASTsms account includes customizable web forms which are ideal for building your list on autopilot.

These forms are our recommended “go to” for building a subscriber list for three main reasons…

  1. It's easy for your customer to subscribe. They don't need their phones to complete the unfamiliar process of texting a keyword to a number.
  2. It's easy for you. Customers who subscribe using your web form are immediately added to your BROADCASTsms database.
  3. The form includes the standard disclaimer that addresses potential concerns about commercial messaging.

Many of our retail clients have experienced great success by…

  • Loading up this web form on a tablet and featuring it prominently in their place of business (either at the checkout or at a prominent place within the store).
  • Having staff members “upsell” the benefits of being subscribed to your “text club” when the customer checks out, and then directing them to it (this is critical to your success; your staff must highlight the service).

Some retail stores will load the form onto multiple tablets and feature them in a number of different locations in their business.

Of all the subscription systems highlighted on this page, this is the most powerful.


Because you and your staff can actively encourage customers to subscribe. That makes a big difference.

All the other options listed on this page are passive; you can put the option to subscribe before your customer, but beyond that you have no influence… the customer makes the decision on their own. Here, you can actively influence their decision. As a result, I highly recommend you implement it.

If you don't have a tablet, they can be purchased very reasonably on Amazon for anywhere from $70-$120 dollars.

Please note: you will need a Wifi-enabled Internet connection for this.

Subscription System 2: Link to Form in Email Newsletter

Most businesses today publish some sort of email newsletter. Hopefully, you do too.

From now on, you need to promote your new “text club” in every email you send.

You do this by including the link to the web form included in your BROADCASTsms account.

You might build a simple call to action into your template that says something like this…

“Never miss a sale again! Get exclusive offers and early bird notifications of sales and limited availability items, click here!”

The link in the message directs your customer to your opt-in web form, where they can easily subscribe and be added to your database.

Subscription System 3: Link to Form on Social Media

Much like you'll promote your “text club” in your email newsletter by posting a link to your web form, you'll do the same on any of the social media platforms you're active on.

Make sure you do this a couple of times a week and do it consistently, week-in and week-out. Don't make the mistake of doing this once or twice.

It may seem repetitive to you, but the number of people who see your social media posts is actually a very small percentage of your total number of followers.

So consistent promotion increases the likelihood a greater number of them will see it.

Subscription System 4: Link to Form in Print Media

By now, you're starting to get the picture; anywhere and everywhere you promote your business, you should actively encourage subscriptions to your “text club”.

That means all print media as well. It should include a link to where the sign up form can accessed online, and a strong call to action and benefit statement to compel the prospect into action.

Texting a Keyword: A Caveat

The most commonly suggested option for gathering subscriptions for an SMS list is to ask your clients to text a keyword to a number.

This is called a “handset initiated opt-in.”

For example…

“To receive delicious discounts direct to your phone and a coupon for 10% off your next purchase, text PIZZA to 123-456-7890.”

PIZZA, in this case, is the keyword.

When this exact word is sent to the number in question, it “unlocks” access to your database, adds that person as a subscriber, and sends them a welcome message.

I haven't mentioned this option for a couple of reasons…

  1. Some people struggle with this process. Texting a word to a number is not normally how a text conversation is started (normally you add a contact and then you message the contact).
  2. Others send something other than the keyword to the number (we've seen “yes, please”, “subscribe”, “subscribe me”, “sign me up” etc.). None of these are the keyword and as a result, none will “unlock” your database and add them as a subscriber. They will receive an error message and will likely give up at this point.

So here's the bottom line on handset initiated opt-ins…

In media where you can't include a clickable link (print, radio, television), you are welcome to solicit handset initiated opt ins by inviting customers to subscribe by texting your keyword to your number.

After all, your BROADCASTsms account is set up to do so.

But always provide an alternative option for those who struggle with this process.

The best way to do this to include a web link where they can subscribe via your form.

Bottom line on building a list of subscribers for your SMS campaigns? Make it easy for everyone.

Recognize not that not everyone is familiar with the “text a keyword to a number” thing. If you can make things easy for people, it's much more likely they will subscribe. If they have to overcome hurdles to do so, you've lost the battle already.