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Starting at zero: the freedom of a new list


There are no quick fixes to building your audience. It takes time, grit and confidence in yourself and your message. The days of buying a list and blasting out your message are over (and frankly weren’t that great in the first place). However…you also have the consolation that every digital marketer and business owner you have ever met started out at the same place with the same number. 


The ones who have made it – Ryan Deiss, Neil Patel, Gary Vaynerchuk – they’ve all been in the online business for decades. They have given themselves the gift of time to experiment, grow, change and enjoy themselves. That 100,000-strong list did not appear overnight (and frankly, if it had, would it have been as effective?). They grew it one step at a time through books, conferences, content and advertising.

Sometimes, the long route is the best way forward.

The pressure’s off. Writing to 5 people (and screwing up) is much easier than writing to 50,000. I’ve done both and with 50 people, it’s a lot easier to find your voice as you’ve a good idea of who they are and what they are interested in. 50,000 people requires more strategy and a touch of segmentation. The bigger your list, the more time you have to invest in managing it. On top of that, you are guaranteed to screw up at least once during your email career. It’s easier on your ego if that happens with a smaller list who are (hopefully) more forgiving of your mistake.

Where do you start with zero?

The first thing is to decide what’s in your newsletter. Ideally you will have a mock-up or a dummy outline before you even set up that subscribe form. It’s important because…

  • You want people to know exactly what they are signing up for and why in your welcome email.
  • You need to know how long it will take you. Can you keep up the 1,000 word missive every week, without missing a beat? If not, don’t promise it.
  • You need a reason to keep going. An email newsletter needs to excite you as much as them. If you are struggling to write it now, you will struggle when the phone is ringing off the hook, there’s cake all over your desk and your VA has quit.
  • Finally, you can experiment. Text-only, memes, video, a beautiful e-commerce layout? You’ve got the time to play before it goes out. Having said that, your newsletter will evolve, so don’t get too hung up on its looks.

Now prepare your subscriber stall.

Also known as your ‘hook’, ‘bait’ or ‘ethical bribe’. I prefer ‘stall’ as it’s more respectful of your list and your clients are not something you are going to catch and eat.

Your stall is:

“Download (or coupon) + form + welcome email.

For example, you could produce a short video, solving your client’s immediate problem (e.g. ’how to use your eyebrow pencil’.) This, by itself, is not enough. You also need a form that sells the content (Hollywood brows in 5 minutes: my pro trick you can use at home), and a follow-up email that delivers on your promise. It’s not one step, but three.

Don’t wait months.

Once that first subscriber is on your list, you are committed to your newsletter promise. You cannot wait for six months until you’ve built up a few hundred names as the first person will have forgotten about you. This is your chance to shine! So, take that dummy newsletter and make it real. Heck, write more than one – if it’s not time-sensitive, you can batch your creation just as you do for you other marketing efforts.

Keep an eye on your reports

Small lists can be very responsive. Whilst it’s hard to A/B test (because the size screws up the statistical analysis), they are useful for surveys, competitions and games. It’s like walking into a playground filled with your favourite people! You get that connection with every great email you send.
It’s all waiting for you. I want to namecheck you as my email hero in the future. Drop me a link in the comments and I will sign up to your list.


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