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List Building Reality Check – How You’ll Really Get from 0 to 1,000 Subscribers in 6 Months

list buildingPeople ask me how to get more subscribers more often than they ask just about anything else.

It’s as if not more common than “How do I get more traffic?”

I think guest posting is a great way to go about list building – that’s no secret – especially when you’re starting out.

But do you know what it really takes to get 1,000 subscribers?

There’s a lot of hype, exaggerations, and even outright lies around about building a blog or online business.

So, a quick reality check is in order…

How Long Will it Take?

Let’s say you get 100 new visitors to your site every week with SEO (How SEO works), from social media, and by commenting on other blogs. And 5% of them join your email list.

If you start building your list today, you’ll get to 1,000 subscribers on Sunday, February 19, 2017.

What if you also write guest posts?

Let’s say you write a guest post every two weeks and get an additional 35 subscribers from each of them.

The thousand-subscribers mark gets closer. Thursday, February 28th, 2014.

Still, a long time, don’t you think?

But that’s what you’ve been told to do.

Do you think we can do better? I do.

Get There in 6 Months

So, how do you get to 1,000 subscribers by October 21, 2013?

Let’s assume you’ll get five “random” subscribers per week. That means you still need to get 870 more from guest posts.

If you write one guest post every two weeks, each of them gets accepted, and it takes a month for them to be published, you have time to get 10 guest posts published.

87 subscribers per guest post.

There are three things you need to get right for that to happen.

Write the Guest Post Right

I won’t get into huge detail here. You can check out Write Like Freddy for the full scoop.

But here are the basics:

  1. Only write to relatively large blogs. If you write to a blog with 500 subscribers, you’re unlikely to get more than a few opt ins. But if the blog has 50,000 subscribers, getting even a few hundred people to your list is a reasonable goal.
  2. Pick a topic that has proven to be popular in the blog you’re writing to. Check what topics occupy the “most popular posts” list, which is in the sidebar of most blogs. You can take a gamble and pick another topic, and you might win big. But usually, sticking to the proven high-performing topics is your best bet.
  3. Have a related opt-in incentive. Let’s say you write a post about sewing easy children’s clothes. And when people join your list, they get an ebook about traditional “haute couture” tailoring methods. People who are interested in sewing clothes for their children are unlikely to want to learn how to hand sew invisible zippers or drape chiffon. Instead, if your ebook is about sewing simple children’s clothes, they’ll jump at the chance to get it.

Give People a Good Reason to Join Your List

Having an opt-in incentive (ebook, mini email course, videos, etc.) that’s related to the topic of your post, is just the “price of admission.”

When you’re aiming to get really good results, you need to have something more – a strong value proposition.

Your value proposition, simply put, is a believable collection of the most persuasive reasons people should do what you’re asking for (for example, join your list).

If it’s strong, it can give you an almost unfair competitive advantage. Even some of the biggest blogs in the world get it wrong, so it can really give you an edge.
It has two elements:

  1. The articulation of your value. The things that make you different and better than your competitors (other people writing about similar topics). If your list or the opt-in incentive aren’t better than others in any way, why would anyone join your list?
  2. The proof for your claims. Just saying your list or the incentive is better than others won’t make people believe it. You need to prove it with something. For example, testimonials work in almost all situations; when someone else says your list or the incentive is great, it’s easily believed.

If you need help coming up with a strong value proposition, which will persuade people to join your list, check out my quick 5-step system for finding the core of your value proposition.

Get the Landing Page Right

The way you get subscribers from a guest post is that you direct readers to a landing page on your site.

You link to it in your byline, which is at the end of the post.

And possibly the post itself has a link to your landing page.

The “usual” opt-in landing pages have conversion rates below 20% (for traffic coming from guest posts). That means, for every 100 visitors, you only get 20 subscribers.

You should aim higher. A conversion rate around 40-50% isn’t too difficult to achieve, and if your incentive is really good, you can get much higher than that too.

And that makes a huge difference.

If you want to average 90 subscribers from guest posts, you can’t lose people just because you made a simple mistake on your landing page.

Some of the most typical mistakes are:

  1. Poor headline. People are almost guaranteed to read your headline. If it doesn’t work, they leave almost immediately. I’ve seen several tests where changing nothing but the headline has more than doubled conversion rates (it’s happened to me too!).
  2. Your copy doesn’t make the value clear. If the page doesn’t communicate your value proposition (the reasons they should join), visitors won’t “figure out” why they should join your list.
  3. Call to action is generic. Every part of your landing page should communicate value. Especially, when you ask people to take action (with call to actions), you need to remind them of just why they should do it. (Side note: “Submit” is possibly the worst button text. Ever.)

There are a few more things you need to get right to get a good conversion rate from your landing page.

But if you get those three right, you’re on the right track.

Are You Going to Do It? Or Just Think About It?

Are you going to add 1,000 people to your list in the next six months?

Will you write a guest post every two weeks? Get clear on your value proposition? And build a good landing page?

That’s what it takes.

Tell us in the comments which of those feels most difficult.

About Peter Sandeen

Peter Sandeen dreams of sailing with his wife and dogs on the Finnish coast-unless he's helping someone build a clear marketing message and strategy that creates sales consistently. Download the quick 5-step exercise that shows what ideas are most likely to make people want to buy your products and services.


  1. says:

    This has been great information for me a real eye opener. I have a lot of work to do to get my mailing list where it should be. This is a great article!!!

    Computer MediConsultant

  2. Jim Bessey | SoWriteUs ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Halfway through this post, I knew you’d written it, Peter.

    I love your carefully laid-out steps and crystal-clear discussion of the right way to earn new subscribers. Your post is a solid blueprint that works perfectly alongside everything I’ve been learning in Danny’s ABM training program.

    Thanks for laying this approach out in a way that newbies like me can easily understand and follow. You’ve shown me a few key moves I should make before I simply fly off on a quest to land guest posts.

  3. Sharon Stough says:

    Thanks for the great post! I have recently started building my email list and this post has really helped me focus on a few areas I need to keep working on. I’ve also been working with Lisa Cash Hanson over the last few months. ( Her coaching has been a huge help too! I highly suggest her, and will definitely be sharing your post with a few friends who are doing the same! Thank you!!

  4. Iain says:

    Great post Peter.

    I suppose the next step would be getting approved to some of those large sites. One would have to write well enough and persuasively enough to do a guest post.

    How hard is it to guest post here 😛

    I digress.

    You definitely got it right Peter, increasing your conversion rate from guest posts is definitely going to be where the money is.

    Great work

    1. Hey Iain,

      Thanks 🙂

      Firepole Marketing isn’t “easy” to get to. However, it’s not complicated. If you write really well and pick a great topic, I’d assume you have a good chance of getting published.

      And yeah, conversions matter the most (if you’re goal is to build your list with guest posts). There are other reasons for guest posting, so it’s not so simple 😉


      1. Iain says:

        Hello Peter,

        In terms of guest posting here, I love how there is a guest post section. Many people don’t have something like that on their website.

        I don’t yet, but I know I should. It is something on the list of things to do still.

        I wonder how many uses there are for a guest post.


  5. Greg ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dig that landing page advice Peter, you really make me WANT to improve my landing pages. Simple and actionable.

    Hope to read more from you soon!


  6. Jason "J-Ryze" Fonceca ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Definitely Peter, always on the ryze 🙂

    And you really nailed it, the info out there is like insanely optimistic, which I love, but I find it does people a disservice not to touch on the ‘realities’ of things at least briefly.

    That’s a big part of what I do at Ryze 🙂

    And yes, your linkout to help with the value prop is great, I just meant it’s often a giant life-process that calls for some serious time/money/thought investment, whether you have PDF-help or not 🙂

  7. Jason "J-Ryze" Fonceca ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Ahhhh, yes, it’s been a while, (hopefully y’all bear with my absence :D).

    It’s great to read this, and as usual Firepole delivers. And as usual, Peter covers the bases on “the important stuff”.

    I’ve read a LOT about guest-posting, but this is one of the most thorough (and most realistic.)

    I’d like to add something that personally, I wish was made more clear:

    “Figuring out your value proposition” sounds easy enough, but it’s sometimes as tricky as “discovering your life purpose”. And a lot of the marketing tips & tricks and tactics rely heavily on having a clear Value Proposition or USP.

    In my experience, there are many, many human beings who go through life and business rarely coming even close to “clear” on their value proposition.

    That being said, there are plenty of ways to narrow it down and make progress on it, and the main addition I’d like to contribute to this topic is… if your value proposition is your main obstacle, google, read, write, experiment, fail, learn, teach, and get mentored in any way you can in order to get clear on it.

    It’s really tricky to pull the attention of other human beings, groups or individuals, without a solid one.

    P.S. If you want a powerful page-long testimonial for Peter (or Danny for that matter) I’ve posted about them before on Ryze (happy to link ’em) and I stand by every word 😀

    Respect 🙂

    1. Hey Jason,

      Good to hear from you, it really has been a while 🙂

      Thanks, I’m glad to hear that. I think a lot of info about guest posting is a bit too optimistic, which is understandable but misleading…

      And yep, most people find it difficult. That’s why I linked to the “Find the core of your value proposition” PDF in the post ;P


  8. Another great article as always Peter!

    I’ll use this as an opportunity to elaborate on what Jamie said (he made some good points).

    Although it seems like the ideal scenario to go after the biggest fish in the ocean, Jamie is dead on about building yourself up.

    It’s better to get started on some B & C lister bloggers unless you’ve got a killer post.

    You’ve got to learn the dance of the guest post. Once you’ve got that mastered (which can take sometime), then it’s full speed ahead.

    If you look at some of the most popular guest posts, many of them are case studies, backed up by statistics and screenshots.

    You can even take your guest posting experience and turn it into a case study.

    Think of it like a challenge.

    For example, if you aim to get 10 guest posts featured in the next 90 days, you can write your 11th guest post as a case study for your strategies, traffic #s, conversions, etc from the results of those 10 posts.

    People eat up content that allows them to replicate success.

    Thank you Peter for reminding people to set some realistic goals (stop thinking about it and just do it!)

    1. Hey Ryan,

      Thanks 🙂

      Good point. Getting to know the game before you move up from the little league 😉 makes perfect sense.

      Then again, if you’re confident (and you write great posts), you can at least try to get into the really big blogs. You don’t have to have the experience from small blogs.


  9. Mark Oelze says:

    Hi Peter and Freddy. Just want to say thanks for all your help. I especially appreciated in this blog the info and links to learn more about landing pages and the call to action. Both are areas I know I need to work on.

    One question: when looking to guest blog, can I submit the same blog article I have written to several different places even if it were to get published as a guest post on several different blogs? Or do I need to write a separate article to each blog I hope to be on as a guest?

    1. Hey Mark,

      Thanks 🙂

      No, you can’t use the same post for more than one blog. If the bloggers find out that you gave them duplicate content, you’ll never get to write for them again.

      There are some sites for publishing content like that. But they’re not blogs 😉


  10. D Hayes says:

    Peter, these are good points especially the three concerning writing the guest post right. #2 Finding the hot topic that attracts more readers would seem to be an important step, but the writer should have something of value to contribute to that site that also will rank in search well.
    I recently watched a video by Matt Cutts on what is Google’s view on guest posting. He gives some good tips to take in to consideration. You can watch it here

    1. Hey,

      I don’t do guest posting for SEO purposes, so I haven’t even thought of it much. Then again, I don’t spin articles (even if I write the same general topic to several places), so I don’t need to worry about it 😉

      And yeah, you need to contribute something good, otherwise you won’t be published in any decent blog 😀


      1. D Hayes says:

        I was not implying any of the above, but I am glad I was able to give you the ability to make those statements 🙂 and yes, I follow you, your statements are true to what I have seen.

        Spinning articles, are there businesses still doing that?

        cheers to you also!

  11. Caleb Mellas says:

    Peter, great advice as usual!

    Guest posting is something I need to do a lot more of over this next year to build up my subscribers.

    Another important topic is conversion. That is, once you have your subscribers, are they doing what you want them to do? Maybe that’s buying an ebook, or purchasing your product, or enlisting your consulting services. Whatever it is, it’s important to make sure you are actually converting your subscribers once you get them.

    1. Hey Caleb,

      Thanks 🙂

      Good point; something that doesn’t get enough attention… Few people put the effort into crafting a good sales funnel. And they don’t generally see good results regardless of how big their list is.

      Let me know if you have any questions.


  12. serban says:

    Hi Peter,

    There is a debate about the 1000 people list, and if this is the magic number to make a decent business. In my case I would not reach this in 6 months, if I keep my focus on my ideal clients, which are qualified. The big numbers list fit very well in the info-marketing model, there are marketers who create unique categories with 100 people list, so… it is not only about that! And btw, the small lists may have rich prospects, very hard to get otherwise.

    1. Hey Serban,

      That’s true. The size of your list really doesn’t make you rich as people sometimes seem to expect 🙂

      Depending on what your business is like, only a few good leads can make a big difference to your results. The low-quality info-product sellers need the numbers…


  13. Matt @ Manifest Income ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hey Peter,

    Solid gold as always. I like reading guides from a conversion specialist. I feel like every word read is time perfectly spent 😉

    Also, your opt-in message that matches the GP topic is brilliant. I’m formulating this type of opt-in message to use as mini-posts that are linked from thoughtful comments.

    That focus of screaming value in every syllable, especially around the action call on your LP is pivotal.

    And yes, don’t get caught dead using “Submit”, we have been dabbling with “Take Action” and what do you know, it increased conversion….

    Your free advice from a couple months back, completely, constructively changed our direction with our copy. I can’t wait till I can afford to retain your services!


  14. Renia Carsillo says:

    Alright. 1,000 subscribers in 6 months would be a great birthday present for me (on Oct. 22). Time to get to work!

    Thank you for the motivation!

  15. Karan says:

    I have recently started building my company’s email list and this post has really put things in perspective for me, those numbers and dates particularly.

    Thanks for the awesome post.

  16. Carlos Coto says:

    Thanks Peter for the Post, I am currently trying to get my list, and it is kind of difficult, but If you use the principles you just wrote, and the Write like Freddy course, I guess it´s just a matter of just getting it done! You and Freddy gave the tools… it´s up to us to use them wisely! Thanks.

  17. jamie says:

    Thanks Peter – great advice and links (already clipped in Evernote)

    Writing for the big blogs is definitely the way of building a list. Of course to write for them you need to have something pretty special prepared. The newbie may be a little intimidated by this.

    If you are new I think it is a worthwhile practice to comment and guest post on “up and coming” blogs. This gives you the experience of guest posting, building relationships and drives some traffic. It also shows bigger fish that you know what you are doing. Once you feel confident enough 0 then target bigger blogs in your market – AND READ THIS POST before you do! Along with the Write like Freddy course, of course
    Yes of course

    Thanks Peter, and Freddy



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