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Can You Make More Money With a Small Email List?

money is in the listYou hear it all the time: the money is in the list.

It’s the reason the interwebs are full of people promising you insane numbers of followers and subscribers if only you’ll buy into their plan.

But is it really worth it to grow an email marketing list just for the sake of seeing those numbers increase?

I don’t think so. In fact, I believe that when it comes to your email list, bigger isn’t always better.

In my experience, the people who try to sucker you into believing that numbers are everything aren’t usually in the business of delivering value—and in these days of online overwhelm, value is what holds people’s attention and makes them stick around.

Let me be clear: I’m not knocking the efforts of those who have legitimately built large email lists. The people I have a problem with are those who try to con the unsuspecting into believing that there’s a magic number of email marketing subscribers, and that people should pay them to artificially boost their lists to reach those numbers.

Why You Shouldn’t Build a List for Its Own Sake

make more with small email list

Let’s face it, even if you get a large list and people don’t like what you have to offer, they will unsubscribe. So what’s the point?

In addition, a big list can be unwieldy to manage and costly to maintain. If inactive subscribers are artificially swelling the numbers, you’re actually paying for people NOT to read your stuff. That just doesn’t make sense.

Instead of marketing to hundreds of thousands who might be the wrong fit for you, find a smaller number who are the right fit.

I can honestly say that I have practiced what I preach. I had a 1000-strong email list for my Get Paid to Write Online blog. Not a huge list, I’ll admit, but not too shabby, either.

My newsletter gave tips for writers to help them build stronger careers. When I decided to refocus my efforts on my other site, I could have simply kept that list going and sent subscribers the new stuff, retaining a decent size list because some people wouldn’t bother to unsubscribe.

But that seemed an unfriendly way to treat loyal readers, so I gave them the choice of whether to move or not. More on that later. About 10% of them did, making my new list very small indeed.

Benefits of Reducing Subscriber Numbers

But here’s what I discovered: since I pruned the list, my open and click rates have gone up and people on the list are more likely to respond to what I send them. In other words, when I send an email, I’m now talking to people who are really interested in what I’m sharing with them.

Other people have experienced similar results:

  • Matt Smith of Online Income Teacher deleted 1,000 virtually inactive subscribers from his list and ended up with double the open and click rate he had before.
  • D Bnonn Tennent of Unbounce found that culling subscribers who aren’t really interested improves the quality of your list.
  • One of Rick Whittington’s clients cut their subscriber list by 69%, virtually eliminating bounces and enjoying a click rate 45% above the industry standard.
email marketing

Most email marketing providers make it easy to find out who’s not invested in your email communications.

As Rick Whittington points out, Mailchimp gives subscribers a star rating based on their interaction with your emails, with five stars being the best. That makes it easy to separate active from inactive subscribers.

In Mailchimp, you can also use the segments feature to identify those who don’t interact with the information you send. You can do the same in Aweber by searching your subscriber list to find all those who have been subscribed to your list for more than six months but who have never looked at your content.

Whichever email marketing provider you use, the next step is to email this inactive segment. My approach was to:

  • Ask whether they were finding the newsletter useful and still wanted to be on the list, and ask them to reply if they did.
  • Let them know that if there was no reply, they would be removed within a certain time frame (I used a month)
  • Remove those who didn’t reply.

Sure, my list ended up smaller, but it was better.

Shrinking My Email List: What Happened Next?

What happened next? I went back to basics and started growing my list again, but this time I focused on getting it in front of the right people.

That meant removing the signup form from all the places it didn’t need to be and putting it where it belonged—on my Facebook page and website, which were the places where I interacted with potential clients. For LinkedIn, I simply shared the link whenever I published a new newsletter.

I began talking to more people in other places where I already had a large audience. Social media is a not so secret weapon for connecting with people who really want to hear from you, especially if the purpose of growing your list is to communicate with people who want or need what you have to offer.

I also started thinking about the people I interacted with online as a whole, rather than as disparate groups. I checked out social media analytics on the different sites to see what people found interesting and responded to and used this to refine what I sent out via email.

Pruning My List: The Results


increase engagement

And people are responding. The latest stats show an average open rate of 35.6%, double the industry average, and a click rate of 5.6%.

Potential clients now see the work that I do and then some of them approach me to offer more work. My list may be small, but it’s now more focused, and offers a better experience to potential customers.

In the end, pruning my list has brought me more attention from the people I most want to reach. In this case at least, bigger wasn’t better.

What’s your experience with your email list? Have you ever pruned it?

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