7 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Growing Your Email List

Michael Leonard


Despite all that’s happening in the world during this crisis, now is one of the best times in to start an online business.

Why? — Because everyone is online all day, every day. There has never been a better time to share your gifts with the world so you can help people and build a crisis proof online business.

Since the lockdown happened a few weeks ago, all aspects of my business have increased — podcast downloads, emails, and webinar registrants. While the lockdown has fueled this surge, my email list makes it all happen. So if you have an email list, now is the time to serve your people and go all in. If you haven’t started your own email list yet, it’s time to start.

While email open rates have declined over the past five years, email marketing is not dead. Without question, it’s still your biggest asset to reach your audience. But the landscape of email marketing has changed a lot, you can’t expect a complete stranger to join a newsletter and open every email. You need to have a strategy to make it work.

To help you speed up success, avoid these common mistakes that I made to grow your list, serve your audience, and grow your business (even in a crisis).

Using The Wrong Lead Magnet

Step one of getting people to opt in to your list is giving them a reason to do so. People aren’t just “signing up for a newsletter anymore.”Pretty much everyone knows how it works, so it’s up to you to create an epic free piece of content (freemium, freebie, email bribe, free gift, etc.) to get them into your ecosystem.

When I first started I had awful lead magnets. They were poorly formatted e-books that I created inside Microsoft Word and saved as a PDF. The content was good but the formatting was awful.

Don’t forget, your lead magnet is someone’s first real interaction with you and your business. So go above and beyond in the design to give a strong first impression. If you do something written, spend a few bucks on Fiverr to have someone make it look professional.

Here are some good ideas from my mentor James Wedmore — who’s been crushing it online for more than a decade. Last year, he had a $5,000,000+ launch for one product… needless to say, he knows what he’s doing.

  • eBook: Yes, even in 2020 you can still give out free PDF’s as long as they’re high quality. He recently released one titled, “Discover the 17 Tiny Tweaks That Made a HUGE Impact in My Business!” It’s very in-depth (30+ pages) and speaks to his ideal audience.
  • Audio series: You can do a 5–7 day audio series or do something like James did where he offers “77 Powerful Business Affirmations.”
  • Mini course: He just released a free mini course that he could easily charge $199 for but instead gives it away for free. It’s a 14-day video course to help you land your first 100 leads.

What do they all have in common?

Insanely valuable stuff from a 7-figure entrepreneur for FREE.

Remember, there’s no one way to deliver free content. Do what’s most natural to you (video, audio or writing) and help your target audiencesolve a problem. Make it so good that people can’t believe it’s free and instantly have an awesome first impression of you and your brand!

Forgetting a Nurture Sequence

Once subscribers get your free gift, the next thing to think about is your nurture sequence. This is someone’s second impression of you so it’s important to show that you’re an expert in whatever you’re teaching and get people familiar with your story.

With a nurture sequence, you want to seed expert status and useful information to your audience over the next few weeks. I do this inside my 5-day email course where I teach new writers how to earn their first $500.

Each day, I email them explaining a bit more about my journey, how I’ve made money writing, my biggest lessons, and the best resources. I’ll send them all types of content including viral videos I’ve created, Medium posts, and popular podcast episodes.

Everything is intentional inside these emails. Each word is geared toward helping them achieve their main goal — making money as a writer. But when I first started, I had zero nurture sequence and wondered why my open rates were so pathetic. Spend the time crafting these emails to build trust with your audience early in the relationship.

Lacking A Schedule

Another huge mistake I made growing my email list was not emailing my subscribers enough. I’d email when I felt like because I felt guilty about “bugging” people. In reality, this is one of the worst things you can do.

As long as you’re sending valuable information, people will open them — remember, they opted in for a reason. Don’t feel bad sending your list emails, they opted in because some part of them wants to be like you and know that you can help reach their goals. Deliver on that by staying in constant contact and being an online mentor!

Now, I email 2–3x a week and my unsubscribe rates are less than ever. I want my people to know I’m there for them, especially during a crisis. Showing up regularly for your people will help you build the know, like, and trust factor. So when you eventually do run a promotion, offer a program or link to affiliates, they’ll already be more likely to purchase.

Not Testing Subject Lines

According to Mailchimp, “The average open rate for all industries we analyzed is 21.33%.” That’s right, only one of five people will open your email even if you’re a copywriting guru. So if your subject line is boring or spammy, your people will rarely open it and get to read the golden nuggets inside.

To hit the 21% open rates and above, make sure you’re testing your headlines and seeing what’s working and what’s not! To start 2020, I reviewed every email I sent in 2019 to track what worked and what didn’t. Doing this research helped me increase my open rates from roughly 20% to 29%!

For my list, I found that “How to” subject lines tend to yield the highest opens. But I’m always testing inside ConvertKit (using the A/B subject line test) to keep trying new ideas. Remember, open rates are one of the easiest ways to tell if your subject lines are working or not. Test, test, and test!

Not Understanding Your Avatar

It’s nearly impossible to write an email or create an awesome freemium for your reader if you don’t know who they are. I made the mistake that so many online entrepreneurs make when I started my online business — I was way too broad and didn’t have a clearly defined niche.

So when people opted-in to my list, I wasn’t sure who I was attracting. Instead, take the time to get clear about who you and your business are serving. While niching down can feel scary, it’s one of the best things you can do for your business.

Because as you know, no person can be an expert at everything. By being broad and trying to help everyone, you’re actually helping no one. Do yourself a favor and niche down. Get to know your avatar by emailing out surveys, offering free calls, and learning more about them.

I did this at the end of 2019 by offering a free call to the first five people who replied. Here’s exactly what I emailed to get total strangers on the phone:

What’s the #1 thing you want to achieve in your life?
I’ll keep this email super short and get straight to the point.
I want to learn more about my awesome audience and ensure I’m creating useful and helpful content.
I’m reaching out to see if you’d like to hop on a quick 10–15 minute call with me?
Let me say in advance, there is NO pitching.
I’m NOT contacting you about any course, coaching, or affiliate offers.
I really just want to speak with a few of you awesome peeps on my list.
My goal is to make sure I’m creating the most useful content in the world.
But I can’t do it without knowing what’s holding you back from in your life or business.
And after a few quick questions, I’m happy to answer any questions you might with your online business as well.
Are you open for a quick 15-minute (or less) call?
P.S. I only have 5 spots left and this email is going out to 1,000+ people so let me know asap and I’ll send over the scheduling link.

I got five responses within minutes! This was one of the best things I’ve done and regularly do it to make sure I’m in touch with what my audience needs. Get to know their goals, roadblocks, interests, and as much as you can. This will help you create the best content and connect with your audience at a much deeper level.

Neglecting Paid Ads

I come from a blogging background and love SEO. But for some reason, I had a jaded view of paid advertising as I wanted to get “free” leads instead. So many blogging groups I was in preached about focusing on organic instead of paid ads. But this really held me back from growing my email list!

Sure, organic content can give you free leads — I’ve generated all kinds of organic traffic from:

  • Filming YouTube videos
  • Writing posts on my blog
  • Recording podcast episodes
  • Publishing articles on Medium

But it took a while. Organic traffic doesn’t mean free traffic. If it takes you hours to create content for your tribe, you’re forgetting to factor in the time it takes. So instead of thinking of paid ads as an expense, start thinking of them as the easiest and cheapest way to get people on your list — especially now. With so many people jumping off Facebook because of the crisis, it’s never been cheaper to attract people to your list.

I’m getting subscribers for between .30 to $1! That’s a steal and best of all, they’re running even when I’m not working. For even $5 per day, you can get more people into your funnels and deliver your best content with autoresponders. Ideally, I think you should get ads from organic and paid as things can always change with both traffic sources. As always, just keep testing!

Not Tracking Referral Source

The final email marketing mistake I made was not tracking how new people found my content. As I had a blog, YouTube, and Medium when I first started, I didn’t tag subscribers’ referral source and used the same landing page. Instead, I should have created new pages for each referral source, so I could track who was coming from where.

I highly recommend you do this so you aren’t wasting time creating free content on a platform that isn’t getting you subscribers. Your time is valuable so make sure you’re creating where it matters most.

Final Thoughts

Remember, now is the time to go all in on your online business and create meaningful relationships with your subscribers. How you show up to your audience regularly, especially when the rest of the world is panicking, will determine your long-term success. Don’t forget, email marketing is still the best way to get your message in front of your audience.

As long as you focus on providing value and giving them resources that will help them, people will keep opening your emails. Don’t forget to keep testing your headlines, track your referral sources, and run paid ads to speed up your success.

Use these tips to build your first 100 raving fans, become an expert in your niche and grow your list.

Photo by AlexPilipenko on Deposit Photos

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My name is Michael Leonard and I am the creator of Inspire Your Success. I'm on a mission to help readers build online writing businesses and quit their jobs to live a life of freedom!

Scottsdale, AZ

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