In March 2020, I co-founded the Personal Growth Base, a platform dedicated to helping people unleash their full potential.
After setting up our website, we created an email list to send weekly newsletters and pitch our products.
Less than 10 months later, we had our first 10,000 subscribers on that list:
Image source: Sinem Günel on Instagram
We started at zero, didn’t spend a penny on paid ads, and didn’t have any experience in email marketing. And even though growing a list from 0 to 10k subscribers is a great achievement, we made tons of mistakes during the process.
If you’re trying to make money online, your email list and especially your relationship with your subscribers is your biggest asset.
When you have a large, responsive list full of people who trust you, you can literally print money by offering great products that solve their problems.
Here are the 7 things I wish I’d known before starting to grow and monetize my email list:
Let People Respond to Your Emails
Did you ever respond to a newsletter email?
I didn’t. But surprisingly, a lot of people do respond.
Here’s how we tested this strategy just a few weeks ago — we sent the following email to our subscribers
Screenshot by Author
To my surprise, hundreds of subscribers replied to this email and told us about everything that held them back from reaching their goals.
Of course, many people unsubscribed because of this mail, but these are not the people you want to keep on your list anyway.
Now, here’s what asking people to respond is all about:
- When you get a ton of responses, your deliverability improves, which means more people will receive your emails.
- If someone responds to your email, your next mails are likelier to be in their inbox instead of the spam folder.
- Last but not least: You actually learn more about your subscribers, which is priceless. The responses we received helped us understand what our audience needs and what kind of products we should develop to help them.
How to do it:
You could ask anyone who subscribes to your list to respond to your email and tell you who they are and what they expect right after signing up.
But you could also send these types of emails sporadically because of particular occasions, just like we did in the example above.
Just make sure you really tell them to hit the “reply” button and respond to you.
Don’t send them a Google Forms or any other survey link — it’s about directly replying to your email.
Get Rid of Subscribers
When we first started our newsletter, we’ve been afraid of sending emails because we didn’t want people to click on unsubscribe.
Each unsubscribe was a small disaster and we tried to keep the number of emails we sent to a minimum as we’ve been afraid of annoying people.
But here’s what I learned over the past months: Your email list is not a charity; it’s the core of your business.
The golden rule of list building is that you want to have leads who love you, appreciate what you do, and are willing to pay for your products and services.
If people unsubscribe from your newsletter because they’re not interested in your message, it’s actually a good thing.
After a specific size, you’ll pay for your email marketing provider. Once that’s the case, you pay for every person who’s on your list.
I have two different email lists as I’m serving different niches in two distinct businesses I run. Right now, we’re paying $150 per month for our Personal Growth Base list and another $40 for our Medium Writing Academy list.
I’m genuinely thankful for anyone who clicks on unsubscribe if they wouldn’t buy my products and services anyway.
How to do it:
Yes, your list can be the holy grail to a profitable online business, but you should never be afraid of annoying your subscribers with your emails.
Keeping that conversation going and engaging them is your job.
In fact, you should even clean up your list a few times per year and delete subscribers who didn’t open your emails for a few months.
By doing that, you’ll be able to get a more realistic view of your open and click rates.
Don’t Rely on a Single Source of Traffic
The main reason I decided to become an entrepreneur and run my own online business was freedom.
I wanted to be location-independent, choose the projects I work on, and experience freedom in anything I do.
For me, this also means not being dependent on a single platform.
I’d never put all my eggs in one basket as that would mean fully relying on a platform and giving away control over my business.
Right now, we’re mainly growing our list through the following platforms:
Currently, Medium and Quora heavily outweigh the other two.
If I get lots of views on Medium, I know that I also get lots of new email subscribers.
In short, a strong day on Medium translates to a growth in email subscribers as well.
Now that’s a curse and a blessing at the same time. Of course, it’s nice to increase subscribers by performing well on a platform. On the other side, it also means that you get fewer new subscribers if the performance of a platform is down.
That’s why I’d highly recommend diversifying and creating different traffic sources that generate leads.
Ideally, these new subscribers would even come in with less effort; that’s why we created a Facebook Group for the Personal Growth Base.
We’re already running a Facebook Group for Medium Writers where we welcome 100+ new members per week on autopilot. This mainly happens through the Facebook search and recommendations because the group is so active and full of value.
Now, we’re doing the same for the Personal Growth Base Group and growing the community with the same approach of delivering lots of value for free.
We’re doing daily live streams, answering all questions, and hoping that Facebook will soon trust the group and promote it to personal development enthusiasts who don’t know the Personal Growth Base yet.
How to do it:
If you’re serious about growing and monetizing your list, you’ll need more than one traffic source.
However, I’d first focus on one channel, make sure it works, get the proof that people are interested in you and your products, services, or message, and then look for other platforms.
When deciding on new ways to generate leads, you need to know who your ideal subscriber is.
If you don’t know whom you’re targeting, you won’t be able to figure out where to find them.
#1 Figure out whether people are interested in your message or product
#2 Figure out which platforms these people use
#3 Figure out how to dominate on one of the main platforms
#4 And last but not least: Figure out how to expand to the other platforms as well
If You Want People to Care, YOU Have to Care
For the first 10 months of building our list, we only sent a weekly Personal Growth Letter with recommendations of articles and books.
That was nice and most people stayed on the list, but it wasn’t enough.
We didn’t engage more with our subscribers because we’ve been busy with other things, but the lack of engagement is my #1 regret regarding our email list.
If you don’t engage with people, they’ll forget why they subscribed or probably won’t even remember who you are.
That’s not a big issue if all you do is sending them free stuff. However, if you want to monetize your audience and offer outstanding products, you want them to be engaged, know who you are, and feel related to you and your brand.
List building isn’t one of those things where you can just hide behind a screen, type words, and expect money to pour in.
You need to send thought-provoking, value-based emails from the very beginning, not only when you want to sell something.
How to do it:
You need to show your subscribers that you care about them.
You can do so by sending emails regularly, offering specials such as live streams or online workshops, telling personal stories, or showing behind-the-scenes of your business.
What exactly you’ll do depends on the specifics of your business, but the key is to do something to keep them engaged.
You can’t let people subscribe, not contact them for weeks or even months, and then expect them to pay for something.
Create Exciting Lead Magnets
When people sign up for our Personal Growth Base newsletter, they instantly receive a Personal Growth Toolkit with 42 tactics, tools, and resources to elevate their life.
That toolkit is a 40-page pdf with tons of value.
For my second business, I’m giving away a Free 5-Day Medium Course that helps new Medium writers better understand the platform.
Both of these resources are highly valuable. That’s why we easily get 100+ subscribers per day — people really want those free resources.
How to do it:
It’s hard to convince people to sign up for your newsletter without giving them incentives.
“Sign up for my newsletter to stay in touch.” is nice, but it’s not desirable unless people really want to stay in touch with you.
A newsletter per se isn’t really sexy as most people associate newsletters with spam and promotions. That’s why you need something tempting to make them click and sign up.
Ask yourself why you want to grow your list in the first place:
What’s your business all about?
What are you selling?
What’s your brand about? What are your core values?
How do you want to serve people?
What are the answers you provide in your free or paid content?
Is there an attractive way to turn these answers into a sexy freebie that people want to get access to?
In the best case, your lead magnets are a perfect match for the content you create and the products you sell.
Email Your List Often
If you want to build an engaged list, you’ll need to send emails frequently.
You really can’t send an email a month or every few weeks and expect your audience to trust you.
Sending emails frequently might turn some people off and lead to a bunch of unsubscribes, but if someone’s getting annoyed by your emails, they’d probably never buy your products anyway, so it’s fine to get rid of them.
Those who like you and enjoy your content love knowing what you’re up to, so it’s better to build a deep relationship instead of risking that they forget who you are.
How to do it:
If you don’t know what to send your subscribers, you can find hundreds of email newsletter templates online.
Create a short and snappy content calendar, make sure you note down every great email idea that comes to your mind, and start building that exclusive relationship with your subscribers as soon as possible.
Emails are much more personal than most people think.
A lot of people are cautious about whose emails they receive and which newsletters they subscribe to. And if they sign up for a free course or another freebie, they quickly unsubscribe once they got their gift.
The key to building deep and profitable relationships with your email list is being human and showing them that you care.
My second email list which is specifically for Medium writers has roughly 2k subscribers and I invested much more time into growing my relationship with this list.
I sent updates about my wins and failures on the platform, hosted dozens of free live workshops, shared private photos, and so much more.
I really cared about connecting with them on a human level.
This results in much higher conversion rates when I pitch a product or service because these subscribers know me and trust me.
For the Personal Growth Base list, we currently have a conversion rate of less than 0.50%.
For the Medium Writing Academy, it’s higher than 2.50%.
How to do it:
Ask yourself how you can show more of your human side to your list.
Write your emails as if you’re messaging a good friend, include some personal details, show your face, let them know that you’re no different than them.
Always write your emails as if you’re writing them for one single person, not for thousands.
It’s hard to find the right words when you think of a vast audience, but it’s easy to have a relaxed conversation with one person, so imagine doing just that.
If someone opens your mail and feels connected, you win.
Trust can be the primary driver for sales, especially if you’re selling digital products such as online courses that can be found in various other places too.
You can literally set yourself apart from your competition by showing your human side.
Final Thoughts and Next Steps
If done correctly, building an email list can lead to lots of freedom in almost any kind of business.
Social media is nice, but unless you’re a highly influential person, it’s going to be hard to drive sales from social media alone.
Emails, however, are an incredibly powerful tool to generate sales and scale your business.
And the best news is that starting and growing your list has never been easier than right now.
Even with zero prior experience, you can set up a list and start building a deep relationship with people who are genuinely interested in who you are and what you’re doing.
In the past months, I was able to make $50k by selling digital products to my subscribers. For me, this was proof enough that email marketing is not dead but an incredibly powerful tool to drive sales.
While I’ll keep applying those seven lessons to further grow my list and the relationship with my subscribers, one of my next steps is an even more exciting one: A paid newsletter for Medium writers.
I teamed up with three of the most talented and successful writers on the platform and we asked ourselves how we could support ambitious writers to gain more visibility and earn more money through their writing.
The result is a weekly newsletter full of top-notch expert advice from four top writers who have generated millions of views on their work.