Does size matter?

C’mon, get your mind out of the gutter. We’re talking about the size of your email list.

Day in and day out, we hear about the importance of the Almighty List. When we asked Brennan Dunn and Nathan Barry if they would rather lose all of their products, or lose their list, they said they would rather lose their products.

And the list is important, no doubt about it. But more important than the SIZE of your list, is the ENGAGEMENT of your list. What good is it being able to email a million people if none of them are interested in what you have to say?

Let’s meet three different people with different size lists and see if they can teach us a thing or two.

Meet Big List Billy. He knows how important email is, and he’s worked his tail off to amass 100,000 subscribers. In fact, he’s focused so much on getting new opt-ins, that he’s failed to focus on getting the right ones. Because his list is so huge, not everyone is really that interested in what Billy’s selling. His open rate is only 15%, which means 15,000 people are reading his emails. And his conversion rate is a dismal 0.5%, which means he’s sold 500 products.

Now meet Little List Larry. With 5,000 subscribers, Larry’s list is smaller than Billy’s, but it’s not too bad. Larry focuses a bit more on finding people who are interested in his area of expertise, and it pays off. His open rate is 50%, with 2,500 people reading his weekly newsletter. And his conversion rate reflects their interest, with 20% of his list becoming paid customers. He’s happy to say he’s sold 500 products so far.

But wait, there’s more! Here comes Tiny List Tim. People like to laugh at Tim’s list because 1,000 subscribers seems pretty paltry. But Tim doesn’t mind. He’s sought out the best possible people to populate his list, and he focuses a lot of time on sharing relevant, high quality content to keep them engaged. His open rate, like Larry’s, is a fantastic 50%. And his 50% conversion rate blows both Billy and Larry out of the water.

Subscribers Open rate Conversion rate
Big List Billy 100k 15% = 15k 0.5% = 500
Little List Larry 5k 50% = 2.5k 20% = 500
Tiny List Tim 1k 50% = 500 50% = 500

Do you notice a similarity between Billy, Larry and TIm?

Despite the disparity of their list sizes, they’ve all sold 500 products. Billy’s list is 100x bigger than Tim’s, but their sales are equal.

The moral of the story: size doesn’t matter. Engagement does.

You can’t judge a list based on numbers alone. You have to understand that the numbers are actually people, and those people may or may not be right for your product. You have to know who you’re talking to and what they want before you try to sell to them. That means building a relationship first.

Building that relationship is the key factor in growing your list into a community and your community into a tribe. A tribe that will enjoy your products, engage with you and each other, and evangelize to the world at large on your behalf.

If you haven’t read it yet, we recommend you check out Seth Godin’s “Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us” to learn more about the power of growing a community around your vision, no matter how small.

As Seth says, and as Tiny List Tim would agree:

“Great leaders don’t try to please everyone. Great leaders don’t water down their message in order to make the tribe a bit bigger. Instead, they realize that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful than a larger group could ever be.”

In fact, you might want to stop calling it your “List” altogether, and start referring to it as your “Tribe.” Just that one change in language can shift your mindset from being focused on quantity of subscribers to quality of relationships.

Are you ready to turn your list into a tribe? Ready to engage them instead of trying to increase your numbers? Try one (or all) of these to get started:

  1. When people first opt in to your list, send them an autoresponse email that links to a one-question survey that asks “What’s your biggest problem right now?” Give them plenty of room for an open-ended answer, and you’ll be shocked at what they reveal about themselves and what they’re looking for.
  2. Offer multiple carrots to entice new subscribers. But don’t stop there. Track which carrot content people are choosing, which shows what topic your audience is most interested in. Then, tailor your content and messaging in that direction.
  3. Every email you send is an opportunity to learn more about your community. Just a simple subject line split test can teach you so much about the types of content they’re looking for and the sort of language they respond to.
  4. Write about them, not about you. It can be so tempting to start every email with “I,” but don’t do it. Even if you want to say something about yourself, turn it around and make it about your audience instead. But yourself in their shoes.
  5. Tell a story. As human beings, we’re hard-wired to seek out stories. We subconsciously connect with narratives in a way we don’t react to anything else. In every email you send, ask yourself – what’s the story?
  6. Be real, human and approachable. Although you want to come across as a trusted expert, you shouldn’t feel the need to act like an all-knowing, unapproachable entity. Just be yourself. That’s how your followers will get to know you and like you. And dare we say…love you?
  7. Invite conversation, always. Every email you send, every blog article you post, always invite your followers to respond. How else will you find out what they think, and what they want? Actively respond to their comments, too. No one will talk if they think no one is listening.

Once you start learning more about your tribe, you can really begin the work of transforming their engagement into passion. We know, we know, we just got them to engage, and now we have to get them to do something else? Yup. Engagement is great. Engagement is a goal all of us should aim for. But beyond engagement is real, true, deeply felt passion, and that’s when your tribe can really take off.

Passion is the difference between music fans buying their favorite band’s new album, and Deadheads following the Grateful Dead across the country for months and years, creating their own lingo and lifestyle.

It’s the difference between buying an iPad, and sleeping overnight on the sidewalk to get your hands on the newest version the moment it’s released in stores.

It’s the difference between someone buying your product and telling everyone they know how it changed their life.

You have the power to invoke that kind of passion! It all starts with finding the right people, listening to what they have to say, and sharing your own passion with them. The size of your tribe doesn’t matter: their passion does.

That’s why Big List Billy can’t convert more than 0.5% of his subscribers. It’s why Little List Larry is stuck at 20%. And it’s why Tiny List Tim has converted 50% of his followers…and counting.

But don’t take our word for it. Read, save…heck, even memorize these quotes and remember them whenever you’re doubting the power of a small but mighty list.

“An individual artist needs only a thousand true fans in her tribe. It’s enough.” –Seth Godin

“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Engage your tribe, no matter how small, and you can change the world.

Are you just starting to build your audience? Learn how to use free “carrot content” to gain email subscribers…your future tribe members!

About the author: