The Home-Based Reality Check

    June 6, 2003

I Don’t Want to Build a Damn List How many times do you hear it? Build your opt-in list!

Have you fallen for the hype too? Well, let me clue you in on a few things about lists.

First of all… building, maintaining, and mailing to lists is time consuming. They’ll give you a headache. They’ll feel like a ball and chain eventually. And whether they’ll ever return the investment is questionable at best.

So, why do we constantly hear advice about building a mailing list?

Well, it goes back a few years. Several actually. Once upon a time, in the new beginnings of commerce on the ‘Net, mailing lists were a source of great income. Mainly because they sold advertising. And advertisers were so enthralled with the immediate delivery, and potential for immediate response, that they bought ads in newsletters and ezines.

So, the bigger the Publisher’s list… the more they could charge for advertising.

And people made money. Publishers and advertisers alike. But that was 1997. ’98 & ’99 were ok too, and for some people, 2000 was even a great year for mailing lists. There are even a few lists out and about today that make money. I hear rumors that a rare handful actually make a profit.

So what about the hundreds of thousands of other lists out there? Well, they’re probably going through something like this:

1. They’re told by “experts” to build a large mailing list… so they put in countless hours, weeks, and months to do so. Most are lucky to reach 1000 subscribers in a year.

2. They’re then told to send regular mailings to these subscribers… so they put in more endless hours finding or writing content to send out to their subscribers. Content is king right? If you give enough away, people will eventually be grateful enough to buy something… right?

Hmmm… in my experience — and I’ve been marketing online for a good 7 years now — people who get free expect free. They’re not likely to start paying for something they’ve gotten for free in the past. And if they were looking for free to begin with, they aren’t likely to start paying now.

3. Once you’ve gotten at least 1000 subscribers, you can start selling ads! Hate to break your bubble… but there are plenty of publications with over 100,000 subscribers that can’t fill their ad space.

4. You can advertise your affiliate programs! Ok, if the affiliate program offers something useful… and your subscribers haven’t seen the ads in dozens of other places… you *might* get a trickle of income by doing this. But the average affiliate is lucky to make $20 a month now-a-days. Does that cover the time and energy you’ve spent for the list so far?

5. You can advertise your own products! This one is true too. If you have products to sell… and you have an interested, targeted mailing list… you can make plenty of profits this way — if you do it right.

What I’ve seen over the years though, is unfortunate. Publishers with a great list and great products to sell tend to blast their list with advertisements — Effectively alienating their prospects and customers, and getting their messages trashed instead of increasing sales.

On the other end of the spectrum are the really good publishers. They have great content but it makes them no money. They have no products to sell, and tend to spend way too much time building the list and creating the content… so they don’t make much (if any) money.

Now you’ve probably caught on to a theme here. If you have products and services to sell, a list can be a goldmine. But you need to work it. Don’t just blast ad sheets, send some tips and info. Create a conversation… a relationship. Make your prospects feel special. Make them happy to be on your list, and anxious to read every message you send.

If you don’t have products or services to sell… building a large list is a waste of your time and resources. Get products or services first.

Now if you’re like me, you’re in a group I haven’t really discussed here. Services. Select services that are limited in some way. I, for instance, work with just a few clients at a time. Sometimes a project lasts for 2-3 weeks and sometimes it lasts for months. If I were to try and build, maintain, and regularly mail a list of thousands… it would be a wasted effort. I can’t service hundreds — or even 20 — at once.

Instead, I do select, targeted mailings to existing contacts. If I want or need extra work… about 10 emails does the trick. I don’t have to constantly search for content, waste hours tweaking my list subscriptions, or put together elaborate news and information. I simply send a quick note. And usually within a week or less… I’ve gotten several thousand dollars worth of projects booked.

And most of the time I don’t even have to do that. I simply collect prospects from my website. I’m not collecting “opt-in” names and addresses though. My Website does most of my selling for me. When a prospective customer wants time or cost estimates, or wants to discuss their project needs in detail, they fill out an online form. And I respond to that. And if they don’t want the project right away, I contact them later. The relationship… the conversation… is already established.

Instead of me constantly sending email to request sales… targeted prospects are sending me email to request my services.

So think about lists carefully. If you already have one, do you honestly need it? Would you love to shake off the shackles associated with it so you can get on with making some actual money?

Treat your list like an expensive advertisement: If it’s not making you money, and won’t be in the near future… get rid of it.

(c) 2003, Kathy Burns-Millyard

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