The Surprising Truth About List Size (And My Dirty Little Secret)

Prefer to have your posts read to you? Et voila:

For some reason I've felt the nagging urge to share all of my embarrassing secrets with you here on the blog lately.

And today is no exception.

The topic de jour is list size. . .

(Dun, dun, dun!)

And you're going to just LOVE it (and probably laugh and point) when I reveal my dirty little secret about my own list.

First, though. . . why have I been feeling this urge to share these secrets?

I suppose it's because I’m kinda OVER watching people put on a façade and pretend their lives and businesses are perfect when they’re not.

Social media has spread this 'disease' to stunning proportions, of course.

To the point that many of us spend a LOT of time feeling bad about ourselves because we compare ourselves to those 'successes' we see other business owners evidently enjoying. . .

Or we compare our vacations to the fabulous photos we see on our friends' Facebook timelines. . .

Or we compare our social lives to the jet-setter lifestyle our favorite 'internet celebrities' seem to have. . .

And yet.

These little snippets that swoosh through our social media streams each day only tell a carefully curated part of the story.

Of ANYONE'S life.

(Including mine.)

I mean, on most days I actually think I have a pretty darn fantastic life.

I am super lucky to be doing what I love for a living, and I am incredibly grateful for my amazing son, and hey- I live in a gorgeous part of the world where it's pretty much flip flop weather year-round.

But do I sometimes wake up at 3AM feeling anxious about whether I'm 'doing my life right'? Yep, occasionally I do.

Do I sometimes look at my 40-something year-old face in the mirror and feel just a bit wistful that my 20s are LONG gone? Yeah, sometimes.

And do I have days where, holy f----ing crap, I'm just mad at everyone and everything for no reason other than perhaps hormones? Uh huh.

I don't tend to dwell in these feelings for long-- and the older and wiser I get the less frequently these moments occur. . .

But DO they occur at all? YES. They do.

And do I talk about it on Facebook or my blog?

Well, until this moment, NO.

So why am I talking about it now and why haven't I before?

The answer to 'why now?' is that I feel called to a level of honesty that I don't see very often online (even if it scares me to be so open in public).

The answer to 'why not before?' is. . . well, it's scary to be so open in public.

So hey, let's talk about someone else for a moment.

Say, Oprah, for example.

Do you think that her on-camera persona is the way she is 100% of the time?

Hell no!

She breaks down and cries sometimes. Guaranteed.

She feels like crap about herself sometimes. Guaranteed.

She doubts her worth sometimes. Guaranteed.

And, to be clear, I’m not GLAD all these are ‘guaranteed’.

I mean. . . a world where amazing people like Oprah NEVER felt bad about themselves ever again? Seems like that would be sweeeet.

But that world is called Utopia, and it's a fantasy.

The reality is that no one’s life is perfect.

In fact, Rumi nailed it centuries ago when he talked about the Open Secret (which, to this day, we’re still walking around trying to hide).

And frankly, even though Utopia sounds lovely, it would actually be boring to have NOTHING to 'get through', nothing to strive for, nothing to look forward to.

That's why I believe that all of the challenges we face are meant, not to make us feel we're 'doing it wrong', but to lead us to higher and greater heights of personal evolution (if we let them).

Now. . . pardon me while I climb down from my soapbox and dial this conversation back around to entrepreneurship and dirty little confessions.

Because I'm tired of watching the dog-and-pony show that many online entrepreneurs put on these days. . .

(And, accordingly, watching large numbers of their followers feel like losers 'cause they're just SURE they're not succeeding fast enough. . .)

I'd like to come clean about something.

You might know that I’ve talked before about doing EVERYTHING wrong.

Like, everything.

In fact, what I'm about to share is one of those cardinal-sin type things I may regret, but what the hey.

Here’s the straight dope.

Ahem. . .

I have a small list.

(Why do I feel like an under-endowed dude who just dropped trou in front of his new girlfriend? Anyway.)

What's worse: I don't put THAT much effort into list-building.

Which, unlike our under-endowed friend, I COULD do something about. Read on to find out why I'm NOT sorry I haven't.

First, let's talk about why my list is so small.

About two and-a-half years ago, I completely remodeled-- no, gutted-- my then-'side business', throwing basically EVERYTHING out I'd been doing before. . .

And in the course of that overhaul, I had to give up a list I'd been cultivating for the previous three-ish years.

(One day soon I shall tell of the creation of THAT list-- my first ever-- and the psychology that went into building it.)

For now, back to my business overhaul.

After my new mission was announced, I invited everyone on my previous list to come on over to the new digs, and guess how many said yes?


Thirteen sweet subscribers said, Sure Helen, I'd love to join you in your new adventure!

And was I thankful for those 13 subscribers?

Hellz to the yeah! It was better than the ZERO subscribers I'd started out with in 2008.

(Side note: I don't think I handled the transition that well in hindsight. I'd do it a lot differently today and maybe would have preserved a lot more subscribers. But that was then, and this is now. And 'hindsight' is called that for a reason.)

Anyway, in early 2012, I found myself opening up my first online program to a whopping 40 subscribers.

And with that small but mighty list, I not only enrolled 10 people into my program (pulling in a total of $2673, with the weird random discounts I offered), but. . .

I quit my job in April of 2012 and have never looked back.

Now, remember what I said about doing everything wrong?

Well, this was a classic case.

I'm sure any guru would have told me to keep my 'bridge job' and just keep buying their info-products until I had several months' salary saved up and had just about killed myself juggling a full-time career with single motherhood and a side gig that kept me burning the candle at both ends.

Instead, I dove headlong into entrepreneurship and leveraged that tiny list (and the tiny profits I'd made from my first program) into the business I have today.

In case you're curious, as of today, there are WAY more than 40 people on my list.

I think it would be kinda tacky and inappropriate to spill the EXACT number. . .

(Kind of like I honestly think it's almost always tacky and ridiculous to say things like, I have over 100,000 subscribers on my list!)

To give you a ballpark range, though, there are significantly fewer than 5,000 people on my list.

So there you go.

But the point of this post is that the number is largely irrelevant.

Because, numbers aside, I've been able to build a very successful business over the past two years.

And I'm not saying that to brag at all, but to inspire you to see what's possible-- what the gurus who say, The money is in the list! will never tell you.

See, I know there's no, like, conspiracy per se.

(As in, I don't believe there's a bunch of gurus in a room somewhere plotting how to keep the Little Guy down.)

And at the same time, I DO feel that what's missing from most gurus' strategies is a sincere desire to help people.

And call me the Anti-Guru, but I really DO want to see you succeed, and one of the ways I think I can help is to strip away the nonsense that there's only ONE way to do things-- and that the ONE way is how the experts tell you it has to be done.

(Because I can tell you right now, they are NOT telling you the full picture of their own business success. I'll save that topic for another time, though).

So how have I built my business with such a small list?

I've focused on three simple things, and you can easily do them too.

(Perhaps you're already doing them, and if so I hope this gives you encouragement, if you need it, that you're on the right path.)

Thing #1 -:- Offering the people who ARE on my list a personalized experience of me.

In other words, really treating the people on my list like they're, uh. . . people. Instead of regarding them as numbers on a report.

When I write to my list (maybe you're on it so you already know this) I write from the heart, and it's not very carefully crafted in business-speak or that fake marketing garbage that goes, My friends tell me I'm crazy to offer this at such a low price!

As much as possible, I write exactly the way I would write if you and I were chatting over lunch. Hopefully without spinach in my teeth.

Thing #2 -:- Only sharing things that I sincerely stand behind.

I usually only promote my own products and services, because I am 100% sure of their quality and value.

I rarely share any sort of affiliate promotion with my list, and I've only shared a couple of other promotion-like thingies over the years that I haven't been a thousand percent jazzed about.

(I chalk those few experiences up to a learning curve. Kinda like actors sometimes take roles they later probably wish they could go back and un-take.)

I've had the opportunity to be involved in affiliate promotions that probably would have been extremely lucrative for me, but I've passed them up because they weren't in alignment with my values.

Thing #3 -:- Giving my subscribers a li'l something extra that I wouldn't give to the general public.

Whether that be a special discount, or first dibs on a new service package, a  new cool tool they can use in their businesses. . . or just a random email here and there that says nothing much but, Hi there, I see you.

I don't give MY email address to many people, so when someone gives hers (or his) to me, I consider it a real privilege.

As such, I feel like I should give something back. Kind of like that ol' marketing principle of 'reciprocity'-- but backwards.

In other words, I operate my business by a rather old-fashioned principle that the mom n' pop shops used to abide by in the Olden Days:

Personalized attention.

And you know what?

There are TONS of entrepreneurs out there right now just like me. Some with even smaller lists.

And they are doing just FINE.

Making great money.

Loving their lives.

Enjoying plenty of time freedom.

And not stressing out about their online stats.

Because they're focused more on customer experience than on obsessing over the metrics the latest expert told them they 'must' have in order to be successful.

Long before the internet (and 'internet fame') there was good ol' fashioned BUSINESS.

And it'll be here no matter what the Next Big Thing is, online or off.

And business runs on the bottom line (i.e., profit).

So if you're looking at ANYTHING other than your ability to convert your prospects (no matter how few) into happy customers. . .

(Especially if your business is pretty new or small. . .)

I hereby (humbly) grant you permission to shake the small list shame.

The fact is, you only have so much time to spend in and on your business.

Spending your time on anything other than that which contributes directly to your bottom line is a waste.

I have no softer way of putting it.

And I'm living proof that not only do you not need a huge list to have a thriving bottom line-- but you don't need to do ANYTHING according to some invisible rule book.

List size, schmist size!

You went into business for yourself to BREAK the rules, remember?

So break 'em. Unapologetically.

(Tweet that to your fellow entrepreneurs!)

We're waiting excitedly to see your unconventional success story unfold.

And now that I've shared my not-so-shameful secret with you, I'd love to hear about YOUR experiences with list-building.

Are you frustrated because you don't feel you're gaining subscribers fast enough?

Are your subscribers as engaged as you would like them to be? Are they becoming customers?

And what have YOU done to nurture and engage your subscribers?

(And a small note here: I'm NOT anti-list. If you have a big, highly-engaged list and a ton of happy customers, then bravo, and keep up the good work! I've shared this post merely to give you another side of the picture if you've been frustrated trying to boost your numbers.)

I'd love to hear what your experiences have been in the comments below.

And if you feel like someone else might need some encouragement today, I'd love for you to share this post with them too.

Until then, keep the faith, rule-breaker.