How I Got My First 1000 Subscribers
Getting to your first 1000 e-mail subscribers is an important thing when you focus on online marketing. It’s a milestone I recently hit, so in this article I want to share everything I did to get there, and how the journey has been for me.
This is not an overnight success story that you find in testimonials.
When I hear about the growth of other people, I actually feel a bit awkward it took me so long to get here. And that’s exactly why I want to show you my story. Because this is real, this is not the polished version. I could say: ‘I doubled my list for the first three months.’ or ‘I got to 1000 subscribers in 9 months.’ True.
But it’s also true it actually took me 3 or 4 years.
And doubling my 30 subscribers, and then my 60 subscribers… well it didn’t feel that great at the time. I was just frustrated I only had 120 people after 3 months of hard work.
The right mindset
So let me explain how these contradicting facts come together… And how my lack of list building mindset sabotaged my list growth for 3 years.
I got the idea for my first website, Commit Happiness, midway 2012. In 2013 Els and I built a first version on Blogger.com, just to have something up & running. In september 2013, the ‘real’ Commit Happiness website finally came online, with a .nl domain and good design.
But at the time I was also studying and doing a bunch of other projects (+ living my life to the fullest with all sorts of parties and adventures) so as you can guess I didn’t work that much on Commit Happiness. Oh plus, I was a massive procrastinator at the time.
I also had no idea what online marketing was, and everything concerning ‘sales’ or ‘marketing’ just sounded icky to me. I had heard only one or two people mentioning it was a good idea to grow an e-mail list but I procrastinated on starting it because it didn’t see it should be a priority. ‘Cause what the hack: isn’t e-mail old-fashioned? Our strategy was the thing that was actually old-fashioned: put valuable content online, share on Facebook, wait for people to notice it, gain a huge audience over time and put ads on our website to make a living.
Whahaha… Maybe you’ve been there too, it’s a very understandable mistake. It used to work in the old days, but it doesn’t any more.
So after graduating in July 2015 I got a wake-up call. I had a website with about 500 monthly visits and zero income. I signed up for the Shining Biz + Life academy and thanks to Leonie I finally started to slowly get the importance of growing an e-mail list.
So in August 2015, two or three years after starting, I finally designed my first opt-in.
But the importance of an e-mail list really got to me during my first launch in November. I saw how actually the best way to make sales, was through e-mail.
You really have to get the importance of your e-mail list before you can grow one. Otherwise there will always be other things that seem more important.
I like Amy Porterfields quote on this: ‘The energy of your business is directly tied to your e-mail list.’
The opt-in I designed in August came online in October, and our first e-mail subscribers started to come in. So this is were my growth graph starts, but it would be unfair to act as if I pulled all of this together in just 9 months:
Lead magnets (aka freebies, opt-in incentives etc.) are the most important tool I used to grow my list. My first lead magnet was a workshop in the form of a pdf, teaching people how they can live from their heart. In case you wondered… Commit Happiness is in the personal + spiritual growth niche. I scattered it all over our website and waited for the numbers to drop in.
And I must say, it was pretty magical to see people subscribing while I was just busy doing other stuff. It brought me about 20-30 subscribers each month in the beginning and that was a great start – but soon felt like too little.
So I realized our Youtube channel with guided meditations was actually the most successful part of Commit Happiness, and I wanted to think of a way to turn our Youtube viewers (rather then our website visitors) into subscribers. I designed a meditation package, which contained a meditation guide, checklists and 10 of our Youtube meditations in mp3-format.
I am still a bit doubtful if this is maybe too much to give away… But at the time I just wanted to be sure people couldn’t resist signing up for it.
A good lead magnet is only one part of the equation: without any people to see your offer you won’t have any sign-ups.
Most people who are on our subscribers list, found us through the Youtube channel I told you about earlier. At the time I created the meditation package, I upgraded our rankings in Youtube and this has been a big game changer for the growth of my mailing list. It did not only give us sign-ups through the meditation package, but more people signed up for our website freebie as well.
The second most important way we generate traffic is through Google. But mind you… it is organic Google ranking. We never put much afford in SEO, as Els and I find it very boring. Maybe we’ll do in the future but it isn’t high on my priorities, because the people who find us through Youtube are much closer to our ideal client – generally speaking.
I did try to grow our Pinterest traffic as well but it never really took of. Partly because I didn’t put enough effort in it.
I shared our freebies in Facebook groups and on our Facebook page about ten times, and that brings in a few leads every time. It’s not a high return on effort, but in these early days… it’s worth it.
Mailing list provider and other software
In October we started out with Mailgun, a mailing provider for programmers. It doesn’t have all the functionality something like Mailchimp has, but the first 10.000 e-mails each month are free! And after that, it is still damn cheap.
So I tought I had found the Walhalla of mailing list providers, given the fact that my boyfriend is a programmer who could make Mailgun work for me. At the time I thought I would stick with Mailgun forever.
And I must say, I’m really grateful I had that opportunity to start with Mailgun at that time when I didn’t feel ready to pay for a mailing list provider. Mailchimp is another free alternative for starters of course, but you can’t create auto responders without paying. That was a deal-breaker for me.
My boyfriend and I are actually considering creating a cheap WordPress plugin someday in the future, so everyone who’s just starting out can use Mailgun and have a free mailing list provider WITH autoresponder!
But then I met ConvertKit… and I fell in love.
It had features I didn’t even know existed, like tagging your subscribers so you know their interests. Or creating automation rules that can for instance be triggered when they click a certain link in your e-mail. Whaaaat :D
I soon started to feel limited by the abilities of Mailgun… and in April I decided to switch over to ConverKit. It was a very scary step as I didn’t know if I was ready for monthly billing ($29 up till 1000 subscribers).
But it was one of the best steps I made. It helped me to take my business more seriously and the new features made my email marketing a whole lot more powerful. It payed back for itself within 2 months.
There’s one other companion in my list building journey that I’d like to share about: Instabuilder. This is a drag and drop page builder, similair to Leadpages but with only a one-time fee. All my landing and sales pages are created with Instabuilder.
And I must say, in the beginning it was a battle field. I was so frustrated by the functionality. But the more I used it, the better I found my way around it.
Recently I decided to switch over to Leadpages, as my investment in ConvertKit had been such a great one. Whoops… Leadpages felt like a total disaster to me. So until they are more developed, I will stick with Instabuilder. It’s not perfect, but I believe it has the best quality compared to what it costs.
(Please note that my links to ConvertKit and Instabuilder are affiliate links. I’m only an affiliate for products I genuinely want to recommend, and if you’d be so kind to sign up through my link you will make my day! :) Plus, it enables me to write detailed blogposts like this one and give them to you for free.)
Training in List building
My first List building training came from the Shining Academy as I mentioned earlier, though list building was just one of the many topics they teach in there so it wasn’t super-focused but a good starting point.
In January, I invested in Melyssa Griffins List Surge. It has helped me a bit and was worth the $97 I paid for it. But currently it sells for $197 and to me personally this would not have been worth it.
In May I bought List Builders Lab from Amy, just because I had bought her other trainings and that made me confident this would be a good one as well. I was a little bit scared that I already knew everything she was going to teach because of List Surge, but that was definitely not the case! Amy went so much deeper. And she is just SO damn good at teaching… This is the #1 list building course I would recommend everyone.
I’m currently still implementing the course, but it helped me to boost my new sign-ups in June to 200/month instead or 100-150/month.
Nurturing my list
I think one thing is often overlooked when it comes to list building: the quality of your list.
My open rates are very high, between 40-50% for my weekly mailing and higher for targeted e-mails like webinars or autoresponders. I currently have 1000+ subscribers, so I reach about 400 to 500 people with my mailings.
Now take a look at someone with an open rate of 20%. To reach the same amount of people, she needs to have 2000+ people on her list!
This concept really became vivid for me when I met a woman who had a mailing list of 1500 while I was at 800. I was deeply impressed by her list size. But then when she shared her open rates, I realized I was reaching more people!
(Now don’t go feel bad about your open rates please! I have yet to meet someone with the same or a higher open rate as I have. You are doing more than awesome if you are between 20-30%)
I just want to make clear that one of the most important ways to create a high-quality list, is to nurture it. It doesn’t stop with bringing in a new lead, that’s actually where it all starts… Where you can become a familiar friend who someone loves to let into their inbox week after week.
When I started my list, I wasn’t mailing regularly. Then I decided that in 2016, I would do monthly mailings and this was a good improvement.
But only midway February I started mailing weekly, and my world changed. I had put it off because I thought I didn’t know what to write and I was certain EVERYONE would unsubscribe if I mailed that often. My unsubscribe rate did go up, but only to 1-2% and the people who stayed… They became more intimate followers every week.
I would even dare to say that starting to mail weekly has made the biggest difference in my business in this first half of 2016. I still feel stressed sometimes about what I have to mail, but I always get an idea in the end. And it becomes easier and easier.
The biggest lesson I want to get across here… is that please don’t make the mistake of thinking you can start growing your email list without mailing them regularly. You don’t have to start with weekly, just pick a timeframe that feels doable to you right now. But pick one! This is not optional, this is an essential part of creating a high-quality mailing list.
When you don’t mail people for two months, it is very hard to get them enthusiastic again. People will forget about you, and mails from strangers… well they tend to get deleted.
And as for the content of what you can mail… I always mail something personal, that connects to a lesson my audience is interested in. I think this combination is golden and one of the reasons I have high open rates.
So for example, one time I sent out a picture of my new scale on which I had written ‘You are already good enough’ because I realized my scale was a trigger spot for self-hatred. I then asked the reader: “On which place in your house does your self-hatred get triggered? And how can you put a message of self-love there?”
I hope this article has brought you some inspiration and encouragement for your own list building journey!
During mine, I often felt discouraged about how slow it seemed to go. But when I would have known from the start that on this very moment I would be at 1000 subscribers, I would not have been discouraged at all. Remind yourself that the first 100 subscribers are the hardest!
Make a difference in YOUR biz!
- Do you have the right list building mindset? If not listen to this podcast.
- Create your first lead magnet and run traffic to it.
- Make sure you have the mailing list provider that suits all your needs. I recommend ConvertKit as it has all the tools a pro needs, but the prize you pay only increases when your list size increases. So you get all the functionality on their lowest trier already!
- Use my recommendations to educate yourself some more on the topic if you need to.
- Start mailing regularly with personal + valuable content.
- And most important: keep celebrating every new subscriber you get! :) You are awesome!