Let me tell you a little story. A woman reached out to me on Facebook about an online summit (virtual conference) she was hosting. She wanted to know if I was interested in being a speaker at the event.
I’d been focused on visibility at the time (I’d already done two of these events and enjoyed them) so I agreed to a phone call to learn more about her audience and goals. By the end of our chat, I decided it was a good fit and we hammered out a topic for my talk. She sent along the contract, which I signed and returned. I put the event on my calendar and started thinking about my presentation.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened my email the next day and saw this:
Yep, I just got list shamed.
Although she never mentioned it in her initial message to me via Facebook, during our phone call, or in several email interactions, she was only interested in expert speakers with email lists of 10,000 or more. At the time, my list had 500 people on it.
Before she knew the size of my email list? My topic was perfect, my background was excellent, my experience was on point, and she was excited to have me be part of the event.
After she knew the size of my email list? Buh-bye.
I won’t lie. It stung. It immediately stirred up all my imposter syndrome feelings. My list is tiny, no one likes me, I suck, why do I even bother? Thankfully, I’ve been doing enough self-growth work that those feelings didn’t last long. In just a few minutes, I got angry. That’s no way of doing business. That’s not how you should treat people. At least, that’s not how I want to run my business or treat people.
To make sure I wasn’t reading the situation all wrong, I asked a couple of Facebook groups if they thought this was an acceptable way to run an event. The response was overwhelmingly in my favor (out of the hundreds of comments I received, only one person took the side of the event host).
While I was sad to hear from many other people who’ve fallen victim to this type of list-elitism, I was uplifted to learn that almost no one believes it’s a good business tactic.
Oh, and I didn’t mention that she also expected me to email my list about her event twice. And I wouldn’t be getting the email addresses of everyone who registered (only she would get that), just those who signed up for my opt-in bonus. So, to say it was unfair to the other experts is disingenuous. The only person my small list hurt was her.
Does Email List Size Matter?
Why am I sharing that story with you? First, I am hoping everyone learns a little business lesson from it. How you treat people matters. It’s important to be upfront and honest if you have certain expectations (like a list minimum), but it’s also valuable to realize each person you meet is more than just a number. When you are rude and unprofessional, people will remember and it will come back to haunt you.
But mostly I’m sharing this story because I feel compelled to tell other “small potatoes” like myself, who have small but mighty lists, you are more than your email list.
Yes, email lists are important. They have incredible value for your business for all the reasons Melyssa Griffin lays out here, and I’m working (like everyone else) to build mine.
That said, I think it’s important to avoid getting overly fixated on list size. It’s easy to do—I know I’ve been guilty of checking my subscriber count multiple times a day—but I don’t think it’s healthy or helpful and here are two important reasons why:
Your list is not you. The size of your email list is not a reflection of who you are as a person or a business owner. It doesn’t speak to your skills, knowledge, talents, or worth. The most amazing entrepreneur can have a list of zero, and an ignorant fool can build a list of hundreds of thousands.
There are so many factors that affect list building. You need the tools to create and manage a list (technical skills). You need to understand what motivates people to subscribe (psychology skills). You probably have to make an attractive opt-in (design skills). You need to attract an audience (social media skills). You have to figure out what to say to them in your emails (marketing skills). And it also takes a heap of time and often a lot of old-fashioned luck.
Judging a person or their business based only on the size of their email list is just plain silly. It’s shortsighted, rude, and a piss-poor way of really understanding anything about what they have to offer. Don’t do it to others, and certainly don’t do it to yourself.
Quantity doesn’t necessarily equal quality. There are a lot of things that determine the value of an email list, and size is only one (and, honestly, not the best one). Having a list of 10,000 matters very little if only a handful of those people actually read the emails and take action. Meanwhile, a list of 100 people who read every word and eagerly buy anything you’re selling is pure gold.
Just as important as the number of people on your email list are things like open rate (are people actually looking at what you send?), click-through rate (do they take action?), response rate (are they engaging in conversations with you?), conversion rate (how many people actually buy what you are selling?), and unsubscribe rate (how many people stick around for multiple emails?).
Also, your email list doesn’t show how well you’re engaging with your ideal clients and audience in other ways. Do you have a giant blog readership, a huge social media following, or tons of repeat clients? Those are all awesome things that aren’t necessarily reflected in the number of email subscribers you have.
So, the next time someone tries to list shame you (or, worse, you start doing it to yourself), just remember you are more than your email list!
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