Q&A: The Fundamentals of Growing Your List

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  8. “How do I get to know people without feeling competitive?”
  9. “I need to charge more. Is this a valid reason to raise my prices?”
  10. Q&A: The Fundamentals of Growing Your List
  11. Where Do I Spend Money on My Microbiz Until It’s Successful?
  12. Q&A: How Do I Know When I’m Making Enough Money To Hire Help?
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  15. Help! A Client Called My Bluff! What Do I Do Now?

The #insidemymicrobiz experiment has generated a lot of good questions from readers, so I’ll be sharing these Q&As on Fridays. Got a question? Hit me up on Twitter or email me: [shanna] at [this domain].

Shanna, you know what I’ve always wondered?  (since you asked)

Okay, on every street corner is some sort of online business consultant telling us how to market to our email list.  Do this, do that, don’t EVER do that….   Or even better, how to “double your list overnight with these easy steps!”  Or how to make six figures in your first six months by properly talking to your subscriber list or Facebook followers. You know the type.

But what if your list/Facebook followers’ list is a puny 27 subscribers and half of those are related to you?  And what if you’re NOT in the business of telling people how they can make money on the web? (and don’t want to be?)  Say you’re….a jewelry creator?

I’d be interested in the starting steps of building a list of people who I can help, and who want to learn what I have to teach.  I’ll be watching your experiment with interest!


Hi Margaret,

Good question. Here’s the thing about a lot of entrepreneurial/ marketing services and resources– they are purpose-agnostic. They don’t really care what business you have BUT they assume that you’re in the business to make as much money as possible– that money is your primary motivation. And if money is your primary motivation, then you’re going to go into the businesses where money flows freely— usually a business that promises to make customers healthier, sexier, or more money.

But for most microbiz owners, money is NOT their primary motivator. Sometimes they think it is, but it’s not. The only think money is the primary motivator because they’re not doing it for free 🙂 But usually it’s something else. Joy of the craft. Independence. Having an impact on the world. Doing the Thing that only they can Do. Getting paid to do these things is a means to an end, and a secondary motivation at best.

For most microbiz owners, money is not their primary motivator.

That’s why all that advice you’re talking about sucks. Because it’s not speaking to your primary motivation.

As a jewelry artist, I’m not sure where ‘helping’ and ‘teaching’ come in. [Edit: Turns out jewelry was just an example.] Worthy goals, certainly. But I’m not sure where the common thread is. If you plan to teach jewelry making, you have in effect two hugely divergent audiences: Makers, who want to learn what you know, and Jewelry Buyers.

Makers are a lot more fun to market to, because they’re just like you, and they interact a lot more, and you can talk shop with each other. But Buyers, while harder to market to, have an easier time parting with money. Makers are going to look at most of what you do and figure they can do it themselves more cheaply. So of the two, you’d make more money with the Buyers, but only you know what your primary motivation is.

[Tweet “A lot of list building advice sucks for microbiz owners because money isn’t our primary motivator”]

The rudiments of growing your list is this: lure people onto a mailing list by hook or crook– bribe them however you can. When they are on your mailing list, make them happy they joined. Your mailing list is a bit like a house party… you can’t leave them on their own too long, or people start to forget why they came. So interact with them; send behind-the-scenes photos. Tell them what you’re working on and the story behind it. AND OFFER THEM THE OPPORTUNITY TO BUY.

Most people either skip that last part, or go entirely too overboard. But a piece of jewelry is a relatively small splurge. You feel good every time you look at it, and it doesn’t involve any extra work on the part of the buyer, unlike buying coaching or copywriting or something.

There are LOTS of nuances, but those are the rudiments.

For instance, there are a ton of different thoughts and strategies for what to talk to your list about. But that’s super-specific to the business and the person running the business, and I don’t know you well enough to speculate. The business of sign-up incentives is something else that has a lot of words devoted to it, but it really doesn’t matter too-too much. Offer people something you think they would like for its own sake, in the hopes that they attribute the same value to being on your list. (In the beginning, you don’t even have to offer them anything. Just tell them they’ll get a first look at your designs when they go on sale, and that will be enough for your fans.)

Thanks for sending in this question. I enjoyed answering it!


Margaret Terrian is a  a web designer and a food writer.  Dog whisperer.  Organic farmer.  And multipotentialite, in case it wasn’t obvious.


14 thoughts on “Q&A: The Fundamentals of Growing Your List”

  1. AbigailMarkov

    Ooo, great advice. Especially that part about giving them an easy opportunity to buy The Thing. :ahem: Taking a note of that. 

    I started on Social Media. I talked to EVERYONE who seemed remotely interesting, and who seemed interested in me. (Okay, minus the weird guys who kept hitting on me, they totally don’t count as the only thing they wanted was not something I was in the business of doing.)

    It worked well, but then the heavy filtering and algorithms came in and made it harder and harder to reach people. I’ve been moving over to a newsletter since then, and it’s been a game changer.

  2. Another Margaret! With a question I might have asked if I’d been paying attention at the right moment. 🙂 Good discussion, and I started with a 15-ish page favorite-recipes cookbook pdf, but now that I’ve moved on to being a writer, I no longer have a freebie… it’s on my list…!

  3. MargaretTLT You might not need a freebie if it’s obvious that there will be future stuff that will be of interest. For instance, I’m sure the promise of sneak peek at the next book would be enough. I don’t think a download is necessary. If anything it’s “Sign up for exclusive sneak peeks and early access to my next book, [title]. Then when they sign up, offer a download for the first three chapters of Memories Hostage and a link to buy.

    Speaking as a reader, I’d rather you were working on the next book than churning out some frippery that will only sustain me for 20 minutes 😉

  4. AbigailMarkov You DO get a lot of weirdos hitting on you. Who thinks that’s a good idea? Most of the time I applaud a “Eh, might as well try” attitude– not here, though.

    Yeah, I wouldn’t lift a finger for Facebook these days (and many previous days, too). They want your money, and they’re totally willing to hold your follwers hostage to get it. Mailing lists are intimate. I like them a lot.

  5. Shanna Mann MargaretTLT Bahaha- oh that warms the cockles, Shanna. Thanks! And great advice. I needed a boost to think again about other formats anyway, so this is a good reminder to get it re-formatted and find a host site. I’ve got an IdeaBoard I made for No. 2 for last Saturday’s NW Book Festival… suppose I could put that on the site for a taste of what’s to come!

  6. I started marketing by creating a 40 page eBook freebie, and then getting eyeballs to the freebie offer by writing a blog.

  7. The “microbiz owners aren’t primarily motivated by money” thing is a great point. We just assume the advice out there should work for us, when in fact it’s built for a totally different approach.
    I don’t feel like anything I’ve done so far has been very good marketing email-wise, but I’m looking to change that with my new site. As a reader, I want to be kept in the loop and told about interesting things. And I don’t mind being reminded that people have something to sell if they do it nicely and not obnoxiously, so I’m not sure why I tend to overlook that part of the equation as a sender myself!

  8. erinkurup Naomi from Ittybiz is always saying “Selling only feels weird when YOU do it. So pay attention to how you respond when other people sell to you, then do what you like. Because it will never stop feeling weird.” It’s one of those times where it’s nice to be told that your instincts in this case are wrong, and that being out of your comfort zone is just something you need to learn to tolerate.

  9. Shanna Mann HappierHuman Yes, absolutely. It seems to have worked. The eBook freebie has continued to drive opt-ins. The only thing I would do differently is work a bit harder to maintain engagement with folks already subscribed.

  10. AbigailMarkov

    Shanna Mann Steve finds it amusing, the weirdos. I shake my head, because… wtf?! Who thinks it’s a good idea indeed! Not me! I’d be okay if they tried somewhere else too – like with their bathroom mirror. They’d have much more luck there, too.

    Oy, Facebook. If it wasn’t (currently) my best new person finder avenue, I’d spend a LOT less time there, as far as business goes. Holding followers hostage is right. That said, since I have to be there, I’ve found that a very low daily budget to gain new likes is worth the investment, if you are willing to put in some time creating and curating content. For me, because I’m still in such early newsletter growing stages, I just consider it Doing My Time before I have that more intimate email inbox access granted, and to gain trust and establish rapport in a safe-for-clients type environment. 

    (Facebook for Family is another story; it’s how we stalk each other without actually having to TALK to each other. Schedules are weird across the board.)

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