Why I Deleted My 10,000 Subscriber Email List
At the beginning of last year, I'd managed to grow my email list to 10,000 subscribers.
It felt like a huge achievement! With all the articles and webinars all around the web all singing the same song ('Grow your email list if you want to be successful! Here's how to do it...'), I looked at my email marketing software one day and thought - I'VE DONE IT!
How did I do it?
I created what's called an 'opt-in freebie'; a free downloadable 'gift' (in my case, a Marketing Plan template for small businesses that I created myself, because my main target audience are small business owners) that people receive only when they've signed up to your email list. I've written in more detail about examples of these and how to do it before, and it really does work as a way to grow your list quickly!
To get people to hear about this great free gift, I used mainly Pinterest to share eye-catching graphics that linked through to my sign up page. Turns out, a LOT of people search on Pinterest for 'marketing plan' and my pin graphics ended up coming up top of the list (and still does!!).
Thanks to this, I saw my list grow from 2,000 to 10,000 in about 4 months.
I'd been sending out email newsletters to my list once a week or once every two weeks since the beginning. They were short and sweet 'quick tip' style emails that were easy to digest and gave my readers something to think about with their businesses, and people loved them! The open rates were good and I had plenty of sweet messages from people saying how refreshing it was to get short, non-salesy emails that were actually useful.
But whenever I did the occasional promotional email about my services and new portfolio pieces, they BOMBED.
Click-through rates were non-existent, and subscribers dropped like flies every time I sent one out. I tried different types of promotional email, from really soft and subtle, even to doing a flash sale! But my subscribers really didn't like it.
I knew that, as with every marketing activity, I shouldn't expect results straight away. My email marketing was one piece of my whole 'marketing mix'; designed to reach people at multiple different touchpoints to make them remember my name.
But as my list grew, my email marketing software costs grew too.
I started out on Mailchimp, which is free up to 2,000 subscribers. Once I'd reached that, I started paying for Mailchimp for about £30p/m, but soon realised it didn't have all the capabilities I wanted, so moved to Convertkit. By the time I'd got to 10,000 subscribers, Convertkit was costing me around £150 a month!
I could no longer afford NOT to make money from my email list. I needed a 'Return on Investment', but it was a huge struggle getting any at all. And yes, I tried ways of 'pruning' the list so that I only had super engaged subscribers, but by this time it was growing so fast it was hard to keep up.
Why I deleted the list
After months of trying to make money from my list, I exported my subscriber list and shut down my Convertkit account. I thought, 'I can always start up again and import my subscribers back in if I change my mind'. But time went by and I didn't change my mind, so a few months ago, I deleted the list for good. Why?
The Cost of Email Marketing Software
The cost was a huge factor. £150 per month = nearly £2,000 a year in email marketing costs, which is a HUGE amount for a freelancer! I simply couldn't afford it if I wasn't making any money back from it. A lot of people don't ever mention what it costs to host a big email list and use decent email marketing software in their articles online, even though for me it ended up being my biggest monthly expense by miles!
The Time Required to Nurture the List
The cost above doesn't even include the (wo)man hours I put in myself each week to manage the list, craft engaging emails and research how to monetise it. That is time that I could have spent doing billable work for clients, or actually, time I could have spent with my family and friends because I usually ended up doing it in the evenings or weekends.
When you are a freelancer or small business owner, there are so many admin and marketing activities you have to do yourself to grow your business that take away from the time you should be spending on your actual work. You might as well prioritise working on the ones that have been proven to make you money!
The Awkward Salesy-ness
I'm really not a salesperson. I hate pushy tactics and clickbait and pretending to make people feel special so that they buy from or hire you. I read SO many articles and tried different ways of encouraging my subscribers to bite as gently as I could and in the most 'me' way I could manage, but it always felt awkward, uncomfortable and forced for me.
Plus, guess what? My target clients ALSO hate pushy sales tactics, and most of them are savvy enough to see through the more subtle attempts to woo them into working with me.
The New GDPR Laws
GDPR caused quite a stir back in April, and it meant that we all had to take extra care making sure our email lists were full of subscribers who really wanted to be there, by giving express permission via checking a box or double opt-in confirmations.
My list would have been fine, as I've always made sure to do double opt-in (where the person has to confirm their subscription by email once signed up) and been clear about what they were signing up for. However, after a couple months of silence when I 'paused' my Convertkit account, for me to reappear in someone's inbox after all the news around GDPR, it felt wrong.
While I would love to send weekly short, helpful emails to a list of engaged subscribers just as a slow marketing/branding activity to create awareness and authority, I simply don't have the spare time or spare money to afford that luxury right now.
My 'opt-in freebies' are now all available to download just with the click of a button on my website; no need to hand over your email address or anything at all. People are still finding my website via those pins on Pinterest, so I am still getting traffic and potential clients visiting my website via the (non)opt-ins, which is really all I ever needed!
creating 'Non-opt-in freebies' still does a great job!
Having downloadable PDFs or useful freebies on your website that your target clients will be scrambling for still has massive value even if you don't take peoples' email addresses in return.
If you get the word out there (via social media or other platforms) and start getting these potential customers flocking to your website, this is a fantastic opportunity for you to grab their attention and market to them right there on your site, without having to pay for email marketing software or invest too much extra time!
You are still raising awareness of your brand, and getting your name in peoples' heads.
...Or ask for something that Isn't an email address?
Something I have tried with another business, is asking for website visitors to follow you on social media before they can access your freebie! It means you can grow a following on a (free) platform you were using already, so no extra effort is required on your part, but you're still gaining something in return.
In my example, the 'opt-in freebie' is a Free Shipping discount code on a shop, but people can only get the code when they follow the brand on Facebook or Instagram. An awesome way to utilise a freebie if you don't think you have time to nurture an email list.
And I'm sure this could work with service businesses too! "Follow me on Facebook to download your FREE ebook", or "Like us on Instagram too access the full guide" etc. I used a tool called Better Coupon Box to install this on my Shopify store, but I'm sure there are plugins for this on WordPress and Squarespace too.