Starting small is the only option

List building is a widely talked about topic in the online marketing world. Amidst conversations about the six-digit lists that the digital giants have, us mere mortals can’t help but feel ashamed of our small (or non-existent) lists.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It’s something that you and I have in common, and I hope it will help you move past any list building shame that’s holding you back from sharing your knowledge with the world.

Are you ready?

When I started my facebook page, I had zero likes.

When I created my website, I had zero visitors.

When I first began offering services, I had zero clients.

When I launched my email newsletter, I had zero subscribers.

Want to know something else? I started out the exact same way that everyone else did.

Everyone starts at zero.

You’re probably thinking: hello, captain obvious.

Rationally, we already know that everyone starts at zero. Unless you are the child of a celebrity, you’re probably starting with a pretty small list. Sure, your mother or best friend might subscribe right away, but in terms of people you actually want to build your community around? Zero. Zip. Zilch.

Yet emotionally, starting at zero makes you feel vulnerable – especially in the online space where the number of likes, followers, and comments you have is visible to the world.

One thing you have to remember to move past the insecurities is that unless you put yourself out there, that feeling is never going to change.

When I realized that, I finally took the plunge and hit publish on my Facebook page. I began sharing my blog posts on websites other than my own and interacting in online groups and communities, helping any way I could.

See, I had been feeling ashamed for years. Here I am, someone who has been working within the marketing world for seven years, and my list size is nearly non-existent. Who am I to tell anyone how to grow their community when I have just 17 Facebook page likes? My only newsletter subscriber? Myself. Trust me, it’s hard to put time and energy into creating content that no one will ever read.

I am qualified, of course. I’ve lead teams to build multiple four- and five-figure communities for my clients. I have a degree and graduate certificate. Maybe more importantly, I am passionate about continually learning. I just never wanted to publicize my teensy tiny numbers until they grew, but they couldn’t grow until I took the leap and put myself out there.

The one thing that you and I have in common with the biggest names on the internet is that we all start small.

List size isn’t everything.

OK, truth is, the size of your list does matter. It’s just not all that matters. The type of people on your list and how you interact with them count for a whole lot more.

When I was just getting started as a freelancer (in the early days of businesses using social media), I helped a client build a large online following. The numbers were good and the sales weren’t bad either. You know what was terrible? Community engagement. Customer loyalty. Sure we had built up a big list of people to sell to, but they weren’t sharing us with their friends or commenting on posts. You can bet that they would still shop around whenever they needed a product that we were selling.

As a result, there was no momentum to the list growth. If the client wanted to keep growing, they needed to keep paying more and more. Sounds great for me as the marketer, right? But the truth is, my team was bored and frustrated. I had done what I was hired to do, but knowing what I do now I wish I could go back and tackle that project differently.

I’ll take slow and steady growth over a flash in the pan any day.

When you’re focused on list building alone, you miss the importance of finding the right people and converting them into evangelists. What does that mean exactly? It means I’d rather have a small community of people who actually care about the content I’m putting out (and that I can learn from in return) than a bloated list of people who send my emails straight to the trash or hit unfollow when they see my posts on Facebook.

Does this mean you shouldn’t bother trying to grow your tribe? Heck no. Marketing is a numbers game, and part of being able to grow your business (and help people solve their problems) is having more people know, like and trust you. More people who love what you do translates into more referrals, higher conversions, and better sales.

The trick is to actually connect with your followers in some way.

A small list is an opportunity.

THIS is your chance. A small list gives you the opportunity to really get to know each person in your community – what problems they face, where they look for solutions – as they get to know you. Once it grows, it’s hard to get that same level of intimacy and provide the same attention.

You know what happens when you nurture those first few people? They continue to show up, and they help you nurture the newcomers as your tribe grows.

Join my list.

I’m not desperate to grow my list. In fact, I don’t even want you to join me if you care more about making money than running a rewarding, sustainable business.

If, however, you are a small- to mid-sized business owner who is looking to improve your marketing by actually rolling up your sleeves and doing some work – please consider joining me in one of the following ways:


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