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when to start a mailing list

Spend any time at all reading about blogging, entrepreneurship, or internet marketing, and you’ll quickly learn about THE POWER OF THE LIST. According to the experts, if you want to have any kind of success online, you need to build an email list and built it quickly. Never mind finding a reason to have a list; just have one. Today.

But I Don’t Wanna!

When I started my personal blog in early 2011, I could not think of a possible reason to hoard a bunch of email addresses. I wasn’t selling a product or service; I had no reason to email any of my readers other than sending out posts (and I have Feedburner for that). I didn’t like the idea of having people sign up for something with no real benefits or purpose.

Then early 2011 turned into late 2011. My employment situation was terrible, I was making more money from my blog than my job, and my boss announced that we would lose our (already pathetic) benefits in May 2012. I started becoming physically sick on Sunday nights because I dreaded going to work so badly. I spent a few months looking at my online income compared to my pay stubs and thinking, I could be making more money at home than I’m making with two college degrees and 7 years of experience in my field.

One day I lost it. Just completely lost it. I could not imagine spending another 5 minutes in that place, let alone the 30 days required for my notice period. But I stuck it out, gave my notice, and spent the next month plotting the details of my escape. At the time, my online income came from freelance writing and advertising on my blog, but I felt like I should come up with a backup plan. I knew I might have to return to my career if things didn’t work out, but I was determined not to let that happen.

Experts? What Do They Know? (Besides Everything)

A few months after I quit my job, a series of events led to a huge drop in my income and I started flying through my savings at an alarming rate. I applied for literally over 300 jobs and didn’t get a single callback. After watching me panic for awhile, one of my friends said, “Maybe this is a sign you should implement Plan B.”

Oh yeah, Plan B. I had forgotten about that. You see, I left my job under less than ideal circumstances, but I wasn’t a complete idiot. I knew I needed something else as a “just in case.” And it just so happened that I have skills in graphic design, web design, and coding after 17 years of self-teaching. I didn’t know if anyone would hire me, but I decided it was time to find out.

So Nuts and Bolts Media was born! The initial version of the site launched in May 2012 and the business has paid my bills ever since. I have been very fortunate to have more work than I can do ever since I started.

As my one year quit-o-versary approaches, I realized that I actually do have a need for a mailing list now. Why? Because I’m working on several projects to expand Nuts and Bolts, and I’m going to need people to beta test some of my ideas. Also, because there are actually people who want to keep up with what I’m doing (which wasn’t the case before).

Missed Opportunities?

Last week I put out a call for beta testers on my personal blog. I now have around 65 people signed up to receive updates, surveys, and invitations to try out new products and features before they’re available to the public. (Want to sign up? You can do so here.)

A fellow blogger texted me last night and said, “Bet you’re kicking yourself for not starting a list sooner. I tried to tell you!”

I thought about that for awhile. Do I regret waiting to build my list? Am I missing out on something? Nope. And this is why.

Sure, I could have started building this list nearly 2 years ago. I’d have a lot more than 65 subscribers. But would I have more than 65 people who understand why they signed up and genuinely want to participate? Probably not. Instead, I would have lost a ton of subscribers when the first email branded with the Nuts and Bolts logo went out. My blog started out in the finance niche – do those people want to know about web design? Some of them might, but I’d bet that a lot of them wouldn’t be too thrilled.

I’d rather have a small, engaged list than a huge list of people who send my emails to spam. For me, it’s not necessarily about making money; my subscribers will be helping out in ways that are worth more in the long run. And I think waiting until I needed a list to build one is one of the smartest things I’ve done so far.

Considering a List? Here’s My Advice to You

I’m no marketing expert. But, based on my experience, here’s what I would say to anyone debating whether to start building an email list.

Know why you’re building a list. The people who tell you to build an email list for no reason are dumb. Why would people hand out their most precious internet commodity (their email address) without some kind of identifiable benefit? How do you find people who are interested in what you’re offering (or planning to offer) if you haven’t figured out what that is yet?

Offer something people actually want. My pet peeve when it comes to online marketing? “Subscribe to our email list and receive this FREE random ebook!” Then I get the ebook and it’s 12 pages of blog posts from the site where I signed up. If you can’t do any better than that, don’t bother. I actually didn’t “give” my subscribers anything – I promised them opportunities to be involved and help test out products. Oh, and they get discounts on everything that goes live. So it means a lot to me that people were willing to help me without any real benefit for themselves – at least none for the moment.

Respect your subscribers. I have unsubscribed from a TON of mailing lists because the emails were full of marketing lingo designed to make me buy something. I realize that the purpose of a mailing list is to (eventually) make money for the list owner, but what’s in it for me? I expect to learn something new or at least be entertained every now and then.

Start researching newsletter services ahead of time. We all know that the main players are Aweber and MailChimp. There are compelling reasons to use each service depending on how you plan to use your list and the number of subscribers you have. Just don’t wait until you’re ready to take signups to decide which one you should use. I chose to start with MailChimp and I’ve been very pleased so far, but that doesn’t mean that’s the right decision for you.

Overall, my best advice is to remember what it’s like to deal with email lists as a subscriber, and treat your subs as you would want to be treated. When it’s time for a list, you’ll know! Until then, don’t give in to the pressure to create a list just for the sake of following the herd.


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Reader Interactions


  1. Thank you for sharing you story and message, Andrea. I currently do not offer my subscribers anything, either, but I am working on a meaningful resource for those who want it. I also agree with you – businesses will know when it is time to start building their email list, but it has to be for the right reasons. All good points!

    • Andrea

      I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who decided to wait until I had a reason for a list. Sometimes all the hype about THE LIST makes me feel like I must be insane. For me, though, it was about having something to offer and I didn’t until now.

  2. Love how you go against the grain Andrea, I started my list first of all because that’s all I heard, because I’d never blogged before, and every top bloggers first “regret” was not starting an e-mail list.

    So I’m thinking, “haha, I’ll get to their level faster” Then I realized that perhaps an e-mail list is a great group to have, and I don’t sell anything yet. But they can be the messengers to get the word out, and it’s great to have a closer group that you can share some things with.

    but definitely like the Rebel attitude, do it Andrea!

    • Andrea

      I’m interested to see what you end up doing with your list, Joe! How many subs do you have? Be sure to keep me updated on how it goes – I’m interested to hear about your experiences since you started your list early on. :)

  3. Nice post Andrea.

    The two key lessons I got from it were:
    1. Know WHY you’re doing whatever you’re doing.
    2. Put yourself in their shoes (the subscribers).

    “I applied for literally over 300 jobs and didn’t get a single callback.”

    –> This is insane. But great effort though, can’t help but admire your grit.

    • I still have a love/hate relationship with email marketing. Lately it’s trendy to take away all subscription options except the option to provide an email address, but I just can’t get onboard with that. I may be holding my business back from reaching its full potential and that’s okay – the most important thing to me is that I remain true to who I am and treat my clients/customers/readers the way I want to be treated.

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