Every day I hear about failed launches or sales droughts and I want to help. But, most often, these “failures” are the result of lax lead generation and capture.

The biggest misstep I see in microbusiness is making email list-building a secondary priority. There is nothing more crucial to the success of your business than a list of engaged, qualified, and interested prospects.

This is true whether your business is based on a customized services or whether your business is offering more leveraged solutions through programs or applications. It’s true whether you’re creating work on a commission basis or whether your products are sold to wholesale clients.

Unless you have a multimillion dollar advertising budget, you need to prioritize getting email addresses from great prospects.

Every business needs a prospect list and the best (and most trustworthy) prospect list you have at your disposal is the list of people who have deigned to give you their email addresses.

Sales is a numbers game: and here's the number that counts.

List building is important because sales is a numbers game.

Let’s do the math:

I recently completed a launch of a high-end group coaching program. I offered it first to a group of 130 on an interest list and then opened it to my main list, which at the time was approximately 5600 subscribers strong.

We registered 3 from the original interest list. That’s a 2.3% conversion rate on the list. Pretty good.

The other 12 registrations came from the main list. That’s a .2% conversion rate. While it looks abysmal, it’s actually pretty good, too.

The interest list averaged over a 50% open rate on the promotional emails. That’s pretty par for the course when it comes to people who opt in to learn about something specific. Since the change in Gmail inboxes, I’ve been averaging approximately a 29% open rate for emails to my general list.

Think about that. On the best performing email to the interest list, 88 people learned the program was open and 62 people click through to the offer. An offer like this isn’t likely to get better than a 1% conversion rate. That means I could expect about .6 people to register based on the interest group alone!

For the main list, the main direct sales email had a 30% open rate and a 4.1% click thru rate. That means 232 people saw the offer that day. So I could expect another 2.3 registrations.

Great, I’m up to almost 3 whole people!

In the end, we had 15 registrations on this program. We generated about $40,000 in revenue. So, clearly, I had more than almost 3. But the point is simply: with a list of 5,600 prospects, an engaged readership, and solid conversion, I just filled this program. I’m incredibly pleased with the results and the position we’ll be in when the program launches again in February.

But it could have gone very differently.

For another example, when I launched The Art of Growth in January, my announcement email received just over a 40% open rate and a click rate of almost 11%. That means that, from my list, 537 people saw the offer that day. I sold 48 copies on the first day and 134 total over the next 3 weeks. That was a 2.6% conversion rate based on the list size. Though, that also included social media traffic.

You will likely find people who have rocked 100 conversions on a 1,000 person list. Or filled their client roster with a list of 200. And that’s fantastic. But if you’re looking for the ease & scalability of a solid launch, I think you need to count on a different numbers game.

You should figure on 40% open rate, a 10% click rate, and a 2% conversion rate on your offer for an engaged email list. Which means to get 20 sales, you need to drive 1,000 views of the offer, over the course of several emails from a list of several thousand. And, frankly, that’s optimistic.

For a lower priced, highly targeted offer, you might get a better conversion rate. For a higher priced offer, you’ll need more.

These are the kinds of numbers I use with clients to help them set sales goals. But it’s more important to set list-building goals before the sales cycle starts. If you really want to get 20 sales, how many people do you have to have on your list? 500? 1000? More?

I know, this all might be very depressing to those who are just starting out, those who feel like list-building is akin to dental work, and those who just feel like it should be working by now.

I get it. But please don’t be depressed, take action. Re-prioritize. Set goals. And do it now. Don’t wait any longer or pretend you can half-ass this. Because you can’t.

Now, what I’m not saying is that everyone needs to build a 10,000 or 50,000 subscriber list. On the contrary, I believe you need to build a list that is appropriate to the type of business you run.

If you run a business focused on volume, where selling more means making more money and working less, you need to grow as big of a list as possible that is also focused, engaged, and ready to buy.

But if you run a business that is geared to 1:1 service, customized solutions, or commissioned work, you need to grow a list that supports one sale at a time, understanding that your kind of clients don’t necessarily jump when you “launch.” You’ll use your list to nurture leads and keep them warm until both of you are ready to work together.

Either way, a constant focus in any business is lead generation, ahem, list-building. Click to tweet!

And when I mentioned to Stephanie that I was working on this post, she asked me to address the question of “stalled” list growth. I think this is something every business will encounter. Things are going along swimmingly, maybe you’ve let success lull you into a dream world where everything is just “easy” now… and then you realize you don’t have any prospects. And your list is no bigger than the last time you made an offer.

So how do you jump-start your list growth? How do you attract new leads after a fallow period?

Of course, these answers work for jump-starting the start of a list, as well.

1) Attract the right people.

Consider the direction you’re taking your business. Are you looking for more of the same? (The answer may be “yes, please!” It’s not a trick question.) Are you moving from 1:1 services to scaled offers? Are you looking to shift the perception of your brand? Focus on a product you’ve been working on? Honing in on a new market segment?

Trust me, you don’t want anyone & everyone on your list. Even if your goal is scale, it just doesn’t make sense. Having the “wrong” people on your list skews your data, undermines your understanding of what your customers need from your business, and misdirects your marketing. Yes, the “wrong” people will unsubscribe. But if you’re too busy trying to please them, the “right” people will unsubscribe first.

If you’re using an incentive to attract prospects to your list, make sure that incentive is something people who want (and need) to pay for your services actually want. Taking that idea quite literally, I updated my own email list incentive 2 months ago to The Perspective Map. It’s actually the tool that my clients & I use most often, with the greatest impact, in our work together. Since I want more of the same clients, offering this tool as an optin incentive makes a lot of sense.

Since I introduced The Perspective Map as my incentive in July, I’ve added over 650 subscribers to my list. I know those people are the right people because the landing page for the Map is designed with their specific problems, specific goals, and specific perspective in mind. It’s kind of the point of the whole thing, really…

That means that when I re-launched my coaching program last month, I knew that 650 had not seen that offer. In addition to people who had been considering it from May, I could count on a certain percentage of new people being interested. The Perspective Map was designed to make the most impact on business owners who were right for this offer, too.

2) Get focused.

At this point, I hope you can see just how important list-building is to your business. Even if your goal isn’t volume, if instead you’re aiming for a steady stream of leads for more 1:1 or specialized services, list-building ensures that you can spend less time and energy on sales.

So is the focus of your website building your list? Do you have a way to focus traffic from interviews, media appearances, and in-person gigs onto your list? Is your call-to-action focused on the story that is growing your business?

No, I didn’t think so.

It takes surprisingly little to redirect the focus of your activities onto list-building. You just need to make the intention to do so.

Start by creating a landing page for your optin form. This is a page that’s one & only focus is getting people on your list. Whether you’re espousing the benefits of receiving your weekly emails or sharing what your prospects will learn in your free optin incentive, this page is designed to “sell” your list. It’s like a sales page where the only cost is an email address.

Therefore, it has a similar format. In a recent podcast with Derek Halpern, Mike Del Ponte shared a great framework for any sales letter. You can use this as a cheat sheet for creating this kind of page. He breaks it down into 4 P’s: Promise, Picture, Proof, Pitch.

Check out my email list landing page and you’ll see this basic framework in action. The Promise is in the headline; I suggest that you really can know exactly what your customers are thinking. I describe the Picture from both the before and the after side of things through a series of bullet points. I offer the proof that this is my “go-to tool,” that my work has been featured in a number of high-profile publications, and that a very satisfied customer had something super nice to say about it. And finally, the Pitch is the call-to-action in the optin form.

But I don’t stop at the landing page, the main “action area” of my website is a graphic that advertises my list. All of my bios have been rewritten to direct people here. And it’s the first thing I talk about when I get a chance to tell people where to find more of my ideas when I do an interview.

You might need to refocus the main action of your site on list-building by moving your optin form from the footer to the header or creating a feature area between your logo and the main content. But there is almost no good reason why making a big play for a prospects email address isn’t the best thing you can do.

3) Pay for leads.

Who pays for advertising in the age of social media?

I do.

I’m busy. I don’t like to work all day. I haven’t had the itch to do much in terms of guest posting, telesummits, or even networking lately. So I’ve been driving traffic to my email list landing page through paid advertising.

In the past, I’ve advertised (always free incentives, never paid products) on blogs that fit the audience I’m aiming to attract. But lately, I’ve been buying advertising at Facebook. First, to build up my new Facebook page (I’m late to the party). And second, to gain exposure for my email list incentive.

A hearty portion of the 650 subscribers I’ve added in the last eight weeks has been through this paid campaign.

There’s little point in paying for leads if you don’t have “Attract the right people,” and “Get focused,” down first. But once you do, paying for leads can free up your time, boost your list growth, and bring in the kind of prospects you need to keep your revenue streams humming.

It should also be noted that advertising and social media can work hand in hand. By making sure my optin incentive speaks to my Most Valued Customer and that it’s free training they’re going to want to talk about, I ensure a bigger return on investment through word-of-mouth. I also work in social sharing (like Click to Tweet) to the product page for my incentive.

Bonus: 4) Stick to one thing.

One of the best things you can do for keeping that list growing, getting people to talk about it, and continuing to get open & click rates that drive sales is to stick with one thing per email.

Often, marketers try to jam too much stuff into each email. That decreases the frequency with which they’re willing to send emails, de-incentivizes them toward list-building, and reduces the relative value of each email to their readers. That’s a recipe for disaster, my friends.

When my clients and students switch to one-thing-per-email, they are more excited about emailing their prospects, more focused on building their list, and their readers are happier with each email. And that’s a recipe for success.

As you might have noticed if you’re a subscriber, I send out each & every one of my blog posts as the main focus of the vast majority of my emails. Most of the time it’s the full text of the article and sometimes it’s a teaser or special intro with a link to the article. But the focus is always the article.

I often add a promotional block beneath the article for a workshop, a teleseminar, a program, or a product. I think of those as “reminders,” not the core of my sales process.

When I’m ready to really sell something, I send out a dedicated email.

As an aside, another problem I see with “failed” launches is that the business owner never sent dedicated sales emails to their prospects. You can’t expect to sell if no one knows you have something for sale.

What will you do today?

I trust I’ve made the case for making list-building one of your chief priorities. It’s time to stop saying it’s on your list and time to start doing something about it.

What will you do today to jumpstart your list growth? Tell me in the comments.

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