Here's what happened.

In September of 2018, I decided to run an email experiment. I've been wanting to write about it, at 30 days, 60 days, and so on.

That never happened. It's May, 2019, and I'm ready to share the results.

You may remember when I wrote about my angst with email lists:

But, having learned some wisdom over the years (turns out I'm NOT right about everything all the time,) what if I was wrong about this too?

I wanted to see if I could maintain a relationship with various authors strictly through their email lists. I couldn't before and had no desire to.

Many authors will tell you the money is in the list. They will tell you that if you ever hope to be successful and gain your time-freedom back through a residual income of some sort, the key is to have an email list.

Some business owners and authors have even called the email list an "asset."

Multiple individuals and other sources, will tell you that you're doomed if you don't have one. After all this time, I still find I have inward resistance to building one or having one for myself. It's been a year or so since I've really wrestled with the idea.

That's telling.

Eight months after starting this experiment, I've gained some interesting insights into this world of email list having, owning, building, curating, and everything else involved in maintaining one.

Here's how I did it:

  1. I set up an entirely new email address, just for this experiment. I didn't want my already over crowded personal inbox to implode under the gravitational force of unpredictable "relationship building."
  2. I set up email filters and rules for each new author I subscribed to. The email address I subscribed to was then routed to an individual folder I created for it, giving me a quick glance any time I logged in, to see how many emails the authors were sending.
  3. I subscribed to 17 different authors for whatever reason, at that time, I was genuinely interested in "following."
  4. Then I waited.

Here's what I found in no particular order:

  • Out of 17 different authors, two of them never sent me anything.
  • Out of all the emails I've received, combined, one person was responsible for sending 50% of them. This person was and still is sending an average of three emails a day.
  • I only logged in to see the numbers periodically. I found that I never really read the emails (ever really) unless a subject line jumped out at me. Even then, the subject line would only "jump out at me" if the author found a way to categorize their emails in my inbox "for me." (I'll explain later). Only ONE person did this successfully.
  • More often than not, when a subject line did jump out at me, it was eluding to the fact that the email contained an exact, actionable solution to my problem at that moment. Intrigued, I would click on it, as I would hope that out of the entire mess, that one email might be useful. More often than not — it was just a SALES PROMOTION – with NO SOLUTION AT ALL. I began to distrust the author.
  • After eight months, I only could remember who two of the authors were because I had build an "emotional connection" with them. I had built this emotional connection with them through their articles, their vulnerability, and willingness to interact with their readers on various blog platforms— not their email lists!
  • After eight months, I could only remember two more in addition to those two, because of their branding on various sites and their popularity in the blogging world. Even now, only one of them I remember what her "product" is. Kind of.
  • Even if I subscribed for a "free" something (book, course, tip list, .pdf) I thought was "essential" to my growth or problem solving at the time – I never actually read through them later on. The only ONE I did end up reading is because the problem was extremely painful at that time and I was severely invested in making that pain go away. Everything else was just "paced" and done when it became a priority. Even when the other things became a priority, I still never went back to take their course or open the attachments I signed up for. Real life "have-to's" would often prevent this.
  • Some authors dutifully "prune" their email lists. On some of them, I stopped receiving emails after 90 days and one after six months.
  • Some only sent an email campaign just for the product or free class I had signed up for. There were no communications after that.
  • One person only sent me one email. Ever.
  • I learned which "style" of subject lines I found myself more attracted to. The click-bait type and the "urgent" type, and anything else that told me what I "should be" doing, just left me turned off completely. The majority of the subject lines were like this for the majority of the authors that were sending me emails. Also, ones that included emojis of any kind were ignored entirely.

My thoughts:

The woman who sends 3 emails a day

I'm genuinely concerned about the one individual who sends an average of three emails a day. This particular person, although she means well, she totally believes in her product, and English is her first language – her emails are disjointed.

Her writing is very, very, very hard to follow. Grammar rules don't seem to exist, and punctuation is often lacking. She uses a hard "enter" to break up complete sentences on a regular basis!

But beyond that - if you're not someone I truly love, or there's a bonafide actual emergency, if you're contacting me three times a day, every day, for eight months straight in real life? We can't be friends anymore – really after the first few days of this. (Creepy!)

Not. Healthy.

If there's no more communication beyond what I signed up for, what is the real motivation for having an email list?

I have to wonder, if you're really wanting to "maintain" that relationship with your reader and your subscribers, why you weren't at least trying to touch bases after that. Was your motivation for having an email list just to see if they were interested in your product?

It seems that way. For all those who tout keeping a "relationship" with your reader, you kinda have to communicate with the other person (not just at them) in order to have a relationship.

Relationships are a two-way street.

A lot of the emails from a lot of the authors seem scripted, unnatural, and had the tone of "I'm really only here to sell you something." They weren't really interested in having an actual relationship. They only wanted you to really interact with them if you were interested in lining their pockets somehow.

It was sales before service and sincerity.

The exception to this?

Those that were truly interested in extending the emotional relationship beyond their articles and blog posts, and continuing it through their email lists.

The two people I had developed an "emotional connection" with prior to subscribing to their email lists, who I remembered after eight months? In their email lists, they were:

  • interested in YOU as a person: how you were doing, what challenges you were actually experiencing, how they could genuinely help. (The random emails I opened and looked through showed this consistently.)
  • genuinely interested in helping and serving you. You can't fake that!
  • experimenting with ways to make their email lists fun. Included were invitations to participate in "no-pressure" exercises, contests, and personal skills building practice sessions.
  • naturally creating a  "community" where email subscribers could talk to each other on an alternate platform, where they could talk about the issues being discussed in the content, and celebrate their individual successes to the above mentioned "fun."

Catching up on significant amounts of "unread" email felt overwhelming.

So I didn't do it. I knew that most of these emails would be sales-like, subject lines would ooze click-bait and be creating a false sense of urgency. After checking in once in a while, after the first month, and scanning through the subject lines, and opening a few here and there, these suspicions were confirmed.

Why, as a busy reader, should I have to even sort through any of that? How does that actually "help" me as a subscriber?

It doesn't.

For the sake of the experiment, I kept looking over them to pick up patterns, randomly open things I thought would be useful, and so forth. Most of it was painful and disappointing.

The patterns spoke for themselves.

What I wouldn't do:

  • No: emoticons. Have you ever checked your spam folder lately? It's riddled with subject lines using emoticons or other symbols in the subject line. Like ads on a web page – I don't even see them anymore.
  • No: click-bait. I want to respect my reader's intelligence. I don't need to prey on their worst emotions. Pretty much 94% (a number I felt like picking out of the air because it "feels right") of the rest of the marketing world does this to them anyway.
  • No: Half promises of solutions. If a subject line promises to solve a problem, the email will contain the solution. Full stop. By not doing this, the authors just wasted my time and subtracted points on my respect-o-meter for them.

What I would do:

Sort the email list for the reader! This was my favorite and if I had to do this, this is the pattern I would follow or a cadence something similar to this, for the subject lines:

  • [New Post]: New post headline
  • [Name of Challenge, Challenge #XX]: Challenge headline
  • [Newsletter: Date]: Newsletter headline
  • [Rant:] Topic of Rant in three words or less
  • [Availability Notice]: Applicable dates (used for letting readers know when there would be delays in responding to emails or when a new product was coming out, or an old one coming back.)
  • [Product Recommendations] Name of Product
  • [Your Opinion]: Topic or question (used to let the reader know this email specifically somewhere for some reason is asking for their feedback.)

Now as the reader, I can sort their email folder alphabetically and I can quickly find the emails I'm interested in RIGHT NOW. That is super helpful. And you'd think that by purposely letting your reader know which emails contains sales info specifically – readers would ignore that, that you might make less sales right?

I would argue that by disclosing that upfront, you're showing your reader, you're respecting their time, their intelligence, and the fact that they can choose to read about it or not.

I would say that by doing this, you're building trust and respect from your reader.

I know that if someone I built an emotional connection with (and they maintained it in their email list) was savvy enough to do this – I would be more likely to open those product promotion emails, where as before, I would have ignored them entirely.

Why? Because the author was proving to me they respect my time and aren't trying to "grab my attention" with every single email they send. They weren't "forcing" it on me. I didn't have guess, get my hopes up about their email, and then be disappointed when it turned out to be click-bait (like the majority of authors and companies are doing).

Final thoughts:

If I don't have the money to pay for an email list, AND I don't have the extra 20 hours a week to create campaigns, respond to emails, etc...(in addition to 20 hours a week for blogging, and blog promotion. Wait. What if you work full-time and insist in sleeping 7-8 hours a night, exercising on a regular basis, eating healthy, insist on staying sane, have to run your daily life alone with no spouse, significant other, or friends and family to pick up the slack, and don't have the money to hire someone to do it for you?) – I probably shouldn't have an email list.

The only way to have an "authentic" relationship with the reader through email, is to foster that relationship in a genuine way, every step of the way, where the relationship is a two way street. (Not just as long as the reader is interested in lining your pockets).

I'm grateful that I learned a few things:

  1. It is possible to do this - if done right.
  2. You can't fake it: sincerity and service before sales.
  3. To make the email list profitable and effective for you or your brand, you have to be able to devote to it and keep it up, or it backfires. Without the money or the support system to do this, you can't do it well.
  4. Technically YOU CAN start your email list right now, if you want to be like those two never even sent one email the entire time.
  5. This experiment confirmed, I personally, am not able to build a relationship with authors just through an email list alone. At least I wasn't wrong about that for myself, even though I was open to being proven wrong.

Will I finally get an email list?

Right now? No. If I begin collecting email addresses, I want to be able to use it for good, to cultivate it, help it grow, and make it useful for both me and the reader. Without additional funds or outside physical support, it's not going to happen.

I'm good, for now, just having my website and periodically sharing the content when I think it's important. Life is always unfolding. None of us can fully predict the future.

In the future, however, if this does become a viable thing, I'd want to be able to give to those who would want to subscribe to my content, the very thing I would want out of an email list.

Only time will tell.