Small List? 5 ways to standout + make more money

Updated: May 11

Feel like you're sending emails and it's just crickets? Use these 5 tips with your small list to create a deeper connection and get more engagement.

This is a common question. And it’s my least favorite one: “How many people are on your list?”

This came up when I was chatting with a new friend at a conference. I presented on email marketing and afterwards, this new friend pulled me aside.

He asked “I’ve got 500 on my that good?”

I wanted to encourage him so told him right away it was great. And it is. Ultimately, momentum and action are more important than anything else so I will always tell you to just keep going. 30 is great. 50 is great. A subscriber count of 1 is always better than never starting.

But here’s the reality: the volume itself tells you nothing. It’s the quality of your subscribers that matter. If you've built a list of 500 random people, then a list of 100 hot leads is a much better size.

You can be more successful with a list of 300 engaged subscribers than 3,000 inactive ones. It all boils down to how connected your subscribers are to you. Do they feel a part of your movement, are they a part of your mission?

Our culture is obsessed with growth. In fact, nearly every single email workshop and freebie I see promoted focuses on growing your list, and growing it fast. Words like “rapidly” and “fast track” are common.

I encourage you to embrace where you’re at.

Yes, you should absolutely focus on growing your list, but take note of the people already there. This means loving on your 50 followers on social media and your 10 email subscribers. This means not obsessing about seeing your follower count tick up everyday or *gasp* losing a follower, but instead focus on taking care of what you have. If you do this, the rest will follow.

It all starts with being authentic and creating a solid connection. If you take time to listen in the beginning, you’ll learn what products to pursue, what content is resonating, and likely discover your niche.

I know it can be discouraging in the beginning when you have a small list and feel like it’s just crickets. You have to learn your email tool. It takes time to write your emails and get them sent out. You hit send and it can feel like nothing happened, whereas on social media you get instant gratification by likes and comments.

But, if you keep at it over time you’ll build a stronger following combining social media AND email.

Here are some tips to help you while your building a list and how to celebrate your subscribers while you're starting out.

1. Don’t start your automation (yet)

If you're just starting out, let things percolate a bit. If you power through your entire automation before you even launch your list, you’ll focus on what you “think” you should send, and you’ll set it, and forget it.

What you “think” your subscribers want will be very different from what they show you they want. You’ll miss out on some powerful insights.

You only need one email to launch: a Welcome email.

Once your Welcome email is set up, your goal should be to email your subscribers every 2 weeks, or if you feel pretty gangster and can commit to it, once a week.

In these weekly or bi-weekly emails, your goal should be to see what resonates with your audience. What type of content are they opening and even more telling -- what emails they are replying to.

When you get a reply, you know you’re really hitting a cord. They trust you enough to ask for help, or tell you their opinion. Or they like you enough to take the time to reply.

Which leads me to #2, a magical little thing you should be doing.

2. Ask for replies

I remember the first time I got an email asking me to do this. It was from Ramit Sethi, one of my favorite entrepreneurs, who likely doesn’t have time to reply, but the fact that he made me FEEL like I was a person on the other end is all that mattered.

THAT’S where the gold is. When someone takes the time to reply back to you, you know you’ve created a solid connection.

Once your list grows big (if that’s your goal), you won’t have the luxury of responding to every email you get, or creating personalized content for special people on your list.

Do it now while you’ve got a smaller list and you’ll learn so dang much. Replies will give you insight into what pain points are, what problems are people having, what mental barriers are holding them back.

The bonus of getting replies -- there’s your future content. After a few weeks, you’ll have a much better idea of what you should include in your automation.

3. Use Plain text

Forget all the fancy graphics and spending time creating images. Just use plain text.

Your emails will inbox better (heavy graphics often land you in the Gmail promotions tab) and more importantly, they read like they were sent directly from you vs. feeling automated and corporate.

You’ll notice I don’t even include my logo in my emails.

There ARE times where graphics should be incorporated, such as when you’re launching a new product or a photo helps tell your story.

On a day to day basis, plain text is the way to go. You just want to be sure you use formatting to your advantage.

For instance, you should bold any important points.

Even better, you can really emphasize a point with italics and bold font.

If you’ve got a few points to make, be sure to use bullets or numbers. Like this:

  • The first point is that it’s easier for people to skim

  • It feels less heavy than a big, long paragraph

  • We can look at it and visually we know right away it’s a short list to take note of

Since you won’t have images to click on (which is what we’re all trained to do), make sure your Call To Action (CTA) is on its own line. People are reading on their phones and you need to make it easy for them.

The point is, plain text feels human. Which leads to tip #4.

4. Send a personal video

Adding video does a few incredible things with your small list.

First, it lets your subscribers see your face, and this automatically makes you more human to them and lets them get to know you. The more human you are, the more they trust you.

They will remember you are a real person on the other side, not a robot.

Second, it allows you to create a highly personalized experience. Can you imagine if you replied to someone you respected, and they took the time to respond back to you with a personalized video? Oh my gosh, if Ramit ever sent me a personal video I just might die.

Here are a few situations where video will add a ton of value:

  • You’re selling a high end product and want to follow up with a hot lead

  • You held a webinar and want to follow up with a few key attendees who facilitated great conversation or asked questions

  • You’re launching a high dollar product and someone has a question

  • Your subscriber emailed you asking for help and you want to give them a generous answer back

  • Someone just bought from you and you want to knock their socks off with a personal thank you

Here are a couple of tools to look at for creating video:

  1. Bonjoro: I tested this out’s free and it was ok. You can connect your email tool to import your subscribers and record video straight from their tool, plus email it to your subscribers directly out of Bonjoro. The first test I did went to my husband’s spam folder. There ARE steps where you can connect your own domain and that would likely help deliverability.

  2. Loom - free and easy to use. You can record your screen, your camera or a combination of the two. This is what I ended up using when I scrapped Bonjoro.

  3. BombBomb - looks amazing and I've heard great things about this tool. I haven’t tried it, but it's on my tool “wish list”. It’s about $49/month.

Once you’ve got your video recorded, you can send the link to your subscriber with a quick note, something like “hey, I recorded you a video”.

5. Include Animated Gifs or Memes

Similar to video, this is another great tool that immediately reads “human” to your subscribers. You can include your sense of humor and have more of a laid back feel, if that’s your jam.

My favorite website to make them is

When you record a personal video for someone, create a quick animated gif from the video and pop it into your email for them to click on. Your subscriber immediately sees your face and they’ll be so darn curious, clicking is irresistible.

One of my favorite emails was about overcoming failure and had 7 different hilarious gifs of cats falling off fridges and toilets.

Here's a gif I made to welcome Jason Leenart's podcast listeners (he's known for loving whiskey).

Final thoughts

The best thing you can do in the beginning is to try a lot of different things. Jump in, get familiar with your tool and write as much as you can.

I know it feels safe to follow someone else's predetermined formula for your email automation. In fact, I met with a client this week and she asked me if I could give her an exact lead funnel. She’s been in business for nearly 25 years, so my advice to her was to think about her lead to conversion time. What makes sense for her audience? Is it a quick decision or does it take more education and involvement.

No one knows your audience better than you do.

Lastly, think of your email as an extension of your social media. When you make a post, you want likes and comments. These immediately tell you what’s resonating. Likes are great, but the comments are gold.

It’s the same with email. It shouldn’t be a one-way conversation but you should shoot for comments. Encourage replies. Encourage interaction. It’s quick and easy for someone to reply on social media, but when they take the time to reply via email -- you’ve got gold.