You hear that the “email list is the lifeblood of your online business.”
When you (email) launch a product, the sales come through your list. When you write a book, hammering your email list is how you get to the top of the Amazon Best Sellers list for a category or subcategory for some arbitrary period of time, it’s your agreed upon direct connection with your existing audience.
How can that not be the most important thing?
When you imagine a world in which you could only keep your website or your email list, it would be hard to imagine choosing your website.
But that’s because you’ve placed the value on your email list. Let me run through some cons for email list and pros for website to illustrate my point.
Email list value decays over time
The first 30 days someone is on your list is your best chance at converting them into a customer or client. After that it rapidly drops to being very unlikely they will ever buy from you.
Given that, calculate the value of your email list as the number of new subscriptions you received in the last month multiplied by your average order value or customer lifetime value multiplied by 12 months. That is the approximate value of your email list.
The dollar value of your email list is easily calculated (and low)
Related to the above point, there is a clear upper limit to the value of your email list. Sure you can start selling more. You can even get better at selling. You can double your list size with a ted talk or big podcast interview. But you always know about how much your email list is worth and growing that value is incremental, constant, and labor intensive.
Maybe your annual subscriber value goes from $6 to $8 from this year to next, that’s great, a 20% increase! But it’s still linear and you will quickly find a ceiling.
How many email lists sell for six or seven figures? I have not heard of one instance. And yet I hear about sites being sold for six or more figures all the time.
Email lists are a cash-in-hand proposition
You get busy or sick or depressed and stop emailing for six months and it’s like not taking care of a leaky roof on a property you own for a few years.
Maybe a better analogy is owning a food cart. What happens with you stop showing up at the same spot everyday selling the same bacon egg and cheese?
The fall out, pruning your list for dead emails, dealing with unsubscribes, and trying to revitalize it – not fun. Especially when the effort to grow that list was like a marathon.
Email list audience interests and your interests inevitably diverge
So is life. I would be bored out of my mind hanging out with my childhood best friend. I don’t care about cars and he doesn’t care about computers.
You advance in your thinking, often rapidly, while your audience moves much more slowly. Change takes time, its very easy to get ahead of them or “off track” at least in the sense of being aligned with their interests.
It’s also easy for your interests to change. Guess what happens if your new interests don’t jive with the email list you built on the promise of sharing insights on some other interest?
You break the contract.
You start over or worse, you start subjecting them to code snippets of CQL queries you’re using to tinker with graph algorithms.
Subscriber value goes down as list size goes up
I’m trying to think of analogy. It’s like the opposite of network effects or economies of scale. It would be as if every new piece of real estate you bought negatively affected the value for all your other properties.
Get really big and popular – 200k email list – and watch how your team falls over each other to try to mobilize that list to monetary action. Watch how you shy away from specificity and nuance and start operating more like Oprah trying to serve the whole list. Watch how the average price of your offers drops as you need to lower and discount to get non-engaged subscribers off the fence.
Fine, yes, all “good problems to have,” but it doesn’t change the fact that complexity – segmentation, offers, analysis, etc., balloons as your email list size grows.
Email list activity is synchronous, one to many
There are plenty of people that will tell you you can send as many emails as you want. That the unsubs would never have bought anyway. And I agree, to a point.
But you can’t just 10x the number of emails you are sending. At any moment you are having just one conversation at a time. It is on a one to many level but it is nonetheless one conversation. How relevant can it be to a list of people you collected over x years under y different conditions and z different points in their lives?
I’m not saying it can’t be or that there aren’t universal truths. I’m just saying it’s harder.
The reverse of these cons to email lists, with one or two exceptions is the pros of your website as your (potentially) most valuable asset.
I hope you will think about your website completely differently. Not as a business card or a garage for your piles of content. Not as a press kit with a bio and list of past engagements, but as an appreciating asset with leverage that can snowball.
One where you can have many meaningful one to one conversations with an array of people when they are just in the moments, those situations, you created a given piece of content for.