Lesson Learned: Why I’m NOT Building an Email List

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Pop-ups, content upgrades, subscriber “freemiums”.  All the tools of building an email list.  Every article on growing your blog or online business will remind you how important it is to build a list of subscribers.  It’s the one marketing channel that you have complete control over (if you ignore the pesky problem of email services ditching your emails into spam and Promotions folders – yea, we’re talking about you, Google!).

4 Ways to build an engaged community (who just happen to give you their email addresses)I admit that I’ve read a lot of list building posts, watched some webinars and even invested in a course from a top-notch list-building expert.  And some of the strategies have actually worked to increase my subscribers.  My email list has tripled in three months.

But sometimes, those strategies feel … well …  slimy and impersonal.  As I see those notifications roll in and look at the email addresses, I wonder who the people are behind them.

Hey, momof3boys …. how old are those three guys and how do you keep up with them?  My one boy almost caused me to lose my mind!

Yooooo hoooo….. runsassyfrog!  There has to be a great story behind that email address and I’m dying to know what it is!

Big shout out to luvthosegators!  Me too!  Chomp Chomp!

What good is it to build a faceless list of email addresses and not have any connection with them?  Not know if anything you say matters or is helpful or at least brings a smile on a gloomy day?

That’s why I’ve decided to quit focusing on building an email list.  Instead, I’m focused on finding my tribe … building a community of like-minded women who have big dreams, open hearts and a sincere belief that Jesus needs to be included in every part of their business or ministry.  Women like me.

God has given us the example of knowing our community.  If it was important to Him, it needs to be important to me, too.  I don’t ever want to lose sight of the notion that each person who does me the honor of reading anything I write is special and precious.  She deserves to be known and served.

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  Isaiah 43:1 (ESV)

I’m not ignorant of the fact that there are many practical reasons to have an email list.  In my case, I need a way to market my services, webinars and ecourses.  You may be trying to attract the attention of a publisher or impress a potential sponsor.

So if we must build an email list, how do we do it in a way that is authentic and attracts an engaged community?  Building a list is one thing … keeping them on the list can be just as hard.

Here are my top four ways to build an engaged community (who also just happen to share their email addresses with you)

1.  Make a popup worth the interruption

Yes, you need to be using some kind of pop-up or slide-in email collector … you don’t really think people are going to scroll back up to the top of your side bar to subscribe, do you?

But pop-ups can be irritating to your readers.  They feel assaulted as soon as they land on your site, or just when they get to the good part of a post, it jumps up in front of them, distracting them from your main point.  So if you are going to cause that kind of interruption, it better be worth it.

Be sure your pop-up says more than just “Join My Newsletter”. Create an awesome freebie for your subscribers and describe it in glowing terms, so they know they are getting something fabulous in return for giving you their email address. Include a picture of the freebie in the pop-up.

How I know this works –  The average conversion rate for pop-ups is 3-5%.  My pop-up that describes the list of Christian blog post ideas converts at 7 – 8%.

2.  Make your newsletter engaging and helpful.

I know it is so easy to set your newsletter up on an RSS feed and let MailChimp do all the work for you.  But really … if all you are doing is sending them the same blog post they can see on your site, why would they bother to subscribe or stay subscribed?  Most of them follow your social media and know when you have a new post.

To make your subscribers excited when they see your email land in their inbox, here are some things you can include:

  • a personal note from you
  • links to your last three or four posts in case they missed them
  • links or promos to other bloggers you love, or guest posts you’ve written for other sites
  • the three best things you saw on Pinterest this week

How I know this works: I’ve worked hard the last few months at pumping the value into my newsletter.  Most experts say an open rate of 20% is about average, 30% is great and you can expect those percentages to drop as your list grows larger.   The open rate on my newsletter the last month has been pretty steady 30 – 35%.

Need more amazing ideas for your newsletter?  Download 15 of them right here!
[email-download download_id=”1762″ contact_form_id=”716″]

3.  Giveaways

Now this is one that you have to do the right way if you want subscribers who are going to stick around and become engaged members of your community.

The right way:

  • collaborating with other bloggers in the same or complementary niche – you can share the cost of the prize and offer something really nice, so lots of people will want to enter your giveaway
  • offer something that is of value specifically to your target community
  • extra entries for people who help promote the giveaway … more reach, more entries!

The wrong way:

  • Big cash, PayPal or gift card giveaways that are not targeted to your audience  – you will get a lot of subscribers, but they are only in it for the giveaway and will unsubscribe in short order.
  • asking for Facebook page Likes for entries – this violates the FB terms of service and can get your Facebook page shut down!

How I know this works – In December, I did two Paypal giveaways with large groups of bloggers. I gained about 80 subscribers, but 15% of them have since unsubscribed. Of the ones that are still subscribers, 25% have never opened any of emails.

In January, during my New Year, New Thing series, I offered seven giveaways specifically tied to the posts in the series.  I gained about 100 subscribers during the month.  Only 2% of them have since unsubscribed and only 15% have never opened any of my emails.

4.  Offer a challenge related to your content.

This is a great option, especially if you don’t have a product or service to sell. Create a 5 or 10 day challenge related to your content.  Deliver it in a series of emails to a special list and create a private Facebook group for support and accountability during the challenge.  Everybody loves a challenge and they will sign up for something with a short duration that benefits them.

How I know this works: My friend Rachel Britton is passionate about prayer and she hosts the most amazing prayer challenges. She has had over 200 people participate in her three prayer challenges so far and is growing an engaged  Facebook group of prayer warriors.

Keeping an email list may be a necessary part of growing an online ministry or business, but it doesn’t have to be only about the numbers.  As we keep the people first, offering information and support that is valuable to them, we will gain a loyal community of readers and friends. That is so much better than just a list of email addresses … even really cool ones like Hiscreation4life!


Wanna be part of my people? I’d love to get to know you!


How are you building community in your online business or ministry?  Do any of these ideas sound like something you want to try?

16 thoughts on “Lesson Learned: Why I’m NOT Building an Email List”

  1. Great information. I had been looking into email lists and reading up, but I love your information. As usual, you are on top of things.

    I learn so much from your posts. You are awesome!!!

  2. I love your thoughts on this! Engaging with your readers is so important, and while having an email list isn’t a bad thing at all, it can be a distraction, and like you said impersonal, if you’re just copying and pasting and not getting to know your subscribers. Thank you for sharing! Good read 🙂

  3. Great ideas for building community! I write a monthly newsletter, and I don’t use pop-up ads. I just focus on good content. I’m going to try to implement some of your suggestions. Thanks so much!

    • Be sure to come back and let me know how it goes, Marla! We want to know what’s working for other people Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Christa, such valuable and excellent advice given with your wonderful enthusiasm. Thanks for the mention about my challenges. I love doing them and to encourage your readers the open rate for my recent challenge is in the 50% and some days higher. It’s great when I’m providing value to my readers.

    • Your challenges are awesome, Rachel. They have taken my prayer life to a deeper level. Thank you for sharing your own Lessons Learned!

    • Oh Debbie, you are just too sweet! I honestly don’t know a lot … I’m still learning about this online stuff. But I’m more than happy to share what I’m learning as I go.

  5. How timely was this post for me! We are in the beginning stages of building an online ministry and was just Googling ways to increase our current email subscriber list. We are preparing to announce our next phase of the ministry and want to make sure the announcement reaches more than the subscribers we currently have. Your link was the first link I hit! 🙂 I am so thankful that you reminded me, it’s not about the numbers, it’s about who we reach in a meaningful way. Love it and so thankful for it! God is good!

  6. I’m super new to the Christian blogging game and am struggling with what I should be investing my time and energy into. I know the #1 priority is good content, so I’m consistently working on that and slowly looking into ways to grow my traffic and monetize my blog. Your posts have been so helpful and insightful! I want to make sure I honor God with my blog and with the efforts I put into producing it, and stumbling across your blog has been a wonderful thing. I love the idea of creating a challenge since I don’t have a product to market yet, and will definitely try this soon. Thanks Crista!

  7. This is so timely. Just this week I made an appointment for myself on my calendar to re-evaluate the email list thing. I’ve read the same things you reference re: how to increase your audience and grow your online influence. But the lack of authenticity, the unsolicited requests, etc. really bother me. As a follower of Jesus, I want to be faithful to Him and build genuine relationships EVEN AS I grow my business. Those two things should not be separate. I’ve saved this post and will refer to it again later. Thank you for this refreshing perspective!

    • So glad it was helpful, Jana. It’s a hard thing we have to balance, but it is definitely possible to build an audience in an authentic, graceful way.


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