Two people buy fixer-upper homes. Both homes are in rough condition. In one of the bedrooms, each home has several enormous holes in the drywall around the closet.

If Ben decides to patch the holes, while Leslie decides to pull the drywall off the 8' of wall and replace it, who's likely to be done faster with the more seamless job?

Reading that over, it sounds like those old math word problems, doesn't it ;-). In my experience, it's Leslie. Most people can't patch a hole in drywall worth beans, so when they patch several large holes, the wall nearly always looks lumpy; it's almost always easier to start from scratch. Sure, it seems like it'd be easier to work on the holes one at a time, but that's very seldom the case.

What on earth does a home improvement project have to do with your newsletter?

Think of the subscribers you add weekly as a sort of patch--they come in to plug up the holes left by unsubscribers and by people who haven't unsubscribed, but who have quit reading. You can see where they come in compared to your other readers – there's that adjustment period.

Usually it works. The old subscribers leave, the new subscribers come in, and things wind up pretty well level.

But, over time, your list becomes like an over-patched wall. Lumpy. Uneven. And showing definite signs of wear and tear.

And that's a sign it's time to undergo a major rehab project.

How do you know it's time? Look for these five signs:

  1. You're working too hard on your list maintenance.
  2. You're not getting enough response, respective to your list size (expect to hear from about 2-10% of your readers on any one issue).
  3. You've been getting more emailed unsubscribe requests than usual (as opposed to people just using a link, if you offer it, to unsubscribe themselves).
  4. You've noticed a lot of email addresses on your list that don't have other information you've asked for (or that contain obviously bogus information).
  5. You just aren't feeling motivated and inspired when you write to your list--and you know it's time for a "spring cleaning."

If you've noticed any of these signs with your list, consider a full scale rehab of your newsletter list.

How do you clean up your email list?

Step One : Reconfirm your current subscribers. Simply send an email to your current readers saying that you need them to follow some instructions in order to confirm they would like to continue receiving your newsletter. Be clear that if they do not follow those instructions they will be removed. Give them a timeline, and lots of clear guidance on what they need to do. Don't offer them anything else in this email and don't send it as a regular issue--otherwise you'll risk readers missing out. It's likely that at least 50% of your subscribers won't join you on the new list, but the reduction will be worth it.

Step Two : Send out one reminder invite. Yep, just one. You don't want to be annoying, but even more important, you don't want to "coerce" people onto your list. This new list will be full of people who are there 100% voluntarily. People who *want* to read what you have to say. Don't clutter that up with people who weren't sure, but "didn't want to hurt your feelings."

Step Three : Tell your list how much it's shrunk and how they can help you grow it back. Perhaps offer them a great freebie for referring the newsletter to several friends. By being up front with your readers about your desire to have more subscribers, you'll find they become powerful allies.

Step Four : Plan a massive campaign. Dedicate one full month to taking one action a day to growing your list. You don't have to spend a ton of time on this (or any time at all, actually). Submitting articles, setting up Joint Ventures, and offering teleclasses are all ways that take relatively little time, but have big payoffs in terms of the number of new subscribers you may attract.

Step Five : Bask in your clean list. This is a group of people who are all excited about what you have to say, looking forward to their next issue. They're going to be extra responsive, supportive, and fun to work with. So, don't spend a lot of time thinking about all those people who aren't with you any longer. Rather, focus on all the people who elected to stay.

It sounds daunting, scary, and even, perhaps self-destructive. After all, don't all the other marketing gurus talk about how crucial the size of your list is?!

This advice contradicts what you've probably heard so ofte . And I don't know about you, but I know myself, that I'd much rather write a letter to someone I know will read it than write 1000 letters that will wind up in the trash. And with the *larger* list sizes, that's exactly what happens. Sure, it may be more profitable, but it's also (usually) a lot more work. And, for most businesses, a list of 5000 dedicated readers can provide far more *profits* than 100,000 sometimes-readers.

So, if you've been eyeing that newsletter list of yours and it seems like things are getting pretty lumpy, perhaps it's time to rip everything out and start from scratch. So, pull out those gloves, and let's get to work!

Copyright 2006, Jessica Albon. 
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