"Did You Know I Lead a Cult?"
Someone told me recently that, measured by the degree of their
loyalty, my ezine readers are almost a "cult!" After thinking
it over, I had to agree - to a point. I hardly think any of
them will drink poisoned Kool-Aid cocktails for me, but they
ARE loyal. And, since they are, they buy.
How many times have we read it? "The money is in the list."
And, it's true.
Online marketers who publish ezines can testify: the days they
get the most sales are the day they publish, and the following
day. So, of course, the money is in the list.
Based on that, it seems logical for would-be marketers to build
a list. We read article after article on building huge lists.
Numerous ebooks have been written on the subject.
Unfortunately, that isn't the whole answer.
You may also have heard that it's better to have a small,
responsive list than a list of, say, 50 to 100 thousand
unresponsive people. That is the greater truth! Going through
hours, days, weeks, months, even years of gathering subscribers who will never read
your ezine is an exercise in futility.
Now, How Did I Build This "Cult?"
At first, I didn't know how it happened. I did know I hadn't
done anything deliberately to bring it about. So, I started
re-reading months of feed-back to see what my subscribers were
really saying. In reading between the lines, I was able to see
a pattern and figure it out.
Realize that this is not a new list. I started my first ezine
in February of 1999, and it never hit 10,000 subscribers.
Doesn't sound very successful, does it?
Part of that is because, every couple of years, I "clean" the list. I ask everyone to reconfirm their subscription. That causes everyone who hasn't been reading to get lost.
Yet, I still have some people on that list who have been there
since the beginning - and they read the ezine too! Not only
that, all I have to do is give a personal recommendation for
something, and BANG! If they need it, or want it, and can
afford it, they buy it.
How did it happen? Trial and error. Since I'm not big on
listening to the "gurus," I do everything by trial and error.
Lots of error. And, since I am not a guru, maybe I can just
give you some ideas.
If I had it all to do over, I would do these things from the
beginning. This all happened over time. My topics below may
say what you "should" do. But, I'm going to tell you my own
experience. Then, you can decide what might work for you.
Be Careful Where You Get Your Subs
When I started, I did submit my ezine to every ezine directory
I could find. That was a good thing and, although I don't do
it anymore, I still recommend it. I'm still getting
subscribers from those directories for an ezine I changed the
name of years ago.
Why don't I do it now? Because it's time consuming, and I
don't have that kind of time anymore.
I tried buying subscribers from one of the sites that takes
subscriptions for you, and sends you a list. Forget that!
Once was enough!
Half the time, those people didn't even remember subscribing.
I'm also convinced that some of them didn't subscribe, since I
got bogus email addresses, even though these were supposed to
be confirmed requests.
The rest weren't all that interested. They probably subscribed
to a bazillion ezines from that site and found themselves on
overload. Watching the number of unsubscribes from that group
told me they simply weren't that interested in what I had to
offer. Certainly not worth what I paid to get them.
At some point, I began writing articles and sending them to
other publishers. I asked them to use a resource box with a
subscribe link to my ezine. That worked big time.
However, my articles weren't the "norm." No bread and butter
there! I took a stand! I had opinions! Even if it was a "How
To …" article, I took the time to add commentary. I let people
know how I felt about things.
My articles had a quality that allowed the reader to get a feel
for my over-all point of view. The articles clearly showed my
writing personality. Those who subscribed to my ezine because
they liked an article already knew there was something about me
Those who hated my opinionated style didn't subscribe. So, I
didn't have to deal with them canceling later. Which brings us
Don't Be Intimidated
In the beginning, I was terrified of my subscribers. Losing
one was a fate worse than death. Not to mention it hurt my
feelings. Yes - it truly did! And, having one chew me out
would nearly put me in the corner, in the fetal position.
Upon reflection, I believe this was because I worked so hard to
get them in the first place. Losing one almost seemed like
failure. And, why I was so invested in having every one of
them love me is beyond my comprehension now.
I decided I needed to toughen up. I did. Now, I can let them
depart without feeling sick. Some people just annoy me; I'm
sure I must annoy just as many of them. I've even been known
to suggest that anyone who doesn't like the way I do things,
should unsubscribe. Gets rid of the dead wood.
You Gotta Have a Gimmick
Understand this was before I started sending articles to
publishers. I realized I needed to establish a style. I
didn't want to "make one up." But, years in the entertainment
business had taught me: "You gotta have a gimmick" if you want
to get attention.
Gimmicks shouldn't be phony. I'd never have been able to keep
up a phony style, or personality, all these years. Nor, do I
A gimmick is simply something a little different - different
from what everyone else is doing. In my past life in the
entertainment business, I saw incredibly talented people who
never made it because they didn't have that elusive quality
that made them stand out from the crowd.
I also saw many people with limited talent go all the way to
the top. They knew how to be commercial. They had something
besides talent that sold.
It comes down to this. It isn't subscribers you want. It's
Different people like different things. What works for one may
not work for another. We really can't please all of the people
all of the time. If we think we should, we need to get over
it; and as I said earlier, toughen up.
Developing a Style
Since I didn't want to develop a phony style, I had to figure
out what I already had that I could use. We are all
multi-faceted people. We have many different sides to our
personalities. My style needed to be some very real part of my
own personality. I knew if it wasn't, it would break down over
I started watching my thoughts and feelings as I worked online.
I found that I was fairly critical, and frustrated a lot.
After many years in the world of business (another former life)
I wasn't used to this free-for-all world of scams, no rules,
and little competence.
I decided to go with that. It meant that I would have to write
commentary. I had the knowledge and experience to do that, or
I wouldn't have even tried it. I would have to give my
opinions, and they wouldn't always be appreciated.
Of course, we never get 100% agreement with our opinions. But,
I was to carry it a step further. I allowed myself to border
on the outrageous - to say things that were surprising in that
few people would ever come right out and say it, let alone
publish it - even if they believed it.
In other words, I almost made a caricature of this part of my
personality. I made it extreme. I exaggerated it to being
"bigger" than I normally use. I've been
controversial. I've offended any number of people with my
direct, no nonsense views.
If they're subscribers - they leave. And now, I realize,
that's okay. If they don't like you, they're not going to buy
from you - ever! Unfortunately, I've never really learned the trick of
keeping some of them around long enough to get the hang of me. But, if they
stay that long - they're mine.
It's risky, but controversy ain't all bad. In the words of
Oscar Wilde, "There is only one thing worse than being talked
about, and that is not being talked about."
Nevertheless, I don't necessarily recommend that approach
unless you have the stomach for it. It was unavoidable with
the style I chose. But, it isn't absolutely necessary.
I've seen other publishers build extremely loyal lists who have
used completely different styles. We have: the moms - the
comedians - the gurus - the good ol' boys (can be of either
gender) - the philanthropists - the geeks - even the blithering
idiots who admit they don't have a clue!
They all work. But, trust me when I tell you - none of these
people are only that part of their personality all the time.
These publishers are simply using one aspect of their
personalities, and raising it to an art form. And, they may
not even know it.
Just Talk to the People
I'm sure you've heard the advice, "Write like you talk."
That's good advice. I do it. I even use a bit of slang, now and then. Not so much as to seem ignorant,
but enough to allow personality through. When I write,
"ain't," my readers know I'm using it for effect - to
And, since I know it's no secret, I've been known to swear, now and then. I try to keep it down, but I don't strangle myself using "darn," when I damn well mean "DAMN!" I don't necessarily recommend this unless it fits your style and personality. And, I would never do it for sensationalism.
Here's the trick I use. I write as if I'm talking directly to
people I know personally. I actually imagine they are the only
people who will see what I write. Even if I'm ranting and
raving about something, it's always in the back of my mind to
entertain them. (I rant and rave a lot.)
When we write for friends, we don't get stilted or tongue-tied.
We let it all hang out and say what we mean, the way we mean
it. We don't hold back. Writing for an ezine this way gives
it a "tone" picked up by everyone who reads it. It "sounds" as
if you are "speaking" directly to a group of good friends.
I'm sure you've also heard it's good to personalize your
ezine, using the subscriber's name. That's advice I do not follow. That may seem strange, based on what
I've just written.
Instead, I write to my subscribers as if they're a group I'm
standing in front of, speaking at a seminar. I believe it
makes them feel more they're a part of a very special group -
which they are.
That's something all publishers have to decide for themselves. I took a vote, and
my readers tell me they like the feeling of the group. The readers of publishers who
do personalize have told them they like it that way. It seems
to depend on the personality of the publisher.
But, then, my loyal readers don't like anything they know is phony. And, since everyone knows "personalization" happens via software, well ...
Ask Their Opinions
Now, here's where I may have fallen down on the job for a long
I received a nominal amount of feed-back from my readers.
Nothing that would blow anyone's socks off, but enough that I
could tell someone was actually reading that erag. I always
made a point of answering each one with a personal email.
Then, one day, as I was starting to write one opinion or
another, I found myself wondering what my readers thought. I
decided to ask them.
I explained the situation in the ezine, asked their opinions,
and gave them a way to answer easily with a mailto: link. I
did not tell them my opinion. I didn't want to skew the
results by having people think they needed to either agree, or
disagree, with me.
Wow! I couldn't believe the response! Here were people, some
of whom had known me for years, and I was just getting to
"meet" them! The interesting part is, they wrote to me as if
they really did know me! The next week, I compiled everything,
and wrote an article based on their responses.
A couple of weeks later, I tried it again. This time, I asked
them to vote on something. I gave them three, different
mailto: links - one for each possible answer.
Again - a deluge of email. It was almost as if they had just
been waiting for the chance to "talk" to me one-on-one. What
The truth is, I had probably been intimidating them to some degree. But, as soon as they saw I respected their opinions, the world changed!
Respect Your Audience
I do respect the intelligence of my subscribers, and I let them
know it often. I let them know by saying so! Since I receive
so much email now, I base that on what I read from them. I'm
not just flattering my readers. They'd see through that in a
Hot New York Minute!
Although, I sometimes think it might "look" better if more of them used the blog comments, they obviously prefer our more personal email. And, I have to admit, I enjoy their email - even though there's so much of it! It provides nice little breaks in my day.
I also show respect for them by what I put in front of them. I
keep the ezine easy to read - lots of white space and no silly
and distracting ASCII designs. I give them original material.
They can read the same articles in multiple ezines, but it
won't be in my newsletter.
For many years, I also used a copy editor, better known as "The Nitpicker." We
all make mistakes and I make plenty of them. I'll see someone
else's mistakes every time, but I'm completely blind to my own.
I know what I meant! So, I had The Nitpicker go over every
issue of the ezine before publication.
Lately, I'm ashamed to admit, I've been in such a hurry, I haven't taken the time for the proof-reading, like I should. I just holler for the Nitpicker if I have a question on something.
But, my advice? Use a proof-reader!
Let Them In
After doing it for so long, it did get to be a strain keeping
up the "style" all the time. Sometimes, stuff happens, and we
just don't feel like doing it. I learned that this was okay
too - after it was well-established.
At some point, after my readers and I had become closer via the
surveys, I had one of "those" weeks. Even though I believe
that our professional lives should stay professional, and our
personal lives kept to ourselves, I shared with them a rather
I didn't whine about it, or make them read through a lot of
detail. I just told them what happened. BOOM! An outpouring
of concern! Some of the things they wrote brought tears to my
eyes. Now, I realized that these people were friends! And, I
wouldn't trade them for ANY list of 100,000 subscribers in the
The Bottom Line
It took me a couple of years to build a list like this. But,
if I had it all to do over, I'll bet I could build this kind of
loyalty in six months. Most of the things I've written about
here I discovered accidentally, and over time. If I had it to
do over, I'd do it all right from the beginning.
Even with all my talk of "gimmicks," and writing in a certain
way to seem like I'm writing to a friend, even though I may not
know the subscriber at all, the biggest factor in building my
list of ultra-loyal readers has been honesty.
I've always been straight with them. If I make a mistake, or
find out something I wrote was incorrect - I tell them right
away. I know they've come to depend on getting the truth from
of me. I'll even tell the truths that others are reluctant to
They know I won't shine them on about a product or service -
not even to get a sale. Yet, when I give a personal
recommendation for a product or service, if they can use it,
they'll buy it as soon as they can.
Now, if you are one of my subs, and you're reading this, you may wonder if I just see you as a meal ticket. At one time, that would have been true. We gotta be honest about this; that's why we build lists.
However, over the years, I've come to know so many of my subs! I now see them as trusted friends and, even, an extended family. And, having that perspective, most new subs quickly become part of my "cult!"
So, building a list of loyal subscribers is building a list
with money in it. But, it all comes down to developing
good, solid relationships based on honesty, trust and respect. Nothing cult-like about that!