5 Hard Lessons I Learned While Building a 10K Email List

Last January, I set out on a journey to grow my blog and personal brand. The goal I had in mind was to gain 10,000 subscribers who would be interested in entrepreneurship and starting a side-hustle.

In order to attract this specific persona, I used Facebook ads to drive awareness and opt-ins. The offer I gave away was an entire Entrepreneur Starter Kit (valued over $2,500) that included the following:

  • MacBook Air
  • “Live Big, Dream Big” t-shirt
  • “Goal Digger” mug
  • Project pad

Before I got things going, I did the following:

  • I redesigned my website. I wanted new messaging along with a complete rebrand.
  • I signed up with KickOffLabs to drive referrals for my giveaway.
  • I signed up with Ontraport to collect my leads and to be able to nurture, as well as communicate, with anyone who signed up for the giveaway.
  • I kicked off my Instagram profile to align with the new rebrand.
  • I had ad creatives developed to run Facebook ads.
  • I had a targeted landing page to capture lead info for the giveaway.

Once all of these items were in place, I kicked off my campaign. Within two weeks, I hit 8,000 subscribers, and then the third week, I hit 10,000 subscribers.

I was stoked and knew I had hit my goal. On top of that, I had aspiring entrepreneurs sending me tons of emails and messages via Instagram and Facebook telling me how much the starter kit would change their lives.

I felt excited that I was hitting the right personas, and engagement was high.

But, as soon as the giveaway ended, so did the engagement.

What went wrong?

Well, keep reading, and I’ll elaborate on the lessons I learned and what I believe I did right.

1. Writing Out Terms and Conditions

Soon after I launched, the giveaway caught on quick because it started getting submitted to sweepstake sites, which meant a lot of people who did not fit my persona were signing up too.

Had I been clearer about my terms and conditions, even though people would still be signing up with no intentions of starting their own business, this portion of people would’ve been much smaller.

2. Better Vetting

I sent out an email to all signups and asked people to share their stories with me. More than a hundred people responded, telling me how much this starter kit would revolutionize their way of living and empower them to start their business idea.

The problem here was that not many actually had a plan in place to utilize the starter kit in such a way that they could kickstart their business. I recognized this was the issue, but I knew that after the giveaway, I’d also be running a free training to help them get going.

However, the challenge with this was that I still didn’t truly hit the right personas. I say this because very few ended up attending my free training after the giveaway. That tells me that people were more interested in getting free swag than they were in taking action to achieve the milestones needed for entrepreneurship.

In other words, the motive was all wrong from the beginning, which brings me to my next point.

3. Giving Away Something of Value

What I really should’ve given away for free was great content, NOT materialistic b.s. that was going to just entice people.

I say this because if you look at entrepreneurs like GaryVee, Lewis Howes, Amy Porterfield, Pat Flynn, etc., they all do one thing really well, and it’s giving away tremendous value within their content assets.

Anything from free courses, checklists, trainings, and masterclasses — these entrepreneurs give away free business advice in a highly authentic manner that then attracts their target personas in the same way. It becomes less about the swag and more about the person presenting this content and giving away the value.

When I placed a bunch of free things in front of people, they’re first thought was “I want those things,” rather than saying, “I want to work with Suttida.”

4. Better Email Follow Up + Content

Setting up a more robust workflow to trigger and communicate with those who signed up for the giveaway would’ve been beneficial.

Doing so would have given me another set of data points to see “who” was opening my emails and actually engaging with my content.

In the same breath, I should’ve done a better job of planning blog posts around this giveaway and giving away great content that aligned with the giveaway.

5. Better Offer

Instead of getting people to sign up for the giveaway and just hope that they’d sign up for my free training on entrepreneurship, I should’ve made the offer more about the actual purpose.

So, instead of having a “leaderboard” that showed how the person with the most referrals had a higher potential of winning, I should’ve positioned the offer so that people who signed up for the giveaway had to also attend my free training.

This would have been a great way to test engagement once the giveaway ended and actually see the people who were truly interested in entrepreneurship. And, I would’ve been able to actually choose the winner knowing that he or she sat through my entire training.

Moving Forward

As a marketer for the past 12 years of my career, it’s clear that I don’t have it all figured out. I have a ton of knowledge about the tools and executions behind testing what’s going to work and what isn’t, but to say I have all of the answers would be an exaggeration.

That said, my goal for this year is to focus on putting out content around topics I’m confidently passionate about and that can help others. I began publishing an increased amount of blog posts starting mid-January of this year and found that my website traffic has steadily increased as well.

On top of that, my top two traffic sources are direct and organic. I’m very happy about that so far. I’ve also been able to collect more data points on “who” is actually consuming my content, and it is not the same persona that I initially set out to target with my giveaway.

This, again, is a great learning experience because now I can start positioning my content more towards those who care about what I have to say because it’s actually going to help them.

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