Why List Building Fails (And How To Avoid The Almost Obvious Failure)


Why list building fails (And How To Build A List)Is there a strategy to list building? What list building technique should I follow?

When we think of building lists, we hope that some course will give us a silver bullet. That some coach will tell you which buttons to press, and you’ll magically have a list. Or worse, we believe people who tell us that we can build our lists pretty much like a Jack and the Beanstalk story.

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Unfortunately for us, all of these promises are castles in the sand. The reason why we fail time and time again to build lists, is because we believe the dream-merchants and fail to pay attention to how a list—any list is built.

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To be or not to be, that is the question.

It’s a line we’ve all heard, but as it does in life, the very same line plays an extremely important role in list building. When we think of building lists, we hope that some course will give us a silver bullet. That some coach will tell you which buttons to press, and you’ll magically have a list.

Or worse, we believe people who tell us that we can build our lists pretty much like a Jack and the Beanstalk story. Unfortunately for us, all of these promises are castles in the sand.

The reason why we fail time and time again to build lists, is because we believe the dream-merchants and fail to pay attention to how a list—any list is built.

Like always, let’s look at three points:

1- How a list really gets built (when you don’t have an endless advertising budget).
2- Why you need to drive clients from Point A to Point B (if you ever want them on your list).
3- Why you need to sell something to those clients (or risk losing them forever).


1- How a list really gets built (when you don’t have an endless advertising budget).

Back in the 60’s, when my father built his business, there were only two options for him to get clients.

The first was through word of mouth or referrals and the second was through advertising. However, the word of mouth method only works once you’ve been in business for a while. He’d just started and had recourse to just one method, namely, advertising.

Back then, advertising in the classified section of the newspaper was a viable system partly because it was cheaper, but also because people read the classifieds in their newspaper.

It was just a trickle at first, but a combination of classified advertising and giving out leaflets was what got his business going, and created what we’d today call, a list.

The problem with advertising is that it’s a costly exercise

Ask anyone who’s run a Google or Facebook ads campaign (perhaps you’ve done it yourself) and you’ll find that you tend to spend a lot of money, without clear results.

If you persist, however, you figure out what you’re doing incorrectly, what needs fixing and over time advertising becomes a very efficient and profitable way to get clients to join your list and buy your products and services.

And therein lies the irony of growing a business.

Whether you choose advertising or content marketing such as blogs, videos, podcasts etc., you’re almost always circling the airport. We know fully well that it takes time to get a business going, yet no one can tell us how much time it takes.

Which is why we fall for the nonsensical promise that even reputable marketers will make. They have no problem with suggesting that you can grow your list to 100,000 or that you can at least double or triple your list.

You’re told you can “hack your way to 10,000 podcast downloads a month,” and given a link to someone who’s just done exactly that.

Which seems to feel like the method of growing slowly is all wrong.

That somehow there’s some button that can be pressed, some shortcut we can take, and instantly we will bypass the nightmare of slow, tedious list building.

Yet in example after example, you’re likely to find that list building is very tortoise like. And if you don’t have an advertising budget, what you do have right away is the ability to create content.

Which brings us to the big secrets of list building

1- What medium will you choose?
2- At what frequency will you create and broadcast content?
3- Do you have a plan for the next seven years or more?


1- What medium will you choose?

This is the easiest question of all. What will you do? Back in 2008, when we conducted the Information products course, I was keen on clients creating books and courses. One client, Paul Wolfe, decided to take the concepts he’d learned on the course and use it instead for YouTube.

Paul was really struggling. He’d been a bass guitarist in a band, the kind that play for weddings and corporate events. In 2008, the market crashed and they were not getting a single job. The people who wanted their services could not pay for it.

And those who could pay, didn’t want to bring attention to the fact that they had cash to pay for a “band”.

Paul decided to teach what he knew on YouTube

He simply taught people how to play bass guitar. And he did it through video. In short, he chose a medium. Some people choose Instagram. Others choose Linked In.

Others like us, have chosen e-mail marketing—and later, podcasts. Whatever you choose, you need to make that choice first. What is your medium?


2- At what frequency will you create and broadcast content?

At Psychotactics we’ve tried to publish on YouTube. Then we took a stab at Instagram. We were among the first 100,000 people on the planet to be on Linked In. Which of the above have we succeeded in?

If your answer was “none”, then you’re right. We haven’t succeeded at any of the approaches because we had no idea how often we’d create and broadcast the content.

When we started with the Psychotactics newsletter, we set a frequency goal. It was to be once a week and then later went to twice a week. With the earlier version of the podcast, we randomly published, but then as late as December 2014, we decided to do a second go at podcasts.

The second time around we put a frequency plan in place. Which of the two methods—out of all of the above—have worked? It’s the ones with the frequency plan in place. If you have no frequency plan, you are almost always doomed to fail. Which takes us to our third and most vital point of all.


3- Do you have a plan for the next seven years or more?

How many podcasts get past the tenth episode? It might surprise you to know that about 58% of all podcasts never get past ten. If you considered that in terms of population, your entire tribe would be dead before they were ten.

And that figure plays out in a similar fashion no matter whether you look at blogs, videos or even paid advertising, for that matter.

People start, and jerk forward for a few days, weeks, or even months and then stop in their tracks trying to find another snake oil merchant that promises them 10,000 downloads or 100,000 subscribers. It’s only when the realisation hits you that you realise that it’s also about longevity.

My father’s secretarial college started quietly.

For the first few years it teetered, like a lot of online and offline businesses do. But as the years passed, it not only grew in reputation, but he got better at teaching and also maximising his advertising rupee (no dollars in India).

When you’re in it for the long run, you realise you have to pace yourself. You have to have a plan, work that plan, tear that plan, and create another one.

And that’s how it goes for month after month, year after year. If you don’t have a seven year plan (and that number is random) then the chances of you ending up on the 58% heap are almost guaranteed.

No one starts off thinking the journey is going to be so long, but invariably it is.

Which isn’t to say that a business that has been consistent for many years will succeed. There are businesses that have been around for decades and still fail. But the ones that are guaranteed to fail are those that give up after the “tenth episode”.

In “ten episodes”, the medium will NOT reveal its secrets to you.

It will wait for you to be patient. And bit by bit you’ll get faster, better, more efficient. If you’re wondering course you need to start building a list, you’re just wasting your time and money.

You may need a course to learn the medium.

You may need to learn how to use video well, write well, or put together a podcast. You may need to know somewhat how Instagram or LinkedIn works. But to build a list, the three questions have to be answered first.

List building fails for many reasons.

The first are the get rich quick merchants. You need to instantly unsubscribe from those that promise you instant success. They are as much a barrier to your list building because they’re distractions that you can’t avoid.

Secondly, answer the three questions. It’s a travesty to have just three questions causing such immense failure.

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