How to clean up your email list

This post is by request from Beth. If you’d like to ask a question or suggest a topic of your own, you can do so at the Request Line.

List bloat! The bane of online marketers everywhere! (Or so it’s said.) For the uninitiated, we’re talking about inactive subscribers on your email list.

These may be truly inactive subscribers (abandoned email accounts or people who filter out your email) or de facto inactive people who tend to never open – or respond to – your emails.

These inactive individuals create what’s called “list bloat” (well, at least that’s what we call it), and from time to time a little spring cleaning may be in order.

Beth asks:

“I know for CERTAIN that I have bloat on my list, and I’m not sure what to do about it. So my question is, ‘How can I get rid of the non-buyers who are clogging up my list and inflating my numbers?’”

So let’s talk about that, shall we?

Here’s why people tend to want to clean up their email list in the first place.

Inactive subscribers on your email list aren’t necessarily the bane of your business’ existence – but they can have minor financial implications and not-so-minor psychological ones.

On the financial side, email list providers charge you based on the number of names on your list. Once you cross a threshold, you go into the higher pricing tier. If your list is on the smaller side, this may mean paying an extra $10 a month. If your list is larger, the jump can be hundreds of dollars. So, getting rid of the proverbial dead weight can keep your list pricing down.

On the psychological side, list bloat can mess with your head. If you’re sitting around worrying about inactive subscribers on a regular basis, you’re not exactly preserving those neurons of yours for more strategic thinking.

  • If you’re running reports, you may see metrics like open rates and click-through rates seem like they’re going down as your list grows, which can be a bit unsettling. Getting inactives out of your email system can make those rates jump back up to where they “should” be since your data is now a little more accurate.
  • Not every business needs to care about this, though. If what you’re really tracking is end-of-the-day sales, that’s the metric you’re watching more than open and click-through. (Which isn’t a bad idea. Getting your click-through rate up by 15% is generally not as useful as getting your sales up by 5%. Just saying. You can’t pay the mortgage with click-throughs.)

So what do we do about all this?

If you’re looking to clean up your list and get rid of inactive subscribers, there are plenty of ways to do it.

Here are four off the top my head, and my preferred method at the very end. (SCANNERS: NOT number 4. The very end. After number 4.)

1. Deliver more content than usual (for you) over a specific period of time.

There are a percentage of people on your list at any given time who want to unsubscribe, but haven’t done it yet. If you’re not emailing all that often, your messages are probably getting archived or deleted by these people along with all the other emails they archive or delete en masse when they open their inbox.

For these people, it’s not worth the effort to unsubscribe because they don’t see your messages that often. If you happened to, say, double the frequency of your emails for a while, you would likely cross that magic threshold where it does become worth it for them to open your email, scroll down to the bottom, and unsubscribe.

One way to accomplish this is to run a series of informational emails, since that’s a valid enough excuse to mail more frequently. If you’re normally publishing once a week, you could run a 5-part series on the topic of your choice, and maybe mail twice a week or once every three days.

You’ll get a good number of unsubscribes that way from people who don’t want to be on your list, and you’ll probably make the people who do like you like you a little bit more, since they’re getting more from you than they’re used to.

2. Run a good, solid launch.

Very little primes people to unsubscribe like a good launch. Promotional emails are bold enough to snap people who are ready to unsubscribe out of their ennui, even if your emails are more of the soft-sell variety.

Keep that in mind, because it’s easy to think that people are unsubscribing because you’re trying to sell them something, and it can shake your confidence if you interpret it that way.

One portion of your unsubscribes will be those people from the prior point – people who were planning to unsubscribe anyway. The other portion will be people who really don’t want to look at you as a seller of things, and you don’t really lose anything when those people leave.

Note! Remember that there will be a lot of lifelong non-buyers who will stay on your list because they like what you’re giving them in your non-promotional emails. These are good people and we like them.

Some marketers will tell you that non-buyers on your list are dead weight. Ignore the advice they give you. Non-buyers are often your biggest fans and most effective advocates in spreading the word about you.

3. Cull-by-numbers.

This is another option. Some email list providers will allow you to run a report showing people who aren’t opening your emails so you can delete them from your list.

If your provider doesn’t do this you have the option of doing it manually – just look at the reports for the last half-dozen emails you’ve sent and you can delete people who haven’t opened any of those emails.

This is good in theory, but maybe not so good in practice. Email tracking is a notoriously imprecise science. Some people who open your emails regularly may never appear to do so, especially if they’re receiving it in text-only format.

Many email services use an invisible pixel to track opens – so if the image loads, then the system registers that email as opened. That’s a big “if”. So if you take this route, you may end up deleting people who are actually opening your emails religiously. Ah, technology. You’re a playful beast.

4. Ask people to confirm they still want to be on your mailing list.

You don’t get more straightforward than this approach. You send an email that says something along the lines of “Hey, please click this link if you want to stay on the list.” Usually there’s some copy there for a reason why you’re asking them to do so.

Some people do this and then delete everyone who doesn’t click the link. Again, good in theory. Not so good for those not checking email or who accidentally archive/delete your message. Personally, if I were doing this I’d just send it to the segment of people who fit the third point, above.

Actually, if I was trying to clean up MY list …

I’d do more of items number 1 and 2. That way I’d know that anyone who got off the list did so of their own accord, and everyone who stayed did so honestly.

Plus, item number two makes you money.

And it’s generally a good business practice to put more of your mental space into making money than you spend trying to find a small portion of your list to cull.

(Hope that helps, Beth.)


About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.

Signature service

It is generally accepted as lore that if you want to be a Very Important Coach Indeed – or, in fact, be able to purchase Christmas gifts for your loved ones – you must have a Signature Service.

A signature service, also known as “Off The Shelf”, “5 Step Program”, and a few other things that enterprising gurus have trademarked – basically means factory coaching.

The client comes in one end, goes through a prefabricated set of steps in a pre-assigned set of time and hocus pocus alakazam, comes out fixed, whole, and ready to refer rich friends to you.

So. Is a signature service right for you? Will your practice crumble without one? Let’s find out.

A signature service needs at least one of two factors to be present. (Having both is better.)

1. The coaching topic itself lends itself to a prefabricated system in the first place.

Some topics lend themselves to steps. Others don’t. Yoga For Beginners – yes. Find Your Passion – maybe. Work Through Your Grief – probably not.

2. The coach is the type of person who likes that sort of methodical, prefab process. Not everybody does. Some people color code their file folders and have realistic to-do lists every day. (My esteemed partner, for example.)

Other people institute a paper-full office policy and officially only read written communication scribed in magic marker or crayon. (Moi.)

The former would be good at signature coaching packages. The latter, not so much.

Unknowns, enigmas and spanners in the works.

A big part of your decision about what kind of coaching package to offer comes down to what your customers are looking for and how possible it is to give it to them. Just because they want it to be a simple process doesn’t mean it can be.

We’re talking about unknowns and x-factors here. Unknowns are the things you don’t know about the person coming in. Where they are in the process, for example. You may have a six-week program that your client may not be ready for.

If we offered a signature service called “Get Your Book Launch Ready in Six Weeks,” we don’t know where you are. You can give us your money and when we take a look at your product and list size, it may come out that you need a lot of work before you’re even ready for week one.

On the other hand, you may have already done so much that you don’t need the first two weeks of the signature program. Oops, looks like you’re not hiring us. Sucks to be me. You just don’t know what unknowns are out there.

Then you have the x-factors, the things that could throw that Spaniard in the works. There may be something unique about a client’s situation that actually means the process in the signature service doesn’t apply to them. They may legitimately not be able to use pieces of your process. They may have a more complicated situation than your easy-peasy, cookie-cutter process can handle.

Basically, the fewer unknowns your client has, the better candidate you are for an off-the-shelf service.


If you are offering something like weight loss coaching, the process generally doesn’t change no matter how much weight the client has to lose. You can also predict a range of “special cases” to factor into your process – wheat allergies, bad knees, busy schedules – and create a system that can accommodate them relatively easily.

In other words, the chances of being able to say “Just go do this” for the vast majority of your clients is high.

If you are counseling spouses of patients with Borderline Personality Disorder, the process can be anything but straightforward. The unknowns and x-factors here make this situation a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a taco.

So the chances of being able to say “Just go do this” for the vast majority of your clients is very low.

So that’s the basic guideline. The fewer the unknowns, the lower the chances that an x-factor could hose you, the better a candidate you are for an off-the-shelf program.

A quick and easy way to know if YOU are a good candidate for offering an off-the-shelf coaching service.

Someone suggests to you that you create a standardized system, a formula of sorts. 12 weeks, standard process, same for every client. What is your response?

1. This is my idea of heaven.
2. This is my idea of hell.

Your homework for today.

Read this blog post again, think about it, then do whatever you like. No matter who tells you that it’s a crucial, must-have-or-you’re-going-to-the-food-bank… they’re just plain wrong.

We have never offered a signature package and we are still alive and kicking. Other people would die without one. So much depends on what you like to do, what market you’re in, and what your customers want.

And that’s up to you to decide, based on all your unique factors, which neither your gurus nor I have access to. If it seems like a good idea for your topic and your personality, go for it. If it only seems like a good idea for your bottom line, think hard.

Further reading:

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.

Picking a niche

The word on the street is (and kind of always has been) that you MUST pick a niche or your business will fall into obscurity, and you will end up in the streets panhandling next to all the other poor saps who didn’t pick their niche.

(And all the while you’ll be begging for scraps, because one of your fellow panhandlers “niched down” his location to in front of the bus stop, thereby taking your best prospects before they even got to you. Oh, the humanity.)

This is a particularly frequent piece of advices for coaches. And it should be, because many coaches articulate their target market as “people who need my kind of coaching”, which is a little to broad to really get a foothold in the market. A little targeting never hurt anyone.

And while that’s one end of the spectrum, it can easily pendulum the other way, and then you’re a coach who helps 25 to 35 year old left handed women in transition in the greater Toronto area.

Ridiculous, yes.

Also not far off the mark for a lot of coaches wondering why they can’t fill their book.

But hope is not lost! Read on to learn how to make niche-related headaches go away for good.

Let’s take a minute and think about what “niche” really means anyway.

One of the dictionary definitions of niche is “a specialized market.” The idea is that the more you specialize, the easier it will be to find clients. If no one is trying to corner the market on those left-handed women in transition in Toronto, you’re about to be golden.

Maybe, maybe not.

“A specialized market” all by itself won’t necessarily make it easier to get clients. Just because Joe The Parenting Coach decides he’s going after “upscale parents of toddlers” doesn’t mean that the fact he picked that niche is going to guarantee any level of success.

It’s kind of like art. The Mona Lisa is a one of a kind, and that’s one of the reasons that it’s worth millions. But just because you paint something that’s one of a kind doesn’t mean you magically get points for that. There are a lot of other factors at play there. (One of which is that Leonardo Da Vinci is dead.)

Yes, picking a specialized market can help you on your fill-my-damn-book-already journey. But you have to pick that specialized market with the right end in mind if you want it to actually sway the odds in your favor.

Two things you need to consider before saying “this is the right niche for me.”

Let’s step away from what a niche IS, just for a moment, and think about what a niche is supposed to DO.

Basically, picking a niche serves two purposes:

First, a niche gives someone a specific reason to feel an affinity to you that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Think of this as the thing that a potential client thinks in terms of “people like me” or “people in my situation” rather than the rest of the masses.

You are currently reading this because your business is so small, you don’t even think of it as a “small business.” It’s itty. Not small. That’s why reading IttyBiz sounds like a better idea to you than Small Business Daily Tips. That site would appeal more to the owner of Bill’s Coffee Nook, with 8 employees and a very organized bookkeeper. (Bill, by the way, is sleeping with his bookkeeper. Shh. The wife doesn’t know.)

For a coaching practice, your target market or niche or whatever you want to call it is going to revolve around a certain type of person, or a certain type of problem, that you can put into actual words. Words that match up with the words that those people use in their heads.

Those words are the ones that make the person thinking “I want a coach” start thinking “I want THAT kind of coach.” So Joe is a bit on to something targeting upscale parents with toddlers, provided he’s solving problems that upscale parents tend to have. He’s halfway there.

Second, a niche gives someone a more concrete deliverable to consider buying. Coaching clients, for the record do not want coaching. No matter how many times they say it – to you, to themselves, or to their golden retriever – they do not want “coaching.”

All together now… NOBODY WANTS COACHING.

They want something very particular that the coaching will give them. They don’t call Joe because they want parenting coaching. Who the hell wants parenting coaching? Who has time for that crap?

They call Joe because they feel over their head on how to discipline a toddler. Or because they need help cultivating a budding prodigy. Or because they want some guidance on how to do the parenting thing when they and their partner have very different parenting philosophies.

There is a very specific thing, when it all comes down to it, that’s more or less your coaching superpower. This is the thing that generally should make it into your tagline.

It’s the core benefit that falls into “what the client is trading her money for”, and it should be clear and easy to understand. But the thing that the client is trading her money for cannot simply be “help.”

People don’t pay for help. They pay for a specific kind, flavor, or style of help. That’s your niche. Think of the medical / wellness field. Pain-free pediatric dentistry for scared kids. Physical therapy for athletes in high-impact sports. That kind of thing.

So the first part of your niche addresses who, within the masses of your target demographic, is the right kind of client for what you do. The second part of your niche is the kind of thing that your client is coming to you for.

The more specific you get, the more likely the specific kind of person who would like to access your specific superpower will say “That sounds like the thing I want to buy from that person.”

Here’s the part where you find out you don’t actually need a niche. Maybe.

Do you need a highly targeted niche to succeed?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

You can afford to be less specific with the market you serve if you are more specific with what you do for that market.

If you’re a behavioral therapist coachy type who helps kids with very serious anger issues, you don’t need to care so much about what kind of parents you’re targeting. If your specific service is “Keeping your kids from ending up in court one day”, that’s probably clear enough to carry you through.

You can be afford to be less specific with what you offer if you are more specific with who you offer it to.

At IttyBiz, I am a marketing consultant for, generally, single-person businesses. Yes, technically they are a small business. But they are TINY. And they think of themselves as tiny. They LIKE being tiny. It would never cross their mind to be anything OTHER than tiny. So I can be more general about my services, because I’m very specific about the market.

You can afford to be less specific with what you offer if you have brand strength on your side.

If you are a big brand, your niche is actually based around your reputation or what people already know about you. Target and Wal-Mart are huge. They can offer anything under the sun. Martha Stewart can make paints and drapes and cupcake tins and superhero Halloween costumes for your dog.

If you are a very big name in your industry, you can attract clients on name recognition and the qualities that recognition contains, so you can also offer anything under the sun (to a point).

Until you’re at that point, though, offering too many things that hit a wide spread can work against you. So you should probably consider targeting yourself a bit more.

Your homework for today.

Look at the part above about the two things your niche is supposed to be doing for you.

Think about if you’ve got those covered.

Also think about where you can afford to get looser with your niche and see if that applies to you.

Remember, people don’t want “help” and they don’t want “coaching.”

They want to know what they’re paying for, and know that they’re buying it from the kind of coach that’s right for them.


Further reading:

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.