How Big Does My List Need To Be?

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While we’re getting the new coaches’ class ready to open up this week, we have another question for all you coaches out there. (Actually, this applies to everyone, so whether a coach or not, keep reading anyway.)

So! You have a list, are getting a list started, or sitting around thinking “Eeek! I really need to get a list going. And the thing you’re particularly wondering about is how many people you need to get on this list so you can make the money already.

The answer to that question is pretty simple, but it’s going to sound a little complicated. Let’s start from the beginning.

Before you know how big a list you need to have, you need to think about what you’re selling and who’s likely to buy it.

When you have stuff you want to sell, it’s not a stretch to say that not everyone on Earth is going to want it, or not everyone is going to want to buy it from you.

Some people are Starbucks people, some people are Dunkin Donuts people, and a lot of other people don’t like coffee at all.

If you have a big enough list – say, a billion people, you don’t have to worry about this fact. Send out your email, tell people to buy, and you’ll get all the money you need. You don’t need to think about your most likely buyers at all. Somewhere in those billion people, they’re hiding out.

So as ridiculous as it sounds, if you want an answer to this question but you don’t want to be bothered by thinking about who is on your list, then you’re going to need a list of a billion people.

Not having a list of a billion people, you’ve got to be a little more discerning.

Here’s what we mean by discerning: You’ve got to know what kind of person would have a higher-than-average likelihood of seriously thinking about buying the things you’re selling.

Once you know that – and know it in enough detail – you’ll have a better idea of how big a list you’ll need.

Here’s why this matters.

Let’s say you have a list of 10,000 people. That sounds good, right?

Maybe.

If you know that your most likely buyers are on that list – because something about your list filters them in some way – then you’re in very good standing.

But if you’re not doing any filtering (some people call it “pre-qualification”), you can’t ever know your chances that anyone on your list has any likelihood of buying in the first place.

So if your mailing list is built on the back of a signup box that says “Join my free newsletter,” your numbers are pretty much meaningless. 10,000 email addresses is better than 1,000, but we don’t have any grounds to say it’s ten times better. For all we know it may be 1% better.

So if you’re a coach who helps troubled relationships, and your signup box says “Join my newsletter”, your list size tells you nothing because you don’t know if they signed up because they want to fix their relationship or they signed up because they were intoxicated. (Yeah. Happens more often than you think.)

But if you are that relationship-fixing coach, and your signup box says “Join my newsletter for tips on how to stop fights from turning into break ups,” now you’ve got something. You’ve thought about your most likely buyer, who’s really afraid they’re going to break up or divorce if things don’t turn around speedy quick.

So people who are like “Ooh! I like warm and fuzzy relationship stuff” are less likely to sign up, and people who think “I need to get outside help on this” are more likely to sign up. Fewer of the unlikely buyers, and more of the likely buyers.

So make that one change, and you automatically need a smaller list. Keep it generic, and you’re going to need a bigger one.

Every filter you place on your list makes it easier to predict what kind of money you’ll make.

The money you get out of your list is directly linked to how and why people get on the list in the first place.

If they hand over their email address because your list hints at helping address the problems that they are willing to pay for, your chances of getting money out of them go way up.

Now, for those who have been waiting for some actual numbers …

If you want numbers, I can give you a few generalities.

It’s rare for a coach to have a full book with less than 1,000 people on a mailing list. I’ve never seen it in someone who had less than 500. (Caveats to follow.)

2,500 to 5,000 is good to shoot for to get a full book of clients. It’s not guaranteed by any stretch, but at least you’re in the range of “you have a solid chance.”

The Rule of Thumb exceptions:

If you have lots of offline contacts, or you network heavily on LinkedIn or forums or whatever, your clients are not coming from your list and this entire question is irrelevant for you.

If you gave something away for free on Facebook one time and saw a huge spike in subscribers but no commensurate spike in income, you’ve got bloat in your list and your target number needs to go up.

If you find you’re getting subscribers through well-targeted ads, or you get a lot of sharing of your emails, or you have a strong referral funnel from clients, your list is a little more pure and the target number can go down a bit.

Again, these are generalities, but it’s at least something to go on so you can manage your own expectations.

So how big does your list REALLY need to be?

Again, it all depends on these two things:

  • a) how likely a potential, true-to-God paying client would be to choose to get on your list in the first place, and
  • b) how much your filtering efforts make non-buyers not want to get on your list and muddy up the data.

Here are a few questions to help you figure out how big your list needs to be:

  • Does your list’s name or topic address the issues that paying customers want to know about (as opposed to interested-but-non-paying people)?
  • Do you regularly email your list with content that targets the issues worth paying to fix (as opposed to generic “on-topic” content that will appeal to non-buyers as well)?
  • Do you have a list incentive that covers some of the basic topics that a potential client would be talking to you about on an initial consultation?

Today’s homework:

Look at the coaching services or products you sell and ask yourself what would have to happen in someone’s life or business to drive them to take out their Visa card and pay for it. Not want it, not think it was a good thing, but seriously decide that they were going to buy it in the next 30 days.

Ask yourself what kind of people they are (as opposed to the people who don’t buy), and what kind of things they – as buyers, not readers – care about the most.

Then take a look at the questions above and see how many questions you can answer with “Yes.”

The fewer questions you can answer “yes” to, the larger your list needs to be.

 

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.