A Tiny Hack for Your Mailing List


I want to build relationships and connect with other like-minded people.

I was late to the game of building a mailing list here on my blog, which is something that I regret a lot.

In August last year, I started to rectify that situation and I started to build a proper mailing list. Today I have 852 e-mail addresses on my personal mailing list, along with another 3000-odd via PublicBeta and Unstartup. That makes almost 4000 unique e-mail addresses acquired in the last 6 months.

To give you some context, these are the main reasons I wanted to build a mailing list:

  1. I want to build a loyal audience (of mostly entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs) that are startup-agnostic in the sense that they're connected with me and not necessarily with any (one) startup or project I'm working on at the time.

  2. I want to build relationships and connect with other like-minded people. And if I can help them along the way, that'd be awesome too. Whilst this is 99% altruistic, I also know that the more awesome people I meet, the more opportunities are bound to pop up.

The little hack I want to tell you about today is specifically designed to optimise for the latter of my aims (with my mailing list) above.

To build relationships with people that I haven't met and know nothing about, I try to be as personable as possible. Part of that is to not use an overly-designed newsletter template, but instead use something that mostly looks like an e-mail sent from any other, generic e-mail client.

I use (the awesome) Campaign Monitor to power my mailing list and this is what my newsletter template looks like.

So here's the hack... Because I'm sending the subscribers on my mailing list a personal e-mail (or as close as possible to that, considering that it is still a bulk e-mail), it really helps to have their first names. The problem with that is that many subscribers to my mailing list either don't bother entering their names or enter an incorrectly capitalised version.

And that's my hack: I just manually fix those subscriptions.

That means, I'm doing the following:

  • Every week, I manually sift through all new subscribers and check their names.
  • If they have entered a first name, I ensure that it is correctly capitalised.
  • If they have also entered a last name, I delete that.
  • If there's no name, I check their e-mail address for any clues as the what their name is. If it's there, I edit it accordingly.

This means that I can send you an e-mail that reads "Hey Peter," instead of "Hey peter,", "Hey PETEr", "Hey P,", "Hey peter murphy," or something arb like "Hey snakeshadow49,".

In a world where it's hard work to get someone to open (and read) your e-mail - especially bulk e-mails - every little bit helps. And starting an e-mail with the right salutation (with the correct spelling and grammar) can only help in recipients actually reading your e-mail.

To date, I've sent out 20 newsletters and have maintained an almost 50% open rate. Along with that - depending on the exact newsletter - I have click-through rates of between 50% - 75%, which is more indicative of actual engagement, which in turn could / would be influenced by my little hack.

I know that no amount of manual work can ever truly scale. But considering I'm currently adding between 40 - 60 new subscribers a week, I can curate my mailing list in this way within only a couple of minutes. Maybe this becomes impossible when I reach 500 or 1000 signups a week.

In the meantime, I like to see this hack in the same vein as we do startups that disrupt the incumbents: I'm smaller, more flexible and more agile. This means I can do the things that won't scale in the short- and medium-term as a way to get a leg up.

Building a mailing list is hard and building the kind of relationships that are valuable (and could be profitable in future) is even harder. In my mind, the only chance I have to succeed on that front is to be as personal as possible.

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