Never heard of it, right?
You might even think I’m pulling your leg.
Honestly, I wish I was. I wish this entire post was just a tasteless joke written for my own amusement.
But it’s not.
The truth is Small List Syndrome is real, although I’m just now coining the term. I’ve watched it spread for years, slowly but surely infecting thousands of my students.
Not just clueless beginners, either. Smart writers, smart businesses, smart bloggers across the globe, all working hard to create good content, all doing everything they should be.
Except… none of it works for them.
Not because they’ve made a mistake. Not because their ideas suck. Not because they’re lazy.
It’s because they have a tiny email list or even none at all. It’s like a sickness, quietly devouring their traffic, revenue, and engagement until there’s nothing left.
And the scary part?
There’s a good chance you’ve caught the sickness too. After all, just how much focus are you giving your email list?
Just a little? None at all?
That’s bad news, my friend. Ill tidings indeed.
The good news is Small List Syndrome is curable. First though, we have to see whether or not you are infected.
Here are the symptoms:
1) Depressingly Few Shares
Sure, some of your posts get shared a bit, but most don’t seem to go anywhere at all.
After a while, you start feeling like publishing a post is like buying a lottery ticket. You feel hopeful for a little while, but you end up getting disappointed more often than not.
And you know what’s most depressing?
The total lack of control.
You can put your heart and soul into a post, publishing a piece you’re really proud of, but then nobody will share it. You can also crank out a real stinker, put it up on the blog, and it’ll get a few shares.
The inconsistency is maddening. Here’s the thing, though:
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Ever noticed how some blogs (like this one) consistently get hundreds or even thousands of shares?
It’s because they have thousands of email subscribers who come flocking to the blog every time a new post is published. As regular readers, they are a lot more likely to share the content too.
In other words, it’s all about the list. The bigger, the better.
2) Crappy Comments
Well, what about comments? Are those influenced by your email list too?
Not only the number of comments, but also the quality.
You see, comments are a lot like a bar or pub. Newcomers are silent for the most part, nursing their drink in silence as they watch the goings-on. It’s the regulars who do most of the talking.
Same thing on your blog.
Most first-time readers won’t say anything, not because they dislike your content, but because they simply don’t know you well enough yet. If they notice it’s quiet in the comment section, they might also be afraid to say anything, kind of like a newcomer wandering into an empty bar.
You need to round up some regulars.
By building your email list, you can stay in touch with readers, letting them know about new posts. In time, they’ll start to feel like they know you and your content, and they’ll get more comfortable with leaving comments.
3) Ignored by Influencers
The bigwigs in your space not paying you much attention?
You might think it’s because your site is new, but honestly, that has little to do with it. The fact is, influencers are motivated by the same five words as everyone else:
“What’s in it for me?”
If you can send them thousands of new readers at the click of a button, then – miracle of miracles – you’re their new best friend. And if you can’t? Well, you’re about as noticeable as an ant to an elephant.
Of course, you might be wondering…how do they know if you can send them thousands of new readers?
The truth: word gets around.
Trying to hide the size of your email list is like trying to hide your wealth. Before you know it, everyone is whispering, and new “friends” are lining up to stick their hands in your pockets.
But it’s not all bad.
The opposite is also true. Ignore your email list, and influencers in your space will steadfastly ignore you in return.
4) Little or No Revenue
If that’s not a big enough reason for you, here’s an even bigger one:
It’s amazingly predictable. For a beginner, a good rule of thumb is one dollar per subscriber per month.
Want to make $1000 a month?
Well, accumulate 1000 subscribers.
How about $5000 a month?
You need 5,000 subscribers.
The better you become at marketing, the higher the multiple goes too.
The most talented bloggers I know have a multiple of two dollars or even three dollars per month per subscriber. Multiply those figures by 100,000 subscribers or more, and you’re talking serious revenue.
5) Nervousness about Branding
Of course, not everything is about money, especially when your site is new. Hell, you might not even be sure about your domain name or the general direction of your brand.
Guess what’s to blame?
You guessed it…your email list has a big effect on branding too.
For example, this site is about getting more blog traffic, so the domain name suits, but what if I decided to expand to blogging in general and purchased blogging.com? No big deal. I could switch to the new domain, and all our subscribers would come with us.
I could even make a bigger switcheroo if I wanted to. For instance, I could start writing about self-improvement or personal finance, and I would guess 80% of our readers would stick around, despite changing to topics that have nothing to do with the original focus.
Because I’m the center of the brand. Not the domain name, not the logo, not the site topic. Me. My voice.
If I move in a different direction, the audience moves with me. Not just because of our connection, but because I have permission to enter their inbox whenever I please.
And you shouldn’t either. As long as you have an email list, you can shift directions whenever you want with little or no penalty.
6) Uncertainty about Content
The same goes for your content.
Do you ever find yourself wondering what you should publish next?
Well, you shouldn’t. Your email list should be telling you what to do.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of having a large list is you receive instant feedback on everything you do, whether you ask for it or not. Every time you publish a new post, you’ll receive a wave of both compliments and criticism, and there’s pretty much nothing you can do to stop it.
But you shouldn’t even want to. It’s gold.
These days, I don’t do customer support anymore, but I do poke around the help desk at least two or three times a week, reading emails from subscribers and customers, noting what they like and what they don’t.
And then I shift course.
If we publish a post, and we get back hundreds of glowing emails, you can plan on seeing similar content again soon. If people are confused – or worst of all, silent – then I know we are out of touch and need to refocus on our audience.
It’s the pulse of the blog. As long as you have your finger on it, you always know what to do next.
Without it, you’re also flying blind. The uncertainty will never, ever end.
7) Dwindling Motivation
Last but not least, the severest symptom of them all.
What happens when a beginning blogger has hardly any shares, crappy comments, zero attention from influencers, no money, nervousness about their direction, and uncertainty about their content?
I’ll tell you: they give up.
Nobody has enough self-discipline to work in a vacuum forever. Without feedback or evidence of progress, you’ll eventually run out of energy, get distracted, or even quit altogether.
The opposite is also true. If you’re getting consistently good shares, loads of intelligent comments, emails from the most influential people in your space, buckets of money, and daily compliments about your branding and content, then guess what?
It’s pretty damn easy to stay motivated.
And guess what controls all those things?
Your email list.
Cure Small List Syndrome and Evaporate Your Blogging Woes
I know, I probably sound like I’m oversimplifying, but I’m not. An email list really is the cure-all for every problem your site has.
So, invest some time into building it.
Start by creating an irresistible incentive for new subscribers (it’s quicker than you think). Build an attractive opt-in form to snag new visitors (these plugins make it easy). And never stop looking for new ideas to get even more subscribers.
Learning how to build your list isn’t the most exciting aspect of blogging, but then taking your medicine is rarely fun. Just have to hold your nose, gulp it down, and thank God you’re still alive.
Because that’s exactly what’s at stake here. Your site will live and die based on how seriously you take your list growth.
So get serious. It’s the only known cure for Small List Syndrome.
~ Thomas Jefferson