How to Successfully Grow an Engaged Email List (and your list is under 5,000)

marketing & sales np2nyc team tech


"I have 100,000 people on my list." 

Does the sight or mere mention of others' numbers send your self-confidence running for the hills?

Guess what - it's not the size that counts. It's the quality or better said - the engagement - aka buying!

Because I've seen many, many businesses with lists 10,000+ that struggle to make sales because the fact is that less than 10 have ever bought anything. You see a bigger list is just that - bigger but it isn't necessarily better.

A list full of people that open, read, reply, and buy - that is what you need when you are building your serious business with Kajabi. 

How incredible would it be if your subscribers and customers opened, read, and replied to all your emails just like your best friend, mother, aunt, or grandma? Pretty cool? It's totally possible and incredibly doable. 

First, let's just nail down some common understanding so we're on the same page.  

What is email list building?

Rolodex. Catalog mailing. Email list.

Since the beginning of time - humans have had ways of staying in touch with each other and when it comes to businesses - successful businesses all have a way to communicate with new and loyal customers. I've recently been reading L.L. Bean, The Making of an American Icon, and building your email list is exactly like what this iconic brand did when they built their catalog mailing list.

Consistently adding people to your email list (our modern-day Rolodex or a catalog mailing list) is the strategy that builds your customer database list with subscribers (a subscriber being a person who voluntarily provided you with their name and email address) who actually want to hear from you.

How do you add names + emails to your email list?

Adding names + emails to your email list can be done in almost any way - using website opt-in forms, creating an online community using Facebook or Slack, writing blogs, offering promotions, guest speaking and podcast interviews, videos on YouTube, Amazon Alexa flash briefings, or anything that has people voluntarily giving you their name + email address. 

As long as you are following the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) then you can add names + emails to your list in any way that works for you and your business.

I like to think of email list building just like a sample day at Costco. Imagine you are walking through Costco and you come across the gentlewoman giving samples of their seasonal key lime cheesecake. What does she offer you?

  • The cellophane the cheesecake is wrapped in?
  • The cardboard the cheesecake is sitting on?
  • The entire 14-inch diameter of cheesecake?
  • OR a small bite-size taste of the cheesecake?

When you are working to add people to your email list, you need to provide samples to get them to buy from you. It's why grocery stores worldwide provide samples - it gives us the opportunity to taste, if you will before we commit to the entire product. 

As Kajabians, we provide samples in our read magnets and lead magnets all the time. But if you are having trouble getting people to opt-in to your list, then I'd encourage you to look at your sample - are you giving out cellophane instead of the cheesecake?

Quick exercise: What are you offering to people in exchange for their email + name? In the case of L.L. Bean, as a catalog company, I get a catalog to hold in my hands when I give them my name + address (internet coupons aside). Are you giving an appropriate sample of what you ultimately want them to buy, or are you giving cellophane?

Why inbox delivery matters 100%!

Let's face it - getting a new subscriber is ONE piece of the email marketing puzzle. Getting your subscriber to SEE your email in their inbox and OPEN it is an entirely different ball game.

Think for just a moment - what are the emails you open immediately?

According to Campaign Monitor, "The more your subscribers read your emails, click links, move emails to folders to save for later, or reply, the more likely your email will be delivered to the inbox in the future. All of these behaviors are considered positive email engagements that ISPs (internet service providers) and inbox providers are looking for, and what you need to keep your subscribers excited about your emails and business." 

This makes sense as our world relies more and more on algorithms and AI (artificial intelligence) the computers are doing the filtering. If they see that you always open, read, and reply to certain emails then they want to "please" you and make sure that those emails are where you see them immediately. 

If you look for the names of your friends or family in your inbox it's because you want to read what they sent you - this is exactly what you want the relationship you have with your subscribers to be.

You want to be the friend on the sender line that your subscriber is looking forward to hearing from. 

As you engage with your subscribers, you build strength in the relationship. 

What is Email Engagement? 

We know what email is, so what is engagement?

Ok, that is easy enough - engagement means we capture, attract, or hold someone's interest and it's not rocket science - think about your own inbox, what emails capture, attract, or hold your interest? 

Which emails did you ... 

  • delete without reading?
  • open, read, and reply?
  • forward?
  • place in a folder?
  • did you pull out of spam and put into your primary inbox?

Your email inbox provider is keeping track of each of these actions. It's on a computer so that is a given - just in case you'd never thought of that before. When you are taking positive actions - 

  • Opening
  • Reading
  • Replying
  • Forwarding
  • Saving

Then the email inbox (a kind of back-room 24/7 assistant we all have) provider is going to place these messages where you see them. I don't know about you but a quick scan of my promotions tab in my G-Suite inbox is all that happens before I do a massive delete. I'm telling Gmail that I don't want to open, read, forward, or save. I want to delete it all and Gmail is paying attention. 

We'll talk about ways to increase how you captivate, gain, and occupy your subscriber's interest but for right now - 

Quick exercise: Write down whose emails do you open and read? Why (specifics) do you open and read? Do you want to (a friend or loved one)? Do you have to (a boss or authority figure that requires it)?

What are the metrics for email engagement?

We know what email is. Now we've learned what engagement is. So what are metrics?

Ok, I'm fairly certain we aren't talking about poetry right now so let's focus on the method of measuring something or the results obtained as our definition of metrics

What are specific aspects of email marketing that we can measure? If a metric is what we measure, then it makes sense that identifying what can be measured is our email marketing metrics: 

  • We can tell who opened an email.
  • We can tell who unsubscribed.
  • We can tell who clicked on a link.
  • We can tell whose email bounced
  • We can tell who replied because we reply back. 

And it's often said that what gets measured gets done. When you are starting, running, and growing a serious business with Kajabi - you must measure all kinds of aspects of your business and email marketing is one of the measurements you need to take seriously.

For myself, when I set my intention to approach my email list building as building my friendship relationships and serving the people that I most enjoy in this world - engagement became second nature.  

Quick exercise: What metrics in your business are you measuring right now? Which ones do you know you need to be tracking but aren't?

What should your email metrics be?

Honestly, you can drive yourself insane with this and waste days of your life. As you are a serious business owner, you know that when you are getting started it's going to take a few months before you have reliable data to start making strong conclusions.

So before you listen to one more podcast, about what your metrics should be - 

  • Send consistent emails for 90 days and track your open, clicks, bounce, and unsubscribe rates.
  • These numbers for you become your benchmarks.
  • It honestly doesn't matter what someone else's numbers are because there are too many variables - 
    • Were they consistent?
    • What industry are they in? Is it saturated?
    • How have they positioned themselves?
    • How much experience do they have?
    • Do they send to a market that loves to open an email? or one that can't stand it?

Aren't all email metrics the same?

Well, let's see - is a birthday invitation the same as a wedding invitation? Is a bill the same as a coupon? Nope. 

If you are consistently sending out a general business communication, a newsletter, a magazine, etc. and also sending out promotional messages, then I recommend making a note of the type of communication you send. If I send a birthday invitation and a bill to the same person - they probably won't treat each message the same way.  

Quick exercise: When you send regular communications do people reply? But when you send a promotion you are ghosted? As you are growing your engagement, keep track of what you are sending along with the metrics. 

What is your email strategy? 

What is your email strategy with your best friend?

Is that different than the one for your mom, aunt, or grandmother? 


I can already hear you saying - "I don't have an email strategy with my best friend, mother, aunt, or grandmother!" That's ridiculous.

Actually, it isn't. Your messages back and forth with each of those people are the exact results that you want with your subscribers - so why balk at the strategy question?

Because it doesn't make sense. Your relationship with your best friend, aunt, mother, or grandmother is so strong that the strategy isn't called that at all - it's called discussions, conversations, or staying in touch and it's exactly what you want to achieve with your subscribers.

So how can you focus on creating a conversation with your subscriber such that the relationship you have with them becomes what you have already proven you are 100% capable of with your best friend, aunt, mother, and grandmother. This isn't a new skill for you at all! You know how to do this. You are doing it well, now we're just making it explicit and applying it to your subscribers.

Since your family is different than your friends - let's see if we can recreate maybe a loosely pulled together timeline with how you might have gone from not knowing your best friend to know them.

  • Maybe you met on the first day of 3rd grade = you were in the same place at the same time + similar interest - 3rd grade.
  • Maybe you had the same lunchbox - Strawberry Shortcake (was my 3rd-grade lunchbox of choice) = you saw you had a similar interest.
  • Maybe you said, "I like your lunchbox" and they said, "I like yours too."
  • Then the next day at lunch, you stood in line together and sat at the same table.
  • You likely said "hi" to each other and asked about other interests.
  • As the days go by - there is a give and take of new and shared information.
  • Suddenly the year is over and you are best friends - sharing and talking regularly with each other.
  • Then it's two decades later and you're still friends, or maybe your interests changed in 8th grade and you went on a different path and made new friends.

This isn't any different than the subscribers on your list:

  • You bumped into each other in a similar location + shared interest = even a Facebook ad counts as bumping into each other and a shared interest can be you teach + they want to learn.
  • You said, "Hi" to each other - you provided an opt-in form and they responded to it - that's a "hi" in my observation.
  • Over the days, you talk back and forth with each other - and this is where either engagement or disengagement happens. If it's just you talking, then there's not much for the subscriber to engage with and disengagement happens. If there are ways for them to talk with you, then engagement happens. 

Now given Kajabi, there are a variety of ways that you can leverage the tech + automation so that Kajabi does the heavy lifting with the consistency parts which free you up to show up on the engagement front. 

Here are a few ways that Kajabi helps with the heavy lifting. 

Kajabi easily segments your email list. 

Do you like chocolate or vanilla ice cream? Maybe you're a type 1 diabetic like me and regular ice cream isn't your choice at all. Maybe you prefer savory foods and don't have much of a sweet tooth at all.

In your business, do you offer different products or services that would be similar to chocolate or vanilla ice cream?

If you do, then using Kajabi to segment your subscribers makes a lot of sense. When you are segmenting your email list, you are simply making it easier to not give the chocolate lovers vanilla ice cream or the type 1 diabetics sugar-laden ice cream when they really do much better with Rebel ice cream. 

In Kajabi you can segment your list so easily and the result is that you provide the best content to the right group of people which strengthens the relationship you are working on building with them. 

Kajabi makes it easy to send an automated  "Welcome" email and follow-up sequences.

New subscribers are full of excitement and energy to learn more about you and your business and you want to capitalize on that enthusiasm just as the relationship is starting.

One of the reasons that Kajabi is my forever internet home is that with just a few clicks of my mouse, I can set up a pipeline + email sequence that while it requires time and effort to set up initially - once it is set up, then I can focus my time + effort in other areas of my serious business.

When you are creating a lead magnet for your subscriber, which is often a sample of the product or service that you ultimately want your subscriber to buy as part of your NP2NYC™ journey, then you can turn on the power of the push-button pipelines that Kajabi has.  Each pipeline has an automated welcome email that you use to welcome your new subscriber into your business - your new relationship that you are going to grow.

Through the additional use of Automations without confusion, you can further segment in your welcome email based on action(s) that your subscriber takes. 

  • Include a link to your top 3 blog posts or YouTube videos that are in 3 distinct areas and add automation based on the click of your subscriber. 
  • Add automation with a special single-use coupon when the email is opened by your subscriber.
  • Send an email to your company when the subscriber clicks on a link so you can follow-up with them directly. 

Kajabi does the heavy lifting and you do the personalization = match made in heaven!

As you see where the interest and action of your subscriber goes, then you can set up additional email sequences to send content specific to what your subscriber has told you they are interested in. 

Make your conversations interesting and you'll have more of them.  

I know I struggled for many years about what content to send out in my Kajabi email sequences and broadcasts.

"No one wants to know this."

"This isn't all that important."

"Doesn't everyone already know this?"

Here is where we get it all wrong and if you're struggling like I was, then check out these 50 topics to use in your email sequences. You don't have to use them all but using them as a nurturing sequence to build the relationship with your new subscriber or customer - is just like sharing your love for your Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox back in 3rd grade. 

How to get your subscribers to OPEN your email.

Don't over-complicate this and unless you operate a gimmick-based company - stay away from the gimmicks. 

You are the one that is providing the reason for your subscribers to open, read, reply, click, and take action from what you send to them. 

So, what are you doing?

Personally, I couldn't stand when the gurus were telling people to use the "Re: You never replied to my email" gimmick. I definitely clicked a few times because I thought to myself, "huh? I never replied or sent anything to them, what is going on?" and that was quickly followed by the - "ah so that's the latest guru-gimmick sweeping the internet!" 

  • Create an opportunity for a two-way conversation;
  • Answer every single reply! every single one!
  • Value the conversations
  • Yes, write subject lines that matter and don't lie (unless you are a click-bait company)

Focus on the kind of relationship you want to build with your subscribers.

Just like with your best friends and family - you already know how to do this!

You know how to write a subject line and an email that generates the person on the other end opening, reading, and taking the action you want. 

Now, this didn't happen in one email and it didn't happen by tricking or lying. 

I know for myself, I want to grow relationships with two kinds of people - first, people that are tired of trying to run a serious business with digital duct tape and are open and willing to give Kajabi a look; and secondly those that have said yes to Kajabi but they want to know how to use it better. 

I want them to get to know me as the everyday mom + attorney who is doing her best, just like they are, and who is going to keep my observations to just that - what I've seen and done myself and with clients. If getting someone to open my email is going to take being deceitful in my catchy subject line, then that isn't my person because that's not the type of serious business that I'm operating. 

Can I be funny? Sure - I try. 

At the end of the day - it's all about building the relationships.

Here are just a few ways that I create the type of relationship that I want with my subscribers who ultimately become my customers:

  • I use my phone and record audio or video messages and send it directly to them.
  • I ask questions that I genuinely want a reply to.
  • I spend 80% of my time liking, commenting, and sharing the content of other people. 
  • I ask new subscribers about how I can help them.
  • I use Kajabi's Automations ALL over the place to do the heavy lifting for me so that as the subscribers and customers reply and respond to what I am doing or asking - I have the time to give them. 
  • I look for 1:1 opportunity to grow my relationship with my subscribers. 

What is ONE action after reading and listening to all this that you can take to capture, attract, and hold the attention of your subscribers? 

P.S. I've definitely been known to send out hidden gift cards to replies to my questions, emails, and prompts (and yes, I've built that into Kajabi!)