The Biggest Business Mistake I Ever Made

by | May 25, 2015

I didn’t know it when it happened, but it was the teleconference call that changed my life—my business life.

It was a monthly call with a mastermind group. We talked about marketing and tried to help each other get better at it.

Although my blog was becoming popular, I was struggling trying to find ways to make it profitable.

I was describing my frustration about this when one of the group members asked how my email list was doing.

“Pretty poorly, to be honest,” I replied. “I started a newsletter a few years ago, but haven’t kept it up, and there aren’t a lot of signups anyway, so why bother?”

“Well that’s your problem right there,” he said. “You’ve got great traffic, all you have to do is start building that list and you’ll be amazed at what happens next.”

He went on to give me some specific ideas about how to go about doing that.

So I started working on growing my email list, and eventually I found out my friend was right. This one effort has completely changed my business, my relationships with my peers, and the number of opportunities that are open to me.

A Blog Is Not to Make Money

Sometimes I wonder how I could have missed this crucial task

Well, I was pretty busy at the time. I was posting to my blog 6 days a week and running a book design business at the same time.

After 4 issues of my “newsletter” I quit.

  • I didn’t enjoy it
  • It was too much work creating copy
  • I wasn’t sure why I was doing it
  • It was too hard to deal with formatting

After three years of intense blogging and building my platform, I had plenty of readers, but a measly 1,400 email subscribers.

That was pathetic, because at the time I was getting about 53,000 page views a month.

While the solution was obvious to my mastermind friend, it wasn’t to me. All along I had thought that I was going to find a way to make money from writing blog posts or selling my design services to clients.

But I was wrong.

A blog is not really a way to make money directly. It is a way to grow your own online “empire” indirectly.

It’s Still Going On

I talk to lots of authors, that’s my job. All too often, when I go to visit their websites, they remind me of me in 2011.

Many don’t even have an email signup form on their site. Or if they do, it says something vague and generic like “Sign up for my newsletter, it’s awesome!”

You can tell that building an email list isn’t much of a priority for these authors. They haven’t woken up to the power of email in an author’s career.

Maybe that’s because they haven’t been listening to our more successful authors, bloggers, and book marketing specialists. If they had, they would have gotten the message, just as I eventually did.

For instance, here’s what uber-blogger and author Jeff Goins has to say:

“So many communicators don’t get the attention they deserve. Their messages fade into oblivion and irrelevance. Why? Because they neglect the single most important element to building a tribe. They forsake one simple, but essential marketing asset: the email list.”—Jeff Goins

Jeff’s a young writer who has pushed his career off to a great start with his blog. Here’s what publishing industry veteran and New York Times bestselling author Michael Hyatt has to say:

“People often ask, ‘What’s the most important thing I need to do in building my platform?’ My answer? ‘Develop a robust email list.’ … The most important metric when you’re building a personal platform is your number of email subscribers. Everything else is secondary.”—Michael Hyatt

And Dan Blank, a writer and consultant to authors and publishers—with one of the best email newsletters I’ve seen—knows how this works, too:

“Time and time again, I hear from successful authors that email is not only important, but actually essential in establishing meaningful connections to readers, and to selling more books.”—Dan Blank

My big mistake was ignoring my email list. I just didn’t understand why it was crucially important until a friend showed me the light.

Now my email list is at the core of my business, the one thing that helps me the most on my mission to make the world better for indie authors.

That mistake cost me thousands of dollars, tens of thousands of lost opportunities to grow my network, and that means tens of thousands of opportunities to help authors reach their publishing goals.

In other words, for a long time my mistake kept me from reaching my own goals.

That doesn’t have to happen to you.

Once I “got religion” my list signups skyrocketed, growing 2000% over the last couple of years. This one fact has made many things possible for me that were simply impossible before.

On Friday I’ll be back to talk more about email for authors, and to let you know about some free training that’s coming up, so stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, what about you? Have you “gotten religion” about growing your email list? Ever tried an email newsletter to your followers? Let me know in the comments.

Great Email List Resources

Why I Use and Recommend AWeber for Your Email Marketing

Yes, E-mail Still Works for Book Marketing by Jane Friedman

How to Get a Ton of New Subscribers to Your Blog by Michael Hyatt

How I Use Email Newsletters to Drive Traffic and Make Money by Darren Rowse

Email List Building Series (Part 1): The Power of an Email List (And Why It’s a Must) by Kimberley Grabas

Email Marketing for the Time and Cash-strapped Self-published Author by Caimin Jones

Email Marketing: How to Push Send and Grow Your Business by Copyblogger Media (opt in required, well worth it)

How Authors And Writers Can Build An Email List For Marketing by Joanna Penn

Best Email Platforms for Small Business by


tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Michael N. Marcus

    I’ve tried email campaigns for several businesses, some for months, some for years, and was never convinced of their value.

    They required too much work for uncertain return (or tiny return or no return).

    Emails, even when subscribed to, are easy to miss amid the mass of spam. Some email is received but not opened, or never received. I know I miss a lot of email sent to me. Some of it is important.

    Receiving email is PASSIVE. Once someone signs up for an email program, she may never engage again, not even to click to view an email.

    On the other hand, going to a blog or website is an ACTIVE gesture, a prelude to further engagement. The visit may be prompted by following an online link in other social media or a website, or — even better — by a Google or Bing search.

    My gets 3,000 or more views per day. That’s not as good as Huffpost, but it’s better than most blogs.

    My other blogs, websites and Facebook pages have thousands more views. Many of those views lead to transactions. That’s nice.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for your input Michael. Of course, just sending emails isn’t an actual strategy, and will produce little or no result unless you understand who your readers are and how to write those emails. Since many businesses produce the majority of their revenue through email marketing, your results may not be typical. To my mind, clicking around the web visiting blogs is a very low engagement activity, while reading an email in your own inbox is much higher engagement, but maybe that’s just me.

  2. Robert Burton Robinson

    My website certainly doesn’t have the traffic yours has, Joel. But then, my site is not a blog. I get about 5,000 page views per month.

    I do write a blog post once in a while, but the main purpose of my website is to offer my short stories (currently over three dozen, to be read on my site or downloaded or printed) and to showcase my ten novels and novellas. There are sample chapters of all the books (longer samples than Amazon provides).

    I have an email list, and there are links and buttons on my site encouraging visitors to sign up. Subscribers get each new short story I write delivered directly to their Inbox. They also receive any new blog posts and novel excerpts. They don’t even have to visit my website again since all of the content is in the emails.

    So, my email list is mostly a matter of convenience–for the subscriber and for me. They get my new short stories automatically, and I maintain a connection with them, so that when I do publish a new novel, I can let them know about it. Win/win.

    And if they get ever tired of my short stories and don’t want to hear from me anymore, it’s easy to unsubscribe. No biggie. I can’t make people like me or my writing, but if they do enjoy my work, then I certainly want to stay in touch. ;)

    • Joel Friedlander

      That makes sense, Robert, but I think you fall into the category of authors who have been building a mailing list but never actually use it to more personally engage with their readers. I know an author with an email list of 30,000+ in the same boat, and that seems like a bit of a waste to me. There’s so much more you can do with email besides sending out blog posts, and for many fiction authors an e-newsletter seems to work the best. I’ll be talking more about this on Friday.

  3. Annie

    I’m also on the fence. Like your other commenters have mentioned, I am inundated with emails and subscriptions. Many of which keep appearing even though I have unsubscribed from them. And I even keep one email just for emails subs because otherwise I’d go nuts sorting through them to get to my real mail.

    Also my blog is a free wordpress blog. I’ve had it so long that moving over to a self-host blog (which I have done before but that’s another story) means I’ll lose readers and is tantamount to starting over. So I’m not even sure I can put a sign up for my newsletter widget on the blog.

    And content is another issue. I’m blogging, working on a series, FB, Twitter and I freelance for a living. Where am I going to find time to create yet another writing venue? Sigh.


    • Joel Friedlander

      Annie, I hear this from authors quite often. Please tune in Friday, when I’ll have a solution that might work for you.

  4. Linda Sparkman

    I’m on the fence. The comments so far seem to fortify my position. Authenticity is next the a genuine relationship with others. When I participate in an online communication of any kind, I feel compelled to answer every comment.

    You can see the problems this could bring. But, I’m pretty insulted when I give a thoughtful comment and it is seemingly ignored.

    • Joel Friedlander

      To have a productive and enjoyable time online, you might want to depersonalize your expectations just a bit Linda. For instance, on my blog it’s basically impossible for me to answer every comment every day, and many don’t require an answer. But I do read them all, and I’m sure the readers of that article also gain something from your comments. If you really want a response (we would call that a “call to action”) then the responsibility is on you to make your request persuasive.

  5. Kate Tilton

    I know how vital an email list is so I have been trying to figure out what exactly I should be sharing with my list. I just ran a survey and it seems that my list is split half and half between two types of emails I have sent out in the past. I am thinking maybe I can combine the two by using the best elements of both, but we’ll see. It is a but tricky to figure out at first but I know it will be worth it.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Kate, you might be able to handle the different audiences on your list with an email newsletter because you could logically have articles or information for both groups that way. And because you keep up with developments for authors, just start sharing the new or cool stuff you come across, readers will appreciate that.

  6. Carol

    Timely post for me because I am in the process of creating a new blog. Could never figure out how to access email list with my former shared blog, and would like to get it right this time.
    Because I’m not at all techie and am familiar with Blogger, I’m thinking about using it again for my new blog. Also considering Weebly.
    Any advice on which better supports email sign-up and the secret to setting it up?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Carol, I’m not familiar with either Blogger or Weebly, since I’ve always had a self-hosted WordPress blog, where it’s really easy to integrate your email provider’s sign up forms with the software, but I’m sure it can’t be much more difficult on Blogger. Good luck with your new blog.

    • Dan Blank

      You may want to consider a blog or The major email service providers, such as Mailchimp or Aweber, have plug-ins that easily integrate the email sign up form into those blog platforms. Weebly has this as well, though that is a platform I don’t hear used as much as WordPress and SquareSpace for authors:

  7. Amelia Smith

    I have that boring “Sign up to my email list!” widget on my very amateur website and a link to a sign up form in the back of my ebooks. I think I put one in the front, too. I’ve read all the things about offering a free exclusive book etc. etc. but I haven’t pushed very hard. I have maybe 20 subscribers.

    While I’d love to have a big email list, there are two things dampening my enthusiasm. First, of course, is lack of time. What do I really need to be doing now? Writing the next book. Then I look at what I’ve done lately, which is to unsubscribe to all but a handful of the email lists I was on. Do people really want more emails? Maybe, but they have to be the right emails, and not too many of them. I haven’t figured out the magic formula for my readers yet (I write quirky, somewhat literary fantasy, so it will probably always be a small group).

    • Joel Friedlander

      Amelia, I think you’ve got it here: “but they have to be the right emails.” When you really home in on who the readers are who appreciate your quirky writing, and understand how to talk to them, I think you’ll start to see how important an email list is to you.

  8. Katie Cross

    I actually just signed up for Jeff Goins ‘Intentional Blogging’ course to help me out with this very thing. Except I’ve always known how important email lists are, I just haven’t really been able to nail down and peg how to get the subscribers to sign up.

    This affirmation is awesome. Thanks Joel!

  9. Michele Orwin

    Yes, I know this is what we’re all supposed to do. And I’m glad it worked for you. Yet I resist. In part because I regret at least half the email lists I’ve signed up for. My in-box has turned into a constant pitch fest. Not just from retail stores and service providers, but from people in the field who now regularly offer podcasts, and webinars, and guides, and anything else they can think of to sell. The emails, like this one, that contain useful information are lost in the flurry of pitches.

    Like Ebooks, and free books and blogs, what may have worked for early adapters is no longer useful – there are just too many emails.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Michele, I agree that many email lists are used primarily for promotion. If the products or services or books being promoted match your interests, I consider that a good thing. And if they don’t—and this happens to me all the time, too—I just unsubscribe. In face, I unsubscribe from lists every week, it’s the best way to keep unwanted mail out of my inbox. But for the author who knows how to speak to her audience, email can be very powerful.

  10. Ernie Zelinski

    You ask: “Have you ‘gotten religion’ about growing your email list?”

    Of course I have. I agree that an email list can be powerful for building a platform or connecting with readers. I don’t believe, however, that an email list is essential for being a truly successful author. By successful, I mean an author who is truly prosperous and free.

    For the record, I have never developed an email list. For sure, I had intentions of developing one after reading and following the blogs of the great Internet marketers such as John Reese, Brendon Burchard, and Eben Pagen. After getting the “religion”, I started several blogs and had intentions of utilizing email signup forms. I never got around to this.

    I strongly agree with John Reese who says that a great email list will outperform social media at least 10 to 100 times when it comes to marketing one’s books. But in the end I came to the conclusion that there are many ways for a writer to achieve his or her goals. In fact, achieving success as a writer doesn’t have to entail an email list or social media of any type. What it does require is creativity of the highest degree. That’s what I used to develop 75 to 100 of my own marketing techniques that have helped me sell over 875,000 copies of my books worldwide.

    In short, I may not have woken up to the power of an email list. But I have woken up to the power of creative marketing. This is one of my favorite quotations that inspires me to greater heights and helps me achieve my goals as a writer and a marketer:

    “Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day,
    something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else
    would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.”
    — Christopher Morley

    • Joel Friedlander

      Ernie, thanks for your always stimulating commentary. Of course, an email list isn’t an absolute necessity for every author, as you’ve ably proved. However, for most authors, especially those who lack your genius at promotion, it can be massively helpful.



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