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How to Build Your E-mail

List from Scratch

Last month, I wrote about the hazards of being a digital sharecropper and the benefits of reaching your leads, prospects, clients, and referral sources with your platform—like a newsletter or blog. But first you must have a list of people to send it to, and several of you asked how I got started. Let’s talk about that this month.

Last month, I wrote about the hazards of being a digital sharecropper and the benefits of reaching your leads, prospects, clients, and referral sources with your platform—like a newsletter or blog.

But first you must have a list of people to send it to, and several of you asked how I got started. Let’s talk about that this month.

Spoiler Alert—The Short Story

If you want your leads, prospects, clients, and referral sources to read your stuff (a technical term), personally and individually invite them to start receiving it. It’s that simple.

Begin with the End in Mind

Creating an e-mail list is not a strategy. So, you have to know why you want to create that list. What are you going to write about? Who will be interested in reading it? For what it’s worth, the strategy behind my e-mail list was to move from a one-to-one business valuation client service model to a one-to-many leveraged coaching model. That was, and still is, my strategy.

And if you are going to use the list to, say, send out a newsletter, you have to be committed to writing something that contains valuable content on a consistent, predictable basis. My e-mail newsletter comes out every Wednesday morning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I’ve been doing this since July 2015. I’m committed.

Before We Get Started

Having a healthy catalog of LinkedIn connections and e-mail contacts is not your future e-mail list. It’s only a starting point.

If you blithely load those connections and contacts into an e-mail service provider like Constant Contact or MailChimp (what I use) and blast out your newsletter…and enough people complain that you are, in effect, spamming them…your e-mail service provider can suspend your account. Worse still, you could be liable for penalties under the CAN-SPAM Act. Freaking substantial monetary penalties. So, don’t do it.

Instead, your audience of potential readers must voluntarily “opt-in” to be on your e-mail list. This is why you need a “call to action” button or box on your website where people can easily do this. You can see my opt-in box at RodBurkert.com.

Note: some people advocate a “double opt-in”…you’ve probably seen this but didn’t know what it was called. First, you sign up to get something from somebody. Then, that somebody sends you an e-mail to confirm that it was you who signed up. For what it’s worth, I don’t do a double opt-in because, by and large, I know my potential readers or they know me.

How I Built My List

I don’t think there is one best way to build your list, but here is exactly what I did to build mine. You can follow the same steps to get started.

Step 1. I looked at every single one of my LinkedIn connections for their relevance to my strategy for creating my newsletter. I’ve been on LinkedIn since 2007 and there were many connections who were no longer relevant. They changed jobs or careers or retired. And I was pivoting to BVFLS practice development coaching, so I wanted to reach BVFLS people who would be interested in a newsletter with that theme. So, I ended up deleting a few hundred people who I felt were no longer solid connections for my purpose.

Step 2. I did the same thing with my e-mail contacts. I had been accumulating those contacts for even longer than my LinkedIn connections. I probably eliminated a few hundred people here, too, for the same reasons noted above.

Steps 1 and 2 look self-defeating, right? Reduce the number of people I was in touch with while trying to reach people for my e-mail list. You’ll see why in a sec. And I must admit, it was kind of cathartic to purge all of those stale connections and contacts.

Step 3. I exported the remaining LinkedIn connections and e-mail contacts to separate .CSV files. I then combined these separate files into one Excel file.

Step 4. I sorted the combined LinkedIn/e-mail lists by last name so I could easily spot and delete duplicates, which I might have missed if I had sorted by first name—e.g., a Joe/Joseph or Sue/Susan person with the same last name.

At this point, the end result was a list of people who I believed might be interested in subscribing to my newsletter.

Step 5. Since I intended to write a newsletter with valuable content—content that would be useful to my intended audience—I was willing to send each person I identified in Step 4 a personal invitation. Why? Because it is how I want to be approached. Don’t you hate when you find out that someone automatically added you to their e-mail list? Don’t be that person.

My Personal Invitation Process

There were about 700 people on that list from Step 4. I committed to plowing through that list in one month—one invite at a time…or so it might seem.

To make the process efficient and effective, I created four template invitations. Each template highlighted, in a somewhat specific way, how that person and I knew each other and why I thought they would benefit from my newsletter content. Then I customized the invite from there for each person. Here is one of the templates I started with:

Hi, xxxx.

As a friend and colleague, you might know that I am becoming deeply involved in helping BVFLS professionals like you design and build a practice.

But you may not know that I also prepare a short(ish) weekly newsletter. I write at the intersection of 1) what’s interesting to me and 2) what’s helpful to others…but I focus solely on marketing and positioning skills for getting BVFLS work.

If this is a topic that interests you, I would like to invite you to become a reader.

You can subscribe here [link to my website]. If you do, you’ll receive a tool that can help you with your practice starting today. And if it turns out my newsletter is not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

If you are not interested—no harm, no foul. 🙂

Have a great day!

And this is why I culled my LinkedIn connections and e-mail contacts in Steps 1 and 2. I wanted a combined list of people I knew well. People who would want to accept my personal invitation. And when all was said and done, about two-thirds of the people I e-mailed accepted the invitation and became part of my list.

How Big a List Do You Need

I’ve heard that a minimum viable list should have about 1,000 names, likely stemming from Kevin Kelly’s 2008 riff about 1,000 True Fans. But I don’t think this is a hard-and-fast rule. That said, more people on your list are better than less. Still, I will take quality of engagement over quantity of subscribers.

You have to get started somehow, and this process will work for you.


Rod Burkert, CPA, ABV, CVA, MBA, runs things over at Burkert Valuation Advisors, LLC. He’s reinvented his practice several times after going solo in July 2000. Today, his practice offers coaching, training, and consulting to colleagues and clients in the BVFLS world. And since March 2010, he’s been traveling full time throughout the United States and Canada in an RV with his wife and their two dogs.

Mr. Burkert can be contacted at (215) 360-6100 or by e-mail to Rod@RodBurkert.com.

The National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NACVA) supports the users of business and intangible asset valuation services and financial forensic services, including damages determinations of all kinds and fraud detection and prevention, by training and certifying financial professionals in these disciplines.

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