January 17, 2021

You’re probably sick of me calling this list my “online family.”

You need to know it’s not lip service…and since we know words matter, how you “name” anything is the first step to treating it with the proper respect.

That’s why I do it…because I am especially respectful of the word “list.”

My first job in direct marketing in 1981 was as a “List Manager.”

No, I had no idea what that meant…and neither would you if you were me back then.

In case you’re not aware, there’s no superlative in high school for “Most Likely to Become a List Manager”…then or now.

What that title meant to me at the time: A job that would give me a 33% pay increase from $9,000 a year to $12,000 a year and enable me to move out of my parent’s house.

What that title means to me, looking back, and to this day: It was a kick-ass first job, one where I would learn so much about list segmentation, RFM, LTV…and most importantly, how creative, copy, and messaging are so intertwined with lists. 

That may seem simple to you assuming you are an experienced marketer; but for a wide-eyed 23 year old (now in his 60’s), it has been a lifelong revelation. 

And it was a title and job that ignited a 40 year career in direct marketing which enabled me to always take the perspective of my audience first…my list first…and therefore, my offline and online family first. 

Obviously so much has changed over the past 40 years in marketing…but one thing remains constant: 

Human beings are still human beings with the same wants and desires that they’ve always had. 

The products and services change…but not what’s at the core. 

And having a lot of these human beings in your world (and on your list) is your most valuable asset…but one that comes with enormous responsibility. 

Having 5,000 “friends” on Facebook is OK…not much responsibility there; but having 5,000 followers, peers, students, buyers, readers, mentors, mentees–on your list–is an extended family for a lifetime. 

Especially if you curate them and care for them the right way. 

What’s my thesis today since you’ve heard about this from me so often in the past? 

It’s about the best ways (i.e. sources) to build that spectacular family. 

(Hint: It’s not scraping “likes” from Facebook or throwing names from a compiled list of “suspects” onto your list). 

And by “best ways” I am not saying “most profitable,” especially short term. 

They are the best in terms of building a list (that becomes a family) because you are focused much more on quality, not quantity…with an eye on engagement, not simply open rates…and with more engagement you can add a healthy dose of personalization (i.e. not everything needs to be an automated funnel). 

I leave money on the table employing these so-called best practices for list building—they are not the best for everyone and I understand that. 

But I guarantee that some of what you will read below will resonate with you in some way wherever you are on the list building spectrum—from simply making more money to being a “director of sales prevention.” 🙂 

The 4 best practice techniques below to build a list/family are simply a guide–you can dial them up or dial them down as you see fit for your own business, mission and vision. 

“Doberman Dan” Gallapoo, a wonderful copywriter, raconteur and all around great guy wrote a piece in his newsletter some months ago on the 4 best sources you can use for list building. 

I assume his definition of “best” closely mirrors mine. 

That is, I believe Dan is in my camp of building for quality over quantity first. 

There’s also a corollary to keep in mind whether you lean more toward quality or quantity: 

It is just as important to add someone valuable to your list/family as it is to delete someone (not so valuable) from your list…you don’t want people who don’t belong there or don’t want to be there. 

There is beauty in what I call “valid unsubscribes.” 

Or, as Gary Halbert famously said (and you can replace “support system” with “list” or “online family” if you like):

“A support system is like a garden and you always need to be on the lookout for weeds to pull”

It seems that Gary might take it a step further–valid unsubscribes can be your choice and not theirs. 🙂

1) Joint ventures 

This is a broad area and there are “JV’s” of all kinds…with the best ones beginning with full engagement and the worst ones beginning with “adding names through convenience” or selling at all costs. 

Regarding engagement: Anytime you are asking someone to opt in to your list/family, it has to be a congruent transaction, whether it’s for money, time or information. 

Whether it’s from a launch (through an affiliate), an “email swap” (two congruent list/family owners giving appropriate  and meaningful reasons why their list/family should opt into the other’s list/family) or any other kind of joint venture, always making sure there is logic and a compelling reason to be venturing jointly is the standard.

(NOTE: Are you getting tired of me saying list/family every time I mention the word list? Too bad. It might be the most important part of this blog post… )

2) Books 

If you are an author of a book wouldn’t it be grand to have family members, near and far, read it and then subscribe to be part of your family forever? 

I’m obviously referring to family members who are not linked to you by blood. Those family members have to buy and/or read your book due to obligation. So they don’t count in this example. 

It’s not easy to capture the names of eager buyers and fans of your book(s)…especially when Amazon rules the world. 

But I’m sure you see the value of “locking them up with you” (i.e. to be on the inside of everything you’re up to on an ongoing basis after they buy your book)… don’t you? 

Having that book buyer as a family member is very valuable on so many levels. That’s why many use books as a lead magnet (e.g. sell a book for “free plus shipping and handling,” and not through a third party seller). 

In this scenario, you move volume (and gain quantity of names), the book itself is usually more of a tool rather than a literary masterpiece, and your goal is to sell much more in related information or services to those buyers through an elaborate funnel. 

This could come at the expense of cultivating or curating a family. Or not. It depends on the book and the corresponding funnel. 

Not a bad thing. But a different thing. 

Using a book this way for list building is also a different thing that can make you a lot of money fast if done well (and sometimes it makes you money fast even when it’s not done well). 

It’s just not my preferred model…but that doesn’t mean you can lump me in with the directors of sales prevention either. 

Many marketers disagree with me when I said I preferred not to do this with my books, with one successful author/entrepreneur saying, “The ONLY way to sell a book is to use a FREE plus shipping and handling model with a funnel.” 

My way is not the only way and neither is his…it’s all about why you are writing a book in the first place, what kind of list/family you are building and what you really want to do with your life (i.e. how you want to spend time with your family). 

I prefer having a “support system” made up of family and friends rather than low ticket buyers moving up an ascension model quickly…with some becoming family…but many others just becoming “weeds.” 

“Weeds” (from the Halbert quote above), in this case, are defined as people who don’t belong or don’t want to to be with you–and they will soon become unsubscribes, bounces…or in the worst case, accusers (of your spamming tactics). 

Another option is to offer a $17 book for $10 plus free shipping…qualifies the buyers a little more. Still not my preference. 

The way I choose to do it—a way that adds only quality family members (with a lot less quantity)—is to direct people to a valuable site to buy the book (in my case either www. TheLegendsBook.com or www.OverdeliverBook.com.

They go there, buy the book from any vendor listed and in any format they like, and then they access free bonuses and tons of related resources and materials for buying the book there (as opposed to buying straight from Amazon or Barnes and Noble). 

The resource site is listed inside the book as well to attract additional family members over time who bought the book elsewhere. 

Over delivering on free bonuses rather than offering a free book is a way to build a family and not just a list. 

It’s a “get rich slowly” concept and I’m OK with that. 

And of course I’m OK if you want to build a list fast, quickly and cheaply which may get you rich faster. And you certainly don’t need my approval to get rich fast. 

However, I’m willing to play the tortoise model; but it’s good to know the hare model is out there too. 

Bottom line: Books are one of the best ways to build a list (and maybe a family too).

3) Public Speaking 

If someone is willing to invest any time with you to hear you speak, and they connect with you, chances are they might want more from where that speech or presentation came from. 

I know this is “Online Marketing 1.0” but capturing whoever is in that audience who is looking to be adopted into your family is a must—and you need to give them an easy way to do that. 

It’s all about the opt-in…and how you create the opt-in will determine who comes out of the crowd…and how they will then show up at future family gatherings. 

The same rules of the road apply here as they do for books…you can turn the spigot up high (give them an incredible free offer to opt in to your list/family) or turn it down a bit to an attractive drip to only attract those folks in the crowd who are right-fit,  list/family members. 

Both ways are fine…quantity and quality will vary based on the technique you use. 

It’s the same principle that I wrote about in “How you sell is how they respond” which was about subscription marketing…it applies here when you’re not selling anything too. 

And then you can reevaluate constantly to see whether your list/family grows the way you are most comfortable with in terms of providing value, information and paid products or services. 

The rule of thumb is always the same: Make the opt-in 100% congruent with your speech or presentation. That is a non-negotiable no matter what kind of list or family you are building.

4) Being a Guest on Other People’s Podcasts 

Under my philosophy of list/family building, these are among the best new family members I ever add. 

Like with a speech, if someone listens to you for an hour on a podcast (without leaving during the first 10 minutes!)…and you send them somewhere where you double down on the content you just delivered (for an opt-in to your family), those will generally be your family members for life. 

After I do a podcast that I am particularly proud of, I often take it a step further. 

If I can track the opt-ins from a particular podcast, I reach out to some of them personally through email and engage with them. 

Of course there is an automated funnel/autoresponder working in parallel while I’m reaching out personally—i.e.  they get a welcome email, a welcome series etc.–but nothing can match the personal touch. 

And since I only get a few from each podcast, it’s not very time consuming…and the wisdom you gain from this, whether it’s assessing your avatar in real time or figuring out what you can provide for your family in the future, is information that is more profound  than any autoresponder or automated funnel. 

This is not an “or”…it’s just an “and” that so few people do. 

My favorite response when I reach out personally: 

“Is this really YOU, Brian? This is automated, right?” 

I love when that happens. 

It is all part of zigging whenever everyone else is zagging.  

There are many more sources of list building of course–other forms of social media (Facebook, Youtube), a blog (for both building and nurturing) etc. 

But whatever you use, keep it congruent to all the reasons “WHY” you want to build a list/family. 

As I said at the beginning of this post, human beings are, and always will be, human beings. 

And COVID or no COVID, everyone wants to be with their family as often and regularly as possible. 

Make it comfy for them above all else.  



About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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