3 ways to grow your email list by challenging yourself in public

3 ways to grow your email list by challenging yourself in public
Credit: Source: Pexels

We’ve heard it time and again, stories engage and convert readers better than most other forms of content. They’re powerful and can even make the busiest people pay attention to what you have to say.

Hence, when you come in front of your audience and say a thing like “Hey, come watch me grow my business from 0 to 100,000 users in nine months,” you’d get them excited and they mostly want to see your outcome.

Even more, they want to see how they can replicate your methods to achieve the same results you attain during the course of the challenge.

And just like they keenly follow their favorite TV shows, they mostly want to subscribe to your email list so they don’t miss any updates on your challenge.

Here are three simple methods you can use to grow your email list using this challenge approach:

1. Promoting the challenge via multiple target influencers

Influencers are people who have been able to earn the trust of their followers over time. They’ve provided pieces of content that have solved problems for their followers several times and have now become relevant in the lives of a lot of people.

So when they post content online, they easily get comments, shares, likes, traffic and (most importantly) sales. By the same token, they can easily publicize your challenge and help you drive tons of targeted visitors.

Real-life example: Alex Turnbull at Groove


Source: Groove

A few years ago, Alex and his team launched a challenge to start making $100k in monthly revenue. They started it as a series on their blog and got quite a lot of people signing up.

They promoted their posts mainly via multiple influencers and just after just 5 weeks, they got 5000 subscribers. How sweet. Imagine what you could do with that amount of subscribers, as a new blog or business.

There are already a lot of posts, videos, etc. on influencer outreach, so I won’t bore you with the same old news.

However, you probably know by now that most influencers get hundreds of emails per day (or week) from people they know nothing about, so your best bet to getting their attention is to literally become their friend.

How do you do that?

A strategy that works a lot for me is reaching out to them via Twitter with this exact question: “Hi John, can I drop you a quick line on an exclusive story”. This doesn’t automatically make them my friends, but it sure strikes up conversations. I get replies like:


Though this wasn’t actually how Alex got in touch with influencers, it’s a tactic that works for me. For Alex, he got Influencers’ attention by using a combination of ‘actions’ like following them on Twitter, tweeting at them (twice), commenting on their blogs (twice), sharing their posts (twice), before finally sending them personal emails to ask what they thought about the challenge he was about to launch.

The whole idea about this is that you shouldn’t just contact influencers to tell them to share your posts when you launch your challenge. That could be considered spammy. You need to get their attention first–– using Alex’s (following, tweeting, commenting, sharing and personal email) approach, your own approach (if any) or my ‘Twitter approach’ (above).

Once you’ve gotten their attention, you can then email them about the challenge you want to launch and ask for their take on it.

Remember, you’re not first asking them to share your posts when you launch the challenge; you just want to know what they think about it. This way, they’d give you their honest opinion about your challenge idea. Plus, you also get to validate that idea.

Here’s the email Alex sent to his target influencers after following them, tweeting at them (twice), commenting on their blogs (twice) and sharing their posts (twice):


Source: Groove.

Once they give you a green light (and they mostly would, if your topic is spot on), you can then ask if they’d be able to help share your posts when you launch the challenge. This was basically how Alex was able to make his target influencers “a part of his team”.

Fast forward to 2 years after the launch of their challenge, they’ve grown their email list to 50,000 subscribers.

Points to note from Alex’s story

  • The number one point you should note here is having a solid plan and following it. For Alex, he knew influencers hold the keys to the door of his target audience, so he tirelessly worked towards building good relationships with target influencers.

For you, it could be guest posting, etc. However, if you’re planning on using influencer outreach like Alex, you need to make sure you connect with a good number of influencers.

  • For Alex and his team, they knew they had to build good relationships with target influencers, and so they gave influencer outreach their best shot.
  • Ensure you’re presenting your challenge in a way that is different from what people are seeing around. As of 2013––when Alex launched the challenge––his topic wasn’t totally new, but he addressed it from a different angle:

“…what we’re going after with this blog is a different perspective. A view from the driver’s seat, with actionable takeaways that you can put directly into your Basecamp project or Trello board to test in your own startup. You won’t find any armchair analysis here; everything we write about will be hard-earned lessons from our own experience, as we learn them on our way to $100,000 in monthly revenue.…” –– Alex Turnbull, Founder at Groove.

  • Use sign-up forms everywhere you can and encourage visitors to sign up to “join your journey” in the challenge.

2. Promoting the challenge series via your personal networks

If you’re just starting an email list and don’t have (lots of) subscribers, yet, your personal networks can come in handy here. These networks include your social media friends/followers, industry communities/forums and so forth.

Real-life example: Benji Hyam and Devesh Khanal at Grow and Convert 


Source: Grow and Convert

Benji and Devesh had zero subscribers, and they beat their chests in front of their social followers and community members that they’ll grow their new blog from 0 to 40,000 monthly unique visitors and 5,000 email subscribers in 6 months.

They promoted their first post (which they used to announce the challenge) via their personal social networks, and got 835 visitors:

Most of these visitors were excited and some of them left comments:


Source: Grow and Convert

That’s how this ‘challenge approach’ works. It gets people engaged and excited to see an outcome. And people join your email list to see where your challenge ends.

Besides their social networks, Benji and Devesh also publicized the challenge on Inbound.org and Growth Hackers. These are two communities that are majorly used by marketers and growth experts (if you’re not in the marketing industry, you’d need to find the relevant community forums in your niche).

Three of their early articles that were shared on Inbound.org got several comments, upvotes and singlehandedly brought in 1,081 visitors.

So Benji and Devesh had an engaged audience, waiting to see the result of their challenge. But the outcome of the challenge is uncertain. It can go in only one of two ways: north or south.

If north, then it’d be all good. Benji and Devesh get all the credit and their reputation grows solid. But if the outcome went south, it can be really bad – if not properly managed.

The latter wasn’t entirely true for GC founders. But they didn’t hit their target either.

They forfeited the challenge after four months of launching it (which was 2 months to their official closing date for the quest) –because they decided to pivot and start focusing on the business side of Grow and Convert. However, they already had 1,767 subscribers and got about 20,000 unique visitors in the month that they forfeited the challenge.

Yet, even at the point of surrender, they still got some really nice comments from their followers – mainly because they were able to manage the situation properly by being transparent about their tactics and results.



Key takeaways from Benji and Devesh’s story

  • Like I mentioned in Alex’s case, you shouldn’t start out without a solid plan. I mean a plan that almost can’t fail. For Benji and Devesh, they knew they had to build good relationships with community members (by answering questions and being active in target communities) to make their posts relevant when they share them.
  • Get a topic that’s highly important to your target audience. Building a subscribers list is huge for virtually every marketer today. In fact, 85 percent of b2b marketers say lead generation (aka list building) is the most important content marketing goal that they want to achieve.

So Benji and Devesh picked the right topic. To make your challenge successful, you need to pick a topic that’s extremely crucial to your target audience.

  • Ensure your challenge is something you can actually crack. Devesh and Benji didn’t set overly tough goals like getting 40,000 monthly unique visitors and 5,000 subscribers in one month. That can be really hard. Instead, they gave themselves enough time: six months.
  • Use all the networks you can get your hands on. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn groups, forums, etc.
  • If you eventually weren’t able to hit your target, be transparent about it. Let your readers know how and why you got the results you have. Like GC’s case, they’ll mostly appreciate you for being so honest.

I haven’t used this challenge strategy, yet, for my business (Premium Content Shop), but apparently, it worked for the blogs above.

3. Guest posting to get subscribers to join your challenge journey

You can also get people to join this challenge via guest blogging on popular sites – like Beth Hayden did on Copyblogger:


Source: Copyblogger

She had 500 subscribers already but knew that she needed more than those to make her challenge a huge success.

In a nutshell

It goes without saying that the types of content that used to work when content marketing was still a shiny new toy don’t cut it anymore.

These days, people are increasingly trying to ensure that their time is wisely spent on content that teaches them proven tactics. This is why you challenging yourself in public can easily catch their attention.

And just like using eBooks and other lead magnets to grow your list, challenging yourself in public can help you generate leads, subscribers and even sales – using the strategies above.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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