16 Lessons the Wrong Email Marketing Tools Taught Me About Successful List Building

Reading Time: 18 minutes

Content Updated: October 16, 2019

The Right Email Marketing Tool Is Your Key to Business Success

If you’re reading this, you’re most likely an online business owner, or running in the same circles they do.  I’m glad you’ve stumbled upon me. Because if you’re looking to grow your reach, revenue, subscribers, or whatever…  you, me, and every other online business owner I know have a lot in common when it comes to the core tools behind success.  Today, I’m going to give you the low down on one of the most important tools for your business: an email service provider (ESP) for email marketing and list building.

Why an Email List is an Important Business Asset

Since the internet’s been around, email has been a staple.  I’ve personally had my Gmail account since 2004.

But how long you’ve HAD an email address isn’t important. Because either way, I’d be willing to bet you’ve had an email on SOME platform for the better part of two, maybe even almost three decades in the case of folks who’ve been working on intranets…  but that’s another explanation for another day.

Some people are even more protective of their inboxes than they are of their phone numbers.  Email is serious business for most folks.

And the same is true for you, the entrepreneur, in the form of an email list.


You have a social media account with thousands of clients and potential clients.  Then without warning, one day you wake up and the company announces it’s shutting down the platform.  NO warning.  NO plan b.  Nothing.

Worse?  That was your only lead generator for your business.

That’s what happened recently with Blab users.  The owners just up and decided to shut down the app with no warning.

What if that happened to Facebook?  It can.  Facebook terms of service for business profile pages, business groups, and Facebook ads can be strict.  And if you’re not up to date on the finer details, your account can be shut down with no warning and no recourse for action.

What would you do if that’s the only way you had to connect with your potential clients?  Because not everyone has a website.  There are lots of businesses thinking outside the box and not using the traditional path of creating an online business that’s anchored with a website.

So you’d find yourself with no website, no social media group of thousands, nothing.

So, now what?

Enter Salvation: Your Email List and Email Marketing

What is email marketing?

Email marketing is the process of growing a list of email addresses for the purpose of sending them sales and marketing information for a whole host of ideas.  But bottom line, it’s to make sales pitches to people who trust you enough to exchange their email for the info you provide to them.

For the unfortunate souls who find themselves without a site, or without a social media platform that was their main lead generator. An email list can be the difference between a flat lined business and a foundation for thriving and surviving the unexpected.

From no list to tripling my income in 6 months

I wanna tell you a little story.  It starts about six months ago with my first product idea.  I had a friend and online mentor recommend an email marketing tool called ConvertKit.  (Up until that point I hadn’t used an email marketing tool for MY business and had a list of zero subscribers. As a freelancer, I’ve worked in many email service provider platforms for clients though.)

In the process of getting my product ready for launch I signed up for ConvertKit.  I ran a Facebook ad to a freebie, started growing my email list with that optin and, with their permission, added current clients to my list too.

Literally in one night, after four hours of training and work, I had my whole ConvertKit account set up and a sales funnel in place.  That’s how easy ConvertKit is to navigate.

Within a couple of weeks I had almost 100 subscribers.  No sales though.  So I put my thinking cap on, came up with an offer, and sent it to a segment of the list I had grown so far (ties into the ESP comment above so pay attention here).  There were only 15 people on this list.

BOOM!  I made almost $2000 in 5 days.  And that was the beginning, my friends.  After that I was addicted.  Still am.

And that is why email marketing is VITAL to your business.

But, it’s also imperative to choose the RIGHT systems for your particular business.  For me and the majority of my clients, ConvertKit checks all the boxes and then some for several reasons I’ll get to in just a minute.  But there are exceptions…

The Boundaries

ConvertKit isn’t for everyone.  I know, I know.  How can I be saying that as a ConvertKit Certified Expert?!?  Sounds traitorous at first.  But it’s absolutely true.

If you need a complete automated business solution or a customer relationship manager (CRM), ConvertKit is definitely NOT the tool for you.  Nathan Barry, founder of ConvertKit, holds to the philosophy that all of those added bells and whistles are what make a program difficult to use, expensive, and full of glitches.

Nathan and the ConvertKit team want to do one thing and one thing only.  And they want to do that one thing exceptionally well:  they want to create an easy to use, powerful email marketing system.

Because of this, ConvertKit partners with the best of the best to offer integrations for other needed services like ecommerce, membership sites, etc.  And they are adding more partners every day.  Like their most recent integration with the leading online landing page company, LeadPages.

Other reasons to not switch to ConvertKit: you just want to send pretty newsletters; you aren’t selling any products; or you aren’t willing to invest in a tool.

The Selling Points

If you’ve made it this far with me, you’re probably interested enough to learn a bit more before you make the final decision to take the leap and switch to ConvertKit.

I’ve got just the thing for you.  A list of reasons why you should.  This isn’t just any list.  It’s the be all, end all of benefits to migrating from your current ESP or starting your first list building and email marketing account sooner rather than later.  PLUS, I’m going to tell you WHY each of these benefits is so important for your business.

16 Lessons Inferior Tools Taught Me About Successful Email List Building 

#1: A customized user experience is necessary.

A customized user experience provides users with content that is geared to their unique needs and interests, keeps them engaged with your content, and makes them more likely to respond to your call to action, like opting in for your free offer. This feature is necessary for me because of the distinctly different blog topics I cover, and because I needed to run two businesses out of my own email service provider account. ConvertKit lets you display a custom form to match the content on the page.

The WordPress ConvertKit plug in allows you to display a different optin form for each page on your site if you like.  Once your optin is created in ConvertKit, just log into your WordPress back end, go to the page where you want the optin embedded, scroll to the ConvertKit plug in section, and choose from the drop down which optin form should be seen on that page.  Then update.  It’s that simple to customize forms on a page or a post.

One main way to use this simply and effectively is with a content upgrade.  Say you’re a food blogger, or a health coach, something along those lines, and you have a recipe or a meal plan you’ve just created a blog post for.  You can take the content, turn it into a prettied up PDF, and offer it as a content upgrade to the reader.  BOOM! You’ve got an email lead magnet.

You can literally do this for all your hot content.  Heck, you can do it for every blog post you have if you want.  I’d recommend starting out with your most popular posts first.  It’s the quickest and easiest way to start the front end of what could be a very simple, or built out automated marketing funnel that leads to more revenue with warm leads that you know already love your content!

PLUS, if you have two businesses, like I do, this allows you to have multiple forms for both businesses and display them on the appropriate site.


#2: Subscriber centric email marketing programs are superior to list centric ones.

I really hate when an online program holds you over a barrel…  I’ll try to remain civil here, but there are a few online programs, not just email marketing platforms either, that seem STUCK on pricing for their benefit and not caring about customer satisfaction. ConvertKit doesn’t charge for duplicate subscribers.

There are some email service providers (not naming names here) that charge multiple times for an account’s subscribers because those people are on multiple lists in the account. I’ve migrated clients to ConvertKit that were able to cut their monthly service fee almost in half because ConvertKit is subscriber centric instead of list centric and only charges for each subscriber ONE TIME… regardless of the number of lists that individual may subscribe to.

I know that sounds like a little geek speak, and it is.  But basically, do you want to pay for a loaf of bread twice just because you use it to make toast AND sandwiches?  Or do you think you should only have to pay for one loaf of bread once no matter how many different ways you use it?  Exactly…

#3: Real time reporting lets the data be in the driver’s seat.

I needed to be able to see… in real time… how my email list subscribers were responding to different offers, optin placements, which topic links were getting clicked on the most, etc. Because you can’t decide what move is right for your business unless you have plenty of data to guide you, ConvertKit offers statistics and reporting for each form, sequence, broadcast, and individual subscriber.

One of the beautiful benefits of working with ConvertKit is their reporting features.  You can see on one screen how many people are subscribing to a form, reading an email, unsubscribing from a sequence, etc. (Pic is of sequence report.)

Real time feedback like this is beneficial when you’re tweaking your email message. It allows you to test which offers your subscribers are responding to the best, or which form on your site is receiving more sign ups, etc.  That kind of data is pivotal when creating a successful email marketing campaign and sales funnel that could literally revolutionize your business.


#4: Displaying custom content for secondary offers is next level for returning visitors.

BeastMode is necessary to be successful in email marketing and when it comes to secondary offers, retargeting, etc. ConvertKit allows you to display custom content after someone has already subscribed to a form on a page. So you can customize a secondary offer for subscribers to see.

Let’s say you have subscribers, very loyal ones, who have already subscribed to a list.  And there’s a new blog post they just read that has an optin for the same list.  ConvertKit allows you to show those subscribers different content.  So you can make up a secondary offer to keep your reader engaged and always going through your email marketing system on some level increasing your chances of closing a sale with them.

The more they follow you, the more you build their trust, the more you pull them in with value added content and offers for things they need, the greater likelihood they will purchase from you.  So secondary offers are an amazing benefit to using ConvertKit.  This creates a more custom user experience for your reader.

#5: Powerful automations are the heart of email marketing sales funnels.

Powerful automations… this is the cornerstone of building an engaged email list.  I needed the most effective and user friendly system for creating online funnels without the problems other bulky programs experience and for a fraction of the price.  ConvertKit’s automation rules are limitless when it comes to creating email marketing sales funnels.

Using simple if this/then that logic, ConvertKit’s automation rules are unsurpassed in my opinion.  I understand there are other email marketing systems out there that have great automation capability.  But the ease of use and unlimited potential to create logic statements in ConvertKit is truly unparalleled.

You are only limited by your own imagination in this area.


#6: Link trigger automations can create click maps for engaged readers.

Sometimes I need a little nudge with my readers. There are times when I’m not sure what they need help with, what’s been a struggle, and how I can best help them.  ConvertKit offers link trigger automations to create a click map which is helpful for seeing the topics my readers are MOST interested in. This helps me create list segments and personalize my offers to my subscribers’ needs.

It’s possible to have cross sections of people on your list that are interested in the same topic.  An easy and effective way to know this is by creating link triggers.  Link triggers are an automation tool that allow you to see in real time which links your subscribers are clicking on, no matter which cross section of your list they are tagged in.

Using this info, you can create list segments, combining several cross sections of your list, to send out broadcasts or create sequences that lead to certain promotions everyone on that segmented list is interested in.

One of my favorite ways to use link triggers is for simple retargeting campaigns with Facebook ads.  Subscribers click the link, you take the list of everyone who’s clicked an interest in that product, upload it to Facebook, and BOOM!  You now have an instant warm audience to show your ads to.

#7: The ability to resend unopened emails makes sure ALL emails get read.

I needed to be able to make sure no emails were slipping through the cracks without having to run fancy reports or researching issues.  With a very simple click of a button, ConvertKit allows you to resend emails that have been unopened by some of your subscribers.

Sometimes you’ll want to send out one-time special offers or promotions, reminders, etc.  If you use a one-time broadcast email for these one off messages, ConvertKit allows you to re-send the email to people who never opened it the first time around for whatever reason.

If you sent a limited-time offer and you re-send it to your unopened list, even if just one more person opens that email and you make one sale… that one simple click will have been worth it.  Especially if your offers are high ticket items.


#8: Tagging allows you to create focused marketing campaigns based on subscriber data.

Tagging creates measurable data. I needed the most effective tagging tool to be found. Because that is where the money is, folks.  ConvertKit has amazing tagging functionality.

What’s tagging you ask?  And why is it important?  Well… let me count the ways…

Tagging is like the ConvertKit tattle tale of features.  You can have your account set up so that no matter what someone does in any spot in your process, they will be assigned a unique tag.  This creates a big picture of how your subscribers are interacting with your emails and what each subscriber is interested in.

Tagging can provide you with two things:

  1. TONS of data you’ll use to make focused marketing decisions based off of,
  2. And more opportunities than you can shake a stick at as far as what types of products to create and offer to help your business grow in the direction your subscribers are directing you.

How invaluable could that data be to your business? I KNOW!

#9: Customization of Forms & Pages Should be User Friendly, Simple, and Effortless

I don’t have time to learn and implement multiple plugins and tools, or learn several computer languages, and I think it’s a waste to pay a developer to tweak every form and optin because of the ESP I choose to use.  ConvertKit makes customizing forms super easy with custom CSS boxes built into the user friendly interface.

When someone is checking out your website, you want them to have an overall seamless user experience.  From your branding to your message… everything needs to be consistent.  So when you’re using WordPress for a website, Gumroad for a shopping cart, Genesis for a theme framework, and then you throw in another program like ConvertKit for your email marketing, you want to make sure that all these pieces to your online puzzle fit together exactly as they should.

ConvertKit allows you to create optin forms that are customized for your unique site layout.  So your users don’t even realize that they are just looking at one piece of the puzzle that makes your business run well.

And if you’re having trouble with the custom CSS, I have three options for you.

  • One, reach out to The ConvertKit Family Facebook Group.  There’s always plenty of us available to help with code tweaks FOR FREE, just to be helpful.
  • Two, the ConvertKit team can help if you email support.
  • And three, Google has always been and will always be one of the best resources on the planet, even for code tweaks.


#10: Forms, landing pages, and content upgrades that are housed in one email platform is efficient, effective, and budget friendly.

I needed to be able to create forms, landing pages, content upgrades, and templates without learning another program, or paying for another service, or adding to my never-ending to do list.  ConvertKit allows you to customize email templates, forms, and landing pages SO easily.

The optin form and landing page editor in ConvertKit allows you to customize the copy, pictures, and colors for all your optins.  You can edit, save, view, test, and tweak some more… all from the same user screen.  And if you want your form or page to do something more custom than the editor will allow, there’s always custom CSS code tweaks.

Don’t be scared!

I want you to know I’ve been where you are today.  It was only about 6 months ago that I could say I had never written HTML or CSS code ever before in my whole life.  Now, I do it off and on all day, every day, AND ENJOY IT!

You don’t have to be a programmer or developer to customize your forms and pages in ConvertKit.  There are some very simple code snippets you can use.

#11: Efficiency, proficiency, integrations, and affordability are all important.

As a small business owner, financial investment in tools can seem like a double edged sword. But you can’t sacrifice everything and expect to get ahead.  I needed a tool that would allow me to use necessary programs, like Acuity and Gumroad, to offer the best service to my clients and potential clients WITHOUT it costing a fortune. ConvertKit is affordable AND offers the best integrations with leading platforms in the field of shopping carts, membership sites, schedulers, etc.

Remember what I said above about ConvertKit wanting to be an expert at email marketing only and leaving the other functions to the respective experts in those areas?  HUGE selling point.  The list of integrations is a long one and growing all the time.  You can see a roadmap of all improvements, upgrades, and integrations ConvertKit has planned at any time on their roadmap updates.  The team also encourages you to email in if you have suggestions or features you think they should offer. (Pic only shows SOME of the integrations.)


#12: Integrations with other business tools & social platforms increases the power of an email service provider.

I wanted to be able to capture every possible subscriber no matter how they found me online, and use one app to do it.  ConvertKit integrates with Contact Form 7, Acuity Scheduling, and Facebook to allow you to tag and market subscribers coming into your business from every possible point of entry.

It really doesn’t matter how someone finds you online.  If they book a call, send an email, enter info on a contact page, optin on a site, reach out through a Facebook contact page, or whatever… ConvertKit has a way to integrate it with your account so you can add that person to your list.  They even offer Twitter cards so you can tweet out optins and get more subscribers from there.


#13: Automated RSS Syndication of blog posts is such a time saver.

ConvertKit lets you create an automatic RSS feed blog post to be emailed to subscribers as soon as the post is published.

There’s one of two ways you can set this up.  You can have your RSS posts automatically send via a one-time broadcast every time you post a new blog.  OR you can have the new blog await moderation as a draft in your broadcast folder so you can make any needed tweaks to the email before you send it out manually or set it for a future day/time.

#14: Custom Landing Pages Help Increase Conversions.

Custom landing pages can mean the difference between high conversions or leaving money on the table. I know there are programs out there BUILT for custom landing pages. But when you factor in the extra cost, time to learn the software, time to integrate, and time to implement to use this service… it just makes sense to me to use a tool that has everything I need in ONE place.  ConvertKit offers custom landing pages without the added hassle of having to use another service for this necessary feature.

At the time ConvertKit was recommended to me, I did not have the funds to pay for a landing page program.  And quite honestly, I really didn’t have the extra time to build each one in the backend of my WordPress site either.  The fact that ConvertKit offered the landing page feature was HUGE for me.

The first email marketing campaign I told you about above, the one where I made $2000 in five days, I used a ConvertKit landing page for that campaign.  Worked like a charm.

There are four landing page options.  And they are pretty basic.  But again, if you know a couple very simple code tweaks, you can add your social media icons and have them linked, you can have a contact page, privacy policy, and terms pages be linked to comply with Facebook ad guidelines, too.

#15: Deliverability is ultimately the most important feature of an email service program.

Deliverability is probably the MOST important feature of ANY ESP.  I wanted to use the tool with the best deliverability numbers in the business, hands down.  ConvertKit deliverability is much greater than others because of stripped down, text based email formatting.

An email is only useful if it’s opened.  Right?  Thus, one of the most important factors to consider when choosing and ESP should be deliverability.  Because if people don’t receive your emails, they surely can’t open them and read your content or respond to your offers.

Now, stay with me here.  I’m going to talk a little geek speak for a minute.

Deliverability is an email marketing company’s track record of their emails landing in readers’ inboxes, instead of the promo folders, junk folders, or spam folders.

Things that cause an email to land in the spam, junk, or promo folders instead of the inbox:

  • multiple links,
  • lots of images or super large images,
  • fancy newsletter formatting with lots of embedded HTML, etc.
  • email marketing platforms that have been flagged for permitting spam

With ConvertKit you’ll get basic, stripped down email formatting that improves deliverability EXPONENTIALLY.

I have clients who have numbers in the 70% for their emails, one even has numbers in the 90% range.  Granted, this is partly because they have an awesomely qualified list, but also because ConvertKit has high deliverability rates across the board-EVEN GREATER THAN INDUSTRY STANDARDS AND AVERAGES!

If you use ConvertKit, you’ll rest assured knowing your subscribers are getting every email you send out, even if you can’t help yourself and pretty your templates up a bit.

#16: Quality is always better than quantity when it comes to an email list.

I wanted a highly qualified email list, not just a high number of subscribers to stroke my ego. Account holders who utilize ConvertKit’s double optin feature enjoy highly qualified lists.

Here’s what I mean by a highly qualified list.  I know you’ve entered your email address online for something before, even if it’s a coupon, or when you made an online purchase, etc.  Then you magically started receiving emails from companies.

Think back really hard now.  What’s one of the first emails you received?  A confirmation email, right?  And what did you do with it? Ignored it, right?  Well, I’m gonna be honest even if it surprises you… I just delete them, too.  Because who cares about a confirmation email?

We have short attention spans.  Even if we signed up for some free offer or coupon or whatever, when we see that confirmation email we immediately dismiss it.

The problem is twofold with this. 

  • One, in some countries you have to get someone’s permission to send marketing emails to their email address.  With how globally minded online business can be these days it would be really hard to know exactly which countries require the double optin.  But even worse, it would be damn near impossible to manually keep everyone separated if some of your subscribers HAD to confirm through a double optin and some didn’t have to.  Ya feel me?
  • Second, if you can’t get someone to confirm their account, they are like dead weight on your email list.  There’s really no use for them.  You can’t send them any other materials at all.  They will just be stuck there as unconfirmed unless you decide to do a manual purge to clean up your list.

One of the best tricks I use in my clients’ and my own ConvertKit accounts is disguising a double optin.  To do this, you simply change the verbiage of the subject line, message content, and button wording to all relate to the freebie they are signing up for INSTEAD OF it being centered around confirming your email address.  SO STINKING SIMPLE.

Then you have a list full of qualified leads to use.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Now, I know this is a lot of information to take in.  It’s probably best if you marinate on it some.  So while you do, I’ve got some goodies for you.

  • Click here and receive your first month of ConvertKit on me! ***Exclusions Apply***
  • I’ve also made an introduction to ConvertKit video to watch so you can have a heads up on how this amazing tool looks and works.
  • I’m including a migration map. This will help show you the steps you need to take to migrate yourself from your current provider to ConvertKit, or start setting up your first email marketing account with them.
  • I’ve added a funnel/autoresponder chart.  This will help you lay out every single way someone can get access to your email list.  And will also help you when you are setting yourself up in ConvertKit.
  • PLUS, I’m also going to give you some sample code for a custom email template, and a custom landing page.

But the one thing I’m most excited to give you is my scheduling link. After you’ve had a chance to check out all the goodies, maybe look around in ConvertKit, try some things out, and formulate some questions… book a quick call with me.  I’ll help you go over your list of questions and straighten out the rough spots for ya in a 30 minute strategy call!

I believe in ConvertKit so much, I’m willing to help you just as much as it’s helped me.  So grab all your goodies, check it out, then reach out to me if you need help with the finishing touches

Have fun playing with your new toy!

***If you’ve signed up for ConvertKit previously, the free month’s service is not available, sorry!***

Disclosure: I have included affiliate links in this post. To read my Disclosure Policy in its entirety, click here.  Thank you for supporting my site! 

How ConvertKit changed email marketing success for me


I’m April and I’m known for a couple of amazing skills. They both have one thing in common… I make it rain. Book a call with me today and we'll ignite your business.


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