How to Find 697 Email Subscribers The First Year

Today is the one year birthday of the Tactics Time chess tactics email newsletter! See founder Tim Brennan’s tale of how his email list grew from three subscribers to 700.

It was one year ago today that I sent out my very first e-mail newsletter.

I use AWeber to send my e-mails, and I highly recommend them. They have great tools, training and support.

I wanted to share 7 tips to other people out there who may be writing e-mail newsletters or are thinking about starting:

Lesson 1: If You Build It, They Will Come.

I sent out my first newsletter on May 22, 2011. At the time I only had 3 subscribers.

During that time my main goal was to try and add at least one new subscriber per day. Sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn’t.

But I think the main thing is to get started, even if you don’t have a lot of subscribers. The early feedback that you get can be very helpful. Don’t wait until you have a bunch of subscribers to start writing a newsletter. Once you start writing it, people can forward it to other people, and then “word of mouth” can spread.

Since that time I have grown my list to nearly 700 people.

2. Progress, Not Perfection

“Ordinary things consistently done produce extraordinary results.” – Keith Cunningham

I didn’t worry about my newsletter being perfect when I first started writing it. My most recent newsletters are much better than the first ones, but I had to learn how to do it, and the best way to do this is by actually doing it.

Later I went back and made improvements based on reader feedback, which gave me a lot of good ideas.

3. Run A Survey

I surveyed my readers and got a lot of good feedback and ideas from them. I used Survey Monkey, which is free and easy to use.

Ask readers what they like and don’t like. You will get ideas that you never thought of. After you get the survey results, make modifications based on the feedback that you get.

4. Get It Working

Lou D’Alo has a three step formula that I like. He says: “Get it working, get it working right, get it working fast.”

I was talking with another chess person, who told me that it takes him several hours to write a newsletter, because he has to fool with all of the HTML and writes each one from scratch.

I told him that this was way too complicated and shouldn’t be that hard. Find a good template, and then reuse this over and over again. This would be the “get it working” phase.

After you have the basics down, then you can add stuff to get it working “right” – adding followup sequences, personalization, graphics, social media links, etc.

After you have all this, you can “get it working fast.” This would be split testing your web forms, adding tools that will automatically broadcast your posts to Twitter and automating what you can.

5. Test Your Web Forms

I read a website where the author mentioned that only asking for the person’s e-mail address instead of name and e-mail address increased their conversions. So I tried this. And the results were the complete opposite!

The web form without the name only had a 1.2% conversion and the opt in form with the name was a staggering 37.5%!

My friend Paul Anderson has the theory that when you only ask for the e-mail it seems kind of shady, but if you ask for the name and e-mail, it seems more trustworthy.

I don’t know if this is true, but the point is to test things with your market.

6. Help Other People Promote Their Own Stuff

I like to help other chess players promote their stuff – I have helped promote chess tournaments, chess books, chess websites, chess tables, chess art exhibits and all sorts of things related to chess. In return, I get publicity as well. It’s a “win win” situation.

I also invite people to write guest newsletters for me, which has worked out really well.

7. Get Ideas From Outside Your Niche

I get most of my ideas about what to write about from outside the chess world. I’ll take ideas from business, self-help, spirituality, computer science, movies, biographies, psychology, marketing, folklore and many other areas and apply them to my niche.

If I hear an interesting idea, I write it down in my iPhone notepad. (If I try to remember it for later, I will likely forget.)

I write my newsletters in pieces. Sometimes I might have a good idea for the body, but not the headline. Or I have a good game, but nothing else. Everything doesn’t have to be done all in one sitting.


I’ve had a lot of fun doing my chess e-mail newsletters the past year and have learned a lot in the process.

If you have been thinking about starting your own e-mail newsletter, there’s no time like the present to start. Just get going, send some e-mails, get feedback and then make adjustments as needed!

Tim Brennan is the founder of Tactics Time, an online column where he strives to provide the most helpful chess tips and strategy on the web. You can sign up for his chess tips here.


  1. Ayaz

    5/23/2012 8:35 am

    Thanks Amanda for the great post!

    I am also a great fan of aweber and using it on all of my website its certainly a great tool of subscribing lots of people to your website. I learned quite a few new things from your post will definitely give it a chance to use.

  2. Tom R

    5/23/2012 11:29 pm

    The step 5th is great… Ask them only their email address… I am surly going to try it on my won site.

    Thanks. this is a great post and good motivation to build our subscriber list.

  3. Johnn Four

    5/24/2012 9:57 am

    Great advice here. Tim, do you offer a signup incentive? A free PDF of past newsletter issues or something?

    A note on something I learned recently. When split testing forms, be sure to have patience and wait for a statistically significant number of tests to run before pulling the loser.

    For example, analysts say 1000 tests is a good amount as a minimum. At 500 you might be tempted to pull the losing form. But you don’t have enough tests yet to have a big enough sample. Could be the 500 people who respond better to the losing test will now show up!

    I ran a form test earlier this month and my trigger finger was itching to pull the loser at 150 tests. But then a new surge of traffic arrived and the loser became higher converting and took the lead.

    So now I’m just going to be patient and wait for 1000 tests to run before deciding. It’s hard waiting, but worth it to get more reliable numbers.

  4. Henrik

    5/24/2012 4:08 pm

    Hej .. thx for the info… I have a succes story too.. I started my list 1. january (well it was I believe the 28. december maybe).. and today I have 438 subscribers….. I am very satisfied with that… all the best to you guys… Henrik

  5. Anthony Johnson

    5/25/2012 2:46 pm

    I just recently started building my email list and these tips have gave me some new ideas to build my list much faster and smarter.

  6. Jt

    5/27/2012 3:10 am

    Just got into email marketing and these are some great tips. I hope it doesn’t take too long before I can my first subscriber. Thanks for the great post.

  7. Stefan Seidner

    5/31/2012 3:47 pm

    Thanks for sharing this inspiring article with us.
    Regarding step #5:
    I also heard that asking for the name reduces the conversion rate – but your experience brought me to set up my own split test. I’m excited about the result…

  8. Amanda

    6/10/2012 11:56 am

    Thanks for the post.

    I’ve recently started a blog and am trying to increase traffic/subscribers, so found your article interesting.

    Not too sure I agree with the build it an they will come approach. Think it needs a bit of promotion as well:-)

    Think the “progress, not perfection” and

  9. John

    9/7/2012 9:22 am

    I liked the comment submitted by Johnn Four and the information it provided. The part about testing and pulling to soon is some thing I am guilty of. I have also found the you need to make smaller changes when testing. If you do too much at once, you will not know which of the changes works or not.