“You need a personal brand!” “You need a personal braaaaaaaaaanddddd!” I heard it everywhere in 2017, and I hear it even more now on these Internet streets. So I took the plunge and made two big investments to develop my brand identity and build out my website on WordPress. The price tag when it was all said and done was about $2,500 for each service, including consulting calls.

My website looks… okay. I have a theory that nearly every online entrepreneur has website shame to some degree. Maybe that’s the shame talking. I’ve nail-filed my website down so much over the years that it’s basically a glorified portfolio at this point.

A personal brand website is certainly a nice digital business card when someone wants to learn more about you. But when I look at my online business, my audience, and the ROI I gather from various activities, the measurable monetary value I glean from a fancy website is… next to zero.

Screenshot from the author

It wasn’t all a waste. This site is good to have for when I pitch myself to media or am being vetted by a company after pitching them a big proposal. But let’s be clear: My site is superficial at best when it comes to growing an audience.

What does drive the majority of my online efforts is an email list. The way I grow this email list is by giving away a free 10-page PDF that cost me about $50 to design. And the way I give away this freebie is through what’s called a landing page: A boring standalone web page that only gives readers one button to click.

Screenshot from the author. Ugly AF landing page.

It’s okay, you can say it: This page is ugly. It’s designed that way on purpose so that the only thing you can do if you want to find out more information about me is join my list. And my email list is how I build rapport with fellow writers and entrepreneurs who share my interests.

Why Writers Should Care About Having An Email List

Email lists are so underrated. There’s a saying in online marketing: The money is in the list. There are several reasons why an email list is superior to every other content platform on the internet:

Email lets you give readers the right information in the right order

I will probably make this statement at least once a week every week for the rest of my career: When it comes to content, your readers want the right steps in the right order. That’s it!

If someone were to join my email list, and I was right in the middle of a promotion for some program that doesn’t really apply to them, they would be confused and write me off, right? This is why you need a welcome sequence. It’s critical that you give subscribers the right information in the right order to set them up for success.

It kills me when I subscribe to fellow writers’ lists, hyped about their work and ready to learn more about who they are, and then… receive… nothing. Please — I’m begging you — have an email list, and consider creating a welcome sequence.

Email lets you create customized experiences

As someone with an all-online consulting business, I sell stuff via email. A lot. But I don’t resort to sleaze, and I don’t sell like a madman. Thanks to email automations, I’m literally selling to people around the world each and every day without lifting a finger.

Depending on how subscribers interact with me, they go through different experiences and automations within my email list. If someone never opens any of my stuff, we track that and adjust accordingly. If someone buys something from me, that is also tracked, and the future emails someone receives change. This takes time to build, but once you’ve built it you no longer have to keep feeding the beast.

Screenshot from the author. Backend conditional emails based on subscriber interest.

Email lets you recycle your best work

Why pour your heart out in an article, then hand your magnum opus over to some algorithm and cross your fingers? When you use email, you can send new subscribers gems and anecdotes you wrote months or years ago. To achieve the same on a social media platform, you would have to repost old content over and over again, which would antagonize your existing subscribers. Use email automation instead.

Start Growing Your Email List With A Freebie Of Your Own

Okay, so… why create a PDF or other freebie? Simple: Bribery. “Sign up for my newsletter” is a dead phrase that turns many people off, because the average professional receives 121 emails a day and more email is the last thing they want to think about right now.

Instead, offer what’s called a “lead magnet” or “ethical bribe”. A lead magnet is a free gift or discount that you send people in exchange for their email address. Lead magnets can include things like

  • A free PDF, report, white paper, cheatsheet, or chapter of a book
  • A free recording of video or audio content
  • If you’re feeling fancy, a mini-course or series of helpful emails

Lead magnets don’t need to be long, but they do need to be helpful. And what should they consist of? Say it with me: The right steps to take in the right order.

Look around online, and you’ll start to see that ethical bribes and lead magnets are everywhere. Determine what your audience might want or need to reach their goals more quickly, then aim to deliver them a freebie that can fulfill these wants and needs.


Want a personal brand? The fastest way to develop a personal brand-driven online business is to build an audience you can directly communicate with. The best vehicle for this direct line of communication that is impervious to algorithms is an email list. And the fastest way to grow an email list is to identify people’s problems, create a freebie that solves those problems, and start promoting that freebie. Over time, the small investments you make in growing your email list will pay off over and over again in the long run.

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