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How I Grew from Zero to One Subscriber in 365 Days

As a marketer I often read in-depth case studies on how to improve your traffic, grow your subscriber list and growth hack your way to millions of readers. While I’ve been a part of my agency’s tremendous client success my own blogging has suffered over the past 3-4 years. I’d like to interpret this as a positive: I have a clean slate to work my magic on now.

The first item on my list is addressing my blogging break. What happens when you do absolutely nothing right? Just how bad can it be? Over the past year I have not blogged regularly. I have not worked hard on my list or growing my traffic. I did (somehow) add one subscriber to my list.

With that in mind, here are the top 5 ways I grew my mailing list from zero to one subscriber

building an email list for just one person

Have only one way to sign up

One very easy way to limit your subscriber sign ups is to have just one obscure sign up place. Hide it in your footer if you really want to keep the numbers down. For me, I had a “search” box and just below that put a similar looking and near-duplicate sign up field. I also didn’t label the box very well. One box said “search” and the other said “sign up.”

If you add more methods of sign up such as popups, clearly labeled buttons, and opt-in forms to download content then you open yourself up to many more subscribers. I was exceptional at limiting the possible contacts I could possibly add. Who would find that odd box? Why would they subscribe? What was I promising? Absolutely nothing. I promised (and delivered) absolutely no value.

My lesson from this? The more methods you allow for sign up, the more sign ups you will get. Be clear about your offer, provide value and don’t put the sign up field directly below the search field.

Do not promote your blog at all

Simply put, the more traffic your blog generates the easier it is to obtain new sign ups for your mailing list. Remember, I only managed one new subscriber in a whole calendar year. This would not have been possible if I were getting more than 15-20 visits per day. My traffic was obviously extremely low because I was not blogging or doing promotion on the posts I had already written. I wasn’t setup for a lot of traffic so why get more?

Promoting your blog through social media, advertising, promoted posts and quality SEO would boost your traffic tremendously. You will find it very difficult to get as few as one new subscriber if you are getting 100-1000 new visitors per day.

Do not guest blog, comment on other blogs or do any outreach

For the past two years I have worked for a large digital agency and my entire focus has been on their work. From 7 am until 9 pm every day I was focused on how I could help our clients. I also lost focus on how I could help myself and my readers, few that I had.

Guest blogging and commenting on popular blogs is a guaranteed way to increase engagement with your own blog and brand. If you write insightful comments and stir up good discussions you will be rewarded with subscribers. However, because I was working for someone else I always linked to their websites and properties. My own suffered and yes, I somehow managed to make hundreds of comments and see absolutely no benefit to my own list.

Similarly, I have been asked and done outreach for dozens of mentions on tips, strategies and other type of expert round up posts. None of these linked back to my own work and they all boosted someone else’s list. If you want to grow your list, you must point back to the property you want to promote. Similar to the ‘do not promote’ list, the more people who see your work, the more likely you are to add new subscribers.

Move your list and don’t update your subscription forms

Want to completely eliminate any possibility of new sign ups? Change your mailing list from MadMimi to Mailchimp – but don’t change the form on your website. I did that. In a desperate attempt to renovate my site I thought I would add Mailchimp forms.

So I transferred my old list to Mailchimp, I deleted my MadMimi account and I researched Mailchimp forms. I looked into the different ways to add sign ups including pop ups, fly ins, and sidebar forms. I read all about content upgrades and lead magnets. And then I promptly closed my browser and went onto something else. I never changed over the form on my site. I never had even a remote chance of a single sign up for the last 7 months.

how to not build an audience and have nobody there

Give no reason to sign up

One reason your readers will sign up is to receive special, insider information. People may sign up to be allowed to download a piece of content. Others will sign up to follow your blog by email so they don’t miss anything.

Do you know what reason nobody signs up for your email list? Because you are a nice guy with a blog. Nope, nobody. You will never get a sign up because someone pities you, because you promise not to spam or because they hope you’ll send them money.

People subscribe because they are willing to give up their email address in exchange for something of value that you promise to provide. That’s the only reason. Blog content, ebooks, webinars they want to attend – whatever the reason, you’re promising them value in exchange for the information you want. My form, remember, simply said “sign up.” There was no ‘why’ on offer. “Sign up to receive posts by email.”  “Sign up to download my new ebook.”  Nope, nothing.


My goal when I started my email list was not to add a single subscriber in a full year. That is a terrible result beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. My one subscriber was someone I’d done previous work for. They were signing up based on value I’d already provided hoping I would provided more. They were feeling lost in a deluge of digital information and were seeking a familiar face to guide them and their business.

If I were giving advice to a client it would be simple: do the exact opposite of everything I did for the past twelve months. I was more focused on other projects and it showed. If you work on your blog as an afterthought that is how your readers will treat you. Take your readers seriously and they will reward you. Happy list building!

Thoughts? How would you now approach “starting over” if you were in my shoes?

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My long journey from zero to … one. More marketing tips coming soon so don't forget to share & subscribe!

Posted by Matt Antonino on Wednesday, July 22, 2015

About Matt Antonino

Matt is a marketing consultant in Melbourne, Australia. He teaches businesses to market smarter and faster through multichannel marketing including SEO & Content Marketing, SEM, Email & Social Media.


  1. Thank you very much for sharing. Your post did touch me.

  2. Thanks Matt, A good summary of some very common mistakes.

    • Thanks Dave! Yeah, I tried to write a backwards Growth Hacking type article. I see so many “I grew 1600% in 3 weeks” posts – I thought it would be funny to do the opposite. 🙂 I grew … one subscriber. Because I didn’t do anything properly on this site. 🙂 Should all be setup now!

      • Really loved your post Matt. And I like the fact that you went in the opposite direction of posts with hype-looking titles as you mentioned yourself: “I grew 1600% in 3 weeks” “I got 5000 subscribers in 3 days” and so on.

        I’d say your post is refreshing, fun to read and so real. hey, in the positive side you’ve just grew your readership and reach by creating this post! So you may want to write a new post telling what just happened 🙂

        I wish you the best!

        • Ha, thanks Amel! You’re right – I got more subscribers in the first hour of this post being live (3) than I did in the last year! It’s a case study all of its own. Tell people just how crappy your site performed and wait for the subscribes! 😀 Thanks for your message & hope to see you back again.

  3. Absolutely hilarious Matt! Also, its often the failures that teach the most important lessons-often what you might never have thought of!

    Looking forward to more content soon ….right?


    • Definitely! I planned to have some up today but alas … this weekend will give me a chance to get ahead of the game.

      Thanks for taking a read through and glad you enjoyed the post!

  4. Ha.. very interesting topic, I must admit the title caught my attention on inbound.org. Looks like you’re doing good in the “starting over” area, but would suggest you add some sort of lead magnet at the bottom of your posts, that would certainly help!

    • Ha, I’m glad it caught your attention! I wanted to use that same paradigm we ALWAYS use but use it to discover the findings when you don’t … do. Glad you enjoyed it.

      Yes, lead magnets & all that other stuff coming soon. Apparently a few people had trouble finding the share buttons too so I may revert to floating sidebar Flare things instead of the bottom of post share buttons (or both?)

  5. Hey there! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if
    you knew where I could get a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty finding one?

    Thanks a lot!

  6. Appreciate this post. Let me try it out, thanks.

  7. Hi, just wanted to say, I loved this post. It was funny.

    Keep on posting!

    • Thanks for reading – I’m glad you thought it was funny. I tried to do something a bit unusual with it and happy it worked out. Next few posts will be more serious, too, so hope you check back for those!

  8. Ridiculous story there. What happened after?

    Good luck!

    • We’ll find out as we go. 🙂 It’s a very interesting and perhaps unusual thing to go from corporate to self employed to agency, back to self employed. It hopefully makes for some interesting tales as I get more posts up on the blog. Thanks for reading!

  9. Great article Matt,
    This article was a breeze of fresh air. I shared it with my email list. I especially liked tip #4 “Move your list and don’t update your subscription forms”. If this article gets you X subscribers, for example 50, you can write a follow up article titled “How I multiplied 50x my subscribers in 1 week and with only one article.” Then you can write a third article comparing the results you got from each of these two articles… I would love to read that.

    • Hey Javier! Thanks for coming by and sharing my article with your email list. Appreciate that! 🙂 I was thinking of the follow up article. haha I’ve already started taking screenshots & getting the info I’d need for it.

      Thanks for coming by – stop by again soon!

  10. With having so much content and articles do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright violation? My website has a lot of unique content I’ve either written myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my permission. Do you know any ways to help stop content from being stolen? I’d genuinely appreciate it.

  11. Hello Matt,

    There is of no doubt that traffic is the backbone of any site and of course that is what is needed as far as gaining more subscribers.

    Thanks for the insight and please do have a great weekend.

  12. This is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.
    I’ve joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your fantastic post.
    Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks!

  13. Hi Matt, very nice article, i am thinking to start my bulk email for one one of my website http://plantsguru.com so, it’s very useful.
    Thanks for share this good niche!

  14. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this post
    plus the rest of the website is extremely good.

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