List Building Or Launching, Which Comes First?

As an eCourse expert there’s a question I am asked a lot: Should you focus on list building — creating a large tribe — before launching a product? Or, can you launch a new product online successfully with just a small list?

There’s a rule in the online marketing world, that you should have at least 1,000 subscribers before launching a product. And frankly it makes me really angry.

Guess what? I launched my first ever eCourse to a list of just 140 people!


But let’s back up a little bit, because before I launched a course, I had to launch a business.

I launched my business in January 2012 while I was working full-time in a soulless corporate job. It was hard work! I was not one of these overnight success stories. My list growth was agonizingly slow.

Being a trainer and coach myself, I saw pretty quickly that to replace my six-figure corporate income using the 1:1 “money for time” model,  I would have to work very long hours and need a lot of clients. And that’s not why I started a lifestyle business in the first place. I came to understand how online products, in particular e-courses, had the power to serve a global audience, and I realized that offering e-courses was a much smarter approach for me. So, I launched my first-ever e-course with a list of just 140 people.

Now, many authorities in the online marketing world will tell you this is crazy. They’ll tell you that you need at least 1,000 people on your list (!!!) to launch a product. And I suppose they would have told me that I was wasting my time.

I want you to break this rule, because time and again I’ve seen clients with small lists get amazing results. Now don’t get me wrong; I have seen colleagues have amazing success when they have launched after building a large list, but I think you are doing yourself a disservice by sitting around waiting for a magic number and sometimes by waiting you miss a really great opportunity in the market.

I think it’s great to build your tribe first — if you can afford to. But many of us need to start making money ( like yesterday) and we need, and want, to take the leap from the corporate cubicle far earlier. I didn’t have the luxury to build a blog following over years. I needed results and quickly.

What these online gurus fail to understand is that their version of “success”’ might be very different than yours. Quite frankly, most of them have lost touch with the typical lifestyle entrepreneur and define success as six-figure (or even seven-figure) enrollments. I earned around $5k from my first launch. This was MASSIVE for me as I had only earned $600 in my business prior to this and had invested over $10k. I was overjoyed with this result and I knew it was just the beginning of what I could achieve.

What these gurus don’t tell you is that small lists can convert extremely well. Most of these online experts will tell you to expect 2% conversion rates among people who actually OPEN your email, not 2% from your whole list. My first-ever eCourse enrolled 28 people off a list of 141 subscribers. That’s 20% conversion! 20% conversion from a large list in the thousands or tens of thousands is virtually unheard of.

These online specialists also fail to mention that the larger your list, the lower your open rate tends to be. When you are starting out with a small list you can get open rates of 40-60%. Once you hit the 1,000+ subscriber mark, your open rate tends to diminish to around 20-29% (or less).

Why? A small list is generally built by a really slow and steady subscriber rate of people who are truly interested in what you have to offer. But, to rapidly grow your list you employ tactics such as free webinars, opt-ins and other incentives. These incentives attract a high proportion of subscribers who are what I like to call “’freebie hunters” and these people are far less engaged with your work and never intend to buy from you. This results in lower open rates and therefore lower conversion rates when you do launch.

What these online powerhouses also are not telling you is that each launch builds upon the last.

As you get better at launching and promoting, you improve the course, word-of-mouth spreads, your participants become affiliates, and you grow your list and revenues over time.


My program, the e-Course Launch Formula, enrolled over 30 people the first time I ran it off a list of 500 and I earned about $10k. Subsequent launches have built upon each other, word-of-mouth has spread, and my reputation has grown to the point where I now earn seven times that amount less than 18 months later. I earned over $50k from this eCourse before my list was over the magical 1,000 subscribers and a six-figure launch is just around the corner.

This all started with a $10k launch and a small list.

Launching before I had what was considered a large list is what enabled me to quit my soulless job, to reach multiple six figures in my business, and to work from home with my baby in tow.


I’m really glad I didn’t listen to those gurus and I launched with a small list.

I believe that the launching process itself intrinsically builds your list (if you know some clever pre-launch strategies). By the way I’ve learned some tricks over the last few years on how to have a five-figure launch even with a small (or non-existent) list. I’d love for you to join my free video training where I share these secrets with you (and much much more).

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27 thoughts on “List Building Or Launching, Which Comes First?

  1. YES! I just launched two travel guides to a smallish list (about 300) and so far I sell at least one copy every single day. My smallish, loyal, engaged list really came through for me. Even if they didn’t want a copy, people tweeted and blogged and Facebooked about the books and my little bit of momentum has been wonderful and encouraging and has increased my business’ value.

    For me, launching with a third of what they recommend = totally worth it.

  2. Fantastic article Kathryn! I launched with a tiny list of 180 and had 23 participants in the first round of my wellness program… so glad I didn’t listen to the wait until you have 1000 on your list advice!

  3. Oh, very inspiring post! I Sometimes I feel that building a bigger list means nothing if I’m only attracting the “freebie hunters” who never intend to buy from me. Loving the perspective (backed up by the stats) you offer here Kathryn.

    1. Hi Kate I agree it can seem counter-intuitive but I think it is still really important to find ways to build your list with targeted leads. If you have really specific and targeted opt-ins, webinars, videos series and the like you will attract people genuinely interested in your work as well as the freebie hunters 😉

    1. HI Steve – I prefer to look at it less as lies and more as some of these ‘experts’ have just lost touch with what the every day entrepreneur is trying to achieve. Not everyone needs a six figure launch straight up and many are prepared to grow their launches over time like I have. Keep going with your list building efforts and start making offers to your list as it is the only way to find out what hits the mark and you may (like me) just stumble upon your perfect offering 🙂

  4. Great practical and inspirational advice – I have a small list but very engaged so it really is food for thought – thank you so much for sharing your experiences and wisdom xx

    1. HI Maria I am glad you enjoyed the article. I think it would be a great idea to start with something small to sell such as an eBook, mini-course or introductory level eCourse to test the waters. And if they are engaged make sure you survey them to find out what they want from you!

  5. Hi Kathryn, I have a tiny list of just under 100 right now. The thing is about half of it is my friends, and not my really ICA so I do feel like I have to grow my list with more targeted leads first and then I can’t wait to launch! Your article has really inspired me to just go for it as soon as I can! Also, I can’t seem to find the free video training series. With I click the link above it leads me to the sales site. Has the video series been taken down perhaps? Thanks! xo

    1. Hi Anita please go to this link instead whilst Natalie’s team are fixing the link:

      The thing about launching an eCourse is that you should have a targeted list building process built into you pre-launch phase. This is part of what I teach in the e-Course Launch Formula. This ensures that when you launch – you launch to a targeted and larger list.

      Quite honestly the time to get started is NOW 😉

  6. Thanks so much for sharing your story and insights with our She Takes on the World community Kathryn. I’ve loved watching your business continue to flourish.

    I whole-heartedly agree that you don’t have to wait until your list is big to launch. I’ve heard so many experts say things like “Unless you have 5000 it’s not worth it” but launching helps you grow. I wish I would have launched something much sooner than I did, but at the time She Takes on the World was just a little side project while I built my other company 😉

  7. Great article Kathryn!
    I have a less than 1k list and it grows the most when I launch a new course!
    Launching is in itself the fastest list builder I’ve seen in my business…so yeah I think your advice is spot on.

  8. Thank you thank you thank you! First of all, I have learned a TON from you…. LOVE your blog! This post in particular caught my eye bc I am nearly launching (for the first time correctly) my first course. I am so excited, nervous, exhausted, thrilled, proud…. BUT my list is not huge. It’s okay, but not 1000. You’ve encouraged me a ton, and I am grateful 🙂

    Thank you, Natalie!

    1. Best of luck Shannon with your launch and I find the nerves never go away. I have just gone through my early-bird period for e-Course Launch Formula and even in the seventh launch for this program it was nail-biting!

  9. WOW, 20% conversion that is amazing. You clearly had a very targeted list and, what’s more important (and what I also commented on before this post) is the relationship you had with your list – they clearly trusted you and wanted to invest. Congratulations on your success thus far and inspiring us all 🙂

  10. Hi Kamila! Yes it was an amazing acheivement and certainly made me feel very positive about eCourses from day 1. I don’t get 20% conversion these days due to the size of my list and premium nature of my program but it is possible.

    It was a targeted list, I developed a highly niche business and offering for Mumpreneurs and was not doing loads of freebies so the people on the list were engaged. And I did spend around six months just blogging and sending newsletters before launching my first course.

    Thanks for your kind words

  11. You make a really good point. My list is so small I want to cry. On my healing list 80% are opening up the letter. I think i will think of something to launch for 150.

    Another great aspect is that it gets better with time.

    Thank you for the reminder,


  12. I love this! Thank you. This is completely inspiring. I’m at this exact place right now. My list is growing very organically and has been f or the past 1.5 years. It’s still a baby, but I’m almost done the content for my e-course. This totally gave me the pants-kick to go for it! THANK YOU!

  13. Kathryn,

    This is totally inspiring. I have seen products known as “micro courses” on a lot of the blogs I read. They charge $5 for each one and they’re usually quite well done. I wonder what your advice might be if I would like to do this:

    – Write a series of 6-8 blog posts on a topic.
    – Invite people to a free additional email course.
    – Invite people to purchase a $5 micro course pdf from my website.

    My list has 4 people on it but I average about 20 unique visitors per day. I realize I need to work at getting those visitors to subscribe.

    Just wondering what you might think about that plan.


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