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The Truth About Unsubscribes

After months of procrastination, you’ve finally drafted your first newsletter.

You’ve tested and tweaked. All looks good. With a pounding heart, you hit “Send.”

Then… the unsubscribes start trickling in. First one, then two, then three.

By the end of the day, six people have opted-out of your list — and your list wasn’t that big to begin with.

You’re devastated. You wonder, Did I do something wrong? Did my content suck? Am I a jerk?

Unfortunately, this is where many new marketers get scared. They back off. Sometimes they even give up — before they’ve really gotten started.

Now you’re probably expecting me to tell you that the answer is to suck it up and grow a thicker skin. But I’m not going to do that.

You see, narcissists and sociopaths aside, I believe that any person who cares about what others think can’t help but take opt-outs personally, because it feels personal.

You’re putting yourself out there, and you’re vulnerable. You want people to like you, and every unsubscribe feels like a slap in the face. A small humiliation. An attack on your self-worth.

So what’s an email marketer to do?

The answer I’ve come to is you’ve got to reframe the situation. You’ve got to change the meaning you assign to unsubscribes.

You see, you think that your list is a measure of your worth and that every unsubscribe is a judgment of you. That’s not true.

The truth is that your list is simply a pool of people who may or may not be interested in your products and services. The vast majority of the folks on your list will never purchase anything from you — no matter how awesome your stuff is.

Your job is NOT to keep these people on your list at any cost.

Your job IS to winnow down your list to only those who are most likely to become paying customers.

Your job is to sift, sort and select. To separate the wheat from the chaff.

I like to think of this process as panning for gold. You want to keep the gold nuggets. You want to let the ordinary rocks, sand and debris wash away.

When you look at it this way, unsubscribes are a GOOD thing.

Why would you want to keep the dead weight? Why would you want to spend your time and money trying to convince people to buy from you when they have no intention of ever doing so?

Look, I’m not saying that prospects who don’t become customers aren’t valuable. Sometimes the sales cycle is years long, and a non-buyer might very well refer a friend who eventually does become a customer. You should still care about these folks, but not enough to get hurt every time one of them opts out from your list.

There’s a brilliant marketer named Ramit Sethi who has a great approach to dealing with unsubscribes. He actually encourages people to leave his list! Here’s the first half of an email that recently landed in my inbox:

Hi Julia,

Look at this note I got recently. Whenever someone unsubscribes from my email list, they can leave a reason:

“I really like Ramit but he is too much of a perfectionist. It is exhausting to read about every day. Bring your actions down to common-people level. Very few people would read (or have time to read) 6 books to prep for a webinar.”
  – Kate N.

And you know what? She’s RIGHT!

Very few people would spend the time reading 6 books to prep for a free 1-hour webinar. And even fewer would write about it to 75,000 people. My material isn’t for her.

But if you think I’m going to dumb down my material, or pander to the lowest common denominator, you’re wrong. There are plenty of other sites like that.

I’ve shown you how you can accomplish more in a week than in the entirety of last year.

And this week, we’re going to accelerate even more. Today, I’ll show you time-management techniques to digest the flood of material I’ll be sending you.

I’m going to send you more emails than before. If that’s not cool with you, please unsubscribe.

I’ll be doing webcasts and holding you accountable for taking action. If you don’t like that, scroll to the bottom of this email to remove yourself.

And starting next week, I’ll be selling my ________ course. It’s not the cheapest on the market, but it gets the best results. If that makes you uncomfortable, you know where the door is.

Can you believe how many times Ramit lets you know you can (and should) unsubscribe?

He actually says “please unsubscribe”, “scroll to the bottom of this email and remove yourself”, and “you know where the door is.”


This guy’s no dummy. He’s very clear that he’s looking for smart, motivated, action-oriented customers. He actually wants anyone who doesn’t fit that bill to get lost, to scram.

(He’s also using a very clever psychological tactic called exclusivity, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Ramit's in-your-face style may not resonate with you, but look: You’ve got to accept that people will come and people will go. That’s true no matter how much awesomeness you provide.

Here’s a great example of this. A few days ago I sent out an email to my list with an offer to GIVE AWAY my services. I told them that for a full week, they could email me  ANY question about marketing and growing their business and I would personally answer every single question within a day or two. (Personal coaching with me costs hundreds of dollars per hour, so this wasn’t a small offer.)

Surprisingly, only a few dozen people took me up on the offer. I was expecting more like a hundred. But the folks who responded were richly rewarded with thoughtful, detailed answers and advice. I got tons of heartfelt appreciation in return.

But even more surprising was that about a dozen people immediately unsubscribed!

This seemed strange. Here I was offering a FREE, valuable, personal service and yet… not only were they not interested, for some reason they felt compelled to leave my list!

You see, you can do your best. You can do everything “right” and still, folks will go away.

You know what?

That’s okay.

Perhaps they weren’t a good fit. Perhaps they were having a bad day. Perhaps they were simply feeling overwhelmed and wanted to de-clutter their inboxes.

You may never know exactly why (unless you ask like Ramit does, which can be a good idea), but don’t stress about it. Just keep doing your best to provide outstanding value, always improve your content, and keep panning for gold.

Even the most famous internet marketing “gurus” will tell you (behind closed doors) that their opt-out rates are not insignificant.

That’s why it’s important to always be focusing on list-building activities. I’ll be talking more about these and giving you powerful strategies for growing your list in the coming weeks and months.

About Julia

Julia Zaslow, BSc, NC, is a sought after business coach who helps holistic, naturopathic and functional medicine physicians and practitioners build profitable businesses they love. 

Julia helps her clients identify the business model that best matches their lifestyle and income goals, then supports them in implementing a streamlined strategy for accomplishing their vision quickly. 

Her clients include brick-and-mortar clinicians serving their local communities as well as practitioners who teach, coach and sell products online — or some combination of the two. 

Through her coaching, consulting, and courses, Julia has helped over a thousand wellness professionals reach new milestones in their businesses with greater ease and joy.

Learn About Julia's Approach

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