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Chris Brogan


As the CEO of Human Business Works, you’re helping your audience find (or design) new, relationship-minded ways of working. In what ways does this approach uniquely shape the way you build your own list and generate new leads?

I spend a lot more time worrying that I’m attracting the “wrong” people, and by that, people who think of me as a “social media” guy. I spend a lot of energy shaking off that label. Most of the time, I’m trying to show a much deeper and more holistic approach to business. That’s what will bring people success.

Your book, The Impact Equation, which you co-authored with Julien Smith.  Julien says that the quantity of friends or followers isn’t the top priority. Instead, what matters most is how you impact the audience. Can you tell us how you would take that concept and apply it to list building? Espe­cially since list building – at least in part – really is all about getting more friends and followers?

The term “list-building” is usually used with people who benefit from a mass of people thrown against an offer repeatedly until some percent­age of those people buy. Instead, I’ve worked for years on “community nurturing,” which suggests that I care about the people, care about the space, and have a really strong desire to help people whether or not it fills my pockets in the short term. Julien is talking about influence at that point. Who follows you is irrelevant. How many is irrelevant. How many take ACTION is what matters. I track opens and clicks. I could care less about the larger list size except insofar as knowing that, when it grows, I’ll get an uptick in the other numbers.

The book also talks about the human element in business. But some­times list building can be very “non-human”– automated, anonymous, even repetitive. Can you share three key ways Modern Achiever readers could make sure to really be human in their approach to list building?

1 Care. Actually care about the person who subscribes. If you can’t do that, you’re doomed.

2 Treat everyone on the list as you’d treat the person you love most in life. My mom is on my list. If I treat my list poorly, I’m literally treat ing my mom just as bad.

3 Believe with all your heart that fast-action means a big spark, and a huge let down. Nothing in life that happens super fast is good.

Here’s a “chicken and egg” question for you. Your course, Mastering the Digital Channel, teaches people how to create their own “power­ful business-making digital channel.” So, in terms of list building, which comes first: build the channel to help grow the list, or grow the list so that there’s an audience for the channel? It can be a little confusing, es­pecially when you’re just starting out. Can you tell us how those pieces work together?

Start with a campfire: content. If you have a campfire, some people with gather. Then from that, reach out through those people. Connect with more while honoring those you have. The campfire builds a spot for the community. The growth of the community nourishes the marketplace. It’s been the same for centuries. The castle came first, then people gathered near the castle for resources. Then a marketplace sprung up. Over and over.

Chris, you wrote a great blog post called Ownership Starts from Within. It’s about taking ownership of the choices we make, the goals we set, and the “kingdom” we commit to creating. With list build­ing and lead generation it’s easy to skip the ownership part – not really take ownership, but just kind of let things happen (or not happen!). Can you share the thought process that would help us really take ownership of building a list and creating more leads?

Ask yourself what’s more valuable: a huge list with very few people loyal to the core, or a smaller list with everyone eager to spread the gospel? B. In all cases, B. The reason people get attracted to “list build­ing” without any real goal is that they’re looking for a way to make money that doesn’t require hard work. I go to the gym every day. Mus­cle doesn’t put itself on my body. I earn it every day. Sure, I guess I could take steroids, but that’ll show up in the results of the work, and it won’t be sustainable. You can tend a list that will collapse without much prompting, or you can work to own the relationships in a community. B.

Many of us go through a lot of “twists and turns” along our path to suc­cess – Modern Achiever readers included. Which means it’s encouraging to hear the back story – the story before you became Chris Brogan, CEO of Human Business Works. Can you share more of what inspired you to get out of your cubicle?

What got me out of the cubicle was this huge desire to actually connect the concept of “caring for the end buyer” with the concept of “delivering business excellence.” That’s a huge thing for me. But very few companies care about that. So, I built my own. And I went around sharing with really big companies how they might make that happen.

How long did it take you to get the first 1000 subscribers to your list? If you were starting to build you list now, is there anything in particular that you would definitely do again (or not do) to get those first subscribers?

Let’s talk about my blog first. It took 8 years to get my first 100 read­ers. Man, I did it wrong for years. My list? When I started a newsletter, I was already so heavily on fire in social networks and blogging that I had a thousand or two the first day. Unfair, really. : )

You talk about working better, being brave, and telling bigger stories. Now let’s look at the flipside of that. Whose work do you watch? Whose cour­age do you find inspiring? Whose stories do you follow? And in the spirit of list building, whose list have you subscribed to?

I watch Sir Richard Branson. I watch Brian Clark (Copyblogger). I watch Felix Dennis (British publishing magnate). I like a few other folks some­times, like Noah Kagan from AppSumo, and the guys at ThinkGeek. But other than that, most everyone’s copying really old and tired formulas. The last thing I’d recommend is following a bunch of people who are copying each other’s crib notes.

Something fun: The Borg have just taken over cyberspace but planet earth continues to do business in stealth mode. You’re limited to a small amount of bandwidth on the interwebs (or risk being assimilated!), us­ing just ONE list building tactic for the next year. What would be your choice – and why?

Webinars. They add the most value-per-subscriber than any other plat­form I have.

Any last thoughts or ideas about list building and lead generation you’d like to share?

Treat your list like it matters to you. Jeff Pulver told me “you live or die by your database,” and he meant it quite literally. His list is still the crown jewel of all the work he’s done. Why? Because he never beats it. He treats it like family. I am down with that.