4 Reasons to Cherish Unsubscribes

I built the Art Biz Coach brand by sending out individual, personal emails back in 2002. I sent a copy of a sample newsletter with instructions on how to subscribe to any artist or artist organization I found online.

The smart people (!) subscribed quickly. Many of them are still on my newsletter list. (If you’re one of them, I’d love to hear from you.)

But over the years, lists age. I evolve. My subscribers evolve. Sometimes it’s no longer a good marriage, and they divorce me.

They unsubscribe.

Penny Overcash, Emergence. Ceramic.

Penny Overcash, Emergence. Ceramic, 10 x 25 x 13 inches. ©The Artist. Used with permission.

When the first unsubscribes trickled in, it was awful. Each one broke my heart. I felt bad that I had sent people something they no longer looked forward to receiving.

But I toughened up with each parting. Rejection does that to you. Thick skin is a good asset for anyone in business, and you don’t get it by playing it safe.

I am more at peace with unsubscribes these days, and I’m trying to embrace them.

You, too, need to learn to become comfortable with your email unsubscribes. Here’s why.

4 Reasons to Cherish the Unsubscribes

1. You don’t want to send people anything that they aren’t open to receiving.

You’re looking for a quality list rather than a quantity list. Don’t make it a numbers game.

If my Art Marketing Action newsletter was about numbers, I’d be sorely disappointed. In ten years, I have just about 12,000 subscribers. I should have a lot more than that!

But my small-ish list is engaged in the conversation I’m starting. It’s a quality list. I feel like we’re a community rather than me as broadcaster and you as recipient. People talk back to me in emails, on my blog, and through social media.

Another key point about the people on my quality list: they purchase from me.

2. Each person on your list takes up a little bit of your energy.

If you’re caring for your list as you should be, each person’s name requires upkeep. Each person who receives your email and doesn’t want it is a time bomb waiting to lodge a spam complaint against you.

The more happy unsubscribes you have, the fewer complaints you have.

3. Every person on your list costs you money – especially if you use an email service that charges per addressee.

Isn’t it better to part amicably with people who don’t want to receive your email and make room for those who might become raving fans?

4. You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life.

That person who just unsubscribed might need all of her energy and inbox space to deal with a personal challenge. Honor that.

Say a silent Thank You when you see unsubscribes. Be grateful that they were on your list as long as they were.

I’m grateful that you’re on my list and you allow me into your inbox each week. But if you ever need to leave, I’ll understand.

How do you feel about unsubscribes?

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84 comments to 4 Reasons to Cherish Unsubscribes

  • Congratulations Alyson on 10 Big Years of your newsletter!! You’ve done a fabulous job and, in the years I’ve been with you, I have picked up usable hints, deep thoughts, marketing friends and social networking info I would never have known about if not for you! You are right about the community feeling. I too feel your followers make up a close community ready to share and help each other. You have always been totally honest and have put yourself out there to us with all you know in a friendly, helpful, open way. You have never steared me wrong. Keep up the good work for all of us!!

  • Thoughtful post. I agree wholeheartedly with you and thanks for this as I build the beginnings of my own list.

  • I was an early joiner to the Artist.Conspiracy … I needed help & it boosted me quickly into a brand new venue & show…I was thrilled…At the time, I thought that that was what the Conspiracy was for- a quick career boost when you really need it… So I was done, & unsubscribed…
    Then I felt the gap…Like when someone goes away on a trip…Something was missing…I hadn’t realized that the added support had become a part of my life…I quickly rejoined… For me, letting something go is sometimes a way for me to measure how important that thing was to my life…Then I can resubscribe with greater thankfulness… (If you love something set it free…)

  • I love unsubscribers – the same way I love un-followers. :) You can’t be everything to everyone. Like you, it means that I’m forming a community with folks who are wanting to engage in dialogue and learn with me. I’m always amazed when someone replies to a blogpost, a tweet or an email. Truly, it lifts my heart and gives me a rush to engage with folks. I wouldn’t want to play the numbers game. It’s about the close relationship! Art matters.

  • Congratulations on your very successful – and entirely useful – business!
    I was glad to hear your perspective on “unscubscribe”. Especially recognizing that their life changes and priorities are not a reflection on your professionalism or self-worth.
    We artists should also honor our admirers who may not be “customers”. Their emotional support is important and they too may have life circumstances that do not allow for a purchase at this time. I’m thrilled by every positive comment that comes my way. Maybe I’m naive but I don’t consider it empty flattery!
    ps:I look forward to your interview with Betty Ming Lui – she is a talented, honest and witty writer and artist!

  • Thank you Alison, for all you do for so many.
    regarding your unsubscribes, here’s an analogy I’ve used with individuals and business groups.

    A person walks into a Ralph Lauren store and what do they see? Every shelving display, lamp, rug, etc is of a very high-quality. Everything the store looks expensive. There is nothing in the store boo-boo

  • HI Alyson, I look forward to your emails, always learn something from them, and try to share them with my own community. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say. I also find that unsubscribers can be a useful touchstone — if I start to get too many (or, more than I feel is normal for me, I should say), I take a look at my messaging and timing. Everyone once in a while, I realize I may have slid into a place of sending too frequently or perhaps crafting messages that are not as well thought out as they should be. Usually, this is not the case but every once in a while, it is and those unsubscribers are kind of like the canary in the coal mine. Have a great day everyone!

  • How funny! So much for using Siri. It least she owned up to the boo-boo part.

    So to finish-

    There is nothing in the store that looks second rate, left over, or cheap. Everything in the store supports the price of the expensive clothing at the register.

    The new customer looks around and decides whether to stay in or walk out. The one that walks out might say “this looks too expensive.” That is not Ralph’s customer and he is perfectly okay with that result. It is very simple and everyone is happier that way.

  • this is a sane, smart way to deal with “rejection” that isn’t really rejection. thanks for putting things into perspective for me. :)

  • I’ve known a few people who get tickled when they lose followers on Twitter. They’re usually the kind who step on people’s toes, like @jesusneedsnewpr. It’s like they make a game out of it. On the flip side, the ones who stick around are there for a reason.

  • This is a great message Alyson. When we look at the positive side of releasing the unsubscribes it is basically all about attracting the correct people to connect with.

    I have been on your list it seems since you began and am so grateful for your advise and perspective. Thank you! catherine

  • Alyson,
    Thank you for sharing your very insightful viewpoint on unsubscribers. I have worked on being less upset about them since you first posted something about it a year or more ago and your new comments will help end my last bit of sadness when someone decides they no longer need/want to receive my newsletters. Sending each a silent thank you for their time spent with me will help me close that chapter gracefully, like sending a blessing to a rude or cranky stranger encountered during the day.
    Congratulations on 10 years! I started with you about 7 years ago and have always found a take-away from your messages. I greatly enjoyed and benefited from one of your courses that helped me tweak my website. Your reminders to stay on top of the marketing part of my art business (despite it being my least favorite part) are useful and timely!
    Keep up the wonderful work, and thank you!

  • I have a small list with few unsubscribes. When I receive, I respond with note saying Thank you, you’re off my list, appreciating they took the time to unsubscribe.
    Appreciate your wise perspective,Alyson.

  • Joe

    A while ago, I unsubscribed from your newsletter because I started following your blog in a news reader. So I’m still here, even though I’m no longer on your emailing list. You probably have a lot of followers like me, who don’t show up on your radar.

    • Yep, my subscribers are not just with the newsletter. But newsletter peeps get special treatment. And in the future, the newsletter will be different than the blog posts.

      • Joe

        I’ll take another look at your newsletter if it’ll be different. But sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming to keep up with someone’s news if they post on a blog, newsletter, facebook, twitter… sometimes it’s the same content, sometimes it’s different content. Sometimes I have to unsubscribe/unfriend/whatever to cut down on the information overload. (And I know I’m guilty of this myself, with my own blog, newsletter, facebook and twitter accounts!)

        • Joe: What if the newsletter was a compilation that would “curate” that other stuff for you?

          • Joe

            That sounds like something I would want to check out, but if I’m seeing all of the individual posts on your blog, then I probably wouldn’t subscribe to a compilation newsletter. I just get to much email, and I’d rather go to a news reader to get my news rather than having it emailed to me.

  • Lovely post !! I love managing energy ! Thank you !

  • Irma

    Hi Alyson, I don’t even remember since when I receive your newsletter, but I appreciate it, and you. Your thoughtful and educational topics are useful to me, either because I happen to ponder the very same question, or get a new insight, or just agree with what you have said. Like today’s post.
    I appreciate unsubscribes when they do happen because it makes me feel that I no longer intrude into their space once the person has moved on. How would I find out otherwise? I know how I feel when I get email from a source I no longer have an interest in and don’t find an unsubscribe link.

  • It does that kind of sting when people jump ship, but like you said, it’s better to have the ones who really want to hear from you.

    Congratulations on ten years! I remember hearing you speak (I don’t know how long ago that was) at the Art Students League of Denver. I was struggling with how much time I was spending on marketing and doing the business side of my art, about half of my time. Then you told us that that is what we should be doing! I was so relieved from the guilt I had for not painting enough! Now I struggle to go to my studio more! Lol!

    Thanks for being such a great encourager, friend, and example to follow from.

  • Claire

    I wouldn’t take it too personally, I bet you could devise a list of 100 reasons why people unsubscribe, people move out of the industry, change jobs, or (as I was informed once) sadly pass away.

    I have unsubscribed from a few purley because I’m so short of me time, I ended up missing the newsletters, but sometimes real life just gets in the way :((

    Good wishes for another 10 years and many more subscribers!

  • hi Alyson-
    Courageous post & Thank YOU to Penny Overcash for the amazing sculpture,
    beautiful-haunting-fierce*!
    A perfect compliment.

  • A niche is about exclusivity as opposed to mass appeal. It’s kind of like planting a flower garden. Some plants thrive, but you lose some to transplant shock, some to having chosen the wrong environment for them, some to winter kill, and so forth. The plants that thrive in your garden are the ones that are right for you and will bring you the most pleasure for your efforts.

  • Muriel Areno

    Re reason #4: Every year, I have go to France to take care of my mom for a whole month. I have very limited, and expensive, internet access there. So the last week of July, I unsubscribe from a lot of my regular emails to keep what comes in to a minimum. In a perfect world, I would resubscribe to all in September, but sometimes I forget or don’t bother. I am glad to say that I just leave yours alone as it only comes once a week. :-) I enjoy the newsletter. Keep up the good work, Alyson!

    • Muriel: Yes, that does happen. People tell me they need to unsubscribe temporarily. If they really miss it, they’ll find me again. And I’m happy you value my weekly missives.

  • I agree about unsubscribe–I’m trying to build a following, not be a celebrity! I think the challenge for artists is to be tough enough to market work, but still stay open and sensitive to the world to create the art.

  • I always learn something from your newsletters, which is the reason I continue to be a subscriber. I have been on your list for many years…I may have been one of the initial subscribers.
    I agree with the comments about “unsubscribe”, I want my collectors, etc., to enjoy my newsletters and not curse about them.
    Congratulations and thank you for all that you have done to help my art journey.

  • I even get depressed when someone unfollows me on Twitter. I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but some little girl on the inside always whines “wwhhhyyy?” I really need to toughen up.

    • Leah: I have NO idea who unfollows me on Twitter. Change your settings so that you’re not notified. You don’t need to be upset by this (see Cynthia’s note below).

  • I love that art piece! Gorgeous and tough.

    Great post. Robert Middleton taught me to relish unsubscribes. I like your reasoning here.

    I filter unsubscribe notices to the trash. Frankly, I don’t want to see them. Even with the rationales mentioned here, they still sting and take my energy away. So I don’t even know who’s unsubscribing.

    Maybe that’s burying my head in the sand but it’s working for me.

  • BTW, I don’t know how long I’ve been a subscriber to your newsletter but I always read it that day and always get great value from it.

    Thanks for the effort you put into making it quality!

  • Hi Alyson,

    I would hope that the people that I unsubscribe from feel the way I do when I unsubscribe. Sometimes it’s as simple as I just don’t have time to read everything that comes to my inbox. It may also be that as you said, I’ve changed or the sender has changed. It’s never with anger that I unsubscribe.

    As so many others have stated I’ve been following you for a long time also. I always look forward to your emails.

    • Ellen: I’ve only once unsubscribed in anger – when a premier business motivation expert sent out a political message (with which I disagreed) in the 2004 election. It was filled with hate and I unsubscribed and emailed him to tell him why. I’ve since lost all respect for him.

  • I wonder your thoughts concerning ‘Postcard mailing lists’. Same concept?

  • The other thing (I haven’t read every response yet) is that the best Unsubscribes let you specify the reason why you want to drop out. These are valuable comments, and one ignores them at their peril.

    • Arthur: I agree that they could be useful, but I don’t offer this option. (I used to, but I kind of know the routine now.)

      Still, I get mail when people unsubscribe. They feel bad that they unsubscribed and want to tell me why. It’s very sweet.

  • Bonnie Patterson

    It is a privilege for me to be on your list! Thank you for so many savvy ideas and pointers!!! Reading your blogs is not a waste of time. Every one of them has something of value. Thank you!!

  • I agree with you. When someone unsubscribes, I think of that person making room for another new client in my life. Open door closes, another opens. Works every time.
    suzanne

  • Rhonda Franks

    I have learned that weeding your garden is always a good thing…for you…for your thriving plants… and for the weeds that really don’t want to be there in the first place.

  • Joe Ehrhart

    Hi Alyson,
    I use unsubscribe when I feel it is in my interest to do so. Sometimes do to constraints on my time, or when I no longer want or need the input from that source.

  • That’s a really helpful way to look at Unsubscribes. As MailChimp says “maybe they’re just not that into you?” I can’t understand why anyone would unsubscribe from your list. Did they decide they aren’t interested in marketing their art any more? In perspective, I have about 1% the amount of subscribers, so it could hurt more..but I’d way rather that they do that then “complain” with the insanely strict limits on that! The thing that makes me nutty is when it’s someone who just subscribed or who even owns my art!!! I mean couldn’t they just delete it? Especially since I’ve sent out all of 6 newsletters in about a year. Oh, and just to inspire everyone: once again, NO newsletter would ever have gone out without the Artist Conspiracy! Thanks for all you do Alyson! (And just to be clear, my open rate is over 50% and I get actual emails thanking me for sending it!–on the flip side!)

    • Great open rate, Carol.

      People unsubscribe for many reasons. Some have given up on their art careers or, as I said in #4, just have other priorities.

      Others have decided they had better develop the studio discipline before they even think about marketing. I agree with them!

  • Sylvia

    I was curious, too, and found the first email – November, 2004. You would probably be gently horrified at my piles and swarms of emails. Someday I’ll get organized.
    In the meantime I dearly love getting your newsletters and reading the blog as well. Your thoughtfulness and generosity have inspired me and so many others.

    • Holy cats, Sylvia! Really? You have all of the emails?

      You were here back in the day when I asked people which photo they liked better of me. Boy, did I learn my lesson!

      I’m so happy you’re here still and VERY happy I got to meet you in Portland.

      • Sylvia

        Ha, that would be amazing! No, I don’t have all of them, but I do have a lot.
        It was a treasured day that I met you.

  • It’s all been said :) Congratulations on 10 years – you’re a star! And, no, I won’t be unsubscribing ;)

  • I appreciate the act of Unsubscribing and I see it a a refreshment of a group of people that are interested in what I offer. In a way unsubscribing is like sculpting a work of art….you chip away what doesn’t fit and you find a harmony where all the interactions find a beautiful and dynamic balance.

  • Sometimes “unsubscribe” doesn’t mean people don’t read your newsletter. Since you are using contemporary methods of publishing it (!), many people can “subscribe by other means”. For example, I get your updates via parsing an RSS feed, the minute it’s published. It is more comfortable because instead of “clogging” inbox, everything gets filtered and categorized by my own customized system and I can actually use many of the valuable information you share (thanks!). I can also access it whenever i need it simply running a search via my RSS archives and sync it to many different devices, and do whatever.
    So, my point is that “closed door” is always an invitation to new journey, but only if you accept that invite ;)
    Oh, just in case: Google reader is a nice omnipresent RSS parser.

  • I feel the same way when someone unsubscribes. It’s a thoughtful way of saying I no longer want to be a part of your newsletter (without hitting the spam button!)

  • I’ve been here since the beginning, Alyson. I found you when you were posting advice on the WetCanvas art business forum. Thank you for everything! It’s actually been ten years? Where does the time go? Congratulations!

    • Karen: Holy cats! That was a long time ago. I just recently left a post there and found a VERY old photo of me there and that I had forgotten my login – couldn’t find it anywhere.

  • Alyson, I began to receive your messages after a work shop that was held in Tusla.
    I think it was one of the first. I have learned so much. I also bought your book.
    I find in each newsletter 1 or 2 nuggets of inspiriation in each. I am now 80 years old and in declineing health. I do not paint as much, but plan to return to the easel this summer. I am so proud of the Stillwater Art Guild and how the organization helped me and the new members who have improved .

    • I tried to send you this private email, Velma, but it bounced back to me:

      Thank you for this comment on my blog.
      Can you believe that Tulsa workshop was probably 9 years ago???
      I’m sorry to hear you are in poor health, but happy that you have found value in what I write.
      I am most grateful for your presence all of these years.

  • susan

    I enjoy your blog and take a lot away from it. I did not think about the cost to sender. I’m going to clean up my mail list, un-subscribing to list that do not benefit or fit me. Why cost someone $$ when I don’t have to. (Yours will stay…Thank you for your insight)