Tarzan Kay


February 27, 2024

to you

What you're reading is a copy of an email my subscribers received. This is an archive, so it's possible some links are missing or expired. If you want to stay in the loop, make sure to jump on my email list and get these delivered direct to your inbox!


list-building without a lead magnet?

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Public Service Announcement My replies inbox is outta control rn! A lot of you loved last week’s email. Thank you for sharing your stories. Thank you for giving my work your time and attention, which is one of the most valuable things you have.

For all the white guys who read it—It must be annoying to be reduced to your race and gender. As Naomi Klein wrote in Doppleganger (a book that’s currently dominating my morning coffee routine), “When entire categories of people are reduced to their race and gender, and labeled ‘privileged,’ there is little room left to confront the myriad ways that working-class white men and women are abused under our predatory capitalist order.” 

Not apologizing, rather acknowledging. White guys are not a monolith. All of us contain multitudes. We are far more than our race and gender. 


Growing a list without lead magnets: bad idea or
stroke of genius?

There’s this question that podcast hosts ask at the end of almost every interview:

“So, where can people find you?”

There is where, if the host allows it, you get to pitch your lead magnet. You say, “Sure thing, Tom! I actually have a free gift for your listeners. Just go to yourname.com/tips to download my 10 Simple Steps PDF.”

I had that pitch nailed. 

But a couple years back I changed the way I answer the question. 

It wasn’t a conscious choice. It just sort of spilled out of my mouth and I found I liked the way it sounded. 

“Well Tom,” I’d say. “The best place to learn more on this topic is from my emails. I’ve got loads of freebies on my website but really the gold is in my emails. So grab my Promo Sequence Swipe file if you need that, but stay for the emails. Because if your listeners want proof that email marketing can be entertaining and fun, my newsletter is proof of that.”

Eventually I stopped mentioning lead magnets altogether. 

Because what I knew but couldn’t quite articulate back then is that I didn’t want subscribers who were looking for a quick hack; I wanted subscribers who’d become long-term readers.

And readers are what I got. 

Eventually many of them would become buyers. 

Lead magnets can be great when you’re looking for a quick transaction. Like a summit right before a course launch, for example. I’m not suggesting you abandon them. But if your goal is to build deeper relationships with potential clients and a loyal following of long-term subscribers, lead magnets are less interesting IMO. What’s more, by focusing on bringing people to your email list through a lead magnet, you miss a critical opportunity to articulate the value of your emails, and have people opt-in directly to hear your expertise and ideas.

What are your emails all about, anyway? What’s the value to me, as a subscriber? How often do you send them?  

This is a strategy email marketers can borrow from the newsletter industry. 

Like The Donut, for example:

A screenshot of the Donut website page. The headline reads, “Impartial, trustworthy news that’s actually enjoyable to read.” Super clear value prop.

The headline reads, “Impartial, trustworthy news that’s actually enjoyable to read.” Super clear value prop. 

You might also mention frequency. Is it daily? Monthly? HOURLY?! (Just kidding. I don’t recommend that.)

You might talk about the content. Sandra forwarded this Substack called Unmentionables which I already love. Her writing is so beautiful I don’t need a bribe to read it. The words are enough. 

A screenshot of Unmentionables website page saying, "Airing dirty laundry in public. I write about things that scare the shit out of me, imaginary friends, stuff I've done that makes me want to crawl in a hole, unexpectedly beautiful interactions, and inappropriately funny things." This is launched 3 years ago by Juliane Bergmann.

Your emails get to be whatever you say they are. There is no magic formula. But it’ll go better for you and your subscribers if it’s clear what they’re signing up for. 

I am in this industry because I love writing. 

I want to build a list of readers so that’s what I’m leading with in my list-building efforts. 

But what about you? What do you want email to do for your business? Your newsletter’s value prop should support that goal.

An Easy Roadmap For List-Building Without A Lead Magnet 

1. Add a form on your website that’s straight to your email list, along with a clear one-liner for why people should sign up. 


“Each week, I reverse engineer how a top creator grew from 0 to 50k+ subscribers.” (Growth in Reverse)

“A free weekly newsletter that aims to change the perception on how modern day Native Americans are seen.” (I Know A Native)

2. Create a landing page just for your email list. A no-scroll landing page with that same one-liner and form works great. Don’t forget to link it in your socials. Here’s my straight to email list opt-in page – a page I run ads to get new subscribers for $2-4). 

3. Next time you get asked “where can I find you?” or “how can we stay in touch,”  make a pitch for your email list. It’ll be clumsy at first and that’s okay. The more attempts you make to define your emails, the more defined they’ll become. 

4. At networking events (online or offline), ask people if they want to be added to your email list and do it manually if necessary, or send a link to your signup page. This strategy is much more effective than giving people a link to your website, which they’ll likely visit once and forget. 

Which will you try first?

Check in and tell me how it goes. 

And to be clear, don’t abandon your lead magnets. Just remember that’s just one strategy in an ocean of list-building strategies. 

~ Tarzan 

Gold From Around The Web
(And Over the Border)

❤️‍ What Offline Healing Looks LIke—A gorgeous essay about healing that has nothing to do with ice baths, by Juliane Bergman who writes Unmentionables (h/t to Sandra who sent it to me)

Curious about audio newsletters? HelloAudio founder Lindsday Padilla interviews “one of the industry’s leading voices” and “the pioneer of audio newsletters” in this interview (spoiler: it’s me)

Wanna hang out IRL? I’ll be at The Newsletter Conference in NYC on May 3 (as a humble attendee, not a speaker bc while I may be one of this industry’s leading voices, in the newsletter world I’m a nobody and my 10K-strong list is child’s play). Be my date? Single and ready to mingle ‍

The Sunday Power Hour (a new tradition)

It’s 7am on Sunday, a cold and snowy Canadian morning. Wind whistles through the windows.

I throw a log in the fireplace, snuggle up to my kids with a stack of Garfield books, and read the 30+ newsletters I didn't get to during the week. 

I flip between my email app + Asana, logging ideas and assigning my future self tasks while sipping black coffee and pausing to listen to my kids perform dramatic readings of Jim Davis. 

This is my professional development hour and I treasure it. 

Want to try it? 

…first let’s make sure you don’t accidentally get distracted by an unexpected email from client or a customer who lost their login. 

Meco is a distraction-free space for reading newsletters, separate from the inbox. 

You can add your newsletters in seconds and liberate your inbox. It’s free and doesn’t have ads but it will refer you to newsletters it thinks you might like. Try Meco here —> (affiliate link)



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You can make money without being a greasy promise-pusher, slapping "70% OFF FOR ONE DAY ONLY!" all over your website, or putting giant red countdown timers in every email. Here's how. 


The easiest ways to Tarzan-ify your emails and launch copy


The Course Launch Copy Kit ($27)

Copy Caboose Digital Program ($500)