Is it possible to succeed at affiliate marketing with a small email list? You bet it is! Today, I share an awesome case study with John Meese who made $5,359 in affiliate commissions in just one month with a list of only 1,302 subscribers.

John Meese on Affiliate Marketing success with small email list

The article is part of my Ultimate Guide to Monetizing With a Small Email List. Check out the entire Guide by clicking here.

If you haven’t noticed, I am a big believer in affiliate marketing as an income builder. From 2014 to 2015, I made more than $100,000 just in affiliate commissions. My list was never more than 2,000 people.

During that time, I often finished in the top 10 on affiliate launch leaderboards. I even won the first Self-Publishing School affiliate launch. With the right strategy, you can do amazing things with a small list.

3 Mindset Shifts to Succeed with a Small List

Success begins in your mind. To truly succeed with a smaller list, you need to make these three mindset shifts first.

1. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

If you constantly compare yourself to those with bigger lists and think success isn’t possible, it won’t be.

In the first affiliate launch I ever promoted (Michael Hyatt’s 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever), I made $586. I didn’t even sniff the leaderboard. But I also only had about 400 people on my list. That first promotion showed me what was possible.

Fast forward one year and I made more than $14,000 and finished in 5th place, ahead of some big names in the industry. The following year I made almost $20,000 and finished 4th and finally this last year I placed in the top 3, earning a chance to spend a few days at Blackberry Farms with Michael and the other two top affiliates.

These successes started by removing comparisons and focusing on what I could do to succeed.

2. Nurture Your List

When you have a huge list, you can succeed without a lot of effort or planning. The reality is that when you have 300,000 people on your list, it doesn’t take much to generate 100+ sales.

But with a smaller list, you need to be more strategic. You need to nurture your list.

You do this by treating an affiliate promotion like your own launch. That means:

  • Blogging about the upcoming topic in advance. Plant those early seeds.
  • Warming up your list before the launch.
  • Building an early interest list.

RELATED POST: 7 Ways to Warm Up Your List Before an Affiliate Promotion

3. Do Your Own Thing

I am a huge believer in modeling and copying. In fact, I love this quote from Pablo Picasso:


But…modeling and stealing has its downsides. What works for big lists doesn’t always work for smaller lists.

When you have a small list, be very careful what you copy from those with larger lists. Your small list is more intimate. Use that to your advantage.

Most importantly, do your own thing. Do what works for your audience, not what you see some other internet marketer doing.

Do what works for your audience, not what you see some other internet marketer doing.

One of the most important skills of any marketer (and especially for those with small lists) is trying new things and testing different tactics, strategies and techniques.

When you have a small list you can take tactics and ideas from others and try them until you find the ones that fit your style, audience and industry.

If you want to learn how to succeed with your email list, regardless of size, check out my Ultimate Guide to Monetizing With a Small Email List.

How John Meese Succeeds with a Small List

In April of 2016, John Meese had 1,302 email subscribers. And yet, he made $5,359 in affiliate commissions.

He finished high up on the leaderboards of two launches and brought in more than the average American makes in a month. Just from affiliate commissions and with a small list.

I know that some people will hear that he had 1,302 people on his list and think that that isn’t a small list, but the exact number on his list isn’t the most important part. It’s the tactics and strategies he used…and you can use those exact same strategies whether you have 1,302 people on your list, 130 people on your list or even 30.

If you had that thought, I urge you to set aside your doubts and watch my interview with him. You’ll learn a lot that you can use, I promise!

If you want the digest version, below I share my three biggest takeaways from John’s interview.

1. Remember Your Audience Follows YOU

One thing you must remember in an affiliate promotion is that your audience follows you, not the person you are promoting.

They signed up for your list. They want content from you. They know, like, and trust you.

John did something I’ve never seen done before…and I LOVE it! He created his own three-part video series promoting Ray Edwards’ launch.

John’s own Copywriting 101 series was hugely popular with his audience and allowed him to still be the star of the show.

It takes a little (OK, a lot) of extra effort but this is how you succeed even with a small list.

2. Focus on Depth Over Breadth

Most people focus on growing their list which is important. But they fail to go deep with the people already on their list.

John succeeded by focusing on those who were most interested in the topics he was promoting and was “aggressive” in his marketing with them. He did not blast his entire list more than a few times, but those who expressed interest in the topic (by clicking or opting in) got a lot more emails. That is exactly what we teach.

Segment based on interest, then promote aggressively to that segment.

John used ConvertKit to track his subscribers’ activity. For a limited time, ConvertKit has agreed to offer a 30-day free trial to my subscribers. Click here to start your free trial today.

3. Nothing Beats Hustle

The #1 reason why John succeeded was hustle. He simply went above and beyond the norm.

Creating your own video series, segmenting your list, and getting personal with your audience takes time.

Hustle is one of the big reasons I’ve succeeded in the past with a small list. I made sure to answer every email someone sent, every Tweet, and I even hosted live chats with potential customers for affiliate offers.

These things take a lot of time and effort, but they are worth it.

What is your biggest takeaway from John? What is your biggest tip for succeeding at affiliate promos with a small list?


Text me anytime at (260) 217-4619.

Or…check out some of my free reports to help you get on the right track:

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Affiliate Program Terms & Conditions Template

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Avoid The Top 20 Affiliate Program Mistakes

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Turn Inactive Affiliates into Your Best Affiliates

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Get My Template for Writing Affiliate Emails

Sales secrets of successful affiliate marketers

Affiliate Marketing Sales Secrets

Ultimate Guide to Affiliate Marketing with a resources page

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10 thoughts on “How to Succeed at Affiliate Marketing with a Small Email List

  1. John Meese says:

    Thanks for sharing this story, Matt! I hope people find it genuinely helpful (and maybe a little inspiring). If anybody has any questions about the details, just ask ?

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      It was awesome bud. Thanks for doing it.

      1. Cloris Kylie says:

        Yes, great story. Thank you, John and Matt for sharing it!

  2. Hey Matt, this is a great post. I’ll be watching the interview I believe again and again. I’ve one question which is a rather basic one (feeling wierd when asking even). But anyhow. I’m about to start building my email list and my services is a blend of faith-based coaching (I’m a believer in Christ) and copywriting (I’ll be joining Ray Edward’s copywriting Academy). For example, if I haven’t yet bought any course myself, can I still go ahead and promote the launch? Or is a total no-no?

    1. John Meese says:

      Great question here, Sabita, and Matt’s answer is solid. I’ll also add the disclaimer that anytime I’m promoting a fairly new product, I will only do so if I’ve had a chance to explore the product myself (whether I get a free copy or pay real money to get the original before I promote it).

      If it’s a tried-and-true product with many testimonials and case studies coming from someone I really respect, I’ll feel confident about promoting it as along as the product matches my audiences needs.

      If not, I’ll be a lot more hesitant to promote it (regardless of commission) until I get a look inside. I hold my audience’s trust sacred, and encourage you to do the same.

      1. Matt McWilliams says:

        John makes a good point @S@disqus_AezkBaVMvu:disqus that I forgot to mention…you should at least take a peak at the course if at all possible. You don’t need to have gone through it like a student but a half-hour glance is good.

      2. I already have a few products on my hit list to promote. And I’m already looking at them. I’m very excited about the possibility Matt. 🙂

        I’m noting down all points from you and John. Thanks again!

      3. That’s a noteworthy qualification criteria John. I’ll keep it in mind and will definitely explore things before becoming an affiliate. And yes, I agree on the product matching my audience needs. Else it won’t benefit anyone either.


    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      Short answer: yes. 🙂

      I don’t need to have owned a Lexus such and such to recommend it. Consumer Reports tells me it’s good and I know 3 people who have one.

      A lot of times a product is a GREAT fit for your audience (who matters) but not you.

      If you are audience is mostly beginners and you are advanced, some products make no sense to go through yourself.

      If you believe in the person teaching the course, go for it.

      1. Awesome. Thanks Matt 🙂

        I’m on it for sure! Will be building and warming up my list as you’ve advised. I’m so sure it’s gonna work like a super-success!

        Thanks again!

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