Building an email list is one of the most important things you can do for your business, they say.
And that’s true. But what do you do when—heaven help us—you actually get subscribers?
When I was working full-time, I managed a huge corporate list of tens of thousands of subscribers. In comparison to that, growing my own list has been slow. However, since day one, I’ve sent an email almost every week. I’ve maintained an average open rate of 60% and a click rate of ~13%.
These numbers are pretty strong compared to email benchmarks of 20% and 2.5%, respectively. The rates are beginning to go down slightly as the list grows (alas, it’s to be expected), but I’m still pretty dang happy with where we’re at.
So today, I wanted to share my entire email strategy—how I structure my emails, how often I send them, and their role within my business. If you’re already a subscriber, this will probably be pretty familiar. If you’re not, sign up here to witness it firsthand:
The purpose of my email newsletter
In business (and perhaps in life), you’ve got to have a good reason for what you’re doing. And if you don’t have a good enough reason, you should probably ditch it.
My email list exists for three reasons:
- To allow me to alert past and potential clients about my current services, and
- To allow me to eventually transfer to one-to-many offerings in the future (which will require a larger audience to succeed).
- To deliver content that improves others’ lives (this is part of my Why)
Essentially: current sales, future sales, and personal fulfillment.
In practice, I tend to lean heaviest toward #3. Although I know how to write sales emails, frankly, I don’t find them as fun as just delivering great content. It’s an area I can improve in.
So, we’ve got a purpose. Now, we can home in on some tangible goals.
Goals of my email newsletter
As for any business email list, I have two main goals:
- Grow subscriber volume, and
- Keep those subscribers engaged
These are measured through a few metrics:
- Total # of subscribers over time
- Open rate
- Click rate
- # of subscribers who become clients
Now, you may think of subscriber volume and engagement as separate activities. One brings in subscribers, the other keeps them engaged. However, they’re actually closely intertwined. The method of getting subscribers greatly influences how engaged they’ll be in the future.
So let’s talk about that aspect first.
How I get new subscribers
I’ve attracted subscribers in a few different ways. Again, I’ll reiterate that my list is relatively small, so these methods are limited. But here are the more impactful ways I’ve gained new subscribers:
Forms attached to Medium articles
I’m currently in the middle of an experiment of posting on Medium every weekday for 30 days (you can follow along here). Most of my articles have a small call to action at the end inviting readers to sign up for a 5-day email course.
The language here is very specific, however. I don’t want just anyone signing up. It says:
Building a business?
Get my FREE course in your inbox on the top 5 website mistakes business owners make — and how to fix them fast → http://bit.ly/2vs3zFA
(Yes, you’re welcome to click the link and join the course yourself!)
I only attach this CTA to articles that are on business topics. As a result, I attract a specific audience: business owners with a website (or aspiring business owners, or those who are about to create a website). This aligns with both my offerings as well as the future content I’ll create, so I know I’ll be able to deliver content on topics they’re interested in.
Paid Facebook groups
In February, I joined a large online course geared toward new and aspiring business owners. In addition to the great online course material, you also get access to a private Facebook group for course attendees. Now, you’re not allowed to advertise yourself there, and I don’t encourage you to break rules here. However, being active and delivering value DOES catch people’s eyes.
I created a few high-value posts where I offered free, instant support, such as reviewing people’s websites in short videos, or explaining how to write a strong value proposition or CTA. On my personal profile, I added a bio that pointed clearly to my website. This ended up in quite a few organic subscribers.
You can do this with non-paid Facebook groups as well, but it’s dependent entirely on how well they’re aligned with your business, and how active the group is.
Pinterest articles plus opt-in incentive
A few months back, I analyzed my blog posts to find which ones were getting at least a few clicks from Google. I found one in particular that showed promise. The topic was on writing your about page. Then, I revamped it:
- I researched keywords to see what was being searched for on that topic, which led me to add full sections of content to the article.
- I gave it a catchier title.
- I created a simple (but valuable) opt-in incentive that folks could download in exchange for an email address.
Next, I shared it on Pinterest (like I do for many of my posts). I created an eye-catching image and used Tailwind to get it in front of other pinners. I haven’t touched it since, but it’s still bringing in a good handful of new subscribers every month.
What happens after subscribing
There are three main pathways a new subscriber can take when joining my email list.
First, they might just sign up for my emails, and that’s that. In that case, they’re automatically sent a welcome email. Right now, it includes:
- A thank you
- What kind of content they can expect from me, and how often
- A request for them to add my email to their address book so future emails don’t go to spam
- A CTA to hit reply and tell me about their business
- A PS inviting them to follow me on Twitter and Instagram
Or, they might sign up through an opt-in incentive. In that case, they receive the freebie, and then they receive the welcome email.
Finally, if they sign up through my free email course, they get the course and no welcome email. Instead, the welcome email content is part of the first email of the course.
Regardless of the exact setup, that welcome content sets proper expectations and invites them into my little corner of the internet.
For the welcome email, few people hit reply, but I don’t mind—it communicates that I’m open and happy to help. And I respond to every person who does.
What I send to my email list
Once they’re fully onboarded through the course or welcome email, subscribers begin to receive my regular emails.
These have varied a bit depending on what I’m doing in my business, but I always try to deliver value above all.
That means I’m not just promoting myself. I’m not just saying “HERE, READ THIS.” I’m taking the time to craft an email that’s interesting to read in itself.
Usually, I alternate content by week. One week will promote the most recent article on my blog, and the next one will contain what’s essentially a mini-blog post, sent only as an email. This means my subscribers are receiving some exclusive content that non-subscribers will never see.
Regardless, each email starts with a personalized greeting and follows up with human, engaging language:
How often I email my list
Most of the time, I send an email once a week (unless I’m running a promotion). However, in my opinion, if you’re delivering promotion-free value at least half of the time, you can definitely email more.
I’d love to be in communication with my list 2-3 times in a week, ideally. It’s just a question of how much valuable content I’m able to create.
How I promote my offerings over email
Whenever I‘m talking about a new offering, I usually try to do it in the context of delivering value. Usually this means I’ll give a personal story about why I’m offering it, and why it’s valuable. Then, when I send future emails, I include reminders (as in the example above).
As I mentioned earlier, I have some shaping up to do in this department. I haven’t done full launches with my own subscribers. If I do one in the future, I’ll have to come back and write up my process for that.
What email provider I use
Throughout my career, I’ve used Mailchimp (briefly), Campaign Monitor, ConvertKit, and some other platform that FOR THE LIFE OF ME I can’t remember.
That doesn’t matter through, because my favorite by far for my kind of business is ConvertKit (Disclosure: That’s an advertisement/affiliate link. Please know that I only promote what I use and love!). ConvertKit is focused less on intense email templates, and more on automation, segmenting your list, and plain ol’ communication. I edited my email template a little bit using a few YouTube tutorials so it has a bit of flair (like adding my photo to the email footer), but it’s all about the copy.
In fact, that’s likely a huge factor in my high open rates. HubSpot says that text-based emails tend to outperform HTML emails.
Now, MailChimp lets you start free, but ConvertKit is $29/month for up to 1,000 subscribers. Some people choose to start with MailChimp and migrate over later. You COULD do that, but personally I find that the investment up front is worth it. MailChimp just doesn’t have the same features for content producers (opt-in incentives can get really tricky with MailChimp), and frankly moving over not only your subscribers but also all the forms you really need will NOT be easy.
Also, paying $29 a month keeps me focused. If email is going to be a significant part of your marketing, just do it right the first time.
What questions do you have?
Email marketing is a huge topic, and I’m here to help! Leave your questions in the comments. I’ll be happy to answer.