Ready to dip your toes into email marketing? Great! This chapter will focus on the fundamental best practices for successful email marketing, plus targeted ways to build your list with lots of subscribers who are excited to hear from you. This chapter covers:
- The Foundational Rules of Email Marketing Success
- How to Build Your Email List with Quality Subscribers
- Taking Your Email Marketing to the Next Level
But the very first thing I recommend you do is set up an account with an email service provider (ESP). While it’s perfectly possible to do email marketing without using an ESP, I don’t suggest it. Why? Because the benefits of doing it on your own are minimal, while the drawbacks are significant.
The main benefit of doing it yourself is you’ll save on the cost of subscribing to an ESP. You could also make a case that by doing everything “in house” you’re safe from whatever happens to a particular ESP—maybe their servers go down, or the whole company goes out of business. But unless you’re planning on hand-delivering letterpress notes to all of your subscribers, you’re going to be relying on internet companies and technologies to deliver your emails, even if you’re not using an ESP.
And what you’ll be missing without an ESP is pretty substantial. I’m talking about the ability to automate a ton of different things, like adding and removing subscribers from your list, or personalizing emails. I’m talking about easily segmenting your list and tagging people according to their interests and actions, so you can send them the most relevant email content. I’m also talking about tools that help you stay in line with the sometimes complex requirements of laws like CAN-SPAM and GDPR.
Those are just a few of the major benefits of using an ESP. There are several good options out there, but the one I use and recommend is ConvertKit. It’s affordable and super easy to use, and includes a lot of the advanced features that will come in handy as you grow. [Full Disclaimer: I am a compensated advisor and affiliate for ConvertKit.]
With that out of the way, let’s talk about what you need to know and do as you’re getting started with email marketing.
The Foundational Rules of Email Marketing Success
Ready for a crash course in email marketing best practices? Here are the three main rules you need to follow if you want to succeed.
1. Quality Over Quantity
Rule number 1 is to focus on quality, not quantity. That’s true when it comes to both the makeup of your email list itself and the content of your emails.
First, it’s not the size of your email list that matters, it’s the quality of it. A strong business solves problems—so focus on finding the people who have the problems that your business solves.
I’ve seen businesses with fewer than 200 email subscribers have five-figure product launches! How? Because those business owners focused on growing an email list with the right kind of people, and then served them with the right kind of product. I would much rather have a smaller list of dedicated fans than a much larger one filled with lots of folks who could care less about reading my emails.
Now, I’m not a fan of looking at each of your email subscribers as just a number or judging them solely on the question, “How likely are they to buy?” But you need to have this mindset to some degree, not just because it’s good for your business, but because it’s good for your subscribers. The more tailored the content to their needs and interests, the better you’re going to be able to serve them.
Now to the emails themselves. There’s no “rule” for how long a typical email should be. But there is a rule for how much value it should provide (hint: a lot).
To give you a sense, I’ve written and sent thousands and thousands of emails to people on my list in the past decade. And those emails have ranged anywhere between 250 and 2,000+ words. There are times and topics where it makes sense to be brief—perhaps you have a flash sale on one of your products and you want your readers to take quick action. But other times, you may want to share some deep insights about a business problem you recently encountered, and you need to get into four-digit-word territory to do the story justice.
My emails range in size from really short, like this one (just 168 words!), to into the thousands of words.
Sometimes quantity = quality. Yes, some of my emails really are 2,000 words long (or more). You might be thinking, “Wow! That’s too much! People are going to be bored.” If they’re bored, it’s because I’m not writing about something they’re interested in. Sometimes people tell me, “Oh man, I wish you’d written more, because this is good stuff.”
The key to remember is that when you send someone an email, you’re asking them to grant you their undivided attention for as long as it’ll take them to read your message. People are very strict with what they do with their time, so if they give you the honor of opening your email, you need to return the honor by making the content great. Sometimes that means fewer words, and sometimes it means more.
Don’t get hung up on the word count—just make every word count.
2. Send Value-Driven Emails
Value-driven emails are ones that include content that is of real value to your audience.
By sending value-driven emails, you will be strengthening the relationship you have with your subscribers and positioning yourself as an expert in your niche. And, because your audience won’t want to miss out on the valuable content they’ve come to expect, you will also train them to form the habit of opening all of the emails you send.
Once someone has subscribed to my list, I like to give them a small win—something really valuable they can implement quickly. You only get one chance to make a first impression. So as soon as someone subscribes to your list, share your best, most actionable tip—something people can get a result from within five minutes of implementation.
This also helps set a precedent for your readers, so that they’ll expect value from all of your emails moving forward, which means they’ll be more likely to open those future emails—and that’s a win for everyone.
In Chapter 3, we’ll talk more about the power of the small win and go in depth on some specific strategies to pack as much value as possible into your emails.
3. Use Calls to Action
Finally, you want to put a specific call to action (CTA) in each email you send.
When you craft any email, you should always ask yourself: “What’s the purpose of sending this?” Each email you send should have one specific goal, and from that goal, come up with one specific CTA. A CTA could be asking the reader to read a recent blog post, visit a webinar landing page, watch a YouTube video, reply to the email and answer a specific question, or click a link to a sales page to buy something from you (before the price goes up!).
Yes, you can have multiple instances of the same call to action within an email, but it’s always a good rule of thumb to pair one email with one CTA.
Why is this important? If you include too many CTAs, you’re less likely to get people to take any action. This happens because of the “paradox of choice,” where more choices can actually hinder a person’s ability to make a decision. Also, when you include more than one CTA, it can give the reader a sense that you’re not totally sure of what you want them to do.
So remember, one email = one CTA.
Just one—that’s right, one—CTA in this whole email.
As far as what CTAs to include in your emails, we’ll go over that in more depth in Chapter 3.
For now, let’s move on to talk about the all-important task of building your email list.
How to Build Your Email List with Quality Subscribers
Want to learn how to get more email subscribers? I’ll tell you what’s not going to work. Telling people, “Hey, subscribe to my newsletter.” If you’re doing that, you’re basically just saying, “Hey, I’m going to send you more emails!” People don’t want more emails. People want something of value in exchange for joining your email list.
So what can you give them in exchange for their email address? Thankfully, there are many tactics to grow your email list. But the overall key—the strategy—has to be to provide value. You need to give people a reason to join your list.
Up next, I’m going to share several different methods and types of content you can use to deliver value and grow your email list with well-qualified subscribers.
1. Lead Magnets
One of the best ways to do so is through a tried-and-true method: offering a lead magnet—a valuable piece of content—in exchange for someone’s email address.
Lead magnets have been a popular method to gain signups for a while, and for good reason. Although the types of lead magnet that are most effective have evolved (more on that in a second), a lead magnet is still a great way to incentivize people to join your list. As always, the key is to provide something of value—ideally more value than the person might expect to receive without paying anything.
One more piece of advice when it comes to lead magnets. You see, times have changed. Back in the day, when I started building my email list, it was hip to offer the biggest, most comprehensive lead magnet possible—I’m talking a thirty-to-fifty-page ebook or PDF file. But this is no longer something people want to download. They don’t want to spend their time slogging through fifty pages—they want the quick hits, the information that will let them hit the ground running.
Here are a few options:
- A mini-course. A short training that delivers a ton of value in a small package while showing the person that you’re serious about helping them learn.
- A book chapter. If you’ve written a book, or are thinking about writing one, you can offer your first chapter for free in exchange for someone’s address.
- A transcript. If you do any video or podcasting, you can take your transcripts—the text files with the words you’ve recorded—and put them into a PDF file, then offer it in exchange for an email address.
2. Upgraded Content
A content upgrade is bonus content that people can get access to in exchange for their email address. After a post or podcast episode, you can offer access to a downloadable that enhances the experience with that content. This is essentially a smaller, unique, bite-sized type of lead magnet that relates directly to what people are already consuming.
This strategy is used by lots of top email marketers. One person who uses this strategy incredibly well is Amy Porterfield, who puts content upgrades in nearly every single post!
Amy Porterfield does upgraded content awesomely well. In the page for this podcast interview with Darren Rouse, she offers a free download with content that expands on the interview in exchange for your email address.
Although upgraded content can work like a charm, the big struggle most people have with it—and the reason many don’t use it—is the fact that it requires additional work. We spend all this time creating a unique, valuable post, podcast episode or video, and then we have to do even more work after that? You should know this by now, but results down the road don’t come without some hard work up front, and if building your email list is a major goal for you (which it should be), upgraded content will work if you put the work in.
Here are a few ideas:
- A PDF file that lists tools and resources related to your topic.
- A quick-start guide to a product or process you’re teaching that may be fairly complicated.
- Access to a prerecorded bonus webinar related to the content in the post.
- A checklist that allows people to follow along and make sure they’re doing things right.
As I mentioned above, there’s a lot of overlap between upgraded content and lead magnets. The key differentiator is that upgraded content is always going to be closely related to the content the person is reading. For instance, if your focus area is video blogging, you might place a checklist for getting started with a particular camera at the end of a blog post reviewing that camera. But if you wanted to place a lead magnet on your homepage, you probably want to go with something more general (e.g., “The Top 5 Things Every Beginning Video Blogger Needs to Know”).
3. Free Webinars
You can also collect email addresses when people register for webinars you host.
Simply registering for a webinar provides a valuable first point of validation, because it tells you that person is interested in the topic. And if only a few people register, that’s helpful data too! That way you’ll know that this topic may not be relevant to your target audience and that you should place your focus elsewhere.
I know a lot of people who use webinars to get in front of an interested audience. You get people to register for a webinar related to a particular topic.
You can use webinars to grow your list, as well as to sell to your existing list. At the end of the webinar, you can invite them to stay in touch with you, or even pitch them on a product or service related to the webinar topic.
But even if you don’t know what you want to sell yet, or you’re just hesitant to pitch during your webinar, that’s totally fine. The potential to grow your email list with relevant subscribers is excellent. In fact, if you’re just starting out, it may be more wise to focus on the list-building. There’s no need to rush the sale!
Webinars can also help foster trust and affinity between you and the people who attend by creating a memorable experience. You get to talk directly to people and start building a relationship with them, and even answer their questions. A webinar can be a great introduction to your brand and your teaching style. And it doesn’t hurt to work in a quick win.
Do it right, and people are going to be super thankful for the time they’ve spent the time with you—and way more attuned to hearing more from you in the future.
Check out Chapter 6 to learn more about the tool I recommend for hosting your webinars.
Contests or giveaways can be a great way to augment your email list with excited new subscribers. But sadly, these kinds of promotions often get a bad rap.
You might even be thinking right now, “Giveaways seem kind of cheesy and sleazy. Do they really work at growing your email list?” The short answer is yes, definitely! But unfortunately, giveaways carry a stigma among many people, and this stigma is based on a few common misconceptions.
Back in 2018, I had a great conversation on my podcast with Noah Kagan, the founder of AppSumo. Noah’s company makes a website plugin called KingSumo that you can use to easily set up giveaways on your site. We talked about how giveaways can be a fruitful source of new email subscribers, and covered the common and unfortunate misconceptions about giveaways that can lead a lot of people to overlook them.
Let’s break down those misconceptions now, and talk about how you can use giveaways to boost the ranks of your email list with the right kinds of subscribers!
Misconception 1: People Who Enter Giveaways are “Bad” Subscribers
This one is the big one—a lot of people think that those who enter giveaways are just looking for a freebie, and so they’re not going to be “high-quality” subscribers. However, KingSumo has found that as many as 40-50 percent of giveaway subscribers stay on board; contest subscribers have been responsible for 30 percent of AppSumo’s revenue! To help your odds, you can take a few steps to make the most of your new subscribers:
- Use a double opt-in process. This means new subscribers need to click yes on a confirmation email before they’re fully subscribed.
- Give away a product that’s going to be interesting to your ideal customers, but not as exciting to others. This will help attract your target audience—the people more likely to want to stay on your list.
- Three months after your giveaway, unsubscribe anyone who hasn’t opened or clicked any emails. You can do this automatically through most email service providers.
People who enter giveaways don’t need to end up “low-quality” subscribers, as long as you screen them the right way and clean up your list after the fact.
In 2016, I ran a giveaway on my site for my favorite books of the year.
Misconception 2: You Need a Huge Audience
What if you don’t have a huge audience? That’s okay. Use what you’ve got. This can include posting on your social media pages or profiles (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram), emailing your current subscribers, and advertising the promotion on your website (use Sumo.com). You could even make a YouTube video about your giveaway, and submit the contest to a subreddit like /r/giveaways.
Your audience is bigger than you think, especially when you take into account the shareability factor with giveaways.
Misconception 3: You Need a Huge Prize
Finally, you don’t need a huge prize! Not every giveaway has to be for a brand new iPad Pro (and in fact, I strongly recommend against doing this.) Noah’s proof: He got 6,411 email subscribers by giving away a Seth Godin book collection that cost him just $60!
The more focused and relevant the prize to your target audience, the more interested people will be—and the fewer $$$ you’ll have to throw at a high-tech prize (cough, cough, iPad) that will appeal to lots of people.
5. Promotion via Social Media
Social media is a fantastic means to grow your email list and increase your ranks of raving fans and future customers.
Unfortunately, a lot of business owners and marketers get stuck on the “vanity metrics” that tend to get emphasized in social media land—things like engagement and followers. There’s nothing wrong with tons of engagement or having a super-duper long list of Facebook followers, but if you’re not using your social media presence to build your email list, you’re missing out!
Social media is a perfect tool to use in conjunction with the other tactics and tips shared in this article. You can link from social media to your blog posts or landing pages that contain lead magnets or upgraded content, promote your webinars, and share links to your giveaways.
The link in this tweet goes to a landing page where people can sign up for a webinar in exchange for their email address.
But above all, if you want to successfully turn your social media conversations into engines for email list-building, make sure you heed my cardinal rule of social media: think of it like it’s one giant party.
Imagine you’re at such a party. At this party, there are tons of different people having different types of conversations. Now, imagine going up to a group of people who are having a conversation about something and interrupting with, “Hi everyone! My name is Pat Flynn! Here are some cool products you can buy from me. Check ’em out!”
That’s not going to go over very well. It’s just plain rude, and it doesn’t make a good first impression. You’re not going to impress anyone—and you’ll never sell anything that way. If you want successful people to pay attention to you, you have to pay attention to what they are talking about first.
So join and add value to the conversations that are happening—don’t interrupt them. Be interested first, and they may be interested in what you have going on too. Make friends, build relationships and help others, and people will eventually find what you have to offer, because they’ll be genuinely interested in you!
That’s how to use social media—as a way to strengthen and build the relationships you have with your target audience, so they’ll want to stay in touch with you. Once you start doing that, it’ll be a natural next step for many of your followers to join your email list.
Plus, getting your social media audience onto your email list is just smart, because your email list is a much safer bet than any social media platform could ever be. Twitter or Facebook can change the rules whenever they like; they could even (gasp!) shut down your account. And in either case, you wouldn’t be able to do much about it. And what about your website? You own that, right? In a sense, but it can be hacked. But no one can really take your email list away from you—all you need is a backup list of contacts and a way to email them.
The SPI Email Marketing Cheat Sheet
Learn to Write Great Emails.
The Epic Guide to Email Marketing walks you through how to set up your email marketing program, but once it's set up, what should you write?
The Epic Guide to Email Marketing walks you through how to set up your email marketing program, but once it's set up, what should you write?
- Universal Rules
Taking Your Email Marketing to the Next Level
I hope the tips and tactics above give you a great starting point to growing your own email list.
Growing your email list with dedicated subscribers early on is one of the best ways to build a successful online business. It took me more than a year after starting my first business to start my email list, and it’s a mistake I still regret (more on email marketing mistakes in Chapter 5).
“But that’s not all there is,” you’re thinking, “… is it?” Of course not! What we’ve talked about so far is just the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned for the next chapter of this epic series, where we’ll go deep into email marketing best practices to help you get the most out of this invaluable marketing strategy.