I struggled to understand “this web marketing thing” for years.
I even tried a two month campaign of non-stop blog writing, five-days-a-week–sometimes more.
The results in terms of a traffic increase were excellent, but there was no sustained business growth as a direct result. So I stopped. What was I doing wrong?
As I later discovered, the missing link was that I had failed to “stack the bricks” in the words of Amy Hoy. And I had failed to do so by neglecting to build an email list where I could nurture a real relationship with people over time.
That’s what today’s interview with Brennan Dunn is all about. In the last two years, Brennan has build a list of over 10,000 subscribers without spending a dollar on advertising. Today he is receiving 40-50 new subscribers to his newsletter per day.
How did he accomplish all this?
Watch the interview below and if you want some exclusive, time-saving notes on the key tips Brennan talks about in the video enter your email address below as well.
Got it, sweet interview … now what?
If you’re looking to get started or you want a refresher on what works when it comes to building an email list from scratch, keep reading because below is a supplementary guide to help you create, grow, and leverage your email list to get sales.
Step 1 – “How does building an email list grow my business?”
When you decide to build an email list you have to understand that you’re building a long term marketing asset. To paraphrase what Brennan said in our interview above “all of the computer code aside, my email list is my company’s most valuable asset.”
I would agree with that statement and here’s why you should too. According to research from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) email returns $40 for every $1 spend on average. In addition, the same study found that email marketing has a buy rate 1000% higher than social media (such as Facebook and Twitter), and double that of organic search engine marketing (SEO).
The reason why building an email list will also grow your sales is because assuming you regularly email your subscribers (at least once per quarter) and provide something of value, that’s a direct line of communication with people and it works to build and maintain the relationship.
This in turn leads to purchases, referrals, leads, social sharing, and other financially relevant opportunities.
Speaking from personal experience, I literally launched my company with a single email to my personal network in 2010. We found our first client less than 2 weeks later.
Over the course of the follow year and 3 more email newsletters sent, AutoGrow generated $90,000 in revenue as a result of referrals and client inquiries that came in direct response to the email blasts.
My tactics for accomplishing this was to keep those initial emails personable, friendly, show what my team and I were working on (what sort of web marketing or web design projects we were capable of). And I would make a direct ask in several of those emails:
“Do you know anyone who could benefit from our services? We appreciate any referrals.”
That produced real results for us, and in my opinion we could have done a lot more give value to our list back then (which we’re doing much more of now with free courses and blog articles like these).
So that’s the value of building an email list.
Step 2 – “How do I decide what to write about?”
If you sign-up for Derek Halpern’s newsletter, the first major tip he’ll advise you on via his auto-responder is to stake your claim around a specific idea or phrase that describes the type of content you’ll be writing.
The reason for this is:
- According to Derek, this makes easier for other people to organically spread your blog or newsletter and recommend it to others via word-of-mouth. Derek’s description for his content is something like “marketing tips and ideas based on psychology principles and research.”
- According to me, it helps to focus your creative energy in a single direction around whatever your chosen topic is. The description for AutoGrow’s content is “tactics and strategies for building a sales engine that gets customers to come to you.”
People are busy, lazy, and overwhelmed with information coming at them from all sides. So we naturally like to put labels on everything to simplify our lives and make things easy to remember.
So before you start writing your task is to pick a specific topic or niche. If you’re unsure maybe you need to do more research on what your target market wants. Consider looking at the newsletters and blogs of others in your industry.
If you’re still unsure, just pick a topic to help you get started. Don’t worry about getting it right the first time, just do your best to narrow it down over time and focus around the content one core idea.
Step 3 – “What marketing tools & foundational elements do you recommend?”
There are a number of tools, both free and paid that you should use to get started. Don’t spend more time on this than you need to though.
The core catalyst that will drive your email list growth is your content. Without good content you have nothing to promote that your target audience will find relevant or want to spread to others.
So start writing first.
After you’ve done that, here’s a checklist of what you should ideally have in place to accomplish the tasks of setting up and managing your email list, publishing your content, promoting your content (via email and social media), capturing new subscribers, and tracking overall performance:
- A blog (a full website is ideal, but keep it simple to start, a blog is fine by itself)
- Email marketing software
- Web forms
- Social media profiles
- Social media management tool
- Performance tracking tool
The reason why you should have at least all of these elements in place before you get going is because this minimal setup will allows you to create content, promote it effectively, easily get referrals from other people or websites, and covert email subscribers into customers.
For a blog, you can create one for free and get up and running very quickly using any of the following options:
- WordPress.org (if you’re not tech savvy you’ll need a web developer to help you install this on a server for you. This is ideal for the long term since it gives you maximum control over all the code and website design). This is my top recommendation.
- WordPress.com (you can use this service will host your WordPress blog for you for free and charge a small premium if you want a “dot-com” domain name).
- Weebly (this service is also free and extremely useful friendly. For more advanced features you can upgrade your account)
- Blogger (same as the above, this service has been around for a while and is owned by Google).
For email marketing software, here’s what I recommend:
- Saber Blast – This is the simple and intuitive email marketing software I created after I got tired of using Aweber and Mailchimp. Most people don’t know about it since it’s still new but if you’re on the market for an email marketing solution, this offers a lot of valuable features that the competition doesn’t. For instance, Saber Blast helps you increase the number of email subscribers you capture, provides automated follow-up (easy to manage autoresponder) and recommendations on who is and isn’t a lead from your email list based on their engagement levels. At it’s core, it’s designed to grow your business. It has minimal features when it comes to the design of your newsletter since we believe that’s actually a distraction from taking the revenue-growing action of creating great content to quickly and painlessly send to subscribers.
- Mailchimp – This is the most affordable option on the market today and their email template design editor is quite feature rich. It also has a drag and drop interface. Their major downsides to Mailchimp is (a) they’re terrible, robotic customer support and (b) it feels like a lot more steps than are necessary to send a newsletter or to setup an autoresponder.
- Aweber – They offer a paid trial starting at $1 and many people seem to like their auto-responder. When I last used their service, I found their interface a bit confusing. One plus is they’ve got a nice email opt-in form builder. But this is less important when you consider that…
Many times having a dedicated service for hosting and customizing your web forms is more effective than making the forms yourself with HTML code or using the forms generated for you by your email marketing software.
For this reason, I use and recommend Wufoo, which gives you complete control over your form’s design and also provide some very nice tracking statistics and third-party integrations. Formstack is also pretty good. They are the main competitor to Wufoo in this space.
When it comes to setting up your social media profiles, you should set one up on each of the following social networks:
- Facebook (page)
- LinkedIn (page or personal)
- YouTube (optional, less important in the short run when you’re just getting started)
- Pinterest (this is also less critical than the first three)
There are hundreds of social media management tools out there right now. I personally blieve the best ones are:
- Buffer – This one is the simplest and most practical for the purposes of promoting content since it will automatically try to share the content you pop into its feed to your social profiles at the most relevant time, maximizing exposure. The main downside they scaled back on their free plan so now you’re limited to connecting 2 or 3 social media profiles before they required you to upgrade. Regardless, it’s still very affordable and worth the $20 per month they charge.
- Hootsuite – Hootsuite is best for managing conversations and “the social stream” of updates that flow non-stop from people you follow or who like your brand. I personally don’t use this tool since it requires too much multi-tasking, but I know some people who like it. It’s free for all the basic features.
Postling and Hootsuite are not so necessary for when you’re just starting out. When you’re just getting your feet wet and your goal is to build your email list, “social conversations” aren’t going to drive a ton of traffic or email subscribers; timely promotion is, which is why I recommend you start with Buffer.
When it comes to tracking results, all of the social media management and email marketing tools I mentioned above provide analytics tracking so you can see clicks, opens, shares, and subscriber growth (example images below are from Saber Blast).
However, it is useful to know the percentage of visits to your that convert to email subscribers, how many of those subscribers convert to leads and sales, as well as when these events occur and how often over the course of time. For this you should install Google Analytics and setup goal tracking.
The idea is that whenever you receive an email opt-in or purchase the user will be redirected to a “thank you” page. Whenever someone arrives on this page it’s recorded as a conversion in Google Analytics since no other pages link to that thank you page except the previous step.
When you think you’ve got all the initial elements setup, make sure to test each one to ensure there are not “cracks” in your foundation.
Test out all your forms, send yourself a test newsletter, post some messages on your social media profiles, and visit the various pages of your blog or website.
Step 4 – Writing your first email (and blog)
After you’ve got all your tools and foundational elements setup, you’re ready to send the first email newsletter promoting your content.
Begin by putting together an email list of contacts who you’ve met with in person over the last year, who have bought from you in the recent past, or who are friends but highly likely to find what you’re writing about relevant.
If your list is small, don’t worry. What we’re outlining here is meant to grow that number, whatever it may be, over time by being consistent and diligent.
I started with a few hundred people on my email list when I was a senior in college. And Brennan started from zero, but today has over 10,000 email subscribers.
So it’s not where you start, it’s how far you go.
If you already have an email list from a previous campaign, that’s great. But make sure the audience matches with the content you’ll be sending so as to avoid spamming people, which can hurt your reputation.
In this instance — since our goal is to setup a system and a habit for growing your email list — you should think of email newsletters and blog posts as jointly related activities. The email newsletter you’ll be sending should be an appetizer to the main course, enticing people to click through to read the full blog article. In other words:
If content is a match, then sending an email newsletter is a strike of the match, igniting a flame.
For example, here’s how I wrote a recent email newsletter to my subscribers:
This week meant snow for much of the northeast.
Below is a picture of the view from my NY office
during the storm (see below).
There’s something comforting about being inside,
and keeping warm while you work and watch
out the window as the cold flakes fall.
Something else I find satisfying is
the feeling of forward progress
(like launching a new landing
page) or trying something
new, then writing down
what I learned in
Enjoy the article, and let me know what you are
making progress on this week.
PS – Keep an eye out for next week’s article. In it
I’ll be talking about person-to-person sales and
it will also include an interview with a sales
expert who has sold over 1 MM in ads for
LinkedIn and Google, as well as
having sold his own company
in the past.
As you can see, I had some fun with this news letter in the way I visually formatted the lines to get shorter and shorter, like an arrow pointing to the link.
The format that I use here I use universally almost every week. I often will start with a friendly “hey,” using the person’s name if I have it, then talk briefly about a personal story or anecdote. Next I’ll transition into how that annecdote is actually related to the topic of my article for that week.
People are easily drawn-in by stories, and people like people who are “real,” so I’ve always figured this was an engaging and practical way to get people to read the newsletter and click the link.
Right now my open rate is about 40%. Compared to the industry standard, that’s about 8x the average. I believe this is mainly because I’ve focused hard on writing content that wasn’t “fun.” Rather, I chose to focus on creating content that is relevant and solves a problem for them.
You should develop your own style, but this is what has worked well for me thus far.
“But what should I blog about, I have no ideas?”
On principle, think about what the pain points and complaints of your customers are. What keeps them up at night?
For my audience, and part of the reason I write articles like these are because I know most entrepreneurs and small business owners struggle with their marketing, and more specifically they wrestle constantly with:
“How do I generate leads and grow consistently?”
Since this is something I personally struggled with for a long time when I initially started my business, I can relate and it’s easy to think of lots of article ideas to write about…
But yes, you’re not me. So let’s say you’re marketing a call answering service focusing on clients in Houston, Texas as my dear friend Kelly Cammack is. While it may seem like the topics that could possibly be discussed on such a blog’s website are limited, the opposite is the case.
Afterall, answering calls for professional service business (e.g. doctors, lawyers) is first of all about providing timely, reliable customer service while being knowledgeable, friendly, polite, and professional. There are about a dozen different article titles you can probably brainstorm around quality customer service in a matter of minutes.
Even if you don’t think you’re a creative person and still have no ideas, check out some of these resource links here for additional tips:
- 7 Ways to Generate Blog Content Ideas Using Web Analytics Insight
- 18 Places to Generate Great Blog Post Ideas
- 7 Effortless Ways to Find New Ideas for Your Blog
Step 5 – “How do I optimize for a higher email opt-in rate?”
I could write an entire article on this — and I almost did already.
Here’s the link to that (each tip includes research and/or an example for support). Note that not all tips are relevant to email list building, but most are:
In general though, here are the initial steps you should take to get your subscribe rate to go from something like 0.3% to 1.0% or better.
- Add more forms in the right places on your blog (top, bottom, right side bar, about page)
- Add a landing page to your blog or website focused on your newsletter as the sole call to action
- Add a well-timed or action triggered pop-up
- Write simple, clear, compelling copy around your pop-up, landing page, and on-page opt-in forms that explain the benefits and incentives for subscribing.
- Consider requiring one form field (email only) instead of two (name and email) by default.
These are only the first steps to help you get started converting more visitors to email subscribers.
You can experiment and gather more objective data on what works to drive conversions (and what doesn’t) with A/B testing after your traffic surpasses 10,000 visits per month.
Step 6 – “What is an autoresponder & how does it help drive sales?”
An autoresponder is the key ingredient in this system that helps convert some percentage of your email list subscribers into leads or customers.
It does this by automatically following-up with subscribers, looping through a sequence of pre-written emails (1, 2, 3… etc).
An autoresponder is usually presented to visitors as a free course. For example, Brennan’s free course is “5 Days to Better Freelancing.”
The reason why prospects don’t buy or become leads is usually one or more of the following:
- What you’re offering doesn’t solve a problem for them
- The value of what you’re offering is unclear
- They don’t trust you.
If number one is true, that’s something an autoresponder (or this guide) cannot help you overcome. A product or service that doesn’t solve someone’s problem is a zero multiplier.
However an autoresponder is extremely effective at addressing points 2 and 3. For 2, since it teaches something specific and actionable (e.g. How to Double Your Leads in 30 Days, see top right side bar on this page) the value and and benefits usually become clear when readers review the email lessons.
In my course on doubling your leads, I introduce the idea of how that’s possible using a system and variety of tactics, and then at the end repeat that point but offer “hey, if you want to save time and have a high quality result, we’ll do everything we taught in this course”
The autoresponder also helps to build trust since it breaks down in a transparent way how you achieve the desired end-result. So whether you want to purchase the product or service offered at the end, you’re still empowered with the knowledge of the e-course to go out and do it on your own.
During the course of my video interview with Brennan Dunn (above), he explained it like this:
By being on my newsletter or autoresponder, it’s an investment of time on the part of my subscribers. It’s my job to provide valuable content to give them an ROI on that time invested. When I’m confident I’ve done that, it makes sense to say “You’ve put in time and gotten value from what I’ve given you. If you now put in time and money I’ll give you even more value.”
It’s very logical when you look at it that way.
Step 7 – “How do I make the offer and follow-up?”
The way you present your offer(s), and continue to follow-up is critical to your success.
The best time to make a offer for your product or service is at the end of an autoresponder, after you’ve delivered value, as I explained above.
Here’s how I present it at the end of my course on doubling your leads:
Thanks for taking the time to go through this course. Now it’s time to put this knowledge into action and the team and I at AutoGrow would like to help.
Here are two ways you can take your business to the next level by implementing the marketing tactics outlined in this course:
1) Submit a request for a consultation on our main website so we can see if it makes sense for us to work together by building a Sales Engine for you. That means, we’ll create conversion-focused, custom landing pages and/or a website sales funnel for you and your business.
2) Get more leads by signing-up for our email marketing software, Saber Blast. This helps you grow and manage your most valuable marketing asset — your email list — as well as automatically follow-up with prospects. It’s easy to get started, and we offer a 30-day money back guarantee so there’s no risk.
If you have questions, just hit reply and I’ll be happy to help.
To your marketing success,
After this step, people may respond with questions or simply click to sign-up or request a consultation.
The important thing is to keep following up since the people who haven’t taken action on list after the last email are probably interested but perhaps hesitant, or will be ready to buy in the near future.
I continue to follow-up with qualified prospects from my autoresponder in each of the following ways:
- placing them on my weekly newsletter
- sending them FAQs from other clients who bought from us in the past
- drip out client testimonials to them via a separate autoresponder
As long as you’re being relevant and adding value, it’s not spam, so don’t be shy to regularly follow-up with subscribers like this.
Bonus – “How do I build a large email list FAST?”
If you want a faster route to building a large email list, then you’ve got to learn the Law of Distribution and how to build marketing partnerships.
You might want to check out the free email course I mentioned earlier in this article:
I recently updated it with new suggestions and data from my own first-hand marketing experiences.
There is no silver bullet to growing your business, but building an audience by building an email list is the most effective in terms of ROI and cost.
To get started costs little or nothing except your time. All of the tools and resources listed above will help you save time and get growing faster, with a strong foundation.
Above all remember, as Brennan expressed at the end of the video interview and as I now echo:
If you walk away with one thing from reading this article, it’s the importance of developing disciplined habits like writing on a consistent basis.
In my own business it has already paid dividends, now it’s your turn to implement what you’ve learned here.
What are some questions you have about growing and nurturing relationships with your email list?
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