Start an E-mail List
Start an email list, like I said these three steps are the most technical out of this whole 12-step process. I mentioned earlier, Twitter's fine, social media is fine, but if I were going to start over tomorrow, and prioritize growing a tribe, getting an audience, as quickly as possible to try to make money off of it, I would get a website, I'd put one blog post on it, I'd have one About page, and then I'd get an email list and I'd start growing that email list. We're gonna talk about the growth stuff in a little bit, but let's just talk about why email is so important. As Chris mentioned, I taught an entire CreativeLive class on this, I'll go into a little bit of this, but for those of you interested in learning more about that you may want to check that out. So first of all, why is email so important? Who here has heard that email marketing is dying, anybody ever heard that? I used to work as a marketing director for a non-profit, so we heard this all the time, we heard this eight ye...
ars ago when Facebook was becoming a really big deal, every few years you hear email is dying. It's not dying. It may be reinventing itself, it may be going through an evolution, but email, when I kind of dug into it I realized it is one of the oldest online technologies today. In many cases, you could say that email predates the internet, the world wide web for sure. People were emailing each other before they were surfing the web. It is very old, thirty years old, it's an old technology, and when things endure for so long, the likelihood of them disappearing tomorrow is very low, so we're going to use email. Who has an email address here? (laughs) Who has an email address here, who heard about this in your email, right. Or maybe you saw something on social and you signed up and you had to enter your email address, and then you got an email reminder saying this thing was happening right now. We still use email. Why is it so important for a writer to build an email list? Beyond the fact that it's a very important technology, it's personal. People tell me stuff. When I send, I send an email newsletter every week to over a hundred thousand people. People reply to that email, and they say stuff to me that they don't comment on the blog that they don't put on social, because even though they know I've emailed a hundred thousand plus people, when they get an email from me in their inbox, it feels personal. I write it that way, I write it as a love letter to my readers, you know, not to get too weird. They reply to that. There's a connection. It's a personal medium. A friend of mine accidentally started getting forwarded emails from celebrities, because his email address had a very similar URL to a law firm that worked with celebrities in Hollywood. He started getting emails from celebrities and they would send him their bank account numbers, because they thought they were sending to the lawyer, but they're sending in their email, bank account numbers, routing numbers, crazy details about lawsuits that they were going through, divorces. Email is a very personal medium. If your job as a writer is to first earn the attention and trust of your readers, you want to be doing this through email. Also it's very very effective. There's a study that came out not too long ago where they measured that email marketing is 100 times more effective at converting customers, getting them to buy something from you, getting them to do something, than social media marketing. I've said this. One time on Facebook, and somebody replied, all right, you don't need to be hyperbolic and say it's 100 times more, it's probably a little bit more effective but not 100 times, No, they measured it. It's 100 times more effective. Here's an anecdotal example. A few years ago, I launched a book called The Art of Work, and bought a bunch of Facebook ads to sell the book, and then also then basically asked my friends to email their email list and tell people to buy the book. I emailed my email list to buy the book. The book launched and it was a national bestseller as soon as it came out. It was by far the best-selling book that I'd ever written, and it was really cool. We did all these things, it was a crazy experience. I sold 15,500 books within the first week of it coming out. That's good, puts you on a bunch of bestseller lists. I was tired, but I wanted to know what actually worked. I went back and I looked. You can kind of track a lot of this stuff. I looked at what we did on Facebook with the ads, what we did on Twitter, and then what we did in email. Do you know how many of those 15,500 sales were attributed to email? Guess.
14,000, The Price is Right, if I go over, do I win? 15,000, you said half, 15,000 books were sold through my email list or my friends' email list. 500 were basically sold through Facebook and negative 2 were sold through Twitter. I like Twitter, I think it's a great way to connect with people, it's just not a good way today to sell stuff. Email's very effective. More than that, it's universal. Everybody here has an email address. Everybody here has an email address. Everybody that you're trying to reach literally almost all of them have email addresses. My grandma has an email address. She replies to my email newsletters. I'll sometimes say in my email list, like hey friends or hey friend, my grandma will regularly reply to those emails and say, "I'm not your friend. "I'm your grandma, say hey grandma." Everybody has an email address. It's a very personal medium. When I was in Africa in the bush doing some non-profit development work, I exchanged email addresses with somebody who is literally living in a mud hut. Everybody's got an email address. It is the largest social network in the world. If you take every social network and combine it, the amount of people that have email addresses is double it. All right, let's talk about the types of emails that you're going to write. It's just like, people have questions about this stuff. You say start an email list and email people something, but what am I going to email them? Along the lines of how to write a blog post, we're going to talk about how to write an email. I'm just going to share with you three types. I go into this more in the CreativeLive class that I teach on this, but there's basically three ways to do it. One is the update. You can pick which one works for you. But you need to do this once a week no matter what. One is the update. Hey everybody, Jeff here, here's what's going on with me, I just wrote a blog post, here's a link to it, check it out. There you go. It's just a quick update on you and what you're up to. Great example of this, Pat Flynn does this pretty well. I think he writes maybe it's actually monthly. He just writes kind of this long-form list of all these things he's been up to, projects he's working on. That works for him. The second would be a newsletter. I want you to think about what this means literally. If you get a newsletter in the mail, it is almost like a newspaper where it is a bunch of short-form pieces of what's going on in the world or in your industry. In this case, digitally, you could be linking to other things. Here's my favorite article I read this week. Here's a tool that I'm using. It can be kind of the curated list of things that are working really well for you. A friend of mine writes a weekly newsletter called Ten Things for Writers. Every week it's just a list of ten things and none of it links to her blog, and she's just linking to other places on the Internet, here are ten things that would be helpful to writers. Why is she doing this? Because she doesn't care about blogging. She's an editor and she's trying to get more clients for her editing business. That works for her. What is she doing? She's trying to create content that would be helpful to her readers. A newsletter would be another format where you have lots of stuff going on, lots of different links, that sort of thing. The third type would just be sending the whole article. Seth Godin does this. I believe James Clear, he's a very popular blogger does this. You can pick whichever one fits you. Doesn't matter what platform personality you are, what genre, but pick one of these and go all in on it. What works for me is I write a new article every Monday. It publishes, and then I write a short email that basically says, here's what I wrote this week. Here's a three bullet list of links to other things that are going on. I'm teaching CreativeLive this week, the conference that I host, the price is going up, and I wrote something new on Medium, check it out. The main thing is, I wrote this article, go check it out, and by the way, here's some other things going on. Make sense? Write it as if you were a person writing to another person. If you do that, you're going to be okay. Don't overthink it. Write an email to another person, and you're just going to send it to 25 or 100 or 10,000 people. Real quick on email marketing, three rules, very important. If you do these, it works out for you. If you don't, it doesn't. Rule number one, no spam ever. What is spam? Spam is not sending a lot of email. Seth Godin sends me an email every single day and I look forward to it. Spam is sending something to somebody that they didn't ask for, unsolicited email, has nothing to do with frequency and it's illegal. What that means is you can't put people on your email list that didn't ask to be put on your email list. You need to either ask them directly or you need to have them opt in for something and they understand they're opting in to getting information from you, and they can opt out at any time. So no spam. Honor the attention of your list. Don't buy a list, don't sell a list. Just be a good person, be helpful, be generous, and be kind. Second, set expectations. People say, what's a good frequency? I think for you, once a week is fine, but whatever you tell your audience you're going to do, do it. Set the expectations. It could be once a day, it could be once a week, it could be once a month, but whatever the expectation is, set it, be clear about it, and then actually do it. Make a promise and then do it. Be consistent in how you're going about that. That's kind of the email marketing 101 thing. A lot of times people ask me what's a good tool to use. I'm a big fan of ConvertKit. These are friends of mine. My friend Nathan Barry started this company a while ago. It is quickly becoming the number one email marketing tool for writers and bloggers. Very easy to use, very good. What I love about them is, unlike a lot of the competitors who are much larger VC-funded organizations which are fine, they will get on the phone with you, they will email you personally and help you get your email lists set up. For a lot of people that are struggling with the technical aspects of getting all this stuff set up, they're great. They're do a lot of things that the other tools frankly don't do. Yes.
A question about the emails you send, it's back to the question about Grandma and hey friend. Will things like putting in the subscriber's name or putting in visuals get you kicked over to the bad list, the promotional list or whatever?
Putting a subscriber's name like in the subject or in this email.
Yeah, like hey Caroline. I've gotten some emails from you like that, and I've also gotten the hey friends, yeah.
No, it's a good thing to-
Yeah, it's called a merge tag.
It's a good thing, because when you get an email from a friend and they know your name.
What about that in the headline of the email?
I don't know, I mean, I'm not an expert at this, but I don't know of anything that would hurt you for that.
Okay, and then what about putting graphics, pictures, and so forth, in an email?
Yeah, I think it's okay to do once in a while sparingly. I mean, we're seeing this a lot kind of in the Internet marketing space. For a while, it was like, having very graphic-driven enriched email newsletters was the cool thing to do. It's very easy to do this with MailChimp where you could drag and drop visuals. Going back to what I said, you are a person sending an email to another person. If you're an organization sending an email to a group of people, then you want it to look more professional. But we're trying to build, really, you're not trying to build a one to many relationship with your email list. You're trying to build a million one to one relationships with people, and that's really what it feels like to them. I built my email list with one to one conversations with my first ten readers, with my first hundred, with my first thousand, with my first ten thousand. I would always say reply to this email. We would have conversations. This is how you really build real trust, not by just playing with these tools. Would I occasionally send an image to a friend? Yeah, you bet. I made a GIF of a friend of mine, Michael Port, where he was doing this on stage at this conference that I host. My team and I turned it into a GIF where's it like (disapproving noise). I sent it to him, he's like "This is the best thing ever." I sent him an image today. But for the most part, email is for text. I think having a bunch of images can certainly get you kicked over to a promotions tab or sometimes go to spam. But yeah, I mean, you test this stuff and you see what works. The good thing about all these tools is they'll tell you roughly what your open rate is and what your click-through rate is. If you send something without an image, and a lot of people open it and click it. Then you send something with an image and very few people do it, then you can observe a correlation. The answer to a lot of these sort of tech questions with email marketing, SEO is, we don't know all the rules because they are creating new rules to try to keep marketers from abusing people. If our job is just to connect with people, help them, be generous to them, it's good to be aware of the rules, but you don't have to worry a ton about it. That's my perspective. Any other questions? We've got a few minutes before I think we have our guest.
We've got some online questions coming in right now. Just a quick clarification from Teri Thomas. She wanted to know a little bit more about ConvertKit. Is ConvertKit actually the email service provider or is it that just something in addition to your provider? How does ConvertKit, I guess, fit into this?
Yeah, it's an email marketing service like MailChimp, Aweber, Infusionsoft. The tagline that they were using for awhile is the simplicity of MailChimp with the sophistication of Infusionsoft. I think a big distinction of ConvertKit and I'm not getting paid to say this, I think it's a very easy tool to use. For a while, I recommended MailChimp. I think there are some things that make MailChimp problematic. One is just right now, there's no tagging system. If I had, for example, an email list of everybody that signed up for my email list when I did a CreativeLive and I wanted to send them something unique, but then I also had my subscribers of everybody that reads my blog. Then a group of everybody that reads my books. I had three different lists in MailChimp. I could not email all those people all at once. I'd have to sort of merge those into one list and then email them, or I'd have to email them something separately. But let's say you came to my CreativeLive class and you were also on my email list and you also were on my book list. I sent one email to each of those lists. You would get three emails. What ConvertKit and Infusionsoft does is to, I think Aweber is working on this, it's a tagging system. Instead of you being in a list, I tag you with Caroline is CreativeLive audience, also a subscriber, also book, whereas Jay is just CreativeLive audience. You can kind of tag them with different things. It's sophisticated, very easy to use. It's a start-up and they're trying to become a big player in this space, and they're quickly are. But they're just really personal. I had a friend sign up for them the other day. They sent her a video saying, hey Sandy, so glad that you signed up for ConvertKit. Let us know if you need any help getting started. They're doing great. It's amazing they have the bandwidth to do that. It's a good thing, especially for writers and people that maybe struggle with the technical sides of it. Good question.
I have a question here from Melissa Joan Walker. I know that you'd mentioned the different types of emails that you can send out. I know you touched on this a little bit, but just to be clear, Melissa wants to know, are there any reasons not to send your entire blog post in an email? Is that something that would turn people off, if they prefer to just go read your blog? Is it okay if you just send it via email in its entirety?
Yeah, I love that question. Hey Melissa, good to have you here. It's fine, I think it's fine. That's why it's one of those three things. I do think one reason to not do it is if it were a very long blog post with a bunch of different links and stuff in it, images, whatever, and you sent that as an email. I don't know about you, but when I get really long emails, I tend to not read them. My mind, when I read an email, is trained based on previous behavior and experiences, this is going to be relatively short. A few hundred words, not a thousand plus words. If you're writing something that's a bit longer form, yeah, I think it's good to say, hey I wrote this thing, here's what you're going to get out of it, here's a link, hope you like it, check it out. But I'm constantly sort of struggling with that because on the one hand, if you just email the whole blog post, people could read it, but you actually don't know who's reading it. I changed this. For years, I just sent the whole blog post. But as I started to write longer form content, I didn't know who was actually connecting with the content and who wasn't. I didn't know what was a good blog post and what's a bad blog post, right, because I would encourage them to comment or whatever, but not everybody leaves a comment. I started writing short little summaries of the article, linking to the article, because now I can see, if people click on it, it's because they really want to read it, and I know that particular topic resonated with the audience. If I just need to tell you what to do, I would say write a little summary, link to your article, be done with it. But if you're writing a daily short story or something, like you're doing Robert, and it's 300 words. I could see the value to receiving via email if you're trying to provide something exclusive, like that guy who writes a new short story every week. I think there's a reason for that. Any of these are fine. There's no perfect way to do it. Just have a good reason for it.
Any comments here from you guys? What have been working for you? Have you used any of these email tactics that have helped to build your lists? Anybody have any examples of things that have worked or haven't worked?
Well, what I've noticed is, I really resonate with the I'm a person writing to another person, because for a number of years, I didn't do that. Having come from a previous life in the corporate world, that's what we did. It's like, we're this big organization, this faceless entity speaking to the masses and making that transition and realizing you are building your list one human at a time, and treating them that way. That's really key. To your point about long-form, my articles are getting longer, so thank you for mentioning that. Having that crisp sort of summary, enticing them to click to the full article, kind of makes sense for where I'm going with my writing.
One thing I don't like because it's super lazy and it doesn't feel like an email to another person, is when you just automate it through some sort of RSS to email tool where it emails the first paragraph to somebody, and it's got a dot dot dot and brackets and then a read more here. I don't get emails from my friends that look like that. It feels a little lazy and impersonal. Remember, email is personal. It's not that hard. If you've got 10,000 subscribers, you don't have to write 10,000 emails. You just have to write one email that kind of looks like you're writing to an actual human being and go, hey so-and-so, use the name merge tag, hey John, I wrote something, I thought you'd like it, here's a link to it, I'd love for you to leave a comment or reply to this and tell me what you thought about it, versus summary, dot dot dot, some weird graphics, a gobbledygook because something didn't translate correctly, don't do that, spend five minutes, literally five minutes and just re-write the summary. I wrote this thing, here's kind of what it's about, I think you'd like it. You could say, I recently had this experience and I think you'd connect with it.
I was going to ask you, you follow the update form. Is it possible to do an update but also certainly to have some links that are outbound links to other resources? Of course it's possible but I'm just asking, is that merging these styles too much?
No, the update is, here's what's going on with me, one big thing and a few small things that could link to your blog or somewhere else. A newsletter is more of a curated resource that could link to a bunch of stuff on your website if you've got a news site or something. You sign up for the New York Times and you get their daily story recap, it's like three stories, I think. That's kind of a newsletter, because it's like, here's an image, here's a little summary, here's another image. Think of newsletter as sort of a summary, a resource where you're curating summaries of other things going on, and it's typically more, yeah. What do we got Michella?
Do you wait till you get a certain amount of subscribers or do I just send it out to my first five my first week or whatever?
Yeah, those five people, we'll talk more about this in a minute, but those people will help you find five more. It really is built one step at a time. I know what it's like to have 28 subscribers and go, this is not fun, I feel like nobody's listening. I complained to my wife one time about this, and she said those are 28 people that are listening to you. I don't think they appreciate you thinking that's not a real audience, because they're listening to you. I like to tell people, who here has an email list? Okay, all right, how many email subscribers you have?
118, how many do you have?
I had more than 100, but you were really close, I'm down to 26 now and I love every single one of them, because I asked them, this is where I'm going with my work. Are you in on the journey? They raised their hands and I'm like, sweet.
Great, so perfect. All kind of getting started. Anything around 100, less than 100, is great. My question is if 25 people or 28 or 118 people showed up at your doorstep tomorrow and said we're here.
That's a great question.
7 am, we're here, did you want to say something today, is there anything that you want to teach us or tell us, do you have a story, we're listening. That would be a big deal. That would be a party. 28 people come over to my house, it's a party. It's a big deal and we need to treat it like a big deal each step of the way. We'll talk practically about, if you have less than 100, what you need to be doing is thinking about how do I get to 100. There are strategies to do that. We're going to follow that later today. If you have more than 100, you need to be thinking about 1,000. If you have more than 1,000, you need to be thinking about 10,000. Those are each unique strategies that get us those places.
I remember when I got my first person I had no clue of who they were. That was sort of like a moment, I think it was number 45. It was like (small scream), no idea who you are, this is great. Is there a way to kind of find out more about who they are? I guess, that could come through polling, I suppose. I always put on mine, write back, let me know what you think of this or whatever. You get a handful of people that will do that, but you have a very large email list. There's tons of people on there that's you have no clue who they really are really, or not.
I know all of them.
You know all of them. Well, you are an amazing guy, Jeff, but-
180,000 of my closest friends.
But I'm just wondering, as your list grows larger and there's people that join that you do not know, how do you develop that sense of, because it really helps when you see a face.
I would say sub-10,000, the best way to do that would be through a survey, a series of surveys where people are giving you qualitative feedback. I like SurveyMonkey, I think it's an easy to use tool, surveymonkey.com, I think there's a free version of it. Just ask lots of questions. The best part about that is not the multiple choice stuff, it's the fill-in-the-blank, quick, short-form essay kind of questions. I think having people tell you what they're struggling with, what's helpful in their own words, is super helpful. Once you get beyond the 10,000 subscriber mark, you do have a little more sophisticated with systems. To answer your question about that Caroline, I watch the activity. If somebody opened this, and I do this, I've got a CRM for this, a customer relationship management tool, you go, okay well, this person has opened the last ten emails we've sent, they bought these two products and they live in this city. You can start tracking some of that stuff that gives you an idea, based on their activity, which I think is probably one of the best ways to predict behavior, have an idea of what buckets they fall into. Here are people that have only read my stuff and never bought anything. Okay, so that's probably a different kind of audience then this group of 1,000 people who have bought everything I've ever done and will probably continue to do so. You can kind of figure out who the superfans are, who are just kind of the sideliners. There's value to all of them, but asking something of a superfan, like hey, tweet this, is maybe almost a wasted request, versus saying hey, buy this. Whereas if I ask some sideliner, hey here's a $10,000 coaching program that I have, that's a wasted ask too because there's nothing that they've done to demonstrate that they're interested in that. As it grows, you do have to get more sophisticated. I think the best way is when you get to a large-scale is to look at what people are doing. But initially, just surveys, qualitative stuff, and we're going to talk about what to do kind of at the end of this class on how to use a survey to get to know your audience and sell them your first product.