“If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.”
~ Katharine Hepburn
In this article I share 10 ideas about email marketing that will hopefully dispel some common myths about this business practice, as well as give you some ideas to inspire your own email marketing efforts.
I’ve alluded to these ideas in various ways throughout my teaching and 1:1 work but this is the first time I’ve pulled together, in one place, all of my thoughts on email marketing and how to make the most of it for your business. Whilst I am using the catch-all term “email marketing”, what I am mainly referring to here is the practice of sending newsletters to your subscribers.
Let’s take a look at those ideas.
1. Your email list is not your business.
Most mainstream marketing advice will have you believe that your email list is everything. That without a solid list of newsletter subscribers, it’s impossible for your business to succeed. Now whilst I’m a huge fan of writing and sending newsletters to my people and highly recommend it for your business (if you so feel inclined), I don’t believe that any one business strategy or tool is the be all and end all for your business.
For sure there are successful businesses out there who don’t have an email list, as well as many unsuccessful businesses that do!
2. You don’t have to have a big list to make money.
Since I’ve been working online (circa 10 years) the idea that the size of your list determines the level of income you are able to generate has been doing the rounds. I remember years ago working hard to achieve the goal of 1000 subscribers because it was (and still is) said that 1000 subscribers is the magic number needed to start being truly profitable in your business.
This is simply not true.
I’m actually making a lot more money now with a list of less than 1000 than I was in my old life coaching business with a list greater than 1000.
And it’s not just me, I remember collaborating with two colleagues of mine to sell one of my group programs. They agreed to share details of it with their list in exchange for an affiliate payment for any purchases made from their subscribers. The colleague whose list exceeded 1000 and was far bigger than my own at the time, made zero affiliate sales. The second colleague whose list was tiny and far smaller than my own, did.
The moral of this story? When it comes to your email list, quality over quantity is key.
3. You don’t have to focus on list-building.
Say what?! Honestly it’s true. I do not and have not focused on building my list for years now and yet I have a steady rate of growth, which on average looks like a new subscriber every couple of days. Now if you’re looking to get tens of thousands on your list in a fairly short period of time then a new subscriber every other day isn’t going to cut it, but given that I don’t believe that huge numbers are even necessary then this level of growth works well for me.
Even with a smallish list and an average growth of 15 new subscribers a month, my coaching practice is booked up with a waitlist and I already have several applications in for next year’s mastermind, before I’ve even launched it.
So you might be wondering where these new subscribers are coming from if I’m not really doing any list-building activities. Well instead of list-building, my focus is, and has been for many years, on creating valuable content for my audience. Because of this content, people find my articles from searching on Google and on platforms like this and then come to my site to find out more. Once there, because the content they read is helpful to them, they sign-up to my newsletter to get more of the same.
In terms of promoting my newsletter I do just 1 or 2 things. Most of my blog posts have an opt-in box for my newsletter at the bottom (I don’t use pop-ups because we all hate them don’t we?!) which means when people find my content, which I do make an effort to promote, they also get to hear about my newsletter. Very occasionally, I’ll also put out a post letting my audience know the subject of my next email and inviting them to join my list to receive it (just like this one).
4. You do have to focus on engagement.
Whilst I don’t focus on growing my list or selling to my list, one thing I do focus on is engaging with my list. For me, I want to look past the numbers and focus on the very real people who are actually taking the time each week to read what I have to say. I do this in a number of ways.
- As mentioned above, I make the intention of my newsletters to be practical and useful to the reader.
- I bake invitations to engage directly with me into every single email.
- In my welcome email, I invite people to complete a short survey so that I can find out more about their particular needs.
- Now and again, I’ll incorporate surveys into my emails to find out more about what my subscribers want from me.
- Less so these days because of time constraints, but many times over the years, I’ve looked at who is reading my emails most regularly and will send them a direct and personal email to say hello and ask how I can help.
Engaging with my “list” serves to remind me that real people are on the other side of the metrics (number of subscribers, open rate etc), which is a far more important focus than the stats.
5. You don’t have to sell in every email.
In my research for this piece, I came across this definition from Neil Patel:
“Email marketing is the act of sending promotional messages to people in mass quantities. It typically is to generate sales or leads and it may contain advertising.”
If this is the accepted definition of email marketing then what I’m talking about in this piece is not email marketing.
Do I sell in my emails? Yes (well “sell” might be an overstatement, I prefer to think of it as letting my readers know what’s on offer. Is the primary purpose of my emails to generate sales or leads? No. If it were, I think I’d be dealing with a far higher numbers of unsubscribes. We’ve all been on the receiving end of emails designed to make a sale and we’ve also likely been on the receiving end of emails designed to serve.
I show up to write my newsletter as close to weekly as possible, as a means to serve my audience and deepen relationships with my subscribers. Do I hope to make sales as a result? Of course, I’d be lying if I said otherwise, but I never hold that as the intention behind my words. In fact the opposite, my intention as I write my letters is to help my readers to grow their business whether they decide to buy from me or not.
I believe that having this as the purpose of my emails makes me enjoy writing them so much more and my hope is that it helps my subscribers enjoy reading them so much more.
I do feel I have to add here that this isn’t your permission slip to never talk about your products and services because if you don’t, then you’re doing yourself and your would-be clients a disservice. You absolutely must find a regular rhythm of sharing about your products and services but it does not have to be the focus of your emails. Read this amazing article for another perspective on this.
6. You don’t need a freebie opt-in to grow your list.
I can still remember when I believed that having a freebie opt-in and using content upgrades was the only way to grow my list. Hours were spent trying to figure out what I could possibly create to entice people onto my list. More time spent messing around in Canva to create beautiful PDFs and even more time spent (aka wasted!) trying to figure out how to work the backend so that I could offer different opt-ins and only have one list.
And then about 3 years ago I read an article from the brilliant George Kao titled No More Lead Magnets. In it he argues that making someone pay for something “free” with their email address (i.e. their time and attention), is neither truly authentic nor effective. When people join your list because they want your freebie, you’ll find that they’ll either unsubscribe shortly after downloading said freebie (we’ve all done it!) or they’ll stay on your list but rarely (or never) open your subsequent emails. Which makes sense because they weren’t signing up to receive your newsletters, they were signing up to get the freebie you promoted to them.
Since reading George’s post all those years ago, I got rid of the freebie opt-in on my site and instead focused on promoting and creating a newsletter that people would want to receive. I have a whole page (which you can read here) dedicated to explaining why you might want to join my list
7. You don’t need to pack your emails with lots of content.
Generally, when I start working with clients on their newsletter strategy, they often think that they need to have a ton of content in each email, with links to their own content as well as featuring other people’s content as well as useful resources, what I’m reading etc, etc! Personally I think this is what keeps most people from getting an email out on a regular basis — when we make the task of creating and pulling together our newsletter so big, it can be easy to use the time it takes as an excuse.
I like to keep it super simple by choosing a topic that I know is relevant to my audience (generally it’s something that keeps coming up in my client calls) and I share my best strategies and advice on that one topic. It typically looks like a long-form piece of writing which could also be an article or blog post. Sometimes at the end of the email I’ll share details of one of my products and services and oftentimes I don’t.
When it comes to writing for your business, I have a simple rule — if it feels burdensome and like hard work to create, it will feel burdensome and like hard work to read. Keep it simple for your sake and your readers.
8. You’re not bothering your audience.
More often than not, when we inevitably begin to discuss the idea of sending regular emails to subscribers, clients of mine tend to fear that they’ll be “bothering” their audience by sending out regular emails. This makes sense because for sure, we’ve all at some point or another felt irritated by a barrage of salesy emails from a business owner, we now regret handing our email over to.
The thing is, the people I work with — the likes of you and I — don’t do salesy and barrage, we endeavour to serve and support. Who wouldn’t want to receive a weekly email that contains relevant information for the very thing you are struggling with/working on? Think about the newsletters you love — do you feel bothered by them? No of course not — are they fairly regular and consistent? My best guess, if they are an established business, that they are.
Please drop this idea that you are bothering people when you email them. If you have your newsletter sign up setup ethically, then they have given you their email address with the express wish that you send them useful information.
9. You can repurpose your newsletters.
Rather than see my newsletter as just one more marketing task I have to take on, I use these letters as the place where my newest, most up to date content is created. I then over the course of several months repurpose that content into articles for Medium, LinkedIn and my blog as well as create various posts and stories for social media. This very piece started out as a newsletter!
Rather than these emails be something that I put a lot of effort into creating, to then send to a list of which only half of my subscribers will read, I repurpose the hell out of each and every one and you can do the same. If you want the full low-down on my approach to content marketing head here.
10. You can break the rules (including your own).
My hope is that much of what I’ve shared here goes some way to showing you that many of the email marketing rules out there in the mainstream, can in fact be broken. There absolutely is no one way to do email marketing, there are many and what works for one business owner may fall flat for someone else.
The key is to do what feels aligned. To create what feels exciting for you to create and once you’ve found what works best for you and your readers don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can never change things up. Yes, you can even break your own rules.
So there you have it, 10 things I wanted you to know about email marketing. Was this list helpful? If so, leave a comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.