In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike do a short series on e-mail list building from zero to a thousand. They talk about how to build an e-mail list and some of the different strategies that you can use to take it through the different steps.
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Mike [00:00]: In this episode of “Startups For The Rest Of Us,” Rob and I are going to do a short series on Email List Building: From 0 to 1,000. This is “Startups For The Rest Of Us” episode 238.
Mike [00:17]: Welcome to “Startups For The Rest Of Us,” the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs, be awesome at launching software products. Whether you’ve built your first product, or you’re just thinking of it. I’m Mike…
Rob [00:24]: And I’m Rob.
Mike [00:26]: And we’re here to share our experiences and help people avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week Rob?
Rob [00:29]: Well, we got the MicroConf Europe contract signed. Very excited about that. Thanks to Xander for helping us out with that. And the dates are set: August 31st and September 1st in Barcelona, that is MicroConf Europe 2015. We also have six speakers on board already. We have myself, Sherry Walling, my wife who hosts ZenFounder with. We have Patrick MacKenzie and Rachel Andrew form Perch, Dave Collins from Software Promotions, and Peldi from Balsamiq. So it’s shaping up to be another good conference this year. If you’re interested in attending or even think you might be interested in attending, we’re probably going to sell out fairly quickly, so head over to microconfeurope.com, and we have a little Drip widget over there where you can sign up to be notified when we do our early bird launch.
Mike [01:15]: And we have a brand new website up there now.
Rob [01:18]: Yup, you can check out our re-launch because our old website was pretty long in the tooth. Although I think it was long in the tooth when we launched it.
Mike [01:23]: That’s probably true.
Rob [01:26]: How about you, what’s going on?
Mike [01:28]: Well, kind of the same as you. I started the process of getting us the MicroConf Europe sponsors. And if anyone is interested, we do set aside tickets for a sponsor’s pool. So if you’re interested, send an email to email@example.com, and I’ll be sure to get back to you with details about that. Again, it is in Barcelona, so just the venue itself should be awesome.
Rob [01:46]: Indeed. Hey, we have a bunch of new reviews. We’re up to 418 worldwide reviews. We had one in April from Rob Vinning, and he says, “Learning packed into a tight 30-minute spot with no fluff. I can only wish every podcast listed, when I search for startups with this high quality. Keep it up guys.” And then we have one from Blogandarg, who says, “Not a wasted word. With so much great content out there to choose from, it’s often hard to decide which podcast to keep up with, and which are not simply worth the time and investment. Startups For The Rest Of Us is succinct content and consistently helpful, top of the heap. Keep up the great work guys.” So thank you so much for your five-star reviews. We’d love it if you haven’t, post a review for us, in the past, it helps us continue the momentum, and frankly motivates us to continue producing this podcast. What are we talking about today?
Mike [02:29]: So on today’s episode, we’ve gotten a couple of different requests for email list building strategies. And one of the ones that came in, actually had a really good idea, which was to essentially talk through how you would go about building an email list and some of the different strategies that you would use to take it through different steps or different tiers. So what would you do if you get an email list from ground zero, nobody on it, to like 10 subscribers? And then to 25, and then 100, and then 1,000? And what is the process that you go through for that? And it seems to me like there are a lot of different strategies that you can use along the way, and there’s a lot of different questions that you need to answer when you’re doing that. So it’s not really a one-size-fits-all approach. And just based on the format that we use for this podcast, it doesn’t really make sense to try and do it like we’ve done in the past where we have just one episode on it. So what I thought we’d do, is I thought we’d deviate a little bit, and we do sort of a short series on how to build an email list. And basically, walk somebody through the different ways to get to those different tiers inside of a list building activity.
Rob [03:31]: And what’s interesting is you often hear this question asked of experienced entrepreneurs on podcasts, someone will say, if you had to start over today, what would you do? And this is what I would do, I would build an email list, right? This is something that I’ve been such a proponent of for years, and it works in so many situations. And I think, we should talk a little bit about, there’s a bunch of different types of email lists, right? All lists are not created equal. You have Verizon building some type of big marketing email list, and that’s not what we’re going to be talking about today. We have people building personal brand lists. You imagine someone like a Brandon Dunn who has his list that sells a lot of his information about freelancing. Or you have maybe a Tim Farris who has 100,000, 200,000 people on a list. We’re not going to talk about that either, because it’s not as relevant to our audience. The two types of lists that we specifically want to talk about how to build is, number one, a product launch list. So whether that product is a piece of software like I did with Drip, whether it’s a book or information like you did with the single-founder handbook, and I did with my book when I launched it, or a conference or live event, like MicroConf, that’s our early bird list we talked about earlier, some type of product that you’re going to sell, it’s a no-brainer to build an email list in order to sell that product out quickly. So we’ll touch on that. And the other type of list that we’ll talk about, because they’re closely related, is an ongoing marketing list for a product. So if you go to Bizsketch.com, you go to KISSmetrics, their blog, you go to the Drip blog, this is an ongoing marketing list. It’s not a launch list because the products are already launched, but it’s a way to build a list that’s not based around a person or a personality, but it’s more based around people who want to learn from the folks who are producing content at that product, as well as perhaps to keep up to date with that product. Maybe there’s some updates and that kind of stuff mixed in.
Mike [05:15]: Right, there are people who would subscribe to that list because they’d look at the product and like, oh, that’s interesting, I want to learn more about it. But there’s also the side effect of just people will sign up for a list, because they’re not quite sure they’re ready to commit yet, and using that email list and communicating with them on an ongoing basis can just essentially help people trust, whether it’s that person or the company that is sending you those emails. And over time, you eventually get to the point where you decide, hey, maybe I’m going to take a shot and invest in this, because people aren’t going to come to your website and just click the “Buy Now” button. It just doesn’t usually happen that way. But if you get them on an email list, they see your emails on a regular basis, and eventually they get to the point where they trust you enough that hey, I’m going to give this a shot, and they provided me enough value. And in return, I’m going to try out their products, because it seems like it might be solving my problem, and I think that they are going to be able to deliver value to me.
Rob [06:05]: And I should also clarify, when I talked about there being an ongoing marketing list for product, this is different than your trial or your customer list, because you would be sending different emails to trials and customers. Those folks have already bought in. They either need to be on-boarded, or they need to be supported and told about new features and shown how your product is continuing to get better. Whereas, the folks on the front-end of your marketing funnel, they really need to hear more about, probably some content, some education, stuff surrounding your product. You don’t want to be all salesy – there might be a sales pitch now and again. But it’s quite different because you’re not trying to sell trials and customers, but this ongoing marketing list, ultimately, you are trying to sell them. I just wanted to clarify that.
Mike [06:44]: So we’re going to walk through these different tiers, and we’re going to start off on the 0 to 10. And there’s a couple things to keep in mind here. The first one is that there’s a few different types of strategies that you would use for these. There’s the one-time things, and then there’s the ongoing or repetitive tasks. And we’ll touch on those briefly as we go through each of these different tiers. But the 0 to 10 tier, essentially there’s a few different requirements that you have to even start this process. And the first one is that you need to have at least some idea of what your basic value proposition is. When somebody comes to your website, what is it that they’re going to be signing up for? What’s in it for them? You need to set expectations and be able to deliver on those expectations. But at a fundamental level, you have to know what it is that you’re using this list for. Is it the product launch list? Is it going to be an ongoing marketing list? Is it something that you’re going to start out with as a product launch list, and then transition into an ongoing marketing list? And the specific type of list that you use is going to influence some of the strategies down the road.
Rob [07:41]: Right. And so to kind of give an example with a product launch, when I was building the list for Drip, it was a very simple statement of the value that Drip was going to provide. There was a headline, and then there were a few bullet points describing why you might want to sign up, and just something about get early access, and there might have been a mention of a lifetime discount. If you’re selling a book, then you’re going to want to have a little more content about what the book is about, why someone should care about it, how it’s different from other products. And this works for software too. If you’re building more of that ongoing marketing list, typically you don’t have something to offer, right? Like be notified when we launch, because you already launched. So in that case, you’re going to want to come back to my fundamental, which is an email crash course, like a five-day email crash course, or a seven-day mini course. And you can also do as an opt-in reward, you can also do something like a top-10 tools to do this, or top-10 tips for something. I find that email mini course gets folks used to receiving and reading emails from you. And so that’s my personal preference, and that’s why we’ve really focused on that with Drip in providing that kind of thing, instead of helping people set up this one time PDF download. It used to be you gave away e-books to get folks to opt-in, I found that I had gathered a lot of free e-books into a Dropbox folder and never read them. And so I did get on the list, but since I didn’t get much value out of it, because I never read the book, I didn’t get used to reading the person’s emails, I typically unsubscribed. Whereas, if it’s done via crash course, you have a little more leeway, five days or seven days, to create some value there, and the folks are a little more used to hearing from you. So those are kind of the ways that I would think about trying to drive someone to want to sign up for your list, depending on which type of list you have.
Mike [09:17]: So once you’ve kind of established what your value proposition is going to be, you need two other things. You need a basic landing page to capture an email address, and possibly a first name. And then you need a back end email service provider to manage that email list, so you can use A-Webber, you can use MailChimp, you can use Drip, you can use Constant Contact. I mean, there’s probably 30 or 40 different options out there. But you need to settle on one and use that consistently through all the different pages on your site. And you don’t need to have more than one page to start off with, I don’t think. I think you can get away with just the one page, especially when you’re trying to go from 0 to 10.
Rob [09:50]: Yeah, and if I was going to set up a standalone page, I would either go to Theme Forest and download a $7.00 HTML template, which is how we launched the first MicroConf, and how I launched my book originally. Or you can set up a WordPress install and use John Turner’s WordPress Coming Soon plug-in. Or frankly, you can go to some place like Kickoff Labs or Lead Pages and sign up for an account there. These are all easy, quick options for getting a landing page out.
Mike [10:17]: So we’ve talked about some of the different requirements that you have to have in order to go from 0 to 10, but we haven’t talked anything about how to actually get people on to your mailing list. And I think with 0 to 10, it’s extremely straightforward. It’s not like you’re shooting for the moon and you got to get hundreds or thousands of people to that webpage, typically going from 0 to 10, is you can go to things like Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, and just ask your friends and colleagues on those lists, or go through your personal contact list of people you email on a regular basis. And send them your basic value proposition in an email. And say, is this something you’d be interested in hearing more from me about? And most people have enough contacts that you can get to that 10 mark without a heck of a lot of trouble.
Rob [10:57]: You know, something to keep in mind is if you have any kind of audience already, you’re going to blow by 10 in like a millisecond. Even if you have a blog with 500 or 1,000 RSS readers, or you have any type of small email list, and you’re driving them to a landing page, you’re going to be in the 50 to 100 to 500 range pretty quickly. And the other thing to think about is that you really want people on that list, who have some type of interest in what you’re going to be doing. Because getting folks on who are not going to buy from you or are not interested in your product, is just going to lower your open rates, lower your click-through rates, lower your conversion rates. So this is not a vanity metric, when we say 0 to 10. We mean 0 to 10 quality, qualified people who may actually have interest in it. Because getting your mom and your dad and your brother on your list, may add three to the list, but it’s not going to do anything for you when you actually go to sell your product.
Mike [11:45]: Yeah, that’s a very important distinction to make. Is that it’s about quality, and you want those people who are coming on to the list to be qualified for whatever it is that your value proposition is.
Rob [11:55]: Last thing I’ll add is, I’ve talked a lot about the concentric circle marketing approach that I use, and this, in essence, would be the center circle. And that center circle is people that you know. And then typically, the second circle is the people that my friends know. And then outside is the cold leads, and it’s breaking outside your network. So depending on how big your inter network is, your audience, this could get you to 10, or like I said, it could get you to 5,000 if your audience is big enough.
Mike [12:20]: So let’s move on to the next tier, and that’s 11 to 25. And like the 0 to 10, there’s certain requirements. And the first one is that when you get into this tier, you really need to start iterating on your value proposition, and start using more landing pages. Now, what does that really mean? It means that you need to start playing a little bit with the language, and seeing if certain things that you say on your landing page is going to resonate with people a little bit better. And there is a little bit, I think of, measurement. But I think it’s mostly gut feel when you start taking a look at these things. Because you’re not going to have enough traffic yet, in order to make solid determinations or do some sort of real A-B testing. It’s more just gut feel than anything. And the other thing that you want to do, is you want to start engaging with people who are getting on your list. I mean, once you’ve got 10 people onto that list, you should start asking them questions. And one of the questions I really like to ask is: what are your current challenges with “x” whatever “x” happens to be? And usually, it’s got to be geared towards your product or towards whatever the marketing approach is that you’re using, or the information that you’re trying to share with people. But you want to learn from them what things they’re having problems with. And you can use that later on. You’re probably not going to use it right away, but you want to start gathering information from people, to figure out what things that you want to talk to them about later on. And the other question I like to ask is: why did you join this email list? What is it that you are hoping to learn? Because that helps you find out where the gaps are in their knowledge. And essentially where on the playing field or the experience level that they are. Because you might have thought that you were talking to these people who were, let’s say, advanced email marketers. And then you suddenly find out that you’re getting all these people on your email list that are very entry-level. And from there, you have to figure out, okay well, do I want to go after the advanced email marketers, or am I okay with those entry-level, basic people, and I need to tweak whatever it is that I’m going to be doing down the road.
Rob [14:08]: And just to clarify, you mentioned that you want to think about having multiple landing pages right now, and not split that thing because you probably don’t have enough traffic. But that depends on, if you are doing a product launch, or if you’re doing that product marketing list after you’ve launched. Because early on, if I’m launching a product, I’m going to have a one-landing page. And if I have enough traffic, I’m going to split test it. Otherwise, I’m going to use my gut feeling like you said, and I’m going to go with the best headline that I have, the best value prop. After you’ve launched and you are a – like I said, a Drip, a BizSketch, a KISSmetrics or a SassApp, that’s trying to build a list just to keep you people updated, that’s when I do have landing pages all over the place, right? I have opt-in forms, on the blog, after blog posts, you might have a little Drip or a SumoMe widget that’s asking at different places. And that’s where you can easily set up landing pages even to start ranking for Google, for different SEO terms. That’s when I think you really start doubling down. Now, I don’t know if you do that this early, because we’re talking 11 to 25 subscribers, and that tends to be pretty early. But I do think that’s the next progression for each of those scenarios.
Mike [15:10]: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. As I was thinking about this, 0 to 10, and 11 to 25, it’s almost like there’s different levels. 0 to 10 is a very specific set of strategies. And for up to 25, it’s a very different set of strategies. Just because early on, you say yourself, you might be able to tap into your own personal network, and suddenly you’re at 500 subscribers, which puts you into a completely different realm of things that you’re going to be doing in order to build an email list. So I almost feel like maybe instead of talking about these as this is 0 to 10, and this is 11 to 25, it’s like, this is the first set of things you do, this is the second set of things that you could do. Maybe that’s a more appropriate way to look at these numbers. But as Rob said, it’s absolutely right, that depending on the type of list that you’re doing, kind of the stuff that falls into this tier two, it’s going to depend on whether or not you’re doing a product launch list or an ongoing marketing launch list. And it’s pretty clear already that we’re only on the second tier here, and your strategy is already starting to diverge, which is why we decided to make this into more of a series about building an email list than just a single podcast episode.
Rob [16:13]: And to kind of wrap up this 11 to 25 portion, I think this is where you sit down and you draft a welcome email and maybe a welcome auto-responder series to introduce yourself, try to deliver some value to your new subscriber. Frankly, it encourages folks to start opening their emails. And you want to keep the list warm. That’s a big thing. Like collecting this list, doesn’t do you much good if you don’t email them. So if you’re going to launch your product six months down the line, now is the time to start touching base with folks and giving them updates. And an easy way to do that, at least early on, is to have an evergreen auto-responder that’s able to introduce yourself and then ask some basic questions just so people do in fact, are used to hearing from you. And if you’re doing more of the product marketing list, like I talked about, that’s where I do have that five- or seven-day crash course, and then I skip to probably weekly updates from there where you can update folks on other new stuff that’s coming out with your product. But much more than that, it’s like new blog posts or new content or new stuff that you’re giving away.
Mike [17:09]: Now, question for you. I have my thoughts on this. What are your thoughts on – during that auto-responder, you’re asking questions of people. Do you have a preference for having them reply via email or fill out a form?
Rob [17:21]: I like to have them reply via email, because A) it shows them that the email does in fact come directly to me. And what I’ve heard is that it’s also a really good anti-spam signal. Like in Gmail, as an example, that if someone replies to an email early on, it indicates that you’re essentially kind of becoming a contact. I would think of it as like a shadow contact. You may not actually be in their contact list, but they replied to you. So that’s a plus mark in your favor.
Mike [17:47]: No, that’s exactly how I felt about it. And that’s what I do as well. I thought about sending people to a form, and then I looked at the form itself in relation to what I had been doing previously, because I wanted to be able to have that information automatically associated with somebody’s contact. I was like, oh well, I’ll just send them to a form and have it automatically sent over via Zapier, and I started implementing it. And then I looked at it after the fact, and I was like, this feels, not wrong, but just different, feels odd to –
Rob [18:13]: It’s not super personal.
Mike [18:14]: Yeah.
Rob [18:15]: It’s like we’re almost having a conversation because you’re emailing like you’re a real person, and you’re talking to them like they are a real person. And then suddenly like, oh click this form and give me feedback. That’s not how we interact. We’re used to hitting keyboard shortcut, or the “A”, which does reply-all, and just talking to someone. And I think that’s a much better experience, and it makes them feel like there’s one-on-one communication going on, which is really what’s happening.
Mike [18:35]: Right, and the end result of that is if there is information or questions that they’re responding to, you have to end up copy/pasting them out into a spreadsheet or something like that. But I think the cost of doing that, in relation to making those emails personal, is probably well worth it, especially when you’re early on. And later on, you can maybe turn into some parsing application or something like that to go into your email or maybe forward them off to some place and have a VA do that sort of thing. But I think early on, I agree, I think you definitely want to have those people just hit reply and be able to respond to the questions directly.
Rob [19:06]: Yeah, even with thousands of people on a list, you’re not going to get so many replies in general, that you’re going to be overwhelmed. I’ve done this myself with several lists of that size and it’s manageable.
Mike [19:16]: So let’s move on to the third tier, which we kind of ball-parked it, 26 to 100. And I think this is where things start to get a little bit harder. Because here what you have to do is you have to start adding automated questions to your auto-responder. And you have to use information from previous discussions to start honing your messages so that you already understand what the challenge is people are having, so you have to ask questions around that topic, and provide them information around those topics. So this isn’t something that you can typically do on day one, because you have to wait until you get at least some level of replies back from people, and then you start crafting messages that relate directly to the challenges that people are having. And you can’t know those things in advance, you have to ask them and wait for them to reply, and then create that content that you can send to them.
Rob [20:01]: I think this is also the point where you start adding more emails to your evergreen sequence or you just send out broadcasts. If you’re going to do a launch, maybe you have an update that really is only time appropriate, and you don’t want it to go out in a few months if someone’s subscribed a few months later. So you just broadcast it out. My rule of thumb, if I have a launch list, is to email once every six weeks. I dropped the ball a little bit on that with Drip, but I probably averaged maybe every two-and-a-half months, I think. And most places I see doing product launches, don’t email at all. And they basically email you once when the product launches and that’s a big mistake. So this is the time to start offering some value around what people are having challenges with or you ask them what they hope to get out of your product, if you’re doing a launch list, and then if you’re doing that product marketing list, that actually should be either a weekly broadcast, or a weekly auto-responder campaign that’s kind of just going out in an evergreen fashion.
Mike [20:56]: Something else you can start doing as your email lists starts to build up, is you can ask your subscribers to start sharing the fact that that mailing lists exists with their friends. And if you can make it easy to share though Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or Instagram, Tumblr, or any of the 30 or 50 other applications that are out there, that social networks that people are using, then depending on which ones are appropriate for the offering that you have, then that can really help drive the number of subscribers up to the next level. Now it’s not going to double your subscribers overnight, but let’s say that it gives it a 20% or 30% boost, then that 20% or 30%, can take you from 200 to 240 or 250 instead of just the 200 that you were at. And it won’t be all in one shot either, it’s going to be a little bit here and there over time. And as you add more people, that extra 20%-30% lift is going to be important. One that I’ve seen from Noah Kagan specifically of AppSumo, is that adding a link to your email signature can be extremely helpful to help drive people through to that. I’ve seen him use this before. He always has this P.S., like hey, have you seen this, or why don’t – I think the specific thing he uses is like, hey, why you no use Sumo Me? And I remember seeing that on one of his emails before, and I was like, oh, that’s interesting. And then I went over and actually checked it out. But it was not something that was really on my radar to check out at the time, it was just I saw it in his email signature, and I was like, oh, let me check it out. And that’s something that if you’re just interacting with people, it can help drive traffic over. And some of those people are going to convert. So it could be just a nice little thing to add on there that is going to help you get some people over to your email list.
Rob [22:31]: And this is probably a good place to end this Part One of our look at how to build an email list to a thousand. We basically looked at the beginning steps of getting set up, how to do that initial circle zero discussion with your market, with your audience. And just try to get some folks on the list, try to hone that value proposition. What we’re going to step into in the next episode, in Part Two, is how to go from 101 to 1,000. And that’s really where you start leveraging marketing, you’re going to try essentially 10x your list. And we’re going to get into it. The big approach is that I think are used to really grow lists, because at this point, you’re still doing a bunch of stuff that doesn’t scale to get to 100, right? You’re just kind of scratching and clawing, and at 10x, you need to start branching out a little bit and doing more traditional marketing approaches. And with that, we’re going to wrap up for the day. If you have a question for us, call our voicemail number at (888) 801-9690, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups. And visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.