A Super Simple Beginner’s Guide to Email Marketing

It’s All About the List

Felicia C. Sullivan
Mar 12, 2019 · 17 min read
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Everyone keeps saying it’s all in the list, it’s all in the list! What do they mean? Your EMAIL list. The one thing you’ve probably ignored. Remember, sometimes it’s the non-sexy strategies that make a massive impact.

We all have the one thing on our to-do list that we dread. The task we know in our heart of hearts is good for our business but bad for our ego because we know we’re no good at it. For me, it’s SEO. I’d rather gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch than play the keyword guessing game — but maybe that’s just me.

If email marketing is your kryptonite, I hear you loud and clear. You’re probably thinking: I hate writing. I don’t know what to write. I’ve got nothing to say, but, oh by the way, will you buy my product or service for the low low price of $1999?

Maybe you’re content with posting 32 product images on Facebook, hoping one of them will stick.

I’m here to tell you this: don’t let your fear or inexperience or ego stop you from moving your business forward. If you’re passionate about what you do, people will know it, and they’ll naturally gravitate to the awesomeness that is you. Who cares if you’re not next Joan Didion or Seth Godin. You’re you, and you’ve got one thing going for you: NO ONE ELSE IS YOU. Worse comes to worst? You can hire someone to help you out. Not everything needs to be an uphill battle.

So, tell me. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Do you brew coffee or brush your teeth? Nope. 58% of Americans are reaching for their phone, and you’re probably one of them.

Smart marketing is about making a real connection to your customer. And you don’t need to be a psychic or a CIA operative to find them. They spend most of their waking hours attached to their phone. They’re scrolling, liking, reading, and double-tapping. Imagine millions of people you’ve never met getting out of bed, rubbing the sleep from their eyes, and checking their phone.

Don’t you want to be where your customer is? Not literally, because you probably bring your phone into the bathroom and no one needs to bear witness to that. But seriously. There’s intimacy with email that can’t be replicated in social media. You’re in someone’s inbox, and here’s the kicker — they’ve already invited you in.

That’s HUGE.

Someone who’s invited you into their space by giving you their email is more likely to buy from you than some random person on Instagram. Your subscriber has already raised their hand and said, HEY, I LIKE YOU. Now your job is to nurture that relationship.

And I’ll show you how to do it. Below you’ll find a primer on how to get started. In a future post, I’ll show you how to grow your list.

Why email?

  • 58% of consumers check their email first thing in the morning vs. 11% Facebook and 2% Twitter (source).
  • 91% of consumers use email at least daily vs. 57% Facebook and 14% Twitter (source).
  • Staggering stat: 77% prefer email as the place for permission-based promotional messages (i.e., they want to know about your products and sales) vs. 4% Facebook and 1% Twitter (source).
  • For every $1 you spend on email marketing, you can expect an average return of $38. Put that ROI in your pipe and smoke it (source).

Now that you’ve dragged your jaw off the floor know that email is a powerful sales tool and it’s one of the few channels you own. Real talk, you don’t own your fans on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. Do you have their contact information should the platform shut down? You have to deal with everchanging trends, algorithms, and shifts in your customer’s preferences. But email? You own that. You have a prize-winning asset: your customer’s email address and their permission to market to them. Need I say more?

Investing in Email Has its Benefits

  • Drives a higher return on investment: A McKinsey study found that companies who put data-driven personalization at the center of marketing and sales decisions improve marketing ROI by 15% — 20%+.
  • Increases the likelihood that people will buy from you: Nearly nine in ten consumers say that personalization has some impact on their purchasing decisions (“The Personalization Payoff,” Adobe 2016).
  • Users feel empowered, appreciated, and understood. The results? Your unsubscribe rates plummet: More than 60% of consumers feel more positively about a brand when the promotional outreach and marketing messages they receive are personalized (“The Personalization Payoff,” Adobe, 2016).

By now, I hope you’re looking at your subscriber list and thinking: HELLO. WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?

Start By Doing Your Research

Before you start designing those emails, do your research. Immerse yourself in the land of the newsletter to see what makes you and, more importantly, your customer tick. I crafted an 8-article tutorial on how to build a brand, which includes information about market and customer research, brand and product positioning, and crafting your story. I invite you to check out the series so you can fill in the dots.

For a minute, forget that you’re a business owner. Right now, you’re a customer. Be the demanding you that has a rage blackout when Amazon didn’t deliver your package on time, and you want to tell customer service precisely what you think.

You probably subscribe to hundreds of newsletters, and you don’t even know it.

Ever use Unroll.Me? It’s a rude awakening and a reminder of all your greatest impulse hits. That coffee you paid for using your credit card? Suddenly, you’re getting coupons for French Roast. That deal you wanted on shipping? Now you’re getting weekly sales alerts that sometimes send you into a mild panic.

You get a lot of mail.

And here’s the thing: so does your customer. It’s not enough that you have a fantastic product. Although you’d like to believe that what you’re pitching is the BEST product or service ever, your customers feel otherwise. Trust me on this. They have a lot of choices in the world. Now, you have to straddle showing up with a terrific product/service, but you also have to make them feel AWESOME while doing it. Your customer has to feel like you’re making their lives easier or you’re making them feel special, entertained, or educated. In marketing, we call this “emotional benefits.”

So let’s see how you can rise above the tsunami that is the inbox. In the name of cash in your bank account, I invite you to do a little market research.

Ask Yourself Five Simple Questions

  1. What lists do you subscribe to?
  2. What made you subscribe? What was the offer that you couldn’t resist?
  3. What do you like about the newsletters? Think about the format, design, frequency, tone, exclusive or special offers.
  4. How do you feel when you get your favorite newsletter (s)?
  5. What makes you unsubscribe from a newsletter?

Print out all the emails or pull them all up on your screen. What are the commonalities? Do you love emails that have a beautiful design or do you care about them being short, sweet, and ending with a coupon? What made you unsubscribe? Were you flooded on the daily with emails that didn’t give you value? I invite you to think about what connects you to and repels you from, a brand.

Now, do this exercise with your competitors. What are they doing right? What are they missing? How can you be a little different from the pack? This is not about following the herd, this is about you seeing what’s out there and carving out space for yourself. In marketing speak, we call this a “blue ocean” strategy.

Why swim in a red, bloodied ocean fighting for scraps amongst your competitors when you can kick back in Bora Bora with a Mai Tai and customers for life?

Stand out. Grab your customer’s attention and make a real connection.

Remember, your newsletter is NOT THE LIFE STORY OF YOU. Deliver what your customer wants. We’ll talk about creating your customer profile soon, but think about what annoys or frustrates them. How their lives could be made easier or their day a little lighter? Because people are selfish. Inboxes are Darwinian. Every email is met with: why should I give this my attention and why should I care?

Start with the research, first. Then we’ll get into your customer and how this all impacts your business.

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Choose an Email Service Provider

Here are a few options:

  • ConvertKit: Automation and email marketing tools for online creators (i.e., bloggers).
  • AWeber: Easy-to-use, you can Create and send modern, professional email newsletters to your audience with powerful email marketing and automation tools. This is a paid service with a 30-day free trial.
  • InfusionSoft: All-in-one marketing automation, email marketing, e-commerce, and affiliate management platform. This one is on the expensive side — most big guns use this for their massive email lists because the customizations and segmentations are incredible. But it’s pricy. Not recommended for newbies.
  • Ontraport: A monster comprehensive visual and marketing automation platform, Ontraport offers marketing automation, CRM, email marketing, e-commerce, membership sites, and affiliate management platform. You can see how your entire business functions on a single dashboard.
  • MailChimp: One of my favorites because they have incredible how-to-use templates for every scenario. Free for businesses that have under 2K subscribers and packages start at $10/month. Great segmentation, automation, and integration tools. MC also integrates easily with many e-commerce and cloud/web platforms.

Nail The Newsletter Welcome Sequence

Treat every new subscriber as if you’re in an episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Consider your newsletter an extension of your home and ask your guests: Won’t you be my neighbor? Consider the welcome sequence the equivalent of having a retail location and you greet and aim to help potential customers when they walk into the store. A welcome sequence communicates your brand story, your “why,” and what to expect in terms of product, content, and offers.

Why is a Welcome Sequence Important?

Your welcome email is your first impression, and it’s probably one of the most important emails you’ll write. Why is this critical in your email marketing strategy? Because it’s sent at a time when someone has raised their hand and said they want to learn more from you and statistically, this email will have the highest open rates and engagement of any you’ll ever send.

Subscribers who receive welcome emails are 40% more likely to read emails from you over 180 days, and they’ll drive 3x the revenue of other marketing communications. Why? Your welcome email is their first encounter with you, and if they’re feeling your vibe and brand from the get-go, they’ll likely be a rabid fan and customer.

How to set up a Welcome Sequence in MailChimp: This is an excellent step-by-step tutorial from Mailchimp (with graphics).

Smart Tips (or How to Act Right):

  • The email should come from a person, not a company (even including a photo in the signature is advised).
  • Avoid gimmicky, click-bait that will drive spam. You can use a free service like Spam Assassin to check your emails before you send them.
  • Split test (i.e., A/B test) subject lines and welcome emails. Once you have a few hundred subscribers, you can optimize our welcome communication for the next wave. Make only ONE change when split testing because then you can see what’s working/not working. If you make multiple changes, you won’t know for sure which change drove impact.

What to Say:

You’re in the courting phase. Something about you or your business piqued a subscriber’s interest, and they naturally want to learn more. Tell them your Signature Story. Tell them about your products and your competitive difference. Essentially, you’re telling them why you’re in their inbox. Set expectations of the kinds of content they’ll receive and how frequently they should hear from you.

The Welcome Sequence can be triggered upon a proactive subscription (i.e., newsletter sign-up) or a sale (after order information).

EMAIL #1 Goal

Briefly introduce new subscribers to your brand. Start by celebrating and thanking them for their trust and what it means to you that they’ve joined your passion and adventure-hungry tribe. Build trust and provide unexpected value setting expectations of what they’ll receive from you. Get them to take action and learn more via your website or deliver an initial special offer. Consumers love getting rewarded with a special offer, and they tend to convert to sales as a result.

  • When to send: Send as soon as they subscribe.
  • Content thought-starters:

§Start with: Briefly introduce who you are, what you do and your products. Hint: have some fun with it!

§ Middle: Head back to our ideal client profile and write a few sentences that show them that you truly understand them and the challenges they face (that you have solutions for!). When you get sophisticated, you can create sequences by product category, so it gets even more specific.

§ End with: Over the next few days we’ll be <insert what you plan to cover in the rest of your series!> In the meantime, head over to (insert a link to another channel you want them to visit!). You can also end with an offer. Remember, people are more engaged in this email than they will ever be, so getting them to take action now is vital!

§ Don’t forget: P.S. To make sure these emails get to you, please add <insert email> to your contacts list! P.P.S <Make sure there’s a place for them to unsubscribe!>

EMAIL #2 Goal

Dive deeper into the brand story and vision. Now is the time to tell your Signature Story, your “why.” Inspire them with your why and the brand vision.

  • When to send: Send two days after first communication.
  • Content thought-starters:

§ Start with: What’s your signature story? Why did you start your business?

§ Middle: What makes you different or unique? What’s your secret sauce that your competitors don’t have? Learn on your positioning statement and benefit messaging.

§ Engagement Point: Invite them to reply to the email and engage with a question!

§ End with: Let them know you have one more email left for them (and hint that it’s FULL of goodies made just for them) and link to other places they can follow you online if it makes sense!

EMAIL #3 Goal

Build trust and provide unexpected value and end your time together by setting expectations. Solve a problem they signed up to follow you for and solve it. Offer them a special offer or discount for signing up or remind them of their code if they haven’t redeemed it.

  • When to send: Send two days after second communication.
  • Content thought-starters:

§ Start with: Thank them for spending their time with you!

§ Middle: Include links to some of your top posts, social media content, influencer content, etc. Try to cover a variety of topics so everyone can find something they’d be interested in clicking through to read more! Show them right off the bat that you’re not here to sell, but also to educate and inspire them to crush their goals. Most retailers have a straight-up coupon offer, but go the extra mile and show them that you understand her needs and have created content that addresses them.

§ Blog or Social post 1: Brief post description + link

§ Blog or Social post 2: Brief post description + link

§ Blog or Social post 3: Brief post description + link

§ End with: Let them know from here on out they’ll be receiving your regularly scheduled emails. Make sure before you leave them in this welcome series that they know what to expect from you next. Write a sentence about what type of content you plan on sharing. You can close with your special offer/promotion for signing up. Even if they saw it when they signed up, remind them of it, so they’re encouraged to go to your website as the next step after this email!

Sample Email Sequence Copy + Best Practices:

What Happens After the Welcome Email? (Gulp)

I’ve been writing for the better part of 30 years and believe me when I say that when I opened a Word document to start typing out my first newsletter, I panicked. What am I going to say to these people? Will they open the emails I’ve sent and read the words I’ve written? Will they point and laugh?

Suddenly I got Carrie flashbacks (THEY’RE ALL GOING TO LAUGH AT YOU) because sometimes I get imposter syndrome and this is my life, but it doesn’t need to be yours. Because guess what?

Your subscribers signed up because they’re interested in what you have to say.

Membership Has Its Privileges

Treat your readers like VIPs and offer them exclusive content, offers, and perks they can’t get anywhere else. When people join your email list, they’re telling you that they’re interested in what you have to offer and they’re inviting you into their inbox. We’re all wise to the game and, at one point, they know they’ll be sold to so don’t be afraid to ask for the sale! Just earn it by serving your subscribers content that is useful, valuable, entertaining, education, or a mix of the four.

Content Best Practices

In case you’re staring at a blinking screen and get stumped for content. A few tips and tricks for you before we jump in:

  • Photography Sourcing: You want the content you are sharing to align with your brand and voice, what you’re an expert in, and what your ideal customer wants and needs. Make sure the content you’re creating ticks the boxes.
  • Keep your tone of voice consistent with the way you would speak if you were sipping coffee across from a friend helps your followers relate to you more.
  • Have the end goal in sight — even if you don’t have the end goal completed. What is the destination you want people to end at and how do you plan to get them there? Think of a road trip with rest stops along the way. Each one should get you closer to the end game. Plan out your content ahead of time, and quick staring at that blinking cursor!

I have a whole tutorial on crafting your content strategy.

Subject Line Tips

So many people spend so much time focusing on the body of an email at the expense of the subject line. You should be spending just as much time (if not more!) crafting the actual subject line because if you don’t get your customer to open your email, they won’t see the contents.

  • Crafting subject lines isn’t challenging — it just requires extra thought! One of the best ways to learn how to give your emails catchy subject lines is to see what makes you click “open” inside of your inbox.
  • Subject lines are intriguing; they use triggers, spark curiosity, and make us wonder what’s waiting for us inside. You can personalize them, lead with headlines, ask a question, and make people wonder. Whatever you do put a little thought behind it (and always be honest with your subject line to keep the trust of your subscribers!)

Five Ways Into Their Inbox

  1. Spark interest: The subject line is the bait that piques their curiosity. Tell them something they don’t yet know. Give them insight into your brand and business. For example, The #1 investment you need to make for your gear; The Only [Product] You Need.
  2. Teach them something: We know they have pain points, wants and needs as it relates to their gear. Let’s directly address and resolve them. For example, How to solve this MAJOR problem (fill in a problem).
  3. Create urgency: Use this sparingly, or they’ll start to realize that you think everything is urgent, which means nothing is urgent. For example, Ends today X% off for insiders; The clock is ticking.
  4. Ask questions: We know they want to be heard and brands aren’t listening. Ask them for their feedback. Let them tell you what they want from you. For example, What is the ONE product you want us to make?; You contacted customer care. How did we do?
  5. Humanize it: Speak to them like their humans, not dollar signs. Connect, collaborate, and create for them.

Pro Tip: Have one call-to-action (CTA) in your email. You don’t want to overwhelm your subscribers with too many actions. What is the one most important thing you want them to do based on the email you’re sending? Make sure the CTA is bold, clear, and relates to the content in the newsletter, so it’s a natural next step to continue the dialogue/experience.

Here is an excellent resource for crafting emails that convert to sales.

Reality Check: So here’s the cure for newsletter overwhelm because the fact is most people pack way too much stuff into their newsletter and it fails to close as a result. Remember this; it can be just one simple idea, one tip, one update, one offer, one product, one story, one reminder. Your audience would likely find one well-written paragraph so much more valuable than three pages of random stuff that you’re trying to pack in.

Create Segments and Communication in MailChimp

Based on prospects, customers, repeat customers, and cart abandonment. List segmentation is a complex topic, and it can get very technical and confusing fast, but don’t let this stress you out or overwhelm you.

Lots of businesses didn’t segment their lists at all at the start, and everything turned out just fine, but if it does make sense for your business to segment then do it now. Your email service provider is going to be the best way to assist you on how to do this because every single system is different. I’ve included a how-to for MailChimp because it’s the provider I use. Perhaps start with 1–2 key segments (i.e., cart abandonment, existing customer) and work up from there!

Learn how to set up segments in MailChimp. You can also refer to this guide on integrations between Shopify (I’m not sure which commerce platform you’re using, but I’m sharing a common platform guide) and Mailchimp and creating segments based on-site behavior.

Pro-Tip: When it comes to email marketing, Val Geisler is the STUFF. She created a comprehensive email strategy (with sample copy) for abandon cart, segmenting, subject line conversions, and more. Follow Val (or sign up for her newsletter), because she frequently analyzes emails from small businesses and start-ups as “tear-downs” and gives critical feedback. Check out this one she did on Quickbooks, which was so helpful.

Invite Ongoing Subscriber Feedback and Issue Annual Questionnaires

Customer feedback is the best way to refine and grow your business, namely — reciprocity! These small steps in involving your customer consistently in your process and acting on their feedback to optimize, streamline, and create better products go further and farther than large-scale creative campaigns. Customer service can break a business.

You can do something as simple as creating automation in MailChimp where users who’ve purchased get sent satisfaction surveys. You want to keep the email brief and ask for their feedback. It can be as simple as asking them to reply directly to you to give you feedback to create a system between MailChimp and Survey Monkey (both offer free service levels) where you use MailChimp to create the automation email, and it links to a survey.

Here’s a heart-stopping stat: global email usage is projected to reach 3 billion by 2020. Email marketing will continue to be a core part of every brand’s marketing strategy, so it’s important not to treat your email list like a lost weekend in Vegas. Don’t gamble with content. Don’t party hard to then fall in obscurity. Consumers crave clarity and consistency. Know your prospect. Get in their head. Mimic their language and define how you can shape your content in a way that has resonance and relevance.

A successful email strategy is about knowing how to connect your message with your customer in a way that’s relevant to their wants, needs, and lifestyle.

Now you’ve got some tools in your arsenal to get started! Look out for my second article in this series coming within the next two weeks: Growing Your List.

Subscribe to my email list.

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Felicia C. Sullivan

Written by

Marketing Exec/Author. I build brands & tell stories. Work in Human Parts, OneZero, Forge & Marker. Hire me: t.ly/bEnd7 Branding & Freelancing eBooks t.ly/ZP5v

Marketing Made Simple

F*ck faux marketers. You’re getting 21 years of my data-driven marketing & brand experience

Felicia C. Sullivan

Written by

Marketing Exec/Author. I build brands & tell stories. Work in Human Parts, OneZero, Forge & Marker. Hire me: t.ly/bEnd7 Branding & Freelancing eBooks t.ly/ZP5v

Marketing Made Simple

F*ck faux marketers. You’re getting 21 years of my data-driven marketing & brand experience

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