Does anyone else remember when getting an email was an exciting thing?
The thought of opening up a digital screen and finding a message from someone was downright thrilling. It made the ear-cringing dial-up sounds that came before it almost worth it.
I grew up in a unique time, and not only because it was the 90’s, arguably one of the coolest decades. (Fight me on it, I dare you.)
I also say this because in my life, I have seen technology (cell phones and the internet, specifically) go from relative luxuries to absolute necessities. I didn’t grow up with a cell phone in the palm of my hand as my niece and future generations will.
Our inboxes evolved from hollow spaces containing only the AOL welcome email — along with a couple Hotmail addresses of tech-inclined buddies — into a bursting capsule of content, with everything from bills and ads to newsletters and updates, and, if you’re me, countless password reset requests.
These days, it’s actually much more novel to get a piece of real mail than a digital one.
It naturally follows that, as email grew in popularity, smart business people started forming ways to monetize it. Inboxes soon became an instant, two-way connector to grow a relationship (and later, make a sale happen) between businesses and potential clients.
Email marketing was born. (Cue the Circle of Life song.)
This is good news for the business owners and writers among us.
If you don’t already know what targeted email marketing can do for you, let’s take a closer look.
From there, we’ll more closely examine how writing such emails could be a worthy investment of your time as an entrepreneur, or authorpreneur, as the case may be.
Start by taking a look at your inbox.
If you’re using Gmail as your primary personal email account (as many do), you may have a feature turned on that automatically filters the messages you get.
Depending on your setup, you will have any combination of five possible tabs: primary, social, promotions, updates, and forums. Each tab has a slightly different purpose depending on who’s sending you the email and which ones you often open.
Focusing on today’s purposes, let’s take a look in the Promotions tab. This is generally where the email marketing stuff lands. (If you don’t have these separate tabs, look at the items in your inbox that are coming from companies or websites that you’re subscribed to.)
For those who don’t obsessively open and delete these things, as I am wont to do, it can be enlightening to take a little survey of what it is you are subscribed to.
Blogs by digital nomads? Daily news digests? Restaurant Groupon deals? Flight tracker price changes to far-off locations? Language practice reminders from Duolingo?
Your inbox can say a lot about who you are. What does yours say about you?
You might be wondering how you got roped into all this stuff. Well, it’s your own damn fault, kid. Somewhere along the line, you’ve opted in to receive that content.
Opt-ins are essentially permission from you to let a company or website email you things.
You may not have even realized it when it happened. They show up in the sneakiest of places. You might see them:
Point being, the people of the business world want your email because it’s a direct access line to you.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, if you know what you’re getting into.
Many sites hook people in with the allure of a free something (keep this in mind for later). It could be a PDF, email crash course, book sample, Become a Better Writer cheat sheet… you name it.
You give away your email gladly because, well… you want that thing! In so doing, you are giving the A-OK stamp for that place to continue emailing you, even after the free rides are over.
Their hope is that, through these emails, they can gain your trust and confidence, so that when it comes time to try to sell you something, you’re a little more likely to click “Buy” rather than “Delete.”
Makes sense, right? You’re much more likely to buy from a company you’ve got a long (email) history with than cold emails out of the blue.
Fortunately, this litany of emails is largely controlled by you. All companies have to give you a pretty easy unsubscribe option, so that you are never chained to them forever. There is a way out!
It’s never a bad idea to glance through your inbox every few months and take stock of what you’re really reading, and what’s worth tossing in the virtual garbage can.
This can both help you avoid information overload and keep you looking at the email marketing role models –– the ones who are succeeding in getting you to open up and read their content week after week.
With a firmer grasp on the roots and reasons for email marketing, let’s turn towards how this information can be helpful to you as a business owner or writer/authorpreneur.
If that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, it’s probably because you’ve grown up with the traditional school of thought about marketers: they suck.
Are you getting visions of a sleazy car salesman type who shakes your hand way too hard and makes uncomfortable amounts of eye contact?
I don’t blame you. For many years, those kinds of people have been the primary voice for businesses wanting to connect with and sell to customers. Pushy, overbearing, stressful.
Like the dressing room attendant who kept bringing me clothes I didn’t want in the wrong sizes, they make you want to scream, “NO, I DO NOT NEED ANY HELP –– THANK YOU!”
Lucky for us, those kinds of tactics are becoming less and less common because they don’t work as well in this new age and on this platform of communication. We may want instant gratification and Pop-Tarts delivered to our doorstep by a drone in under an hour, but we’ll be damned if anyone forces us to do it.
We live in a self-selected world now, where we make connections, and ultimately purchases, from those we’ve grown to admire, respect, and trust.
Keeping those ideas in mind, we circle back to how and why writers (and entrepreneurs, we didn’t forget you!) should care about email marketing and learn how to do it.
I’ll give you four reasons:
Convinced it’s worth your time? Now for the game plan.
Once you’ve decided to do email marketing, it can be energizing and exciting to think about trying it out. You don’t need much to get started, but there are a couple prerequisites: an online presence and a way to capture email addresses.
When I say online presence, this ideally refers to a website in which you own the domain and where you put all your hard work, but it could also refer to a social media site(s) or personal blog from which you are posting your stuff. Call it a platform — it’s your stage.
Somewhere on said platform, there’s gotta be a way for people to give you their email address. (See any of the options listed in the first section for ideas.)
Once you’ve got those two things, you’re ready to rock.
For convenience, we’ll break this down into three steps.
If you don’t already have this one figured out, it’s a good idea to start here. Defining your audience at the start of this process will be much easier and more effective than if you start flinging content out into the stratosphere. Trust me.
A demographic profile should appear as you answer questions like the following:
Tease out the who’s here. Then…
I know this sounds creepy. Just hear me out.
These days, people’s lives are reflected on the internet, as well as the people they love, hate, admire, and disregard. Not to mention the experiences that warranted thousands of Instagram posts, and the subtweet drama simmering underneath.
Most information you’ll need is laid bare for the world to see. You just have to put on your research hat and go “hang out” in the neighborhoods where these folks are.
By going into online communities (think Facebook groups, YouTube channels, Quora discussions, Pinterest boards, Twitter hashtags, etc.), you can not only supplement the answers to the above questions about your audience’s problems, needs, and desires but also analyze how well your competition––friendly or otherwise––is succeeding at delivering them.
You will get a much clearer sense of the kinds of things your potential audience is already consuming, so that you can also create content they will enjoy.
Only yours will be different and better, right?
With your research boxes ticked, it then becomes go time: making stuff that you will put into your email marketing campaigns.
The actual logistics of setting up and managing these types of campaigns is best left to the experts, meaning folks at email marketing like MailChimp (for beginners), Drip (more advanced), Engagio (Big Leagues), and the like.
If you’re just starting out, go with something basic, and work out the kinks when there is less at stake.
But there are a few examples of email marketing content that are good to know about, so that you can use your time wisely when you get going.
This term is broad on purpose, because there are so many different kinds of interests and people in the world that it would be a tall order to summarize. But this essentially means providing solutions and answers to the problems and questions you encountered in your research.
You should hopefully be able to cull a lot of this content from things you already have on your online presence.
Think: links to blog posts or videos on your website, your social media channels and posts, a newsletter, your products and services.
Again, hopefully you can use something that you’ve already created but need to repurpose, somehow giving it to people for free.
Think: a checklist, an ebook, a cheat sheet, a PDF, a slide stack, a free trial, a sample chapter, whatever you think people will find cool and useful.
This is becoming the favored method for many seasoned email marketers. Why? Because it lets you virtually “touch” people a lot of times. (Who comes up with this terminology?)
But what the crash course does that a downloadable does not is give the potential client or reader multiple opportunities to connect with you.
Most people tend to download something to their computer and then forget about it, while an email crash course means you’re showing up in people’s inbox multiple times over the course of 10 days or so.
Think: 10 Days to Setting Up Your Blog, 7 Days of Mindfulness, 15 Days to a Solid Budget
Here’s where you can start to get super stealthy.
Any kind of email marketing program will give you lots of information about who’s reading your emails, how many times, what they’re clicking on, and lots of other Big Brother-y stuff.
Might as well use it to your advantage. If you start noticing many people clicking on a particular link, you could shoot them a direct follow-up email, linking them to another related product or post that they might like.
Or categorizing your list into separate parts, so that you can further classify the types of people in your list, what they want, and what you can give them.
Think: thank you’s, just so you know’s, you’ve been selected, etc.
As an entrepreneur of any stripe, money is probably a pretty important part of your equation for success, I imagine.
While you are doing all of this hard work, remember that it should be leading somewhere… hopefully to the bank.
The whole point of email marketing is to eventually grow your potential client’s trust enough that they ultimately end up buying something from you, be it a product or a service.
As you form your own strategy, keep that end goal in mind, and remember the key points about email marketing:
In the world of the late 2010’s, getting an email is certainly not a novelty.
However, if you take the time to do your homework and play your cards right, you could become one of the few and proud who write emails that are worth opening.
Now, that’s an exciting thing.
photo credit: cienpies
Gina Edwards is an unapologetically snarky blogger with a love of parentheses (but who isn't?) and beer with funny names. She's currently be-bopping around Santiago, Chile on her bike, teaching her native language to fancy people. Her skills include making hilarious puns, no-bake cookies, and mountains out of molehills.