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Disclaimer: This is a 4,500 word post that lays out everything you need to know to get your first 1,000 email subscribers. If you don’t have time to go through the whole post right now, then be sure to save this link somewhere you won’t forget it, come back when your work is done, crack open a beer, and read on!
This article is going to help you design and run a campaign that sends thousands of highly qualified readers to a landing page (you’ll create) with a compelling offer to subscribe to your email list.
How is this different from traditional content marketing, you ask?
The word campaign.
Traditional content marketing works by blogging (or releasing content of some kind) every week, indefinitely, then asking people to subscribe to get more of it. This is not a bad approach. It works. I’ve just experienced a couple of problems with it.
For starters, it can be overwhelming to be the person responsible for creating new content once a week, every week, forever… Especially if you’re a startup or solopreneur.
The amount of time required is often disproportionate to the return, at least until you get enough subscribers to start making sales.
The campaign approach puts a limit on the content you have to create, and allows you to pivot and try something different once the campaign is complete.
It’s also far more effective for getting new subscribers because it can be designed specifically with that goal in mind.
Finally, the traditional “subscribe to my blog” model is becoming less effective. In highly saturated industries or verticals the likelihood of becoming an established voice becomes more difficult every day. Everyone has a blog and everyone wants you to subscribe to it. The best way to stand out is to do something that is truly unique.
Much more on that to come…
But before we dive in to the goods, I want to make one more point: Why 1,000 is an important number to your subscriber list.
For starters, email is still the most effective way to reach and convert an audience into buyers.
Marketing expert Derek Halpern recently ran a test to see where he’d get the most engagement on an article he wrote.
He sent the same link to his email list and his Twitter followers (roughly the same number of people) and here were the results:
- 300 people clicked to the article from Twitter
- 4,200 people clicked to the article through email
That means email performed 14 times better than social media! That’s an important metric if your goal is to build an engaged audience who’s willing to buy something from you.
If you’ve been in the entrepreneurial space for any period of time, you’ve probably come across Kevin Kelly’s popular article 1,000 True Fans.
The gist is that any entrepreneur (or artist) can create a sustainable living by getting a following of 1,000 people who would do anything to support the cause.
I’ve spoken with hundreds of entrepreneurs over the past 5 years, and nearly all of those who do email marketing can attest to this. They cite 1,000 subscribers as the benchmark moment when they were able to start leveraging their email list to generate a significant amount of revenue.
Best selling author Jeff Goins told me on a call recently that he was able to generate over $50k with an email list of around 1,000 people in the first year of launching his blog. And that was before anybody knew who he was.
And finally, it doesn’t hurt that 1,000 subscribers is a completely attainable goal for any entrepreneur who’s willing to put in the work.
Ready to jumpstart your email list?
Let’s do this thing.
PART 1: STARTING YOUR CAMPAIGN
1. Getting your house in order
If you’ve done any amount of research on the topic of list growth, you’ve probably come across some of the points I’ll make here at the beginning. Don’t worry, the juicy stuff is coming. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least make sure you have the proper foundation in place.
Everything from this point on assumes that you have a website and an email opt-in service up and running. If you don’t currently have email opt-in set up on your website, you’ll need to do that. Here are two email services I recommend:
(I personally love Mailchimp).
Next, you’ll want to optimize your website to make it as compelling as possible for people to give you their email addresses. There are tons of WordPress plugins that help you do this, like optinmonster, hellobar, and sumome. This article has a great breakdown of each.
Here are the basic email opt-in elements your website should have in place:
- A noticeable email field on your homepage. Usually this field lives somewhere on your sidebar. But you can try it in different locations to see what works best. This field should have a compelling call-to-action (CTA). Something like, “Send me my free guide on how to start a business.” (Don’t worry if you don’t currently have a free guide to offer, we’ll get to that in a minute). For now it’s enough to know that you’ll increase subscribers by saying something more exciting than just “Subscribe.”
- An email field at the end of (beneath) each blog post. There’s no better time to ask a person to subscribe to your email list than when they’re already reading something on your blog. A great CTA message for this field is to remind the reader that you always put out great stuff like this. You can say something like “If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love our free guide on how to start a business. Get that here…”
- Pop-up windows or opt-in bars. Pop-up windows have been proven to increase the amount of email subscribers you get. However, they can be intrusive and many people find them offputting. Opt-in bars serve a similar function by catching the reader’s attention, but in a less overpowering way. You can find out which works best for you by running a simple A/B test. (A/B testing is the comparison of 2 versions of a web page to see which performs better. Most of the WordPress plugins mentioned above allow you to do this from their dashboard).
2. The brainstorm sesh
Now that you have your email opt-in in place, take a few minutes to brainstorm the exact parameters of your campaign.
Start by defining the actual goal you wish to reach. A lot of content creators post content day in, day out without any tangible goal other than, “I want more readers/leads/sales, etc.”
This lack of focus can lead to a lot of wasted time and energy. The quickest way to get more readers/leads/sales is to know exactly where you’re going, and how you plan to get there: 1,000 readers. 100 leads. 10 sales.
Since you’re reading this article, I’ll assume your goal is to get 1,000 new email subscribers.
Next, choose a campaign start date and end date. I personally like to work off of the quarter system. 3 months. 90 days. It gives me enough time to test my newest idea and pivot as necessary. Plus it serves to deter burn-out.
Choose the amount of time that works best for you. It can be 1 month, 6 months, a year, whatever you want. But again, for the sake of this article I’ll assume you’re working within a 90-day window.
In an empty document, write down the exact dates you want your campaign to run (keep in mind you’re going to need to do a little prep work. Give yourself about a month to do that, you can change it later if necessary).
For example, if today is July 1st, I’d set my campaign dates for August 1 – November 1. I would dedicate all of July to prepare for the launch of my campaign.
3. Find your “Fire Flower” (your unique message)
Now that you’ve defined exactly what you want to achieve, it’s time to figure out the kind of message that will ignite your audience’s interest and get them stoked on your campaign. Here’s how to do that.
Remember playing Super Mario World as a kid? We’re going to use Mario as an example (I wish I could take credit for this wonderful analogy, but this idea comes straight from the good folks at Buffer).
When you start the first level of Super Mario World, Mario is small and vulnerable. But roughly halfway through the level you get the chance to grab the Fire Flower, which turns Mario into a powerhouse of super ability.
He can jump higher. He can kill koopas. He can spin-throw fireballs and look like a badass in his red-and-white overalls while doing it.
Your message is the Fire Flower that turns your customer into Mario + fireballs.
(image originally posted by Buffer)
In other words, when you begin to think about which content to produce for your campaign, you have to first make sure that the message isn’t simply about your product or what you make.
Instead, it has to be a message that shows your reader/listener/viewer the most epic version of themselves – the person they can be if they unlock their full potential.
Here are some examples:
If you’re a video production company that serves startups, you don’t want to talk about how to make videos, you want to highlight successful startups who used amazing videos to get them where they are.
If you’re a men’s clothing store, you don’t want to talk about stitching and high quality fabric, you want to talk about the kind of guys who wear your clothes and the adventures they have.
If you’re an artisan coffee shop, you don’t want to just talk about how you roast your coffee beans, you want to pique the interest of coffee lovers by reporting on the most exquisite and remote coffee shops from around the world.
Your message is the thing that takes your customer from sans-mushroom Mario to spin-jumping fireball Mario. It makes them feel informed, empowered, and ready to join your cause.
An easy way to figure out your unique message is to write down a detailed profile of your ideal customer. Give this fictional person a name, age, gender, background, etc. Then write down who this person is before using your product (sans mushroom Mario) and who they are after using your product (Mario + fireballs).
Use the after picture to determine the exact message that will appeal to this person and the kind of information they think is epic.
4. Come up with your Next Level Content (hint: stop writing helpful blog posts)
Now that the basics are almost complete, the magic can start. It’s time to come up with your content strategy – the kind of content that is so fresh it leaves people needing more. It’s the kind of content that excites them so much that they feel compelled to share it with everyone they know.
Think back to an article or video that absolutely blew your mind with the information it gave you – the kind of information that felt like someone had pulled back the curtain to let you peek in on their secret operations.
If you’re like me, you find those articles or podcasts and think something like, “I better write all this stuff down before they realize how good it is and take it back.”
Remember that feeling, because for the rest of this article I’m going to refer to that kind of content as Next Level Content (or NLC).
For me personally, examples of this kind of content are podcasts like Serial or Startup, or the emails I get from Foundr.
But then there’s also the kind of content that’s forgettable because it doesn’t trigger any new ideas or “aha-moments.”
For the rest of this article I’ll be referring to that kind of content as Regurgitated Content (coined by my good friend Bob Potter over at Threadless Media).
Most thought leaders in the content marketing space recommend creating “helpful content.” This is a good thing. Helpful content is the cornerstone of building a strong relationship with your audience.
However, too many people hear the word “helpful” and immediately think “how-to.” But helpful can be translated in so many other ways – often ones that aren’t explored as much. “Helpful” can also mean:
- Aesthetically pleasing
So, when brainstorming the kind of content you want to create for the next 90 days, I want you to first ask yourself, “What kind of content would I create if I couldn’t start a blog or write how-to articles?”
The results might surprise you. Coming up with creative podcast ideas, YouTube concepts, or Instagram campaigns are not only fresh and exciting for you to create, they’re fresh for your audience.
Creating Next Level Content is 50% fresh message and 50% unique delivery. Combine the two and you have something people will talk about.
Here are some real life examples of NLC:
- The podcast “Startup.” Over the course of 12 episodes, Alex Blumberg documented his process of starting a business from scratch – everything from asking investors for money to hiring his first employee.
- GoPro’s web channel. GoPro puts out Next Level Content and they don’t even have to do any of the work. They have a channel on their website that features the most epic videos from people who use their product. They’ve built a community of adventurers who are excited to watch new videos each day.
So what would NLC look like for one of our fictional companies back in step 3? The video production company could launch a video mini-series called “Kickstart” that tells the story of 12 successful entrepreneurs (one each week) who ran majorly successful Kickstarter campaigns. It’s fresh, informative, and entertaining. It’s also attractive to startup entrepreneurs, their target market.
Why NLC Is Important
In traditional content marketing, a company will usually offer a one-time incentive like an ebook or infographic in exchange for a prospect’s email address. That’s not a bad approach (it works), but consider how often people subscribe to get a singular piece of content, but never read any of the follow-up emails.
A campaign of Next Level Content gives an incentive to both opt-in and continue paying attention because your viewer is knowingly opting in to a 12 week course, series, or show. This kind of engagement establishes trust between you and your audience and keeps your brand in the front of their mind.
Plus, when your campaign is complete, you have a finished product that can be used as an opt-in incentive and drip email campaign for a long time to come. (I.e., subscribe to get our mini-series, Kickstart).
Your NLC can be anything from a podcast, to a video series, to an Instagram campaign, to (yes) a blog series. Whatever form of media you choose to create, you’ll want to make sure your NLC has most, if not all, of these traits:
- A memorable title
- A personal, “raw” look into an idea or concept (use your voice)
- A message that makes your audience feel empowered
- An element of community and contribution (think GoPro)
- Interviews with influential people in your industry (they will likely share with their audience, furthering your reach)
- A serialized approach (meaning, it builds off of itself each week)
- “Newsworthiness” (something bloggers or other media creators will want to mention)
- Shareability (that “thing” that makes your audience feel like they’re on the cutting edge of something their friends need to know about)
Once you’ve brainstormed what your 12 weeks of NLC will be, write it down on paper and begin considering the production needs to make it happen (you’ll start producing it a couple steps from now).
Tip: Make a list of your 3 best ideas and ask a few friends (ideally members of your target audience) which one they think is the most compelling. They’ll probably have some fresh insight.
PART 2: PREPARE FOR LAUNCH
Now that you’ve brainstormed the basic parameters of your campaign, it’s time to take action. This is where you’ll set your campaign in motion and start attracting your audience. Don’t rush this. The amount of time and effort you invest here will make or break the success of your campaign.
5. Put your plan on paper
It’s time to start organizing your campaign launch in a quarterly publishing calendar. I’ve created a template for you, you can download it here. (It will download as a .xls file. You can use it in Excel or import it into Google Drive as a new spreadsheet).
For the next few months this is your roadmap and compass. You can customize it or create your own, but this will be the checklist that ensures you’re hitting all of your major benchmarks.
By the end of this article you’ll have a clear set of action items that you can drop into the calendar.
Here’s where to start:
Change the months to accurately represent your campaign’s timeframe. Then enter the dates for the beginning of each week along the left side column.
Put your campaign start and end dates in the “benchmark” column of the calendar as shown.
The idea is to enter your biggest benchmarks first, then work your way backward from there.
Begin filling in the benchmarks you need to hit in order to reach your launch goals on time.
Don’t worry about filling everything out now. You’ll continue adding to this calendar as time goes on. For the time being, flesh it out as much as you can by entering the benchmarks you already know you need to hit.
6. Do the math
If you want to reach 1,000 subscribers in 90 days, you need to have an idea of how many people need to be exposed your opt-in offer.
The average email opt-in rate across all industries is between 1-5%. I’d recommend that you try to find specific data on your industry’s opt-in rate as this will give you a more accurate number to aim for.
But for now, let’s assume a conservative 3% opt-in rate for your email offer. That means that out of every 100 people who come to your landing page, 3 of them are likely to subscribe. (I imagine that number will be larger if you make your offer enticing enough, but for now we’ll go with 3%).
In order for you to reach your goal of 1,000 email subscribers, you have to get your email offer in front of 35,000 people over the course of 90 days.
You’re going to do that by:
- Getting influencers in your industry to share your NLC
- Publishing guest posts on influential blogs
- Doing a little paid advertising
- Reaching out to your peers
- Sharing your offer with your current circle of friends and family
- Creating epic content that “shares itself”
- Sharing your NLC through any other channel you have access to
It sounds like a lot of work–and it is–but we can break the goal down even further to make it more digestible.
If you need to get your offer in front of 35,000 people in 90 days, you need to get exposure to approximately 3,000 people each week.
It sounds like a lot. But it is very possible.
In your quarterly publishing calendar, assign your “view goals” to each marketing channel like so:
- 1,000 views from influencers
- 1,000 from paid advertisements
- 1,000 from word of mouth
- And so on…
Keep in mind, this exercise exists to give you a general idea of where to place your promotional efforts. Be realistic in your goals and put your effort where you foresee achieving the most success.
7. Begin building relationships with influencers (but don’t make the ask)
One of the best ways to get your NLC in front of thousands of qualified viewers is to reach out to influencers in your industry who have large followings and get them to share your work with their audience.
However, it’s important to remember that these influencers likely have no idea who you are. They’re regularly approached by people who want access to their audience, so don’t be a vulture!
Don’t assume that they’ll do you a favor without any kind of relationship in place.
Instead, begin nurturing a helpful and positive relationship with the influencers in your industry. Eventually you’ll approach them with your ask, but for now you just need to be helpful.
Start researching people (using Google, Twitter, your own network/knowledge, etc.) in your industry who might be interested in what you’re doing, or spread a similar message.
Then, make a list, separating these people into two categories:
- Peers (people you know, or other content creators who are “on your level”)
- Influencers (people in your industry who seem a little out of reach, but might be interested in hearing about your NLC)
Include the names, contact information, and follower reach of relevant bloggers, authors, podcasters, etc. List each person in order of influence. (Tip: This is a great job for a virtual assistant).
I’ve created an example outreach template for you. You can download it here. (Again, it will download as an .xls file that you can import into Google Drive).
Once you have your list, begin reaching out to each person with a genuine compliment of their work, and perhaps a simple question about their next project or what you can do to help spread their cause. One influencer in my industry recently told me that the thing he appreciates the most is when someone tweets or writes, “I did what [influencer] said in his book, and here’s how it worked for me…”
Regardless of how you do this, the most important thing to remember is to make it about them. It’s likely that only 25% of the people you reach out to will respond. So reach out to far more people than you’d initially think to.
Identify a few key people that you would like to potentially interview for your NLC and put extra effort into connecting with them.
It’s also a good idea to begin engaging in their community. Post to the comment section of their blog, Facebook group, etc. Do whatever you can to be helpful. Here’s an epic article from the Foundr blog on how to get in touch with hard to reach people.
8. Create a landing page for your email opt-in
You should already have your email opt-in set up on your homepage and throughout your site.
Now you need to create a landing page that is intentionally designed to get people to take the exact action you want. In this case, subscribe to your email list.
This page is an integral piece of your campaign. This is where you’ll be sending every “set of eyes” who will decide whether or not they want to subscribe to your NLC.
Most premium WordPress templates have the option to build a landing page. However, I recommend using a third-party plugin that will allow you to easily create beautiful pages and do A/B testing. Here are some popular plugins:
When crafting your landing page remember that you’re selling the story of your NLC. What is it? Why does the reader care? What will they get from it?
You’re basically “selling” it the same way you would a paid product.
This page has to be compelling. Here’s one of my favorite landing page tutorials from CopyBlogger. There are also countless other resources online, including some great stuff from companies like Kiss Metrics and HubSpot.
At the bottom of your squeeze page you’ll place the offer to opt in to your email list. Make sure the button says something more exciting than “subscribe.” You’ll increase your opt-in percentage simply by making the button text more compelling–something like, “Take Me To Episode One.”
Give your landing page a compelling unique link (like xyz.com/getmoresales, not xyz.com/subscribe). No one wants to feel like they’ll be expected to make a commitment or subscribe before they read what you’re offering.
Finally, don’t forget to A/B test your landing page every once in a while. This article shares three common things you can test to increase your opt-in rate.
9. Publish your first 3-5 pieces of content
This is pretty self explanatory. It’s time to start producing your content. A general rule of thumb in content marketing is that you want to have at least 3-5 posts (or podcasts, or videos) live on your site before you launch.
This will give your new viewers confidence that you’re posting regularly and that it’s worth their time to subscribe. It will also give influencers an idea of what you’re doing and establish your credibility.
After publishing your first 3-5 posts, backdate your publish dates to once a week for the past several weeks.
Here’s the most important part of publishing your content: At the end of every piece of content be sure to direct people back to your landing page. This will give unsubscribed viewers a prompt to opt in. This can be a message along the lines of, “If you liked this and want to know what happens next week, go to xyz.com/getmoresales.”
Note: At this point, if you haven’t done so already, you’ll want to go back to the email ask on your homepage, sidebar, etc. (refer to step 1), and update the copy to incentivize your readers. You can do this quickly by using a summarized version of your landing page copy.
10. Make the ask
Once you’ve published your first few pieces of content, it’s time to reach out to the peers and influencers you’ve connected with and let them know what you’re working on.
Send an email including an example of your NLC and ask them if you could interview them for your show/podcast/documentary, etc. Here’s a template you can download. Obviously, you’ll want to customize the text.
If they’re not interested in being interviewed (or they’re not a good fit for your content), ask them if they’d be willing to let you write a guest post on their blog, or if they’d be willing to share what you’re doing.
To those who respond yes, move forward with the interview or guest post. Once the exchange has been conducted, let them know your launch date and ask if they would be willing to share the story with their audience on that specific day.
If they are willing to share, provide them with the link to your subscription landing page.
11. Paid advertising
Another big part of reaching a new audience is utilizing paid advertising options to attract targeted prospects.
While organic views on some social media platforms have become more difficult to leverage, most brands still see compelling returns from advertising on social platforms. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even Reddit are great places to consider launching a paid campaign.
Contently has a great article on the pros and cons of various ad platforms.
The first ads you create should be your launch day ads. Decide which platforms you’ll use and schedule these in your publishing calendar. Be sure to have your ads designed and scheduled for the day your campaign goes live.
Decide in advance how many paid ads you’ll need to post throughout the course of your campaign to reach your weekly view goal (obviously your budget will factor in as well). Drop the specifics of each ad campaign into your publishing calendar.
In the first week of your launch, try testing two different ads. Use one ad to send people directly to the first episode of your NLC, and another to send people directly to your landing page.
Test to see if one ultimately leads to more subscriptions than the other.
PART 3: LAUNCH AND ENGAGEMENT
12. The day before the launch
- The day before your launch, check in with your peers and influencers to confirm that they are ready to post ‘tomorrow’ at a pre-determined time.
- Verify that your paid advertisements are designed and scheduled.
- Set up a drip campaign within your email service so that every person who signs up will automatically receive the first piece of NLC immediately, and then subsequent pieces weekly after that. You can watch how to setup an autoresponder in Mailchimp here.
- Finally, prepare your launch announcement. This is the announcement that you’ll share with the world on launch day. I would recommend taking the copy from your landing page and shortening it to fit the parameters of your various social media channels. Remember to link back to your landing page. At this point, your biggest goal is to get as many eyes on the landing page as possible. If you’ve designed the page properly, it should do all of the heavy lifting for you.
13. Launch day
Since you’ve done a thorough job preparing for your launch, launch day should be exciting but not overwhelming.
- Post your announcement to all of your social media channels and any existing email subscribers. Ask your friends and family to share your announcement with their followers.
- Wait for your peers and influencers to post their announcements of your campaign.
- Engage with the influencers and followers who have shared or liked your campaign (retweet, share, thank) and respond to the comments of any guest posts you’ve published.
14. For the next 90 days…
Obviously, for the remainder of your campaign you’ll need to continue creating and publishing your NLC (usually once a week). After you’ve published each piece, add it to your drip campaign. This sets in motion an automatic 90-day window of content for every person that subscribes to your email list from here on out.
Engage with your new email subscribers by asking them for feedback and telling them how they can get in touch with you. Also, be sure to personally thank them for their interest and ask them if they’d be willing to share your content (you’d be surprised at how well this works).
Continue to post helpful content and engage with users on various social media platforms that are relevant to your campaign:
- Twitter, Facebook
- Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr
- Youtube, Vimeo, Vine
- Google +
I recommend using Hootsuite for scheduling and managing high volumes of social content. They have a free version as well as a premium version for $10 per month.
Networks like Twitter and Instagram are great for one-on-one engagement. Use relevant hashtags to spread your message to a larger audience. Then engage with relevant people by starting a conversation with them. (Remember, it’s called social media, so be social. Remove the “digital veil” and start conversations with people the way you might at a dinner party). If they ask about what you do, you can send them to your landing page.
You can also determine the best places to post your social content by checking out what your competitors are doing. Look at where they post and which of their posts get the most engagement. Don’t be afraid to copy their model.
Post content regularly to less common social platforms like:
These platforms have a built-in audience and automatically promote highly-engaged content. Throughout the rest of your campaign, you might want to consider designing and publishing content specifically produced for each of these platforms. Brand your content and drive people back to your landing page.
As you brainstorm which platforms you’ll utilize and what kind of content you’ll post, enter your notes and benchmarks into your publishing calendar.
See it Through!
Congratulations. You’re in for the long haul.
As a reminder, be sure to test and pivot as necessary. Regularly check which ads are performing the best and which pieces of content people are enjoying the most.
Continue to reach out to influencers and repeat the process of getting them to share their interview or your guest post. (Do this as often as possible).
Maintain consistency in publishing your NLC and update your publishing calendar regularly.
When your 90 day campaign is complete, start utilizing your email list as you see fit (and start planning your next campaign)!
I’d love to hear from you, answer any questions, or even help you brainstorm ideas for your NLC. Find me on twitter: @justindye, or email me at email@example.com. Seriously, shoot me a message.
Anything I missed? What else would you add? Comment below.
This process isn’t necessarily easy. But it’s worth it. Are you up for the challenge?