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Today we will continue our newborn series on email. Last week’s introduction is here, in case you missed it amidst all this festive tomfoolery, where I ran through some of the huge mistakes I made in my career – especially when it came to communicating with readers. Because email isn’t just a megaphone for announcing new releases. If used correctly, it is also a means of retaining those readers by deepening engagement.

By the way, if you have any doubts about the value of email marketing at this early stage, or if you prefer another tool for the job of reader communication – such as Facebook or blogging perhaps – then I urge you to read this blog post: Email Marketing: Your Secret Weapon.

It’s something I wrote for my blog back in August which kind of flew under the radar but I think everyone should give it a once-over, as it’s a very clear argument for making email a key priority, and why it’s simply the best tool for this job. If you’re an email skeptic, or still prefer irregular contact, or focus more on communicating with readers via other means, then this post should convince you otherwise.

Here, today, we’re going to assume you’re already on the Email Train and want to get cracking. But you’ll have to temper that eagerness with a little patience as we must first focus on solid foundations and, crucially, using the right wotsits.

I know what you want – or what you should want, at least – a list of thousands and thousands of names. But not just any names, passionate readers of your niche, people genuinely interested in your work, not rudely shanghaied onto your list. Readers who want to be there. Engaged readers, not the fly-by-night kind who will grab your freebie and then go dark, but the kind who care, who respond to emails, who buy and review your work and share it with friends.

Achieving this isn’t easy, but it’s totally achievable – something you can attack in stages and get better at over time (and gain benefits throughout the process too).

Here’s what you’re going to need:

    1. A website. You need a professional site, a clean and clear place for readers to sign up to your list. I use Wordpress, which I strongly recommend over (somewhat) popular alternatives like Squarespace and Wix and Weebly. The latter tend to seduce people with more up-front simplicity, but Wordpress is the market leader for a reason and the advantages you will gain could fill an email of its own. I’ve been using Wordpress for 8 years and seen a dozen highly touted competitors come and go. They always go. Stick with Wordpress.
    2. A domain. You should have your site on your own domain anyway, but just to double down on that: you will need an email address attached to that domain to run a proper mailing list. Here’s a crucial mistake people make early on: avoid generic handles like – these have a high risk of being marked as Spam. It’s much, much better to have something personal like (Yes, I know this email comes from but that’s apparently an exception, and, no, I didn’t know that in advance; I just got lucky. If choosing again, I’d pick differently, just in case.) Another reason you need to run your list from your own domain is that you want to build up your own sender reputation – something we’ll talk about in a moment.
    3. A mailing list service. Don’t even think of running your list from Gmail. You need a proper mailing list service like Mailerlite, Mailchimp, ActiveCampaign, ConstantContact, Aweber, ConvertKit, or any other established, reputable service. If you want a simple recommendation, I’m a huge fan of Mailerlite after switching to them from Mailchimp in May. If you have very particular needs surrounding automation, then ActiveCampaign or ConvertKit might be a better choice. Read this blog post for more on that, and for why I switched from Mailchimp after using them since 2011 (and why you probably should too). Note that I am an affiliate for Mailerlite. I am also a ConvertKit affiliate (but not an ActiveCampaign affiliate, a service I also recommend for certain users). However, I was also a Mailchimp affiliate when I wrote that post excoriating their service, in case you think that status influences my views.
    4. An enticement. There are arguments For and Against offering readers a freebie for signing up to your list. I used to be in the Against camp, and then I tried it out. Oh lord, I was wrong. So very wrong. Yes, you might get a few freeloaders signing up just to grab the freebie, dead weight you might not want on the list, especially if you are paying for it, but it’s actually quite easy to weed those guys out. My list grew so much faster once I started offering a freebie – so much so that I’ll never do it any other way again. We’ll talk more about this though, just noting it for now. Your freebie will almost always be a story of some kind, which means you will also need…
    5. A delivery method. Don’t do this manually. If someone signs up to your list and doesn’t get the freebie you promised right away you’re going to piss them off. And it’s not so much the ones who can (and will!) email you to complain that you should worry about as much as the far greater number of readers who don’t. Breaking a promise is not a good foundation for any kind of relationship. The freebie should be delivered right away, automatically. You need a service for this. A dedicated service. I strongly recommend BookFunnel. It’s cheap, they are great at what they do, and as someone who used to dole out freebies to readers before BookFunnel existed, believe me when I tell you that they are solving a massive pain point here for authors. Don’t be tempted to try alternative/general services like AWS. Sure, it will deliver files to readers, and for less money, but that’s not the real problem BookFunnel solves: what it does is (a) get those files onto readers’ devices and (b) handle all the customer service and tech support. And anyone who doled out freebies to readers in the pre-BookFunnel days probably still gets nightmares. OMG the nightmares.
    6. A welcome sequence. This is an automatic series of emails that triggers when someone joins your list – sometimes known as an onboarder. It’s very important to welcome readers to your newsletter properly. This deepens engagement right from the off, sets reader expectations, trains them to expect your emails on a certain day (and to open them and click them and be delighted by them – something we’ll get to), and also helps weed out a lot of those freeloaders you may have been worried about before you start paying for them. This can also be an opportunity to cross-pollinate: get visits to your website or blog, Likes on your Facebook Page, follows on Instagram or Twitter, or book purchases. And it’s also a handy check that they got your freebie and everything is hunky dory. A welcome sequence has so many uses that you’re missing a brothelful of tricks by not rolling one out. But you can’t just ask, ask ask – and especially not at this stage of the relationship. You will need to be strategic about what you request from readers, and make sure any ask is surrounded by a barrel-load of give. Which means you’re going to need a truckload of…
    7. Content. Better start lining this up because you’re going to need lots of it. You will need to write some copy for your website, for those welcome messages, and, of course, you will need lots and lots of content for all those emails you will be regularly sending readers. Don’t be too put off though, this particular email is unusual in that it is weekly. Most authors will find that a monthly newsletter is regular enough. This particular email is also unusual in its length – you will get away with a lot shorter. But it is smart to line up a bunch of content in advance to give yourself some breathing room. (And we’ll talk about exactly what you might write in a future episode, worry not.)
    8. The right attitude. OMG this could be an email on its own. And it might be, dear reader, it might well be. In short though, you need to treat your subscribers with respect. They are not numbers, they are people – remember that, always. Respect their time too – provide value in every email. I’m going to put that in bold because it might be the most important thing in this entire word salad. Provide value in every email. Make that your lodestar. Write every email like you are talking to a single person. Chain every ask in a string of gives. Finally, Remember that you are a human being too! Don’t be fake. The best way to be authentic is to… be authentic. Be yourself, in other words. Unless you’re an a-hole, I guess. Then be someone else maybe.

    Before I go, let me point you to some resources to help you get all this background stuff set up so you can attack 2020 like a demon. Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of Tammi Labrecque’s Newsletter Ninja – the best book on the topic by a mile. I also took her course, which was career-changing. (It’s how I got Good At Email.)

    Tammi has a bunch of new things launching soon. A follow-up to Newsletter Ninja is coming next month, and she has some new courses too, after splitting up her offerings into a Beginner and Advanced course, which seems like a good approach.

    She also has a free intro course now too called Rock Solid Foundation – which I have signed up for (a refresher is always good!). You can sign up at that link too, and get it when it first rolls out in January. It’s delivered by email, and sounds like a good grounding in the basics.

    I recommend that even experienced email operators sign up for this as it might cover some stuff you missed. For example, I’m often surprised that people don’t know they should authenticate their domain. If you don’t do that you are relying on your mailing list provider’s sending rep to get your emails into inboxes, rather than your own. Sooooo important.

    For less experienced users, this will also teach you which mailing list service is best for you, explain how to build a landing page that will entice readers, and show you how to write enticing welcome emails and craft your first automations.

    Sign up here for free to get access to all that very useful stuff. Course begins next month.

    Merry Christmas!


    P.S. Tinsel-hanging music this week is, and can only be, Darlene Love with Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).

    Broomfield Business Park, Malahide, Co. Dublin

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