Email Marketing: How to Love It & Actually Make More Money

Despite the continued headlines and popularity surrounding social media, the old dinosaur of email marketing continues to be effective. How effective?

Email has an average return of $38 for each $1 spent. That’s pretty good.

Here’s our own Cory Miller on the power of email:

“In the last couple of years, we’ve used email marketing to literally build and grow our business. It’s the lifeblood of our sales and marketing efforts at iThemes and I’m a huge advocate of it for entrepreneurs.”

We’ve been interviewing freelance pros about how they use email marketing and what works for them. We’ve got all those lessons and insights collected in one convenient location, plus even more ideas and resources.

Step 1: Remember the Sales Function

Before diving into systems and content, the most important thing to understand about email marketing is how this is going to make you money. [pullquote]You need to think through how email marketing fits into your sales process. If you don’t get that right, you’re wasting your time.[/pullquote]

Email marketing should be part of your marketing funnel. You should have a process that potential clients go through on their way to becoming clients. There should be touch points with prospects and ways to loop them into doing business with you, whether it’s designing a new website, helping with a small update or even selling some kind of product.

“To be successful at email marketing, you need to know exactly who you are marketing to and know the path you want the reader to take to convert,” says Jason Resnick. “If you know who you are talking to and what problem you are solving for them, it’s easier to gain subscribers but it’s also easier to get the emails you are sending to convert for you.”

Email marketing only works if you remember your audience.

One of the common pitfalls for WordPress freelancers is that they turn to content marketing but forget their audience. They talk about what they know and position themselves as experts. That’s a great approach, but the danger is talking too much about what you know and not translating it to your audience.

If you know WordPress and you talk the ins and outs of WordPress, you’re likely to attract other WordPress pros like yourself. That group of WordPress pros may love to hear WordPress gossip, but it’s not likely to bring you any sales.

Your actual audience probably doesn’t care about WordPress. They’re more interested in having a website that works. In fact, they might not even care about a website, they just want to sell widgets or empower volunteers or whatever it is they do.

“A part of that is knowing your clients and understanding why they wanted a website in the first place,” says Tamala Huntley. “At the end of the day, it very likely boils down to wanting more customers and more sales. So you just share ways that they can utilize their website to get to their end goal.”

[pullquote]You may be an expert in code, but your audience doesn’t want to hear about code, they want to hear how the code helps them.[/pullquote]

“You offer something that solves a problem that those who need websites know they have but don’t know exactly what the problem is,” says Jason Resnick. “In other words, talk their language.”

Once you figure out that language and how that pushes prospects through your process and toward a sale, then you’re ready to move on to systems and content creation.

Step 2: Build a Good Email Marketing System

[pullquote]For email marketing to work, you have to be consistent. In order to do that, you need a good system.[/pullquote] Such a system will take care of everything including signups, unsubscribes and getting subscribers in the first place.

The very first step is to sign up with an email service provider, such as MailChimp, Aweber or Constant Contact. These services will take care of all the basics for you. No BCCing a massive list.

But your system has to be more than a good provider.

“You need to have signup opportunities prominently and strategically placed on your website,” says Tamala Huntley. People have to know about your email list. So add those signup boxes. Put them in a sidebar or footer and make sure they’re easy to find.

But that’s not enough.

People won’t just subscribe, you need to entice them with some kind of free goodie. It’s usually called a lead magnet. Create a free PDF that showcases your expertise (though make sure it speaks to your audience and their needs). Offer it up to anyone who subscribes.

“You need to have a traffic strategy to get eyes on your signup offers whether you’re offering a free report or a webinar,” says Tamala Huntley. “If no one sees it, you won’t build your list.”

This is all part of your marketing funnel: Get people to your site, entice them to join your email list, send them more helpful content, hook them in with a call to action. It’s a slow, intentional process of moving people from prospects to clients.

And you have to be consistent:

  • “The best way I know to stand out in people’s inbox is to first of all be consistently showing up in their inbox.” –  Dustin W. Stout
  • “Consistency is key to keeping subscribers around (even if you’re only mailing once a month). If you only send an email every six months, people forget who you are and unsubscribe.” – Carrie Dils
  • “It’s also a matter of building the type of relationship with your subscribers where they look forward to hearing from you. They know you’re going to have something uplifting and/or informative to share with them. So your emails become a bright spot in their inbox.” -Tamala Huntley

Once you have that system in place, you’re ready for a content plan.

Step 3: Develop a Solid Content Plan

“Once you have people on your list, you should have a plan to email regularly to nurture your subscribers and sell your products or services,” says Tamala Huntley. “Most people won’t buy from you upon first introduction, so you have to use email marketing to follow up.”

So what are you going to send people?

“The best advice I can give is to deliver actual value, not just fluff,” says Carrie Dils.

Email marketing can’t simply be self-promotional. People don’t want hype. They don’t want junk. They want value.

One of the most important components in an email marketing strategy? “A strong desire to give people extraordinary value in exchange for opening your emails,” says Dustin W. Stout.

“The easiest way to start this process is to simply document what you’re working on (and how it works),” says Kim Doyal. “Explain things in everyday language that your customers can understand. Don’t be afraid to explain the ‘why’ to your customers as well (e.g., why they really don’t need a slider).”

[pullquote]Then be consistent. The formula for success is pretty simple: Send quality content. Repeat.[/pullquote]

Step 4: Practical Questions

We’ve covered the marketing angle, the technical setup and the content plan. Now let’s cover a few practical questions.

How Often?

So how frequently should you send emails? Kim Doyal says, “Simply start by emailing often.”

Kim is moving towards emailing daily. That might sound like way too much, so the goal is to find a rhythm that works for you. It needs to be consistent enough that people remember you (monthly is probably the minimum), but also sustainable. If you can’t keep it up, what’s the point?

Subject Lines

“You must learn to use emotionally charged but unique subject lines,” says Dustin W. Stout. “If it sounds like salesy, branded, corporate jargon then get rid of it. Write subject lines that strike some sort of emotional chord or find a way to say something unexpected.”

Kim Doyal recommends the Headline Analyzer from CoSchedule. It’s more geared for blog posts, but it does show how your headline will appear as a subject line.

The goal is to experiment, rework and finetune the perfect subject line.

“My most successful subject line, to this day, has been ‘Much goodies for you!’” says Dustin W. Stout.

Automated Emails

Another helpful strategy is to employ technology to automatically send emails. You can send specific emails triggered by an action (subscribing, clicking on a link, not opening an email, etc.). These can also be part of a drip campaign that sends specific emails at specific intervals—such as an email as soon as someone signs up, a follow up the next day, another follow up a few days later, and then one a week after that.

“I do this in order to start building rapport with my subscribers, to help them really get a feel for who I am,” says Tamala Huntley. “It’s a part of the nurturing process.”

An introduction email can be a great way to start your relationship with a new subscriber, explaining who you are and letting them know what to expect.

Replying to Emails

One misnomer about email marketing is that it’s a one-way street. We tend to think of email marketing as a broadcast channel, but of course email is a conversation medium. You don’t have to broadcast a message, you can have a conversation.

And conversation in email marketing is one of the missed opportunities.

“Whenever I send out one of my emails and ask people to reply, I know that I’m going to be locked into some great conversations over the following 24 hours,” says Dustin W. Stout.

Your email list is not only a way to share your knowledge, insights and deals, but it’s a way to hear from your customers.

“Engage with your subscribers,” says Carrie Dils. “Ask them questions and encourage them to reply. Knowing more about what your subscribers want will help you craft emails with content they find valuable.”

It’s also an easy source of market research: “I ask for a reply with feedback or to find out who they are,” says Tamala Huntley. “And I respond to all of the replies.”

Some email marketing services, such as MailChimp, can help you manage these conversations so you’re not just flooding your inbox.


Don’t be afraid to experiment with your content. Try different things, see what works, adjust accordingly.

You might be surprised at what works, and what doesn’t. But the only way to know is to try.

Make Time for Email Marketing

[pullquote]The temptation for freelancers is to ignore email marketing. You’re busy. You can barely keep up with client work, let alone find time to focus on your business. Nevermind find time to master email marketing. But those excuses won’t build your business.[/pullquote]

“The problem is if you don’t schedule time to work on your own business (content, lead generation, conversions), you’re constantly building an asset for someone else,” says Kim Doyal.

Email marketing is a way to build your own asset.

“Just start,” says Kim Doyal. “Start writing, start emailing, start sharing and start having conversations.”

Start investing in the future of your business.

More Email Marketing Insights:

Check out the full interviews with WordPress pros for more insights:

More Email Marketing Resources:

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