This is a guest post written by Susan Daffron. Susan owns a book publishing and consulting company called Logical Expressions, Inc. and spends most of her time writing, laying out books in InDesign, or taking her five dogs out for romps in the forest. Susan also teaches people how to write and publish profitable, client-attracting books.
The other day, I did something that almost everyone in the online marketing/solopreneur realm says you shouldn’t do: I killed the email lists that I have spent the last three or four years building.
For years, I have given away free content to entice Web site visitors to join an autoresponder or email newsletter list.
Almost everything you read about marketing online says you should give away a freebie in exchange for someone’s email address. The idea is that you build up a list and then you can market your products and services to the list.
It sounds like a great idea. Except for me, it didn’t work.
I gave away white papers, free reports, ecourses, FAQs, newsletters, and case studies on my sites. I had autoresponder sequences and PDFs jam-packed with unique well-written content.
Even though readers said that they loved my writing, loved me, and “told other people” about me, I have no evidence that any actual money or clients resulted from sending out autoresponders or regular weekly newsletters.
Somehow I managed to create a list of thousands of people who only want free stuff. In this case, the money was definitely NOT in the list.
It’s not like I didn’t try to increase the response rate of my emails either. Over time, I surveyed, revamped, personalized, engaged, changed the format of the emails multiple times and still nothing. It wasn’t just a small response to my offers; it was virtually NO response.
Basically, I have lived everyone’s worst business nightmare. You do a ton of work for a long time and absolutely nothing happens.
The free email content also didn’t affect my online “influence” in any way I can tell. It didn’t result in making key contacts, media attention, speaking engagements, thousands of followers/fans, or had any other real impact as far as I can tell.
The fact that emails to my list resulted in zero sales also mystified more than one business coach/consultant.
Of course, I didn’t just opt to kill years of painstaking work without thinking about it for a long, long time.
Is This Online Marketing Suicide?
After a lot of angst, I realized that it’s a waste of time for me to continue keep trying to make something work that won’t. Einstein is credited with saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Doing a lot of work and not making money is pointless. I finally realized that I’d rather have a small list of interested people who actually buy stuff, than a large list that does nothing.
A few people called me silly or nuts for killing my email lists, but my readers didn’t. When I sent out the email that explained why I was killing off my newsletter, I got a lot of really sympathetic, kind responses from my readers.
Every single one of them said thank you, but interestingly the responses with the most thoughtful and insightful comments came from people who have either purchased something from me, met me in person, or participated in some type of group or event with me. They found me some other way, bought something, and then joined my newsletter.
In other words, the newsletter did not get me clients, but quite a few clients read my newsletter.
As it turns out, when I looked more closely at where my clients really come from, it’s mostly from personal referrals and search. Online marketing comes into play, but it’s the content on my Web sites (not in my emails) that brings in the leads that result in real live paying work and product sales.
The Value of “Free”
We sell our own books and offer conferences and training for people who want to write and publish their own books as well. It seems that at least in this market, people don’t value free.
Although almost everyone says they want to write a book, the reality is that almost no one actually does. Gazillions of wanna-be authors will never, ever do anything. They are not my customers. Thinking that they could become my customers was my mistake.
Realistically, idle dreamers can consume free stuff forever, without actually ever doing anything with the information. In contrast, those people who are motivated do spend money to solve a problem and move forward. Asking for money acts as a filter.
Another online marketing truism is the concept of “know, like, and trust.” The theory is that if you give away free stuff, people will be more inclined to buy from you. I got countless “love notes” from my readers, but when they were asked to buy something, they said they “couldn’t afford it” no matter how inexpensive. These people are clearly not my customers.
I’m starting to think that “know, like, and trust” is basically a bunch of hogwash. Realistically, it’s easy to do a search online and buy from companies I’ve never heard of, didn’t know, don’t like, and don’t really trust. But if they have something I really want that solves a problem, I’ll buy anyway.
Now that I’m no longer fretting about my non-responsive list or creating a newsletter every week, I’ve thought about how I can use email more effectively in my business. We already have a lot of products, but we have done almost no follow-up with any of our customers.
Instead of focusing on existing customers, I was focusing my time on trying to get new customers. This classic business mistake has probably cost us a lot of money.
Our new plan for email is to focus on follow-up and cross-selling. We have decided to switch our email autoresponder service from AWeber to MailChimp. What we’re planning to do isn’t actually possible with AWeber, so after many years, it’s time to bid them farewell.
Instead of one large list of prospects, we are setting up a much more detailed plan. With one big list, you run the risk of people becoming burned out on your offers. I don’t want to go down that road.
Instead, by segmenting your lists by what people buy, you can send a friendly post-purchase email that is relevant, says thank you, offers some additional helpful free resources, and then says, “you might be interested in this too.” You won’t be branded a spammer or a sleezy marketer.
Getting all of this set up is going to be a lot of work, but I’m hoping that it will result in more income over time.
The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to realize the difference between buyers and prospects. Buyers have made a commitment by opening their wallet. Prospects haven’t.
So from now on I’m focusing my attention on buyers. Wish me luck!