How to create a sales funnel for your online business

Email Marketing
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No matter how talented you are, making a living as a creator goes beyond the quality of your work. It’s all about keeping your pipeline full of qualified clients or customers so that you have consistent income coming in.

Unfortunately, a lot of marketing advice fails when it comes to driving consistent leads to your inbox:

  • Endlessly produce content and put it out there, just hoping that people see your value and buy from you
  • Cold-pitch your target audience, spending lots of time on prospects who won't convert
  • Create ads for your products and services without a strategy, spending empty dollars for no return

But what if we told you you could develop a proven method for taking strangers from “no idea who you are” to excited paying customers?

You can. It’s called a sales funnel. And in this article, we’re sharing how you can create one for your online business.

What is a sales funnel?

How to create a sales funnel for your online business

The phrase “sales funnel” sounds complicated, but it’s not. Simply put, a sales funnel is the process that people must go through to become your customer or client, from the time they first “notice” your business to the instant they become a paying customer.

For online creators, the bulk of the sales funnel often takes place through email. But your sales funnel can also take place on a website or sales page, through a webinar, or through some combination of each of these.

Why is a sales funnel important for creators?

A sales funnel may seem like a fancy marketing tool for big corporations. But as you’ll see, in practice, creating a sales funnel is incredibly easy and effective for small businesses, too.

Here’s why sales funnels are the best-kept secret of successful creators:

Puts you in the driver’s seat of your marketing

You may think of your customers as the people who are buying from you already or who are about to buy from you. That is, customers who are already aware of their problem and are actively looking for the very solution you offer.

But there is a whole other world of potential customers out there who will eventually be ready to buy from you…. Just not yet.

These customers need to be nurtured. In other words, they have the potential to become awesome paying customers but something has to happen first: They need to be helped to understand why they need your product or service and get prepared to pay the cost.

This is the job a sales funnel does. With a sales funnel, you’re no longer waiting passively to be found by the few people who are already aware of their problem and looking for a solution. Instead, you’re actively turning a wide swath of ordinary people into amazing customers.

This active approach to marketing and sales is what leads to that holy grail of a full pipeline of qualified customers. These customers started off not knowing why they needed your product or service, and now they’re ready and willing to buy from you.

Turn your side-hustle into your full-time career

Sending your audience content they care about with ConvertKit automations not only helps you build your authority, it also helps you makes hands-off sales.

Ensures you don’t waste time with bad-fit customers

A sales funnel does the work of educating your customers for you. Done well, your sales funnel will help the right customers self-select for your service or products.

This means that by the time you have to engage personally with potential customers, such as on a sales call, they’re far more likely to be a good fit for what you offer. No more wasting time on sales calls, emails, and messages with bad-fit customers!

Allows you to charge more and avoid losing customers to sticker-shock

A sales funnel will prepare your customers to appreciate the value of your offer. Additionally, a sales funnel will often drive up desire for your offer so much that the price matters less.

Eventually, when your customers reach the decision stage, they are less likely to be scared off by a high price because they’ve been prepared.

Drives a steady stream of leads to your door

A sales funnel is designed to guide your audience strategically toward buying from you. Once you have a working sales funnel, it’s like a machine chugging away behind the scenes to drive leads to your door.

This is especially valuable for creators who want to spend less time marketing and more time creating!

Can be used over and over again

Once you create a sales funnel that works, you can rinse and repeat forever for the same results, without the endless content creation.

Creating your first sales funnel may take some trial and error. But after that hump, your sales funnel works for your business, day in and day out. This can take a lot of the pressure off your marketing and allow you to focus more on serving your customers well and creating.

The 4 stages of a successful sales funnel

The stages of a sales funnel are the states of mind people go through as you nurture them into becoming excited, paying customers.

Traditionally, the stages are described with the acronym AIDA: Awareness or Attention, Interest, Decision or Desire, Action

Awareness or Attention, Interest, Decision or Desire, Action

Let’s take a closer look.

Awareness (or attention)

This is the very first stage of your funnel. It’s when your customer becomes aware of a problem they have that your service or product solves. Without this awareness, the customer cannot enter into the sales funnel.

This stage is sometimes also called the Attention stage because it’s when you first catch your customer’s attention.

Interest

During the Interest stage, the customer’s interest is piqued further as you share helpful content related to solving or elucidating their newfound problem. This stage is also a great time to share information that will endear your brand to your customers.

Note: There’s no selling during this stage of the funnel. The goal is to be as helpful as possible via free content or to get people invested in your brand.

Decision or Desire

This is the moment of truth. At this point, the customer has to make a yes or no decision to buy from you.

Your job is to make the “yes” decision as irresistible as possible. Consider offering a coupon, discount, or bonus, or simply punch up the urgency of your offer.

Action

The final stage in the funnel: The customer says yes and buys from you!

In practice, this stage might take the form of a checkout page, invoice payment, or signing of a contract.

How to build a simple sales funnel (with sales funnel examples)

Let’s break down how to create your first sales funnel and look at some clear examples of the stages in action.

1. Create a tripwire product or lead magnet

Consider this a preparation step before the real sales funnel building begins.

A tripwire product is a low-cost product designed to get people into a sales funnel. Similarly, a lead magnet is typically a free info-product that launches a sales funnel.

Examples of both are free downloads, free samples, free trials, low-cost mini-courses or low-cost products. But your tripwire product or lead magnet can be anything that is easy for cold leads to say yes to. That is, something they want or need and which doesn’t require much investment.

2. Market your lead magnet or tripwire product to build awareness

Now that you have your low-cost offer prepared, it’s time to get people to pay attention to it!

The simplest way to do this is to tell everyone in your network about your new low-cost (or free) offer. Additionally, you can create social media ads to reach a wider audience.

For example, social media coaching company Hone Your Social marketed a free download to serve as their lead magnet. The download is designed around a topic their target clients are very interested in and costs nothing to get, aside from an email address:

Social media coaching company Hone Your Social created this enticing free download to launch people into their email sales funnel. Image via @honeyoursocial.
Social media coaching company Hone Your Social created this enticing free download to launch people into their email sales funnel. Image via @honeyoursocial.

3. Send leads content over the next few days to build interest

Next, work on building interest. Speak to what your audience most needs to hear.

You can share information about why your product or service is awesome, the behind-the-scenes of your creations, about you personally, or something else. The goal is to get people more invested, educated, and interested in your offer.

Let’s follow Hone Your Social’s sales funnel into the interest-building stage after we downloaded their free guide.

We received emails like the following, where the founder shared some personal stories about herself:

Hone Your Social built interest in their company by sending a series of emails sharing more information about their story. Image via Hone Your Social.
Hone Your Social built interest in their company by sending a series of emails sharing more information about their story. Image via Hone Your Social.

Next, we received this email checking on our progress using their free guide:

Some of Hone Your Social’s interest-stage emails were designed to offer free help. Image via Hone Your Social.
Some of Hone Your Social’s interest-stage emails were designed to offer free help. Image via Hone Your Social.

The number of emails in this part of the sales funnel can be any, but we recommend sending at least three interest-building emails.

4. End with an offer to get people to make a decision to buy from you

By this point in your sales funnel, people should be warmed up for a sales pitch. Now is the time to lead them into the decision stage.

How? By offering something.

This can be a coupon for your products, a special rate, a bonus offer, or a simple ask to buy from you (or join a program, book a consultation call—whatever is the equivalent for your business).

Hone Your Social sent four interest-building emails before they pitched their offer. Here’s their decision-stage email, where they asked us to apply for their paid program:

At the decision stage of their email sales funnel, Hone Your Social pitched an offer to join their paid social media training program. Image via Hone Your Social.
At the decision stage of their email sales funnel, Hone Your Social pitched an offer to join their paid social media training program. Image via Hone Your Social.

5. Your customers take action and buy from you!

Your work for this sales funnel is done. Now, it’s up to customers to take action and buy from you.

After that, your goal should be to keep them around to buy again. You can channel them into a new sales funnel right away or just add them to your newsletter until you’re ready to share something new.

Set up your first sales funnel today using ConvertKit

For some creators, the biggest stumbling block to creating a sales funnel is navigating the necessary tech elements, like email automations, landing pages, and free lead magnets.

That’s why ConvertKit has made creating a sales funnel exceedingly simple—even for the non-techy creator.

Here are the basic steps to setting up your first sales funnel using ConvertKit:

  1. Create a landing page for your low-cost product or freebie
  2. Connect people who sign-up or purchase from your landing page to your email sales funnel
  3. Keep people engaged even after your funnel is over through your email list with ConvertKit

And that’s it! If you haven’t already, sign-up for a free Converkit account today.

Turn your side-hustle into your full-time career

Sending your audience content they care about with ConvertKit automations not only helps you build your authority, it also helps you makes hands-off sales.

Kaleigh Moore

Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer who works closely with SaaS companies and marketing teams for content creation.

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