Want to scale your creator business? Retention, not acquisition, might be the key

Business Models Take Yourself Pro
11 min read
In this Article

Doubling 100 subscribers is doable. Doubling 10,000 is daunting.

As your creator business matures, it won’t be sustainable to grow your audience at the same rate you used to. That doesn’t mean you have to accept your new plateau and abandon your goals. Instead, you can turn your attention to customer retention and make the most of each customer relationship.

This guide will review why customer retention matters for professional creators and how to boost yours this year.

The impact customer retention has on your creator business

Customer retention for creators is the process of keeping your audience around for the long run. Instead of many one-off sales, you aim for repeat orders and loyal fans. Creating a deeply engaged audience benefits creators in a few ways:

Increase your income

When you have more interactions and sales from each audience member, your income goes up without increasing your list size. Let’s look at two scenarios to see how this plays out.

Scenario A: You sell your $20 ebook to 100 people on your list and earn $2,000.

Scenario B: In addition to the $2,000 worth of sales from scenario A, you upsell 50 of those 100 audience members to buy your $200 course after reading your ebook. Now, you’ve made $12,000 from the same 100 people.

Make every moment more profitable/free up time for creation

Our 2022 State of the Creator Economy survey revealed that only 36% of creators spend more than half their time creating. The rest of the time is spent growing and maintaining the business. But when you focus on retention, you begin to make more money from the same amount of subscribers. Since you aren’t chasing constant list growth, you can build systems to increase income while freeing time to create.

For example: Imagine it takes you five hours of work to grow your email list by 200 people. If each person buys $20 worth of products, you make $800 per hour of promotion. If you boost the customer value even a little bit to $35 per person, your effective hourly rate jumps to $1,400 for the same amount of promotional work.

Create fulfilling audience interactions

The sales that follow retention are great, but there’s also a human element. When you have a deeper relationship with your audience, you can have honest conversations and see customers grow and learn over time. Anne-Laure Le Cunff has firsthand experience with this since her community has become a place for thousands of subscribers to connect. She shared,

anne-laure le cunffI feel very privileged because this is a very intimate space to be in, when you start talking about mental health. I'm just grateful that I can actually help a little bit in my tiny, tiny way. Getting [subscriber] emails confirms to me that I didn't need to raise millions, I didn't need to follow the Silicon Valley startup model. I didn't need to do all of that stuff to actually have a meaningful impact.

– Anne-Laure Le Cunff, founder of Ness Labs

When to focus on customer retention

Customer retention helps you build longer-lasting and more profitable connections, but is it right for everyone all the time? Not necessarily.

You should focus on customer acquisition if you don’t have a large enough audience to sell to or you only have one product.

You should focus on customer retention if you have multiple products and services to sell or want to feed multiple income streams.

Every type of creator can benefit from increased customer retention, but here are a few examples:

  • Coaches: working with clients multiple times gives you more opportunities to help them grow and evolve
  • Authors: higher retention means you don’t need to rebuild your audience each time you finish writing a book
  • Content creators and YouTubers: high viewership and engagement shows sponsors you have a strong following
  • Freelancers: step off the hustle train by selling multiple services or packages to clients to smooth out boom and bust cycles
  • Influencers: a dedicated audience can support multiple income streams like affiliate links, sponsorships, and template packs
  • Musicians: building a loyal fan base that consistently buys albums, goes to shows, and streams music makes it easier to self-fund your next album

How to measure customer retention

Before you jump in and start launching retention strategies, you need to gauge current retention to give yourself a baseline to measure against. There are a few key metrics you can use.

Customer lifetime value

Customer lifetime value (CLV) compares your revenue per customer against what you spent to grow your audience. A rising CLV signals that you’re getting more rewards for the same amount of work.

Email engagement

Customer engagement and retention aren’t the same, but they go hand in hand. A person who regularly opens and clicks your emails and comments on your social media posts is more likely to stick around and support you. So, you can use email marketing analytics like open rate and click rate to get a sense of how involved our audience is.

Unsubscribe rate

Your email unsubscribe rate tells you what percent of subscribers opt-out from your list. Unsubscribe rates under 1% are the norm for creators, and it’s okay to say goodbye to audience members who aren’t a fit. Scott Keller, a bird blogger, shared that,

scott kellerIf the people on your email list are bothered, they need to get off your email list. You are looking for the people who want to hear from you every day, every week. They want your stuff. They may even need it.

The biggest mindset shift with unsubscribes was: I'm trying to filter people who want this – the people who love learning about birds and butterflies and seeds, and want to get into the nitty gritty. If you're not part of that, then we're not the right place.

– Scott Keller, founder of Bird Watching HQ

When aiming for high customer retention, you need to monitor your unsubscribe rate for sudden changes or upward trends. Losing a few subscribers is normal, but rising opt-outs can be a sign of trouble, so an unsubscribe survey is a good idea.

7 customer retention strategies you can start using today

Anywhere you interact with your audience is an opportunity to boost retention, but it can be hard to know where to get started. So, we rounded up a few examples from real creators using email marketing, social media, and more to deepen their audience connection.

1 – Create a great first impression with an onboarding sequence

An onboarding email sequence you send to new subscribers or customers sets the right tone for the relationship. You can use an automated series of emails to introduce yourself and your perspective, share your best content, or ask people to tell you about themselves. For example, Kaleigh Moore asks new subscribers to share their current challenges. She shared that the strategy delivers “audience insight and content ideas in a single email…PLUS it helps with deliverability because it drives clicks and replies.”

Your welcome emails are the perfect place to set expectations and start conversations. Image via Kaleigh Moore.

2 – Use audience segmentation to send relevant emails

You can’t increase engagement and retention without relevance. For example, how long will a woodworker stick around if they only receive emails about 3D printing? Email marketing segmentation helps you categorize subscribers to give them the best email experience possible. Allea Grummert, an email marketing strategist, notes that “not only does [segmentation] help your audience get the answers they need sooner than later, you’ll build trust with them as they see you as someone who has authority on a topic.” Allea and her clients have seen the impact of segmentation firsthand, too.

Allea GrummertWhen we segmented readers on the Food Blogger Pro email list, their segmented nurture sequences saw 20%+ higher open rates and 7-10% higher click rates than their general nurture sequence. The segmented sequences had an average open rate of nearly 60% and click rate of over 9%.

– Allea Grummert

3 – Create engaging content that encourages interaction

There’s no getting around the fact that you need to produce quality content to boost retention. Engaging content helps with social media algorithms and email performance, so it’s a win-win. Audience interaction also makes social media marketing more enjoyable and can even help you make decisions, like Drew Holcomb asking fans where they should tour.

Asking questions gives your audience a chance to engage with you and can deliver useful feedback. Image via Drew Holcombe.

Lights, camera, panic! If you don't feel confident on camera, you aren’t alone. Getting comfortable with video takes practice, and this guide has tips like:

  • Create a script or cue cards
  • Have a friend stand behind the camera
  • Practice talking louder

Learn more about creating the most engaging videos possible here.

4 – Use customer discounts to reward long-time subscribers

Exclusivity + deals = a winning retention combination. You can offer previous customers or long-time subscribers special discounts to encourage them to make another purchase. Timelapse photographer Mat Joez used this strategy during a video course pre-launch. If subscribers had purchased a related guide in the previous year, they would get a discounted price on the new course.

Offering discounts to previous customers can boost sales. Image via Mat Joez.

5 – Set up a loyalty program to reward participation

Loyalty programs and punch cards have been a thing for retail and food, so why not use them as a creator? If you give your audience a way to earn points towards rewards for tasks like sharing your newsletter with others, they’ll have an incentive to engage.

You could even follow in The Assembly Call’s footsteps and create a branded cryptocurrency. The blog's new $HOME Coin gives holders benefits, like “discounts on community memberships, memorabilia giveaways, and an exclusive discount by Homefield Apparel that is the biggest discount they’ve ever given.”

An announcement email about The Assembly Call’s cryptocurrency contained everything readers needed to know to get started. Image via The Assembly Call.

6 – Drive repeat sales with upsell automations

Once you’ve established a connection with your audience, it’s time to pitch. An upsell automation promotes a relevant product to a past customer, such as a group coaching course that builds on what they learned in an ebook.

Email tagging and automation give you a way to pitch related products to past customers to boost income without hands-on promotion.

More connection, less work.

ConvertKit’s Visual Automations Template Library has more than 20 email automations you can start using with just a few clicks. These automated email sequences are like digital virtual assistants that send content promotion and product pitches to the right people at the right time automatically.

Get started here.

7 – Keep your audience guessing with surprise giveaways

Giveaways can help you grow your email list and improve audience loyalty. You can either ask subscribers to complete a task to earn an entry or pick subscribers at random, like blogger Ashley Petrone does. As long as you don’t overdo giveaways to the point your audience constantly expects freebies, they’re a fun way to give back and encourage people to stick around.

Random giveaways can keep your audience coming back time and time again to see what you’re up to. Image via Ashley Petrone.

Create seamless customer retention with ConvertKit

One throughline runs through every customer retention strategy; a positive subscriber experience. If your audience isn’t having a good time with your content and products, they’ll leave.

ConvertKit’s tools let you create a seamless user experience from beginning to end from a single platform. You can gather signups from beautiful and functional landing pages, segment customers for relevant communication, sell products on a secure platform, and automate email marketing to maintain the relationship. Plus, ConvertKit integrates with your favorite tools like Squarespace and Teachable.

Learn more about how ConvertKit supports professional creators and sign up for a free trial.

Take the next step on your creator journey

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Steph Knapp

Steph Knapp is a freelance B2B + SaaS content marketer that loves educating and empowering curious humans. When she's not typing away, you'll find her volunteering at the animal shelter and obsessing over a new hobby every week. She shares marketing, freelance, and cat content on Twitter @ hellostephknapp.

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