6 steps to creating a challenge that grows your list

Email Marketing Marketing
14 min read
In this Article

Email is one of the most lucrative marketing channels for creators.

With returns of $35 for every $1 spent, it’s no surprise that businesses find email marketing critical to their success.

But to reap the rewards of email marketing, you first need to grow—and maintain—an engaged email list by creating personalized content tailored to your audience. Easier said than done though, right?

If you're scratching your head trying to brainstorm new content that delights your list, try hosting an email list challenge. With the right amount of planning, you’ll have a challenge that attracts new subscribers while simultaneously engaging the ones you already have!

How do email list challenges work?

During an email challenge, the host (in this case, you) helps participants reach a goal during a set amount of time. Goals can be anything relevant to your audience. For example, if you’re an influencer, your challenge might help aspiring influencers secure their first brand deal. Email challenges, while similar to courses, have one distinct difference: challenges require participation, whereas courses are more passive. To get a feel for different challenges, let’s look at some real-life examples from ConvertKit creators.

Spanish Mama’s 10-day challenge helps parents learn how to teach their children Spanish. The landing page tells participants all the materials (printables and plans) they’ll receive to get them through the ten days.

email challenge
Image via Spanish Mama.

Becky Stewart’s Commit to Knit challenge teaches knitters how to combine wellness with knitting for 30 days. Becky lists the goal of her challenge on her landing page by explaining how participants will feel “calm, confident, and in control” after 30 days.

email challenge
Image via Becky Stewart.

While Calan Breckon’s challenge helps people overcome one fear in only five days, showing us that your challenge doesn’t need to be long to be effective.

email challenge
Image via Calan Breckon.

And Janice Fredericks-Spell hosts another short five-day challenge packed with useful tips for aspiring beauty supply store owners.

email challenge
Image via Janice Fredericks-Spell.

5 benefits of running an email challenge

1. Email challenges grow your list

With an email list challenge, people need to sign up for your list to access the challenge. In turn, you get direct access to those who are passionate about the topics you teach. And unlike social media, you own your list and don’t need to worry about any algorithms preventing people from seeing your content.

As self-care coach Kate Hesse notes, her self-care challenge grows her email list even when it’s not running:

kate hesseI was able to build my email list not only during the challenge, but I've also seen continued growth as people join the waitlist for the next time the challenge opens.

Many of these new email subscribers remain engaged in opening my weekly emails and signing up for the additional content I offer.

-Kate Hesse

Asking participants to join with a friend can further your list growth and let you help more people through your challenge.

2. Email challenges make it easier to sell paid offerings

Have you ever walked into an ice cream store but felt overwhelmed with all the flavors? There’s rocky road, brownie fudge, and about fifty other delicious types of ice cream, and choosing what you want feels impossible. However, what makes this choice easier is how most ice cream stores let you sample their flavors.

Your subscribers feel the same each time they log online. Every day, they’re flooded with emails and ads for courses, products, and offerings. As a consumer, it’s overwhelming to know which offerings to buy.

But just like the ice cream store makes it easier for customers to choose their flavor, so can you. By offering email challenges, participants get a taste of your teaching style. When it comes time to pitch your paid product, those who partook in your challenge need less convincing to pull out their credit cards.

3. Email challenges are effective at teaching new skills

Dr. Naznin Virji-Babul and Dr. Nicola Hodges conducted a study and found the best way to learn a new task is by doing it. Through challenges, your subscribers are more likely to retain what you’re teaching them, preparing them for your higher-ticket offerings.

For example, if you have a course teaching people how to code their own app, they probably need a few beginning coding skills under their belts before enrolling in your course. Use a challenge to get people up to speed, so they’re ready (and more likely) to enroll in your bigger paid offers.

4. Email challenges position you as an expert

During your challenge, you’ll be popping into participants’ inboxes to frequently share tidbits of helpful information. As subscribers open more emails and learn from you, they’ll see you as the go-to expert in your niche. Being a visible expert leads to more referrals and will help grow your business.

5. Email challenges get subscribers used to opening your emails

Consumers believe they get an average of 54.9 emails per week. With your subscribers getting hundreds of emails per month, you need a way to stand out in their inboxes.

During a challenge, you’re essentially “training” subscribers to look for your name and open your emails. Long after your challenge ends, subscribers will be eager to open your emails to read what you have to say.

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6 steps to create your own email challenge

Follow these six steps and you’ll be well on your way to a successful challenge your subscribers love!

Step 1: Determine which goal is most meaningful to your audience

To get people excited and engaged throughout your entire challenge, figure out what subscribers need the most help with, and in turn, which goal they’d be most excited to reach.

For example, a writing coach with an audience of budding authors might find their audience struggles with publishing their books. In this case, a challenge geared towards helping those authors get their writing ready to publish could be handy.

Nadia Colburn, a writing and development coach who created a mindful writing challenge, shares the key to coming up with a challenge goal:

nadie colburnThe key to a good challenge is curating something that people can experience themselves—they can see the differences in their own life that the challenge makes. I also think it's helpful that the challenge is simple. If it's too involved, it's hard for people to find the time for.

-Nadie Colburn

Nadia makes excellent points: the goal of your challenge should be achievable and shouldn’t take up too much time.

So, what’s the fastest way to determine a suitable goal? We’ve got two ways: polling your subscribers or looking at what opt-ins are already popular among your subscribers.

1. Poll your subscribers

Ask subscribers through a poll what they need the most help with. Using ConvertKit, poll subscribers with tags to uncover which challenge goal drums up the most interest.

email challenge
Tags let you poll subscribers quickly within your newsletter.

You can also use services like Google Forms or Survey Monkey to figure out which type of challenge you should run. Ask subscribers questions like:

  1. What do you struggle with most [in your niche]?
  2. In 30 days, where would you like to see yourself?
  3. Would you rather have X or Y? (Choose two different goals and see which one resonates with more people.)

Asking people directly leaves no room for guessing and ensures your challenge helps people in the areas they struggle with most.

2. Look to popular opt-ins

If you have multiple opt-ins, your subscribers have already told you which types of content they enjoy and where they need help. For example, if you're a fitness instructor and your most popular opt-in is about yoga and your least popular opt-in is a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) guide, subscribers will likely appreciate a 30-day yoga challenge with new daily poses over a 30-day HIIT challenge.

In ConvertKit, you can find your most popular opt-ins by heading to Grow > Landing Pages & Forms and finding the one with the highest conversion rate.

email challenge

Step 2: Outline your challenge

After nailing down your challenge’s goal, it’s time to create a rough outline of your challenge. In your outline, your challenge needs a duration and a name.

Set your challenges duration

There’s no rule as to how long or short your challenge is, and the duration of your challenge depends largely on your goal. You want to find the sweet spot so participants don’t feel rushed or bored.

If you’re a food blogger running an Italian cuisine challenge, seven days might be the perfect length for your challenge if you’re sending out a new recipe each day. However, if your challenge is to help people start writing their next novel, seven days might not be enough time to brainstorm an outline, let alone start writing!

Tip: After running your challenge, ask participants for feedback on the duration. You can adjust your challenge's length depending on the feedback you get.

Name your challenge

Your challenge’s name should explicitly tell subscribers everything they need to know, including how long the challenge is and what they will achieve. Something like “A Challenge to Get Fit!” isn’t specific enough.

In the name, tell potential participants how many days the challenge runs for and what goal they’ll reach. Here are some examples of challenge names to get you thinking:

If you’re stuck, use one of these naming templates: # Days to [the goal your challenge solves] or X-Day [the goal of your challenge] Challenge.

Step 3: Map out your challenge

Here comes the fun bit: mapping out each day during your challenge. This is where your challenge comes to life. Map out your challenge from day one to the final day and figure out:

  • How often you need to email participants
  • What content you need to email participants to help them achieve the end goal
  • How often you should check in to keep participants accountable

During this step, you can also decide whether you want to connect with your audience on other platforms, like a private Facebook group or Slack channel. For longer challenges, the added platforms help keep people accountable and motivated to complete the challenge.

Step 4: Create the content for your challenge

After mapping out your challenge, it’s time to get your content ready.

Landing page

Your landing page convinces people to sign up for your challenge and gets them excited to participate. Make sure to include key information on your landing page like:

  • The length of your challenge
  • When your challenge starts (i.e., does the challenge begin the moment someone signs up, or does it run during specific days?)
  • What participants get from your challenge (i.e., what goal are they working to accomplish?)

With ConvertKit, you can create an attractive landing page with our landing page templates (no coding required). Start by choosing a template from our template library:

convertkit landing page templates
ConvertKit has over 50 templates to choose from, helping you whip together an attractive landing page to convince people to join your challenge.

From there, customize the text, change the colors to match your brand’s color palette, and upload your own imagery. Each landing page you create in ConvertKit receives a unique URL you can then use to promote your challenge.

Email sequence

To keep participants engaged during your challenge, they need consistent emails from you. But manually sending out emails is a major time suck, and the purpose of a challenge is to help you grow your business without piling more work onto your plate.

To ensure participants receive everything they need to complete your challenge, schedule your emails ahead of time with ConvertKit. Use our visual automation templates (or build your own automation) to automate your challenge and ensure participants get the content they need on the right days!

We created an email list challenge automation you can use to automate your challenge content. The automation includes space to input your email sequence and emails to promote your paid offerings after participants finish the challenge.

convertkit email challenge automation

Get the automation template

Supplemental content

Along with your emails, you can occasionally send supplemental content like videos, PDF worksheets, printables, or voice recordings to help participants complete each task. The added content can engage participants so they don’t get bored and fall off the wagon before completing your challenge.

Just make sure your added content isn’t too much for your audience. As self-care coach Kate Hesse notes, the Zoom calls she used to offer to her busy audience ended up being overwhelming:

Make sure the content you're offering is bite-size! I offered live Zoom calls in addition to the daily challenge assignment, and for most participants, it was just too much.

I'm getting ready to relaunch and will be paring things down so participants can really focus on the daily challenge assignments without adding additional overwhelm.

-Kate Hesse

Step 5: Choose whether your challenge will be evergreen or a limited-time offer

Before you officially launch, you first need to determine if your challenge will be evergreen or only available during specific days of the year.

Kate Hesse says that, for her, making her challenge available during specific dates encourages people to sign up:

Since people signing up for the challenge are doing it because they haven't yet made self-care a priority, I didn't want to give them the option to push [their self care] further down their to-do list.

If you know the content is evergreen, it's a lot easier to put it off until “someday”, which often becomes never. I also strongly encourage participants to join with an accountability buddy. If this was evergreen and your friend took a few extra days to join, you wouldn't actually be going through the content together.

-Kate Hesse

Coach Nadia Colburn has grown her email list to over 10,000 subscribers from her challenge. She chooses to combine evergreen with along with specific dates:

I offer the challenge as an evergreen challenge that people can find through Facebook ads and as a synchronous challenge to people on my email list once or twice a year.

-Nadia Colburn

How you choose to format your challenge is entirely up to you. Feel free to experiment to see which option brings the most engagement!

Step 6: Launch and promote your newest email challenge

The time has finally arrived to launch your challenge and share it with your audience! Here are some ideas to make the most of your launch:

  • Email your email list a link to your challenge’s landing page so they can sign up for your challenge.
  • Run paid ads (like Facebook ads) to attract more challenge participants.
  • Encourage challenge participants to invite friends. Challenges are more fun when you have a friend!
  • Add a banner to your website linking to your challenge’s landing page.
  • Add your landing page link to your social media accounts so people who aren’t on your email list can easily sign up.
  • Go live on social media the day of your challenge to encourage any last-minute signups.

Deliver an exciting and engaging email list challenge

The real magic of email challenges is how rewarding they are for both creators and participants. Creators get to help participants reach their goals, and participants get the chance to overcome a challenge with the help of an expert.

No matter what niche you're in, you can create an email list challenge that engages your audience and grows your email list!

Ready to add email list challenges to your toolbelt? Sign up for your free ConvertKit trial to automate (and host!) your next email list challenge!

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Dana Nicole

Dana is a freelance writer who works closely with B2B SaaS brands to create content people enjoy reading. When she’s not working, you’ll find her sipping on a warm cup of tea and reading a good book (the scarier, the better). See what she’s up to at www.dananicoledesigns.com

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