12 min read
As a full-time freelance writer, my newsletter is all about teaching what I know, having a place to write in my own voice, and most importantly: building personal connections with my subscribers.
This has been my mission since I started sending it back in 2015. I’ve been working to expand and grow my list of newsletter subscribers all along the way, but there’s an issue I keep bumping into:
Most of the email list growth advice out there doesn’t really work for creators with personal newsletters.
Much of the advice out there is more sales-oriented and aimed at companies and individuals promoting physical products, courses, digital materials etc.
What’s more: It’s almost always lacking that human, one-to-one touch that I pride my newsletter on having. Instead, it feels cold, impersonal, and sometimes quite pushy—nearing the verge of spammy.
That’s not me. I’m not a #GrowthHacker. I’m not ever going to be someone who’s trying to 10X my revenue or achieve “hockey stick growth.” I’m not on YouTube preaching the hustle gospel or talking about how I got a Lamborghini. Maybe it’s the Midwesterner in me, but I much prefer a more humble, toned down approach to growth across all aspects of my business, including my newsletter.
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That’s why one of the breakout sessions I attended while at SumoCon in 2017 really spoke to me. It was led by ConvertKit’s founder, Nathan Barry. He wasn’t shy about sharing numbers, growth statistics, and future-facing goals for the company. He was candid while answering questions and gave a peek inside his company’s culture. I also loved their brand motto: “Teach everything you know.”
When it came time for me to reevaluate my email platform recently, that motto was top-of-mind. I needed a tool that was better suited to my needs, that would help me increase my newsletter subscribers, and that also aligned with my personal values.
Here’s why ConvertKit ticked all those boxes.
Before we get to the how, let’s first dive into the why. As in, why I decided to leave Mailchimp and move over to ConvertKit.
There were several reasons, and all of them were important factors in my final decision.
Since Mailchimp has increasingly widened its audience over the years, I wanted an email platform built just for folks like me: A creator with a personal newsletter. ConvertKit was exactly that, even down to my feature and functionality needs.
Specifically, I liked that ConvertKit has better UX, more in-depth campaign reporting, and deeper deliverability insights with the Creator Pro plan. It also was simpler to use than Mailchimp and had overall better user experience on the back end, which meant fewer headaches as I worked to write and send my bi-monthly newsletter as well as a few automated campaigns.
As my list has outgrown the subscriber limits of most email marketing platforms’ free account range, I’ve had to think more seriously about my financial investment into email. If I’m going to pay monthly to send out my newsletters, I want to be sure I’m investing wisely.
Now, I know that it’s pretty easy to recoup the cost of email marketing software: Litmus data shows that for every $1 creators spend on email, they make an average $38 in revenue. So if I can book a few new projects, sell a few digital products, or get a few signups to training sessions, I can easily cover those costs.
But when I did a side-by-side comparison of Mailchimp vs. ConvertKit based on my subscriber count, the winner was clear: Mailchimp was more expensive than ConvertKit (plus, ConvertKit offered the advantages I’ve already outlined above.
The price point was the final straw that made switching to ConvertKit a no-brainer.
Moving my subscribers over to ConvertKit made me a little nervous. I didn’t want to mess anything up or lose the subscribers I’d worked so hard to earn over the past five years as I got them migrated from point A to B. However, I was able to rest easy when I found out ConvertKit offers done-for-you migrations where they’ll actually move your subscribers over for you.
I was also fortunate to get linked up with Jason Resnick who is a PRO at all things ConvertKit and helped make sure I optimized my setup there, got a welcome sequence all set up and ready to go, and helped me establish my *first ever* email funnels to promote my digital writing resources.
The whole process took about three days and was completely painless. I was able to get familiar with the new interface by just clicking around and exploring the Knowledge Base resources ConvertKit provides for new users.
So here’s the fun part: Let’s get into the email campaign metrics I’ve seen since switching email platforms, shall we?
On Mailchimp, my open rates averaged about 40% for the last year and click rate about 7%. Good, not great. This is my report from Mailchimp showing my historical average email campaign performance:
This, in contrast, is my report from ConvertKit, showing the performance of my new welcome email sequence. Notice the ~75% open rate, the ~34% click rate, and the fact that I had only two unsubscribes out of 420 sends.
It’s also important to know that I hadn’t been using a welcome sequence with MailChimp. New subscribers simply got a follow-up thank you email telling them to expect my next newsletter soon.
As part of my migration to ConvertKit, I knew I wanted to do a better job at welcoming new subscribers, educating them about me and what to expect from my newsletters, and sharing a few helpful (free) resources right off the bat.
As part of this, I asked new subscribers a few questions in the welcome sequence and nudged them to reply to my emails so I could gather important insights like:
Not only does this data help me get a more accurate view of my subscribers and their unique needs/wants, but it starts a dialogue between us in the inbox. I work hard to respond to every single one of these replies. Added bonus: Having subscribers reply to my emails is good news for my deliverability rates.
It’s still fairly early to report back on the big-picture performance of my newsletter broadcasts as I only send them out every other week, but I can share some of the cumulative reporting insights from the first three I’ve sent so far:
Again, you’ll notice that both of these engagement metrics are significantly higher since switching to ConvertKit (which makes me very, very happy.)
Right now I have about 3,000 active subscribers, but I’m always working to increase that number in non-spammy ways. Here are the plans, tools, and strategies I’m using to fuel my newsletter list growth (that you can try out, too.)
With ConvertKit’s Creator Pro account comes a free Sparkloop account, which is an incentivizing referral tool that allows my subscribers to earn rewards for referring signups to my newsletter. There are different tiers of rewards I’ve implemented based on the number of successful referrals a subscriber sends my way. This is the newest tactic I’ve implemented, so while I don’t have any reporting data to share just yet, I’m interested to see how effective this tool is for incentivizing more word-of-mouth signups.
Building on the “teach everything you know” mentality, this year I’ve been doing once-per-month live video sessions via Crowdcast. Sometimes these are 60-minute lessons where I’ll talk about a specific topic, while other times they’re more open-ended Q&As.
I’ve experimented with both paid and free versions of these, and because my Crowdcast account is integrated with my ConvertKit account, anyone who signs up for these sessions gets asked if they’d like to opt-into my regular, bi-weekly content.
This has been a nice added source of revenue as well as good practice for my ability to teach on-screen. It’s also a great opportunity for subscribers to see me face-to-face and ask questions in real-time, which again helps foster a deeper connection between us.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the lead magnet concept (i.e. offering up a free ebook, resource, etc. in exchange for a subscriber’s email address.) The reason: Working as a full-time content marketer, I suppose I’m a bit jaded by the concept. Even so, I’ve decided to put my personal stance on the issue aside and at least give this tried-and-tested list growth tactic a try.
Of course, I had to do it my own way. Rather than having a crazy pop-up on every page of my website that disrupts a site visitor’s visit, I instead opted to only put them in a few places with strict rules for when they display.
A relevant lead magnet is prompted to appear on my ConvertKit Commerce digital product pages only when a visitor scrolls 75% of the way down the page. My theory is that if they’ve made it that far scanning, they might be curious enough to bite at a helpful free resource like an ebook.
I’ve included an opt-in form at the end of every post that’s segmented based on the topic of the blog. So, for example: If a visitor reads a post from me on writing tips, they’ll be prompted to opt-in to my newsletter with writing tips. If it’s a freelancing-related topic, they’ll be prompted to opt-in to my newsletter for more freelancing insights. This approach helps me keep my future offers and content super relevant to the reader’s interests.
This prompts at the bottom of the screen for new site visitors (once clicked out of, it won’t display again to that user for 30 days.)
The other main way I’m working to grow my list is by leveraging my growing following on Twitter. By regularly sharing free tips and insights on topics related to my newsletter there (including long-form threads), I’ve been slowly but surely increasing my newsletter subscribers and building my name as a person who “gets” writing.
To wrap things up, I want to step back and look at the zoomed out view of what I hope to accomplish with this newsletter.
For me, the real goal of my newsletter is not about driving sales, positioning myself as the master of freelance writing, or amassing a huge following. Don’t get me wrong: Those things would all be great, but they’re not why I’ve stuck with this for so many years now.
Instead, I write this newsletter because I want to create a thriving community of people who care about becoming better writers and running more successful freelance businesses. I want to have a sense of rapport with my readers, and I want them to know they can trust the advice and lessons I share. I want to create something of value in my own writing voice with all of its quirks and oddities.
You can do this, too. If you haven’t yet, be sure to sign up for a free ConvertKit account of your own and see how easy it is to start writing and sending newsletters that help you build an audience of devoted friends and fans.