How artist Shelby Abrahamsen built an email list with 60,000+ subscribers using lead magnets and automations

Case study Email Marketing
8 min read
In this Article

Being creative as an adult is hard. It feels like an indulgence, or that it’s difficult to squeeze into grown-up responsibilities.

This is what Shelby Abrahamsen saw in many adults—and herself. She thought that finding the key to productivity would lead to having enough time for creativity. But Abrahamsen gradually discovered that planning and creativity go hand in hand and that when planning is fun, she was more productive.

Shelby is the creator and writer behind Little Coffee Fox, where she helps her audience grow their artistic skills and add creativity to their lives through guides, templates, printables, worksheets, and webinars. Her most recent project is Foxsy, an online learning community designed to help people and online creators come together to expand their creativity.

“Our main goal is to connect with our readers so they can realize they can be creative and that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We want them to have everything they need to start their creative journey on our website,” explains Shelby.

Together with her husband Jon, she grew Little Coffee Fox to more than 60,000 email subscribers. Their emails are personalized based on reader preferences and powered by ConvertKit’s segmentation, sequences, and visual automations.

little coffee fox case study
Little Coffee Fox’ subscriber growth.

“Beyond our website, our email list is our most valuable asset,” says Jon. Here’s how they grow that email list and use it to connect with their audience.

#1: Focus on three core lead magnet types

When readers land on the Little Coffee Fox website, they can become subscribers through one of three core lead magnets: webinars, email courses, and a resource library.

Shelby runs several webinars each month and lists them on the Free Classes page. “Our webinars are on the more time-consuming side when it comes to setup and delivery, but they do a great job providing value and converting users,” says Jon.

little coffee fox case study
The webinar page. Image via Little Coffee Fox.

The second lead magnet type Shelby uses are free email courses. They’re based on key verticals on the Little Coffee Fox website: planning, hand lettering, and watercoloring.

Our core philosophy is to make our free email courses so good that someone would be willing to pay for them. If a subscriber comes in for lettering, we want them to be able to 100% start lettering right when they’re done with the email course.

– Jon

little coffee fox case study
Opt-in form for the free email course on planning. Image via Little Coffee Fox.

Shelby and Jon want their emails to deliver actual value because even though they’re free, people ‘pay’ for this content with their email address.

Email subscribers give you access to their life. They’re saying, ‘I want to hear from you. I see value in you.’ And you have to respect that.

-Shelby

The third key lead magnet is the resource library. It’s the oldest, most stable, and overall most successful lead magnet on Little Coffee Fox.

little coffee fox case study
Landing page for the resource library. Image via Little Coffee Fox.

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Subscribers get a password for instant access to 100+ printables and worksheets. The library is updated every month—an activity Shelby and Jon consider crucial.

The resource library is almost like a lead magnet with an extra step, because the subscriber gave you their email for that password, but it’s almost tentative at that point. If you want them to stay, you really have to make an effort to show the value you offer beyond the freebies in the library.

-Jon

#2: Send a personalized welcome email

The first email that lands in a new subscriber’s inbox is a welcome email from Shelby. In it, Shelby shares her journey, her struggles with art, and how she overcame them. It’s long and personal:

little coffee fox welcome email
Little Coffee Fox welcome email.

I tell my subscribers why I’m here, so I want to hear why they’re here. And so many reply to us, from teenagers to people in their seventies. It shows us that creativity and art affect so many different people in many ways.

-Shelby

Jon adds, “When you’re trying to present yourself as an expert, there’s a tendency to act like you’ve always been one. One thing Shelby does so well is talk about how she’s fallen on her face and stopped doing art for a while, but that was okay because she eventually got back into it.”

Shelby’s subscribers receive variations of welcome sequences based on the lead magnet and topic they signed up through.

We use our welcome sequences to talk about things that tend to stop people from either beginning or continuing with their art, rather than the actual teaching of art itself.

-Jon

After completing the welcome sequence, subscribers go into an evergreen newsletter sequence—a forever funnel, as Shelby and Jon call it, which they learned from a course by Matt Molen.

little coffee fox case study
The evergreen newsletter sequence Little Coffee Fox subscribers receive.

Grab an evergreen newsletter automation

Little Coffee Fox’s forever funnel has 68 emails and goes out to subscribers every Saturday. The evergreen approach to newsletters came with a mindset shift:

We realized that most people don’t know or care about the order in which things were posted. You can send your favorite and most popular articles first; they don’t have to be recent. Some of the first emails people receive in the forever funnel are our articles from years ago.

-Shelby

This alleviates a lot of the stress that comes with thinking an audience will go cold when you don’t create a new email every week.

Once we finally sat down and committed to creating the forever funnel, it has been a huge pressure off of me as a content creator. It’s better for the audience, too, because we can take them on a very specific journey we created. And when we create new stuff, we can write new emails and plop them in where they make the most sense in the forever sequence instead of at the end.

-Shelby

#3: Use segmentation that drives sales

Subscribers get a different experience in the forever funnel based on the segment they belong to.

If they haven’t indicated they’re interested in watercoloring, we leave that out of their forever sequence, with one exception. We’ll occasionally float watercoloring articles to see if their interests have changed. If they start interacting with that stuff, they’re then segmented into a little bit more of watercolor content.

-Jon

This makes it easy to recommend relevant paid products on Little Coffee Fox, including stickers, digital courses, workbooks, and original art.

When subscribers purchase a product that the forever funnel pitches, they’re segmented out of that specific email, as well as from sales emails sent outside the forever funnel. “The ability to segment out people who’ve purchased something so they’re not getting hammered with what we’re selling at the time, that’s really nice,” adds Shelby.

Shelby and Jon also use automation to recommend relevant products based on purchases:

When a subscriber goes through a sales funnel, especially if they purchase, they’re offered order bumps and upsells. We have an automation that once they exit that sequence, if they didn’t purchase the upsell or the order bump, they get a follow-up email sequence that talks about those additional products.

-Jon

Email drives more than 80% of all sales on Little Coffee Fox. Their sales emails range from soft pitches based on pain points to those that cover product details, benefits, and FAQs.

The best part? Pitching and selling isn’t a struggle for Shelby and Jon.

The great thing about approaching your free content with a value proposition in mind, and making sure you're providing value, especially when that content is largely based off of your paid products, is that it makes the sales pitch much easier, because it makes that sales pitch a very natural progression on what you've already been talking about.

-Jon

Use lead magnets and visual automations in ConvertKit to build a profitable email list

Lead magnets that are so good that someone would pay for them—but doesn’t have to—are the best place to start growing an engaged, loyal email list.

From there, use tools like sequences and visual automations to deliver the right content at the right time. ConvertKit lets you set up triggers like link clicks, tags, purchases, and more.

Start by grabbing templates for landing pages and visual automations with a free 14-day trial.

Own the relationship with your audience

ConvertKit helps you build a relationship with your followers and own that connection you make with them through your email list.

Start a free 14-day ConvertKit trial

Marijana Kay

Marijana Kay is a freelance writer for leading B2B SaaS companies. She uses data-backed, actionable content to help them hit and exceed their growth goals. In her spare time, she collects books and logs running miles.

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