How to Make Money with a Small List: Sketchnotes

Customer Stories Monetize Your List

Do you think you have to gain a certain number of subscribers before selling a product? What’s the number?




I thought that way for a long time, that I needed to hit a vague number of subscribers before selling something. One thing I’ve learned in my time at  ConvertKit though is there is no magic number of subscribers you have to achieve before creating a product and selling it!

You can make money with a small list at the beginning

During the last few months I’ve shared how I’m creating content and building a list for sketchnotes. I made the pivot at the beginning of 2016, and now at the end of the year I created a course to sell. My only regret is that it took me 11 months to start selling!

This month, I’m going to show you how I created the online course, decided on content, targeted customers using ConvertKit automations, and had a 48% conversion rate in my private launch.

First, here’s my subscriber update for November: 447

So what can you do with less than 500 subscribers? When it comes to making money with your blog, the first step is covering expenses. Sure, it can be passion project for a couple years, but after a while those costs add up if you’re not bringing any money in.

Here are my expenses:

Product & Cost (per month)

ConvertKit = $29

Web Hosting & Domains = $11

Wistia = $25

Total = $65/month, $780/year

A question I always ask myself with a tool (or really anything) is “will this product or service pay for itself?”. I have to know using it helps me make more money because of what it allows me to do.

If you focus only on ConvertKit, it cost $348/year for the 1k plan. So does ConvertKit help you make that back over the course of the year? Of course I believe it does, but I’m biased. Let me show you the blueprint for how I’ve used ConvertKit to automate the value delivery and sales pitch for my online course.

Funnel Entry: The Free Email Course

This blog has a ton of examples on email course building, so I won’t hang here too much. New subscribers all receive my sketchnote starter lessons, a free 5 email mini-course. I use a simple ConvertKit landing page at, and it delivers each day for 5 days.

In email 4, there is a soft pitch at the end to share the course. I have a link trigger set there to tag anyone who clicks as interested. At the end of the course, all subscribers are added to two sequences in ConvertKit with an automation. One is a dedicated pitch sequence, the other are my “newsletters”.

Here’s a look:

Trigger and Action - Sketchnotes

The Pitch Funnel

In the pitch sequence, the first email is set to go out three days after the rule triggers, which is one week after their initial opt-in. In another automation wonder, if a subscriber bought the course from that initial soft pitch, they are excluded from the pitch sequence completely. No one likes to be sold on something they already purchased.

Here’s the rule setup in ConvertKit:

The Pitch Funnel - Sketchnotes

With this funnel blueprint, you can automate any type of product or course, it’s just a matter of creating the content. You can be more elaborate with your funnels, but if you’re just starting out or don’t have a ton of time (like me), this is what you should be doing.

Early sales

To first launch my course, I started adding link trigger hints at the bottom of my newsletters to see who was interested. After two weeks, I had a tag of 25 people that expressed interest in the course. This week I sent them a sales email with a link to buy the course.

Within the first 24 hours, 12 people had purchased the course at the early bird price of $19, netting me $228 in the first day! Those 25 people were the most interested, but they’re only about 5% of my overall list.

A 48% conversion isn’t going to last, but if you drop it down to a normal 10%, it could be an additional 40 buyers at $29 each. If true, that’s $1,160 and my expenses are covered! ConvertKit has paid for itself many times over.

Want to see the email I sent? Here's the direct link (you can even snag a discounted spot yourself).

Automations for freelancers & consultants

The other type of sales funnel I have set up is just for people who want to hire me to create sketchnotes. If you’re a web designer, illustrator, coach, photographer, anyone who works with clients, you should steal this!

We can call it a nurture funnel instead, but the pitch to hire you is still there, only automated. I still use a ConvertKit form to gather their email address and name, and the sequence kicks off.

I already know the person is interested, so I’m giving them the link to book me in each email. I use Typeform to gather the information needed to begin the project, and after the client finishes in Typeform I use Zapier to tag him or her as a client in ConvertKit.

Now I don’t have to spend as much time qualifying leads, and the potential clients have a better feel for my work before they book my service. Win-win!

Why this matters early

My Dad wants to start a blog, so we were talking about what it would look like if he had a 5 year runway to becoming profitable. I was emphatic that he needed to have a product or course early, because it lays the foundation for profitable blogging in the long run. One of the biggest mistakes I made early was to dismiss creating a product until I had built more authority. I should have had something to sell.

Remember, even basic web hosting and the smallest plan on ConvertKit will still run you close to $500 in a year. You should be committed to at least making that back. Having a funnel in place for 100 people will pay dividends when you reach 1000, 5000, and 10,000 subscribers!

A quick note on affiliate offers & ad traffic: Yes, these can also be a source of early revenue, but a professional blogger should not rely on them. Why? Because you don’t control them. Affiliates pull offers, sponsored posts aren’t continued, Google changes keyword pricing and AdSense revenue, then you’re stuck. You should build a business to control your own revenue streams.

My biggest lesson from working with professional bloggers

I spent most of my first year at ConvertKit helping our largest customers migrate from their old service over to ConvertKit. I was able to study and learn from their own funnels and how different products and courses were pitched. Some were elaborate, some were simple, but the majority of them had one thing in common.

They weren’t afraid to sell early

Sometimes it was in the very first email, with a link to buy their book or mini-course. But the first pitch was made was within one week or just a few emails. It’s not wrong to sell something you’ve created. We forget that people are being sold all day, and it’s actually nice to have sales wrapped around tons of value for your topic. Most things we encounter each day are just sales with little to no value, you are providing 90% value with a dash of sales.

Do. Not. Feel. Bad.

Your first product

If creating an online course seems overwhelming right now, and you want to begin with a small product, that’s exactly what I did! My first product was a short ebook about creating sketchnotes at conferences, followed by a sticker pack. To help, I came up with 6 product types for bloggers you can download below. Go through it to see which type of product can work for you early, and then scale up from there! You’ll also receive an additional monthly lesson from me about how to build and scale your business from the ground up.

Click here to get the Product PDF

Thanks so much for joining me on this case study, I hope you’re seeing what is possible in your business from a very early stage, and how ConvertKit can help you be successful.

Matt Ragland

Matt is a coach at heart, so he loves helping people build their audience and business with ConvertKit. Matt leads Onboarding and Training to help people get started and comfortable right away. He lives with his wife, son, and chocolate lab in Nashville. You should check out his vlog at

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