Once you’ve figured out how you’re going to build your list, the next step in The Email Marketing Strategy That Works is onboarding subscribers with a series of emails designed to provide value and get them hooked.

Onboarding Subscribers: The Basics

Habit-forming is crucial when onboarding subscribers, which is why most newsletters are sent out at the same time of day, week or month. First impressions will make all the difference in determining whether your readers will look forward to your emails or start building the habit of ignoring them.

To ensure everyone gets a high-quality first impression of your newsletter, you’ll send everyone the same introductory series of emails with your best content. If you remember where I left off in my post about opt-in forms, I encouraged you to automate an email asking users to confirm their subscription before officially signing them up. This is the next step.

But first, let’s write your onboarding emails!

These are the basic emails every onboarding series should have to build a subscriber habit of opening and reading your awesome emails.

Welcome Email

After a user fills out an opt-in form, checks their email and confirms their subscription, that “confirm” click should trigger to things: first, it should take the reader to a welcome landing page that tells them their subscription has been confirmed, and second, it should trigger your welcome email to be sent.

The welcome email’s mission is to set a subscriber’s expectations for what’s to come. It’s kind of like the appetizer to the main course: it should be small and satisfying, but make them look forward to the entree (your first newsletter email). Here’s a template you can use:

Hi [first name of subscriber],

Thank you so much for signing up for my newsletter. It means a lot to me that you’re letting me into your inbox [insert frequency of newsletter, I recommend “every week”].

[This part is optional, but if you offered an incentive like an ebook, this is where you’d link to it or tell them it’s attached to the email, for example, “As promised, here’s your free guide to gaining 100 new subscribers in 30 days. I can’t wait to hear how it works for you.”]

I’m looking forward to providing you with [here’s where you’ll restate the unique value proposition and benefits of your newsletter]. If you ever have questions or topics you’d like me to cover in the newsletter, please contact me [this would link to your contact page] anytime.

You’ll receive your first newsletter tomorrow, and I’m really excited for you to read it!

Until then!

[Your name]

PS. [If you have a blog post with an awesome tip, you could link to it here. You’d be surprised how many people read the PS. more than the body of emails!]

Newsletter #1

Don’t be nervous… but this first newsletter is important! The best way to prove the value you’ve been promising is to deliver, but what does that look like?

My favorite strategy comes from Pat Flynn* who talks about the importance of nabbing a “5 minute win” for your readers in the first email. If you can give them a small task that will give them immediate results (within five minutes of starting the task), that’s a 5 minute win. Links to free resources that will save them time? 5 minute win. Templates they can use right away? 5 minute win.

You get the picture. The important thing is to think up a 5 minute win that’s related to your niche and the reason they signed up for your newsletter in the first place.

Here’s a 5 minute win I’ll give you right now. When you pick your newsletter topic, you can test your awesome subject line using these three free tools:

  • Co.Schedule Headline Analyzer helps you optimize your headlines for clickability. And they’re free!
  • SubjectLine.com grades your email subject lines to optimize your open rates. For free.
  • Adestra was a pretty cool find. It’s a keyword checker to give you email data for your specific industry and estimates the email open rate and click rate based on the keyword and industry selected. Also: free!

These count as a 5 minute win because if you’re reading this post, you’re probably interested in ways to write the best subject lines for your email marketing efforts. We just haven’t gotten to that part yet. 😉 Try to think about your audience the same way: what do they read on your site? what problems are they trying to solve? how can you make their lives a little easier?

The more you brainstorm those questions, the more “5 minute win” ideas you’ll have.

Newsletter #2

Just to be absolutely sure, this email should also deliver a second 5 minute win for the reader. That way, in the first two emails your readers have been delighted with a valuable tool or piece of advice to help them toward their goals and were able to see it work.

Again, remember to keep this 5 minute win related to the overall goal of your newsletter and the type of value you want to provide for readers.

Newsletter #3 (and 4 and 5 if needed)

Not every email will have a 5 minute win, and that’s okay! Sometimes your emails will need to address the latest news or big current events happening in your niche, and if your readers see you as an expert in that topic, they’ll want to read what you think. Newsletters 3, 4 and 5 are an important part of showing foundational knowledge in your niche or topic of expertise. For example:

  • Create a brief “state of the union” style email that focuses on your niche or topic area. You’ll need to keep a close eye on an email like this and occasionally update it when things shift in your industry.
  • Answer the “biggest question” people had about your niche/topic for the previous calendar year. Be sure to point to the research that proved this was the biggest question. Update this type of automated email on an annual basis.
  • Present a “reframe” or a new way of looking at your industry to show that your newsletter offers a fresh take on at old topic.

Many businesses offer more than one big service, so if you’re using email marketing for your business, you may need a few of these foundational emails to share knowledge in these different areas while onboarding subscribers. For example, if you’re an agency that offers inbound marketing and web design services, you should probably touch on the foundation of those topics in separate emails.

Foundation emails sound big, but generally you can cut them down by linking to relevant blog posts or ebook guides for further reading. Try to keep your emails under 500 words as a rule.

The Feedback Newsletter

By now you’ve delivered quick wins and built some credibility in your niche or topic area while onboarding subscribers. Now it’s time to give the mic back to your subscribers to gather a little feedback. There may be questions that have popped up for them when they were reading one of your foundational emails that they’d like you to cover, and if you respond to let them know you’ll address their question soon, they’ll eagerly keep reading.

As a writer, the feedback email allows you to perpetually learn about new questions that your readers care about, and will keep your emails relevant and useful to them.

Now let’s plug your emails into automation!

In one of my previous posts, I talked about setting up opt-in forms and email automation using ConvertKit. Automation tools like that one, (or Aweber, MailChimp, Hubspot, etc. there are many to choose from), are necessary for creating a smart system for onboarding subscribers. This system is sometimes referred to as an “email drip,” “automation series” or “email course” which all mean a number of emails presented in order over a predetermined period of time.

Below is an email tutorial for how to do this with ConvertKit. There are also videos available online for Aweber, MailChimp and Hubspot.

How to Create an Email Course for Onboarding Subscribers with ConvertKit

You can make an onboarding sequence in Aweber as well, but they call them “Welcome Campaigns.” Here’s a video on how to make those.

Back to the Regularly Scheduled Newsletter

After the onboarding series has ended, your automation tools should funnel those subscribers into your main newsletter database. By this point they will have built a habit of opening and reading your emails and will be less likely to lose interest if the first email they encounter in the current stream doesn’t speak to them.

Congratulations! By onboarding subscribers, you’ve taken the first step toward building loyalty with your readers. Now keep up the good work and continue sending outstanding emails on a consistent basis. If you need help with that, it’s the topic of my next post. Go ahead and read “Email Content Ideas That Reader Love” right now!

*Note: An excellent guide for creating an onboarding series was penned by Pat Flynn a few years ago. After trying out his strategy a few times for different clients over the years, I found myself making quite a few modifications to it, which is why I decided to write this entry rather than only linking to his. You are more than welcome to compare and contrast, though!