Just last week, in preparation for our re-launch of Traction, we launchedTraction Course, a free 14-day email course that shows you how to double your Facebook ad ROI, get more Twitter followers, and improve your email open rates by 30%+.
And, in just a week, we’ve grown our email list by nearly 50%, adding 3,000+ subscribers that we can now tell about the re-launch of the book.
And, we did all of this by essentially writing 7 very in-depth blog posts.
Now, how did we capture this many leads?
Simple. We created a free email course.
The first time I created an email course, we acquired more than 12,000 emails without any paid marketing or guest blogging. My partner Nat and I pulled together Programming for Marketers in just a few weeks to teach marketers basic technical skills, and we quickly built a relatively large following.
We’re not the only ones using this tactic to reach thousands of potential customers. Other smart marketers like Noah Kagan are doing the same thing, and collecting tens of thousands of leads for their efforts. In Noah’s case, he’s done this twice in the last year with email1k.com and traffic1m.com:
Creating an email course is far more valuable than blogging or guest posting. Both strategies can work, but it takes ages to create a blog with any kind of following, and even longer to get a guest post on a popular blog (unless you know the blog owner). By creating an email course, you can save months of time and effort and just jump to the fun part — having an audience that cares about what you’re teaching.
Personally, I also prefer this strategy to paid advertising. Though paid acquisition can work wonders, it can be expensive. Even if we had a high-forming funnel that led to email signups for $1 a pop, that’s still $3,000. That’s money I’d rather not spend.
In this post, I’m going to show you how you can take advantage of this strategy. By the end of this post, you’ll know everything you need to create your own email course and capture thousands of leads.
Creating Your Free Email Course
The first (and most important) step to creating your free email course is coming up with a unique angle. What concrete result can you promise people that will get them to sign up?
For example, with Email1k Noah promises to double your email list, all for free. Traffic1m is all about getting your first million visitors. Programming for Marketers shows you how to become a technical marketer. If you’re a marketer or site owner, each of those sound really enticing… even more so when you can get access to this information for the price of your email address.
So, back to you. What concrete results can you deliver with a free email course? Can you cut churn in half? Get 10,000 followers on Instagram? Show others how to build the coolest origami swans you’ve ever seen?
What can you concretely deliver to your audience that they’d love to learn?
Honestly, this is something I should have done better with Traction Course. Rather than promising 7 lessons that would help someone get “traction”, I should have positioned it in more concrete terms… like “take this course to double your lead volume.”
If you’re grasping for ideas, it may be helpful to think about what’s missing that people in your industry repeatedly ask about. What knowledge gaps are out there that you can help address with a free email course? For example, if you’re Startup Grind, I’d imagine an email course on raising money could do well. Or, one on how to leverage AngelList to raise money for your startup, one on building a local startup ecosystem… the possibilities are endless.
Results for popular blog posts around startup traction
But, enough about that. If you’re still struggling to come up with ideas, simply use Buzzsumo to find blog posts in your industry that have been shared the most over the last 6–12 months. If you find a few recurrent themes in there, that’s a good candidate topic to do a course about.
Creating Your Landing Page
Now that you have a topic you want to create a free email course on, it’s time to create your landing page. I’d recommend buying a domain related to the subject matter you’re going to teach. When you have your own domain, it makes the email course seem like something that stands on its own and has value outside of the product or service you’re promoting. If you can, try to choose a domain that is likely to rank well organically in Google.
Once you have a domain chosen, it’s time to put up a landing page! For Programming for Marketers, we created our own custom theme, which took a long time but gave us some additional flexibility. If you know how to edit a bootstrap template, this might be a good way to go. If not, or if you don’t know what the previous sentence means, I’d suggest using Instapage.
We used Instapage for Traction Course and got a landing page up in just over an hour. They have a bunch of pre-built templates that make spinning up a site easy, which was important as we didn’t have time to make our own theme.
There are a few key things you want to include on your landing page:
- Big, bold headline with a promise of what a potential subscriber will learn
- A form to capture email addresses
- 1–2 paragraphs about what the course is and why people should want to sign up. See how I did this with Programming for Marketers, and how Noah did the same with Traffic1M
- A table of contents to help entice anyone with last minute hesitations
- A paragraph or two about who you are, and why you’re the right person to be teaching this subject
- Close with one more email capture field
That’s it! With just these 6 elements, you should be able to create a dead simple landing page in just under an hour. Just be sure to connect your email capture fields with whatever email marketing tool you use, and add each subscriber to an email list you have specifically for course subscribers.
Setting Up Your Email Course
Once you have a landing page and an email list set up, it’s go time!
Well, almost. First, you have to write up some freakishly good content that your new subscribers will get when they sign up for the course.
This is the hardest part of the entire course creation process. If the content you write isn’t good (or, even worse, if it’s actively bad), you’re just exposing yourself to lots of people who think your stuff sucks, and form a bad impression of your brand.
That said, there are a few ways you can approach the content creation process. You can…
- Write all of the content yourself, like we did for Traction Course
- Have others write killer content for you, like Noah did with Traffic1m
- Write one of the 7–14 lessons yourself, launch your free email course, see how many people sign up… and then scramble to write the other 6 lessons in 2 days each. This is what we did with Programming for Marketers 🙂
Each of these approaches have their advantages and drawbacks. If you’re unsure whether or not your email course topic is one that’s interesting to a large enough group of people, try method #3 and just test a landing page to a free email course. If enough people sign up to make it worthwhile, then hustle and write the remaining lessons. If not, just shut the course down.
Or, if you have a bunch of relationships with people who’ve been successful in the topic area you’re covering, #2 could be the easiest (and fastest) way to go. However you do it, just make sure you have 7–14 lessons of really, really good content ready to go when you launch your email course.
To set this up, we simply create a new Mailchimp automation workflow that looks something like this:
Once you have your content written, you’re going to want to put that content into an automation (or drip) campaign. What this means is that, when someone joins your free email course list, they’re automatically placed into an email series that sends them the next lesson in the sequence every 1–3 days. We use Mailchimp’s automation feature for this, and it works really well: just write up the emails and load them into Mailchimp’s automation workflow, then select the time intervals you want each new lesson to trigger. In our case, we set it up so that a new lesson would go out 2 days after the previous email was sent.
As you can see, with this workflow we have our first email (with a lesson about PR hacking) go out immediately after a subscriber signs up for our Traction course.
Then, an hour later, we send a welcome email to everyone that signed up. This email is special, and one of the best hacks I’ve found to increase the number of people signed up for your email course.
See that 2nd email you get when you sign up for the email course? It looks something like this:
This welcome email has a little trick. When you click on that link towards the bottom of the email, it pre-populates a message you can forward to a friend or colleague, like so:
Pretty neat, huh?
If you want to learn how we did this, sign up for Traction Course where we show you how 🙂
Between Traction Course and Programming for Marketers, we’ve seen more than 20% of people take us up on this email forwarding hack, and share the course with their friends. Then their friends get the same email, share with their friends… and the email course keeps growing!
After that, we automatically send out a new lesson every 2 days, as you can see below.
To a course subscriber, they get an email every 2 days with a hot new lesson. To us, we just set up the automation sequence once that will run forever. Pretty neat!
Setting up the emails so they drip out like this is also useful, as it gives your readers time to actually implement what each lesson covers.
How to Market Your Email Course
Now you have a topic, a landing page, and some amazing content ready to go. Now it’s time for arguably the most important part of this whole process…
The hardest part about creating a successful email course is getting people to sign up.
Fortunately, there’s something about email courses that cause them to do better than most blog posts or whitepapers on similar subject. Since they stand alone, you can post these standalone course pages to sites like Product Hunt, Reddit and GrowthHackers (where we promoted each of our courses).
In our case, we promoted Traction Course on Product Hunt, GrowthHackersand the /r/startups Reddit thread.
Each platform we posted the course to led to several hundred signups, with Product Hunt driving the largest number of registrations overall.
On top of putting our course on each of these platforms, we also emailed our Traction email list and mentioned the course. We also tweeted about the course, though that hardly had an impact on the number of people that signed up.
How useful has this been?
All told, we’ve had over 3,000 people sign up for the free email course in just over a week. And, the number of people signing up just continues to grow. As we release new content and promote it to the list, I’m sure we’ll continue to see the number of subscribers grow.
We got these subscribers with about a day of work. Not a bad ROI, especially when compared to how long it takes to write a standard blog post (and how much less you get out of it). Rather than write 7 of our best marketing hacks as blog posts and getting a few hundred hits each, we now have captured thousands of email addresses we can market Traction to when we re-launch.
And that’s why this strategy is so powerful. It’s an incredibly high-leverage way to capture thousands of email addresses, and can drive leads and subscribers for months. This is far better than a blog post that peters out after just a few days.
So, that’s it! That’s everything you need to know about pulling together a free email course. How can you apply the same strategy to grow your startup?