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It’s 1997, and Arianne Foulks’ fingers are flying across the keyboard in her school’s computer lab. She’s working on a website for her indie music zine, but she has a queue of websites she’s making, too, at the request of her friends who are in bands or run record labels.
“I just did it a lot as a hobby, and then eventually I had a friend who was setting up an e-commerce site, and she was actually going to make money off of her site instead of just having it for fun. That’s when I started charging people and really getting clients that had businesses,” says Arianne, founder of Aeolidia, which is based in Seattle, Washington.
But Arianne’s background wasn’t initially in HTML, or even in web design. In college she studied marine biology, which is how she got the name for her agency: Aeolidia is the Latin name of the shaggy mouse nudibranch, which is Arianne’s favorite sea slug. As a research student, she was even bitten on the leg by a baby elephant seal while sitting on it to weigh it.
“When I tell you that, I don’t want you to feel sorry for it because it was gigantic, and I was like a small fly bothering it,” she says with a laugh. “For a week, I had my Jaws scar story.”
Close encounters of the seal kind aside, Arianne’s agency is known for helping creative businesses set up shop online. “You can’t just make somebody a website. It’s so many other things,” she says. “We have found that when we dig into [clients’] stats, their email list is usually their most valuable source of traffic—unless they don’t know what they’re doing.”
One of the classes she teaches is about how you can stop hating your newsletter (and make money from your mailing list). Here’s how she recommends you renew your enthusiasm for email marketing—and help it reach its full potential.
Email is a direct pipeline to customers.
“A lot of people feel really intimidated by their newsletter, but they’re perfectly happy to post on Instagram 10 times a day,” Arianne says. So she explains to clients that when they send an email, they don’t have to combat algorithms the way they do on social media. When they post on Instagram, for example, they don’t know that everybody is going to see the post. In fact, most people might not, so clients might be putting a lot of time and effort into something that isn’t yielding the results they want.
On the other hand, they may be getting results, but because Instagram or Facebook can change their algorithms, after some time, their posts might not be shown to the right people.
“You just have no way to know. It’s not in your control, but when you send an email, it’s always going to end up in somebody’s mailbox,” she says. “Maybe it’s going to go to spam, but there’s no algorithm filtering it away from people. If they want your email and you send the email, they will get it, which is not really a thing that happens on social media.”
Schedules are everything.
“There’s the timing problem, too,” Arianne adds. “If you have some time-sensitive information to sell, like a flash sale or something, email’s perfect for that. Social media—who knows when that post is actually going to show up to people?”
The people on clients’ lists want to hear from them.
Sometimes when clients approach Aeolidia, they already have an email marketing list, but they’re not in love with the idea of having one, or they feel like they’re spamming customers. “People are terrified of that,” Arianne says. “I always like to remind them, ‘The people on your list didn’t accidentally stumble onto it. They want to be there, and they’re actually expecting you to write to them.’”
Keep the email bar high, but not too high that they’re not sending any.
Another trap that Arianne’s clients get nabbed by is that they follow newsletters for business advice, which is great for inspiration but not motivation. Because it’s a lot of content to wade through, it can inevitably make putting together a newsletter seem much scarier than it actually is.
The reason clients worry is because they’ve been welcomed into an inbox—a personal, coveted place to be. They feel they need to prove their value and only send super important, engaging, and exciting emails, Arianne says. If they sell shoes, for example, they feel the need to provide a history of cobblers or another in-depth topic. “The problem with that is they set such a high bar that they end up not sending any email.”
A better approach, for example, may be to show new shoes in stock so that people can purchase them. “I always try to encourage people to keep it simple,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be mind-blowing. Just go ahead and send it regularly and be interested in what you’re selling, and then the people who are hearing from you are going to be interested, too.”
One example that Arianne points to is from one of her clients, Mouse Loves Pig. In the email, Ruth, the company’s founder, thanks the subscriber for joining the list. It even includes a link to a branded phone lock screen image as well as a link to the Kickstarter support group for periodic updates. It may be simple, but it works.
And use obvious tidbits to develop their brand, too.
Arianne has noticed that the longer the business has been running, the more likely the client is to forget what’s so cool about it in the first place. The client’s About page likely has interesting aspects about the business, or you can ask what makes the business different, as well as who the client’s perfect customers are.
Divide that into bite-sized chunks and ta-da! The client has a welcome email (or even a series of introductory notes) just waiting to be sent to eager customers. “You’ve already done half the work here,” Arianne says. “You just need to add a photo and flesh it out a little bit.”
After redesigning client Dani Barbe’s site, Aeolidia created 2 cool automations for the jewelry brand: a Happy Birthday email that is birthstone specific and a post-purchase follow-up with care instructions. “We created common e-commerce segments and also some specific to her business—gift givers, men, and people who purchased stacking rings or certain stones—so she could promote more of the same since her customers tend to collect items with these qualities,” says Arianne.
“[Dani] told me, ‘I’m most excited about having automated segments that feel interesting and personalized to my customer. I’d love to set the automated segments up well, and then let them do the work for me!’”
The one thing Arianne discourages, however, is waiting to send that welcome automation. If a customer signs up for the client’s list, don’t hold off on telling them what the company is all about. While the client knows the business inside out, new customers arrive at the site every day, so they need to be informed what makes that business dazzle. Like she mentioned before, customers who have signed up to the list want to hear from the brand, so be sure to seize that opportunity.
If it’s been a while since the client has sent an email, fret not.
MailChimp allows clients to reconfirm a list, especially if it has a lot of stale addresses. That way, old email addresses can be removed, leaving only subscribers who want to engage with the content. (Here’s an article about how to do just that.)
“That’s why I try to encourage people to come up with a schedule,” Arianne says. “Even if it’s just once a month, if you know when you’re going to do it, you will do it. But if you think, ‘I’ll do it when I have time,’ sometimes that’s the one task that you feel bad about, so you keep pushing it to the next day and the next day. Then before you know it, it’s been a couple months.”
If you need additional motivation, check out your stats.
“If somebody has an average conversion rate, then when we look at traffic from their newsletter, it’s double or triple that. It’s really exciting to see people doing a lot better with email,” Arianne says.