Episode 6: Email Marketing Tips

February 8, 2021
Email Marketing with Kelly Cookson

In Season 2 Episode 6 of the Content Conversations podcast, Lucy speaks to email marketing specialist Kelly Cookson about all things email marketing. From the best platforms to growing your list, this episode features lots of tips!

Transcript coming soon.

LM: Hi Kelly. How are you?

KC: Hi! I’m very well thank you. I’m very excited this is actually my first podcast interview. So, thanks for having me.

LM: Oh really? I didn’t know that. 

KC: Yes, it is. So, forgive me if I babble. do a lot of Facebook Lives and Zoom master classes. 

LM: For any of the listeners who don’t know who you are and what you do, could you just give us a bit of an introduction?

KC: Yeah of course. I’m Kelly Cookson and I run my own business called ‘Cheer-up marketing’. I’ve got a fair amount of experience in marketing; I’ve been working in it for about 12 years now. I’ve been running my own business for a year. All my previous experience has been in corporate: my last job was as a marketing manager for an international software company. I’ve also had marketing gigs for a law firm, an Apple Mac seller and a university as well. So I’ve learnt lots of marketing manager hacks for lots of different places.

Back in 2017, I had my daughter. After that, I went back to work 3 days a week. I did that for a couple of years, then thought I wanted a bit more flexibility so I left that job and set up Cheer-up Marketing in January 2020, just before our global pandemic – so that was exciting. 

I’ve always done email marketing. In my past roles, email marketing was always part of the mix. When I started Cheer-up Marketing I did what I did as a Marketing Manager. So, I did all kinds of marketing – drafting websites for people, sorting out the social media, copywriting, emails – all that kind of stuff. Then I made the scary decision to reduce that to just email, as that’s the bit I really love. Things have kicked off from there so now I’m the email marketing woman that everyone asks for, which is great! 

LM: That’s how I came across you; I signed up for your email marketing newsletter. I have to say, it’s very entertaining. If you’re not signed up to Kelly’s emails, you definitely should. 

KC: Thank you. Nowadays I teach other entrepreneurs how to do emails. I’m a one-woman band like yourself. I’ve got a group training programme that I run and I’ve got a free Facebook group where I share some tips and so on. Then I also have my one-to-one clients where I actually create emails for launches or different sequences.

Despite the pandemic, it’s been a blast so far. 

LM: Nothing like jumping straight off a cliff! 

KC: It’s not been too bad. I feel very lucky because most of my clients continued marketing throughout so I think they recognised the value in that.

Then actually, I did a massive pivot and really niched down on who my ideal client was. So, I actually ended up breaking up with all but one of my clients who I had been with at the beginning and I was starting again with them with my new niche. I’ve actually done really well, despite the pandemic, so I feel very lucky. 

LM: I think if you can survive the pandemic then you can pretty much survive anything. 

KC: Definitely!

LM: On that note, why is it that email marketing remains important in 2021? 

KC: Email marketing – I feel like it’s the unsung hero. The obvious is to just go for social media. Everyone’s all over social. I get why; social media is an awesome tool for growing your business, especially if you’ve got next to zero budget for your marketing. Certainly, I use social media a lot for my business too.

I think email has always been around. I believe if you run a business you can’t do it without email marketing because at some point you are going to have something important that you’re going to need to communicate either to existing clients or past clients or your prospective audience – you’re going to want to say it on email.

Whether it’s because you’re selling something new (a product launch or special offer) or if you have something important you need to communicate about your business, if you’re changing what you do or if you’re going off on sabbatical for a couple of months. You need to be able to send that on an email and have that land in the inbox. You can’t achieve that if you’re leaving long periods of silence without nurturing that audience and getting them used to receiving marketing emails from you. I think it’s an absolutely essential, professional communication tool and you just can’t get by without it. 

LM: What I often tell my clients is that you own that list. Whereas when you’re on social media and Facebook, they have your potential clients, your prospects, your news. You don’t have their email address, Facebook does. So, if for some reason, Facebook shuts down your Facebook Page tomorrow because it breaches their rules – you’ve lost those people. 

KC: That’s exactly it. That’s a key message and I always seem to be bashing social media a little bit but I do love it as a channel. I think it’s great and the potential it offers business owners such as you and me is absolutely phenomenal.

You’re absolutely right, you don’t own a social media platform, you don’t own your followers and it’s absolutely essential that you do get them onto an email list so do you own that data and you do control the message.

As I’m sure you’ll know, on social media you’re a victim to algorithms all the time and your message is really only shown to a tiny percentage of your actual following.

With email – if you’re a squeaky clean email sender, you’re not sending them spam, you’ve got good practices in place, your deliverability – your actual chance of your email hitting the inbox to your recipients is about 90%. Whereas if you look at the stats for an organic Facebook post, the reach is between 2 and 6% of your audience. So, you can up your battle. Like you say – that could be taken away overnight. You could get hacked, which happens more than you may think, and realistically unless you’re someone with millions of followers where I’m sure Facebook would help you out, but for you and I – it’s over, it’s gone, you’ve lost your audience. So absolutely, should be on an email list as well. 

LM: It’s so powerful to take control of that side of your marketing, I think. You can get in their inboxes and you can direct it. 

KC: You can do it for free. This is the other thing – to get started with email marketing, with people who are in the early stages of their business, really looking carefully at your budget – you can absolutely do email marketing with no financial investment.

There are plenty of email providers you can choose that have a free package. It’s great for people starting out when their list is 0. You’re not going to pay anything until you get to about 1000 subscribers.

So it’s just like social media. That’s why it’s successful in the beginning, because you don’t need to pay if you’re just doing the organic stuff. Email is exactly the same – I think it does get overlooked because people think they’re going to have to pay for software that you definitely don’t need at the beginning. 

LM: I see that quite a lot, where people say ‘well it’s going to cost me money’. Well, actually, mail lists can be to 1000 subscribers and you can have templates so you don’t even need to hire a designer if you do want to do a templated email. 

KC: There’s all the stuff you can do around segmenting as well. I know if you are using ad trends – Facebook you can get to the people who you want to be targeting and that’s amazing. I think people forget that to a certain extent you can do that with email as well. I definitely use it as a way to put my audience into buckets.

I have 3 different types of clients and I try to make sure that in my emails I identify what bucket they fall into and segment them on the back-end.

Just as an example: Bucket A has never done email marketing so I know those people I’m going to get into my Facebook group. Get them excited about email and then at some point get them into a group program and help them DIY it themselves.

Then you have Bucket B. They’re the people that are already doing a bit of email but signed up to my list because they’re not getting the results they want. So their message is slightly different to A’s who haven’t done anything, so it’s quite important that I write specifically to that group.

Then I’ve got the Cs who are actually doing email marketing quite well and I have quite a few other marketers on my list. Those people are the prime candidates for ‘done for you’ service. It’s a different messaging for those people compared to the other buckets.

I survey my lists regularly, screening when they join to make sure I can get them into buckets and make sure they get the right message. It’s a really powerful thing to do with email. 

LM: It’s so much easier to personalise than with the spray and pray approach you would take with an organic social media post. 

KC: Exactly, that’s the difference there. I always say to the people that are thinking about getting started that they need to get clear on who their ideal client is and write it as if you’re writing a letter to that person.

I know it can be quite tempting to write something that’s going to appeal to a wide variety of clients – getting as much interest as possible from as many people – but absolutely that’s not the case.

If you can niche down and be clear on who your ideal client is, what kind of things they like to do in their spare time as well as in the day job… I always say visualise your client on a Sunday. Are they’re sat watching Netflix in pyjamas or are they up at the crack of dawn playing golf? That level of detail in your emails – you can start throwing cultural references to things only your ideal client would be interested in – that’s when the magic starts to happen with email marketing. You get clients coming back, you get people really sitting up and paying attention. I got ahead of myself with the top tips – but be clear on who you’re talking to, don’t just spray and pray. 

LM: Do you have any recommendations around platforms and services? I know you recommend MailerLite quite a lot. 

KC: Yeah. For a freebie, it seems like a good place to start, but I will say the tech side of it is absolutely a personal thing.

I know loads of people that absolutely love MailerLite and I know people that can’t get on with it.

What I would say is that if you’re new to the game – or if you are already doing some email marketing – every time you go to set anything up or start an email, it’s a right headache. Have a trial of 3-4 different providers and see what works for you.

Part of the battle with email marketing is tech and I know if you’re constantly struggling with a system that doesn’t make any sense then you’re not going to go in and write your emails.

For a free one – MailerLite is one I like. It works really nicely and even on the free package, it offers some great customer support so if you do get stuck with anything you can email the support team and they’ll help you out.

The one that I started out with is ConvertKit and that’s really good. You can do more with it, information-wise, than you could with the free version of MailerLite.

I think I paid £24 a month to start with that, that’s because I knew what my vision was for email marketing so right from the start I could see how it was going to scale up, rather than switch providers further down the line.

Nowadays, because I have a group program, I use a system called Kartra and that has in-built email marketing software. So if you were looking to run an online membership or course then there are other options that do include email marketing.

You need to look at what your technical needs are and then have a play and see which one you like. MailerLite’s a freebie, I love ConvertKit and Kartra for me is great. The other one is Kajabi which a lot of people use for courses and memberships. Which I  will say brings in the point that tech is personal. I had a two-week course for Kajabi – I could not make head or tail of it. Then I tried Kartra and was like – this is brilliant, this makes sense. I do know people who think the opposite to that though.

Have a play, see what you like. 

LM: I think it’s pretty easy to move data around so if you want to move from one to the other you can often export the contact lists you’ve built up. 

KC: You own those contacts, they’re yours so you can definitely do that. One word of warning around that is to not swap too many times, too frequently because it can affect your reputation if you’re suddenly sending an email from different providers.

Although the email address stays the same, people can see that the sender address has changed so you may see a drop in your open rate when you change the system. It can grow back over time but if you change too often it can affect it. So don’t chop and change too often. 

LM: It’s a strange thing. Sender reputation – I don’t think people necessarily know that’s a thing. It’s about not spamming people and making sure you’re keeping your lists clean, so important. 

KC: The sender reputation thing, I always tend to think of it a bit like a credit score. When you go to get a mortgage, people look at your credit history.

It’s the same with sending emails. If you send emails to people that haven’t opted in, that’s a cross against your email. Mailbox providers look at that and police it: ‘Should I actually let this come into somebody’s inbox?’

It’s not quite as simple as pressing send on an email and landing there. So you build up over time a kind of credit score for your email reputation.

As you mentioned, keep your lists clean, don’t spam people and keep up a consistent send. It’s good for your reputation so you don’t go into the spam box.  

LM: I didn’t realise the frequency had a bit of an issue.

KC: So each mailbox provider has a different scoring system from what I understand. There’s no one answer. People ask me all the time ‘what can I do to not go into spam’ there’s a lot of things to accumulate to that.

Mailbox servers can see that ‘Kelly always sends an email every week’ and they get used to that pattern. What they don’t like is if you have a few weeks or months of absolute silence and then say you’re launching something you suddenly go crazy sending one email a day and they’ll think it’s unusual activity. I’m not going to let these emails land in my customer’s inbox.

Most people don’t realise this, but most of the emails sent every day are actually spam or malicious emails, like phishing. So, Gmail has such a big job at protecting the customer, making sure they don’t get spammed or phished or handing out bank details. They are really looking at every email that is sent to their customer.

Keep it, clean people. 

LM: On that, do you have any tips on how frequently marketing emails should be sent? A lot of my clients come to me and say – is once a month too much? Is once a week too much? Do you have any tips or is it based on what you need to tell your customers in your individual frequency requirement?

KC: I think if you can do one a week then that’s absolutely awesome and you should be aiming for that. When I say one a week I mean getting some engagement with your customer, sharing a bit about you and your business.

If you do that once a week, that would be absolutely amazing. If you’re listening and thinking that once a week is too much, you’ve got too much to do, then once every other week is sufficient.

The minimum I would say is once a month because the whole point of you doing email marketing is for you to nurture your audience and at some point ask them to buy something from you.

Don’t forget that’s very important. If you’re only emailing once a month, it’s going to take them a long time to warm them up to make a sale. Whereas if you can do it once a week that’s absolutely brilliant.

I know there is more of a trend I’m noticing in the email marketing community to send an email every day, which is a hell of a lot of copywriting.

I’m moving more towards a newsletter, with a get-to-know-me thing on a Tuesday. I’m experimenting now with another send to either my whole list or the warmest part of it (which are people who are always engaged and open to it) just to talk more about what I can offer them. When I go to launch things like my group program I send an email every day for 10 days. 

The important thing is to not go silent for long periods of time. Whatever you’re doing, stick with it. 

LM: Fformat-wise, do you have any preferences towards HTML or plain text or are there any particular benefits of either one? 

KC: So, I think it really depends on what kind of business you are. I’m completely server space, no physical products, nothing to take a picture of and show it. If I was a jewellery designer, then I’m going to want to put pictures of my beautiful jewellery in my emails.

I really think, with service space businesses, you can do without the pictures. I have no picture of me, no banner, no logo, it’s just text. Quite often I’ll use an emoji or use bold text, italics or capitalised to draw the eye to whatever part of the email I want to make, to make people notice.

I sometimes colour parts of the text, but really it’s quite simple. I do this because it saves me time, which is very important when you’re trying to do an email every week. It takes me 10 minutes, max., to make every email.

I write it in Google Docs. I copy and paste it in. I make sure the format all looks nice. I test it. I put the links in. Job done. If I have to start messing around with making sure the banner and things like that are okay and getting an image in – it’s going to take longer. It just increases the likelihood of error.

When that email is sent, when someone’s looking at it on their mobile vs the tablet vs the desktop it all looks different.

Again, it depends what mailbox provider you’re on, so it may all come out differently. It just stresses me out.

Also, a lot of people have image blocking too, trying to stop malicious content from coming through. A lot of mailbox providers don’t download images automatically. I think, just keep it simple. 

LM: Coming back to the personal side of it, I feel like you’re emailing me. It’s got my name at the beginning of it, it’s got a lot more of a relationship feel to it. 

KC: Exactly. So especially with service providers and one-woman bands like me, I am talking to you and that’s the kind of relationship I want to build. So if I were to build an email with images, that’s not how I would write an email to a friend and I want to write to you as if you were my friend.

I’m writing to you as a person. Always remember that your subscriber list, no matter how big it is … you’re not sending an email to 200 subscribers, you’re sending it to 200 human beings who are going to read the email. Try and remember that. It definitely feels more authentic. 

LM: It invites more replies. I think this is great for sending reputation – if you get a lot of sender engagement. It’s great for getting that engagement and response up.

KC: Yeah, that is absolutely correct. That really is the gold nugget of email marketing, if you can get replies coming in. Nice replies – then you’re absolutely hitting the mark with your content. You’re right, that exchange of emails demonstrates that you are a trusted sender and that your email should always go to the inbox and not to spam. 

LM: Great tip. How do you measure success on that basis? 

KC: So, the obvious metric… As soon as I send an email out I refresh and look how many people are opening it, see if anybody has clicked.

You need to look at those stats because open rate… Of you’ve got a sudden drop off the edge of the cliff there’s something going on – you’ve got technical issues that you need to fix or if people are unsubscribing then you need to know about it.

You can get quite caught up in that side of things and compare yourself to the industry benchmark.

I would say the most important is the engagement side of things. For me, I can tell if an email has done really well or is going to do really well when in the first 10 minutes I start getting people reply.

If I send out an email and it’s absolute tumbleweed then I’ll think I’ve not hit the mark there. I think looking at engagement as well as the cold, hard stats.

If you’ve got an ‘ask’ in that email – for example, I sent one a couple of weeks ago where I asked people to guess how old I am because I link it back to my clients and how they don’t care about emails anymore because we’re all old and boring, we’re not 21 anymore – at the end of that email, my soft call to action was: ‘By the way I’m actually booking up for my 1-1 services now, so click this link if you’ve been thinking about working with me.’ The replies I got were amazing. In the first 10 minutes – ‘gosh I don’t care about birthdays either’ or ‘who cares’, so clients are thinking the same thing as me.

However, on the call to action, the click rate was actually really small – 0.5 % but one of the clicks from that did convert into a discovery call and she is an ideal client.

For me, I don’t need hundreds of people clicking links, I just need the right people in their small but quality numbers to click it, convert it into a call and then convert into a client.

I think if you’re a small service provider, you don’t need loads of clicks, just a couple of really great ones. That’s a really great measure of success for me. 

LM: It’s often the case, it’s actually all about the quality of what it is you’re getting through rather than the figures. If they’re not going to become a client then does it really matter that you got 100% open rate?

KC: Yes exactly. This goes back to that ideal client. You don’t want to fill up your list with as many people as possible, it’s not a numbers game. It’s not all about numbers, it’s about the quality of engagement you get back. You can only get that engagement if you get the right people clicking. 

LM: In terms of that, do you have any recommendations on how to get people to sign up to an email list? 

KC: Absolute top tip number 1 for getting people to opt into your list is to tell them why they should do it.

You’ve got to get clear on your value proposition for your ideal client. I don’t ask people to sign up for my newsletter – although to all intents and purposes, that’s what it is. I invite people to sign up to the ‘Cheer List’.

At the point I ask them to subscribe I say: ‘When you sign up, I’m going to send you one email a week and I’m going to share some marketing tips and advice, a little bit of behind the scenes in my business, you’ll be the first to know about any offers on products or launches I’m having and maybe some discounts as well.’

I summarise the why of the point of opting in. I highly recommend it. Maybe it’s not on-brand for you to give your email list a fancy name, but at least tell them why they should and what they can be expecting to receive. If you really understand what your ideal client wants to receive then they will want what you have to offer. 

The next step from that is to create this lead magnet: the opt-in freebie. That’s when you package up some value. Something quite simple, I recommend, and then offer that exchange for an email address. You can only do that successfully, and play the quality over quantity game if you know what your ideal client wants.

Get really clear on the ‘so what’ factor. 

LM: I think that’s something I think about. I’m so protective over my own email address that I think, why would my clients hand over theirs? I put myself in that position; I get enough spam as it is. 

KC: I think for product-based businesses it may be a bit easier to get people to sign up because they want to know about a product launch or when there’s going to be a Black Friday sale. It’s especially important for service space businesses to really nail down and tell people that’s what they’re subscribing to, why they should subscribe. You’ve got to really sell it to people. 

LM: Are there any businesses you would recommend signing up to their email list? Are there any brands or businesses that you think do it really well? 

KC: Yeah so, because of the space I operate in I’m really passionate about my course, so I follow people in that space, I subscribe to those lists. The stand out one for me is Amy Porterfield. She has a digital course academy – she’s the digital course creator queen over in The States; I’ve signed up to all of her emails. She’s great and she has an amazing podcast too – Online Marketing Made Easy. I think she has a really nice balance between the storytelling stuff… so I knew that she’s moved from California to Nashville, I know everything about her dog… she also then mixes in lots of practical marketing advice and when she’s launching her online course I’m really watching what she’s doing because she’s amazing at that.

She’s a seven-figure business owner, so whatever she’s doing… Whenever she does something I always think it’s great it’s time to have a go at that.

Not to plagiarise but if there’s someone in your industry that you really admire then sign up to their lists and just see the kind of things that they’re doing. I love Jenna Kutcher. 

LM: I love her. 

KC: She’s always on Instagram, putting her makeup on and chatting, her emails are the same; it’s her voice. I’m sure she doesn’t write those but whoever her copywriter is has really nailed her tone. Those are the two that stand out for me. 

LM: So if listeners want to follow you or get your emails, where’s the best place to find you? 

KC: If you head over to my website: CheerUpMarketing.com you can subscribe over there. I have got a lead magnet, which is ’10 Subject Line Tactics to Get Your Emails Opened’. So if you would like some subject line tips, go to my website and you’ll see it’s on the top.

I have a Facebook Group as well where I’m most active. That’s called From Spam to Wham Email Marketing. I do some tips and live there and some challenges occasionally. I’m also quite active on Instagram, I share tips there and you can DM me. 

LM: Thank you for joining me! 


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