Information and Resources for Solopreneurs

Chickens By Email? How an Auto-Responder Series Helped this Solopreneur Rise to the Top of her Niche

Written By: SiteSell Content Team in CTPM | January 6, 2016

advanced-auto-responder

Chickens.  Auto-responder series. Not words you’d necessarily think of together in the same sentence.

Except if you’re an SBI! solopreneur with a little imagination, a lot of knowledge, and a well-integrated email system.

This is the story of one crazy chicken lady, 17 chickens and an auto-responder e-course which has seen both site visitor numbers and website profits double.

Intrigued? You should be! This is a real life, feel-good story which came from developing a simple concept that’s easily adaptable across many different niches. You can do this too!

KEY NOTE: There are many more stories from SBI! solopreneurs who started out with little more than an idea and the determination to turn that idea into a profitable online business. Click here to get inspired by these everyday solopreneurs.

Like all good stories, let’s start at the beginning.

What Exactly Is an Auto-Responder Course?

Last time, we looked at how scheduling a series of ‘welcome’ emails can help customers who sign up for your newsletter remember who you are. Rather than wait for the next scheduled bulletin, they receive a series of emails sent automatically, at times and dates chosen by you, which keeps your website in the forefront of their minds and at the same time helps them become familiar with the content on your site.

Creating an auto-responder series which gives your customers something they want to learn about is one step up from this. Think of it as a basic online course.

Your customers have a need they’re trying to fulfil. You have the knowledge and expertise to fulfil it. Put the two together with a good email program and you have a potentially successful monetization opportunity on your hands.

KEY NOTE: SiteSell customers have been able to create auto-responders for years, using SBI!’s built-in Form Build It! module. Now, SiteSell has partnered with MailChimp, one of the most popular email programs, to bring even more levels of email marketing functionality to SBI!. Integrations with other email providers like AWeber are planned for the near future.

Here’s how the idea first formed in the crazy chicken lady’s mind – her name is Cath.

“My site is about raising backyard chickens, and my e-course came about because I was tired of getting emails from people trying unsuccessfully to hatch chicken eggs. Their stress levels were off the scale, and many of them had no idea what they were doing. They saw pictures of fluffy little chicks, thought it would be a nice idea to hatch a few, and 21 days later wondered why nothing was happening.

Their questions were always the same, but I was answering each person individually and pointing them to my website pages about incubating and hatching. It was time-consuming and exhausting, and because it was free content it earned me no money.

I looked around the internet for some other way of helping them but, apart from some fairly basic web pages, found nothing. I began to realize that my information was unique.

That’s when a lightbulb went off in my head – why not create my own course? After some research I decided an auto-responder series would fit the bill best.

I send one email per day for 28 days consecutively, and it’s pretty popular. At any given time I have around one thousand people going through the series and, when they’re finished, around 88% of them opt into my newsletter list.

It’s been the single most effective step I’ve taken which has massively increased my website traffic and my income – and I haven’t finished with it yet!”

Is an Auto-Responder Course Appropriate for Every Niche?

Absolutely! It’s a powerful enhancement for your site because it can:

  • establish you as an authority in your niche
  • build goodwill by giving away information in a way that’s easily accessible
  • provide instant benefit for the consumer by being clearly targeted
  • help develop trust and loyalty – and a customer who develops trust and loyalty is far more likely to buy from you
  • be an alternative way of directing traffic to your website
  • increase knowledge about other services your provide
  • be the core of a sound monetization strategy.

Creating it as an evergreen email series automates the entire process, including sales. Once the sequence is set up, there’s nothing to do unless customer feedback suggests improvements.

Where to Start? – Choosing a Subject.

So you’re convinced and raring to go! But wait – how to choose the right topic?

This is the first and single most important decision you’ll make, and it comes back to one of the fundamentals of building any successful e-business: knowing your target audience and their problems, needs and desires.

What is it your site visitors are looking for when they find your website? What help do they need most urgently? What problems keep them awake at night? What’s prevented them from finding the solutions to those problems before? What do you have to offer which is different, which will be the key to unlock that door for them and provide a solution nobody else has been able to find?

And could that solution be written as a step-by-step course?

What you’re looking for is something which will move your visitor …

image01

How to identify your visitors’ personae and their needs is a subject for a much longer article – subscribe to be the first to hear about it – but here are some possibilities to get you thinking.

  • Books: Use the ‘look inside’ facility on Amazon to spark ideas.
  • Forums: Which are the most popular threads? What questions are people asking? Which are the recurrent themes? Would you be able to write about them?
  • Social media: Facebook is an obvious help, but if your audience is also on Pinterest, their boards can be a good source of information. What do they tell you about ideas or inspiration your target audience is looking for?
  • Your own experience: Think back to when you first became involved in your niche. What did you hunt for information about? Did you find a reliable source? If not, what was missing? What do you wish you’d known then, that you know now?

Finally, let’s go back to our feathered friends. Here’s what Cath has to say.

“I didn’t have a clue what to write about at first but honestly? – it’s not rocket science! I used several sources to work out which course would be the most successful.

Firstly I went to where a lot of my chicken-peeps hang out – my business Facebook page, the ‘Face It!’ comments on my website, and my contact form messages, for example – and combined that ‘soft data’ with hard facts from my SBI! and Google Analytics (GA) statistics.

I already knew that I was receiving a huge number of hatching related questions, especially in the spring and early summer. Looking at GA showed me that, of my ten most popular pages, six were related to incubating and hatching. The amount of time people were spending on those pages – in some cases an average of over six minutes – reinforced how important they were.

image00

It was a no-brainer, as they say!

And, incidentally, of the top ten pages not hatching-related, I created two other, shorter auto-responder series about those topics: choosing the right chicken breed for your family, and dealing with rats. Both of them are popular, both added a substantial number of people to my email lists – and the number of rat traps I sell is phenomenal!”

One final idea – don’t overlook simply asking your site visitors. A straightforward question in your next newsletter is enough – as long as you have time to compile information from the responses. Or use a program like Survey Monkey which has three major advantages:

  • it’s free if you have fewer than 10 questions and want to send to less than 100 people
  • it has the option of asking multiple choice questions and will then collate the figures for you, saving a lot of time
  • it can be integrated with AWeber, one of the most popular email programs, so your questionnaire will appear right there in your email or newsletter, making it simple for your audience to respond.

What’s Next? Planning Your Auto-Responder Course.

  1. Decide on your goals: Before writing your e-course, think about what you’re trying to achieve. Do you want to:
  • increase traffic to your website?
  • provide free information, but link to a more detailed, paid course at its end?
  • link to products?
  • sell your own services?

If you want to increase traffic, for example, you’ll need to make sure you have enough pages written on the topic to link back to. If you plan to sell affiliate products, having  well written affiliate product reviews, especially for larger, more expensive items, are a must.

If your auto-responder series is to lead to sales of your counselling time, for example, you’ll need to consider the areas in which you want to specialize so as to target the course accordingly. There’s not much point talking to people suffering from the effects of bereavement about coping with narcissistic personality disorder.

  1. How long should an e-course be? This is one of those ‘how long is a piece of string’ questions. Some ‘gurus’ think it should go on forever, because “you never know when people are going to buy”; some say it should be kept very short to sustain interest. In reality, it will depend on three things:
  • your goals
  • your subscribers
  • your time.

If your goal is simply to increase traffic and therefore Adsense earnings, for example, your course could, theoretically, go on indefinitely by linking to every one of your themed website pages.

If you’re planning to create a short course first and follow up with a more detailed, paid-for program, think carefully about how much information to provide in the abbreviated version. This will vary from niche to niche.

The general rule of thumb is simply that there should be enough quality content to whet the appetite, but not so much that you aren’t able to expand it to make people feel they have bought a premium product.

Think too about your subscribers. How busy are they, and how much time will they have available? Better to keep a course short and have more people complete it and be led to your premium product than have the majority drop out part-way through.

Then there’s your time. How much do you have available to write the course? Are you anxious to set it up within a certain timescale? How many articles, how many emails, do you assess you can write in that time?

  1. How frequently should you send your auto-responder mails? How many mails will  your customers tolerate? Will they become irritated if you send one a day? Don’t spin it out – if your course can be completed in five mails sent within a month, don’t try to make it ten over two!

After Planning – Just Write!

Now to write your course. If you don’t yet have a website, you now know what your first set of pages will be about!

KEY NOTE: If you are just getting started with your site, you are probably wondering how on earth you are supposed to write an auto-responder course on top of everything else there is to learn and do? Don’t despair! That’s where the SBI! business building guidance comes in. The first 5 learning modules of the SBI! Action Guide focus on planning: deciding on your business niche, developing your site’s blueprint, and planning your monetization strategy. Your auto-responder course would be part of your monetization plan.

If you do have a site, bear in mind that your course may already be written. Look through the content on your website. Which pages could you use to answer the questions you know your visitors want? Which articles will you need to refresh? Which topics require a completely new piece?

Having to sit down and write an e-course can seem pretty daunting. Here’s a sequence of components you’ll need to create which lead you in gently:

  • A sign-up form which as a minimum takes the subscriber’s first name and email address. Simpler tends to be better – people don’t like giving away too much personal information – but your niche might benefit from other information such as zip or postal code if you’re a local business; birthday, if you’re a party planning site; or time zone, if you want to target your course to be sent at specific times of day.

Those details can also be used to ‘segment’ subscribers – in other words to collect them together in groups with something in common. For example, if you cater to people who speak different languages, you may want to collect that data and send emails in English only to those who speak English, or in Spanish only to those who speak Spanish, or Italian … well, you get the picture.

  • A sign-up page which tells your potential subscribers exactly what they’ll be getting. Be precise: if you intend to send out one email per day, tell them so. If it’s going to be one a month, tell them that. Make sure, though, that you don’t dissemble with this. Whatever you say they will get is what they should get. Whatever you promise, you must be able to fulfil.

Do not send emails to your group about unrelated topics. If they sign up for an auto-responder course but not for your newsletter, don’t send them the newsletter. Certainly, suggest they might like to receive it – but never send unrequested emails.

  • Articles on your website to which you intend to link. Don’t forget, one of the benefits of any auto-responder course is to become an alternative method of leading visitors to your site.

Why would anyone sign up for an email series which leads them to pages which are readily available anyway?

One word: convenience. They won’t necessarily know where the content is, they almost certainly won’t have either the time or the patience to go hunting for it. Your auto-responder course is offering a valuable service. Make sure they know it – use your sign-up page to make the point..

  • A series of emails of whatever length and duration you’ve planned. Their content is important: each one should give the subscriber a little more information than is contained on the site – motivation to open your emails.

And Then, Take a Deep Breath and – Send Them!

Let’s see how Cath and her hatching course deals with this.

“Once I had my sign-up box created, I set about writing the course, which involved the entire set of 28 emails plus all the related articles on my website. Each of them was, as usual, a content focused keyword page.

I actually went live with the sign-up page before I’d finished writing the articles and emails – and then found I was only about three or four ahead of my first subscriber! I wouldn’t recommend that – it was very stressful trying to keep up! I’d say have your course at least half finished before you launch it on the world.

I use AWeber, one of SBI!’s trusted email partners. Its scheduling system allows me to write the email, automate it to go out xx days after the previous one (in my case, the following day) and put it in a drag and drop system so that, if I need to, I can easily move one email before or after another. I found that immensely useful as I was putting the course together.

This is a screenshot of what I mean …

image02

I was pretty anxious when the emails started going out to real live people! I wasn’t sure how it would be received, or whether anyone would find it useful. At first, I watched my stats all the time and was very disappointed if I didn’t get a 100% open rate.

As time’s gone on, I’ve learned that a ‘reasonable” open rate is between 20% and 30%. Mine averages 65% – 70% all the way through, which I’m very happy with. Of those who finish the course, around 88% then sign up for my newsletter.

I also use AWeber’s segmentation system so that those who finish, and anyone who has bought something during the course, are sent periodic “offers”. My reasoning for this is that anyone who has either bought from me before, or stuck with me through a 28 day course, is more likely to buy. That seems to be borne out from my sales.

So the way I look at it is, you have to take a deep breath and give it a try. What’s the worst that can happen? People can unsubscribe. They might send the odd email saying they have not enjoyed the course. But most do not. If you target the course well, and provide good quality content, most stick with you, and some buy products which I recommend and they need.

It’s a win-win.”

Should an Auto-Responder Course Be Monetized?

Of course!

Be very careful about trying to monetize too quickly, though. Just as SBI! advocates waiting to monetize your website until you have a good number of pages written, so your auto-responder course should not become a sales pitch straight away.

Subscribers will be more likely to buy from you if:

  • the subject of your auto-responder e-course is relevant to them
  • the breadth and depth of your knowledge and experience is clear
  • the content you write helps them solve a problem or fulfil a desire
  • you come across not as a salesperson, but as a knowledgeable friend in whom they have faith.

Remember: the aim is to build a sense of loyalty and trust. That doesn’t happen overnight. Focusing your energy on producing quality content may seem an annoyingly slow way to make money – but the confidence it engenders in your knowledge and experience will pay dividends.

It’s a balancing act. Sell, but don’t oversell.

KEY NOTE: For 15+ years, SBIers have been using a proven process to build their online businesses. It’s called C – T – P – M: Create in-demand Content. Attract targeted Traffic. PREsell those visitors and build trust. Monetize the PREsold visitors. The “M” comes last. If you put it first, you may have a nice looking website, but no business.

How Can an Auto-Responder Course Be Monetized?

This will depend to a large extent on your niche. If your auto-responder is a “how to” course you will probably know of products you can sell as a natural part of the process.

Here’s “only us chickens” again!

“I’ve used the auto-responder series to create Kindle books, one of which uses the 21 most commonly-asked questions I receive during the course. Now, when people ask me those questions either within or outside the course, I simply refer them to my book.

I also monetize very successfully with affiliate products. I don’t sell directly in the emails, I link from the emails to a page on my site where I review the products, most of which  I use myself, or sometimes to one of my You Tube videos showing how to use the product – which of course links back to my review page.

My click-through and conversion rates (i.e. the numbers of people who buy) are very high, i think partly because I don’t push sales, and I don’t link to sales pages too early in my auto-responder series – I build up a level of confidence and trust in my knowledge first.

And actually, I do believe in the products I sell, which helps!”

There are a number of potential monetization options, some of which require more work than others.

  • Create a mini-course as your free giveaway. At the end invite your students to join your ‘master class’: a much longer and more detailed course on the same subject, for which they have been pre-sold and are now willing to pay.
  • Collate all the articles and turn it into a Kindle book.
  • Employ someone from Fiverr to create a downloadable audio version.
  • Create a private Facebook group where you undertake to answer questions about your niche within a specified time period.
  • Use private Google Hangouts to host question and answer webinars for people going through your course who pay an additional subscription (known as ‘upselling’.)

As your course develops and you become more aware of what your subscribers want, so your monetization strategy will develop.

Here are some of Cath’s plans.

“A lot of the people who write to me are teachers. They love to hatch with their pupils – it teaches them about embryo development in a very exciting way and the children love watching the chicks develop inside the egg.

But teachers are busy people, and they want lesson plans handed to them on a plate. So that’s my next move – I’m working with a small group of teachers to develop the course specifically for different aged students. It will be a lot of the same information but slanted in a slightly different way, and with additional materials.

I’m also planning to develop the e-course as a full-on, taught course hosted by one of the well-known platforms. That will involve a lot more work since the teaching is done by slides and video presentation – but I’m excited at the possibilities.

My overarching monetization plan, now that this course is tried and tested, is to give away a shorter course for free, and offer my current free course for a fee. I have plenty of testimonials to use on my sales page and I have confidence in my own product. I’m ready to take it to the next level.”

Any final tips?

  • Don’t wait to launch your auto-responder course until you think it’s perfect. Launch it when it’s “good enough”. You can always return to add to or otherwise improve it once it’s launched.
  • Do listen to feedback. It’s not always easy to hear negatives about a course you’ve spent many hours developing. But feedback can spark ideas about new directions, or improving on old ones.
  • Focus energy on giving initially, but don’t be afraid to ask for a sale once you assess that you’ve established your credentials through your e-course.

The final word has to go to Cath, and her chickens.

“Do I think I made a good investment of time and energy? Absolutely! It’s not just the fact that my auto-responder course helps me make money from my website, although of course that’s definitely a bonus. It’s not even the fact that it makes money while I sleep!

It’s the satisfaction I get from knowing that my subscribers are actually benefiting from the work I put in. It’s knowing that I have helped a lot of people who were very stressed, to become less so. It’s knowing that through my plans for its development, schoolchildren all round the world will know more about how to incubate, hatch and care for other living things.

All because of my auto-responder course.”

Start Your Online Business Journey!

Sources.

Cath Andrews is the author of the SBI! website ‘Raising Happy Chickens’. Her auto-responder sign-up page can be found by clicking here.

To be the first to hear about other solopreneur’s creative ideas about growing and monetizing their online businesses, subscribe to the free SiteSell Newsletter.

SBI! for WP
SiteSell Content Team

SiteSell Content Team

The SiteSell Content Team is responsible for creating the premium “distraction-free” content for our customers, including the Action Guide, the Video Action Guide, online Help, Tips and Techniques articles, Monetization articles, and much more. The team also supports our customers in the Community forums.
  • Rachel Bruner

    Excellent article! Loved the blurbs from Cath and her experiences!

Join The SiteSell Community of Solopreneurs

Get the latest in best-practices and advice for your online business. Let each new article be delivered to your Inbox for free.