Five years ago, I was so close to escaping the corporate world to run my online course business full-time. And man was I working hard to finally break free.
My online course, purely a side-hustle at the time, was almost generating enough income that I could put in my two weeks notice at work. Problem was, I wasn’t sure if I had the energy for the final push.
All the experts were saying, “If you want to be successful online, you have to create lots of content for your subscribers.”
And that’s exactly what I was doing. If there’s one thing I’d learned from growing my business up to that point, it was that frequent communication with my subscribers was critical. But when you’re working a full-time job, creating content on a consistent basis is really tough. (Maybe you can relate.)
This post will show you an email strategy that will allow you to keep in close touch with your subscribers while spending less time creating content than you might think.
The mistake I was making -- one that I see many other course creators making -- was the type of content I was producing.
You have to understand that the niche I was in at the time, home beer brewing, is an extremely technical field. My subscribers were engineers, IT specialists, and scientists. They just wanted the cold hard facts. (At least, that’s what I used to think.)
As a result, my content was 100% hard-core teaching. Tutorials, step-by-step guides, demonstrations, etc.
Let’s put it this way: The words “How To” showed up in most of my email subject lines. But my strategy was flawed.
I was putting too much effort into my emails, and it was holding back my growth
Here’s what I mean by that contradictory-sounding headline...
One day, I had to send an email out (it had been too long), but I had no material ready. And I just didn’t have the time or energy to teach my subscribers something technical.
So what did I do?
I told them a little story of something funny that happened while I was visiting a brewery the night before. That’s it. The story was pretty unremarkable. Plus it only took me 20 minutes to write, edit the email, and click “send.”
What happened after that?
I got one of my best responses ever. My inbox filled with replies from subscribers who I’d never heard from before. I couldn’t believe they loved such a simple email that didn’t really teach anything new.
My Major Epiphany: Readers don’t want hard-core tutorials all the time
Think about this in your own life. There are some subjects you where you have a deep interest, but do you really want to read a long, in-depth tutorial about that topic every single day? Of course not! It would be too much. You’d need a break.
I realized I was overwhelming them with content. And it was mentally exhausting -- for both sides.
Now, when I help other course creators promote their courses, I see them doing the same thing. It’s no big surprise that course creators have a tendency to over-teach. Teaching is what we do! But it needs to be balanced with lighter material. It’s not enough to educate. You also need to entertain.
Enter: KLT Emails. Emails that get your subscribers to know, like, and trust you.
After seeing the excited responses to that email, I started to sprinkle in more short, story-based emails. It didn’t take more than a month to notice a big difference in the engagement-level of my list.
Why do these emails work so well?
The best definition I’ve heard of marketing is this: “Marketing is about getting people to know, like, and trust you.”
Turns out, that’s exactly what these emails do. So I started calling these emails “KLT emails.” They create engagement and build relationships with your subscribers, which makes them more likely to buy from you.
I’d sprinkle in KLT emails at about a 2-to-1 ratio. For every longer, “how-to” type email (or blog post), I’d drop in about two KLT emails. It was the perfect rhythm.
I recommend you email your list at least once per week. That’s non-negotiable. Two or three times is even better. If look at the most successful people in online marketing, most of them email even more than that. There’s a reason for it: It works.
One of my favorite things about writing these KLT emails is that they are quick to write, so sending two or three emails a week is no problem.
The most surprising thing about my newfound laziness
The increased response to my emails was great, but I was especially surprised to see that as I became better at nurturing my list, I started to earn more revenue!
Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise. I was building a closer bond with my subscribers, and revenue is the natural byproduct of a genuine connection with your readers.
But there was something else going on…
These more frequent, story-based emails kept my list warm. After all, it’s not the size of the list that matters, it’s the responsiveness.
Here’s how I think of it...
You know those heart-monitoring machines in the hospital? (I think the technical term is an EKG monitor.)
That’s how you should think of the effect of nurturing your list with KLT emails.
Imagine a rapid heartbeat…
That green line is bouncing all over the place. Well, the activity of that green line represents how warm your list is.
What happens when you send out a promotion while that green line is dancing all over the place? The sales come rolling in!
But what if that line goes flat? What happens when you send email your list then?
Moral of the story: Keep your list warm and you’ll keep your bank account happy.
Okay ready to send some fun, easy, and effective KLT emails to your list? Good! Here are 25 ideas you can use. I’ve tested these in both my own business and with numerous online course clients. They flat out work.
25 Ideas for Emails that Get Subscribers to Know, Like, and Trust You
Idea 1. A Day in the Life
“I read the news today, oh boy...”
That opening line from the legendary Beatles song never fails to put me in a good mood. But it’s not just a great song, it also gives you an idea for a very effective type of email.
If you’ve got writer’s block, simply write about your everyday life. Just think back over what happened today and then write about it.
“But Billy, my life isn’t exactly like the Dos Equis most interesting man in the world!”
It doesn’t need to be. Even ordinary, everyday occurances can make for interesting email fodder.
For example, let’s say you teach a course about internet security.
- Your car broke down and needed repair? Write an email about how we often take our most important things for granted, just like how we take our internet privacy for granted...
- You saw someone get too tipsy at an office party and embarrass themselves? Write an email about regrets, just like how you’d regret it if all your sensitive information were made public...
- You found a hidden gem of a restaurant in your town? Write an email about how the best things are often hidden just under your nose, sorta like this little-known tool that makes it easy to protect your financial information...
See how that works?
Next time you’re out running your errands – grabbing groceries, filling up the gas tank, roaming the shopping mall, or whatever --- ask yourself, “How can I use this experience in an email?”
Do that, and I promise you’ll never run out of ideas.
Consider idea #1 your workhorse email. You can use it again and again as you build a vault of new stories.
Idea 2. Share a Fable
Fables are email fodder served on a silver platter. These little stories are packed with life lessons you can weave into your online course emails.
Plus, most people heard these stories as children, so they get a wave of the “feel goods” when they read your fable email.
Head over to FablesOfAesop.com and browse the deep archive for ideas.
Here, let me give you one. I’ve got the perfect fable for any course creator. It’s called The Quack Toad, and is about how there are “experts” who give advice who really shouldn’t be. I’m sure you can think of someone like this in your market!
I used The Quack Toad fable on my homebrewing site to poke fun at homebrewers who talk a big game and are always telling newer brewers what to do, but their own beer tastes like dirty pond water.
You can see how easy it is to apply this fable to any online course niche.
Idea 3. The Yoda Email
This one is super important because every single course creator should have a Yoda story.
It goes back to psychology. You’re asking your subscribers to learn from you, right? You want them to see you as their mentor.
Well, one of the best ways to get them to buy into this idea that they need a mentor is to show that YOU have a mentor of your own.
Almost every top performer you can think of had a mentor. Warren Buffett had Benjamin Graham. Tony Robbins had Jim Rohn.
How do I know that Jim Rohn was Tony’s mentor? Because Tony always talks about him! That’s intentional, folks.
The lesson is this: When people are unsure of what to do, they look at what other people are doing. And if your subscribers see that you achieved your results because you have a mentor, they’ll be more likely to accept you as their mentor.
Idea 4. The Scavenger Hunt Email
Whenever possible, try to get your readers to do something. Train them to act in response to your emails. That’s important for when you ask them to buy something.
Most of the time, you’ll have some sort of hyperlink in the email for the reader to click. But a fun twist is to send your subscribers on a scavenger hunt!
Here’s an example I just thought up…
Let’s say you teach a course on wedding photography. Promote a scavenger hunt where your subscribers must find three types of wedding pictures from around the web:
- A photo that’s overexposed
- A photo that’s out of focus
- A photo that needs color correction
Then, you give a prize to the first person who completes the hunt.
You can get creative with the logistics, of course. But no matter what, make sure to show everyone’s “treasures.”
Can you see the smart marketing strategy behind this?
If you sell a photography course and you show your subscribers a page covered with ugly wedding photos taken by amateur photographers, do you think you might make a few extra sales for your course? Which will show them to avoid taking such ugly photos? Absolutely.
Idea 5. Quote a Famous Movie
Everybody loves movies, so they give you something in common with your readers that you can use in your emails.
Let’s do an example together.
I write Facebook advertisements, so using the correct words is something that’s important in my line of work.
If I were writing an email to other advertisers, what’s a movie quote I could use?
I’ve got it! The movie The Princess Bride. It’s a cult-classic and a favorite of mine. If you’ve seen it, you know the quote I’m thinking of.
Vazzini: “He didn’t fall? Inconceivable!”
Inigo: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
That would be my “hook” at the start of the email, and then the rest of the email would be about how so many advertisers choose the wrong words for their ads.
Idea 6. The Newsjack Email
Newsjacking is where you inject your message into breaking news. It’s often used to get media coverage for yourself.
That’s a good strategy as well, but since we’re talking emails, let’s focus on that purpose.
The first step with writing this email is find a piece of breaking news. You can find news stories anywhere these days, of course. So that part shouldn’t be a problem.
Then, simply connect the news item to your message. Let me give you an example.
I have a course creator client in England. When the Brexit vote occurred, we decided to do a “Brexit Sale” for his course. He wrote about the economic concerns and Britain’s uncertain future. It was written with a lot of humor, and the subscribers loved it. Best of all, we sold a ton of courses.
Idea 7. Show Off Your Magic Powers
Here’s one that’s not used often enough.
Have you watched any of the Harry Potter movies? Nevermind, silly question (I hope).
You know how in those movies, professor Dumbledore rarely performs any powerful magic of his own? Most of the time he’s giving guidance, not actually performing his craft.
So what is the audience waiting for during the entire movie? For Dumbledore to bust out his wand and blast away some evil wizards!!! It’s one of the most exciting parts of the movie.
Use this strategy in your emails. In your prospect’s eyes, you’re Dumbledore. And most of the time, course creators are like Dumbledore in that they’re mostly teaching and giving advice.
But every once in a while, it’s smart to pull out that magic wand and give your subscribers a demonstration of your powers.
Do you teach CSS? Build an incredible web page from scratch. Artist? Show your latest masterpiece. Do you teach guitar? Skip the chords for a day and instead, film a video where you solo like Jimi Hendrix. Trust me, your subscribers will love this email.
Idea 8. The Herald Email
A herald is a person who announces that something is about to happen. In this email, you’re predicting the future, warning of a coming event, or my favorite – you signal an upcoming opportunity (which involves your product, naturally).
You see this all the time in the financial industry. There is always some sort of bubble about to burst, so investors better load up on gold or whatever is being promoted.
But outside the investment industry, you really don’t see the herald email much.
To get you started, answer this question for your prospect: “Why now?” As in, why is right now the perfect time to buy your course?
Olen Kroff, the author of the phenomenal book, Pitch Anything, gives three types of forces that can serve to answer the “why now” question:
- Economic forces
- Social forces
- Technology forces
Think about how these forces are impacting your niche, and turn that into a reason for your prospect to buy from you.
As an example, I recently spotted this Herald email from SurvivalLife.com
Idea 9. A Huge List of Benefits
In copywriting, the secret to success is uncovering the ONE major benefit of your product that prospects desire more.
It can take a lot of research to uncover that core desire, so sometimes, you just need to get it all out there. With these email, send a massive list of every possible benefit of your product. Then, simply let your readers scan and find the one that resonates them. Sometimes, one specific benefit is enough to knock a prospect off the fence and become a customer.
Idea 10. Become a Beginner Again
Course creators often suffer from the curse of knowledge (I’m guilty of this).
The curse of knowledge is when you know so much about your topic that it’s difficult for you to remember what it’s like to not have that knowledge.
This presents a real problem in your marketing. Because the critical skill in marketing is empathy – the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. If you can’t do that, you’re in trouble.
So while you can’t unlearn what you know about your topic, you can do the next best thing: Become a beginner in another field.
I once wrote a series of emails like this for a client. This person is at the very top of their field. They haven’t been a beginner in decades. But in their free time, they quietly took up sailing.
Now, I didn’t recommend this person take up sailing. They did that on their own. But you can imagine my response when I heard about it.
Email time, baby!
And not only did it give my client a fresh perspective on what it’s like to be a beginner, their subscribers absolutely loved the emails.
So try a new hobby, then write down the key lessons. Share them with your subscribers and tie it back to your product. You’ll discover that it’s easy to transfer high-level lessons from one field to another.
Idea 11. Spotted in the Wild
The camera on your smartphone is an endless source of email ideas.
The next time you’re out and about, keep your fingers ready to grab your phone. Then, when you spot good email fodder in the wild, take the shot!
One time, I was walking down Sunset Boulevard in L.A. and saw real live dancers up on the billboard promoting Grease Live.
I snapped a picture and used it in an email sent to advertising pros.
Do you teach dog training? Take a photo of that woman getting dragged down the sidewalk by her German Shepard. Teach auto repair? Capture that black cloud of soot coming from the car in front of you.
Don’t worry if your photos don’t look nice. In this case, an authentic photo is better than a stock photo.
Idea 12. Mythbusting
Every niche has myths. Think about your own niche. What do some people believe about your topic that is just not true?
List those myths in an email. Tell your subscribers you don’t want them falling for the myths. Then, plug your product.
Look, some of the ideas in this post aren’t for everyone. You may read one and say, “That’s interesting, but it’s not for my business.” I totally understand. But the myths email is a must. That is, if you want to make more sales.
Idea 13. Weird News
Oh man, I’m excited to see what you come up with for this one!
Who doesn’t enjoy a good “weird news” story?
Simply head to Google and search for “weird news”
I just did this and found gems like this:
- Woman Sends Amputated Toe to Fiancé to Make a Necklace
- Giant Snowballs in Siberia Might be Connected to a Frosty U.S. Winter
- Cops Arrest Man After Confusing Doughnut Glaze for Crystal Meth
Or here’s a successful one I sent to my beer list:
How did I use it?
Well, the guy in the article reviews insect stings for a living. So I compared that to some “painful” beers I’ve judged in homebrewing competitions. Then I offered remedies for the biggest mistakes I notice.
Stay weird, my friend.
Idea 14. The Holiday Email
Want an instant stack of email ideas? Look no further than your calendar.
You often hear marketers talk about something called “the reason why.” We’re always on the lookout for a reason why....
- The reason why we’re holding a sale
- The reason why we’re launching this new product
- The reason why we’re hosting this event
The “reason why” is extremely powerful tool. And holidays give you built-in reasons why! Now, most of us do a Black Friday sale or a Christmas promotion, but don’t forget some of the fun, more obscure holidays out there.
Like National Talk Like a Pirate Day, Friendship Day, and Wiggle your Toes Day . All are real, and all of them are a great source of email ideas.
Idea 15. Show an Unbelievable Stat
Citing a crazy, impressive, or unbelievable stat is a great ways to begin any piece of copywriting. Going forward, keep an eye out for how often stats are used to introduce persuasive writing.
If you can name ONE impressive stat that ties into what you’re selling, it can win you more customers.
Say I teach an online course on personal finance. And in Module 1 of my online course, I teach how to get out of debt. I’d be wise to use this table:
Then, I’d write an email that says the average American carries $16,061 in credit card debt. That’s a lot of credit card debt! Sounds like most Americans could sure use my personal finance course, don’t you think?
Idea 16. What’s Your Type?
Self-discovery is an extremely powerful persuasion trigger. We love to learn about ourselves.
The “What’s Your Type?” emails are a perfect way to capitalize on this quirk of psychology.
You see a lot of these today in the form of online quizzes, but you don’t need to get that fancy to reap the benefits of this technique.
Let me give you a simple example from my beer site that got a huge response. There are a few different “types” of homebrewers:
- Gadget Geeks
So I wrote an email where I listed these Homebrewer Types and described each one. Even better, I attached the name of a famous brewer to each one. People my subscribers knew. The email got a huge response.
This was in the early days and I didn’t have a product to sell yet, so I just linked to a different article for each one. I said something like “If you’re an Artist, you’ll love this article…”
But you can make the call to action anything you want.
Here’s an example of “What’s Your Type?” email from Kinobody.
Idea 17. Share Your Best Tools
What’s one thing we online marketers can’t get enough of?
When I see an email promising a monster list of resources I can’t resist a peek. It’s like that in most niches.
What tools and resources can you give your subscribers?
Do you teach graphic design? How about a list of websites for beautiful fonts. Financial planning? Create a list of useful calculators. Here’s a “Tools” email from a rockstar in the course creation industry, Amy Porterfield.
Idea 18. Admit a Big Failure
Think about your favorite big screen heroes. What do they have in common? The best heroes have flaws.
That’s why Batman is generally more interesting than Superman. He’s a much more flawed character.
Truth is, we don’t trust people who appear perfect. We know that nobody is perfect. So don’t be afraid to share your flaws with your subscribers.
Those blunders, missteps, and failures are what make you human. Human, just like your subscribers.
My homebrewer readers knew that when I botched a batch, they’d hear about it.
Here’s the intro to an email I sent about a beer I brewed that became infected (no fun). Infections are considered a rookie mistake in homebrewing, but I shared this story anyways.
The result? Responses poured in from brewers (both newbies and veterans) who have experienced an infected brew. I built a lot of trust with this email.
Idea 19. Direct Pitch
Look, something you’ve just got to sell.
True, you can sell with any of these email ideas. But there are times when you should write a direct pitch email, which is exactly what it sounds like -- a direct pitch for your course.
There’s nothing wrong with directly pitching your course via email. It only becomes problematic when this is the ONLY type of email you send (we all know people who do this).
This isn’t an article about how to structure a sales message, but let me give you a tip I learned from my copywriting coach.
He was explaining how it’s so easy to get lost in the weeds when selling your product. We’re so close to it that we often miss the big picture. When that happens, he gave me a list of four questions to answer for your prospect:
- Why are you bothering me?
- Who cares?
- Why should I believe you?
- Why should I do anything about it right now?
When you get stuck, answer the 4 W’s as if your prospect asked them directly to you.
Do that, and the words will flow from your fingertips
Idea 20. The Survey Email
The survey email should be in your regular rotation. Not only because people love to give their opinion, but because of the marketing insights you gain.
If you do it right, you can tap into the mind of your prospect, find out exactly what they want, and then give it to them.
The key to writing a successful survey email is something I learned from marketing expert Ryan Levesque. He says to never call it a survey. People hate the word survey. Just tell them you’re looking for feedback or their opinion.
Notice how personal it sounds, unlike those annoying “please take the time to fill out this survey” emails you get from your cable company.
Kevin links to a SurveyMonkey survey, which is fine, but you can also ask your questions directly in the email. You’ll get a bigger response, but it’s tougher to organize the responses. It’s your call, but either way, the survey email is a must.
Idea 21. The Poll Email
The poll email is similar to the survey email. The difference is that it’s simpler. A poll is basically a single multiple choice question.
For example, let’s say you teach a golf course. You could send a poll asking your subscribers their favorite brand of golf ball. Maybe you list ten options plus an “other” category.
You could also make the poll open ended.
I did just that for my homebrewer subscribers. I wanted to know what brand of growler everyone was using. This was a genuine question because a bunch of new high-tech growlers have hit the market and I admitted I hadn’t kept up with them. So I sent a very simple poll email where I asked: “Hey, what growler do you use?”
You can see from the image below that my inbox was packed with responses. Some people wrote five paragraphs all about beer growlers! (They’re even bigger beer geeks than I am – impressive.)
I gained all sorts of great ideas from the responses:
- Create an infographic showing the different types of growlers
- Share the results on our Facebook page
- Contact the growler companies for demo units, then write reviews for each one
- Add the growlers to the shopping section of our website and use affiliate links
You can see how a simple poll email can turn into tons of content ideas.
Idea 22. The “If I had to do it over again” email
Have you ever gone to a conference, watched a famous expert give a presentation, and then listened to the Q&A after? What question does somebody always ask?
“If you were starting from scratch today, what would you do differently?”
Your prospects are dying to hear your answer to this question. Why not write an email and tell them? Make sure to pitch your course at the end. This type of email is often a big seller.
Idea 23. The Giant List email
I know, I know... people love to hate on list posts. You know what I mean: “The Top 10” this and “The 30 Best” that.
Yes, they’re everywhere, but that’s because they really do work!
Just when I think people are sick of list posts, I give one a shot, and it almost always gets a ton of engagement.
Idea 24. The Commandments Email
Moses climbed Mount Sinai and obtained a list of principles, or commandments, for his group to follow. You can teach your own commandments, and don’t even need to do the grueling hike.
Ask yourself: What values guide your teaching? What beliefs should your subscribers hold about your topic if they want to succeed?
Turn those into commandments and then write an email.
Here’s an example from one of my favorite email writers, Ash Ambirge, the founder of The Middle Finger Project (love that name).
Idea 25. Highlight a Star Student
This type of email is essentially a case study. Case studies are one of my absolute favorite ways of making course sales. When you have a student who gets remarkable results, share their success!
The great thing about case studies is that you can sell without being “salesy.” Simply showing your student’s results, and making clear that they got the results because of your training, is all the selling required.
Here’s an example email from one of my clients, Rafeh Qazi of Clever Programmer.
Ninja Tip: Don’t limit this to just email
Although these ideas are intended for email, the new social media tools that have emerged in the past few years are perfect for using the ideas listed in this post.
You can use these ideas in:
- YouTube Vlogs
- Instagram videos and stories
- Facebook Messenger
- Facebook Live
- Facebook Video ads
That last one is actually getting great results right now. Choose one of these 25 ideas, record a quick video, and promote it as an ad it to your email subscribers and fans on Facebook. It will get you tons of likes, shares, and comments, which enhances all of your Facebook advertising efforts.
All we’re doing here is communicating with our prospects, so if writing emails isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other ways to get your message across.
The key thing with these emails is to not overthink them. As you were reading the list, there was probably one idea that jumped at you. Don’t wait, go write it now!
Before long, writing emails will get easier and become a habit. You may even wonder why you ever feared the blank page at all.
Don't have a list to send to yet? Learn how to build your email list with Teachable's List Building 101 Guide.