One of the things I’ve learned over the last few years, is that when I focus on having conversations with the people on my list (vs. trying to build the list bigger and faster), I’m much more successful.

Here are my tips for doing just that:

1. Start the relationship off on the right foot. Create a welcome email that does more than just say thanks for subscribing. Pretend you and this new person have just met at a cocktail party. What would you normally say to get a conversation started? You wouldn’t start with something hard like so, what do you think the meaning of life is? Nope. That would totally kill the mood. You also wouldn’t start by asking them what their biggest problem is. At least, not if you wanted to actually have a conversation. (That kind of thing comes later.) The easy answer here is that you’d say, hello. Possibly ask them where they’re from and what they do when they’re not hanging out at fabulous cocktail parties, right? That’s the idea here. Ask your new subscriber to share a little bit about themselves. Let them know you really care about the connection and that you’re looking forward to hearing from them. Email isn’t easy, but it works.

Here’s the welcome email I use:

welcome email

According to Aweber, the number of folks who open this email hovers around 67%. On average, I’d say 1 out of every 5 or 6 new subscribers actually responds to this.

And when they do, I respond back again — with a personalized short message that lets them know I took a peek at their website or followed them on Twitter (something relevant to what they shared). Often times, there’s another question or comment I can add that helps facilitate another email from them. On one occasion, a reader and I exchanged nearly 25 emails over the course of a week! And you can bet that she definitely opens and reads my newsletter now.

2. Ask your readers a question in every email. Most folks aren’t used to responding to a newsletter or an e-blast. Usually, that’s because nobody ever asked them to. Whenever possible, write your newsletter so that it’s conversational in tone. And ASK your reader to share their thoughts on a particular topic. This is the easiest call to action you can make: “Hit reply and let me know what you think about XYZ.”

I have a folder in my inbox that I use to save ALL newsletter responses. Sometimes, I encourage replies by letting people know I’m doing research on a future blog topic. Sometimes I promise to share their responses with a little link love back to their website (if they want it). Be creative. What would get YOU to reply to a question in a newsletter? Do that. For the record, I’ve collected just over 450 responses from people since I started doing this last year. Sometimes I get just one reply. Sometimes, I get 20. It varies and you need to keep testing to see what works with your audience.

3. Check in with those who haven’t opened an email in awhile. At least once a year, I like to check in with the folks on my list who don’t appear to be reading to see what’s been going on for them. This is the email I sent this past summer to a segment of my list that (according to Aweber) hadn’t opened the last four newsletters:


It went out to about half the people on my list, and of those, 23% opened the email and replied. In total, I had just over 150 responses — most of whom shared all sorts of interesting stories about what they’d been up to. I believe I had three people unsubscribe, but I personally didn’t remove anyone from the list because I more than a few people told me that they were reading the newsletter and wanted to keep getting it. (Remember: open rates aren’t 100% accurate!)


Beyond the tips above, there are other things you can do to help build and nurture relationships with the folks via email:

1. Use Rapportive (free) or Mailchimp’s Social Pro (small monthly fee) to learn more about your subscribers via their social media profiles. Connect with them there. Follow them, friend them. Listen and learn.

2. Use autoresponders to drip out desired information (usually the promise or “bribe” you have to get people to hand over their email address). It’s a lot more work, but it pays off when you can get folks in the habit of opening and reading your emails. For autoresponders, the best sources of strategy I’ve found is on Problogger.

3. Create or use a system to follow up with people on a regular basis. Don’t rely solely on your newsletter to do the heavy lifting of relationship-building. Reach out individually to people who have responded to you in the past. I’m using Contactually to help me with this right now. But even if you just put responses in a folder and revisit it once a month, that would make a difference. This is especially important if you’re marketing to business folks or selling professional services. Keeping in touch on a personal level is a must for generating sales. (Create a list of 20 or 30 prospects and cycle through them on a daily or weekly basis — share a relevant news article, say hello, introduce them to someone else — these are all reasons to reach out and stay in touch.)

Questions about ANY of this? Please don’t hesitate to raise your hand in the comments below.