Building an email list is nothing new - it's a tactic that savvy internet marketers have been using for well over a decade. But for a lot of bloggers, email marketing is a struggle. So we're starting our Building Your List series to help food bloggers start, grow and leverage the power of their email lists!
In today's article we talk about how food bloggers can take their newsletter lists to the next level including tips on how to run an email challenge.
If you've been following along in our Build Your List series then you're probably well on your way to mastering the basics of building an email list. Hopefully by now you're ticking along and getting one or two new subscribers a day - which is a nice steady growth. In a year's time that's 365 - 730 new subscribers!
Ok - it may not sound like much when others throw around huge numbers in the thousands or tens of thousands. But imagine if you put all 730 people in an auditorium and had to get up and speak to them while they listened... to YOU! That number doesn't seem quite so small anymore does it?
Don't worry if your list is small - if all those people who've signed up are engaged and opening your newsletter you have a very powerful tool to work with! A massive list comes with it's own set of challenges so don't be afraid to embrace small but mighty!
But, let's say you want to take it to the next level. You know you've got good things to say and you want more people to hear you say them.
Let's look at some idea to help you boost your email newsletter subscriber count including 7 tips on how to run a successful email challenge.
1. Have An Opt-In Offer They Can't Refuse
Offer potential subscribers something insanely useful that they have to have. This is the absolute best way to get the right people to take action and actually sign up.
You can even have multiple offers to speak to the different interests of your readers - just make sure they work with your niche.
For example if you focus on gluten-free recipes, you could create one opt-in that's related to gluten-free baking and another opt-in related to gluten-free meal prep - or gluten-free instant pot recipes or gluten-free breakfasts. They all fit in the gluten-free niche but speak to different ways of cooking and eating.
Offers or opt-ins can be:
- simple one page ingredient substitutions
- menu plans
- reader challenges (more on those below)
- tip sheets
- buying guides
- easy DIY projects
- shopping list templates
... you get the idea. It can be anything as long as it's useful or entertaining
Having said that... take a look at what others in your space are doing for their opt-ins and try to do something different or put your own twist on it. A lot of opt-ins out there in the food space are very similar which makes it that much harder to get somebody to sign up. If they already have a downloadable shopping list template they probably aren't going to sign up for another one. But they may want multiple meal plans or recipe ebooks.
We'll expand on this in a future article but most email newsletter providers will give you tools that let you create segments for your list - usually through tagging. For instance, everyone who opts in for the gluten free baking offer might get automatically tagged in your list with baking. You can set up some pretty sophisticated automation that will allow you to email just the baking segment of your list with content that focuses on baking!
2. Change Your Opt-Ins Regularly
Craft new offers a few times a year - seasonal offers are a great way to do this - so that you always have something fresh to offer potential subscribers.
If you've been offering the same opt-in for a year and you're not seeing much subscriber action happening, maybe it's time to try something new.
You can also recycle opt-ins to get more use out of them. We have a watermelon recipe ebook that we offer every summer - it does well for us so we continue to use it. But if that changes we'll try something new for summer.
PRO TIP: whenever you create a new offer, send it out to those already on your list. Don't make them subscribe again to get your latest cool thing. That's not a good user experience.
3. Running Ads on Social Media
You may have the best opt-in in the world that's packed with fantastic resources but what good does it do if nobody knows it exists?
This is where running an ad can be very beneficial. You have the opportunity to reach an entirely new group of people who've never even been to your website or seen your social media channels.
A lot of bloggers shy away from running ads on social media but there are times where running an ad is worth it. And one of those times is when an ad makes you money. Having an ad budget and strategy that directly targets growing your list can be very effective.
We've already talked about all the ways your email list can be monetized and we've talked about the value of subscribers. There's two reasons we all see a lot of ads in our Facebook feeds encouraging us to download a free guide, ebook, cheatsheet, ingredient substitution guide etc in exchange for our email addresses.
- The ads work- how many times have you seen something that appeals to you and you're tempted?
- Our email addresses are valuable! For many businesses it's worth spending money to get them.
Today's sophisticated targeting options now allow you to reach the right new people - the ones who'll want what you're offering. Facebook offers targeting tools that you can use to find people that are a good fit - like the Facebook Pixel and Lookalike Audiences.
Do you already have the Facebook Pixel installed on your site? If not you might want to do that sooner than later - the sooner you're able to collect data on your existing readers the more information you'll have to run a targeted ad campaign.
PRO TIP: The key with running an ad is that the ad should focus on your opt-in offer, why people will find it useful and how they'll benefit from it. You're selling the benefits of the offer, not the fact that they're signing up to your email list (but you do need to make it clear to people that by submitting their email address to get the offer they're subscribing to your email list)
4. Running A Reader Challenge
Running a reader challenge can be an excellent way to grow your list - sometimes very quickly!
While these can be crazy successful they do take some work so be prepared! Here's the steps you'll need to take.
1. Decide What Your Challenge Will Be
Before you can run a challenge you need an idea. It should be:
- simple enough that people feel it's achievable
- address an issue that your readers are struggling with
- have a tangible outcome for your audience that directly relates to the amount of time they have to put in to complete the challenge
- or it needs to be something that's a lot of fun! Entertainment is always valuable.
We've seen some really great challenges that have worked very well. You may be familiar with the Simple Green Smoothie Challenge that took off several years ago and they still run variations of it regularly. FBC Member Denise from Sweet Peas and Saffron also runs multiple meal planning challenges throughout the year that have proven very successful for her - she even ran a workshop on her challenges at our blogging retreat in Canmore last fall.
2. How Long Will It Run?
We've heard a lot of people say a beginner challenge should run 5 days - Monday to Friday - when people are in front of their computers and opening email every day. There's a lot of sense in that logic!
And yet both the original Simple Green Smoothie challenge and Denise's challenge run much longer than that (30 days and 3 weeks, respectively) and they've both been very successful. I participate in an annual 100 day challenge that has a tremendously active community.
So there is no right answer. You need to think about your audience, what the challenge is going to entail and also how much time you can devote to it.
3. Have a Definitive Start and End Date
This is important. You want people joining your list BEFORE the challenge starts. They need to be on your list beforehand to get any advance tools you send out like shopping lists. And you are going to need to promote your challenge well in advance.
You can promote your challenge via your social channels, through ads and even to your existing list. Encourage your existing subscribers to take part and to pass the challenge sign up form along to any friends who might be interested. Word of mouth is still valuable!
Running the challenge during a set period a few times a year also helps you plan your time and your content around your challenge. Depending on the type of challenge you do you may need to send out an email every day or every week. Get those all written and scheduled in advance. You may also be offering up some tools for participants so you'll want to have those prepped and ready to go as well.
4. Use Segmenting Tools
There will be people on your list already who don't want to do the challenge. You don't want to annoy them by inundating them with emails they're not interested in. Ideally you want to use the segmenting tools that your email marketing platform provides to assign a tag to subscribers who specifically come through your challenge sign up page. This will allow you to send out all the challenge emails to that specific group and leave out anyone who's not interested.
If your email marketing provider doesn't provide segmenting tools (most do) or if you're intimidated by setting them up, you can hire somebody to help you get set up (you can hire a VA who specializes in email tools or you can try fiverr or Upwork) or you can start a second list just for your challenges (we don't love this method as it can get expensive to run two lists with a lot of overlap and it can be messy to clean up later).
5. Use Your Challenge to Build a Community
Running a challenge is a brilliant way to build an engaged community. Think about how you can do this with your challenge participants. A very simple way is to set up a Facebook group just for those taking part. Encourage everyone to join and share their successes and their photos. If you run additional challenges invite those participants into the existing group so that it grows in time along with your email list.
You can also run Facebook lives within your group to demo part of the challenge - like making the recipes, or talking about the ingredients or doing a live Q&A.
6. What Are Some Email Challenge Ideas?
If you're struggling with coming up with an idea for your challenge, try to think of things that solve a problem or create a noticeable change for your readers. Here are some actual challenge ideas - many of them can be modified to work in niches besides food but they give you an idea of how successful challenges work to grow your list and your community.
Simple Green Smoothies didn't start the smoothie challenge idea but they certainly ran with it. This is an example of a challenge that encourages participants to start making changes to their diet with small, easily manageable steps - like a single, simple daily meal substitution that promotes healthful ingredients and feeling more vibrant by the finish. 30 days can be a good length of time when you're running a challenge that's trying to promote a new habit.
Meal Prep Challenges
Meal prep challenges can relieve so many pain points for the right audience: not enough time, trying to figure out what to cook each day, spending too much money on take out, multiple trips to the grocery store, etc. Again, you'll need to provide shopping lists, recipes and meal prepping tips.
Teach A New Skill
We thought about making this Build Your List series an email challenge. Each email in the series would help people go from no email list to a thriving engaged list one step at a time. In the end we decided that because building a solid list takes months it wasn't the right fit for a challenge. However, we probably could have done a Take Your List From 0 to 300 In A Month challenge as that really is a realistic goal that can be achieved in 30 days. Think of skills or DIY projects your audience might like that you can teach them in 5 - 30 days.
Here's some ideas:
- how to learn a new appliance like an InstantPot or a Vitamix
- how to organize your kitchen
- how to make over your pantry to be paleo/keto/gluten-free/dairy-free/vegan etc.
A Daily Prompt Challenge
Daily prompt challenges are used a lot in daily creative challenges like Inktober or Huevember or an Instagram Photo A Day Challenge. You can modify them for food by doing a daily ingredient challenge introducing your readers to some new ingredients they've maybe never used (if you write a blog focused on a certain cuisine this can be a great intro challenge for people just learning about Italian/Indian/Hungarian/Japanese food). Include a simple recipe for each ingredient.
Restaurant Bloggers Can Do Challenges Too!
If you're a restaurant blogger you can set up all kinds of challenges for your audience based on the local restaurant scene. It could be a mac n cheese challenge, a hot chocolate challenge, a summer patio challenge, a craft brewery challenge... the ideas are endless.
Pull together a list of 4 or 5 of your favourite places to stop for a particular food and put together a mini guide for your readers challenging them all to try each stop in 30 days. Highlight the menu items for the challenge (obviously if it's a mac n cheese challenge you'll want the dishes to be mac n cheese!)
You can encourage them to share photos on Instagram with a hashtag you come up with. This is an idea that also encourages repeat participation.
- A Reduce the Packaging Challenge - packaging is on everyone's mind these days. Run a challenge showing people how to reduce packaging in their grocery shopping and their pantry. This is one that could work well with baby steps
- An Elimination, Substitution or Inclusion Challenge - this is another baby step idea that you can do to help people who want to change their eating habits. It could be eliminating refined sugar, how to include more unprocessed foods in your diet or how to swap out bad fats for healthy fats
- A Preserving Challenge - this is a great one for summer to help people learn how to preserve their food through freezing, canning, dehydrating etc
7. Evaluate, Tweak and Rerun Your Challenge
Once your challenge wraps up you want to do a post-mortem and evaluate how things went. When you do your first challenge you're going to make mistakes - don't worry about it. That's how you learn. You're also going to discover lots of ways you could have done things better. That's awesome. Make notes as you go along and once you wrap up, look at how you can tweak your challenge and make it better.
After that you can look at whether you want to rerun it in a few months time (give everyone a break) or if you want to do a variation on your challenge to keep things fresh. For instance, Denise focuses on different meals for each challenge - one might be lunches, one might be dinners etc.
The ideas are only limited by your imagination. Think about your niche, your readers and what will engage them.
5. Keep New Subscribers Engaged
It's really important that as you add all these new subscribers to your list that you make sure you actively work to keep them engaged. As we've mentioned before, a huge list with a very low open rate is not good. Almost all email newsletter marketing programs will allow you set up some automation. We strongly suggest that you send everyone who joins your list an automated welcome email.
Now when we say an "automated welcome email" we don't mean an email that's devoid of personality. Create another really useful email - point new subscribers to content on your site that they might find helpful. Almost like a "Start Here" page on your blog. Tell them a little bit about yourself and why you do what you do and how you hope to engage with them. Encourage them to get in touch if they have questions or comments (and respond to them). Highlight some of your most popular recipes or posts that give them a good idea of what your content is like. Direct them to anything else you think they should know!
These are all great ideas that you can use to up your email subscriber count to the next level. Before you get started though, we strongly recommend that you master the basics of an email list. Before you run ads or do challenges it's a good idea to have a good feel for your list and the type of content you want to create and, more importantly, the type of content that resonates with your existing subscribers. You also want to have a good handle on your newsletter writing voice before you try to really increase your subscriber count.
Remember, you're paying for those subscribers so focus on attracting the RIGHT subscribers for your content first!