Lesson 10: Grow Your Email List & Deepen Your Customer Relationships with Email Courses


Written by David Kadavy of Design for Hackers

“Can I have $20?” Noah extended his open hand to me.

I thought about it for a moment. The years of our friendship flashed before my eyes. Memories of surfing in Costa Rica, sailing in Nicaragua, and the first time I met him, thinking to myself, “I’m not so sure about this crazy guy” — at a BBQ in 2006.

I thought about all I had gotten from him: a couch to crash on, office space to squat in, and years of breakthrough advice that had helped me grow as a businessperson, and as a human.

At the end of that moment, I almost felt ashamed that I had needed to think about it. I tried to demonstrate a lack of hesitation as I slipped a twenty from my wallet.

At the time, I figured Noah would give it back to me after his talk. It had been an exercise in demonstrating the power of existing relationships, and I was his guinea pig.

(Noah never returned that $20 bill, and I never asked for it back. If you’re reading this, Noah, don’t worry about it. I still owe you one.)

The deeper your customer relationships, the more likely they are to buy

Like the character in Neville’s lesson #5, Noah was a Giving Gary before he asked, and I was happy to help him out.

You can’t be close friends with all of your readers, but if you give to them selflessly, you can develop powerful relationships. When it comes time to ask for money (in exchange for a valuable product or service, of course), they won’t hesitate.

Email courses deepen your customer relationships

One of the best ways to give incredible value to your readers is through an email course. Email courses are great because they:

  • Are email: When someone offers you a bonus PDF, or a free e-book, you know you roll your eyes when you have to enter your email address just to download it. Email courses are email, so it just feels more natural to sign up for them.
  • Are substantial: Which sounds more enticing to you: a single-page bonus PDF, or a whole email course?
  • Are ongoing: Email courses keep delivering value as time goes on, and your readers start to look forward to your emails.
  • Motivate your readers: If your readers are coming to you for help on something, they need you to motivate them to reach their goals. You could dump a 32-page ebook in their lap, or you could email them once a week with a small, manageable, challenge. The latter approach is going to get them more results.

I grew my list 6x, and spiked sales with an email course

I offer my free email course at designforhackers.com because I’ve met so many people who had bought my book, but got too busy to finish it.

When I first launched my course as “Summer of Design,” my list jumped from just over 5k subscribers, to 30k subscribers, an incredible 6x increase.

My email course didn’t only drive new subscribers, it also crafted strong relationships with my readers, which has driven more book sales, and sales of my courses. See if you can spot the part on my Amazon book sales graph where I launched Summer of Design (hint: it’s almost 3x the size of the Christmas season spike).

Your email course has to provide value. Here’s how:

You can’t be a Leeching Larry and expect to grow your list with a poorly-considered email course. You have to be a Giving Gary and provide real value. Here are a few of the best things an email course can deliver:

  • A sample of a product: If you have an information product, such as a book or an online course, give them a taste of what you’re teaching.
  • A transformation: If you have a software product, try to do with email what your product does with software.
  • A new way of thinking: If you have a physical product, or a service, show them your unique way of thinking about your field.

Any of these types of courses can be adapted to any kind of product or service. What’s appropriate for you will depend upon your product and goals.

My email course breaks down each chapter of my book into an email. There’s no way I could include the whole book in a series of emails, but my readers get a ton of value from the course.

The course you’re in right now, Email1k, promises a transformation. You’re going to reach a specific goal with what you learn in the course.

Jesse Mecham, over at You Need a Budget has a 9-day course that teaches you about his unique philosophy of money management. This same philosophy drives his budgeting software.

What will work for you depends upon your goals, and your sales cycle.

  • What kinds of objections might people have to buying your product? “How do I know if this book is any good?” “Does this ‘expert’ know what they’re talking about?”
  • What kind of relationship do you ideally have with your customers? If you’re a high-dollar consultant, you may just be showing them how you think so they’ll do a consultation with you.
  • OR your course is your product. If people are paying for your course, you’ll need to promise results (“Transformation”).
  • If you don’t have a product yet, don’t worry! An email course is a great way to form a relationship with your subscriber. When you finally do have a product, they’ll be the first one to buy.

    Using email courses to grow your email list

    Early on in Email1k, you learned valuable tactics for steadily growing your email list. Steady growth is great, as we’ve seen with the past few lessons, growth done right can be explosive. With a proper email course launch, you can add thousands of email addresses daily. Remember, I grew my email list by nearly 25,000 when I launched my course.

    Rules to Explosive Growth

    Explosive growth rule #1: Have a deadline for sign-up

    The main reason that having a deadline leads to explosive growth is that it creates a sense of “scarcity” for what you’re offering. People have nothing to lose for signing up for your course before the deadline, but they’ll completely miss out on the opportunity if they don’t sign up. (Another psychological principle called “loss aversion”.)

    Scarcity leads to explosive growth, but don’t make scarcity the real reason you’re having a deadline. You need to appreciate, understand, and internalize the other reasons for having a deadline, or else your marketing is going to come off as slimy.

    • It creates a sense of shared experience for all of your “students.” It’s exciting and motivating to be a part of an event such as a launch of a course, and it’s more motivating for your students to feel like they’re “in it” with hundreds or thousands of others.
    • It’s motivating for you, the course creator. When I launched Summer of Design, I only had drafts of a few of the emails written. The fact that I had made the commitment to write those emails, and there were 30,000 people excited to get them was extremely motivating each week as I completed the course.
    • It’s your content. You’re working hard to create something great, and give it away for free. You can give it away on your terms. Have respect for your work, and others will respect it, too.

    (You may notice my Summer of Design course is now available instantly – still free – at designforhackers.com. This explosive and motivating “launch effect” can be had once in the lifetime of a course, so make it count!)

    Explosive growth rule #2: Above all else, ask for shares

    Everything on your landing page when launching should try to convince people to do one thing: sign up for your course.

    The subtext of your marketing at this point is:

    “My course is awesome, the deadline is approaching, it’s got great content, and you don’t want to miss it!”

    But once someone has signed up to your email list, you want them to do one more thing: share your course!

    Now it’s:

    “I’m giving you something great, the course is about to start and you should be excited, the deadline is approaching, don’t let your friends miss it!”

    I recommend asking for shares on ONE social network of your preference. It makes the decision and action simple for your students, and shares will naturally happen on other networks.

    Here is the “viral loop” I created to drive tweets of Summer of Design when I launched:

    Notice that upon launch, everything was focused on driving retweets of my “Launch tweet” (4.0). It was embedded in my Launch email (2.0), my Launch blog post (3.0), my Email success page (1.2), and my Welcome email (1.3).

    With the exception of the Launch blog post, if you weren’t signed up already, I asked you to sign up, and if you were signed up, I asked you to share. (My Launch blog post asked for both things.)

    Lesson 10 Task

    1. Pick a topic for your course: This should be something that matters to your customer, and will deepen your relationship with them in a way that makes them more comfortable with buying from you.
    2. Pick a launch date and end/close date.
    3. Write down 6 titles: Break down what you’d like to accomplish in your course into 6 emails, and give each one a title. If you get stuck, write something like “this is where I tell them about fonts.” Keep it simple. You can fix it when you write the email later.
    4. Pick dates for sending each email: I recommend one email a week, on a chosen day (i.e. Wednesday). There can be reasons to be more frequent, but don’t overthink this.
    5. Write only the first email of your course: Keep it focused, and 500–1,000 words long.

    After this, you should be excited enough about your course that you can take care of the rest of the emails as the send dates approach.

    P.S. If you’re interested in investigating further, you can view all of the components of my launch.

    5 thoughts on “Lesson 10: Grow Your Email List & Deepen Your Customer Relationships with Email Courses

    1. Jody


      Thanks for the lesson. I’ve been wanting to do an email course for some time now and just haven’t done it (laziness I know). I do have a couple of questions:

      How did/do you handle setting the deadline for registration? In other words, how do you ensure that registration actually closes when it should.

      Along those same lines, how do you make sure those who try to register afterward get the email telling them it is closed?

      Thanks again!

      1. David Kadavy

        Hey there, Jody, great question! There are probably much fancier ways to do this, but I did it manually.

        So, when the deadline came, I changed over the landing page to say that registration was over. I had already used MailChimp’s “Automation” feature to send a “welcome” email to those who signed up in time for the deadline, and a “sorry, you’re on the waitlist” email for those who signed up after the deadline.

        Unfortunately, it turned out that the timezone MailChimp’s Automation was working off of was different from the timezone I was working off of. So, a bunch of people inadvertently got the “sorry, you’re on the waitlist” email. No big deal, I just let them know that it was a mistake.

        So, you can use automation, but it may be best to be sure you have the right timezone! (If not, it’s not the end of the world)

    2. Kevin

      This lesson was a kick in the head. My small list was pretty much created by an email course I ran for fun. BUT instead of doing what I was good at…I’ve been messing around with a bunch of other stuff.

      Yesterday I set up another course I had been thinking then asked my other course participants to spread the news.

      33% increase in list size in one day.

      Thanks David!


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