Grow your email list the AppSumo way
Congratulations, you did it! You’ve just launched a website! Now, all you need is people to actually read it (Nana doesn’t count). And the single best way to make that happen is through email.
Everyone is tempted to do their marketing through the new kids on the block, like Instagram and LinkedIn. But the fact of the matter is: email is still the biggest marketing lever you can pull for your business.
Get the right people on your list
When AppSumo started in 2011, it was just Noah Kagan cranking away on his laptop in his mom’s basement. But in the last eight years, the team grew to 15 strong and more than 10xed our revenue (that’s a different story, which you can read about here) using email as our main channel! So, how can you start seeing this kind of success in your email marketing? Get the right people on your email list.
It’s easier said than done, but I’m going to walk you through five tried and true techniques that AppSumo has used to grow our email list over the years.
1. Customer Profiling
Ok, this one is kind of feels like a cop-out because it’s not going to physically collect any emails for you. But hear me out. Before you can even start thinking of how to reach your customers or readers, you first need to figure out who that person is. At AppSumo, we got on calls with our best customers and asked them, “Hey, how did you first hear about us? What are somethings that we’ve done that you liked or didn’t like? Why do people keep laughing when I wear my fedora?” Then once we knew more about these customers, we created customer personas to better understand them and their behaviors.
So if you’re starting a travel blog and want to grow your email list, first brainstorm your ideal subscriber. Are they budget travelers? Do they like adventure? Are they in a predominantly younger or older demographic? Remember: Narrowing down who you’re talking to only makes your messaging more effective.
2. Viral Giveaways
Fun fact: Giveaways were the number one way that AppSumo got to its first 200K subscribers. We use a tool that we built called KingSumo (bonus: there’s a lifetime deal on it!), but there are a ton of other options available to you.
Here are the most important things to nail down when you’re running a giveaway:
- Choose a platform that encourages viral 1-click sharing. Nobody has time for multiple clicks so eliminate additional barriers to entry and make entering a no-brainer!
- Pick prizes that are going to appeal to your ideal customer and repel your non-ideal customer. Why shouldn’t you give away a laptop? Because everyone wants one! Sure, you’ll get a ton of people to enter but then they’ll likely just unsub as soon as they get your first email. Instead, go after people who should already be on your list by picking prizes specific to them. For example, we ran a giveaway back in October designed for digital nomads featuring awesome travel tech gear and got over 25K new and, more importantly, engaged subscribers! Pro tip: If you have a native prize that you can feature (e.g. AppSumo credits), then do it! It doesn’t cost nearly as much for you and encourages more engagement with your site.
- Communicate! Set up an email introducing people to you as soon as they enter so there’s no confusion. Let them know if they won (obviously) and let them know if they didn’t (not so obviously)! Contacting non-winners gives you an awesome opportunity to give out discounts or incentivize in some other way.
3. Custom Pop-ups
Another way to get qualified leads on your email list is through custom pop-ups. By using segmented messaging and strong calls to action, you can convert more site visitors. When someone lands on AppSumo.com for the first time, they are greeted with a popup that says ‘Friends don’t let friends pay full price.’ Immediately, they get a sense of our brand identity and tone, thus, knowing what to expect from us when they fork over their email address.
We also use pop-ups to advertise product webinars that we run — and doing so has resulted in a 2x registration increase AND a 4x new subscriber increase! That means we are giving people who would have normally left the party an opportunity to engage with our content in a way that isn’t purchase related.
The important thing to remember when you’re setting up pop-ups is to talk to your audience in a way that feels familiar, that gives them value, and doesn’t annoy them. Give clear exit paths (don’t make the “x” harder to find than chapstick) and serve popups when they’re relevant or can be useful. For example, any new users that have been on your homepage for 10 seconds get served a ‘Welcome, here’s 10% off’ pop-up that sends the discount to their email. People will gladly give their email in exchange for a discount, and you can all but guarantee that email will be verified since they have to check it to apply the promotion! Win-win for you and your customer.
4. Lead Magnets
That leads us right into lead magnets (or leveraging content for new subscribers). This is another area where pop-ups can come into play! Remember how I humble bragged earlier about 10xing our revenue? Well, our sister company, Sumo.com wrote a growth study about how AppSumo makes more money per employee than Google/Facebook/Apple and we ran that PDF as a gated freebie on our site. This got THOUSANDS of new signups. Plus, I know that if someone is interested in reading 40 pages about how we make money, they’re more likely to be nurtured into a subscriber and purchaser than someone who visits the site cold.
If you have a piece of content that you can repurpose into something actionable and useful for your audience, do it! Gate it behind a pop-up and start your relationship with your customers and subscribers on the right foot by giving them something free and building up goodwill.
5. Influencer Marketing
Another great tactic is influencer marketing. Fun fact: our CEO, Noah Kagan, wrote a guest post on Tim Ferriss’ blog (we have a loose definition of “fun fact”). Tim has a massive audience of entrepreneurs, aka our ideal customer, and this article is the number one driver of organic traffic back to AppSumo — 8 years later! Working a bit of cold outreach into your marketing is a great way to gain visibility and subscribers.
I’d recommend starting out by making a list of the influencers in your space and getting their contacts. Come up with a potential blog post idea and pitch it! The worst case scenario? You meet other people working in your space. The best case scenrio? You get to leverage someone else’s audience to grow yours.
Don’t be vain
Getting your subscribers is important, so make sure you’re doing it the right way. Remember: a big, bloated list is nothing but a vanity metric. Use these tactics to grow sustainably and get the folks on your list that are excited to hear from you! Have any questions about getting your first subs? Leave a comment below!
Testing & Investing with Noah Kagan
When it comes to validating a business idea, there’s no one more qualified to do so than serial entrepreneur and AppSumo founder, Noah Kagan.
We recently sat down with Noah to discuss his new experimental project, an email platform named Send Fox. Below, we’ll discuss the process Noah used to validate his new business idea.
Solve your own problem
If you try to solve your own problem, you’ll stick with it longer.
Picture this: Noah sitting in his office, sending Bill Gates multiple connection requests on LinkedIn, when he gets a bill from Mailchimp for — several hundred dollars — for an email list he hasn’t used in a month! How frustrating! He immediately called Mailchimp and asked to speak to a manager for the obvious discount owed to him, since he hadn’t sent out any emails that month. Sadly, they told him there was nothing they could do and to please stop crying.
So Noah did what any other entrepreneur would do: he decided to take them down. Okay, not really, but he did come up with the idea of SendFox, which would be a less expensive alternative for his email needs.
Don’t spend any money (seriously)
Noah and his three business partners combined their powers to build a competitive email platform. And in under a month, they built a product that they felt was a good MVP (minimal viable product).
Now I know what you are thinking, “Noah’s situation is different.” He’s got a staff, he’s got a huge network, and he looks extremely good in hats.” And yes, while all of that may be true, Noah did offer some advice for those who may not have the technical skills to develop a product on their own. Warning: you may not like what he has to stay.
If you have an idea but aren’t technical, Noah recommends that you get to work on selling your idea instead of building it. Before you start to build your product or hire anyone to do so, you want to make sure that enough people are willing to pay for your product. And the only way to do that is to do the work and reach out to your network. Manually. Yes, I’m talking phone calls, coffee dates, and personalized emails.
Do the work
If you can’t get people who care about you to buy it, how can you get strangers to buy it?
Most entrepreneurs are scared to reach out to their network. They’re afraid of rejection and they don’t want to be laughed at. So what do they do instead? They try to go after a cold audience first. They buy Facebook ads, they set up a website, and grow their social media following in an attempt to AVOID telling their own network about their idea. And Noah warns entrepreneurs that this is not the way to approach it for 3 reasons.
1. You should NOT spend money until you are making money. Don’t build a website, don’t hire a branding professional, and don’t spend money on pay-per-click ads.
2. You need to move quickly. When trying to validate an idea, you should work as quickly as you can. You don’t want to spend weeks or months building out websites and social profiles for a product that you haven’t even validated yet.
3. You need real feedback. You want to reach out to the people in your network because they will be the most honest with you and give you the most valuable feedback. If they like you, they’ll want to help you and see you succeed (may want to exclude any exes from the contact list). Plus, if they aren’t interested in what you’ve got to say, you can always ask them for a referral that might be interested in your product.
While Noah was trying to validate SendFox, he went through his entire email list and found everyone who was using a competing email client. Then, he started calling all of those people to talk to them about SendFox’s value proposition. Yes, he actually got on the phone and called people! And he did this because he knows that talking to people will push him in the right direction.
Get to the right idea faster
Interestingly, he found that very few people were interested in switching to a new email platform to save a few hundred dollars (must be nice being so rich). But instead of throwing his hands up and abandoning the project, he took his conversations a step further and asked them what would make them excited about switching to a new platform?
Noah took this feedback back to his small team and they continued to tweak the platform to suit the needs of his ideal client.
You want to make sure that you are solving a problem, not spending any money while validating, doing the manual work necessary, and continuing to collect feedback from your audience to improve the product to suit their needs.
To hear where Noah is now with SendFox, we encourage you to watch the webinar! Noah even answers some audience questions at the end! Click here to watch the webinar.
Starting a business is expensive. You’ve got to build a website, hire a branding pro, and buy a bunch of really sweet software to get your operation running smoothly. You might also need office space, supplies, and definitely a bean bag chair. And if you are like most new entrepreneurs, you’re probably panicking just reading this? Well, don’t despair, my fellow entrepreneurial friend because, in this blog post, we’re going to give you a list of business tools that won’t cost you a dime.
1. Google Docs
Despite what you’ve been told, you do not need to spend hundreds of dollars on fancy office suite software. Google gives you everything for FREE. I’m talking documents, spreadsheets, slide presentations, and forms. Which means you can run almost every area of your business using just the Google suite. The best part is you can access all your files from anywhere and on any device. So you’ll never be without your important documents.
It’s time to get organized. Once you start a business, you learn that your head, napkins, and random scraps of notebook paper no longer cut it for keeping track of projects and to-do lists. This is why I love Trello. Trello is a project management tool that allows you to set up all your tasks and to-do lists in one neatly organized website, accessible from any device. With Trello’s free plan, you get unlimited boards, lists, cards, members, checklists, and attachments.
Now that you’ve got Google Docs and Trello set up, let me introduce you to my productivity-boosting friend, Zapier. Zapier is an online tool that allows you to connect two separate apps. For example, you could set up a ‘zap’ that would create a new Trello card each time you created a new Google Doc. Or you could do something more advanced like send an automated response email anytime someone signed up for a webinar on your site. (Psst..if you need more ideas, check out this blog post.)With Zapier’s free plan, you can set up to 5 zaps.
If you are just starting to build out your email list, then you absolutely want to check out Mailchimp. Not only is this one of the most popular email service providers on the internet, but they give you a free account until you get 2,000 subscribers. Now you won’t have to pay to send emails until you actually have a decent-sized list. Mailchimp has dozens of pre-designed templates that make creating your very first newsletter or prospect email a breeze.
Whether you are writing an email, creating Facebook ads, or brochures for your business, you’re going to need stock photos. Just in case you didn’t know this already, you cannot take an image you found on Google search and use it for your business. Yea, apparently it’s “illegal” and called “copyright infringement.” Because we don’t want you to end up behind bars, we are going to share our favorite free stock photo resource: Pexels. Pexels has thousands of beautiful, royalty-free images that you can use for all aspects of your business.
Once you have the images, you’re going to want to make edits to them. Luckily for you, Canva is a free online photo editing tool that let you create branded and personalized graphics for your newsletters, brochures, and social media posts. Edit your own images or choose from Canva’s library of images (some of which you have to pay for, but a good portion are free). Quickly download all your masterpieces to your computer and use them for your print and digital marketing campaigns.
Seeing that you now have some sweet looking social media graphics, you’ll want to use a tool like Buffer to schedule them across your various accounts. When running a business, you don’t have time to actually sit down and post to your social media accounts (or to sit down at all), which is why it’s a good idea to automate those tasks with Buffer.
On the free plan, Buffer will allow you to schedule up to 10 posts to 3 different social media accounts. You’ll be able to schedule all your social media posts for the week in just a few minutes!
Not to length shame, but long URLs are ugly. Yeah, I said it. Increase clickability by using personalized, shortened links from Bit.ly. These conversion-inducing links will also give you stats on your link, like, the number of clicks. It takes the guesswork out of marketing.
Ready to send out your first invoice and want to look like a true professional? Then head on over to Wave, an online invoicing software program. Wave lets you create and send professional-looking invoices to your clients’ inbox. You can even keep track of who’s paid and who hasn’t so you can send “reminders” if you need to.
If you run an online business, you’re going to need to set up virtual meetings with your clients (unless you have the cash to fly around the country for coffee dates). UberConference allows you to set up online meetings anytime. Their free plan allows you to set up 45-minute calls with up to 10 people at a time. During that meeting, you can share your screen and record with HD quality sound and video.
Show and tell
Now that you’ve seen our favorite free business tools, we’d love to hear which ones you love! Leave us a comment below!
Did you know that AppSumo makes more revenue per employee than Google and Facebook? It’s true. Not only are we ridiculously good looking and humble, but we are super successful, too. (Please keep reading.) So I thought it would be interesting to see if I could get AppSumo president Ayman Al-Abdullah to spill the AppSumo tea. Luckily, he obliged.
Over a few Al Pastor tacos, Ayman and I talked about how he was able to turn something that started in Noah’s mom’s basement into an 8-figure business in just a few years. Ayman was open and honest (as he always is) about the strategies behind the success, providing me (and now you) with genuine, actionable advice to take any business to the next level.
Below, I will share those strategies with you. But you gotta do me a favor, do NOT keep them to yourself. Share them with your entrepreneur friends — the ones who are struggling, the ones who are on the brink of success, and the ones who are ready to scale.
1. Remove bottlenecks in your business
Let’s be honest, as entrepreneurs (and mostly solopreneurs), we think we know what’s best for our business and that no one can run it better. So we do everything ourselves, refusing help from anyone. We do the grunt work, the strategizing, and take responsibility for every task in our business…whether it’s in our skill set or not.
Well, according to Ayman, doing everything yourself is a bottleneck. You are inhibiting your own growth by trying to do everything without help. His advice is to figure out what the bottlenecks are in your business (e.g. the tasks that are taking up too much of your time) and outsource those things so you can concentrate on the money-generating tasks in your business.
When Ayman first started with AppSumo, he was a one-man show. He was closing the deals, writing and HTML-formatting copy, sending the emails, and doing customer service. Because he was stretched so thin, he wasn’t excelling at any of those duties; he was just getting them done. Spoiler alert: This is NOT how you scale a business.
Once Ayman was able to take a moment to breathe, he realized that the only way to grow the business was to get higher quality deals. Closing deals was AppSumo’s bottleneck, so he hired someone solely to find and close deals. This freed Ayman up to do more strategic work for AppSumo, while high-quality deals were still being closed.
2. Hire for the process, not the org chart
There’s no doubt that AppSumo has a very unique hiring strategy. (I mean, where do they find such smart, handsome, and hip people anyway?) For starters, Ayman recommends ‘hiring for the process and not the org chart.’ By that, he means to think about your business as an assembly line and hire for those positions.
For example, in the AppSumo business, there are several steps in the deal setup process. We need someone to find and close deals, we need copywriters and designers to create the creative assets, we need developers to update the website, a marketer to run Facebook ads, and customer support to keep our customers are happy.
AppSumo Deal Process:
- Find and close deal
- Deal set up process
- Write copy, video script and email and get graphics
- Set deal up on the website
- Launch deal
- Market the deal
- Customer Support
With this process in mind, Ayman hired the best person for each task. He knew doing this would keep the deal process moving smoothly. After Ayman hired his first business development rep, his next hire was head of marketing to help with copy, emails, and advertising. Then, he hired a dedicated and devilishly good-looking copywriter (who totally isn’t editing this post) to nail the voice of AppSumo in both the deal copy and emails. Each and every time that AppSumo has made a hire, it has been to fill a strategic part of the deal “assembly line process.”
One of the keys to AppSumo’s success is having a lean and dedicated team of talented people. What may be interesting to you to know is that AppSumo does not generally hire people immediately. In fact, Ayman recommends that you have each potential employee do a trial run before hiring them full-time. He usually gives the candidate a project to work on to test out the person’s skillset and to ensure that they fit in with the team. This trial run can go from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. But once the candidate has proved their worth, a job offer is extended.
3. Identify areas for scaling
Once you’ have your team in place, it’s time to think about scaling your business. According to Ayman, there are four ways that you can scale your business:
- Make the product better
When Ayman was running AppSumo alone, he was doing everything well. But well isn’t good enough to scale. So he hired a biz dev guy to go out and find those Tier 1 deals Sumo-lings would love. Then, he hired a head of engineering to increase conversions by making the website easier to use. After that, be brought on a copywriter to make deals compelling. With each hire, the overall the product became better. And that has stayed true with each new hire since.
- Explore new marketing channels
For a long time, AppSumo relied on its healthy email list size. However, there came a point when Ayman realized they needed to do more to reach a new audience. And that’s when Ayman decided it was time to try Facebook Ads marketing. “Try” is the key word because Ayman recommends that businesses ‘test and invest’ before making a full-time commitment. Just because you think Facebook Ads may be good for your business doesn’t mean they will be. He also advises NOT to make any full-time hires for new marketing channels until those channels have proved a solid ROI.
In order to adhere to the ‘test and invest’ policy, AppSumo tried out several Facebook agencies to see who would rise to the top. He gave each team a certain amount of money and let them run Facebook ads on our behalf to see who would get the highest ROI. After the test was over, he went with the winning agency.
Unfortunately, most businesses don’t personally test the people they are considering hiring and make the mistake of rushing into a full-time offer. This an incredibly risky way to scale your business. The next time you’re thinking about hiring someone to do your marketing, try out several employees and agencies to make sure they can back up the resume talk.
- Sell people more things
The third way AppSumo tried to scale the business was by finding new products to sell to AppSumo’s existing customers. AppSumo tried things like gift cards and a plus membership. The gift cards work well because they make Sumo-lings want to constantly to browse through our store to see what they can spend their “free money” on. Similarly, the Plus membership has been a hit with its discount, one free tool credit, and other surprise perks. Each of these additions has helped AppSumo increase it’s bottomline.
- Put processes in place
One of the mistakes that many new companies and new entrepreneurs make is they don’t invest time in transferring the knowledge they already have to new employees.
Because so much of the AppSumo’s growth has been a result of new hires, it’s important to have systems in place to ramp up its employees. AppSumo uses SOPs (standard operating procedures) for each of its tasks to reduce mistakes and increase productivity. When a team member comes on board, they are able to quickly learn the ‘right way’ to do things at AppSumo. These SOPs and checklists are available to anyone on the team and are an invaluable asset to running a smooth team.
We encourage you to watch the entire webinar with Ayman to learn even more tips on growing a successful business (and to marvel at his beard). Click here to get access to the 60-minute webinar.