The Marketing Science Behind Getting Your First 1,000 Email Subscribers

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Starting something new can be really tough…ask any startup founder.

What makes it easier is having a repeatable, proven system you can take and apply to replicate the results of people that you look up to.

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Today we have a tactical guest post from our friend Wilson Hung on precisely how to implement a strategy on how to get your first 1k subscribers. This post on Marketing Science originally appeared on the Troops.ai blog.

Consider this a must read for anyone trying to build an audience and interested in what we’re calling “Marketing Science!”

Here’s Wilson…

Some of the most common questions I was asked at SumoMe were:

  • Which tactics did Noah Kagan (Chief Sumo) use to acquire 100,000 users in 6 months?
  • Which tactics did Sarah Peterson (Marketing Sumo) use to gain 50,000 Instagram followers in 90 days?
  • Which tactics did we use to increase our monthly traffic by 345,000 in 90 days?

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Those are the wrong type of questions to ask.

Why? Well, if I were to tell you that the majority of our traffic came from a specific channel, it doesn’t mean you should try to do the same.

Each business is different, and what works for others may not work for you. That’s why you need a marketing framework that will allow you to predict which strategies will be the most effective for your specific business.

You need a systematic & scientific approach that will allow you to:

  • Prioritize marketing strategies: There are thousands of online marketing strategies. You need a way to predict which ones will work best for your business.
  • Run 80/20 experiments: You need an efficient way to run tests before you spend too much time or money on a specific marketing tactic.
  • Know what to tweak: Every business is different, and no matter how amazing the guide you just read is, you can’t simply copy/paste the strategy over to your own business and expect the same results. You’ll have to make unique tweaks/improvements specifically for your business.
  • Scale your marketing: Once you find an effective marketing channel, you need a way to scale the strategy to get into the big leagues.

To show you that this isn’t something only big companies can do, I’m going to use my own personal blog, FounderOrigins, as an example.

I was able to grow my blog from 0 to 1000 subscribers just by myself, and with no marketing budget in just one month.

Here’s exactly how I did it:

Step 1: Create A Goal By Working Backwards

This step seems so obvious, but it’s still something I see many beginner marketers and entrepreneurs skip.

You need to set a goal.

An effective goal is a SMART one. Here was mine:

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  • Specific: To make it specific, you need to break down your end goal. Mine was to validate my blog by measuring my email open & click-through-rates to determine if my content is something people actually care about. I figured 1000 subscribers was a large enough sample size to validate my blog.
  • Measurable: Once I knew what my main goal was (1000 subscribers), I could work backwards and calculate my weekly growth target. In my case, I needed 16% growth each week (I started with 150 subscribers). This is useful because if I miss a weekly target, I can look into why and try and fix it.
  • Assignable: Who is the one person responsible for the success or failure of the goal? Since it was my personal blog, I would be 100% responsible for the success (or failure).
  • Realistic: What are the inputs you can leverage to meet your goal? How would I reach my 16% weekly target? It’s up to you to brainstorm ways to do this. Once you have an idea of how to achieve the goal, compare it with your available resources, capabilities, and industry benchmarks to know if it’s achievable/realistic.
  • Time-related: How much time are you going to give yourself? Typically, good goals have a timeframe between 30-90 days. Anything less than 30 days and you’re not aiming high enough. Anything more than 90 days, you may be biting off more than you can chew.  The time frame I chose was 90 days because I was new to marketing at the time and would require more time to identify my most effective channels.

Once you’ve set a SMART goal, you can move onto the second step.

Step 2: Brainstorm How To Achieve Your Goal

This is where reading marketing guides, industry reports, and talking to your network becomes very useful. These are all great sources of inspiration for different tactics to build your email list.

If you’re finding it tough to achieve your goal, break it down by focusing on the individual contributions to reach that goal. For example, if I need 1,000 email subscribers, the two relevant contributions would be traffic and conversions.

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So every time I get new ideas that I can apply to my website, I’ll add it to my list. I use a spreadsheet for this:

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(download this spreadsheet by clicking here)

It doesn’t matter if you’re a solopreneur or if you have a massive support team. You’re always going to have limited resources. So once you have a list of ideas, it’s time to start prioritizing.

Step 3: Prioritize What To Do Next

The way you prioritize what to do next will depend on what your goals are. The best way to do this is to work backwards from your goal by breaking it down into smaller pieces.

For example, to reach my 1,000 subscriber goal, I would need weekly growth of 16%.

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(download this spreadsheet by clicking here)

By breaking the goal down, my goal for the first week would be to get 24 email subscribers! See how much easier that is to handle?

Now that I know what my weekly growth target is, I can narrow down my list of ideas by using the bullseye framework (go to chapter 3).

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Would it make sense to approach a marketing channel like SEO?

No! It doesn’t make sense to use a SEO approach because it requires a lot of work (input time), and also time to see the results (output time).

However, maybe direct sales such as sending private PMs to redditors would be more appropriate. Once I’ve narrowed down the possibilities, I would prioritize it even further by comparing the tactics based on: probability of success, impact, and resources required.

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(download this spreadsheet by clicking here)

I ultimately prioritized the tactic of sending 1-on-1 PMs to Redditors who commented on a relevant post.

Now remember, while you’re prioritizing your tactics, you’re relying on your best guess. Without actually testing it, you’ll  have no idea if it’ll succeed, what the impact would be, and how much time it’ll take.

It’s very important not to be emotionally attached to your marketing channel. Maybe you proposed the marketing channel to your boss and really want it to work. Maybe it’s a channel you like and find interesting. Whatever the reason, you must assess each channel objectively and be able to stop working on it if it’s not producing results.

That’s why the next step is to validate your assumptions by running small experiments so you can continue to scale what works, and kill what doesn’t.

Step 4: Run 80/20 Experiments To Validate Assumptions

Keep in mind, before reaching this stage  all my subscribers were from my personal network so I didn’t even have a website yet.

Firstly, I set up a domain on Bluehost. I then downloaded the SumoMe WordPress Plugin to create a Welcome Mat landing page which took about 30 minutes and looked like this:

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Since I was still validating the idea and was on a budget, I didn’t integrate with an email service provider. Instead, I kept track of all the emails in the spreadsheet SumoMe provides.

Once I had my page setup to collect emails, I had to drive traffic to it by messaging redditors to reach my goal. But first, I had to choose which key metrics I’ll keep measure to know if the experiment succeeds or fails. That’s why one of the main matras we live by at SumoMe is:

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Spend at least 30 minutes to come up with a plan to actually document what you’ll do (it comes in handy when you create a playbook). This forces you to think methodically about your strategy.

If you don’t come up with a plan on how you’ll measure the results, you won’t know if your marketing tactics are working.

Here’s what my test plan looked like:

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(download this spreadsheet by clicking here)

Now that the test plan is ready, it’s execution time!

I only have two pieces of advice when you actually execute your marketing plan:

The results?

I sent a total of 60 messages to redditors that looked like this:

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Of these, 23 people signed up which equates to a conversion rate of 39%.

That was higher than my assumption! That leads me to the next part: if your experiment is a success or failure, the most important question you need to ask is “WHY???”.

Step 5: Asking Why To Find Out What To Do Next

You need to understand why your experiment was a success or failure.

Only then you can figure out why your initial assumptions were accurate or inaccurate. If the conversion rate is much lower than your assumption, ask why.

  • Maybe your copy could be improved?
  • Maybe you could write a more effective headline?
  • Maybe you could test a different value proposition?

This is why the key to the quant-based marketing framework is to measure your results in a spreadsheet. If you’re just doing things willy-nilly, you’ll have no idea what’s working and what’s not.

Let’s go back to my previous Reddit Example. My original hypothesis was this:

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But instead of a conversion rate of 25%, I had a super high conversion rate of 39%.

WHY?

To find out, I sent follow-up messages to everyone who signed up and would ask them:

“Why did you trust me with your email when I just sent you a random PM?”

And I would get responses like this:

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And this:

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And many more just like those.

By asking why, my main learnings from this experiment were:

  • The importance of permission marketing techniques (instead of sending a link in the first PM, I asked for permission)
  • Customizing a few sections of the message to make it personal was very effective
  • /r/entrepreneur had my target demographic

So now that I knew the answer to what made it successful, it’s just a matter of doing more of what works.

Step 6: Scale What Works And 10x Your Results

I continued to repeat the process until my weekly growth targets required me to switch it up. By weeks 3-4, I would need to start acquiring at least a hundred users each week to continue meeting my 16% weekly growth trajectory.

Simply sending 1-on-1 messages was no longer feasible to reach my growth targets. It was time to brainstorm ways I could leverage my learnings from my 1-on-1 PM experiments and scale my marketing efforts to meet my targets.

The next logical step?

Commenting on relevant Reddit posts instead of sending 1-on-1 PMs. This would allow more people to see my message, thus scaling the amount of web visits I get.

I would still apply the same learnings from the previous experiment by asking for permission to share the link to my website. I would then wait until I get the permission from Redditors:

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Once they asked for a link, I would reply with the url of my website. And once I got enough upvotes or comments, I would edit my original comment to include the link. By then, I’d have enough upvotes that people wouldn’t care that I was self-promoting.

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Now I want to highlight something that shows the importance of applying the learnings I acquired from the previous experiment. If I didn’t implement the permission marketing techniques, this is what would happen:

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I would get downvoted immediately! That’s the importance of asking why, because if I didn’t approach this strategy in iterative steps with small tests:

  • I wouldn’t have known how to implement this strategy effectively.
  • I wouldn’t have known the importance of permission marketing techniques.
  • I wouldn’t have known which messages would be the most effective.

And now that I proved commenting on posts is successful, what do you think would be the next iterative progression?

Creating posts! I would include outbound links into each post so more people would be exposed to my message and drive traffic to the website.

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By applying similar principles from the previous experiments, I was able to consistently reach the top rankings of the /r/entrepreneur subreddit for every post that I create.

If you understand “why” your experiment was a success or failure, you’ll know exactly what to do next. By running experiments, I started with messaging my friends, and all the way to a full fledge online marketing strategy for community-based platforms:

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Follow the quant-based marketing framework by working backwards from your main goal, break it down into smaller weekly growth targets, and start small to meet those weekly targets.

Are You Ready To Become A Marketing Scientist?

Stop copy/pasting marketing guides you’ve read about without any sort of framework (including this one!)

Approach each online marketing strategy systematically to generate new marketing tactics based on all the guides you read. You can then test them efficiently, and use the learnings to 10x your results.

Wilson-HungWilson Hung writes actionable marketing guides for sites like SumoMe.com. Click here to get the spreadsheets he used to create his online marketing strategy. Want more? Join the Sumo community of over 436,000 subscribers and learn how to grow your website and build your email list.

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