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Case study: How I launched my first e-course and made over 5 grand – from a tiny list

This is a guest contribution from Marya Jan, blogging coach and trainer for small business owners.

Do you want to monetize your blog or start an online business?

Have you been blogging for a while and all you want to do is sell products or services and follow your passions?

If that’s the case, then what is stopping you?

If you are like most people, the one thing that is holding you back is the size of your list.

You might have heard this many times before, ‘money is in the list’. So you feel without having a decent sized list, you can’t launch your business, or monetize your blog.

You feel like you need thousands of people on your list before you can make an offer.

You have heard success stories from popular bloggers with 20K, 50K or even 100K plus lists and you think you too need to blog until you reach that stage.

Today, I am here to present a different perspective: The size of your list is important; there is no doubt about it. 5K list is surely better than a 200 people list.

However, there is one more thing that is even more important – list responsiveness.

How warm is your list?

What are your open rates like? How many people click through to view the content? How many people actually made it to the end and share it?

For example, 30% open rates of a 3K list mean 900 people are opening and reading your emails at any given time. That is way better than 3% open rate for a 15K list – 450. Now, I am not saying that the bigger the size of your list, the more useless it comes.

What I am saying is this: Would you be happy with 400 hot leads? 400 people who open your emails and are real prospects? If so, you could get a list of 1,000 subscribers and work really hard on nurturing your list so that your open rates are phenomenal – in the vicinity of 40%, rather than worry about growing your list and allowing it to go cold.

When you start thinking about having a warm list where people really like and trust you, and get huge value from you, then you don’t need to wait till you have thousands of people on your list before you launch your business. 

Don’t believe me? Then let me tell you my story.

Launch of an e-course

How to use your blog to build a highly responsive, super targeted list makes the premise of my brand new e-course that I recently launched – to my list only, aptly titled Get 500 Subscribers.

The target market for this course is new businesses who are relying on their blogs as a primary marketing tool for building their lists or want to start blogging. These people understandably don’t have huge marketing budgets so blogging makes the perfect lead generation tool for them.

This also targets those people who blog but they haven’t monetized because they don’t have the information.

But before that, some context as you might be wondering who am I to give you advice on this? I am a blogging coach. Formally, I hold a MBA-marketing, Bachelor at Law and Education degrees, and I started my own business last year. I offer coaching and review services and I also teach Blogging for Business courses in local adult education provides (that’s TAFE for people who are in Australia).

I, too, felt that I could not launch my services before I had a minimum of 2K subscribers. In fact, I waited for longer than that.

I did an internal launch to my list of 3K subscribers in July (by internal launch I mean that the course was released to my list ONLY).

There are a few reasons for that:

As a pilot version, I wanted to allow a specific number of people in to test out the material and organisation of info presented. I wanted to see what they thought of it and if they found it to be practical enough.

I figured if these people are blog subscribers, they are more likely to forgive the mistakes (like typos which I am notorious for) and other issues that I might have missed. I also wanted to get feedback on how to make it better.

Finally, I wanted to see how they went after going through the course. I wanted to see their results and write mini case-studies based on all the information made avaiable to me, for the main launch. This would also make great testimonials and tell others that the course really works.

Research phase

So, before I even started creating this course, I polled my list and asked them if this is something they might be interested in.

I said to them that there are number of blogging related courses on the market already and they boast of adding thousands of subscribers to your list. I had asked them what their numbers currently look like and what they thought is doable.

I was really surprised by the sheer number of responses I received. But the most surprising was the fact that my audience was clearly split between people who were thinking of monetizing or new business and people who did not even have blogs yet. This was certainly eye opening for me.

But people generally agreed that for anyone having less than 100 people on their list, 500 is a great number to shoot for. So that is what I decided to run with.

I also decided to do an e-course instead of an ebook because we all know how many times we buy an ebook, scan through it and never pick it up again. I also wanted it to be step by step process, logically organised and also not overwhelm them as there are so many moving parts to this process.

Needless to say, I did a thorough home work on the competitors to check out their products, price points and of course their sales copy.

Based on the demand, the information included (6 modules with multiple lessons) and accompanying worksheets, checklists, resources and templates, I decided that the price tag of about $300 seemed fair. For my list though, I gave them a hefty 50% discount as I wanted initial intake of members to feel like founding members of the course and help me tweak it along the way.

This gave the confidence to keep going every time I faced a setback.

Investment

For the set up, I purchased Premise from Copyblogger media ($165) and bought one hour of consulting to set it up. This had me hyperventilating at some points because I hadn’t thought I’d have such a hard time getting my head around it. ($100)

I bought ebooks on how to launch from Ittybiz ($200) and referred to all my resources and previously bought training on writing sales pages and email marketing.

I did not spend anything on packaging as I did not need cover design or any fancy elements. This meant I kept the costs low.

Sales sequence 

For my pre-launch content, I had been publishing related blog posts such as   Why You Don’t Need to Become a Popular Blogger prior to announcing the course.

I did the initial survey and kept my audience in the loop from the beginning. They knew that I was working on this product and expected it. I announced it via email a week before enrolment was to open.

I kept my launch period fairly short – 4 days.

I send 5 emails altogether. Here is a brief sequence in case you are wondering.

Email 1: Officially open for enrolment + bonus (Day 1)

Email 2: Reader questions answered (Day 3)

Email 3: Last day for enrolment (Last day)

Email 4: Few hours remain (Last day)

Launch mistakes + lessons 

Based on the survey I did earlier, it was clear that this course would appeal to 50% of my audience. 50% (of those who answered) don’t have even have a blog yet. This course is definitely NOT for them. (This also told me that I can also release a product aimed at beginner bloggers at some stage.)

I should have started an interest list.

I wasn’t confident enough to do that but would have been better because would have gotten the realistic numbers. I would have avoided some emotional stress. There were some unsubscribes which are to expected but I would have lost less people had I emailed to the people on my interest list only.

I could have built more context around the premise of my course (building a list of super targeted 500 subscribers) by doing more pre-lunch content pieces. I feel I rushed through this phase. I did a post or two but how many people read those?

I didn’t realise that it is a holiday in USA + July 4 long weekend when I was closing enrolment. I still can’t believe I didn’t pick up on that.

So many people launched in June-July. I am thinking early in 2014 for my main launch might be better next time

There was some initial confusion regarding the dates, I didn’t proofread launch emails properly and I am thinking this must have affected sales.

And this is what I did really well.

Because of the survey, I was able to choose a topic and create a product that my audience really wanted. I also ran this idea by trusted friends.

My friends (Henri Juntilla, Henneke D and Di Mace in particular) helped name the product. Initially, I was thinking of promoting it as School of Business Blogging but received concern that it might put people off as they might think it is too corporate or serious. Dodged that bullet – phew!

On my sales page, I got over 15% conversion rate which is HUGE. This is confirms that there is a demand for this course.

My goal was to make 5K and I exceeded that.

I need to bring this in front of the right (and bigger) audience next time.

I was told by my readers that my emails very convincing, despite the odd typo!

Unexpected findings

90% of people who joined became my blog subscribers this year (many in May 3013). This means that you don’t have to get people on your list for the longest time to sell to them. Sometimes people like what they see and buy soon enough

People who opened course notification emails (announcement, early access + official open) made up for 35% of my list, on average. Over 500 people never opened a single email of time. After the launch, I actually deleted and moved to an old people list. I wrote about this process on this post – Why I Deleted 400 Subscribers from My List.

I now realise that was probably attracting the wrong audience – meaning people who were just interested in blogging generally but not to use it for marketing and list building purposes. For this reason, I converted the ebook into a 10-part free e-course titled Blogging for Business. This has been converting really well and my open rates are up so I assume this was the right decision.

I could also use a re-brand. This is something I am working on.

Ration of women : men = 30:6. Well this wasn’t so unexpected. I seem to attract women who are in their late 30s and over as they know the reality of building a business and can see through the hype.

All in all, there were no major screw ups.

I learned a ton in the process, met expectations (yay!) and feel way more confident that ever in launching this course to public.

My next steps are to create more products, market more, grow list, re-brand and of course do the main launch of my e-course in 2014.

So back to you. Have I given you something to think about? Has my story changed your mind a bit?

When are you going to lunch your first product? Would you wait till you have thousands of people on your list or will a few hundred do?

Will you work on building the right list or focus on numbers?

What will it take for you to finally monetize?

Marya Jan is a blogging coach and trainer for small business owners. She is the creator of Get 500 Subscribers e-course and teaches Business Blogging short courses in real life. Don’t forget to grab her free 10-part Blogging for Business email course. Like her on Facebook, she is very friendly!

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Comments

  1. Arup Ghosh says:

    Inspiring story , filled me with lots of courage. :)

  2. Lee Belcher says:

    Another awesome post Darren and more importantly awesome results, Just being a critic and poiting out a little error you put “this year (many in May 3013)” Last i checked it was 2013 ;)

  3. Loved the story, and I can agree and remember when I first started out back in 1996. I was never serious about it until about a few years ago. I’ve been there and tried that but it never worked out for me. Reading this, I can see I made many of the same mistakes and the story it did inspire me to do better. Look forward to reading more, new follow of this kind of writing that’s for sure.

    • Hello Richard,

      I think a lot of people are still not clear about how blogging can help grow their business. Most of the blogging advice online is aimed at being who are looking to become ‘popular bloggers’ which is an entirely different thing altogether. The day I cracked this code, everything made sense. Since then I have made this my mission to educate small business owners – especially women who work from home.

      Thanks for sharing,
      Marya

  4. This is a very informative post Marya. You have proved that we don’t need to have thousands of people on our list before launching our products.

  5. scott dill says:

    Really helpful, and inspiring with an almost beginning to end “nuts and bolts” approach. You gave me, an average, type a strong sense of feeling that you were approachable should “I” hit a snag in “my project”.

  6. Edson Hale says:

    I am impressed with your success story that has a great lesson for new bloggers who just want to sprint after taking first step. Your whole story tell success leads to step by step journey and for that one has to first make a list of 500 subscribers.

  7. Great story. Great advice. There is so much I learn from what other people have done. Thanks

  8. Fathi says:

    Popular Bloggers said, The money is in the list, but sure it’s not in any list, as you said Marya: 500 interested and active subscribers, are better than thousands of person who neglect your e-mails. You have started with limited, but good quality list, sure we can’t expect to have a 100% success, but you’re doing a god job. My only suggestion for you is to make the launch period a little bit longer, let’s say 7 or 10 day, because as we’re human, we neglect to open our e-mails for some raison (busy, work, travels…), but we open them later.
    Good Luck:)

  9. Donnie Law says:

    Incredible results on a list that size! I’m up to 30 on my list after just a few weeks of blogging. Sounds like a tiny number but I’m pretty pumped about it!

  10. Josh says:

    Hi and thanks for the good post. I have a couple of questions. Please forgive my ignorance. You said that you didn’t want to use an eBook because once they are read, they are never picked up again. So, in your course, what type of media did you use to educate your small list? Was it a combo of eBook and video? Webinar? Just curious, because I am looking for direction myself.

    Thanks for the inspiring story. I look forward to hearing back from you, and eventually working on my own class.

    • Hi Josh,

      That depends entirely on you. You can do video lessons, audio and/or written content. I have only used written because this is what my audience is used to getting from me. The difference is not in the chosen format but how the content is made available. I wanted to drip content hence I ended up with the ecourse so as not to overwhelm my students. Hope this helps! :)

  11. Arbaz Khan says:

    Its a great post Marya,
    Gives me much encouragement that we too can launch an e-course or any product even with a tiny list and make enough profit out of it.
    Guess we all are pretty pumped up after reading your case study :)

  12. Daryl says:

    Great info Marya! It’s really refreshing to have an actual case study where real numbers are used instead of hypothetical situations.
    In this case it shows the importance of having a responsive list, as opposed to just numbers.

    Thanks!

    Daryl

  13. Sure wish someone would cover “sending” to a list instead of just building one…that’s where all the trouble comes into play when 3rd party emailers without reverse dns lookup and spam reports and ip blocks come into play…i guess it’s just not sexy enough to cover the real world factors huh.

  14. Great tips and encouragement… and proof that you don’t need a huge list. I have been working on launching a few things with very lukewarm results. I am going back to the drawing board and tweaking a few things.

  15. Shamsudeen says:

    Thanks for the write up Marya, such inspiring post. Building a list is one of those things in blogging that very hard to come by. Am really find it difficult to build a healthy list of subscribers. Thanks for this, I will put some lesson into use.

  16. Jawbone Up says:

    With a tiny list, you can make money, but maybe just once or twice. People tend to stop buying from you after a while. Don’t believe, try selling to the same list every month. See how many are left after the 3rd month.

  17. Richard Benn says:

    Hi, Marya

    It’s an informative post, I really have a high regards for you for sharing your skills and experiences. This article certainly motivates and educates lots of people who want to start their own products and/or services and particularly those women who want to work from home. One must understand that success comes gradually. It is an impressive achievement story. You provided Great guidelines and encouragement to all.

  18. That, I think, was a really timely case study, I am struggling at a point prior to your launch and this was an encouraging and beneficial post.

    Thank You,

    Terry Tiessen