One Woman Shop Experiments: Growing Our Email List

Welcome to One Woman Experiments, where daring business women experiment with different parts of their business in order to find best practices. We hope these mini-experiments help improve your business and inspire you to test-drive new strategies. Have an experiment you want to test out and document? Check out our ideas and guidelines!

A few months ago, we decided that we were truly committed to growing our email list. The reasons are many (here are just a few), but essentially, we realized that we were missing out on HUGE opportunities to connect with our target individuals by only engaging with them on social media.

We love social media (especially Twitter!), but we felt that adding subscribers to our email list was the best way to ensure that we have direct access to them.

Think about it: we currently have about a 50% open rate on our email campaigns (which is an awesome percentage!), while only a fraction of the people who follow us on Twitter or like our page on Facebook see each post or tweet we send out.

We were already doing a variety of things to build up our email list: a visible email opt-in on our homepage, occasional posts about our email list on social media, asking anyone who contributed if we could add them to the list, etc.

What we hadn’t done was make a giant list of all of the women we wanted to connect with and actually taken the time to reach out directly.

Sounds simple, right? It is, but how many people do you think are currently doing it? Not many is our guess!

Here’s what we did and how you can do it too:

    • Keep a running list of anyone you think would be a great addition to your community, network, client base, partnership roster, referral roster, etc
    • Consider hiring a VA to do a bit of online stalking research on them to be sure they fit your ideal customer/partner/collaborator avatar. For example, we were only looking for female solo business owners, so businesses run by two women would be out
    • Find the person’s contact information and shoot them a brief but informative email about what you offer. Directly ask them if you can add them to your email list
    • Follow up if need be

Our results after 47 days:

    • We contacted 103 women through email or their website contact form. We followed up two weeks after our first email if we hadn’t heard back
    • 5/103 women responded back letting us know that they would check out the site but were not interested in being on the email list (most cited overcrowded inboxes)
    • 31 women said they would love to be on the email list
    • 67 women did not respond at all

So, 65% of individuals didn’t respond, roughly 5% opted out, and 30% opted in- these might not seem like awesome numbers, but think about it this way: if you add 30 individuals to your email list and just one of them converts into a paying client, you’ve probably more than made up for the time you spent (depending on the cost of your services or your hourly rate).

Also take into consideration that marketing efforts generally amplify naturally. For example, in our email, we asked that the women forward our email to any friends who run solo businesses. In addition, once you bring new people into your community, you'll probably experience more shares of your content, which extends your reach organically.

The bad:

    • It can be demoralizing to not hear back from so many people, but it’s worth when you get a great response (in our opinion!)
    • One woman said anything slightly rude, but hey- it’s only 1/103!
    • It’s very time consuming to do so much research, which is why we recommend enlisting help if you can

The great:

    • It was AWESOME that we added so many relevant women to our community!
    • Numbers aren’t everything! We also found several women to curate our Weekly Finds, got interviewed on multiple blogs, and struck up tons of interesting conversations
    • We got quite the ego boost when we heard back from women who were genuinely pleased that we had taken the time to reach out

A few notes:

    • We starting reaching out to people on March 21 and originally planned to do the experiment for one month. We decided to keep it up because we were excited about the results
    • We actually had quite a few unsubscribes during this experiment. We began sending emails more frequently, which led individuals who were on the fence about our site and offerings to unsubscribe
    • We found that it took about 4 minutes to send each email, including research time

The lesson:

Want to know more, like:

    • Where and how to actually find individuals to add to your list?
    • How you can save time with effective research?
    • What tools you can use to best track your results and stay on top of your outreach efforts?
    • What we said in our emails to get a 30% sign up rate?

Get on our list to get more information about our Building Your Online Community e-course! (You'll also get our 28 Secrets to Growing Your Community with tips from business experts like Sarah Von Bargen, Ashley Wilhite, Amanda Genther, April Bowles-Olin, and Nikki Groom).

How I Build My Community (And Client List): Heather Allen

This post is part of a mini-series on growing your community and, in particular, your client base by being proactive and seeing opportunities all around you. Today’s post comes from copywriter Lilybet Murray. Want more tips on building your business community? 28 solo business owners shared their #1 secret for growing their community with us- get them now!

Ask not what the community can do for you, but what you can do for the community! This is a mentality I encourage my clients to try on for themselves, because our work as creative solopreneurs is always done in the service of others.

I'm a business and marketing consultant to solopreneur artists. Essentially, I teach my clients how to fish for themselves and turn their artwork into opportunity. In the past two years, I’ve received all of my clients through word of mouth marketing, have been asked to speak and teach at arts venues and colleges, and have built a following because of the reputation I’ve developed in my niche.

To date, the best compliment I’ve received for my work was from a digital marketer who moved to my city to work in the arts, heard my name pop up from a number of people and said, “Heather, I don’t know what you are doing, but it is working.”

Did I develop a strong reputation overnight? Of course not. The number one way I build (actively, not passively) my community of loyal fans and followers is by participating in the community as a member first, and a contributor second.

Like many solopreneurs, I started my business after realizing what was lacking within my own community of interest, and discovering where I could add value. As an active participant in the world my customer lives in, I naturally understand my customer’s pain points, their needs and what their hearts desire. It’s my job to listen and find the right solutions for my client’s goals, strengths and budget. Doing so reliably, with loads of enthusiasm in my own style, keeps me top of mind within the community and keeps opportunity knocking at my door.

How I Grow My Community (And Client Base): Lilybet Murray

This post is part of a mini-series on growing your community and, in particular, your client base by being proactive and seeing opportunities all around you. Today's post comes from copywriter Lilybet Murray. Want more tips on building your business community? 28 solo business owners shared their #1 secret for growing their community with us- get them now!

Change your definition of the word "opportunity."

When you’re starting your own business, the traditional selling routes can seem loud and over-crowded, so you need to open yourself up to other, less conventional paths in order to be heard. This may mean that you have to ignore the advice of your trusted friends, internet heroes and industry inspirations who are preaching the merits of marketing over Facebook and Twitter and find other paths.

These paths will be different for everyone depending on resource and industry, but the techniques will be the same and these techniques will help you see opportunities where others don’t.

Read and research every day

The trick is to find articles and topics that resonate with your values, business and position. When I was starting out I ate business content for breakfast; I devoured sites like One Woman Shop for advice and the courage to reach out and do more.  While I was reading articles on the Huffington Post, I came across one written by a Prince’s Trust ambassador about how they took the leap into self-employment and it really resonated with me. I looked into their business a bit more and saw that they hadn’t been posting regularly on their blog.

I saw this as an opportunity.

I emailed them explaining that I has seen their article and really identified with their situation, then, I introduced myself as a copywriter and offered them my services for their blog, for free. Two weeks later I had a meeting and a proposition in hand. All because I dug a little bit deeper.

Reach out to those in the same position as you

After getting to know my first client, I realised that an untapped resource was right at my fingertips: The Prince’s Trust.

The Prince’s Trust helps young, unemployed people get back on their feet by providing training courses and support. However, instead of emailing them for business advice, I emailed them and offered my services to their budding entrepreneurs, trading in experience rather than money.

Building your experience using businesses in the same position as you is perfect because they are often less intimidating than fully-fledged companies and you can use them as a stepping stone to bigger clients in the long-run.

Opportunities can look like help

After reaching out to the Prince’s Trust, I realised that one of the blogs I follow for business and copywriting advice hosts a "hook up" every month where people can ask for or lend help. I responded to the call for inclusion in Yes and Yes’ Network of Nice Hooks Ups offering my copywriting services and had half a dozen people email me to ask for help. It was all for free but it was a great way to gain experience and fill my portfolio. An added bonus was that I knew I had things in common with the people I was reaching out to because it was done through a mutual blog, so we had some common ground.

I was able to see these opportunities because I was looking in places that other people weren't. While my competition were struggling to be heard above the noise on Twitter and Facebook, I crept quietly round the corner and built a client list first so that I could start using social media with a bit of credibility behind me, therefore making my voice a little louder than theirs.

What clever techniques have you used to build your community and client base?

The #1 Way to Grow Your Community

how to grow your community

We asked members of our community their #1 tip for growing their community- both on and offline- and we got some pretty fantastic answers from a variety of female solo business owners, including:

To see the responses, just enter your email address below:

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Email Marketing Tips from Creative Female Entrepreneurs

We recently spoke to several creative female entrepreneurs with growing or established email lists and chatted with them about their best practices for email marketing. The girls we spoke to have email lists that range from under 100 to over 4,000 recipients.

A big thanks to Katie of Balanced Beings, Alexis Grant of Socialexis, Marisa of Creative Thursday, Sara DiMantova of Sara Does, Ann Harris of Southern Social Marketing, and Ashley Wilhite of Your Super Awesome Life for answering our questions and thank you so much to Gina Spencer of Source Sleuth for putting us in touch with several great sources!

First of all, let’s chat about some of the biggest reasons to start an email list. There are tons, including increased engagement (people sending in questions, giving positive feedback via email, etc), increase in blog traffic, having a targeted list to email about opportunities (like freelance opportunities or a call for contributors), as a bonus for potential blog sponsors and partners, having the ability toreach readers and customers where they are every day, and more.

Ann shared another unexpected bonus: “Forcing myself to be witty and informative every week has been a huge confidence booster. After the first couple of newsletters, you start to feel pretty brilliant by how many ideas you can come up with!” Several of the girls we spoke to said email marketing gave them tremendous bang for their buck (read: the biggest return on investment for the least amount of time and money spent) of any of their channels of communication to their customers and readers.

Now here are some fun tips from fellow career women who are making the most of email marketing!

Where to collect email addresses

  • Through downloads and freebies (like this career decision worksheet!)
  • On the sidebar of your website or blog
  • At the bottom of each blog post (like Alexis does)
  • At speaking engagements (hint: design a sign up sheet that you can print before each event!)
  • On your Facebook page (create a tab just for email sign ups)
  • Through business cards you collect (be sure to ask permission since technically, they haven’t opted in!)
  • In your email signature

Pro tip: Services like MailChimp provide you with a link where your sign up form is hosted. Instead, grab the HTML code and embed the form in your website or blog (for example, ours is embedded at This encourages people to stay on your site and increases your site traffic (if only nominally). Thanks to Alexis for this tip!

When to send emails

Several of the girls we spoke to send their emails on Sunday, because it tends to be a less email heavy day (and more laid-back for a lot of people!)- it seems like they’re on to something, since Pinterest’s highest traffic day is also Sunday. Several of the girls send their emails in the early morning (around 7am) between Tuesday and Thursday. The general consensus was to avoid sending email on Mondays and Fridays, since people are either overwhelmed with email from the weekend or busy looking forward to the weekend!

How often to send emails

Most of the girls send their emails once a week or once a month but many advocated for occasional “bonus emails” to announce sales, webinars, or other valuable information.

What to include in emails

  • Links to your own blog posts (with an attention-grabbing teaser + a photo)
  • Links to other useful resources
  • “Pretty pictures” (inspirational quotes, etc)
  • A preview of upcoming projects
  • A sign up form or waiting list sign up for upcoming courses, webinars, etc
  • Free printables
  • Discount codes
  • A personal note
  • A link to social media profiles
  • A link to information on your paid services (consulting, coaching, etc)
  • A reminder of how you got the recipient’s email address
  • Click to Tweet links so recipients can easily share your content

Open rates and what affects them

According to a MailChimp study, the industry open rates for e-commerce and creative services are 22.2% and 41.9%, respectively, but the girls we spoke to had open rates of 50-70%! They told us that their open rates were affected mostly by subject lines and mentions of freebies.

Our hypothesis for the incredibly high open rates among the people we spoke to is two-fold: 1) people must opt in directly to these newsletters- they are not merely signed up through purchasing an item, for example and 2) most of the girls we spoke to have very strong brands built around their businesses, which we think probably increases open rates.

As a side note: interestingly, one girl told us that when she tested two different subject lines, the ”boring” subject lines (like using the word “newsletter”) got a better response, strangely enough.

Final words of wisdom

Many of the girls we spoke to mentioned that they wished they had begun collecting email addresses and sending emails earlier than they did. Learn from their mistakes- set up a free email marketing account and start collecting those emails now! Alexis passed on a very simple message to us that she had heard: “just say something!” It doesn’t matter if you’re writing all new content for your newsletter or just putting teasers of your latest blog posts into an email with a picture or two- just say something to start engaging your subscribers!

Do you have an email list? We would love to hear your feedback and tips!

grow your community online