I spent the first 5 years of my writing career without an automated sales funnel, and I cringe to think about how much money I left on the table throughout that time. Now, my email funnel is an integral part of my business.

 

First, what is a sales funnel?

I like to think of the sales funnel as storytelling. It’s the process of inviting readers on a journey with you as you introduce yourself, show them what you can do to improve their lives, provide value, and introduce your products to an engaged audience.

The best way to deliver a sales funnel is via email. Online newsletters have the highest ROI of any marketing technique. You’re connecting with people in a private place (their inbox) where they are normally more focused than they are on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

To make a sales funnel work for you on autopilot, you need automation tools.

I use Mailerlite for my newsletter and automated sales funnels. For years I used MailChimp because it was free, and later made the jump to ActiveCampaign because its automation and funnel tools are so powerful. Plus, they’re set out like flowcharts — perfect for a visual thinker like me.

ActiveCampaign starts at $9/month for up to 500 subscribers, so it’s a manageable cost even for new entrepreneurs. I moved to Mailerlite this year because it has those visual flowcharts I crave, but also a free tier for small businesses. 

 

My Sales Funnel

I have a three-email sequence that helps me connect with new subscribers, promote my upcoming books, and request reviews for my existing titles. These three emails are part of an automated sequence that new subscribers receive when they sign up for my list, in addition to my monthly newsletters.

I use a plugin called Bloom to make optin forms on my site, like this one:

 

 

Welcome Email

As soon as a new subscriber confirms their email address, they automatically get a welcome email. This is a brief message that promises what they can expect to see from my newsletter. It’s a message full of personality, because the last thing it should seem is impersonal and automated. This is the first step to making real connections with subscribers.

Follow-Up Email

Three days after a new subscriber joins my list, they automatically receive an email with a peek at my next book.

This is where I tell them all about what I’m working on, what the book is about, and when it’s expected to land. The email builds buzz for my next project before it’s even out.

I also have a section in the footer of my email called “check out the backlist” where I provide information about my books that are already on the market.

Follow-Up #2

Two weeks after the follow-up email, I send an automated email asking subscribers to share a review of my books on the site of their choice — Goodreads, Amazon, etc. And I make it easy for them to do it by including direct links to my books on those sites.

And for those that don’t want to review, I include a prewritten click-to-tweet shout-out for my book that they can share with a quick click of a button.

This strategy has helped grow my books’ visibility. The more reviews a book has, the more Amazon’s algorithm makes that book visible to people browsing the genre. Having a large stock of reviews and a high star count also helps authors get featured on newsletters like BookBub.

Keeping a Healthy List

Sometimes people who subscribe to your mailing list will not stay engaged with your content. It happens. There are many reasons why they might not open your emails over time. Maybe they’re bored of what you have to say, or your email lands in the Promotions tab of Gmail, or they abandoned that email account.

Regardless of the reason, it’s pointless to keep sending emails to someone who isn’t reading them. The bigger your email list grows, the more it costs to maintain and send messages. That’s why pruning disengaged subscribers is so important.

Platforms like ActiveCampaign let you set up automations to weed out the disinterested. If a subscriber doesn’t open three consecutive newsletters (“campaigns”), they receive an email asking if they still want to stay on the list. If they say yes, they stay. If they say no or don’t open the email, they’re automatically purged from the list.

This automation was something I gave up when I switched to MailerLite, but I’m still in the growth phase with my mailing list now, and so far I don’t miss it. Maintaining a healthy list the manual way is easy when a list is still fairly small.

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