Bootstrapping and Products

The Guide To Creating Email Courses

By Brennan Dunn

Last week, I described how a basic 5 day email course fueled by a Facebook ad campaign is my total marketing effort for selling my latest product, WordPress Conversion Funnel.

However, I realized I didn’t go too in-depth into how I’m actually structuring and writing email courses, or about the role they play in my business.

What is an email course?

An email course is just an autoresponder, which is a series of emails that are sent out over a period of time.

It’s very, very, very hard to sell anything to someone who doesn’t know and trust you. Let’s say you write an ebook and you buy some cheap PPC ads that drive traffic to your sales page. Unless you have some sort of unicorn product, your conversion rate will be low — and you’re probably going to lose money. People who show up on your website:

  1. Don’t know who you are
  2. Question your expertise and authority
  3. Are unsure about whether you’re capable of providing them value

There are some obvious ways to counter the first two objections. You could provide some really great social proof (“Brennan’s book helped us our revenues last year”) or you could really dig inside the head of the visitor, and show them that you understand what they’re struggling with, know where they want to be, and have a product or service to offer them. This is why I’m such a fan of the long form sales page (see my Double Your Freelancing Rate for an example.) You can’t fit what you need to close the sale into a few bullet points and a paragraph or two of copy.

However, the last objection is the hardest to overcome. You might be more than qualified, and you might have a great product, but the skeptical visitor has no idea whether or not you and your product can actually deliver value that outweighs the cost.

And this is where an email course can come into play.

If you can deliver actionable content to someone that leaves someone better off than they were before they crossed paths with you, you’ll have successfully delivered value to them. This can be done through blog posts (case in point: I’m hoping you slightly level-up your email marketing chops as a result of reading this post), or through timed-release email.

Delivering content over time and through email tends to be more effective than frontloading the content. If you can become a mainstay in someone’s inbox, which is where Real Business(TM) takes place every day, you then have a relationship and not just a single transaction where you provide content and then move on.

What should go into your email course?

I’m not going to dive too deep into the technical internals of setting up autoresponders. At the bottom of this article, I’ve listed out a few recommended resources for getting started with actually creating sequences.

Before you break out the notepad and write your course, it’s important to think about what you’re delivering and how the course benefits both the reader and your business.

When I wrote the course for WordPress Conversion Funnel, I knew I wanted to cover the why — why should a business care about getting more sales through their website (pretty obvious, right?) — but I also wanted to cover some of the how: Here’s exactly how you can get your WordPress site to sync up with Infusionsoft. Unfortunately, that how is going to require some coding chops or budget spent on someone recreating a wheel that’s already been wrought.

So, the obvious takeaway is “Why build this from scratch when you could just pay $197 and get it right now?”, even though I basically list out the exact recipe for achieving that end result. From the perspective of the reader, it’s often a no-brainer. They’re information marketers, not coders. They appreciate the case study I’ve put together on how this approach can measurably increase sales, and like that I’ve given them my recipe. Now I’m not really selling as much as I’m providing an off-the-shelf offer (a plugin) that bridges the why with the how.

I’m doing something sort of similar for an email course I have setup for Planscope. In this course, I talk about a few strategies that can help you have a higher likelihood of winning contracts and ways in which better transparency can make your clients happier and increase their lifetime value. An example might be covering the why and the how around sending end-of-day status update emails. I describe the manual process I used for years and how this mitigated the likelihood that the client would balk at our invoices, and then come in with “I’ve also baked this into the core of Planscope. We’ll generate and send off these emails for you each day.” — First the why, then the do-it-yourself how, and finally, the offer… the product.

So think about how you can first and foremost explain the why — why should anyone care enough to buy your product or service? What problem or agony lies at the root of this why, and what does a solution look like? What happens after this problem goes away?

How to close the sale

Your product or service should be the bridge that links the problem with a solution. If you’re hoping to sell web design services to restaurants, your email course could talk about what the effects of the Internet are on their industry, and maybe even give some actionable tips on how they become more visible online (e.g. adding themselves to Google Places, moderating their Yelp profile, creating a mobile-friendly site, etc.) You’re looking for people who are too damn busy to do this themselves, and these are the people you want as your future customers.

Your course should be entirely devoid of any self-promotional sales copy at first. You want to provide a surplus of value and not expect anything in return. Again, this value will be largely in recognizing the problem (the why) and then treating it (the how). It’s OK to casually mention your product early on, but don’t make any attempt to actually sell.

For my 5 day courses, I try to sell on Day #4. By then I’ve made my case, and now it’s just piecing together my product as one way to quickly bridge the gap. I don’t want to pitch my product as the only way get to that end goal, as rarely is there one product that can do just that, but I make my case for why I back what I’m selling. Like I said earlier, the reader is free to dust off their code editor and try to integrate with the Infusionsoft API themselves — but for the kind of customers I’m looking for, it’s not worth the pain to do that. “Shut up and take my money, Brennan!” is the response I’m looking for.

Structuring your course

In planning your email course, it’s important to first think about how long the course should be and the intervals between each email.

For most new courses, I’m a fan of the “5 Days To Better $X” format, where you setup five emails that go out over five days. This tends to work well for infoproducts or lead cultivation. Depending on your typical sales cycle, you may way to extend both the length and the intervals.

The sort of email course I describe in my book The Blueprint is meant to be a followup to live presentations, and often these courses require implementation time between each lesson, or email. Let’s say your course involves teaching the reader about putting together an AdWords campaign and then analyzing and reacting to any collected data. You’re not going to want to send out the email on analyzing the day after you teach the reader how to create a campaign — the data isn’t there yet! Keep that in mind if your course is meant to be actionable.

Paul Jarvis recently put together an email course titled “Write And Sell Your Damn Book”. Each email (or “mission”) is meant to represent one part of the journey between idea and customer for your book. What’s interesting about what Paul’s doing is that he isn’t sending out his course on a timed interval; it’s 100% self-paced. When you complete a mission, you click a link at the bottom of the email and you’ll then be sent the next mission.

I asked Paul about how this is working out so far, and by far the most interesting takeaway from his setup is that he can see how long each mission takes to complete. Are most people struggling with the outline? Is getting that first sale a major roadblock? Paul’s self-paced course is ripe with opportunities for Paul to proactively reach out (automatically, even) to people who are stuck.

A few quick tips on getting setup:

  • The spacing should reflect the digestion time required for each step. If you’re mainly dishing out information, a day will work. But if your course is actionable (highly recommended!) your interval should reflect the average time required between each step. (I’ll talk more about this in the accountability section below.)
  • Your first email should go out immediately after opt-in. Followup emails should probably be sent at around 11am Eastern for most cases (if your audience is largely North American and/or European, this is an ideal time.) However, if you’re selling to fellow Aussie’s, midnight emails aren’t advised.
  • The second-to-last email should be the “hard sell” (even then, a great course shouldn’t need to put too much pressure on the prospect.) Simply tie your product into what you’ve been teaching. Include either a coupon or some freebie to create a sense of urgency.
  • The final email should reiterate your offer, and ideally get the reader to reach out (via email) to you directly. With my plugin’s email course, that final email asks the reader to get in touch and let me know how they plan on putting the information I’ve been delivering to them into action. If you’re selling high-touch services, like consulting, this final email should probably be sent manually by you, with an offer of meeting with the prospect in person to hash out a gameplan (again, if you’ve gone through The Blueprint, this is nothing new.)

Accountability, or the “exit course”

I do something that’s relatively unique (I think) after someone buys one of my books. I hook them up onto an automated accountability program. I make it clear that they’ve bought directly from the author, and that my #1 goal is to help them make their purchase an investment instead of an expense.

I’ve learned that the more successful you make your customers, the more likely they are to buy from you in the future and refer you to others. Again, pretty obvious, right? So why do so few of us do that? How many freelancers actively reach out to past customers to see how they’re doing and provide them advice on maximizing the product you delivered to them.

Let’s say you were to pick up The Blueprint from me. Here’s what you’ll get sent to you soon after:

Hi ~Contact.FirstName~,

So how many times have you bought a book, read through it, put it on a (virtual or non-virtual) shelf, and went back to what you were doing?

Old habits die hard, right?

When you buy a book at a bookstore, the author has no idea about who you are, what your goals are, and there’s not really any avenue for you to ask he or she specific, pointed questions.

But because you bought The Blueprint from the author (me!) directly, I want to help put your investment to work. There’s no sense in buying something that can help improve your business if you don’t plan on making any changes.

So over the next few weeks, I’ll followup from you from time to time to see how you’re doing and if there’s anyway I can help.

While these emails might be automated, replies go directly to my GMail inbox. In a few days, I’ll be following up to find out more about your Persona and how that’s a competitive advantage of yours.


And then a week or so later:


Have you decided on what it is you sell, and who you’re selling to? This might sound a bit funny at frst, but many of us really haven’t figured it out We default to, “Well, I’m a web designer” or “I’m a freelance developer.”

If you’ve established a Persona (starting on p. 16 of the book), what is it? Reply and pitch me on it, and I’ll see if I can help you improve it in any way.

Also, next week I’ll reach out again with a few sales copy tips that weren’t included in the book, and then we’ll get to work writing your Gateway pages and planning for your first few Carrots.

Until then,

I get a ton of responses to these emails. These responses are laden with fears, frustrations, and some really great results and feedback. Those fears and frustrations? They get dumped directly into a swap file I have setup for each of my products, and ultimately get normalized and recycled back into my marketing copy.

But, more importantly, I’m able to help people connect the dots between what I’m teaching and their business. While it takes a good amount of time each day for me to correspond with my customers, this is the sort of stuff I provide ongoing value to — there’s literally zero value in me personally sending off these initial emails to my customers (a machine known as Infusionsoft does this for me), but I personally read and respond to these emails, and am able to provide specific value to my customers.

And guess what happens? The customers who are able to connect the dots and apply what I’m teaching to their business end up becoming more successful then they are already. Maybe they’ve finally figured out how to redo their messaging, and now they’re making tens of thousands of dollars in additional revenue. Guess who’s statistically most likely to join my Masterclass or talk to me about coaching / consulting?


So I’d try to think about ways that you could bake in accountability into an email autoresponder, and tie it into your deliverables (ebooks, whitepapers, consulting).

Hopefully this answers a lot of questions about the role of email courses, and how they can condition and cultivate leads — both for your products and services. How can you put together a pre-sales email course or a post-delivery accountability course for your clients and customers? Sound off below!

Further Resources (in no particular order)

  • AWeber
    Starts at $19/mo
    AWeber does a fine job at sending out newsletters (broadcast emails) and autoresponders, and is usually positioned as a competitor of Mailchimp. Their autoresponder setup is nicer than Mailchimps, as the timing is the number of days since the last email that was sent, vs. the number of days since joining a list. I’m not a big fan of their WYSIWYG editor.
  • ConvertKit
    Starts at $50/mo, now requires joining the ConvertKit Academy
    My good friend Nathan Barry wrote ConvertKit as a way to make it dead simple to setup email courses. Not only is it simple to put together your first course, but it ships with the ability to generate opt-in landing pages and has broadcast email support. ConvertKit and Drip both hold a special place in my heart as they’re 1) built by friends and 2) know that plaintext-looking emails are much more effectively than their graphically laden counterparts.
  • Drip
    Starts at $49/mo
    Drip is the only product tailored specifically for businesses (like SaaS) that have some sort of account registration component, and it was created by Rob Walling of HitTail, Startups For The Rest Of Us, and MicroConf. Like ConvertKit, it’s super easy to setup a course (and they’ll even help you with that), but they also include two killer features which I love, especially for SaaS businesses: conversion tracking and split testing.
  • MailChimp
    Free for up to 2,000 contacts
    By far the staple for our industry, MailChimp is best as a newsletter platform, and not-so-great (in my opinion) at setting up autoresponders. Their WYSIWYG editor — for graphically intensive emails — is very good.

There are other tools out there — like Campaign Monitor — that I have literally zero experience with. I personally use Infusionsoft, which is a competitor of tools like Hubspot and Ontraport, but these tools are much more heavy hitting than the above.