Everything I’ve Learned About Email Marketing (And a Little Something Special)

Today is my 28th birthday. In order to start the celebration I’m giving subscribers a new ebook “How to Quit Your Job” that will eventually be one of three books in the new 180 Toolkit. This will replace the “6 Steps to Location Independence” email series. More below, but definitely sign up if you haven’t already!

At the beginning of the year I made over $20,000 in one week just from sending out a series of emails offering an incredible package for Location Rebel.

Last week I sent a short email out to my newsletter list that resulted in the highest traffic day ever on the blog.

Why am I telling you this? Because in nearly 4 years of blogging I’ve come to one very important realization, the most valuable tool you have as a blogger and marketer is your email list.

There’s no better way to sell, inform, and most importantly build relationships online than via email – and that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today.

Over the last few years I’ve learned a lot of lessons about what works, and in particular what doesn’t as it relates to email marketing.

In this post I’m going to share some personal stories of what’s worked extremely well, what hasn’t, and why it’s more important than ever to communicate with your readers via email.

Are you ready for this?

Awesome, let’s get going.

The Best Piece of Blogging Advice I’ve Ever Received

Let’s face it, there are a lot of people out there that are giving terrible advice on blogging – so it can be tough to really figure out who you should pay attention to, and who is full of it.

These days there are very few people I fully trust when it comes to blogging, but one of the guys I really look up to is Derek Halpern of Social Triggers.  It just so happens a big reason for this, is he gave me some of the best blogging advice I’ve ever received.

Awhile back we were talking and he asked me what I was doing with my email list. At the time, the answer was not very much.

He told me the best way to not only build relationships with your readers but figure out what type of content to create is ask them a question in your first email to them.

I thought about this for awhile, and then decided to give it a shot.

When you sign up for my email series “6 Steps to Location Independence” the first email you’ll get from me asks you to reply to me directly and answer two questions:

  1. What are you struggling with?
  2. What’s your perfect day look like?

By doing this, I’m trying to show that I actually care, and I’m trying to move past statistics and make my readers real people.

I try and personally respond to every single person who answers these emails.  Why? Because I’ve been there I can totally relate to the responses people give.  I know what it’s like to daydream about your perfect day only to have month after month go by where you aren’t experiencing it.

About 25% of people who sign up for my list email me back.  Most are caught off guard and say they’ve never been asked to do something like that before.

They’re even more caught off guard when I email them back afterwards.

This simple interaction, while it takes a fair amount of time each week to respond personally, has allowed me to build relationships with my readers and get more details about exactly what they’d like to see on the site.

Action Item: Pose a question to your email subscribers and ask them to “actually hit reply and respond”

But How Do You Get Them to Sign Up in the First Place?

So right now you might be thinking, “Ok Sean, that’s great, but how do I get people to sign up in the first place?”

Ah, glad you asked.

This is one of the most common questions I get asked, and one of the biggest mistakes I see when doing website critiques for Location Rebel members.

“Sign up for Our Newsletter and Updates” is quite possibly the least enticing call to action ever.

It’s so generic that most people won’t even see something like this, or they will simply see “Oh more junk in my inbox? No thanks.”

You have to give people a reason to want to sign up.

Or as I like to say you have to create a killer list building offer.

Before I launched Location Rebel in June of 2011, I created the Location Rebel Arsenal book.  The goal of this book was to give you all of the tools and resources that you need to work from anywhere.

I tried to make the design interesting, and actually provide a resource that people would pay for if I offered it for say 20 bucks.

Within a couple days I had a few hundred email signups.

I spent hours and hours working on a resource that would truly add value to people’s lives. Taking the time to do this has paid off in spades over the last two years, as it’s the very beginning of my marketing funnel for the community.

I do something similar for my Location 180 email list.

“6 Steps to Location Independence” – I created an email series that walks you through the most important elements of building a business online.  For someone who has no clue where to start, this series is laced with value.

So instead of the reader doing me a favor by signing up, I’m doing them a favor by providing something really useful for free.

Action Item: Review what you’re currently offering your email subscribers.  Is it a killer offer? If not check out this post and get to work developing something that is going to make people excited to sign up to your email list. 

The Biggest Mistake I’ve Ever Made With Email Marketing (And How I’m Fixing It)

You’ve probably read that the best way to sell someone something is with a well crafted auto-responder sequence – which I believe is true…usually.

At the end of my 6 part series on location independence I have a call to action to join Location Rebel.  After the Arsenal ebook, you get a series of emails with links to videos I shot all about the most important elements of the lifestyle.

On their own, these are two relatively good sequences that provide a lot of value to readers.

However, there’s one BIG problem, that’s taken me longer than I care to admit to rectify.

Let’s say you’re new to the site and you join my email list over here.  Then a couple days later you see a link to the Arsenal ebook and you join that list too in order to get access to it.

You’re now signed up to TWO auto-responder sequences that are both coming from me.

If you’re like most normal people, what’s going to happen? You’re going to run away as fast as you can due to the bombardment of emails.

I’ve lost more subscribers than I care to admit because of this.

It’s essential that if you have multiple brands and offerings that overlap, you’re aware of exactly what the user is seeing, and provide the most useful and non intrusive experience ever.

So, how am I fixing this problem with my business?

I’ve thought about this for a long time, and in order to fix the problem I’m revamping everything about both funnels.

For starters however, the Location 180 opt in course will no longer be an email series.  Nope, it will now be a tool kit, with not one, or even two, but THREE resources for creating change in your life.

I’m still putting the final touches on two of them, so it will be a gradual roll out.

But when all is said and done, here’s what you’ll get for signing up:

  • 6 Steps to Location Independence – Essentially it will be the same content as the email course, but will be in PDF form and updated a bit to include some of the latest stuff I’ve learned.  This will get you started with the essentials of your business.
  • How to Quit Your Job – This is an ebook I put together to help you do exactly that, quit your job.  So many people here struggle with exactly how to take the steps to move on to the next phase of their lives, and this goes into detail about exactly how I (and others) have accomplished this.
  • How to Create the Ultimate Bucket List – So now you’ve got the business and job stuff down, but there’s still an essential component: doing cooler stuff than all your friends.  This book walks you through creating the ultimate bucket list for you in all kinds of detail.  The best way to actually take action and do cool stuff, is to clearly establish what cool stuff you want to be doing.

I feel like this package will provide a much more valuable broad spectrum to help you achieve this lifestyle and will make those happy who don’t want to be bombarded with email.

I’ll still personally interact with as many readers as possible, and hopefully help even more people build successful businesses that allow them to do more of what they really want to be doing.

Note: This is a gradual process. Today, only the How to Quit Your Job guide is available, but the rest will show up in the next couple weeks!

Action Item: Sign up for the list to grab the new 180 Toolkit and begin your quest into the world of lifestyle entrepreneurship 🙂

Why Not All Unsubscribes Are Bad

All of that being said, it’s important to realize that not all unsubscribes are bad.

You want people on your list who actually want to be there. 

Inevitably people will join, check it out, and realize it’s just not for them – and that’s totally ok.

Many big marketers will never tell you this, but every single time you send an email out, you’ll have people unsubscribe.  It’s not something to take personally, even though everyone does at some point or another.

The goal is to find the perfect balance with your communication where your emails are something people are excited to see.

I’ve found that you should email at least once a week to increase interaction and stay relevant with your readers.  Others will say less, while some will say more.

If I’m doing a promotion or have a blog post I’m particularly excited about, it may be a bit more frequent. Once again, there will be people who don’t like this – and if they want to unsubscribe, then that’s great, they weren’t a good fit.

I never email unless I feel like I have a good reason to that will be valuable for the reader. Sure there are times where the email may be offering something they have to pay for, but if I’m doing it, it means I really do think it’s something they will benefit from.

What Do These Relationships Look Like in Real Numbers?

The bottom line is, I’m still running a business.  The more people I help, the better my business does.

So what role does email play in that?

Well as I mentioned earlier, I made over $20,000 in the first week of January – almost entirely through email.

I don’t usually go into detailed specifics about how much my business makes, but I felt this was a pretty important point to share, and it also gives you an idea of just what’s possible if you choose to adopt this lifestyle.

I knew that I wanted to put together a special deal on the Location Rebel community around New Years.  It’s the time where everyone is planning to make changes, and it seemed like the perfect time to actually follow through with their lifestyle goals.

Over a period of about 3 days I crafted an email series that highlighted some of the newest features of the course, as well as some success stories of current members.

I prepared people for something special and then put a finite window of time where they would be able to get not just 1 course, but 4 products for the price of 1 (I never discount the price of LR).

My goal was to sell a few copies and hopefully encourage people to make some changes in 2013.

The response was more than I’d ever anticipated, leading to my most profitable month ever.

To illustrate the power of building relationships via email, I converted about 1% of the entire list to a sale of a $297 product – pretty good if you ask me.

So why did it work so well?

These results don’t happen all the time, so what set this particular offer apart? Let’s take a look:

  • I built real relationships, not just a list. Like I said, I try and respond to everyone. Even if it’s a brief response, I want to build friendships rather than just my ego. So when it came time to sell, I’d already had conversations with many people who chose to buy.
  • I’m not selling crap. Some people push out every offer imaginable to their email subscribers. I only do it if I think there is real, tangible value.  Considering dozens of members have quit their jobs and built successful businesses, I knew exactly what was possible if people were willing to invest in themselves.
  • There was scarcity. When I first launched Location Rebel to the beta group in 2011, I only opened it up to 20 people. It sold out in 48 minutes.  This was the first time since then I did a big push with deliberate scarcity. The deal was only open for 48 hours. None of that false scarcity bullshit, but it was an offer I could only do for so long.  Because of that however, people who may have been on the fence decided to act.
  • I Don’t Do It All The Time. Anytime you do a promotion with more emails than usual, you’ll get some people who don’t like it – it’s all part of the process.  But I’ll only do 3-4 big email pushes a year, and I’ve found at that rate most people don’t mind, and even welcome them.

 The Technical Components of Email Marketing

Along with everything we’ve talked about here, there are some technical components and tools you’re going to need in order to make your email campaigns as successful as possible.

The first is a service that allows you to store your emails, create autoresponders, and send out emails to your list of raving fans.

Based on my experience there are two services I can recommend.

The first?


Aweber is what I personally use to manage my emails lists, and I’ve found it to be vastly superior for my needs compared to it’s primary competitor, Mailchimp. It allows you to efficiently create email campaigns, send out blasts, split test, and automate actions to make your life and the life of your readers that much easier.

If you’re just starting out, it’s the best service out there.

The second service I’d recommend is Office Autopilot.

This is for more established businesses and isn’t cheap at $297/month.  However it does just about everything.  Email, lead funnels, affiliate tracking, shopping cart integration – it truly is a one stop shop for all things online business.

I’m considering making the switch over to this, as it covers pretty much everything I’m looking for in a service like this.

Action Item: Make sure you’ve got a professional email marketing service like Aweber.

Your Secret Weapons

So you’ve got just about everything you need in order to absolutely kill it as an email marketer and provide a ton of value to your readers.  But a couple secret weapons never hurt anyone now did they?

There are two things I use to really push things over the edge and give myself the best shot at seeing the sales and subscribers come in.

Visual Website Optimizer

Visual Website Optimizer is the absolute easiest way to test just about anything on a website.  Want to try a different headline? No problem. Want to test two totally different pages? Easy.

All you do is add a piece of code to the header of your site and then hop in their extremely easy backend to start creating your tests.

Best of all? They have a free 30 day trial, and after that it’s only $50/month.

One split test accounted for an 88% increase in opt ins over my testing period for the Location Rebel home page.

Opt-In Skin

I’ve mentioned Optin Skin in the past, and I still believe it’s the best tool out there for non-intrusive email calls to action.

There’s all sorts of ways you can customize it, but on my photography site when people get to the bottom of a post, it seamlessly comes out of nowhere and inserts itself into the bottom of the post. I use a custom opt in box for this site, but have considered switching because Optin Skin is that good.

Action Item: Sign up for a free Visual Website Optimizer account.

Finishing Up

Hopefully this post has done a good job of illustrating just how important email marketing is to a blog or website.  The tools to really take your business to the next level are all here, it’s just a matter of sitting down, creating a dedicated plan, and then actually taking some action and making changes on your site.

Speaking of which, if you haven’t yet, make sure you sign up below and grab the first book in our 180 email kit: How to Quit Your Job. 🙂

Turner - Around the World in 80 Jobs April 4, 2013 at 7:52 am

Great post. Filled with value.

I have been on the fence with my email list unfortunately. I actually took your advice last time about reaching out to people and asking what they were looking for. I had a much higher percentage of people open the mail than normal (according to the chimp) but I only had a couple of people respond. I need to get better at this. It is amazing how much you can get done Sean.

Cheers man



Sean April 4, 2013 at 7:59 am

Thanks for the comment Turner!

Yeah, the email stuff can definitely be a trial and error thing to see what works with your audience. It was also a couple years before I had the traffic to see noticeable trends and patterns that allowed me start testing more.

How did you structure your email? Ask them a specific question? Give them a survey?


Turner - Around the World in 80 Jobs April 4, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Ha I havent done much with it. I wasnt sending out individual emails. I sent out one mass email to all my list (70ish at the time), asking feedback questions, like how they found me, what were they looking for and how I could help them.

But bad response rate. The open rate was good.

I will start sending out individual emails. I dont have an ebook or give away yet or even a product yet. My site is still only 1 year and 3 months old. So I am still working that out.

Matthew Riley April 4, 2013 at 8:08 am

Hey Sean, Happy Birthday! Man I remember when I was 28 just thinking about it makes me feel old. Great to read about how much you’ve learned and continue to learn since you started blogging. As you’ve pointed out in several of your posts learning, building skills, and relationships are so important at being successful in everything you do. Look forward to continue reading your updates and can’t wait for the eBooks.


Eddie April 4, 2013 at 9:22 am

Happy Birthday Sean, hope you have an awesome day.

As always, great content. I think email marketing is one of the most underrated and neglected forms of online marketing out there.


Michael Erickson April 4, 2013 at 9:43 am

Sean – Thanks for the recommendation with opt-in skin. You’ve always had great opt-ins at the end of your posts that sync up so nicely with the content that you’ve written about.

I’ll gladly give you the affiliate credit – Cheers!


dallyce April 4, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Yo Sean. Happy birthday mate! So young, yet so wise.

Cheers for the email marketing motivators. I suck at this aspect, and this is one area I really need to get focused on. Ask a question? who knew….brilliant.


Jean Powell April 4, 2013 at 3:48 pm

You are seriously awesome.


Chas April 4, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Happy B Day, Sean. One of the things that I like about you, is your personal response to e-mail inquiries, or suggestions. I know you enjoy receiving feedback, too. The ‘6 Steps To Location Independence’ is the PDF I am most looking forward to.


Keith Caldwell April 5, 2013 at 8:46 am

Great post. Everything goes back to the idea people respond when they think it’s about them, not you. Leave them with a question, so they can talk ab0ut their issues – which, of course, is a business opportunity if you can help them solve their problem.


Peter Santenello April 5, 2013 at 9:08 am


I love the quality content on your site! It’s refreshing to read your positive words about juggling different ventures, getting out into the world, and avoiding the “man” and the mundane.

I’m somewhat location independent and can be away from the states for roughly 6 months a year so I connect with your content quite closely.

I’m curious about your beer venture? Like most good things from the states… they don’t get exported, and beer certainly is no exception. I’m living in Spain at the moment and the shwag they drink here is a crime. How are the Chinese taking to hoppy American ales?

Keep up the awesome posts!



Matthew April 5, 2013 at 9:30 am

I still remember your email to me personally and response. I admit I was surprised and impressed. I knew right then you were somebody worth listening to. Happy Birthday! Thanks for the great content above! Matthew


Jessica April 5, 2013 at 10:08 am

Great post Sean, happy birthday!! xo


Utsav April 7, 2013 at 11:06 pm

A very happy Birthday to you Sean.

Thanks for the continuous inspiration!

Wish you all the very best for another great year ahead.


Brooks April 14, 2013 at 8:43 pm

The Big 2-8. I remember that one. Congrats.
And Congrats on a $20k month. I know it’s a great accomplishment. And it’s a true testimony that constantly giving and adding value in people’s lives pays dividends (I’ve been following your blog since I read about you in AONC about 6 months ago!)


Caelan Huntress April 16, 2013 at 9:27 am

Good insight. I really like how you share whats working (and NOT working) in your business.

And good timing – I’m putting together an autoresponder sequence today, and I’m starting with a reply-call-to-action. I love this idea!


Kevin April 22, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Hi Sean,
Great article! Thanks for sharing. I’m still receiving your first set of 6 emails and I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by your attempt to spur interaction with your ‘reply to me’ call to action. It really did make me feel like you cared.
I haven’t received an invite to join the second list but I’m glad you’re revamping that strategy. I enjoy subscribing to blog newsletters that provide value, but the less emails I have to sort through on a regular basis, the better.
PS. I will be replying to your email shortly 🙂


Sean April 22, 2013 at 2:40 pm


It will all be the same list, once I finish up each book I’ll be sending out an email to all current subscribers with a link. Looking forward to your email 🙂


Leave a Comment

« »