Have you ever subscribed to a site’s newsletter and received a cheery welcome, introducing the author and connecting you to some of their past work? That was an autoresponder, an email series that goes out automatically when a certain action triggers its release (someone subscribing for the first time, a purchase was made, etc.). An autoresponder that sends a slow stream of information may also be called a drip campaign, often used for online classes.
Social media algorithms are constantly changing, referral sites may come and go, but you’re always in charge of your own email list. Autoresponders connect your work with your subscribers without constant attention or effort, keeping your list active and engaged. It’s one of my 2017 business goals to set one up for the Swoodson Says newsletter that promotes my craft and sewing blog/patterns. I’ve researched industry experts’ best practices in addition to asking other bloggers and creative business owners about their experiences, so you can start utilizing this online tool along with me!
Ways to use an autoresponder
Welcome New Subscribers
“Welcome” autoresponders allow you to connect with new newsletter subscribers so that you can introduce yourself, set expectations, and ask them questions. Dana Batho, who sells cross-stitch patterns at Peacock & Fig, found that having a welcome series and introducing herself dramatically reduced her unsubscribe ratios. Welcome emails are also a great place to share a success story or positive testimonial and link your social media profiles, as suggested by Beth Hayden in this autoresponder article for Copyblogger.
Research firm Marketing Sherpa polled marketers in 2013 and asked “What type of automated, event-triggered, lifecycle email messages does your organization deploy? Please check all that apply.” Above are the results. Read more their survey at MarketingSherpa.com.
Graphic used with permission from Marketing Sherpa
Alyssa Thomas sells embroidery and sewing patterns/supplies at Penguin & Fish and sends a welcome series with targeted goals. After introducing herself, her autoresponder shares links to evergreen content that focuses on issues that past readers have requested, along with intermittent promotional/sale messages.
If you only send a newsletter once a week, new subscribers may not remember you or why they signed up, without a welcome series. Wendi Gratz, who sells embroidery and sewing patterns at Shiny Happy World, says that autoresponders get her readers “in the habit of opening my emails and expecting something useful”.
Arianne Foulks is captain and founder of Aeolidia, a web and graphic design studio, shared that their autoresponder campaign allows them to build a relationship by sharing free content and explaining the value of their services, which are an investment as opposed to an impulse buy. Her welcome series establishes Aeolidia as an expert and gives enough advice away to hook readers in, who will hopefully purchase paid services later on.
Wendi also has two free drip campaign mini-courses that teach people how to embroider. She observes marked sales increases people “enroll”; each course includes links to both free and for sale patterns alongside the lessons. “Bootcamps” or 30/10/5 day challenges are another way to help your readers gain skills or change habits, subsequently building trust and establishing yourself as a go-to source. Mailchimp shares some of its users’ autoresponder successes, including Skillcrush who has an automated 10-day bootcamp to learning tech skills.
Looking at your older content’s traffic/sales history, you can analyze what has been most popular and find a way to share it with new readers. As suggested by Julie Neidlinger, writing for CoSchedule, this gets fresh eyes on older posts or products, generating more traffic and sales, Some autoresponder programs allow you to personalize this approach, sending new subscribers links on the topic specific to where they they signed up. For example, if they subscribed with the promise of a free sewing pattern, they’ll receive a track of emails with sewing content and sewing related products. Darren Rowse at ProBlogger also recommends using an upsell approach; once someone has purchased item X, set up an automated email to suggest purchasing related item Y after a certain amount of time.
Connect with reader
It’s easy to get bogged down in email responses and questions, but autoresponders can connect with readers without filling up your inbox. You can set up autoresponders to follow-up once a reader clicks on a specific link, send a coupon to repeat customers, or wish subscribers happy birthday. Alyssa pointed out that even if she has gotten too busy to send out a newsletter for a while, her autoresponder welcome campaign keeps new subscribers engaged.
Autoresponders also allow you to collect real-time information on who is receiving your newsletter and what they’re seeking. Kara Buntin, who sells cake decorating supplies at A Cake To Remember, shared that after receiving feedback to her welcome drip campaign, she realized that over a third of her readers were not professional cake bakers. This allowed her to tweak her content to better fit who was actually reading it, as opposed to who she thought was reading it.
By delivering consistent content and connecting more regularly with readers, you can also boost sales. Alyssa also said “Before working on my autoresponders, I barely sold anything with my emails. I wasn’t writing them well and was sending them sporadically. … Now, sometimes I only go to my email list to sell something. For the direct to customer side of my business, emails went from practically 0% of my sales to at least 50% of my sales”.
Autoresponder campaigns can also encourage anticipation in your readers, helping build up excitement for the release of a new product or class. Tara Swiger, who works with creatives to improve their businesses at TaraSwiger.com, said “My sequences that lead to a class or book helps potential students decide if it’s for them (which keeps my return rate at nearly 0%) and the wait list campaign gets people ready to make the decision when I offer the program again (which often leads to selling out the spots in the first day or two)”.
Dana has an autoresponder set up that follows up with anyone who makes a purchase through her newsletter, making sure they haven’t had any issues downloading and sharing other stitching tips. This helps remind shoppers that there is a real human on the other end of the transaction and turns them into loyal fans, without any additional work. You can also use autoresponders to check in with people who have abandoned their shopping carts, hopefully reminding them to come back and finish their purchase.
Advice & factors to consider before/when setting up autoresponders
- “Before you even start on the emails, make up a clear schedule of what you want to go out and when and give people a call to action with every email. It doesn’t have to be to buy something – maybe it’s just to pick out thread colors and find your hoop and be ready for the first lesson coming tomorrow. But give them a task – a goal.” – Wendi
- Research what subject lines are more likely to end up in spam folders – and think about what will catch a reader’s eye, too!
- “Your new subscribers are going to be much more engaged than ones that have been on the list for a while. My open rates and click rates for the emails in my drip campaign are higher than for the bulk of my list (and the first emails get more interest than the last ones). So it’s important to not “waste” any of these messages—these should all be the best stuff that makes people want to buy what you’re selling. “ – Arianne
- Prepare readers for what is coming next – build their anticipation and expectation of more valuable content to follow.
- Tara advised to “focus in on what your customers need to know to buy, use and love your product and teach them that in your campaign!”
- Consider the timing – will a new subscriber be receiving the autoresponder on the same day as your regular newsletter and get overwhelmed? Some programs allow you to choose the days things are sent out, if not, you can set one to go out in the AM and one in the PM.
- Different newsletter systems offer different automation options and may have an additional charge for using autoresponders.
- Set regular reminders in your calendar to evaluate and potentially change your autoresponder series.
Evaluating and Tweaking
- How will you measure success or track responses? Watch open, click, and unsubscribe rates to see where you need to edit your message(s). Arianne automates analytics for her emails, using Google Analytics to track clicks to their “request a quote” form via an autoresponder campaign.
- Alyssa encouraged shop owners and bloggers to avoid waiting “until you have a ton of perfect emails written and ready to send” – start by sending something and continue to edit it or add on.
See autoresponders in action
Sign up for a few newsletters from people who have been using them and shared their wisdom for this post:
Arianne’s Aeolidia newsletter with the “club for creative businesses”
There is also a great screenshot series of a travel blog, Nomadic Matt,’s welcome series, over at the AWeber blog
Stephanie Woodson is a Midwestern blogger who loves trying everything creative. Making things keeps her sane while wrangling two young kids; some of her passions are handmade toys, using up the tiniest scraps, and upcycling/refashioning. Find a toy sewing pattern or get inspired to try a new craft at swoodsonsays.com, While you’re there, be sure to check out 100+ links to help creative bloggers make more money, boost traffic, and network.