Build Your Email List With This 5-Email Onboarding Sequence

They did it. They actually did it. All your hard work, all the effort spent tweaking your call to action, perfecting your brand, and plugging the gaps in your funnel… it’s finally paying off. Finally, after countless hours hunched over your laptop and a potentially lethal amount of coffee— someone signed up to your newsletter.

Congrats. Of course, now you’re stuck asking yourself, “what’s next?”

Well don’t worry. Today we’re going to break down how to successfully welcome those new subscribers on board, prove to them that they made a good choice, and set your entire newsletter up for success. We’ll do all that using a series of automatic emails called a onboarding sequence.

But before we do, let’s talk about why you should spend the time getting this right.

But first… why should I bother?

We’re about to show you how to onboard new subscribers the right way. But if you’re anything like the rest of us, then you may be wondering why you would bother to onboard in the first place. Can’t you just send a single welcome message and call it a day?

Sure. If you really want to. But we don’t recommend it, and here’s why…

By onboarding correctly, you’ll be able to:

  • Keep subscribers around for longer;
  • Keep them opening, reading, and clicking;
  • Sell to them quicker; and
  • Deliver more value to your subscribers, driving brand loyalty and equity.

What’s more, you’ll also be able to collect data along the way and see how active each subscriber is. By the time they finish your onboarding sequence you’ll know if you’ve either successfully built a list of promising leads or uninterested duds.

So bottom line: you should always send subscribers through some kind of onboarding sequence. What does that sequence look like? Well it almost always starts off with a welcome email…

Email #1: The Welcome Email

This is the email that you already know you need. It’s the basic, automatic reply that’s sent as soon as someone signs up. And while you may think this is just a throwaway email, it’s actually much more than that. Studies have shown that the humble welcome email often earns an oddly high open rate, with more than 50% of subscribers reading them.

With that many eyeballs on your email, it’s important you get this one right. Here’s how we suggest you do exactly that:

  1. Start With a Thank You
    Your new subscriber just gave you their email address. For a lot of people, that’s not something they do for just anyone. Let them know you appreciate their trust by saying, “Thank you,” right off the bat.

  2. Provide Value
    After you’ve thanked your new contact, it’s time to immediately prove that they made a good choice. Give them something useful, for free. Often, a subscriber only signed up because they wanted your free eBook, worksheet, or whatever. If that’s the case, make sure they can access that resource right away, in the first email. On the other hand, if they signed up without any promise of free content… give them something anyway! It’s a nice surprise and will encourage them to open your future emails.

  3. Don’t Ask For Anything!
    Some people like to use the welcome email to push new contacts further down their funnel. We don’t recommend that. At all. It’s kind of like going on a first date and immediately trying to settle on a date for the wedding (yikes!). Try to resist the temptation to ask for action from your new subscriber. Don’t push them to your social media. Don’t ask that they share the email. Don’t ask that they check out your newest products. Right now, you’re building trust and rapport. That’s it.

  4. Set Expectations
    Finally, you’ll want to end your welcome email by letting subscribers know what kind of content you’re going to be sending them next. In this onboarding sequence, the next email contains an extra little bonus gift. You can tease this by letting your new subscriber know that you’ll be in touch, “in a few days,” with, “something really exciting,” or something to that effect. That way they’ll be primed to receive your next email and will be more likely to open it once it arrives.
Aside from pushing people to the blog, this email does a great job of saying thanks, and then offering a discount. (source)

That’s it! Your first email is done. Schedule it to send immediately after someone signs up and you’re done! Easy, right? Now let’s talk about email #2.

Pssst… Hey, you!

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Email #2: The Bonus Gift

OK, great. You’re off to a great start. You’ve touched base with your subscribers, given them something awesome, and thanked them for signing up. You’re now ready for the next email.

This one should be scheduled to send one day after your contact receives Email #1. If you’re using an Email Service Provider (ESP) like MailerLite, you can set this up pretty easily using their automation features.

In the email itself, you’ll want to structure it like so…

  1. Follow up
    Very briefly, in 1–2 sentences, ask how they enjoyed the previous eBook/discount code/resource that you sent them in Email #1. It’s not a bad idea to ask them to reply if they have any questions as well.

  2. Oh, by the way…
    Casually, mention that you have a secondary resource that they might be interested in. Ideally, you’ll want this second giveaway to compliment the first. For example, if you gave them an Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Cost of Acquisition in the first email, you could give them a free Cost of Acquisition Calculator tool in the second. Basically, you’re offering further proof that they made a good choice when they gave you their email.

  3. Don’t Ask For Anything!
    Again, this isn’t the time or the place. Don’t ask them to follow you on Facebook. Don’t push them to another landing page. Just give them the free resources and relax. We’ll ask them to start taking actions very soon.

  4. Set Expectations
    The next email in the sequence is a follow up email, so there’s not much to tease. Instead, simply let them know that you’ll be following up shortly, and to let you know if they have any questions in the meantime.
This email doesn't reference the rest of the series, but is otherwise written almost perfectly. Notice how the format of the text narrows as you read, drawing the eye to the big CTA button.
This email doesn't reference the rest of the series, but is otherwise written almost perfectly. Notice how the format of the text narrows as you read, drawing the eye to the big CTA button. (source)

Awesome. Email #2 is done and in the queue. Let’s get started on #3.

Email #3: Follow Up

Two emails down, five to go. You got this.

In email number three, we simply want to poke our head in after a couple of days. We’re going to do this politely, and ask our new subscribers to reply to us with any questions they have about the resources we sent over.

This email accomplishes a few important things. First, it keeps your name/brand name at the top of your subscribers inbox. Second, it reminds them that you recently sent them a ton of valuable free stuff. If they haven’t already looked at the resources, this may be the reminder they need to go check it out. Finally, this email keeps the entire process conversational, and feels less spammy than simply pushing them straight to the main newsletter list. Here’s how to write it:

  1. Thanks again.
    Thank them again for signing up and for taking a look at your resources.

  2. Be approachable.
    Remind them that you’re always available to respond to any questions they may have. Often, it’s a good idea to mention that there’s a real human being behind your email address, and you’re not just a bot running a script.

  3. Don’t Ask For Anything!
    Patience young grasshopper. We’re getting there. Next email we’ll ask for something, promise.

  4. Set Expectations
    Our next email is a short survey. However, calling it a survey is a bad idea (sounds spammy). Instead, let them know that within the next few days, you’ll be reaching out with a couple of questions that you’d love to get their feedback on.
We like the personal feel of this email. We also like how they're teasing the third part of an eBook series, so readers know what to expect.
We like the personal feel of this email. We also like how they're teasing the third part of an eBook series, so readers know what to expect.

Schedule this email using your favorite ESP to go out two days after contacts received the last email. The timing is key: we’re training our subscribers to wait a little longer between emails. Throughout this sequence, we’ll eventually increase the interval between messages to about 7 days.

Email #4: Survey

Before we get into how to write this email (and why) let’s just take stock of how we’ve come.

So far, your new subscriber has signed up and received three emails. The first, a friendly welcome to the list, was a chance for you to send over a little valuable giveaway. You’ve proven that you’re worth subscribing too.

But, as if that wasn’t enough proof, you went ahead and set them more free stuff the next day. On top of that, you were careful not to try and sell anything throughout. Plus, you’ve been good about offering help and being available to answer questions.

Now, with all that work out of the way, we can start training our new subscriber to engage with our emails. And we’ll start with a simple survey…

  1. Introduce the survey.

    Ask your new subscriber how they’re getting on. Did they enjoy those last few resources? Mention that you’re always looking for ideas for new tools and resources. Is there anything that would help your new subscriber? What kind of tools would they love to have access to?

  2. Ask a few questions
    Create a short survey using something like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey. Try and keep it to less than three questions to encourage more people to actually fill it out. We’d suggest asking stuff like, “what’s the most difficult part about [topic you blog about]?” or, “what do you wish more [topic] bloggers wrote about?”.

  3. Your first call to action.
    Create a large call to action button and link it to your survey. If you’re using MailerLite or another ESP, they’ll have plenty of options for you to choose from. Whatever you go with, make sure that it stands out from the rest of the email and looks highly clickable.

Boom. That’s it. You’ve successfully asked your readers to take a small, specific action.

This is huge. If you get a ton of people clicking through, you’ll know that you’ve successfully provided them with plenty of value; enough that they’re willing to answer a few simple questions in return. If not, you may need to rethink your initial giveaways or the way you’re getting people on your list in the first place.

Headspace survey email example
The copy on this email is great. They let you know there's a survey coming, but are careful to mention that it's "not boring" and "super short".

Remember, the goal isn’t to build a massive email list. The goal is to build a massively engaged list. This email is your first chance to test people’s commitment and see how engaged they’ll be with you in the future. Schedule it to go out one day after you sent the last one.

Email #5: Thanks for responding! (conditional)

Email #5 is a conditional email, meaning you’ll only send it to certain people. From within your ESP, choose to send this email one hour after subscribers clicked on your survey CTA. That should give them enough time to answer the questions.

However, even if they don’t answer the survey, you still want to reward them for clicking. Throughout this sequence, we’re trying to train subscribers to open and click every email they receive from you. One way we can do this is by rewarding them everytime they click. Here’s how…

  1. Thanks!

    Obviously, you’ll want to start this email off with a thank you. Because we’re sending to people who clicked the button, but not necessarily to people who answered the questions, you’ll need to be careful with your language here. Instead of saying, “thanks for answering our questions,” maybe try, “thanks for checking out our questions.”

  2. Provide value
    Reward subscribers with something they can use. Ideally, this would be the time to offer a small discount code or something similar. If that doesn’t make sense for your situation, you can offer more eBooks/resources, links to useful content on your site, or links to external content that you think your new subscriber would love. Whatever you choose, try to make sure it’s something valuable and useful.

  3. Set expectations
    After this email, we’re going to add this person to our main newsletter. Let them know how often you send newsletters and the kind of content that will be in them.

Easy.

With that one email you’ve helped create a positive reinforcement loop. Subscribers are asked to click, they click, they get a reward. With this experience, they’ll be primed to click through on your future sales emails and future attempts to convert them.

How do you do that? Good question…

Exiting the Onboarding Sequence

This sequence is known as a “low commitment sequence” because it doesn’t ask users to do much more than answer a couple of questions. However, after exiting the sequence, you’ll want to ask your subscribers to do way more than fill in a survey. To do so successfully, we recommend you follow the same format as we’ve outlined above:

  1. Provide Value

  2. Make a Small Ask

  3. Reward Responses

It’s that simple. As you send weekly newsletters, try to send only the most valuable content. Every few emails, ask for something from your subscribers: see if you can get them to follow you on social, share your content with their friends, or visit a landing page for your latest sale. If they do, try to always follow up with a little positive reinforcement.

The key to making this work is balance.

You need to balance the value you offer with the actions you request. Asking too much too soon will feel pushy and used-car-salesmany. On the other hand, not asking for enough from your subscribers will make it hard to earn any kind of ROI from your list. Do it right, and you’ll soon have a booming newsletter full of engaged, happy readers.

Speaking of awesome newsletters, have you had a chance to check out the Barnimages list? We’ve been featured in Forbes (not to brag) and currently send over 50K+ emails every month. If you’d like to see what a newsletter that size looks like, simply click here to sign up.

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