It was 2:00 PM, 8th March 2017. I had to leave at 3:00 PM to pick my son from school.
I replied to more than 50 emails that day. I was feeling tired. There were some pending articles to be completed, but I didn’t feel like writing.
I looked back at my emails. I wondered why I was replying to everyone. I wanted to help people start their online businesses, but most of them sucked. Most of them listen to the advice but never take any concrete action. Very few people come back for the next steps, saying that they did what I advised. Very few.
I told them to work on their content plan. I shared my content marketing templates. I sent them an article with a step-by-step procedure to start their own website. I shared links with them to improve their writing skills.
I had received the response of less than 1% of all people reached, in past. I was suspecting the same with the current set of people. Frankly, I wondered why am I wasting my time with those people.
I quickly prepared a good-looking landing page in 15 minutes and integrated it with a payment processor.
I composed an email and announced the launch of VIP Newsletters. I shared the message on my social media, closed my laptop and headed to school to pick my son.
My only purpose was to find people who are ready to take action, so that I can spend more time with people who can actually utilize my advice in building their online businesses.
To my surprise, more than 50 people had signed up by the time I reached home. I was expecting a few people to join, but not so many. I was excited to see the initial success of my experiment.
I started with Rs. 30 because I never saw anyone paying for email newsletters. Everyone distributes newsletters free of cost then why would anyone spend money on paid newsletters?
People proved me wrong. People paid money.
I thought people might have joined because of the low price. It may happen that they are not serious.
I was scared to have a lot of members joining just because of the cheap price. After all, I was offering my time with a promise to reply to all queries of my VIP newsletter members.
100 people joined on the first day.
I increased the price to Rs. 100. More than 60 people joined on the second day.
Still, the price seemed unfair. I was yet to confirm why people were joining. I was not very sure about how much help I could provide them.
The most important thing seems to be controlling the flow of membership. I was having more than 5000 email subscribers and I don’t think Rs. 100 is a big amount to check their seriousness.
I increased the price of the newsletter to Rs. 500 on the third day. After revising price, 2-3 people were joining everyday. The flow of 20-25 people per week seems decent and acceptable.
I compiled the list of people who enrolled in first two days and started sending them weekly newsletters.
Closed enrolments for the second group after three weeks and started their weekly newsletters.
I revised the prices to Rs. 1500 for the third group. A total of 33 people signed up for the third batch. Subscription of further groups is closed, since I myself am evaluating whether I will be able to give expected value to my newsletter members or not.
My only expectation was that members should take action. That’s the sole reason I started paid newsletters in the first place.
I was yet to understand the expectations of my members.
#1. Filter out members
I knew that few members must have joined with the wrong expectations. The initial price was very low, and many people probably joined just out of curiosity. Some were already running a business and while others did not have any plans to run a business.
My target audience was the people who were on the edge of starting an online business but feeling stuck due to of lack of proper guidance.
I came up with an idea to filter people. I prepared a google form and made it mandatory for group-1 to fill it up within a week’s time. I thought it will work as an indication for taking action. And it worked.
41 out of 168 people did not fill up the form even when it was just a matter of 15 minutes. I refunded money to people who decided not to participate. In fact, it was good for them as well, because they were expecting something else from me.
#2. Understand their pains & goals
The same google form helped me to understand what they were expecting from me. I asked below questions in the first google form.
- Name, Email
- Your Interest Areas (Not more than two)
- Your Website URL
- Are you a content writer? Or want to become?
- What is your business idea? From how long are you working on your business (or idea)?
- How much money did you spent last year on sharpening your skills?
- How much monthly traffic do you have on your website?
- How much money are you making from your online business (work)
- Your work status?
- What are your goals for the year 2017? What is your primary goal for March?
- From where you came to know about VIP Newsletter?
- Where my newsletter landed in your inbox?
- On which day/time should I send newsletter?
- What are your expectations from me? Be very clear and specific.
- What should I include in the next newsletter?
- What are your favorite blogs and books? How many books did you read last year?
The answers gave me a fair understanding of what my newsletter members were expecting from me. It was easy for me to draft the next newsletter, because I was able to understand their pain points and goals.
The most interesting insight was that 78% of the members received my email in their inbox tab.
I knew that I would have to improve my email marketing, since the emails were going to be the primary mode of communication and connection with the VIP members.
# Security of their money & time
I was increasing the price but my purpose was not to increase my revenue. I was trying to find a sweet spot, where I can get my target audience.
I gave them a trial period of 90 days during which they could evaluate my newsletters. The members had the option to ask for a refund anytime, no questions asked.
I kept aside 30 days to evaluate their participation and progress. If I found members not moving fast enough, I would ask them to leave.
Delivering value for everyone
That’s the most difficult part because members were having different profiles and expectations.
Some people did not have any website or online presence. Some were stuck with creating good content for their website. Rest of the members were interested in learning promotion and marketing techniques without spending money on Google & Facebook Ads.
#1. Issuing Threats
I started pushing members to reach a level where they can publish high-quality content on their own website, Facebook, and YouTube. The threat was that members would have to take action every week, else they would be removed from the newsletter.
You have the leverage to threat depending on how much personal connection you have with your audience.
It may sound weird that I was taking the money and threatening people as well, but some members loved my quirky approach.
#2. Personalized Help
It’s very time consuming to understand the personal needs of each VIP member and provide them with help. As mentioned before, each and every email from my VIP newsletter member was assured of a response from my side.
Many a time, I would refer to their answers from the Google form, so that I could understand them well before giving any advice.
After a couple of interactions, I picked a few people to talk over the phone. I don’t mind spending extra time with people who are serious about building their business and taking action consistently.
#3. Finding Team Members from Group
One of the newsletter members impressed me with his editing skills, when he voluntarily edited an article that I shared privately with the newsletter group. I was looking for an editor for my articles. I gave him paid work. By the way, he is just 18 years old and a student of B.Com.
I was also thinking about creating a community around credit cards for a long time, but did not get time. I found two members who were interested in working with me on the same. We are now working together as a team on a side project.
Should you start Paid Newsletters?
I have validated the business model of premium newsletters in India. Before that, I had only heard about The Ken, a premium newspaper, where they are charged Rs. 3000 for the annual subscription. My newsletters are different from them because they are a team of journalists who do research for many days on a topic before publishing one article. I am a single guy who struggles with answering emails of random people.
You should start a paid newsletter service like me if you have certain skills that can help people in building something. I do some research for my newsletters, but most of the material comes from my past experience of running a profitable online business.
Vijay Anand, Founder of The Startup Center also started a premium newsletter and announced it via a LinkedIn post. He experienced similar issues of wasting his time with people who were not worthy. He decided to filter out non-committed wantrepreneurs through paid consulting and paid newsletters.
The filters that come with a paid service help in cutting out a lot of noise.
You can follow the route of premium paid newsletters if you are an entrepreneur, marketer or a consultant. You can help your followers with valuable advice through a paid newsletter. You may receive more emails than before, but you will surely enjoy the quality conversations.
Note: Don’t start a paid newsletter if your focus is just making money. I am sacrificing opportunities of working on high-value consulting projects (or building my own business) because I am spending a lot of time with newsletter members.
I am making decent money from my primary work on CashOverflow. I enjoy helping people who want to start an online business. I am enjoying even more now because only serious people are connecting with me through paid newsletters.
Tools I used to run paid newsletters.
#1. LeadPages for making beautiful landing pages in a few minutes
It’s bundled with email capturing popups. I can easily track the number of clicks and conversions. I have not used the feature, but LeadPages also offers A/B testing of landing pages. It can be easily integrated with a WordPress website. $25/month is an absolute bargain.
#2. Drip Email Campaigns for sending emails
This beautiful email marketing tool is built by the LeadPages team as well. Drip is the easiest tool for running an email campaign. I integrated Drip with Leadpages to capture emails and send automated emails to my email subscribers. I sent a few mails in a series to my subscribers and took automated decisions based on their behavior.
Click here for Drip trial for 100 subscribers (At $49/month, it’s not cheap but you will love it)
Drip uses better servers for sending emails and ensure that your emails land into the inbox of your subscribers. Drip is much much better than MailChimp. Worth the price if you close even two extra leads by migrating to Drip.
#3. Instamojo for receiving payments in India
My audience was Indian so I used Instamojo for collecting payments. You can set up your payment system in a few minutes. They charge around 2% fees and that’s quite reasonable when your save your precious time.
Sign up for Instamojo and get Rs. 500 as bonus after receiving your first payment.
Over to You
If you have any more questions or suggestions, please write them in the comments below or drop me an email.