A Solopreneur’s Journey Into Marketing Automation
Read this ebook if you suffer from “too-much-to-do-and-too-little-time-to-do-it” syndrome. With marketing automation many of the tasks you do to market your products and services become easier, cleaner, and less time-consuming. Learn how to get more business and grow your revenue with less effort.
Marketing + Automation = Marketing Automation
That looks like math. Ew. You may be squirming already.
Let’s look at the pieces of the equation.
- Marketing’s hard. Automation’s mysterious.
- Marketing relies on psychology. Automation relies on technology.
- Marketing’s for creative peeps. Automation’s for digital dweebs.
The sum, of course, is marketing automation. It sounds complicated, maybe a bit messy, and without a doubt, time-consuming.
If you, like me, and millions more, are an over-taxed, spread-too-thin, and foreverstressed soloprenuer, you’d think marketing automation is something you should simply leave alone?
But you’d be wrong.
Like everything worthwhile, marketing automation does indeed require learning, but then wonderful things happen…
Many of the tasks you do to market your products and services become easier, cleaner, and less time-consuming. They also become more effective, meaning it takes you less effort to get more business and grow your revenues.
Yes, my friend and fellow sufferer of
toomuch-to-do-and-too-little-time-to-do-it syndrome, this story has a happy ending.
I’m going to make you glad you read it.
Once upon a time…
I didn’t do marketing automation. The truth is marketing automation, as we now know it (even if you don’t), came along relatively recently. If I’m to backup to the beginning of my journey into digital marketing, there was a decade or so where I didn’t even do email marketing.
During that span, I suppose I thought of myself as a digital marketer. I had a website. It had a contact page with a form on it so visitors could write to me from there. That’s about it.
Ironically, as a freelance copywriter, I was writing a fair share of email for clients. For one gig, I wrote a detailed article for an enewsletter about email marketing, a
how-to. The irony thickens because I still wasn’t doing any email marketing myself. Do as I say, not as I do, right?
It wasn’t actually until this decade, 2011 to be exact, when I put together a WordPress website and began blogging. It’s fair to say at that point, I became a content marketer, a rookie content marketer.
Then, or soon after, though I’m not sure exactly when, I started with email marketing. I dabbled. I found it to be a time-suck. And considering the fact that I didn’t have much of an email list (and no strategy for growing it) my efforts didn’t have much of an impact on my business.
I can’t even remember which company I chose as my first email marketing provider (ESP), but I do recall being very unsatisfied with the way my newsletters looked. I switched providers and began sending a newsletter I called
Then came a serious catalyst
Five years ago when I was schooling myself about the possibilities of digital marketing and fumbling through some of the processes, I heard about HubSpot and bought the book authored by their founders, Inbound Marketing.
I learned a ton from the book about how the various pieces of the inbound marketing puzzle fit together, such as:
- Your website, which becomes your online hub
- Your blog, which houses your content
- SEO, which can potentially attract prospects with intent to buy
- Social media, which can increase your reach, drive traffic and foster relationships
- Calls to action, which inspire readers to respond
- Landing pages, which feature forms to capture leads
- Email, which nurtures leads and fosters loyalty
- Segmentation, which enables you to deliver more relevant content to your subscribers
- Analytics, which reports what is and isn’t working
- Lead scoring, management, and customer relationship management (CRM), which help you follow-up with leads more effectively
I learned what marketing automation is and what it’s for:
- Marketing automation is software (as a service) designed to help you prioritize and execute marketing tasks more efficiently.
- Marketing automation helps drive traffic, convert the traffic into leads, and leads into customers.
- Marketing automation frees some of your time, but doesn’t compromise the authenticity of your content you’re producing.
- Marketing automation helps you reach your goals faster.
I moved to a lower stakes table (three times)
I wanted it all. All those features. All those benefits.
The problem was, I didn’t want to part with the money it would take to run a serious marketing automation platform. HubSpot and many of its competitors offer a tiered pricing structure that increases as your email list grows
Buying into some of the marketing automation platforms also requires a paid onboarding process, which is timeconsuming and expensive. It also requires a minimum commitment of one year.
As a digital marketing consultant, I’ve recommended HubSpot to a number of clients and worked with them after they bought it. I must say, I like the platform. It can be the engine of very effective inbound marketing programs.
But you must understand, a marketing automation platform doesn’t magically create customers. You don’t push the automation button and watch money pour into your receivables account. You have to do the work.
If you do the work, and understand much of the work calls for investing a serious amount of time in creating content, you can enjoy some delightful benefits:
- Improve traffic
- Increase the number of leads you get
- Improve lead quality
- Accelerate your sales cycle
- Lower marketing costs
I believe the number of companies that fail with marketing automation exceeds the number that succeed. Most companies are simply not as commited, systematic, and patient as they need to be.
In 2011, I wasn’t quite ready for making the commitment. So I compromised.
My marketing automation at work
Determined to keep my costs low, I shopped the marketing automation market and chose a platform called Optify. The software wasn’t as robust as HubSpot or the marketing automation platforms (MAPs) competing in the enterprise space, but in addition to email, it gave me tools to create and host landing pages, capture leads, and analyze user activity.
I was off to a decent start in marketing automation. I was content. But not for long. Optify announced it was shutting down. At the time many of the companies in the MAP business were operating in the red. Optify didn’t have the resources to endure.
The shutdown of the company was abrupt. Emails from them warned customers to extract the digital assets they could and move on. All services and hosted pages would soon cease to exist.
I did as I was told and made a quick (and poor) decision to go with another platform that would allow me to practice marketing automation on the cheap. I found the solution clunky and difficult. The support was also very sketchy.
I moved yet again to an automation company I believed to be an up-and-comer. I even managed to reduce my bill to $0 because I struck a deal to work in trade. That is, in exchange for having a gratis account, I would provide the company writing services.
My opinion of the company’s platform are mixed. While it has many strengths its email functionality is limited. I moved on yet again, this time stepping up to a more expensive platform with a strong reputation for integration.
It’s powerful, but far too complex for my taste. So… I’ve moved on yet again. As the title of this eBook suggests, it’s a journey.
GetResponse hired me to write this eBook. I’ve begun checking out their new solution. I’ve read some of their materials. Watched some video. And I was given a demonstration. I like what I see. The platform looks ideal for solopreneurs.
I’ll tell you where I’m at now and what I’m doing with marketing automation and how it’s helping me accomplish my objectives.
- Popup forms – I’ve created multiple forms that popup for new visitors and experimented with different offers and triggers such as: upon arrival, invoked by scroll depths, and exit intent. The results have been good.
- Embedded forms – It’s simple to create forms to capture email addresses from those that want to subscribe to my general email list. I use one in the sidebar of many of my web pages and another at the bottom of many blog posts.
- Call-to-action popups – While this is a trickier operation, I have managed to put in place click-triggered popups to offer content upgrades (cheatsheets, etc.) from within specific blog posts.
- Lead capture – I have created multiple landing pages for the purpose of offering downloadable content (lead magnets),
- Thank you pages – New subscribers to my lead capture pages (and checkout pages) are automatically and instantly served relevant thank you pages. In some cases, I’ve embedded video of me in an effort to create a stronger connection.
- Product pages – One my reasons for upgrading my MAP was to sell information products. It’s still early for me on this front, but I’ve created some of these and found it easy to update them as needed. I’ve also created product pages to offer and sell consulting packages and have achieved decent results.
- Coupons – I’ve been able to create coupon codes which can be applied to specific products, offered to specific buyers, and honored for specific time frames.
- Checkout pages – My platform enables me to accept orders, manage transactions and issue receipts. This type of functionality is not offered by most MAPs, though integration with transactions systems are generally available.
- Hosted media – To facilitate access to eBooks, content upgrades and video, I sometimes opt to use the content hosting services provided by my MAP. This makes it fast and easy to fulfill requests for gated content instantly.
- Welcome series – Lead nurturing is probably the most important function of marketing automation. To introduce new subscribers to my services, I’ve created a 13-part welcome series, which mostly focuses on free content and tools I offer. The emails are programmed to
dripout over the course of 45 days. This is a strategy all email marketers should employ because it generally requires multiple touchpoints to earn a client, so the onetime delivery of a thank you email or offer email is insufficient.
- Newsletters – I don’t create newsletters or digest style emails as often as I once did. Only occasionally. Though some subscribers value them, I find them less effective than emails focused on a singular objective. Newsletters generally offer multiple links to multiple resources. At best, they generate traffic and help establish expertise. At worst, they confuse and/ or annoy recipients.
- Content updates – I wish I could tell you my MAP makes it easy and automatic to send updates when I publish a new blog post or podcast. This function is made possible by many ESPs and MAPs (including GetResponse) with an RSS-to-email feed. Unfortunately, I must manually create emails of this nature, though I have created a template to facilitate the process.
- Special offers – As I introduce information products or discount them to create traction, I use email to deliver special offers with deadlines. Urgency and
fear of missing outis a psychological play for marketers, which can produce rewarding results.
- Segmentation – To use marketing automation to its potential calls for segmenting your audience, meaning you don’t send everything to everybody. You target per preferences, timing, personas, or specific user behavior. Segmentation is achieved by assigning specific tags to subscribers (e.g.
attended copywriting webinar). I’m working on this and making some progress. Yes, there’s a learning curve.
- Sequences – A vital component of marketing automation, which separates it from basic ESP functionality, is the ability to create custom sequences. These generally involve creating rules that dictate a specific stream of email correspondence. I’m now experimenting with several sequences and tweaking this and that.
- Personalization – I’m less bullish on personalizing emails than some digital experts, however, I occasionally use my system to address the recipient by first name. In the future, I may create more interesting personalization strategies including birthday emails, sales followups such as requests for feedback, the use of PURLs, and possibly other programmatic one-toone correspondence. My platform tracks individual behaviors and purchases, giving me the potential to do research, deliver support when necessary, and segment and personalize in a variety of ways
- Webinars – I recently began using a webinar platform which offers an integration of sorts with my MAP. That is, the landing page that collects registrants passes data through to my platform. Conducting webinars has enabled me to connect with many of my subscribers and begin selling
productizedvariations of my consulting services.
- Analytics – I don’t love the way analytics are presented with my MAP, however, a fair amount of data is captured. I generally keep tabs on: email open and clickthrough rates, subscriber growth, and landing page conversion.
- Lead scoring – I’ve setup a basic lead scoring system, but haven’t yet applied it in the ways I should. I plan to learn more about how to do this and use it to better segment my list, and possibly, do some list cleansing (via re-engagment notices and automatic opt-outs). The idea is to pare your list down to cater to active subscribers.
Let’s simplify your journey
I suspect a lot of small business marketers can’t clearly separate email marketing from marketing automation. Not surprising. The truth is, marketing automation is rooted in email marketing and the bulk of marketing automation is email marketing.
In my mind, the biggest difference is marketing automation, when used effectively, is based on user behavior. The platform you purchase, then configure to meet your needs, becomes
triggered. In more simple terms, the tiny word
if becomes the big deal.
So I’m calling marketing automation
iffy. With marketing automation, you setup your system to things if and when subscribers do things (or don’t). For example:
- If X is read, send Y.
- If X is visited, send Y.
- If X is purchased, send Y.
- If X is ignored, send Y.
The response, the Y, in each of these cases are vastly different and therefore produce far more relevant, right-timed messaging.
Email marketing alone generally doesn’t track a prospect’s actions after clicking through to your webste. Subsequent communications are not tailored to each prospect. If your goal is to nurture leads by moving prospects along in their journey, marketing automation is the engine that drives the process.
Essentially, marketing automation can transform subscriber data into a powerful advantage.
So marketing automation sounds like a good idea, right? No doubt, it’s exciting and frightening at the same time.
Take a deep breath. You don’t need to go from zero to sixty in seconds. You can take it one step at time. Simply automating one process can have a significant impact on your business. The secret is to identify processes you’re missing or doing manually and replace them with automation.
I’m going to present a guide to starting smart. The following trio should be easy to accomplish:
Create an email capture form or landing page.
You can offer visitors a simple optin to your email. It may or may not work. You’ll be more successful by creating a lead magnet of some sort (eBook, cheat sheet, customer success story, video, etc.) and gating it with a form on a landing page.
Respond with a thank you email
Write an email to thank new subscribers for signing-up. Conceive ways to add value to the emails. You might offer additional content or a discount. Also, tell subscribers what to expect from subsequent emails.
Nurture your leads
Write an email sequence, 3-10 emails, to be
dripped over a period of 4-6 weeks. Send helpful information to build trust. Consider
soft sell offers.
After you have these processes in place, subsequent steps to consider might include:
Sales cycle emails
- Begin with order confirmations.
- You might create an onboarding series.
- Try upsell and cross-sell offers to increase lifetime customer value.
- If your product is subscription-based, use renew or replenish offers.
- Send abandoned cart messages to increase conversion rates.
Increase segmentation or personalization
- Setup a tagging system based on user actions.
- Target specific personas with specific content and offers.
- Collect birthdates and send birthday wishes. You can also schedule emails to coincide with anniversaries (such as one year of being a customer).
- Begin split-testing email subject lines and/or A/B versions of landing pages or offers.
- Promote events with invitations, reminders, last chance invitations and follow-ups.
- Explore the possibilities of workflow automations.
- Use reactivation messages to reach out to inactive subscribers.
- Put a lead scoring system in place.
- Analyze your metrics. Replicate big winners. Improve mediocre programs. Kill the stinkers.
It’s time to automate
Marketing automation may appear to be a fit only for companies with marketing departments. Not so. In fact, it may be your ticket to greater productivity and profitiablity because you don’t have a marketing department-or any departments.
You have you. Your talent. Your tools.
The marketing automation toolset that fits your needs will enable you to capture leads, nurture them with useful content and convert into paying customers.
Barry Feldman is the author of SEO Simplified for Short Attention Spans. Barry operates Feldman Creative and provides content marketing consulting, copywriting, and creative direction services. He contributes to many of the web’s top marketing sites and was named one of 25 Social Media Marketing Experts You Need to Know by LinkedIn. If you would like a piece of his mind, visit his blog, The Point.