Market a Small Business Via Email & Ebooks

Many businesses use “ethical bribes” such as ebooks and free reports to collect opt-in subscribers. Once they’ve gotten what they came for, though, you have to continue to offer value in order to turn them from “freebie seekers” to active, engaged subscribers who you can convert to paying customers. Our latest case study looks at Marc David and how he’s using email newsletters as well as automated follow ups to build a legion of raving fans in a hotly-contested niche: personal fitness and bodybuilding.

Many businesses use “ethical bribes” such as ebooks and free reports to collect opt-in subscribers for their email marketing campaigns.

Once they’ve gotten what they came for, though, you have to continue to offer value in order to turn them from “freebie seekers” to active, engaged subscribers who you can convert to paying customers.

Our latest case study looks at Marc David and how he’s using email newsletters as well as automated follow ups to build a legion of raving fans in a hotly-contested niche: personal fitness and bodybuilding.


Marc set out in 2001 with a clear purpose:

“I started my fitness business to help educate people about proper nutrition and training. I distinguish myself from all the other ‘fitness gurus’ by being the Beginner’s Expert. Somebody you can come to without any prior knowledge of fitness or bodybuilding and get a simple education without a lot of hype and the need for a science degree. Somebody who would help guide [you] depending on [your] goals.”

A few years into his business, he created an ebook, as many online marketers do, and began to market it through his website However, he took an unusual approach: rather than talking at people in his book, he wrote it as a conversation between a typical beginner (his audience) and an expert (him):

“This was a 250 page book that… was questions and answers from beginners just like you.”

Marketing Before AWeber (Mostly Online)

Marc doesn’t do much offline promotion – he has business cards that he can pass out, and T-shirts available through, but his marketing is focused around his website.

However, marketing online without email follow up wasn’t cutting it for him. He was posting to bodybuilding forums to drive traffic to his single-page website but wanted to do more.

Marc Adds Opt-In Email Marketing

So, he started running an email campaign through his web host:

“Thru the advice of Tom Venuto, I decided to put an opt-in page on my sales page and start writing WEEKLY question and answer newsletters… he urged me to write live newsletters and send them out. That way I could react to news, have specials and generally keep a constant pulse on the market.”

After a while, he determined that he needed a more deliverable system, and he wanted to add autoresponders into his email marketing mix, so he joined AWeber.

Marc collects subscribers via an inline form on his sales page:

Click to See Full Size

He complements his newsletter with a series of about 2 dozen autoresponder and follow up messages that address various bodybuilding and training needs and questions. That way, even between newsletter issues, Marc has the attention of his newest subscribers and is turning them into loyal fans.

Results To Date and Goals Going Forward

The two most pleasing results, Marc told me, were the increased email deliverability, and consequently, increased opens (open percentages in the 30s to 40s) he’s realized since moving his email management away from his webhost.

I can certainly see why he’d be pleased with those – deliverability and opens have a direct influence on sales and customer/subscriber retention.

More importantly, he’s reaching his audience more reliably and helping more people achieve their fitness goals:

“I feel that keeping in contact with people in a live fashion has kept me on their radar. I’ve received many responses from people who truly have been helped.”

As he works to make his email marketing efforts an even more powerful part of his small business, Marc has set a number of goals:

  • Increase open rates even further by writing subject lines that “draw people into my newsletter”
  • Increase sales/conversions by incorporating more promotion into his campaigns
  • Build more trust & credibility in his follow up messages
  • Maximize deliverability by avoiding content filters

Suggestions to Achieve Better Results

I read over the messages that Marc had set up and I found them informative and well-written. He has a great feel for who his audience is (no doubt because he’d once been in their shoes as a beginner).

Likewise, his inline opt-in form was well-done – it stands out among other elements as you scroll down the page (partly due to its size and partly due to the design of it) and effectively makes the case for subscribing to the e-course.

Even his confirmation rate was pretty good, because he holds subscribers’ hands through the confirmation with audio and text on his thank-you page, and a brief, easy-to-understand confirmation message.

However, I did have a couple of ideas on how he could achieve some of the goals listed above.

1. Thank-You Page: Put the Confirm Message Subject

Marc was using audio and text effectively on his thank-you page, but when subscribers went there, they didn’t know exactly what to look for in their inbox, because they didn’t know the message subject.

So, I recommended that he start putting the subject of that confirm message on his thank-you page. That way, when someone hits that page, they know exactly what to look for among the other messages in their inbox.

Click to See Full Size

2. Try Out Different Confirm Message Subjects

You should test your confirmation rate often, just like opt-in forms, calls-to-action and any other aspect of your email marketing campaigns. By improving it, you can increase the number of active subscribers on your list without increasing your overall website traffic.

Marc’s confirm rate was pretty good, but in the interest of making it even better, I advised him to start testing different subject line wording.

3. Send Confirmed Subscribers Straight to Download

Several free reports are offered as a bonus for signing up to the e-course, and wisely Marc requires people to confirm in order to receive the download link. He includes the link in the first autoresponder message to subscribers after they confirm.

However, he was missing the opportunity to send subscribers to the download page immediately after they confirm, rather than having them wait for the email. This instant gratification not only builds trust, but hey, it gets people reading those reports right away. I pointed this out to him and he adjusted his confirm message.

4. Ditch the Misspellings

Like many people that we talk to, Marc was attempting to use misspellings on words like “free” to avoid content filters that might pick up on those words.

The truth is, by misspelling words intentionally, you:

  • Make Yourself Look Like a Spammer
  • Increase the Chance of Your Messages Getting Filtered
  • Confuse Your Subscribers and Damage Your Credibility

ISPs are smart. They dedicate a lot of resources to delivering wanted mail while keeping unwanted mail off their networks. The filters they use are far too sophisticated to be fooled by FR.EE, C’lick, or any other variation.

Plus, your deliverability depends in part on your reputation. And what do spammer tactics like intentional misspellings do to that reputation?

Until Next Time

We’ll check back in with Marc later in the year to see how his campaign’s going since implementing our suggestions.

In the meantime, check out our other case studies.

See Marc’s Opt-In Form at


  1. Sharon

    6/2/2007 3:10 pm

    Excellent article, Marc and Justin. Not only some great ideas, but dispelled a lot of myths that are going around. Seems to me that another possibility would be to offer the first download from the thanks page and send others out in subsequent mailings…could increase the initial trust AND get you a long way toward hitting the magical "7 contacts" that are needed to turn a subscriber into a customer! (Or is that a myth as well?)

    Thanks for the informative article.

  2. Justin Premick

    6/4/2007 9:11 am

    Hi Sharon,

    Putting the download directly on the thank-you page, rather than requiring subscribers to confirm their email addresses first, exposes you to the possibility of people getting your download without giving you their valid email address back:

    It’s definitely good to get your downloads to subscribers quickly, but if you’re giving that download away in exchange for an email subscriber, you’ll want to make sure that you actually get that subscriber.

  3. Marc David

    6/4/2007 12:54 pm

    Two comments:

    1 – I definitely have other PDF files, audio things that I keep handing out over the course of the autoresponder as well as the live newsletters. Although I feel that offering up too many reports on the confirmation download page may be overwhelming and diminish the primary message.

    Which was to get that free report I was offering.

    That’s a great suggestion.

    2 – From Jimmy D Brown, I discovered that if you are going to use Google Adwords to drive traffic to your page to gather subscribes, do it thru a squeeze page.

    The primary focus of paying for that traffic should be to build your list. A squeeze page for that type of traffic does an excellent job.

    In my own example, my Google traffic goes to a squeeze page. If I’m going to pay for traffic, I want one thing to happen. That is gain a subscriber and associate a cost with that subscription.

  4. Daniel Duverge

    6/5/2007 7:37 pm

    The great part about this article and story is that you can apply those techniques to any business and be just as effective.

  5. Justin Premick

    6/6/2007 8:39 am


    Thanks for adding that! Countless marketers have found squeeze pages the most effective way to collect and convert visitors -> subscribers -> customers, and it’s worth remembering that whenever you do any sort of PPC advertising.

    As far as offering just one, or fewer, reports on the download page as opposed to many, I think Sharon’s got a great point there. You could take some reports and offer them at various points in your autoresponder sequence as "unannounced bonuses" -> which may incent some subscribers to continue to open and read your messages (after all, the next free bonus report might be around the corner!).

  6. Marcel

    6/18/2007 3:27 am

    Dear Justin,
    great article again – you could easily sell this as a little ebook of itself… 😉

    Using a marketing mix of email autoresponders, broadcast messages and ebooks is a perfect fit. I increased sales and mail opening rates tremendously since I did. My readers – knowing there’s a free ebook or unadvertised bonuses coming every now and then, love opening my messages. It really trained them to do so.

  7. Robert

    6/21/2007 3:33 pm

    Many thanks for more powerful tips and a great case study. The point about taking confirmed subscribers straight to a download is really important. ‘Guru’ wisdom is all about upsells and one-time offers but trying to sell too much too soon can get in the way of building a relationship.

  8. Cristiane

    6/22/2007 6:46 pm

    Thanks for opening my eyes, Justin! I’m fairly new at Aweber and just got a fantastic tip from you.

    I realized my "thankyou" page should definitely alert subscribers to the verification message so it won’t get buried in their Inbox forever. I stopped everything else I was doing at work today and updated our pages on both sites. Now let’s hope for better opt-in results. 🙂

    Thanks a LOT!

  9. Clinton Walker III

    7/15/2007 11:36 am

    I am also in the fitness business and I appriciate the case study. This will help me increase my business.

  10. 4 ways to build your email database - Small Business Opportunities & Ideas

    7/16/2007 11:40 pm

    […] 2. Publish an e-book Not as hard as you might think. Your expertise, experience and knowledge – along with those of your team – will give you more than enough material to create a pdf document of value. Offer this for free on your site to those who sign up with their email address. Here’s an example of a business doing this. […]

  11. Horace

    8/8/2007 9:32 am

    What is a "squeeze" page?

  12. Clinton Walker III

    8/14/2007 2:43 pm

    I am also in the fitness business with a helpful site. I am trying to learn the techniques needed to build traffic.

  13. Winnie

    7/25/2010 8:13 pm

    Squeeze pages are designed to obtain a reader’s name and e-mail address information by encouraging users to opt-in to an e-mail list to receive more information about the topic. Marketers will collect the permission-based e-mail and information to follow up at a later date.

    is that what you mean by squeeze page, Justin?

  14. Drake

    3/21/2012 10:34 pm

    That’s right Winnie. Squeeze pages are really helpful specially in doing SEO in to your sites. I have an online business and I’m happy to the earnings that I’m having to my site. Thanks for the great post.