Could An Email Campaign Be Your Business?

Email marketing is designed to help established businesses connect with their customers on a regular basis – whether it’s through promotions, sales or a friendly newsletter. But in some cases, email marketing can actually be your business.


There are plenty of big sites out there that began their business as an email list. How did they do it? Can you do the same with your own list? Let’s look at the ins and outs and important considerations of using your email campaign as a business venture.

Starting Out

Every business venture starts out with a plan. Even if your mailing list is your business, you still need to plot out how the content of your emails can earn you money.

Your email content is your product. And just like growing a business, developing content that’s worth paying for takes time. Get feedback everywhere you can – from friends, from family, from current email subscribers. Making email your business takes hard work and testing.

A quick disclaimer: Keep in mind that a lot of these companies we’re using as examples aren’t relying on an email campaign as their sole source of income. Many of the people who started these lists own (or work for) other businesses. But they do serve as examples of earning cash on the side with your campaign itself as your product.

So what kind of content works when you’re emailing for a living?

What Can I Send?

Plenty of websites have built their businesses on an email campaign. Let’s take a look at how some of these companies make money with their mailing list.

Email Magazines With Advertisements

Daily email “magazines” – like DailyCandy, Netted, Now I Know, Thrillist and TThor – are popular formats that attract both subscribers and advertisers. They can range from bite-sized snacks of what’s happening in your city to longer editorials that enlighten your readers.

Many of these examples are curated links and information, but some – like Now I Know – are originally created editorial content. Creating vs. curating is up to you and the focus of your newsletter. Some content lends itself to curating – like a daily news roundup – while other content is better off produced editorially.

Monetizing an email magazine like this means selling ad space and sponsored emails. And that means your content needs to be good enough to attract enough subscribers to make your list size attractive to advertisers.

Netted uses inline ads in their emails:

DailyCandy opts for dedicated emails from their sponsors:

…and TThor features a sponsor at the beginning of every email:

Paid Subscriptions

Do you have email content worth paying for?

EnviroPolitics is a paid subscription newsletter run by an AWeber customer. EnviroPolitics compiles daily environmental news updates for political professionals in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

For $30 a month, subscribers receive daily highlights of environmental policy news in the tri-state area – well worth the money for professionals who don’t have time to scan newspapers and RSS feeds.

If your list isn’t big enough to reel in sponsors or advertisers but your content is pay-worthy, you might consider a paid subscription newsletter like EnviroPolitics. Offer a trial period first to show subscribers the quality they can pay for:

Classes

Maybe you’re more of a teacher than an editor. If that’s the case, structure an ecourse in an area you’re knowledgeable in. Whether it’s blogging, knitting, home repairs or wedding planning, if you know enough about a topic to run a several-week course, you can easily earn some money from your list.

Make your class worth paying for with some of these enhancements:

  • Bring in an additional expert in your field (or a complimentary field).
  • Make it a multimedia experience. Include instructional videos or live chat sessions so your subscribers can get the most value for their money.
  • Offer exclusive material – like an ebook – that your subscribers would normally have to pay extra to download. Include the resource as a free gift with tuition.

Set up your course as a series of autoresponders. Then subscribers can sign up at any time and you can continue generating income from your class. Collect payments through PayPal and set up a PayPal parser on your class list so that the people who pay for your course are automatically added to the list.

If you need some inspiration, check out Offbeat Bride’s 5-week wedding planning ecourse. Here’s a sample of their sales page:

Value Pays

All of the examples above have one thing in common: They offer valuable information to subscribers. Whether it’s trendy hotspots in town or an in-depth online class, the email examples shown here are useful and informative. If your email content is your product, make sure it’s worth paying for.

DailyCandy’s founder didn’t start looking for advertisers until a year after the newsletter launched. She wanted to make sure her content was killer enough to keep subscribers hooked before making money from the venture.

Approach your email enterprise the same way. When you focus on quality before payoff, the rest will follow.

Your Thoughts?

Have you tried generating money from your email campaign? What’s worked – or not worked – for you?

9 Comments

  1. Robert Brents

    2/16/2012 12:06 pm

    I have heard from people who generate revenue through sponsored emails, and it’s a tactic I’m looking into. My question is: how large a list ‘should’ you have before embarking on this approach?

  2. Pratik

    2/16/2012 3:50 pm

    Thanks for the description.

    Does Adsense allows ads to be published in email campaigns? and will you please tell me which Advertiser I should opt for email marketing.

  3. David kapalu

    2/17/2012 1:46 am

    These are very useful tips indeed! I’ve always been contemplating how to make money out of my email marketing efforts. And this blog post has really helped me out with some extremely beneficial tips! I shall consider applying these tips in my overall marketing efforts to enable me leverage this avenue. Thanks for the tips.

  4. Paul von Wildenrath

    2/17/2012 2:13 am

    This is an interesting idea.
    I have a few questions:

    1. How large should my list of email recipients be before I start, and how would I increase this list?

    2. How often should an email go out if I am unable to do it on a daily basis? Eg: once a week, once a fortnight?

    3. You gave examples of different email content and formats. Could more than one idea be incorporated in an email, or should they be kept separate?

    4. Is it ok to sell subscriptions to recipients and to charge advertisers and sponsors?

    5. What would you recommend as a subscription fee and as an advertising fee?

    6. Could I charge more for a “featured” ad on each email? How much would you suggest?

    Thank you.
    Paul von Wildenrath.

  5. Rebekah Henson

    2/17/2012 9:32 am

    Robert – Unfortunately, there’s not an easy answer for how big your list should be. If you’re looking for sponsors or advertisers, they’ll be more interested if your list is bigger, but how big depends on your industry. I’d suggest doing some research within your field and find other people in your industry who found sponsors for their emails. Ask them how big their lists were before they got attention from advertisers.

    If you’re trying to charge for a subscription, that will depend much more on your content than your list size. Gauge interest by polling your subscribers or setting up a free trial to see how many people sign up.

    Pratik – You’ll have to ask Adsense about including their ads in your emails. And which advertisers you choose depends entirely on your email content. I’d recommend researching advertisers based on your industry, then reach out to them to see if they’re interested.

  6. Amanda Gagnon

    2/17/2012 9:37 am

    Paul ~ Those are very good questions to be asking. Answers:
    1. You’ll want to have your thank-you page, welcome message, etc set up before anyone joins your list at all, so you have materials ready for them to receive on signing up. As for growing your list, here are some ideas: https://www.aweber.com/blog/email-marketing/how-to-get-email-addresses.htm

    2. How ever often you’re able, without bombarding subscribers with too many messages. The key is creating your own routine with subscribers, whether it’s a monthly newsletter or a daily tip.

    3. Entirely up to you. I’d say the more frequent the emails, the less you include in each one.

    4. Yes and yes. You can now sell subscriptions with this app: https://www.aweber.com/blog/new-features/paypal-paid-subscriptions.htm. And including a paid ad in an email is perfectly fine, as long as you keep it minimal/subtle and out of the way of the content subscribers signed up for.

    5. Those are entirely up to you; I’d suggest researching what others in your niche are charging.

    6. Same answer as for #5, and you may want to check out this post on sponsored mailings: https://www.aweber.com/blog/email-marketing/should-you-rent-a-list-stats-examples-and-advice.htm

    And best of luck!

  7. Louisa Chan

    2/19/2012 9:18 pm

    I like the idea of using auto responders for eclasses.

    No need for expensive and complciated membership sites or anything fancy and you can drip content.

    Brilliant!

  8. Jean Jules Fogang

    4/9/2012 7:30 pm

    The idea of selling a list for a profit can sound appealing. However, my experience tells me that purchasers of marketing lists base their action on certain criteria. To have a list of friends of family members that will be large enough to encompass the majority of interests and values on their part that buyers usually look for is then the hardest part. I believe that at this stage, calling onto friends and other acquaintances to pitch in with their lists could be of great help. But is this ethical? And also how many will agree to even do so?

  9. Rebekah Henson

    4/10/2012 8:16 am

    Hi Jean,

    The advice in this post is not about selling email lists, it’s about ways you can sell the content in your emails through advertisers or paid subscriptions (where the people who sign up for your list actually pay to receive your emails).

    For more information on the ethics of buying and selling lists, read our post here: https://www.aweber.com/blog/email-marketing/thinking-of-buying-an-email-list.htm