Guest Post: What Packages Are, Why They Matter, Three Big Mistakes People Make With Them (and what you can do instead)


2417 2 300x199 Guest Post: What Packages Are, Why They Matter, Three Big Mistakes People Make With Them (and what you can do instead)by Rebecca Tracey of The Uncaged Life

This blog post is about the three big mistakes you might be making with your packages.

Of course, this assumes you know what I mean by the word ‘package’ and, if you do, that you are currently offering packages.

But let’s start with this…

Since I started my business 3 years ago, I have worked with hundreds of holistic practitioners (particularly service-based folks like life coaches and nutritionists) in the online space, and I have noticed that one commonality between most of them that really holds them back in business –  They are fantastic at what they do, but they aren’t offering it in a way that is best suited to help them grow their business.

Of course, this isn’t their fault.

They went to school, learned how to master their craft, and then were sent out into the world to figure out this whole business thing on their own. No one taught them how to sell, or how to market. If you’ve been reading Tad’s blog for a while, you know the story.

Chapter One – Excitement: They get into business and hang up their shingle. They make a website, list their hourly rates, and they are off to the races.

Chapter Two – Vanishing: They get clients, and work with them for a while, and things go ok, but eventually those clients start to drop off. This can happen for a number of reasons – people get busy. Budget becomes an issue. People start to make your work together less of a priority. They need more clients.

Chapter Three – Stress: They stress out, because the income they thought they could count on is up in the air with each client who drops off, so they have to constantly hustle for new clients.? But how many do they need? What if all their other clients drop off soon too?  It’s all a guessing game at this point – income isn’t consistent, there is no way to know how many people you will be working with at any given time, and it feels like a constant hustle.

Chapter Four – Exhaustion: Soon they are exhausted trying to find new clients. Will things ever even out? Will this ever feel sustainable?

Chapter Five – Realization: They realize they need to ask clients to come back. Or they need to find a better way to make sure clients stay committed to the work they are doing. But again – how?

Chapter Six – Asking: They ask. And then they ask some more. And they keep asking with every client they get. But they wonder if there might be a better way than asking individual clients to come back for individual sessions. Something better than will help clients commit to longer term work together, wihtout constantly having to awkwardly ask them if they want to keep going.

Chapter Seven – Packages: Maybe they hear about the idea of creating ‘packages’. Aha! They could ask their clients to come back for not only one session but a series of sessions. They invite clients to book three massages. Or to sign up for a monthly membership thing. They do this but they find the response to be underwhelming. Getting clients to commit to ongoing work together proves challenging, and the result sis till the same – people drop off and they are left back where they started.  They never know whether they will have enough clients to fill their roster, or enough money to pay the bills.

 At the end of this all they feel deflated, like giving up and like their business will never be sustainable (for their energy or their bank account)


 They know they need a better way, but what?


The solution is to create results-based packages for their services.

A package is a way of putting your services together that allows you to create some consistency in your business.


A Package Has Four Qualities: 

  1. a defined length of time
  2. defined results
  3. a defined price
  4. serves as a direct response to your clients needs.

It’s created to help give your client understand the full value of your services, and often includes more than just  your time (ie. you may include worksheets, or email support, or weekly homework – something that happens outside of the time they spend with you). It could be just a one-time session, or it could be a six month agreement – the key factor is that it is creating an experience for your client that is based on getting them a defined result.

YOU are the expert in your business, and it is up to you to tell a client how long they will need to get the results they want. Afterall – if a client drops off midway through your work together, they won’t get the full benefit of your service. Similarly if you are selling one-time sessions and billing by the hour. if a client doesn’t see results right away, they may not come back.

Packages ensure that clients are on board for the full experience with you.


Three Reasons That Creating Packages is a Fantastic Business Model: 

Reason #1: Packages are easier to sell. Like ten times easier to sell. Packages are results-based, which means instead of selling your time, you are selling results. Clients love this, because it helps them trust that they will get the help they need.

Reason #2: Having packages lets you predict your income. By charging clients the package price instead of an hourly rate, clients sign up to commit to the whole package, which means they are less likely to change their mind of drop off midway through your work, because they have already committed to a set amount of time and set price.

Reason #3: Packages can be a part of your sales funnel, and can encourage repeat business. Once a client has gone through one package with you, they will have (ideally) achieved the results they want. But that doesn’t mean ALL their problems are solved. You can have different packages that cater to different parts of their problem, which means that after they finish working with you (assuming they loved it – which they will!), you are able to make sure you have something else to offer them.

Creating packages is a great next step if you have been dabbling for a while and are ready to create consistent income and streamline your processes.

But not all packages are created equal, and there are ways that you can tailor your packages to make them unique in your marketplace, and easier to sell.

After seeing so many failed packages (and having created a few myself in the past in my business) I started paying more attention to what works and what doesn’t, and experimenting with my own packages. As it started to become obvious that there are common mistakes that many practitioners make with their attempt at packaging, I decided to do something about it, and developed my own system for helping people stop making these same mistakes, and learn to put together their offerings in ways that will sell. It’s called Hey, Nice Package!  – because every good package needs a good name, right?


Three Big Package Making Mistakes (and what you can do instead):

Mistake #1. Having open-ended packages with no defined end date.

This happens a lot with life coaches in particular (ie. Work with me 3 times a month, for a minimum of 3 months, and we’ll go from there). Creating packages that have no defined scope is like waiting for your partner to propose when he keeps saying it will happen “someday” – it leaves your clients wondering if they will ever get what they want.

Imagine going to the dentist for a filling, and him telling you that it will take minimum 3 appointments to complete, but that you’ll continue to come in once a week after that, for an undetermined amount of time, because the results really depend on YOU… oh, and each month you’ll pay him a fee. No thanks.

Then imagine going for a second opinion, and having the dentist tell you “Yep – I can fix that in 3 appointments, and it’ll cost ya $500”.

Which dentist are you going to? That’s what I thought.

It’s the same with selling services online. No matter what you do, whether it’s tangible or super vague, you need to outline a timeline for your clients

What to do instead: Create packages that are just that – the whole package. Tell your client how long it will take them to get the results they want, and the total price. Yes, this can be scary, and of course, there are never any guarantees, but YOU are the expert, and people want you to take charge and let them know what they need to do.

One of my clients Sarah made this small change, and it has done wonders for her confidence in selling her services. She was offering really long-term coaching packages (6+ months) helping people who are dealing with grief, because she thought that’s what she was supposed to do as a life coach. But it never felt right to her. After working through Hey, Nice Package! she realized she could have the same impact in a shorter amount of time, so she created her Good Grief 4 week package and has never looked back at the old model. You can check out her package here to see how she did it.

Mistake #2: Having a zillion different package options available.

A confused mind is a non-buying mind. If you have so many options for ways to work with you that people can’t even keep track, or don’t know which one they need, they will turn away, never come back, and shake their fists at you from afar. This would look something like giving your clients the option of a one hour session, or 2 sessions a month, or 4 sessions a month, or one session every 3 weeks, or, or or… Confusing, right? If a client doesn’t know which one they should buy, they might just click away. The easier you make it for them to say yes, the more likely they will do just that.

What to do instead: Start with 1 or 2 focused packages and take your time to fully market those. When you offer something super specific and unique, people pay attention, and it’s much easier to sell! Once you’ve built up an audience and have become known as an expert in one specific area, it gives you some traction to be able to expand your business down the line.

My client Joanna, an intuitive healer, took this approach and it helped her create a waiting list for the first time ever! Her biggest struggle was that she didn’t know how everything she did fit together into a whole. She was offering channelled readings, past life readings, intuitive art workshops, soul messages – all kinds of things, and it was all feeling disjointed and overwhelming not just to her, but to her clients too. Once she figured out how these things work together as a coherent whole, she was able to create a really targeted package called Magic By Email and focused on marketing just that one package – and it continues to sell out weeks in advance!  You can see how she has structured her package here.

Mistake #3: Selling intangible results

This is typically a life coaching problem, but it can show up in other industries too (read: no one is safe.) As holistic practitioners, we tend to be shy about guaranteeing anything for our clients, and really taking a stand with confidence in what we are offering. This problem usually arises for anyone who does work that is more intangible and has somewhat vague, undefined results. Telling someone that you will help them “realize their dreams” isn’t tangible enough of a result. Neither is telling them “You will get out what you put in”. That’s all well and good – but assuming they put in 100%  – what will they get? If you can’t tell them, they won’t buy.

What to do instead: You need to determine what exactly the tangible results are that you’re offering. And those results have to be something they want. Doing some market research and really tapping into your client’s language is the best way to make sure that you are speaking in terms of RESULTS in your packages. This is pretty easy to do too! Simply find 5-10 of your ideal clients and ask them if you can hop on the phone with them and ask them a few questions. Dig into what they are struggling with, and what they want that they don’t currently have – and be sure to record the call so you can listen back to their exact words, and then use those words in your marketing. Voila – copywriting done for you, and a WAY clearer picture of the tangibles of what you are actually selling.

For example, a client of mine Makenzie is a career coach who was working with people to help them “find their life purpose”. The problem was, most of her clients weren’t really looking for life purpose – they just wanted to quit their jobs and find work they loved. They kept saying they wanted to stop hating their Mondays!

As you can see, there was a disconnect in what Makenzie was selling, and what her clients really wanted. Once she got clear on the tangible, real world results of finding one’s life purpose (that finding life purpose, to most people, really means finding a new career they LOVE), she was able to create a unique system for working with her clients, so she now has an effective system and a streamlined way of working, AND people are clear on what they will get when they hire her, which saves so much time emailing back and forth about what they can gain by working with her. If you haven’t made your packages tangible yet, this is a small tweak that could start bringing in new clients immediately. Check out Makenzie’s package here to see how she did it.

If you’re a service-based business and you’re selling packages online, avoiding these 3 mistakes will go a long way in helping you attract the right clients and stand out in a sea of sameness in the online market.

If you’re still struggling to figure out how to create packages, or want a deeper dive into how to create packages in a way that will help you build a solid, sustainable business model, check out Hey, Nice Package! – an online course that will give you a step by step system to creating your packages, getting clear on your pricing, and learning everything you do fits together so that you’re never left guessing what to create next – you will always have a system to come back to so you never run out of new ideas. Grab it here.

Bio: Rebecca Tracey is the head/only honcho at The Uncaged Life where she works with clients from all over the world who want to have the freedom of working from anywhere by running their own online business. She helps people figure out what their true business message is, helps them create packages that sell, and helps them actually take action on the things they want to do. Rebecca runs an online community of over 2500 solopreneurs. She started her business while living in a van, loves rock climbing and riding her bike around Toronto, and is genuinely obsessed with helping people live their version of Uncaged.

How Do I Fill Up My Weekend Workshop or Retreat Last Minute? 21 Practical Ideas

training room1 1024x682 How Do I Fill Up My Weekend Workshop or Retreat Last Minute? 21 Practical IdeasYour situation: you’ve got a workshop coming up soon and you don’t have the numbers to make it fly.

Maybe you’ve already put money down on the space. Maybe you’ve sunk a lot of time and/or money into this event and you’re counting on it for revenue. To make things worse, you’ve done everything that you can think to do to fill it. And your room is still, basically, empty.

This shit is stressful.

So what do you do? What follows are twenty one of the most practical, actionable thoughts that myself and my colleagues were able to come up with. 

Important caveat: these are not the long term fix. These are crisis management to help you get out of a pinch. These approaches, alone, are not only not sustainable, they could exhaust you and kill your business. 

The long term fix is to really get a handle on your marketing at a core level.


Idea #1: Reschedule

If you have an event that’s not filling and seems like it won’t my biggest piece of advice would be to reschedule the event if at all possible.

An important reality around programs: People tend to RSVP last minute: That’s just how it is often. My first Meantime program (a 30 day cashflow challenge for hippies) had 115 people in it. 70 of those signed up in the 48 hours before the event. This is not uncommon. I suspect this is more true of online programs than live ones where a deposit must be paid and travel plans made. But, given this, a final email 48 hours before can often work wonders. There’s a chance it might just be about this.

My colleague Morgana Rae expressed her familiarity with this dynamic when she said, “I’ve been doing this for so long that I’d say that’s NORMAL– to have only 1 or 2 people the week or 2 before. People make decisions at the last minute.”

But that’s not likely.

What’s more likely is that you’re missing some very important things that may take some time to fix. I’d bet big money that there are some big things about your offer and your marketing strategy that are simply ‘off’.

Mark Silver has written an excellent post on the five things to check if an offer doesn’t fly and Callan Rush has some important insights on how to fill up workshops from a more strategic level. And you can read all the posts I’ve written on event promotion. And you might want to dig into my top ten posts on clarifying your platform too. 

My colleague Jason Guille of Sunset Labs in Victoria pointed out that it, “Totally depends on the situation. When we arrive to this state, it’s likely that there’s SOMETHING that we’ve been doing to express our offering – and we would want to start by acknowledging that it isn’t working. Here is where we deeply reflect and ask a few key questions to help craft our next moves. At minimum, we need to know: A) is our offer reaching people at all? Where? Who? B) does our offer communicate? does it make sense? C) Is there a specific unknown obstacle – price? competing event? location? over-communicated / burnt-out audience? Armed with this information as a starting point, we can take intelligent next steps to fill seats. Do we need to rework our marketing language? Do we need to change dates or locations? Do we need to ramp up social media? Do we need to reach totally new prospects?

If you don’t have a plan to fill it, stop, regroup and create a plan that will work.

And this isn’t something you want to do very often, because, as Betsey Garland points out, “I’ve had this happen. I continue to hold the space because if I am consistent then my clients/students will & do rely on me. If I flake out and cancel repeatedly because of delays, not enough enrolls, sick partners, etc then others get the impression that my events are not solid. 

If you’re not able to do that then…


Idea #2: Identify your hubs and ask for their help.

The notion of hubs has, since the beginning, been my core understanding of how marketing works. Instead of reaching out to people cold, can you find people who already have warm connections with the people you’d like to reach and have them support you in connecting with them? You can read my twelve best blog posts on hubs here. The clearer your workshop is, the easier this will be to do.
So, if someone was doing a workshop on how to get over heartbreak, I’d be wanting to reach out to all of the counsellors, therapists, holistic practitioners, yoga teachers, relationship coaches etc. that I could find to see if they could help me spread the word.
If someone was doing a workshop about how to make more money, then I’d be wanting to reach out to all of the financial advisors, business coaches, marketing workshop leaders, small business networking groups, local chambers of commerce and people who run those types of meet up groups.
The clearer the platform is, the easier it will be to hone in on the right hubs.
My colleague Tova Payne, who knows a lot about the best way to approach hubs, “If it was me – I’d write every person I know personally to help me spread the word and tell their friends about it. We all need help sometimes, and it’s ok to ask for it.

Jason Guille of Sunset Labs makes a point that is transferable to many of the other ideas, “be transparent – don’t be afraid to let your community know where you’re at, WHY you’re there, and the difference their participation makes for you and your work.”

My dear friend and colleague Carmen Spagnola put a different twist on this, “In addition to calling or emailing people to personally invite them, I’ve contacted leaders of community organizations to see if there’s anyone they know who’d benefit but can’t manage the fee. I’ve then gifted them a ticket to sponsor that person. (So they’d contact the person and say, hey our organization would like to give you a scholarship/sponsorship to attend this workshop that looks like a great opportunity for you). I let that leader know I’d love them to attend and asked if they could invite their team and members of their community. Sometimes they’ve even offered to send out an e-blast on my behalf and it’s worked for me every time. There are so many benefits this way: sponsorship for those in need, greater exposure for me, the glow of endorsement from a community organization, the ability of an organization to help someone out at no cost to them. It’s always felt wonderful for me.”

An important piece here is to not only ask them to spread the word but to ask for their advice on how they think you could best spread the word. They will likely have gold to give you.

And, with hubs especially, this is a very good place to offer an affiliate fee or commission for anyone who signs up as a result of their efforts. This doesn’t have to be fancy or formal. You can just ask participants how they heard about it when they sign up and make a note of it. The more worthwhile you make it for a hub, the more likely they are to make time in what I can promise you is there already very busy schedule.


Idea #3: Ask those who’ve bought tickets to help.

This is a simple on which can have a big impact.

The people who’ve bought tickets to your event clearly already dig and trust you enough to have spent money. So, they’re some of the most likely people to help spread the word. Consider reaching out to them. One on one will be ten times more effective but, in a pinch, a group email could work.

If you do the one on one approach, I recommend sending them a short email saying something like, “Hey there John, Looking forward to having you at the workshop this weekend :-) And I’m wondering if I can ask a five minute favour of you in terms of helping to spread the word on it. The numbers are a bit lower than I would ideally like and I thought perhaps you might know some folks who would be interested in checking it out. I’d be able to give you some pre-written things to make it easy. No pressure on this at all.” And then, if they respond, you can give them more of the info they can use to spread the word (e.g. pre-written emails, tweets and facebook). 


Idea #4: Make personal invitations.

This is maybe more of a principle than an idea. It will show up in most of the ideas here. When you really need bums in seats, a mass email is not going to cut it. You need to start emailing people personally or calling them.


Idea #5: Make a video explaining the event and inviting people to come.

Sometimes people will watch a three minute video rather than reading a long sales letter. The video might grab them where your sales page and Facebook event didn’t. It might actually be the first thing they even notice. 

Here’s an example:



Idea #6: Host as many intros as you can before it arrives.

This is so huge. 

Years ago, Verge Permaculture came to me needing to fill up their two week long Permaculture Design Certification.

Do live 2-3 hour intro workshops.” I told them.

They didn’t have the space in their lives to do that. But they were getting some traffic to their website’s sales letter for the course. So, we fixed that and it seemed to help a bit. But, the next year, they did the most brilliant thing. They reached out to the key hubs in western Canada and invited them to host an intro workshop for them. This was their pitch, ‘Charge whatever you want. You keep all the money. Just pay our gas to get there.” 

So, I hosted their Edmonton workshop via our network The Local Good. We made about $800 that evening. Which was an incredible gift to us. And they sold out their PDC.

I encouraged them to make it a 50/50 split the next time they did it.  

The more live intros you can do in the lead up to a big workshop, the more likely it is to fill. There is no better way to do it. At a live workshop, people get to meet you, get a sense of your vibe and point of view and see if they’d really want to spend more time with you.

If you are able to do 3-9 of them in a row, you will get a ramping up effect. People who go to the first one will tell their friends who will come to the third one who will tell their friends to go to the 7th one etc. 

Also, if you have intro workshops, this is what you should be inviting hubs and ticket purchasers to send their friends to. It’s a much easier and more effective pitch to send their friends to a free or cheap workshop than a multi-day event.

My colleague, George Huang shared this experience, “In 2005, when I first started my business coaching practice, I had 2 weeks to promote a workshop. But I had no email list, referral sources, or list of prospects. In fact, I had never had any paying clients before.   At first, I cancelled my workshop in a moment of despair. Then a couple of days later, I decided to give it a shot. So I printed out flyers on legal-sized paper and went to every networking breakfast I could find for the next two weeks. 18 people registered. 19 people showed up. That event jump-started my coaching business. Within 73 days of scheduling that event, I had enough clients to be bringing in $10,500/month; I’ve grown that revenue ever since.”


Idea #7: Tell people who’s attending.

I’ve not seen this done by many of my colleague but man, I recommend it. 

In my experience, a major component of why people go to events is who else will be there. 

So, why not tell them? 

For many of my weekend workshops, I create a secret page where they can see the photos and read the bios of those coming.

You can see an example here


Idea #8: Move to a smaller, cheaper venue.

This will do two things: 1) save you money and 2) get scarcity working in your favour because suddenly you only have space for 10 more people instead of 50 more people. 

In Edmonton, I lead most of my daylong workshops in my living room.


Idea #9: Take such good care of those who’ve enrolled that they can’t help but tell their friends.

What could you do before the event to impress the hell out of the people who are signing up?

Could you have your assistant give them a person welcome call to the weekend the second they enroll?

Could you make that call?

Could you give them a surprise gift for signing up?

Could you offer some free group calls in the lead up?

Offer free email coaching to help them get ready? Or a free one on one call to help them really design their focus for the weekend?

How could you add so much value that they just can’t help but tell everyone?

And, once you do, you can still ask their advice on how else to promote and if they might know anyone.


Idea #10: Let people bring a friend free.

My colleague Allison Rapp had this gem of an idea, “I generally tell my clients that if it gets down to the last few days and the workshop isn’t full, let people who are coming invite a guest. Looks great for them, helps someone else, gives the presenter better energy, more credibility and greater word of mouth.”

Plus, if you offer any higher end programs, they might buy something from you after even though they haven’t paid.

And, if you suddenly have another 10 people sign up your workshop is more full, more momentum is created and you have a natural scarcity of their only being so many spaces left. Plus the weekend is more useful because now they get to share it with someone who’s in their life. 


Idea #11: Make the best use of your Facebook event that you can.

I have so much to say about this that it could, and likely will become it’s own blog post. But here’s the down and dirty.

First thing, Facebook is the best/worst. 

Facebook events are great but I wouldn’t rely on them. The vast majority of people don’t ever even look at them. Like, ever. 

And a Facebook RSVP is not a real RSVP. They’re not actually committed to coming. 

What you want is people buying tickets or getting heir free ticket with their email address. 

I use Eventbrite for so many things. Of all the event promotion tools I’ve seen online, Eventbrite is, hands down, the best. 

And, when you create your event, you want to have the link to get actual tickets right at the top (you don’t want for them to have to click ‘See More’ to find that). See the example below.


Screen Shot 2014 11 29 at 3.30.44 PM How Do I Fill Up My Weekend Workshop or Retreat Last Minute? 21 Practical Ideas


The next thing you want to do is regularly post useful things and updates in the event Everyone you’ve invited will get notifications which might have them notice it for the first time (even though they hadn’t noticed it when they were invited).

But, to stick to the personal outreach theme, the most important thing you can do with your Facebook event is to sending personal message those saying they’re coming (but haven’t actually registered) and the maybes to see if they are, in fact, coming. 


Idea #12: Rework your sales letter.

The best resource I know of to do this is Carrie Klassen’s Sweetly Selling ebook on how to write sales letters. 

But I’ve also written many blog posts about this. You can read my Nine Thoughts on Copywriting for Hippies and you can also read the rest the other posts


Idea #13: Put up posters in the right places.

This is a simple thing to do but can make a huge difference.


Idea #14: Ask everyone you know for advice.

I’m talking posting on Facebook about your situation and asking everyone to throw in ideas, emailing or calling every smart person you know for ideas. Put it out there. 


Idea #15: Identify and deal with the risks they perceive.

This is a big one that deserves more space than I’m going to give it here, but the nutshell is this: one of the major reasons people aren’t signing up for your workshop is that they perceive certain risks to doing so. If you can accurately identify and effectively deal with those risks you will see an immediate spike in enrolments. The big question is, ‘how can you make it safer for them to sign up?’. Read more about that theme of safety here


Idea #16: Email your list again.

This was likely the first thing you did, but, in case you missed it, remember that regular emails to your list can help numbers grow. Key things to highlight in those emails are: 

  • who else will be there
  • the number of spaces left
  • the self serving reasons they should come to your workshop now vs. later
  • answers to FAQ’s
  • directly addressing the risks they perceive
  • Morgana Rae shares this idea: “I remember sending one out years ago with the subject line “Wrath of Morgana” declaring I was never going to do that workshop again (I meant it), and don’t come complaining to me after it’s over. I over sold-out my event the day before the event. (People were till showing up the day of, after I’d sold out.)  Something about taking off the “nice” mask and having a hissy fit can be really appealing.”


Idea #17: Get on the phone.

Why not just call people and ask people to come? Why not just be personal and direct? My dear colleague Russell Scott came up with a way of doing this that felt incredibly warm and thoughtful.

My colleague Allison Rapp had this to say, “I usually tell people to get on the phone and if they can do it, get on the radio. If there were emails, write again to the people who clicked but didn’t register, or if you can, call them — find out what challenges they’re dealing with and let them know how the workshop is going to help. Call past clients, offer them a two-fer to bring a friend. On the call, help them craft the testimonial they’re going to use to get that friend excited about going.”

Indigo Ocean added this, “Personal touch. Time to get on the phones and start calling people to personally invite them and ask for a decision on the call.” 

Dave Rowley said, “Until recently I would never have called people to invite them personally, thinking that was too pushy a move. Until someone I had done training with called me recently and did just that. It was a really pleasant experience and I earned a lot from it. We chatted about what was happening to me post-training, and she told me about her new thing, gave me the details, then offered a place if i wanted it. I wasn’t able to do the training but after the call felt really good that the she had thought of me and probably would have signed up on the spot if I could have afforded it. My takeaway from that experience is that thinking of people who would be a great fit for the training and personally inviting them is not ‘pushy’ at all provided you are making a respectful connection and offering something that you genuinely believe is a good fit for them.”


Idea #18: Offer free spaces to key people.

Michelle Barr says, “At the same time I am working to fill my workshop with paid people in seats, I would also be gifting spaces to select people I would love to have there that would add some value and also fill the room.”

I very much agree with this. If there’s someone you know who maybe couldn’t afford it but would make the workshop better if they were there and would get value out of it bring them in. Once they’ve registered, you might find that they’re very open to helping spread the word too.


Idea #19: Reach out personally to past clients who love you.

My colleague Erin Stephanie offered this, “Personally reach out to past clients, and even friends who may be interested in taking part. Past clients who rave about you are always thrilled to share your work with the people they love the most.” 

You might be amazed at how many of them hadn’t even heard about it yet until your personal outreach.  Or that they’d heard about it and were on the fence but that your personal outreach had pushed them over the edge to coming. 


Idea #20: Slow down and get centered.

Jason Guile offers this, “Slow yourself down enough to be creative & to listen. Creativity & guidance will arise, if you’re a space for them.”

This is a big one and is a core premise that my program The Meantime is based on. If you’re in a crisis, the first thing to do is to create space. 

The first kind of space I recommend creating is physical. Tidy your office. Get your things organized. And then create as much emotional, social and financial space as you can. Get some breathing room. Exercise, meditate, get out of every commitment you can. Clear your calendar so you can focus. Coming from a place of desperation and panic is a bad idea when you’re marketing something.


Idea #21: Facebook ads targeted to locals.  

This is one I know very little about bit. But you can learn more about that in the posts below:

The Basics of Creating a Facebook Ad

How to Create Effective Facebook Ads – Social Media Examiner

10 Examples of Facebook Ads That Actually Work (And Why)


Bonus Idea:

If it’s a weekly program, or program that is happening over a period of time, consider letting people sign up after the first session and telling everyone in the first session that their friends can still sign up before the second one. I’ve seen this used many times and to great effect. 

Sales Letter Case Study: Natural Face Cream Workshop

me with violet 150x150 Sales Letter Case Study: Natural Face Cream Workshop

 Today in my Meantime program (a 30 day challenge for cash strapped entrepreneurs) one of the participants (a brilliant herbalist from the Kootenays named Garliq) share a sales page he’d come up with and asked for feedback. We made a few changes to the first chunk which I thought made it so much better and warmer that I had to share it (with his permission). For more on this you can read my blog post Nine Thoughts on Copywriting for Hippies and more about my thoughts on sales letters in general here.  

The sales page is for a workshop he’s running about making your own skin care creams from natural ingredients. You’ll read my comments interspersed throughout. 


Before Version:


Would you like to be able to make your own luscious face cream that’s totally free of any petro-chemicals?

This headline felt pretty clear but felt like it could be said with a bit more punch.

(Do you flip-flop between what you can afford and what you really want to put on your skin and into your body?)

Not bad. Names a struggle people really have. Though not sure this is the core struggle to which we wanted to be speaking.

You care a lot about what you put Into Your Body – the food you eat and feed to your kids. You’re conscious of the environmental and health impacts of pre-packaged and/or conventionally grown foods, so you buy organic whenever you can.

You work hard to keep petroleum products off of and out of your food.

But then you check the price of the organic face cream at the food co-op or health food store. Yikes!

The above was clear, but read a bit like an infomercial. It’s something I’ve noticed can happen with the approach of speaking ‘directly to the reader’. It can feel incredibly leading. The questions can land as rhetorical, guiding and insincere designed only to get agreement to a premise which will end in them buying from us.

It’s easy for the price take priority over the ideals. It certainly happens me. You buy the one that you can afford even though it contains a few things that you’d rather not be rubbing into your body.

But what if you didn’t need to choose? What if your budget could afford the body care products you’d really like to have?

Again. This feels clear but a little bit leading.

The answer is simple. Make Your Own Face and Body Creams.


After Version:



How you can make enough of your own luscious, natural, petrochemical free face creams to last you months… in just one hour and for 10% of the price.

This was a new headline I suggested to him. I felt like the savings of time and money needed to be woven in here. And that the results could be made more specific bases on what I learned in the rest of his sales letter. 

Most of the people I know in the Kootenays care a lot about what they put into their bodies – the foods they eat and feed their kids. They’re conscious of the environmental and health impacts of pre-packaged and/or conventionally grown foods, so they buy organic whenever possible. You work hard to keep petroleum products off of and out of your food, right?

Somehow the above paragraph, while saying almost exactly the same thing as a the before version, has me relax more. He’s telling me a story and inviting me in.

But then there’s body care products. And lots of us put these into a slightly different category… the Flip-Flop category.

On one level most people understand that ‘what goes onto your skin goes into your body.’ (That’s why we’re putting it on, so it’ll absorb in and do its thing moisturizing or toning or relieving the itch.) And just like with food, we’d like to keep petroleum off our skin and out of our bodies.

Again, he’s expressing a lived reality that many of his readers will be able to connect with. He’s expressing the symptoms people experience with a bit more clarity. But not doing it in a pushy way.

So, you check the price of the organic face cream at the food co-op or health food store. Yikes!

And that’s the flip-flop: price vs. your health and your values. It certainly happens me.

I like that he also admits it happens to him. That he feels the same thing I do.

What do you do? Truth be told, we usually buy the one that we can afford even though it contains a few things that we rather not be rubbing into our body.

But what if you didn’t need to choose? What if your budget could afford the body care products you’d really like to have?

The answer is simple. Make Your Own Face and Body Creams.

Overall, the above feels simultaneously more direct but also warmer. I think it could still be trimmed and reworked. But, with a few small changes, I noticed I felt much better about it.

micro case study: author gives sample of his writing.

IMG 7839 768x1024 micro case study: author gives sample of his writing.I was just picking up an order of books from Audrey’s Books (an independent local bookstore in Edmonton) and I saw this little ‘book preview’.

And I thought it was a great example of a pink spoon in their marketing. Giving people a free sample of what you do. A taster. I’d heard of previews online or in magazines but never a mini book excerpt I could take with me. And it was right there on the counter where I was paying, so easy for me to see it.

For more thoughts on book publishing read these.

Four Thoughts About Email Subject Lines in Marketing


engaging subject lines1 300x251 Four Thoughts About Email Subject Lines in MarketingFirst of all, this is not a blog post about how to write email subject lines that sell (though it may help you do that).

It’s also not a blog post about how to write good sales copy. I’ve got nine thoughts on how to do that here.  

When you get an email, there is, like the title of a book or a chapter, the subject line. 

It is, in many ways, the headline to your email.

My mentor Robert Middleton said this recently, “I agonize over subject lines. It’s kind of an art.”

I think that’s the right attitude to have.

This blog post came from an email that myself and many colleagues received from someone in our industry (you’ll hear more about it in Though #2). This inspired a lot of big conversations about it, and tactics like it, in a private facebook group. And that all inspired this blog post. 


Thought #1: The subject line is not the most important factor in an email being opened.

Not by a long shot. It’s not that they aren’t important, it’s just that they’re a distant number two from the most important reason – who it’s from. If the email is from someone they deeply love and trust, they’re almost guaranteed to notice it and far more likely to open it. There is so much attention given to the subject line but it’s just not the most important thing. 

Two things this means:

1) Having your message delivered by key influencers and hubs will have a lot of impact.

2) If you are not trusted, it doesn’t matter how good your subject line is. So, if you do things that break trust with your followers, your emails will be ignored. This leads neatly into thought #2…

A colleague of mine Kathy Mallary said this, “Another thing that rarely gets mentioned is that if you are doing a good job of building a meaningful, value-based relationship with the people on your list (a first step might be to refer to them AS people, rather than “my list”!), then your subject lines will probably get better results no matter what — even if they, shall we say, ‘suck‘.  For instance, if Mark Silver or Robert Middleton were to send me an email that said “Sorry, but I have to move on…” I would DEFINITELY open it, and even if inside they were to (accidentally, I’m sure) say something silly like “I’m really sorry that I have failed to communicate the value this program could create for you and that now we are leaving you behind!” I would most definitely email them back and check to see what the heck is going on, because that kind of message affects our relationship. Because both Mark and Robert have consistently taken the trouble to build a relationship with their audience, and as one of their tribe, I trust them and care about what they’re up to. So if you’re the marketer, I encourage you to get up to speed on relationship marketing — it’s actually a “thing”. And getting good at it might actually create the space and forgiveness you need so you can afford to make a silly mistake once in a while (who doesn’t?!).”


Thought #2: Your subject line is a promise that the email fulfills (or not).

Whatever you write in the subject line is a promise to them.

The email is where you fulfill that promise.

If you consistently make good on your promises (and maybe even over deliver) people will trust you.

If you consistently break your promises, people will trust you less.

Here’s the story about how this blog post came to be (it includes an epic rant).

One of my colleagues got an email from another colleague which had a subject line that she felt (and I agree) was misleading. 

The subject line was, “Here’s my phone number”.

But the email she gave in it, was not her personal cell phone number. It was a conference bridge line. This is a part of the email.

“I’ve never done this before – so TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ME! 

Here are the details:

Primary dial in number: (425) 440-5100 
Secondary dial in number: (513) 233-7881
Guest pin code: 834536#

Give Me a Call … I’d LOVE to Meet You!!!”

My colleague was upset and ranted, “Oh for the LOVE of all that is HOLY – do not EVER EVER EVER send an email to your list with the subject line “here’s my phone number” and then give a motherfucking conference bridge line. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? DO YOU THINK I AM A COMPLETE MORON?? WHAT THE WHAT?!?!?! She’s never done this before? What? Given out a bridge line? Who suggested to her she do this? Has she lost her mind. This is the most disingenuous, insidious and offensive marketing email I have ever gotten. She was trying to like dupe the reader into believing it was her personal number…. Just say you are having a Q&A call and you will stay on to answer any question – TERRIFIC – AMAZING – I LOVE IT – I DO IT – I ENDORSE IT…. but pretend you are giving out your personal phone number?!?!? Just a douchey move on my part. Way way way douchey and bad for the entire industry. My point is – say that – “I’m having a Q&A call and I’ll stay on the line until every question is answered.” But don’t pretend we are friends and you are giving me ‘your’ phone number and that it’s something you’ve ‘never done before.’ That’s the dirty creepy gross part – to me. I think we can all still make lots of money and make a huge difference without lying or manipulating people into it. In my personal gut, heart and soul, I believe that they wrote that subject line to get me to think that inside there would be a personal number – maybe a cell phone, maybe a google number but not a bridge line. I have never used the phrase “here’s my phone number” to refer to a group call. It also implies – TO ME – in my interpretation — a personal call between me and the sender. So my vet just sent me an email with his number and I’m going to call him. I believe they wanted the reader to think they were going to have a private call with her before they opened the email.”

And I agree with her rant. I think it’s how more and more of us are feeling these days.

The email subject line made a promise.

The email broke it. 

You must deliver on what you promise.

Of course, it’s not always so blatant.

I’ve seen many email subject lines that I felt were misleading to me.

Here are the usual suspects that are just so clearly hyped up and disingenuous.

  • “The World’s Best ________” – In the world? Amazing. I know a donair shop that is the best in the world too! The sign says so!
  • “You can make a million dollars too – using my system” – Somehow I suspect this system will involve me sending emails to others with the headline, “You can make a million dollars too – using my system”…
  • “Meet the woman of your dreams – simply read this book” – Phew! I was scared I might have to actually start a conversation and risk something. 
  • “I saw what this ____ did with this ____ and I can’t believe it!”- Really? You couldn’t believe it? Were you actually that shocked? 
  • “You can lose/get _______ with this one weird trick” – Really? That’s all it takes? One thing? And, real talk, how weird is it actually?
  • “I’m a Nigerian Prince and I’d like to help you” – For once, I’d like to meet an actual Nigerian prince. I bet he’d be charming as hell. We’d go on adventures. It’d be the best.
  • “I Have No Secrets <- (Open BEFORE 3pm Pacific Today!)” Really? Or will the content of this email be annoying and all baiting. 
  • “This amazing product for you for such a low price, but I have to take it down forever after ______ date.” – You have to? HAVE to?
  • “This is the best thing you’ve read all day!” – How do you know? Creeper. 
  • “‘Secret’ Leaked Video: Watch Here Tad!”- Whoa! What an exclusive scoop! Thank you for secretly leaking the video and then totally leaking it and secretly announcing it to your list of thousands. I’m so glad this isn’t some marketing ploy to make the video seem more valuable!
  • “watch this movie 3 times/week and watch your in…come go up by at least 10K, mine did” – If this worked, a dear friend of mine would be a horse whisperer by now. And I’d be travelling space and time in a TARDIS.

  • “This REVOLUTIONARY training” – Move over Che Guevera! THIS is what a revolution is all about! Packing old ideas in a new way and selling them for millions!

  • “Board Update” –  My colleague, Toronto based copy writer and social media strategist, Rachel Foster sent me this appalling gem. “I can’t recall where I saw your post on bad email subject lines. I just got one that said “board update”. The mailer was targeting executives and assumed that most of them are on boards. Sneaky jerks.”

All of the above, could be legit. If they’re legit and sincere.

As one of my friends said, “a red flag is anything that promises to blow me away, blow my mind, blow up my sales, etc. Just talk like a normal person already.”

You must deliver on what you promise.

Here are ten more examples of email subject lines that are often subtly misleading…

EXAMPLE #1: “I’ve never been so vulnerable!”:  Subject lines like, “This is the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever shared” or “I’m really scared to share this with you . . .” only to read it and have the vulnerable thing be something salesy that is clearly not very vulnerable at all. They used my caring of them as a hook to get me to open the email. That didn’t feel good. As another colleague of mine, Teray, shared, “When someone sends too many “vulnerable”, “embarrassing” subject headings in a row…it starts to feel like me me me me.”

EXAMPLE #2: Using Family Photos: My dear colleague Morgana Rae expressed her discomfort at marketers using truly heartfelt things as bait, “I heard about a colleague who recently shared pictures of her newborn baby, then tied that into a marketing campaign. At the end of the day, be a person.

EXAMPLE #3: Feigning Vulnerable Stories: My colleague David Jurasek expressed how, “The ones I get fooled into opening and annoy me most are when folks I generally trust pretend to get all up close and personal about their own story and then I find out in the email they are being quite superficial and linking me to their “good friend” who helped them once and is now selling a program.

EXAMPLE #4: re: Other colleagues of mine pointed out how much disdain they had for emails that began with “re:”. Kim Page Gluckie said,  “I don’t like the new trend to start with “Re: ……” It implies we have had a personal conversation or exchanged a 1:1 email. When it shows up in the subject line it feels overly familiar and contrived. Because it is. It happens on the lists I’m sure I never actually subscribed to.”

EXAMPLE #5: provocatively misleading: Kathy Mallary shared, ” I think the worst I’ve gotten from an “expert” started off with this subject: ‘Sorry, but I have to move on…’ and then went on to say: ‘I’m really sorry that I have failed to communicate the value this program could create for you and that now we are leaving you behind!'”

EXAMPLE #6: “I’m puzzled.”: I-ching worker Hilary Barrett of the UK was not too impressed when she opened an email with the subject line “Hilary, I’m puzzled.” and how the email went on to explain how puzzling it was that she hadn’t signed up for whatever-it-is. “I think these are generally the last one in an auto responder series, sent with the thought, ‘Well, if she unsubscribes now it’s fine, because she’s not buying anyway.'” I’ve gotten a few of these and felt like, ‘I’m puzzled why you feel entitled to my business…’ Another colleague sent out an email with the headline, “So… What gives?” and a different colleague, Thea, commented on it, “I know you agree with me, but I just had to vent. Why do people use guilt to try to get clients?!!! Pisses me off. Just received this email with the headline, “I thought building a business was important to you. I thought having the freedom to live life exactly the way you wanted was your dream. And I surely thought if I gave you the fastest path I know to big money … and made it absolutely free … you’d jump at the chance. I’ve done all that for you … and you still haven’t signed up for the FINAL encore of ….” And my colleague Rachel had this to say, “Ahhhhh!!! This happened to me a few months ago…where when I decided to opt out of doing a program, I was told that I *clearly* didn’t care enough and I preferred to just sit back and let my dreams and goals pass me by. UH…WHAT??!?! You were just trying to SELL something? Buh bye.” And Robert Middleton insightfully noted, “I’ll admit it. I want to send that kind of email all the time. But I restrain myself! Instead, I try to find an inspiring reason for them to take action. Sure works better. We need to remember that people do things for their reasons, not your reasons. The more you understand those reasons, the better results you’ll get.” Fact.

EXAMPLE #7: “I’m about to explode!” Or the Jay Abraham classic headline, “I’ve got to get this off my chest before I explode”. If you have something you feel that intense about, then sure, use that headline, but many of the times I’ve seen it used it felt like a contrivance. Like they knew that was a winning headline and then sort of reverse engineered it to try and come up with something they needed to get off their chest that might possibly relate to what they’re selling.

EXAMPLE #8: The False Promise of Info: Another colleague of mine shared this, “I can’t stand when a title implies there will be info in an email, and they try to redirect me somewhere else to get said info. I usually find this with business newsletters. They bait you about finding out about some incredible opportunity and inside there’s a link to a promo video on a website, trying to sell you access to the info you were interested in.” Again, the promise implied one thing but the reality was another. A friend of mine shared with me, “I  just foolishly clicked on one a few minutes ago, thinking I was going to read some research: “Surprising ways to reduce neuropathy” with a picture of a woman rubbing her foot. The ‘article’ an add for some kind of supplement.” The photo seems to have been used to imply that massaging your foot could do it when the real intent was to sell a supplement. Another colleague of mine vented about someone she used to love, “Dr. Mercola (who I LOVE for his pioneering on alternative healthcare) now clearly has a copy/article writing staff and they’ve been using an article summary gimmick in his newsletter that contains 5-6 articles. It’s a complete turn off the last couple of years. Something like “This food will give you Alzheimers and your won’t believe what it is!!” And then the article never actually mentions a specific food. I’ve gotten so I won’t read any article with that kind of sensational come on. When you grow to have a staff, you have to watch their brilliant marketing ideas!”

EXAMPLE #9: “Help!”: A few of my colleague vented about the subject line, “I really need your help!” Really? You actually need my help? Or is this just a sales ploy. I love helping if I can. But I don’t like being used. One colleague of mine shared how he opened an email with such a subject line and saw that what was meant by all that was, “I really want to help you be successful but I need your help to do it. ” followed by an offering or invitation. Boo. 
EXAMPLE #10:  “Can you meet/call/”hang out with” me today?”: This is designed to sound like a very personal message. Why? So you’ll open the email. It’s designed to make you feel important and like you’re getting invited to an exclusive opportunity? Why? So you’ll open the email. But it’s not. Another one I saw was the “Tad (Personal Email)” – is this REALLY her personal email? or an email just to me? Let me check! Oh. Wait. It’s not. 
EXAMPLE #11: “I want your opinion on this…”: I just got an email from a colleague of mine with this as the subject line. So I opened it, busy as I was, because I like this colleague. And nowhere in the email was there ever an invitation for me to share my opinion. Nothing. My time was wasted. Here was the email below…
Hi Tad,

Here’s a quick POP QUIZ …


What do the billionaire Michael Dell, talk-show host Conan O’Brien, his Holiness the Dalai Lama and U.S. President Obama have in common?


They all conduct Google Hangouts to get more media EXPOSURE.

Even CNN’s Anderson Cooper is on the Google Hangout bandwagon to conduct live social commentary for the millions in his audience.

What am I telling you this?

Because on November 20th, you’ll get a rare opportunity to learn from  the “Larry King” of Google Hangouts.

It’s true! I’ve made a very special arrangement to get you access to a live, private interview on how G+ Hangouts can and will MAXIMIZE the EXPOSURE of your message.

Even if the date and time listed on the page below is inconvenient, get registered to access the replay.

Who is the “Larry King” of Google Hangouts?

Check him out here.

Watch the brief video, register and then forward this email invitation to a friend or colleague who could also benefit from attending this Hangout!

The 5 key lessons you’ll learn and your surprise bonus gift awaits you after you register for this event.

To Be Continued,

PS. Hangouts are a joint venture between the two most important websites on the planet – Google and YouTube – so don’t you want to strategically align with them? G+ Hangouts are ideal for tech-

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Cate Richards shared with me, “One interesting thing Tad is that they teach this stuff in copy school saying they work. What no one ever quantifies is how many ideal customers are switching off because they feel manipulated.”
So true.
Even so, all of those could be great subject lines if…
They really meant it.
If it really was a vulnerable thing they were sharing (and they weren’t using it as a pitch). If they wanted to share the joy of their new child and leave it at that people would be thrilled and loyalty and connection would increase. Do you really need to get something off your chest in a big way? Awesome. Use that headline or something like. If they were really puzzled about something and needed feedback, that might be a great subject line. If you really need help from your list, by all means ask for it. It can be dangerous to demonize a tactic and write it off entirely. 
The key idea here: You must deliver on what you promise.

My colleague Nick Pfennigwerth wrote this, “In the past two months my best email subject that received a 33% open rate was: ‘90% of Your Business Problems are Solved with This Change'” That’s a big promise. If he delivers a solid answer to it in his email that makes sense to people, he will build a huge amount of trust. But if it was something like, “Think more positive” without much of a unique take on it… he will lose trust and followers fast. 

You must deliver on what you promise.

My colleague Steve Mattus of Heart of Business wrote that the subject line should, “sincerely represent the subject of the email”. Truth.

What’s the point of enticing people to open gifts from you if the gifts are always disappointing. That will hurt your reputation.

Another important reason to avoid sneaky subject lines that has nothing to do with you…

But it’s more than that, and this is important, it hurts the reputation of the industry. My dear colleague George Kao speaks beautiful of the notion of sustainable marketing. He urges people to look at any marketing tactic through the lense of “if everyone in my industry marketed like this, what would the impact be?”

And, I put it to you, if you knew that every email you got from a marketing coach like myself was a lie, what would you do?

I tell you what I would stop doing – opening the emails. 

One colleague put it this way, “To further prove your point, I know exactly which email you’re referring to in your friend’s rant of Point #2, because i received it, too. Up until that email, I’d appreciated the value in what that particular person/company had to offer, even if the emails they sent weren’t totally my style. I am a good listener so I can make allowance for communication style. But that particular email tipped me over the edge and made me ask if that person/company had now dipped into the “dark side” of marketing. I thought of unsubscribing, haven’t decided yet. Even more interesting, though, is that it got me wondering about all of the other people in the industry who sometimes forward me that company’s programs as affiliates. They were sort of tainted by associate n. (sorr y, I think that might mean you too, Tad, but by now you know I’m a devoted fan of your stuff :) So, your friend’s point about it casting a shadow over the whole industry is well-taken. I guess the other very practical thing that occurs to me is that poor subject lines mean that, as a small business owner, you are much more likely to have people identify your email as spam, which will hurt your ability to spread the word in future.”

The way we conduct ourselves in business doesn’t just impact us, it impacts our colleagues, our industry and the level of trust in the marketplace as a whole. Using unethical marketing approaches, no matter how successful they are, is, ultimately, a very selfish act.

And one could legitimately raise the case that, “Everyone does this!” Sure. That’s true. But old man Hargrave asks you, “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?” Yes. Newspaper and internet headlines are full of hype. But is that the world we want where our word means nothing anymore? Where we assume everyone is lying to us?

Ask yourself, “Based on the subject line… Will people feel satisfied with this email or disappointed?”

This matters, because, especially in the seminar industry, we often see a pattern of broken promises. The subject line promises something that the email doesn’t deliver because the email is promising those answers can be found in a free live workshop. But the free live workshop leader tells you that, of course, those questions are too big to be answered in a single evening so you should sign up for the full weekend… Which turns out to just be a weekend of being sold into a high end coaching program. And yet, at no point was much value delivered.  

Be wary of over promising. Sure, it will fill up your workshops. But with people who quickly wither on the vine and become bitter towards you.

I’m not arguing that these tactics don’t work. They do… in the short term. But they erode trust in the long term. Simon Sinek makes this point brilliantly here

Are we impeccable with our word or not? This is the real question.

You must deliver on what you promise.


Thought #3: The point of the subject line is not to get people to open the email.

This is a bit of tricky wisdom.

Yes you want your email opened. But not by ‘people’. ‘People’ is code for everyone. And you do not want everyone on your list to open every email you send. Whaaaa??? 

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. 

If I really wanted to get people on my email list to open an email, if that was my only goal, the subject line would be something like, “I”m dying and this is my last email to you.” That would go gangbusters. Except for the small peccadillo that it’s not true at all (beyond the dying bit which I’m hoping is a very, very long ways away). But you feel me. If the point was just to get them to open up your email, surely we could come up with more compelling things! “I’m pregnant!”, “I’m getting married!”, “This simple trick could double your profits overnight! Actually! No Hype.” etc.

But then we become the boy who cried wolf. And people come to learn, “Oh. Their subject lines are always provocative but the content is just the usual.” 

And then there’s the whole ‘using-people’s-names-in-the-subject-line-thing’. Like a friend shared with me, “I recently got an email where the email subject line was, “We’re meeting today, right, Brenda?” And then it was a teleclass promo. I hate it when it’s made to look like it’s an individual email specifically for me.” I am also not a fan. It is insincere. It’s trying to give the impression that this email is just for me. Why? So you’re more likely to open it. But it’s not just for you. As my friend Craig Martin put it, “When I see my name in the subject line, 99% of the time it’s a Constant Contact user trying to appear more personal while sending out mass emails that have nothing to do If it’s something useful, tell me what it’s about and let me decide. Don’t pretend to be my buddy.”

I don’t think the purpose of the email subject line is there to somehow, by any means necessary, get everyone on your list to open every email. The point of the subject line should be to help people know if this email in particular is one that would be relevant to them and to state that in the most compelling way possible.

To state it another way: the purpose of the subject line is to get the right people to open the email (and make sure people the email isn’t a fit for don’t). 

I just got an email from my dear colleague Bill Baren, “SF Bay Area Peeps Only: In-Person talk with Bill Baren”. What was in promoting? An in-person talk he was leading in San Francisco. So clear. No one’s time gets wasted. 

To give a specific example. I recently sent out an email with the subject line ‘Do you lead workshops (or are you thinking of leading them)? It got a 22% open rate (my average these days is around 20%). Some people saw that headline and thought, ‘I don’t lead workshops and I don’t ever intend to. This email is clearly not for me.’ and they didn’t open it. 

In my mind, that’s a success. 

The goal of marketing isn’t to get people to say ‘yes’. There are three roles. First, to get their attention. Second,  to filter and establish, as quickly as possible, if there is a fit at all between what you’re offering and what they’re wanting and needing. And third, to lower the risk of taking the first step.

Ideally your subject line does as much of the following as possible.

It lets them know what to expect in the email, who it’s for and what the benefit of that all is. It explains the value in the email. It helps them, in seconds, decide whether or not to open it. 

It gives them a compelling sneak peak inside. A teaser. A micro summary. It piques their interest. Intrigue, engage, and intoxicate with the promise of real value (and then the email must deliver on what was promised).

What’s the point of getting them to open the email, if it, even in a small way, breaks trust with them?

It has the right people say, as my colleague Leslie Nipps put it, “Well crap! I gotta open this!” Rather than “Oh, one of my five bazillion emails in my inbox. Delete.” It’s got to give the right people a good reason to read more. 

An important, and perhaps obvious note: the purpose of the subject line isn’t to get them to open the email. People who aren’t a fit deciding not to open your emails because of the subject line is a big success. But, you do enough of the right people opening up your emails to sustain yourself. So the key is to be focused on making sure you’re sending out the right things to your list rather than focused on the subject lines. And I suspect that this is a sticking point for many entrepreneurs with email lists, they haven’t really settled on a niche and so their emails are a bit all over the place. If someone had a laser focused niche and sends out emails that are 100% on topic for the people in their niche with compelling subject lines… they’ll do very well. The subject lines are the lipstick. The email is the pig. Pigs do not look good in lipstick.

You must deliver on what you promise.

But you also need to be promising things that are relevant to your people.

And, of course, this means that you need to know who your people are. Which most entrepreneurs don’t.  If you can’t articulate what you do clearly, no fancy subject line will save you. 


Thought  #4: The subject line should be as clear and compelling as possible.

You might be thinking that I mean email subject lines should just be literal, factual and to the point. 

But that’s not what I’m saying.

Toronto based copywriter Rachel Sparacio-Foster points out “anything that says something like “Latest Newsletter” is boring. It should tell me more about what’s in the newsletter.”

A blog reader, Monica O’Rourke backed this up with her words, “I recently unsubscribed from a recipe email list because every single time the subject line was “Check out our new recipes.” I bit once or twice, and the content was equally boring. So, ummm, no thanks. You can’t take a moment to highlight an interesting recipe to get me to open your email (as every other list I’m on does)? Then I’m not interested.”

So, I’m not arguing for being boring. As author Derrick Jensen says of the central rule of writing, “Don’t bore your reader.”

I’m saying that your subject line should be making it clear if the email is a fit for them to open and to do that in the most clear and compelling way possible. And we will all have a different style in doing this. Some of us will be very direct, some more coy and evocative. It’s all good as long as it’s working for you. My colleague Leslie Nipps said, “My most opened email ever had the subject line: ‘for two who slipped away almost entirely…’ It was the title of a poem by Alice Walker that I quoted in my article. I usually average 18-22%. This one was almost 40%. I’ve been trying to find that special vibration ever since. Gotta hand it to the poets…” That’s a subject line that was evocative and, my guess is that the email delivered on speaking to what was evoked. But that’s the key. Are you actually speaking to what you lifted up in the subject line?

But, as Robert Middleton pointed out, it’s an art. 

I remember hearing a story about three different headlines created for the same public speaking course. The first one, that got an okay response, was, “Public Speaking Course”. That’s very clear. Their second attempt was, “Learn how to speak confidently in public.” That feels a bit closer to the bone. That’s a bit closer to what people are actually craving. They don’t just want to learn the technicalities of speaking. They want to not feel so scared to do it. The third headline was the most successful, “How to Get Rousing Applause, Even a Standing Ovation, Every Time You Speak”. This spoke to what people were craving at the core. The response. Now, we can have a meaningful debate about whether feeding people’s egos like this is a good thing to do but that is a better way of saying the same thing and likely something they can deliver on (as long as their marketing also filters out people who wouldn’t stand a chance of succeeding) and the rest of their marketing clarified the promise.

Don’t bore your reader.

But there is something even more important here and I am underlining it so you get it.

Do. Not. Waste. My. Time.

Do not trick me into opening an email that isn’t actually useful or relevant to for me.

Do not bait and switch me. 

That doesn’t turn annoy me. It angers me. It speaks to a level of disrespect that I have zero time for. 

I am unspeakably busy with things that matter to me. Do not steal my time. 

Be direct. Read this important piece about the relationship between directness and clarity in marketing by Lynn Serafinn.

Do. Not. Waste. My. Time.

And this post isn’t about how to write a compelling subject line.

Although here are a few simple tips:

  • Geography: If you’re promoting a workshop in a certain city, tell me that in the title. Don’t raise my hopes and make me spend 30 seconds opening and reading your email to find out the workshop is happening on the other side of the planet.
  • Dates: Is it time sensitive? Tell me in the subject line.
  • Problem/Result: Can you let me know what issue this email will help me with? What result it will help me get?

Basically, just help me understand what’s in the email.


Want to know how to do write more compelling subject lines?

Here are a few posts to get you started:

Megan Mars wrote a fine post called The 9 Best Email Subject Line Styles to Increase Your Open Rates. Affilorama had some good pointers here. Entrepreneur magazine share their thoughts here.

But my favourite post I found on this was from Copyblogger – read it here.  

There are a number of examples of how I’ve done this with clients in my case studies and sales letter makeovers