Issue #033

Making money from your newsletter?

I've thought long and hard about what kind of business I want Create & Sell to be.

Since 2011, I've been selling digital products over email and have started multiple email lists. This newsletter, and the products I offer at Create & Sell, are the culmination of about a decade of direct experience selling stuff online.

Through it all, I've seen everything. And I've tried most things.

The email marketing models that financially work the best involve heavy selling:

  • Hard hitting, "buy, buy, buy" pitch sequences sent every few weeks.

  • Daily emails, saturated with good storytelling, that push the same thing again, and again, and again.

  • Lots of urgency. Lots of pressure.

  • Endless free "training webinars" that are light in any sort of practical training.

  • An attitude of "shit, or get off the pot" (or, in our world, "buy, or unsubscribe / go away")


The emails I want to send are the emails I'd want to receive

What kind of emails do I like to get?

What keeps my attention, and causes me to drop what I'm doing and give it a read?

Who doesn't just send me sizzle, but actually sends the steak?

Those are the kind of emails I want to send to you – even if it means not constantly milking my list for cash, and not turning every single subscriber into a customer.

My plan for Create & Sell, which I'm now starting to kick into high gear, is very simple:

  • Show up and send 1-2x original, in-depth & quality emails a week to my list.

  • Dynamically include a call-to-action in each email that promotes a relevant product of mine.

This allows me to ultimately do what I love doing – writing emails like this – and the sales stuff that keeps me business isn't something I really need to ever think about, since dynamic CTAs are automatically added to every email I send.

Setting this up involved adding two things to my ConvertKit account: an Offer Funnel and a Dynamic P.S.

The Offer Funnel

An Offer Funnel is an automation that is triggered when:

  • Someone joins my list

  • Underlying segmentation, like the email marketing platform someone uses, changes

  • When someone buys something

This automation is a recommendation engine of sorts. It's something I control and curate. The Offer Funnel is best summed up as: "given what I know about, what products of mine should I recommend to them?"

The automation itself is a bit boring to look at, but here's what it does:

It goes through, product-by-product, and checks to see if the subscriber has purchased

This results in two custom fields that I set on each subscriber: offers_available (if they haven't bought) and products_purchased (if they have)

These fields contain a comma-separated lists of product IDs.

For example, offers_available=mck,wkgettingstarted,wkr... and products_purchased=pack,bfcm

This gives me a really clean way to query what someone's bought or is eligible to buy.

Which I can then use like this:
{% if subscriber.offers_available contains "mck" %}You should buy Mastering ConvertKit!{% endif %}

Super clean.

Finally, the automation goes through and sets a comma-separated list for the custom field, next_offer.

While someone might technically be able to buy Mastering ConvertKit if they don't use ConvertKit, it isn't really something I want to ever actively promote to them (unless they switch to ConvertKit.)

So the automation goes through and does a few checks – "does this subscriber use ConvertKit? and are they eligible to buy MCK? If so, add 'mck' to their list of next offers"


The Offer Funnel hums along in the background, crunching and calculating the data that I use to power my recommendation engine.

Most importantly, this allows me to surface and proactively recommend products that make sense to buy from me. As I add more products and tweak my Offer Funnel, I can really make sure that I'm not just promoting random stuff.

Rather, I'm promoting the right stuff – mostly directed by what 83% of you have shared with me.

The Dynamic P.S.

Now that I have next_offer set for every subscriber on my list, I need to use it.

I've created a Content Snippet that my email template includes at the footer of every newsletter I send.

(If you scroll down to the bottom of this email, you can see it in action.)

There's a lot going on in this snippet – loads and loads of Liquid code.

Here's what's happening in this mess of code:

  1. I grab the products listed out in your unique next_offer and compare it against a list of products I want to actively promote right now. This allows me to temporarily remove products from being promoted without changing my entire Offer Funnel. These are your available offers.

  2. I then roll the virtual dice and grab a random offer from the list of available offers.

  3. Another roll of the dice, and I then go and grab a random way of describing that offer – e.g. the CTA headline and description. I keep these CTA variants in a separate Content Snippet. This allows me to have multiple ways of promoting the same product, which are then randomly used to create the final CTA.

  4. I now have a randomly selected product and randomly selected CTA language.

  5. I can then stick this into my CTA template which gets included at the end of each email.

My Dynamic P.S. goes a bit further than what I described above – it also applies a personal discount if someone's either referred people to my list, or if I've gifted them credit. (I'll be sharing more on this in the coming days and weeks.)

Beyond what I'm doing, there are a number of interesting ways that students of mine have leveraged Dynamic P.S.'s:

  • Randomly promoting their own products, along with links to 3rd party products they're affiliated with, "reply and share with me...", and requests for someone to share their content on social media.

  • Promoting a specific product ("trending product") and a random product ("also popular") that someone hasn't yet bought:

  • Rotate through micro-surveys that allow them to learn more about their audience. As each survey is completed, it removes that survey question from being asked again the future.

It's a lot of work, but the upside...!

You know what I love about all this?

I'm writing this email at a coffee shop. I'm just about done, and after a round or three of proof-reading I'm going to send this off to you.

When you scroll to the end of this email, you're going to see the culmination of a lot of work – the Offer Funnel, creating the Dynamic P.S., all the various CTA headline/descriptions I've worked on.

...But I never need to think about it again.

I just need to show up once or twice a week at my local coffee shop, and write something that I hope will be really useful to the people I send it to.

This system I've created is helping me persistently promote my products without being too persistent.

And allowing me to do what I do best – writing emails like this – without needing to think about how I'll "monetise the list."

For me, at least, this is the ideal way to run a newsletter business.

And since rolling all of this out exactly a week ago, newsletter referral traffic is up 176.5% and overall Create & Sell sales are up by 83%.

I'll take it!