How to Grow a Non-Fiction Author Business with Email Marketing [Taylor Pearson]

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Taylor Pearson over the previous three years helping build his audience and grow revenue.

In this case study I’ll cover how I built out Taylor’s email marketing automation to meaningfully improve the economics of the business – by validating, launching and automating a new product that doubled revenue and tripled Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).

The Results:

  • +176% Increase in Monthly Revenue over 18 Months
  • +293% Increase in Customer Lifetime Value over 18 Months

Comparing the average revenue of the two months immediately prior and the average of the two months post launch, revenue increased 176%, and CLV increased 293%.

The product we launched has earned well into the six figures via several five-figure launches and automated backend sales, with a funnel-wide email subscriber to buyer conversion of 3%.

This case study will show you:

  • How to think about growth strategy given the most common starting point of most businesses.
  • How to approach improving CLV, the three levers to do so and a funnel custom-built to hit all of them at once.
  • Validating and building a new product, then planning and executing a 5-figure launch.
  • A detailed step-by-step guide to building a high-converting automated funnel.
  • Some of my biggest takeaways and lessons from email marketing automation over the last three years.

The lessons here apply to any B2B services, software, or ecommerce business. If you’re attempting to build authority and create a powerful platform as a company or individual, I hope you’ll find these takeaways helpful.

Diagnosing the Problem: “Begin With the End in Mind”

For an early stage business, it can be difficult to know where to start improving your marketing.

In a scenario where you have a product or two making consistent sales, the common sense solution to scale up can simply seem to be ‘get more traffic’.

But while traffic is necessary and does ultimately drive growth, you need a way for your traffic to create and receive maximum value so that growth is sustainable. There needs to be a system in place.

A tool I use to help analyze where to start improving a business’ marketing is Perry Marshall’s ‘Tactical Triangle’ (attributed to Jack Born).

This breaks down marketing into focus areas of getting more traffic, improving conversions, and improving ‘economics’ (essentially unit economics).

It’s a great tool to help troubleshoot where your current marketing system’s “choke point” is, and where the highest leverage area is to focus on making improvements.

When I started working with Taylor, our position was similar to what I first described.

He’d recently had a successful launch with his first book, The End of Jobs. Traffic was consistent and books were selling well, but conversions and economics were mostly untracked and unknown. With limited data to base decisions on, it was hard to know the current limits to growth or what actions would have the highest ROI.

As Perry advises, in a scenario like this it actually makes sense to work backwards and build a business with solid economics before worrying about scaling traffic.

“During most of my consultations, economics is the first thing I seek to improve. Begin with the end in mind. Make every transaction more valuable. Capitalize on the willingness of the top-shelf customer to spend money …Imagine what your customers would happily part money for.” – Perry Marshall

The key to this is the “80/20” at the centre of the above image.

This fraction, the Pareto Principle, describes the distribution of the value in your business: around 80 percent of sales result from only 20 percent of your audience. ~80 percent of your revenue results from the top ~20 percent of your customers. You soon realize this fraction is everywhere in the numbers of your business.

It goes even deeper: the top 20 percent of that top 20 percent also reveals the customers who generate 80 percent of that revenue, and so on, ad infinitum. The Pareto Principle is a high leverage way to find where value creation is happening and then double down on it.

Given the 80-20 rule being correct, it makes sense to create a system where you can extract more value from this top 20 percent of customers. Choosing an economics starting point means finding more opportunities for the high performance part of your audience to create even more value.

Though it seems counter-intuitive at first, the best way to grow your business isn’t by immediately increasing traffic, but through first building a system that allows you to extract more value from existing buyers and profitably acquire traffic at scale.

But how to build such a system?

Building on Strong Foundations

Taylor and I would often talk about “innovating by 10%”, which means in most areas its better to use existing best practices and simply tweak them slightly for best results. When it comes to improving the economics of your business, this same heuristic applies.

So I went with a classic email marketing funnel designed to improve Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), a key metric that describes how much revenue a given contact will generate for your business across all purchases and interactions.

The CLV Optimization Funnel is designed to generate as much value from a given lead as possible. The four main stages in this funnel are called the lead magnet, tripwire, core offer and profit maximizer.

The aim with a CLV Optimization Funnel is to guide your audience through a series of offers that stack in value.

After using a ‘lead magnet’ to convert website traffic to email subscribers, you open with a low-priced offer designed to establish buying behavior (sometimes referred to as a ‘tripwire’).

Once you’ve built enough trust to sell your low-priced tripwire, it becomes easier to add subsequent offers that are more expensive or have bigger margins. This leads to a ‘core offer’ that usually carries a premium price and builds on the pain point that first compelled the customer to purchase the tripwire.

  • For example, a free whitepaper helping solve a problem is given in exchange for an email address (a lead magnet).
  • This opens them to an offer that prompts the purchase of a book, which helps the customer solve a narrowly defined part of that broader problem (tripwire).
  • This is followed by a higher-priced product that aims to more completely solve a larger portion of that initial broad problem (this is the core offer).
  • After this, more opportunities present themselves to cross-sell, upsell or add additional ‘profit maximizers’ which further increase CLV.

The reason this funnel is so effective is that it systematically improves customer purchase value, frequency and volume the three levers that contribute to improving your CLV.

The three triggers for improving CLV. The CLV optimization funnel increases purchase value by stacking offers and giving upsell / cross-sell opportunities. It increases purchase frequency by encouraging repeat transactions via the return path mechanism, and it increases purchase volume by improving conversions through establishing trust and buying behavior.

Taylor was already selling copies of his book, The End of Jobs, as a ‘Tripwire’. So I knew the best way to improve CLV would be to fill in the blanks of our new framework and create a new product that would build on solving whatever broader problem readers were trying to solve by reading the book.

I needed to add a ‘Core Offer’, but what would it be? How to know for sure what problem our readers were trying to solve?

Validate, Validate, Validate

Being a big fan of lean methodology, I started by finding out as much as possible about our buyers and put together the strongest avatar possible to try hit product market fit on launch.  

Taylor had already built a decent sized email list from lead magnets he’d included throughout the book and on his blog. The majority of this audience had read and enjoyed The End of Jobs, and agreed with the thesis of a decreased risk in starting a business when leveraging modern technology.

From publishing regular content and having Q&A sessions after the book launch, we also knew many were self-employed or aspiring towards entrepreneurship.

With a (very) basic outline of our avatar, I made some initial assumptions about what their biggest problems were. Based on the essays we’d been publishing, I saw our most popular posts were those related to planning, goal setting and productivity (one of Taylor’s early posts Antifragile Planning is still among the higher traffic pages on the site).

To validate my assumption, I sent out an email to the list with a link to a survey asking for some more data.

The survey questions were:

  • What would a “very productive” day look like for you? I.e. What is success for you in terms of productivity?
  • What’s the single, biggest challenge right now keeping you from getting there?
  • What effect does that challenge have on you? What would be different about your life if you could overcome it?
  • What are your top two questions for me about productivity/systems/getting things done?
  • Name
  • Email
  • Any other advice/feedback on what would make a masterclass better for you?

This email had solid engagement, with around ~30% of openers clicking through to the survey.

For those who didn’t click on the survey link, we sent out a followup email with a single question: “What’s the single, biggest challenge right now keeping you from being more productive?”.

Reading through the responses, we found many of our readers simply didn’t have effective personal systems in place to work consistently towards goals they set for their business.

A lot of our audience appeared to be struggling with personal time management and goal setting, bottlenecking their own efforts at entrepreneurship by not having a solid planning system in place.

Building an MVP

Based on the results of the survey, we knew it would be valuable to teach Taylor’s personal goal setting framework. We were confident in using this as the basis of the course for a few reasons:

  • As mentioned, some of the most popular posts on Taylor’s site were detailing this system, and Taylor often received emails asking him to expand on these ideas.
  • Second, it was proven to work and not just an abstract concept. Taylor had used this very system to launch a best-selling book as well as grow a five-figure eCommerce business.
  • Our audience trusted Taylor as an authority on this topic. He had built a lot of trust and authority through self-publishing a great book and consistently publishing great essays. If there was anyone who demonstrated great goal setting and planning to this audience, it was Taylor.

With the course concept decided, the next step was to build a minimum viable product (MVP) so I could validate whether people would actually be interested in buying it.

We put together a list of those who responded to the survey. These guys would be receiving our ‘test launch’ that would validate willingness to pay (the crucial final stage of lean methodology) and confirm to us we had something valuable worth sending to the entire audience.

Unfortunately, covering how we built the course content is outside the scope of this case study.

I’ll continue under the assumption that anyone reading will create a quality product that is built to solve the pain-points of your customers. While you can’t completely offset the risk of launching a new product, I think going through the stages of first validating your problem and market as we’ve done above will place you in a good position to go on to build an MVP to validate the product and willingness to pay.

One key takeaway regarding product building is to make sure you choose very carefully what sacrifices you make when building your first version. The chief concern with building an MVP is to streamline how effectively you solve the pain point it’s designed for.

Our first version of the course definitely didn’t win any design awards, but was super valuable in the information it provided. It became better looking and even more valuable once we received and incorporated the first few rounds of feedback.

When building any product, know where to make the correct sacrifices in order to quickly ship something that gets results for your customers, while allowing you to quickly iterate from feedback and make changes as necessary.

Product Launch

After building the MVP, it was time to put together a launch strategy. I created a Product Launch Funnel that worked on a two week cycle:

  • Week one was dedicated to building narrative and providing a lot of upfront value,
  • And week two was a ‘cart open’ period with promotion emails reminding the course would only be available for a limited time.

In week one we sent three emails that linked out to longer content that amped up the launch. In week two, we sent three dedicated sales emails to those that opened emails from the week before, that promoted the product and linked to a long sales letter where you could buy the product within a limited time period.

Week One

The first week was structured so three emails were sent out on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Each one contained a brief introduction that then linked out to longform essays in the style Taylor was already known for. These essays were all about delivering free advice to guide the reader in choosing a clear goal to focus on for the next 90 days.

These were sequenced in a basic copywriting formula of ‘Problem, Agitate, Solve’:

  • The Problem email (Monday) began by making clear the pain point we’d uncovered through surveying and talking with readers.
  • Following this, the second email (Wednesday) would ‘Agitate’ the problem, pressing on implications and demonstrating what the reader would stand to lose by not addressing it.
  • Finally, the ‘Solve’ email (Friday) provided a solution that allowed the reader to take action to fix the broader problem based on the information we’d given over the previous emails.

Crucially, this Problem, Agitate, Solve formula was also embedded inside each individual stage (diagram below).

For example, the ‘Problem’ email’s primary purpose was defining the broader problem (a lack of focus), but the linked essay would then build upon it (agitate), and then provide a solution in the form of teasing the next essay in the series.

This Agitate email would follow the same formula, beginning by stating a smaller scale problem that was in itself an Agitation of the broader problem (It’s subject line “Three Focus Failures and How to Avoid Them” is a problem that itself agitates from the “How to Get Focused” email that preceded it).

It would then really hammer the agitation stage and finish by teasing a proper Solution email that would follow the same formula again.

Using the formula ‘fractally’ like this meant the content in the emails and essays followed a primitive narrative structure. It held the reader’s hand and guided them toward a natural ‘Solve’ conclusion that achieves a smaller goal, while hinting toward using our product to completely solve the broader problem initially stated.

The Problem Agitate Solve formula works similarly to the classic ‘Man in a Hole’ plot structure. The reader begins mildly uncomfortable with their current problem, and in order to initiate change and help them overcome it, you amplify the consequences of the problem. This eventually leads to a resolution that elevates them above their starting position.

Week Two

The second week was only sent to those who had clicked on the links in any of the previous three emails. This reduced the audience size, but helped make sure we weren’t sending any irrelevant sales emails to people who weren’t interested.

This second ‘cart open’ week starts out with a strong resolution based on the conclusions provided in the emails from the previous week. It’s a more direct sell that details the benefits of the product, gives direct calls to action (linking to the sales page) and other direct response sales copy of that nature.

  • The first Cart Open email (Monday) recaps some of the learnings from the previous week, before introducing the product, briefly selling it’s benefits and linking to a full sales page.
  • The second Cart Open Reminder (Wednesday) reminds the reader that the course is only available for a short period, and briefly recaps benefits and features. It ends with a link to the sales page and a reminder it will only be available for a limited time.
  • The third Cart Closing email (Friday) is usually sent within 12 hours of the cart closing, and stresses the urgency of the ‘last chance to buy’. It is very brief and only links to the sales page to find out more and to buy.

We spent a couple of ‘closed’ launches refining our process, where we would select audience segments we knew would be more responsive (mostly survey responders), and then tested and validated before sending to our entire audience.

When we had our first proper launch to the full audience, our validation and testing had all paid off.

Our first full launch cleared well into the five figure mark, and resulted in a list-wide subscriber to buyer conversion of around ~2.5%.

We had successfully created a new product that was relevant, valuable and helped to solve a problem our audience were struggling with.

Automation and Funnel Building

While product launches like the above can be a great way to quickly generate revenue, it takes extensive setup and requires extremely fine attention to detail which can make them tedious.

It’s also an inefficient use of an expensive time investment. It takes a long time to validate, test, build and improve a successful product, so it’s worth not being so secretive about it.

Once validated, it makes sense to incorporate relevant and valuable product offers into part of your customer lifecycle, or funnel.

For us, this meant automating our launch so every new subscriber to our email list would receive it.

I needed to build a grander system beyond just the launch I’ve outlined, that would help maximize conversions for new subscribers and move us towards our goal of an ongoing improvement in revenue.


Funnel Structure

For the structure of the funnel, I combined the CLV Optimization Funnel I introduced earlier with the Product Launch Funnel I just covered.

I used the CVO Optimization Funnel as a general structure, then embedded the Product Launch Funnel as a mechanism to more effectively sell at each stage.

An outline of our funnel that used CVO Optimization as a framework, with the Product Launch Funnel as a way to help sell the individual products at each stage.

For the ‘Core Offer’ stage, I used the same Product Launch Funnel with the Problem, Agitate, Solve email structure we covered in the last section. Those who clicked or opened any of these emails were sent an automatically generated “Cart Open sequence” that would offer a discount limited to one week.

For the ‘Tripwire’ stage, I had three ‘onboarding’ emails that were also written to the Problem, Agitate, Solve formula, but didn’t have a dedicated ‘Cart Open’ sequence like the above.

Instead, each email simply linked out to the sales page of the book (our Tripwire product). Since many of those who joined our email list had already read the book, I didn’t think it was necessary to sell it so hard and simply recapped it’s thesis to make sure everyone was on the same page before moving into the Core Offer sequence.

By combining these two funnels, we were able to take advantage of the built-in psychological triggers that made each one effective individually.

As Robert Cialdinin covers in his great book Influence, there are six primary psychological triggers that influence an audience to buy – Consistency, Liking, Authority, Social Proof, Scarcity and Reciprocity.

(I find a great way to remember these is the acronym ‘CLASSR’)

By combining the two funnels, we addressed all six of these triggers as we took advantage of each one’s complementary strengths:

  • In the case of the CLV Optimization Funnel I used as the framework, it uses Liking, Consistency and Reciprocity by providing free actionable content that’s valuable and relevant to the audience.
  • In the case of the Product Launch Funnel, it’s specifically designed to create Scarcity through limiting the availability of the offer, and the free content given upfront builds Authority as Taylor demonstrated he could solve the problem.

In later iterations of the funnel, we had great open rates as we segmented readers to only receive content that would interest them.

Stacking these triggers was a great way to help increase conversions. We had great open and clickthrough rates for individual emails, and I was confident the structure I’d chosen was a great foundation for encouraging buying behavior.

However, I knew that the only way to really tie everything together was with a strong central narrative. While your content must be focused on delivering value and educating, not even using all the psychological triggers will be enough to maintain interest over the long timelines of communication these funnels require.

I needed to construct a central narrative that would tie each stage of the CLV Optimization Funnel together to get real buy-in from our audience.


There comes a point where you need to put on your paperback writer’s hat and think about what will keep your readers hooked. You need to come up with an engaging ‘thesis’ for your readers to buy-into so they actually stick around to read what you have to say.

Building a strong guiding narrative can influence a purchase decision and sustain engaged interest in your audience more than pretty much anything else you can do. But how do you go about building narrative into your funnel?

One of the best tools for thinking about how to implement this is the “Five Levels of Awareness”, from legendary ads man Eugene Schwartz. It describes the five different stages of awareness a reader goes through before making a purchase, and the most effective communication strategy for each stage.

A “Product Aware” prospect will know your product exists and that it can help solve the problem they’re facing. Someone “Solution Aware” already knows they have a problem and that a solution exists that will help them solve it, and someone “Problem Aware” has only just discovered that they have a problem at all.

The power of Schwartz’ Awareness Scale is it gives you a framework for understanding precisely where your prospect currently stands in their customer journey, and provides the language needed to successfully communicate with them at each stage.

While the Most Aware are persuaded by increasingly specific direct response copy, an Unaware audience must be engaged with narratives and world-building.

We needed to build a narrative for our funnel that took our readers from being ‘Unaware’ and unfamiliar with the thesis of ‘The End of Jobs’, to ‘Most Aware’ where we could help those who had bought into our worldview build the basic skills necessary to enter the world of entrepreneurship.

Each stage of the CLV Optimization Funnel was a step towards uncovering more of the story, each piece building on the last to reveal a broader narrative.

As we covered in the Product Launch Funnel, I used a very primitive plot structure (the ‘Man in a Hole’) in order to mobilize the reader to take action with the simple ‘Problem, Agitate, Solve formula.

These primitive structures are perfect for combining into a larger multi-offer funnel, as they act as building blocks in a more complex narrative.

By stacking these primitive plot structures together at each new stage of the CLV Optimization Funnel, you can begin to create a more complex narrative that professor of english and data analytics Matthew Jockers would refer to as having high ‘emotional valence’.

Using the example of best selling book The Da Vinci Code, Jockers graphs what the profile of an engaging narrative with high ‘emotional valence’ looks like. Consistent troughs and peaks in the ‘sentiment’ of words used shows a similar effect to what we produced with the Problem Agitate Solve formula – but arranged in sequence.

“Notice how much more regular the fluctuations are. This is the profile of a page turner. Notice too how the more generalized blue trend line hovers above neutral in terms of its emotional valence. Dan Brown never lets the plot become too troubled or too much of a downer. He baits us and teases us with fluctuating emotion.” Matthew Jockers, A Novel Method for Detecting Plot

By combining the complementary psychological triggers of both funnel types and tying them together with a central narrative, I was able to effectively attack the problems of progressing a reader’s ‘awareness’ while also maintaining interest with an emotionally engaging structure.

I’m convinced this is why our conversions were strong (~3% at launches) and why the funnel has continued to convert well over several years with only minimal tweaks to the way the launch is delivered.

But how to actually put all this together?


The software stack we used included the Thrive Themes suite for landing pages and email opt-ins (running through WordPress), ActiveCampaign for everything email, Teachable for hosting the course content, and SendOwl for payment processing. I used Zapier to bridge all the services, so in the end the system was completely automated and ran entirely in the background.

I’ll do my best to sketch an outline of a typical buyer path that hits most of the automation points below.

It starts with a reader subscribing to the email list through one of the many opt-ins on the site.

We had dozens of these, which were simply shortcodes inserted at the ends of essays that displayed forms designed with the ‘Leads’ product of the Thrive Themes Suite.

The Thrive Leads dashboard displaying some of our site optins. This made it easy to see which were performing best, and allowed variant A/B testing for each one.

After subscribing, Thrive Leads would add the new contact to ActiveCampaign, where they would be placed into a short ‘sorting’ automation. Here they would receive a Welcome email and would remove contacts who in certain instances needed to be excluded from the main funnel offers.

For the majority of contacts, they would pass into a ‘Tripwire’ automation that had the Problem, Agitate, Solve email sequence we covered earlier. This was a straightforward set of emails sent three days apart from one another, with long narrative-building essays and a link to purchase the book at the end of each.

After this the contacts were then sent to the ‘Core Offer’ automation, where they’d receive the combined version of the Product Launch Funnel we again covered earlier.

In the second week of the Core Offer sequence, a special sales page link was used for each of the ‘Cart Open’ emails. This link was generated using Ultimatum, a tool again part of the ever-useful Thrive Themes suite. When a reader clicked, it would cookie them (create a temporary file given by the server that contains a small amount of user session data) once they visited the site and make sure to show that reader a discounted version of the sales page when they visited.

We actually had two sales pages: A regular one we would link on the services page of the site and in most places, and a discounted version that was exactly the same other than a reduced price. This would only be available during launch periods and for those who had clicked our special Ultimatum link.

When a reader was cookied, anytime they went to the regular sales page they would be redirected to the discounted version. When the discount period ended, they would be redirected back to the regular version no matter which URL they entered, and it was set this way for everyone as standard.

The sales pages themselves were built using Architect, again part of the Thrive Themes Suite. I know a bit of HTML and CSS, but building pages this big and getting them to look as good as ours would have taken me (personally) a stupid amount of time. Page builders like Architect sometimes cop a lot of flack by the more technical crowd, but for marketers and entrepreneurs they make it really easy to quickly test and make changes.

After a reader decided to purchase on one of the sales pages, they’d do so by clicking one of the ‘Buy Now’ buttons. These were actually custom HTML elements provided by our payment processor, SendOwl. They were really cool as they were super customizable and would run a little script that popped up the payment processing screen without having to reload the page, making a seamless checkout experience and no doubt helping conversions.

On the backend of SendOwl, we actually had six ‘products’ created, each with separate HTML embeds: two versions of each of the three pricing tiers, one version for the discounted page and one version for the regularly priced version.

Our ‘products’ inside SendOwl which were simply HTML buttons that redirected to a ‘thankyou’ page after checkout.

When an order was processed for one of the products, SendOwl would redirect the reader to a URL thanking them for the purchase and give details about what to expect next (that they’d receive a welcome email and an enrollment email, and to wait a few minutes for it to arrive).

In the background, SendOwl would manage the actual payment processing via Stripe or Paypal, and would subscribe new customers to a ‘buyers’ list in Activecampaign and assign a ‘buyers’ tag.

From here, a few things would happen:

  • When a new contact was added to the ‘buyers’ list in Activecampaign, an automation would trigger to sort them into whether they would receive the lower priced version of the course that didn’t include bonuses, or the higher priced version that did.
  • It would also fire an ‘onboarding’ automation that dripped out an eight-week email sequence that helped us immensely in keeping a strong completion rate. The first was a ‘Welcome’ email that reiterated the instructions about what to expect next from the redirected ‘thankyou’ page post-sale.

For the sorting automation, each product in SendOwl had slightly different customer tags depending on which pricing tier was purchased. This automation would simply check which tag was assigned, and then trigger a custom webhook that would activate a procedure in Zapier.

This automation simply checked our buyer list for new contacts, then checked that they matched either the basic version or the higher priced version tags. Depending on which condition they met, they would trigger a webhook connected to a Zapier procedure.

Within Zapier, we had two separate procedures that would wait for a ping from either of the webhooks from this automation, then use the data provided to enroll the buyer into the specified course in Teachable (Teachable has a ‘duplicate course’ feature for admins so you can easily create multiple versions and segment your buyers into different pricing tiers with this mechanism).

The Zapier procedure. There were two of these, this one was for the basic version of the course and would enroll the buyer in that version in Teachable.

Inside Teachable, a new user would be created using this webhook data (just a name and email), and then the Teachable system would send a receipt email and a ‘New Enrollment Confirmation’. The buyer would click on this confirmation email and would then be in Teachable’s hands to complete the enrollment process.

In the end we had a completely on-rails system with onboarding, course completion reminders and automatic enrollment that created a smooth user experience post-purchase.

We even set up a Zapier to send us Slack notifications of new purchases. It was pretty cool getting sales notifications on a Saturday evening from a timezone on the other side of the world.

Sales notifications in Slack.


With a new product launched and then automated, comparing the three months prior and post implementation revenue increased 176%, and CLV increased 293%. Critically, the value the funnel provided to the business scaled as we added more subscribers, with +40% year on year profit growth over the following three years.

Not only was revenue up, we now had a real funnel where we were reliably tracking CLV.

We had valuable information about our audience through surveying and validating a product, and we had clear conversion metrics we were now tracking to monitor performance.

It was now clear what levers needed to be pulled to scale, and we could go back to Perry Marshall’s Power Triangle to again determine whether our next limit would be traffic, conversion or economics.

We were in the perfect position to begin growing the business with paid traffic if we wished, as we now had a solid understanding of our unit economics and what we could afford to pay for a customer.

Lessons Learned

Narrative Bias is King

“The more data you have, the easier it is to find support for some spurious, self-serving narrative. The profusion of data in future will not settle arguments: it will make them worse.” Rory Sutherland, Alchemy.

Frameworks, funnels and strategies work great and are necessary, but the key to effective marketing is and has always been in telling a great story. I’d always known this in a way, but it’s now really hit home for me in the way it impacts funnel strategy and decision making.

We created a funnel typical of the 2010’s Bay area “data-driven” mindset, yet I doubt it would be as strong if we didn’t spend as much time as we did focused on building narrative.

Using proven systems like the CLV Optimization and Product Launch funnel were great for setting up a broader strategy. But if it wasn’t for us tying it together with narrative, the experience would have been disjointed and the value ladder would fall apart. When attempting to automate a path that creates value and helps someone solve their problems, there needs to be a natural flow between each stage that builds upon the last.

At the end of the day, if you can’t take your customer on a journey that’s relevant, exciting and useful, you won’t stand a chance at keeping their attention. While it’s important to understand your customer’s voice and self-reported problems, a funnel is simply another medium in which to tell a story that makes sense of those problems and invites us to take action to improve them in a meaningful way.

In regards to decision making, there are also powerful narrative influences:

The amount of data available to us can make us think we can reduce all our choices down to ‘what the numbers say’. Part of being a good marketer is using numbers to make decisions, but as the amount of data available to us expands, the creative potential to invent narratives that don’t always make sense increases too.

It’s easy to get caught up in vanity metrics and watch the wrong things go ‘up and to the right’. This can be a boon for those in positions were there is no direct accountability, but in the world of entrepreneurship we need to be extra vigilant our inferences aren’t just painting  pretty pictures that don’t match reality.

There’s no simple solution. I suspect that as we come to realize the dangers associated with an over-reliance on data, concepts such as Legibility, the Intellectual Yet Idiot or Psycho-logic are going to become more widely known and accepted ways of dealing with this phenomenon.

Work the System

We spent a lot of time tying pieces of the business together with automation. Beyond that detailed above using ActiveCampaign and Zapier, we also used a robust Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) system I’ve written about previously. This has been endlessly valuable as we have a small team and it’s allowed us to free up our time to work on more important tasks.

Regarding the email automation, It can be easy to think you’re going to devise a genius system that’s deeply personalized to each reader with hundreds of unique entry points and outcomes. The reality, usually realized after you’ve erected such a monstrosity, is the number of variables you initially estimated have gone through factorial multiplication, and the clever semantics and tracking you devised aren’t anywhere near enough to keep up.

I’ve been able to play with several different iterations of our funnel as a whole, and the one piece of advice I’d give someone new to email automation is to keep it simple. When doing any funnel building, always keep in mind Gall’s Law – “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked.”

Only personalize and add new entry points only if a given vertical could be a self-sustaining ‘branch’. That is, the unit economics for the new entry point need to work out to where you estimate you could afford to either launch a new product to it and / or buy traffic profitably. It needs to be attached to the trunk of the tree and capable of not only sustaining itself, but adding value to the whole if it’s potential where fulfilled.

In regards to SOPs and systematization in the other areas of the business, this is somewhat forced to follow Gall’s Law, as it tends to grow incrementally. Since there’s less you can do upfront and modifications needs to be added piece by piece, you don’t get to wear the ‘architect’ hat and it seems less sexy.

But I can say that spending time building out SOPs was just as valuable as our email automation in terms of increasing our ability to scale and the amount of time it freed up. It put all our repeatable processes on rails and even if we didn’t outsource much, doing this reduced their cognitive load each time they were repeated.

Harnessing the Power of Email

Email is still underutilized relative to the amount of value it provides. While I chose email automation as a means to improve CLV and increase revenue, there are so many other benefits I feel like many business owners overlook.

  • Email allows you to build a data-driven marketing strategy.

There are few other channels that show customer conversion and engagement metrics at every step of interaction, and fewer again that build stores of that data automatically and over time.

With a huge amount of data and a clear idea of every stage of the customer journey, it makes it straightforward to know where the limits are in your business, and what levers need to be pulled in order to get the largest ROI.

Combining this with a solid framework like the 80-20 Power Triangle or conversion rate optimization methodology, you’ll quickly build a solid foundation to start making insightful marketing decisions with a clearer understanding of their expected value.

  • Email allows you to avoid platform risk and build a true audience.

Email is still the only way to build an audience that you “own”. Twitter and Instagram followers, Facebook group members, or LinkedIn connections can all be taken away from you without a moment’s notice.

Building an email list is the only way to ensure you have a direct connection to your market, with interested individuals who have granted you permission to contact them. There’s no better way to store your contacts, as an email address is the one piece of information your prospect takes everywhere they go online.

It’s the only way you can ensure you own your customer data – the most important asset in your business. As Ben Thompson says in Aggregation Theory, “Aggregation is fundamentally about owning the user relationship and being able to scale that relationship”.  You move from supplying a service on a platform with inherent risk and uncertainty, to building your own.

  • Email is the largest and most engaged platform.

With 3.9 billion active users each spending on average 2-3 hours a day in their inboxes, as Campaign Monitor puts it “Statistics show that email is still king”.

Not only is the platform huge and active, the users are engaged. While web-platform dependent marketers bemoan “algorithm changes” that upset their reach and effectiveness, email is immune.

SendGrid’s annual 2019 Email Benchmark and Engagement Study shows consistent engagement across all metrics over the last four years that put most other platforms to shame.

  • Email allows you to automate and scale like nothing else.

If you’re looking to scale your business and achieve growth, automation needs to happen at some point, and email is the best way to do so. It allows you to build a system to send offers directly to market, automatically sell while you sleep, and build an on-demand, targeted traffic source you can use to promote content on other platforms and drive traffic back into your funnel.

Email allowed us to successfully create a successful ‘go to market’ strategy. It simply wouldn’t have been possible to test and validate a new product with an audience as variable as one located on a platform such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Without the coordination and reliability of email, we wouldn’t have been able to rely on consistent reach and engagement necessary to determine whether we had success. These other platforms may complement a launch, but email is the best way to go directly to your audience.

Email also allows you to automate a sales funnel in a way other platforms don’t. We built an automated system that generated revenue with very little upkeep that also doubled as an engagement channel, keeping new subscribers aware of the brand with metrics that surpass those of other platforms. With a completely automated funnel, you create a revenue stream you can count for a while, as long as you keep leads flowing in to the top of the funnel.

To that end, building a strong email list gives you the ability to send traffic anywhere on the internet you want. Given a ten thousand subscriber email list, an average open rate of twenty percent and a clickthrough rate of ~five percent, you can expect at least a hundred highly engaged and interested readers to interact with any given piece of content you link to in a dedicated email.

While that doesn’t sound like a lot, a hundred engaged people can meaningfully influence social media algorithms, upvote posts in forums and generally give you an upper hand at building virality in a way many businesses simply don’t have.

  • Finally, email allows you to unlock hidden revenue and build CLV.

The most alluring aspect, as I think I’ve shown in this case study, is the ease in which email enables you to improve CLV and unlock otherwise untapped revenue for your bottom line.

There’s no better way to build an automated system that simultaneously improves purchase value, frequency and volume – the three levers for improving customer value and scaling your business. As we’ve covered, we hit all three of those levers to build a valuable funnel that gave us the ability to make data-driven growth decisions and plan our growth intelligently.

It also unlocked hidden revenue that we otherwise wouldn’t have had access to. We improved purchase value and volume by adding an entirely new product that increased average order value, increased the number of purchases and increased the exposure to new offers for a given reader. All of these led to increased revenue and more value extracted from every new lead we added.

Are you looking to start growing your business with email marketing?

Shoot me an email at or book a time to chat, and I’ll see how I can help.

Thanks to Taylor for the opportunity.

‍Email Marketing Automation Strategy for Small Online Business

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"There's no clearer guide to getting maximum results and impact from email.
This book will change the way you think about email marketing automation in your business"

Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable