About 4 years ago I was at SxSW in Austin, Texas.
My business was still relatively new at this point. I’d launched Location Rebel Academy less than a year before and was slowly starting to experience a little bit of success.
For the first time not only were people buying a product I’d created, but they were having really good results with the content – leading many to actually leave their jobs and have successful businesses.
Naturally I started thinking ahead. I started thinking about how to grow my business and what to do next.
But here’s the thing, I didn’t consider myself a marketer. I was just a random dude that stumbled upon some things in his own life that worked pretty well, taught it to some more people, and found it worked for them too.
But I knew if things were going to grow, I had to start thinking differently.
During the conference I was at an event hosted by DIY Themes, where Derek Halpern did marketing at the time.
He was sitting across from me, and I remember asking him: What should I do next to grow my business and my email list?
Then he told me the best piece of business advice I’ve ever received:
“To grow and monetize your list, you need to build relationships with your readers and figure out what they want. The best way to do that is to ask them to answer a question in your first email to them.”
I remember thinking: “Wow, what a novel idea! Why didn’t I think of that!”
So I took his advice. And since doing so, using variations of that same strategy in my autoresponder and in my launches I’ve made well over $500,000 with Location Rebel.
I talk about it in this week’s vlog:
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Who is Derek Halpern?
Let’s back up for a second.
Who is Derek Halpern?
There’s a good chance you already know the answer to this, but for those of you who don’t…
Derek is the founder of Social Triggers website that shows you how to grow your business by marrying pyschology and marketing.
He also founded Zippy Courses which is one of the easiest ways to build a membership site if you’re just starting out.
Bottom line he’s got a big personality, and more than just about anyone else online, I truly trust and value his advice.
What Question Should You Ask?
Now at the time he gave me this advice, I don’t believe he’d talked about it on his website yet. But not too long after he wrote this blog post.
Since that time hundreds of people (if not thousands), have implemented this same strategy successfully.
So for many of you, I’m not telling anything you haven’t heard before. I’m just sharing why it’s worked so well for me, and the spin I’ve put on it.
The question Derek asks (and the one most of the people taking his advice ask as well is):
“What are you struggling with?”
For my audience personally, I expanded upon that.
With Location Rebel, my goal is to help you do more of the things that make you happy through the process of helping you build a lifestyle business.
So for years any time someone signed up for my email list I asked them the same question as above, but I also asked them to reply and tell me “What does your perfect day look like?”
For me, the answers to that question have in many ways been even more valuable both for me and my readers.
It’s worth noting that the “what are you struggling with” question has been asked now to millions of people on various blogs and websites.
So if you’re going to implement, it may be worth mixing it up. However, for the majority of people on my list the responses I get lead me to believe that, for many of them, they haven’t seen it before.
The Five Reasons Why I’ve Found this to Work So Well
There are all kinds of different reasons why this general strategy works, and as people do it in their own unique ways, different aspects of it will be more valuable.
But here are the five reasons why Derek’s strategy has worked so well for me here at Location Rebel.
1) I’m learning what my reader’s problems are as well as what their solution looks like
By asking these two questions people are telling me what problem they are looking to solve.
They’re also telling me what their perfect end result looks like.
This gives me tons of information that surveys can’t.
Real people, real problems, real hopes and dreams.
And most importantly, it’s an opportunity for me to create real solutions for them.
I can use the information to help write blog posts, create products, craft marketing messages and ultimately help them solve their problems and get closer to that perfect day.
Which for me by the way, might look something like this:
And then maybe some of this:
2) It catches them off guard
The second reason why this works so well is because it catches them off guard.
When was the last time you were asked to actually respond to an automatically generated email?
It doesn’t happen very often.
Regardless of whether or not you actually reply (about 20-25% of people who sign up to my list respond), it’s at least triggered some kind of reaction.
With most people receiving dozens of emails a day, it can be hard to show them something different – but much of the time, this does.
3) It provides free therapy
As I mentioned, most people won’t respond.
But of the people who do, many of them say something like “I have no idea if you’ll respond to this, but thanks for prompting me to think about it either way!”
Here’s a great example:
The reality is, if you ask most people what they want in life or what their perfect day looks like they don’t know.
How can you work towards something if you don’t know what that something is?
So for the people who answer, or even think about answering these questions, it truly is like free therapy. Regardless of whether we have any interaction after this, helping a reader to think about those two questions is valuable.
4) It builds trust
I like to think I’m a pretty trust worthy, genuine guy. I really do just want to help people build small businesses that let them do cool stuff like travel the world, spend more time with friends, or fly in really fancy airplanes.
It’s hard to build trust when email is a one way street.
Especially when it’s a one way street with the same email going to thousands of people.
Here’s the real secret sauce in this strategy.
I do something that blows people’s minds every time they reply to an email:
I respond. Thoughtfully.
I read what their issues are, where they’d like to go, and I give them some sort of feedback or direction that might help them get closer to their goal.
Mind blown, right?
But this is rare. Many of the people who employ this strategy don’t respond to everyone for obvious reasons.
It’s a hell of a lot of time, effort, and work.
For years, at least half my working hours have gone to responding to email.
I can feel the simultaneous cringe from more successful business owners.
But it’s that personal relationship and the trust I’ve built with my readers that is what has gotten me to this point.
It’s also part of the reason we’ve hit a bit of a plateau with our business, but we’ll save that conversation for another day.
Building this trust is the absolute best way to not only build your brand and get customers, but it’s a fantastic way to grow friendships and real relationships as well.
And that’s the kind of business I want.
Recently Robert Cialdini came out with a new book called “Pre-Suasion” that talks all about how to build trust before asking for the sale.
I hadn’t necessarily realized that’s what I’ve been doing for years until I read about it in this book.
5) It encourages engagement
Eventually after receiving a bunch of emails from you, some people will become disengaged.
So I try to employ this strategy beyond just that initial email.
I ask people to reply to questions in my newsletter. During launches I’ll ask people to respond to a particularly thought provoking question (and then spend two days straight answering, while getting into some of my own personal goals as well.)
In most of my emails I try to illicit a response of some sort.
The more you engage your audience the more they will see you as a real person (because you are, just like they are.)
I try and have as many conversations with my readers as I can. So to facilitate that, I give them every opportunity possible to engage with me.
It’s not the most automated or the best way to scale a business, but it’s a way that has allowed me to live a better life than many, and build a lot of really meaningful relationships in the process.
Thank You, Derek
Derek, I have no idea how you’re going to respond to this. But based on the last post (read the comments) where I mentioned you, you may have some epic take down for me haha.
But bottom line, thank you.
That one piece of advice you shared with me (and now thousands of others) has ultimately led to better relationships with my readers and customers, a more successful business, and the ability to live the life I really want.
So thanks for that.
And if there’s one lesson or piece of advice I’d impart to anyone else reading this post, it’s the following:
Be real. Treat your readers and customers like real people. And be genuinely interested in helping however you can.
If you do that, good things will happen.