How to Create a Free Email Course that Sells (PS - You'll Love the "Offer" Section...)


autoresponder-diagram Isn't it annoying when people, especially in marketing, give you terrible advice like:

"Well to succeed with blogging as a way of marketing, you have to blog regularly."


Advice like that is worthless and should be ignored.

My goal is to differentiate AutoGrow from the non-specific, obvious "gurus" out there by giving you complete articles like this one that include first-hand examples and as well as third party research.

Right now I'm in the process of finalizing my second autoresponder course, so for your benefit I'm able to draw directly on that experience while I write this.

"What is an autoresponder and why do I need one?"


I remember the first free email course I signed-up for. It was in 2010, shortly after I had started AutoGrow and made my first sale.

I was trying to figure out "Ok, now that I have my first client, how do I get all the work done?"

A friend recommended an educational website on recruiting. The website was relatively ugly but the primary call to action was a free offer to learn about finding and managing talent on the website. So I signed up.

During the course of the autoresponder, I received a sequence of emails educating me on exactly what the website had promised. At one point (I think it was the 3rd email), there was a link that casually mentioned their main website which was a tool that helped entrepreneurs with recruiting and vetting talent.

I checked it out, and I ended up purchasing a subscription for $50 per month. Over the course of the next three years, I continued to use the website. That's a $1500 revenue sale, and the company that owned the website never had to left finger to convince me.

This illustrates the power and importance of an autoresponder email course.

  • It's completely opt-in, permission marketing
  • It's educational for the potential client
  • Builds trust and goodwill (principal of reciprocity)
  • Saves time by automating follow-up and much of the sales process
  • Or, in the case of a service that required consultation, it can qualify leads for you on autopilot

An autoresponder course works best in cases where you're offering:

  • A B2B service (e.g. web design)
  • B2C service (how to accessorize your car) or product (> $100)
  • A SaaS product (since it's a monthly commitment)
  • A paid ebook or premium course that's priced at $50+

Think of it like this. What's the end offer that the email course will lead into? Typically it should be some kind of premium, paid service or product.

If you're offering something like a free iPhone app, then an autoresponder is not a good fit.

"What do I write about in my autoresponder email course?"


Many people struggle with this question and it prevents them creating one in the first place.

The content of your course is very important, but keep in mind that you can improve it over time as you get feedback from subscribers. Especially if this is your first time writing an email course. Don't expect that you're going to get the content aspect 100% right. You should expect to learn by doing.

Here are some guidelines to help you choose a subject for your course:

  • Look through your email inbox at emails you've received from clients or customers before they bought. What were some of the questions they had?
  • Ask yourself, what expert knowledge do I possess that I can package into a simple course that benefits potential clients? For instance, if you were a master carpenter, you might create an autoresponder course showing amateur enthusiasts and buyers how you source the wood, how the plan for a piece of furniture is made, cutting the wood pieces into the right shape, putting it together, and finally, the finished product.

"But Matt, what if my product is my knowledge? Doesn't it cheapen my brand to give it away for free in this fashion?"

No it doesn't. If fact, it positions you as an authority. In the case where your knowledge is your product (like if you're an executive coach or an author) think of an autoresponder as a sampling, a "coming attraction" for the full-featured product offer.

"How long should the email course be?"

When I first wrote down the header for this section, I thought "Ok, I'm probably going to say a nice round number like 5, as in 5 lessons."

Afterall, I outlined my course to be five lessons long.


But why? Why did I come to believe 5 the "right" number of lessons?

In my first email course, where I taught subscribers how to build a large email list, the emails were quite detailed (1200-2000 words each) and there was a total of 7 course lessons and then 3 more follow-up emails directly after.

I was selling a different SaaS product at the time and the course received about an average open rate of 30% at the end and converted about 2% of subscribers into free trial users (credit card was required to start a trial).

So, this longer, more indepth style of course can work. (Quick side note: I believe some of the reasons why the conversion rate wasn't higher was because it was a brand new product, based on a new marketing concept, and as I said, each lesson was lengthy).

On the otherhand, while 7 lessons averaging 1600 words each might be too much, 4 lessons or less at just 500 words each seems to lack effort and substance -- especially if you're making an explicit promise to teach subscribers how to do something upfront.

Several months ago, I signed up for my friend Brennan Dunn's ecourse to see how he does it. He aims straight for the middle-ground of 5 lessons with about 750-1000 words each (about 1 page in MS Word).

I found this style refreshing because I could consume the information quickly and although I'm not in Brennan's target market, the content included actionable tips and relatable stories.

Most other autoresponders I've signed up for were not as well organized or efficient.

As a rule of thumb:

  • Know your audience. How much time will it take them to consume each lesson? Is this time that they can budget for easily during the course of their day?
  • The desire to create longer, more indepth course lessons should be balanced against the questions above as well as with the goal of fulfilling on the original promise of the course (e.g. In AutoGrow's case that is "Doubling Your Leads in 30 Days").

However, another expert in the space, John McIntyre, has a different take on how long your autoresponder should be (see video below).

John says it should be as long as you can make it (and as often as you're willing to) because if people are on your list, they will buy at some point, and you don't know when they will be ready to. Therefore you need to keep following-up with them until they are ready or until they unsubscribe.

For the most part I agree with this. However, it's important to note the difference between an autoresponder sequence and a course. An autoresponder sequence can include an email course, but then extend beyond the course to send additional follow-up emails, with more helpful tips, articles, or calls to action.

YouTube video

I was on John's list for about a month, and then I unsubscribed (HA). Nothing against John, (his content and interviews are great) I just couldn't stand getting an email from him every single day.

I wasn't going to buy, so John's strategy is sound in that respect. However, I nearly forgot about him and his website until I wrote this article because I'm no longer on his list.

Getting back to the original question of this section:

  • As a rule of thumb 5 lessons with about 1000 words each is a happy medium between something that's overly detailed and something that isn't substantive.
  • Extend your autoresponder sequence to follow-up with prospects beyond just the email course lessons. As long as you are providing relevant content and offers, mailing them no more than 1-2 times per week will help to clear your list of people who either aren't buyers and/or promoters. In terms of total autoresponder length, as long as there's continued engagement (i.e. opens and clicks) I recommend extending it as long as possible.

"How does it drive sales?" (Making the Offer)


To make a sale, you've got to ask for it! You have to directly ask for someone to buy from you. You want to do this at the end of your email course.

It doesn't make sense to do it at any other time because without a foundation of trust or value being delivered, a transaction will not occur.

If the email subscriber (a) got value from your content because it's relevant to them, (b) is motivated, (c) can afford, and (d) trusts you, he or she will buy from you.

If selling scares you, think of it like this: "You've giving me your time and I've given given you some value that helps you solve a problem. If you want more value, then give me money and a little more of your time and I'll give you substantially more value." (paraphrased from an interview I did with Brennan Dunn)

I've had the opportunity to experiment with this on my first free email course, and I'm eager to see how much my writing ability to make a good offer has improved in this next email course for AutoGrow.

If you asked me to create a generic template of what the last email should look like in your course, I'd create something like this (note that I don't recommend actually using this, you have to tailor it to your brand, authentic communication style, and what's being offer)

[ first name],

If you enjoy this course I wanted to let you know about our paid course which goes into much more detail on [insert pain point] and how to solve it without [insert something really annoying].

We only make a limited quantity available each month for the [X offer with link] course, and in addition, because you took the time to go through this course I wanted to give you an extra incentive, so I'm offering 20% off for the next 24 hours only. Just use coupon code [insert code] when you checkout.

If you have questions, either check out our short 2 minute video here [link] or you can also read the FAQs [link] directly below if that's more convenient.

To your success,

[your name]

PS - [insert risk reversal statement and another link back to the premium offer with a "nudge" of additional encouragement]

For example here's how Laura Roeder does it. When you sign-up for her email list, you get an initial, short sequence of emails and then she reminds you about her product, Social Brilliant, and goes ahead to answer questions about it (email below).


Then, in her final "last chance" email you're reminded that the deadline for getting into the program is closing soon (see below).


I like how she breaks it into two emails. One is a soft-sell, and then the second is more direct and urgent.

Quick Thoughts on "The Ramp Model"

Autoresponders work best at growing your revenue when they are constructed in a certain way.

For example, it's best to think about them as a gradual onboarding ramp toward forming a long term relationship while maximizing value exchange between you and your customers.

Here's an example to better illustrate what I mean:

  1. An impression (visit to website) leads to...
  2. Subscription, which leads to...
  3. Consumption of email course, which leads to...
  4. Premium offer for something small (you're segmenting your target market this way), which leads to...
  5. A premium offer for something larger and more expensive (further segmenting the market)

I hope you love this model as much as I do and here's why. At each step value is being exchanged (i,e. "you give me your email, I give you a free course... you get value from the course, well if you want more value, here's a more premium offer to help you get to the next level") and trust is being built.

In addition, at each step of the process those subscribers to whom the content isn't relevant will be filtered out (they'll click unsubscribe) and to those do find it useful and relevant, they continue on to the next step.

This type of gradual ramp is also effective for the reason that perceived risk is low as long as you're fulfilling your promises to the subscriber or customer at each step.

In addition, I also know from friends that conversions are significantly higher under this type of autoresponder course + extended sequence setup.

I'll talk more about this "ramp" formula in a future blog article...

Get creative with the content (Don't be boring!)


I'm currently a subscriber to Derek Halpern's newsletter.

And even though some of his posts are occasionally meta (i.e. marketers marketing marketing), I've remained a  subscriber because he writes on a wide range of topics AND because he's FUNNY.

Your autoresponder course doesn't need to be funny. Most people are not funny, especially when they try to be (oy, I am never letting my friend do open mic night again... haha).

At the very least though, do this:

  1. Write in the first person
  2. Tell stories
  3. And if you don't have any stories of your own to tell, tell someone else's.

For instance, this story illustrates why autoresponders and free offers are great for lead generation.

There were once two bulls standing on a hill. Their names were Billy and Joe. The hill over looked a valley where the two bulls observed some cows grazing.

"Hey Bill, if we hurry on down there, we can mate with at least two or three of them, each!"

"Sure Joe," Bill replied slowly. "But how about this. Why don't we mosey on down there... and breed them all?"

Moral of the story? A two-step sales process is best.

You can take this concept to the next level though as I'm doing my the new "Double Your Leads" course that I'm about to launch.

I've always been a fan of super hero type cartoons and movies, so what I'm doing in our ecourse is introducing the concept of "The Four Masters." The Four Masters each "co-author" a lesson in the course with me (I "interview" them) based on the topic that they are experts within.

In this way, I'm able to better engage our audience (a conversation is more interesting than someone lecturing to you), entertain them (each master has their own unique personality), while simultaneously educating them.

Long term, my goal is to extend this concept further so that we have four premium ebooks, each one featuring one of these Masters.

How to attract people to sign-up for it

I've covered this in some depth in the recent past. I recommend you check out two articles in particular if want a more indepth explanation:

Here are some quick guidelines though to help you get started:

  1. Create a dedicated landing page for your autoresponder. It should be something that is relatively well designed, like this.
  2. Post your email opt-in form in multiple locations (pop-up, blog sidebar, homepage, about page, in a "slide up" widget at the end of a blog post)
  3. Link directly to your sign-up page in the bio or by-line of any guest blog posts you do.
  4. At regular intervals, share and tweet out the links to your landing page. If you already have an email list, consider sharing it with them.


If you want a continuous stream of customer leads, consider the value of implementing a two-step sales process using an autoresponder within your business.

  • Don't worry about getting it perfect the first time. Take your time to edit it, but remember that you can tweak and optimize after it's launched as well.
  • If you're not sure what to write about, study recent conversations you've had with customers for ideas and ask yourself "what am I an expert in as a result of running my business?"
  • Keep each lesson in your email course brief, but make sure you're fulfilling on your original promise. It should have substance! No filler content!
  • At the end, make an premium offer. It can be a free offer, like the option to get on a 30 min. consultation call, or an offer to buy something like an ebook or a product.
  • Get creative. Write in the first person, be human, and tell stories. People want to buy from people.
  • After you launch the course, spend time promoting it and implementing several key changes to your website so it gets long-term exposure as well.

What are some other questions you have about creating an autoresponder and how it can help your business?

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