I make a million dollars a year writing emails to my friends. Here’s how I do

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“I wish I could make a living just doing this.”

That’s what I used to sigh when I was writing an email to a friend. (i.e. back when friends actually connected via email rather than SMS, DM, PM and any other private messaging platform that might “slip” because of the flesh of chicken.)

Writing emails to friends brings the same joy as writing real ones. mail-mail – remember the “letters”? – holiday camp. I could be personal, conversational, myself. I told funny stories and made occasional observations.

“My croque-monsieur makes me scold. But it was worth it.” (From an actual email from 2006.)

A few years ago I discovered that I Could Make a living writing emails to my friends

Well, with a twist.

Now, instead of emailing my close IRL friends, I write emails to a list of subscribers that I think about like my friends. Sometimes these emails sell stuff – in my case, mostly digital courses and mini-courses for personal brands and entrepreneurs.

And the revenue generated by these e-mails? Over a million dollars a year.

This is technically called email advertising. The emails I send could be called newsletters. But for me and for my subscribers, each remains an “email to a friend”, because that’s the style in which I write it and the way the person receiving the email experiences it.

They feel like it’s just for them, because I keep the style and content as conversational and personal (sometimes TMI-level personal) as if I were writing it privately.

In these messages, which I usually send three times a week, I wrote about my:

  • Triumphs and Struggles in Business
  • Failures and personal challenges
  • The black beasts
  • travel nightmares
  • Daily purchase of watermelon pieces. (Think no one cares what you ate for breakfast? Think again!)
  • Writing exercises and tips

…and much more.

I told them about the time I illegally split a gym membership, the bad investment I made in a boyfriend’s instructional salsa dance tapes, my brother-in-law who fired her fish at dinner, my roommate and her passive-aggressive Post-it (Do you plan to wash these dishes? Otherwise, I will! {Smiley} ).

How do these stories make money?

You may have heard the wisdom we buy from people we know, love and trust. Writing in a style that reveals your personality and personal life — or, if it doesn’t suit your business, your worldview — creates that “know, like, and trust” factor in your readers.

Time and again, followers tell me, “I feel like we’d be friends in real life.” Some even say “besties”.

In fact, I call this style of email a EFAB: Email from a best friend.

We all scour our email inbox deleting commercial junk and looking for something that seems to be right for us. Something from a person we know. In other words, an EFAB.

And that’s the email we click on…and we buy.

So how do you write an EFAB?

Here are my top tips.

#1: Make sure you have consent

First, you need permission, from a list of people who have opted in to hear from you. They sent their email to receive one or all of the following:

  • Your newsletter
  • Free delivery or one-time discount
  • A lead magnet, AKA “freebie” (usually a guide, checklist, free report, book chapter, etc.)

Adding people to your list without their permission and emailing them in a group is called spam. Don’t.

Pro tip

Also consider collecting the first names of email subscribers when they sign up for your list so that you can contact them by name in future communications.

No. 2: Write as you speak

This is a best practice for all writers, and it can be counter-intuitive. Most of us are taught in school or at work that it’s “unprofessional” to write conversationally.

But what a human says to another human, “You’ll never believe who I’m going on vacation with”?

You would say,

“You’ll never guess who I’m going on vacation with.”

Write the way you speak, namely the way you would to a friend, and you’re in business.

I’m often asked, “But what if my company is B2B (business to business) and my audience is more corporate?”

You are never a business writing to a business. You are still a person writing to a person. How would you talk to the customer if you were sitting across from them in a cafe? Write like this.

#3: Use informal, curiosity-driven subject lines

It doesn’t matter how good your email is if no one opens it. The #1 key to opening an email is… the subject line.

Let’s start with the informal part.

The subject line of an EFAB seems to be from a friend, to a friend. His form is relaxed. Do not use title case; use sentence case instead. You can even remove the punctuation for an extra casual touch. (Optional.)

Here’s a formal-looking subject line: “3 mistakes you’re making that are turning customers away.”

Here is the EFAB version: “3 mistakes you make that turn customers off”.

As for the element of curiosity, there are many ways to inject it. Some of my top performing subject lines include:

  • The thing that almost could have happened to me
  • Literally the shittiest job ever
  • Can I count on you?*
  • He’s going there [FIRST NAME]the weekend*

The key is to spark interest and imply that there is a story there.

#4: Use Lots of “You”s and Say Their Names

Did you notice those two starred subject lines above? They both tap into everyone’s favorite subject: themselves!

We respond to the word “you”, and even more so to our own name. One of the good things about any decent ESP (email service provider) is that it allows you to easily personalize your emails, both in the subject line and in the body of the email.

Example of a custom object:

“I’m in love with [FIRST NAME]!”

Example from the body of an email:

“I told you what [FIRST NAME] say today? Wait, let me find the email.

When you incorporate your personality and personal stories into your emails, your subscribers will find themselves thinking of you, and maybe even telling their family about you.

#5: Incorporate storytelling

Stories can change our beliefs and persuade us to buy noncommercially. They also attract and hold our attention. Advice and information are fine, but we’re much more likely to open, read on, and click on a link or follow a call to action if the email contains a story element.

Whether you’re a solo entrepreneur, service provider, or personal brand — in other words, the face and voice of business — you have the freedom to write in the first person and tell stories about your own life.

If you’re a different kind of business (e-commerce, for example) and you’re writing from the business, you can make your customer the hero of the story instead. Note that “story” does not necessarily mean a beginning, middle, and end.

Here is an example of a story fragment:

Subject line: [FIRST NAME]Favorite summer pants EVER

Have you ever wondered how some people wear 90 degree jeans? U.S. too, [FIRST NAME].

Whether you’re strolling around town in the scorching sun or dining by the ocean on a windy night, you’re going to wonder how you made it through a single summer before those linen pants came into your life.

So there you have it – easy steps to start writing profitable emails (to your friends). Of course, to reach the 7-figure mark (or 6, 5 or 4 figures), you have to sell something. It doesn’t require a huge list, but it does require a strong connection to the list you have. And this is where the EFAB comes in.

Give it a shot! If you have a mailing list, try writing them an EFAB this week. And if you have a business, focus on email. Your efforts will be rewarded.

That’s my advice, friend to friend.


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