Well I didn’t see that coming! As the worst of the pandemic passed in 2021, I was offered the chance to be a part-time, freelance distance learning English and maths teacher for adults. I’m always up for using technology in new and interesting ways, so I said yes.
Prefer to watch or listen to this post instead of reading it? Here’s the YouTube version of this blog post: How to get people to open and read your emails: Email marketing tips from an online tutor
I should add that I’m a qualified teacher, so this wasn’t quite as random as that sounds! And I’ve got lots of experience in online learning.
This type of course is called ‘functional skills’ and it’s designed for adults who missed their GCSE English and/or maths when they were at school. With all the changes in the labour market after covid, many adults found they needed an English and maths qualification on their CVs so there was definitely a demand for this.
Most of the lessons were delivered using an online learning platform, with the tutors helping with specific English and maths questions, motivation, marking and exam preparation. The platform sent some emails but they were very basic ones such as ‘your assignment is due on [date]’ or ‘your assignment is now overdue’. We also sent group emails, for example if we were offering a live workshop as well as one-to-one emails to individual learners.
We – there were two of us tutors, both qualified teachers with an IT background – decided to set up some of these emails as automated email sequences. This would free up time that we could use working one to one with learners to help them improve their English and maths. So before long we had all 3 types of email; one-to-one emails, group emails (email campaigns) and automated email sequences.
The learners were all adults, some with a full time job and a family, so fitting a home study course into their lives could be hard work. It’s tempting to just ignore that email from your tutor when you haven’t got around to doing your homework! We couldn’t just send an email and expect everyone to open it. We had to work a bit harder than that.
So even though this looked like a detour from email marketing, I ended up using my email marketing skills after all. Here are some useful tips I picked up along the way.
1. If they know and like you they are more likely to read your email
Learners responded better if they knew and liked us from day one. That sounds obvious, but e-learning is often seen as an automated, solo process so an email that is warm, chatty and took an interest in them went down very well. We also kicked off the courses with an in-person induction session, so we tried hard to listen to the learners, get to know them and find out about their aspirations beyond just learning English or maths. We showed we wanted to get to know them as individuals.
This also applies to email marketing. If the subscriber already knows they will get value from your emails they are much more likely to open and read them. What can you do to make your subscribers look forward to hearing from you? You may not be able to get to know them individually, but you can write content that speaks their language and addresses what’s really on their minds. Or they could hear and see you in a video, or just hear you on a podcast.
Think of ways you could build rapport before the subscriber joins your list, or immediately after.
2. You need a good subject line
You might think this audience would be very responsive because they were studying for an important qualification. Well, not always! Because I got to send so many emails, I got to test a number of subject lines to see which one got the best response. It’s not going to be helpful to give you specific examples because it will be different for your business. But in general, the more relevant, timely, clear and concise the subject line, the more likely it was that the email would be opened.
So avoid boring, generic subject lines but do keep testing and improving your open rate over time.
3.Create an onboarding email sequence
We found that learners were fired up after our first meeting with them, but then sometimes found it hard to stay engaged when their goals made contact with real life. We needed a way of keeping them engaged in the very early days after they signed up.
And that’s not so different to any kind of email marketing. Your new subscriber clearly wants to hear from you at the point they subscribe, so you need to do all you can to keep those positive feelings alive.
In an ideal world we would have asked everyone to come in and see us the week after the induction session. But the learners mostly had full-time jobs, so only a few would do that. So we set up an email sequence to:
- Remind them of what they had signed up for, including the hours they were expected to study, how long the course was, when the exams were and how to get support.
- Send an email each week to remind them of where they should be in the course in week 1, week 2, week 3 and so on.
- Give them some useful tips and videos on English and study skills that were relevant to what they should be studying on the course that week
- Remind them of our names, contact details and that we cared about them and their success.
You can do this with your subscribers or customers, too. Don’t just deliver the lead magnet or paid product, create a sequence of emails that supports them in the week as they work through the lead magnet. If they’ve just bought a physical product from you, set up an email sequence they receive as they wait for delivery of the physical product.
4. Make your email really clear and easy to read
People skim-read, so make sure that they can grasp the key points of the email even if they only read the titles and subtitles.
And make your paragraphs short. Yes, they can be as short as this one.
All of this is basic copywriting advice but this job brought home just what a difference it can make. I had far less chasing to do if people read my emails the first time and did as I asked.
5. Put the important stuff right at the top
What do you really, really want to get across in your email? Put that in the first paragraph so they get it even if they only read the first paragraph of the email.
Often, people read the top of an email and lose interest by the time they reach the bottom. So if the key point of the email and the call to action are right at the bottom, many of the people who open your email won’t read that far. Ouch.
Not convinced? Take a look at the reports in your email marketing platform and see how many clicks you have on the links at the bottom of your emails.
After a few months as a tutor, I worked out that the key points of the email needed to go in the introductory paragraph, then the finer points went lower down the email. Then at least I’d got the key points across even if the student only read the first paragraph.
6. See writing in a new way
It’s easy to see writing as being another task that needs to be ticked off your to do list. You’ve been writing since school, so you just…well…write what needs writing.
Teaching the English course reminded me of the importance of the basics, such as taking a few minutes to think about the purpose and audience of the writing before I even began. What is the style and tone of the text? What are the key points I need to get across and in roughly how many words?
It also reminded me that I take my ability to read and write for granted. A little reminder to be grateful is always good.
7. Stay fresh
I didn’t plan to teach English and maths online, but it gave me a new perspective. I got to meet and support many people I would never have met otherwise, many of whom had been born outside the UK and moved here as adults. One of the high points was delivering speaking and listening exams where students had to deliver presentations on a subject of their choice. I learned so much, right from where to grab a bargain in Bangkok to skiing in the south of Poland and even laser hair removal.
If you ever feel uninspired about what to email your subscribers, maybe you need to try something new or speak to someone entirely different from your usual crowd.
So much of the advice on email marketing is data or tech driven, but none of that will have any impact unless you remember you’re writing to human beings. I hope that here I’ve given you some ideas of how to email like a human being while making the best use of your technology.
If you need some help with your email marketing strategy, especially the emails for your online course or training programme, please get in touch. I can do everything from helping you plan out your strategy to setting up and managing your emails for you.