How I Grew My Email List By 10% in 2 Weeks with a Free Challenge

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A couple of weeks ago, I hosted my first free 5-day challenge. 

I surpassed all my goals for the #brandvoicechallenge AND crushed every stretch goal (save one).

But before you assume I cleaned up, unlike most 5-day challenges, my goal wasn't to make mad chedda.

There was no pitch at the end. (Some people were so weirded out by that, they emailed me to ask if they missed it!)

There was no popping a bottle of Cristal in the back of a Cadillac Escalade. (My version of celebrating involves a $5 Brooklyn pepperoni pizza and yoga pants.)

There was no 350% email list boost. (Most internet-famous people wouldn't want to share a less impressive story with you, so I'm gonna get as honest as Jessica Alba's company with you here.)

I only had one thing in mind for my free challenge: my audience

Getting to know them, helping them, and letting them teach me.

Was it worthwhile? In every way.

When I randomly mentioned my process in a Facebook group convo, guest post invites rolled in and people PM'd me to understand how my challenge looked behind the scenes.

And since all the internet-famous people focus on how to use challenges as a "mini-launch" strategy, I wanted to give you a look at other ways you can use them too.

So today I’m sharing every single detail of my 5-day challenge experiment... 

The Game Plan

How many times have you seen some "industry influencer" do something and then decide to try it yourself without any real strategy? 

I took a hard pass on that. Because I know what works for them won't always work for me.

(I learned my lesson after trying to make protein muffins that should have looked like this but turned out looking like this.)

My strategy was to create a free challenge that'd:

  1. Build my list with online entrepreneurs who were into the personality and persuasion crossover copywriting I geek out over.
  2. Re-engage my main list (the client crunch pulled me away from them for months, eek).
  3. Invite more people into my newly launched free Facebook group The Copywriting Squad where I'd have a better chance of interacting with them regularly (hello, 2-sided convos).
  4. Give me an opportunity to share some of my knowledge with a bigger audience after working 8+ years 1:1 with clients.
  5. Let me test and tweak content before beefing it up to create a paid product.
  6. Get me comfier with live streaming since I've spent most of my copywriting career in doing it mode not teaching it mode.
  7. Give back to my subscribers.

The challenge included 5 days of email training with worksheets, daily missions, plus one master class delivered via Facebook Live.

My Challenge Goals

Email List Goal: 10% growth*

*The reason this number wasn't higher? I knew a lot of people on my list would participate in the challenge, but they wouldn't count as NEW subscribers. So I wanted to make sure I was only counting true growth. Because it had also been a while since I regularly engaged with my list, I knew I'd lose some subscribers during the challenge period and accounted for that. 

Email List Stretch Goal: 15% growth

FB Group Goal: 175

FB Group Stretch Goal: 200

Challenge Participants Goal: 50

Challenge Participants Stretch Goal: 100

How I Promoted the Free Challenge

I actually didn't start promoting the challenge until June 26th, which was only 2 weeks before the challenge started. 

  1. I wrote a blog post on 3 Reasons Why You Need a Brand Voice with an invitation to the challenge in place of my usual content upgrade.
  2. I sent an email to my list announcing the challenge and sent out 2 final reminder emails 48 hours before the challenge started.
  3. I did a Facebook Live in The Copywriting Squad on what a brand voice is and why you need one, promoting the challenge at the end.
  4. I mentioned the challenge multiple times on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook (including in the Facebook group). Buffer is my BFF.
  5. I emailed my biz buddies about the challenge with shareable promo graphics and swipe copy they could use to share my event with their audience. (Side note: Every single woman said yes to supporting me. If you don't ask for help, people don't know how to support you. Shout out to Emilia, Mariah & Bev, Alyssa, Emmy, Shelagh, Anna and Allison for being the best biz buddies a girl could ask for!)
  6. I changed the announcement bar on my website from promoting my opt-in quiz to the 5-day challenge, so people would see it right away and be more likely to join.
  7. I changed my Squarespace cover page to ask people to join the challenge. Usually my cover page captures emails for my brand voice quiz, but this was another opportunity to make my challenge the first thing people saw when they landed on my website.

What I Did Differently Than Most

I didn't spend a dime on Facebook ads. 

The entire promotion was more organic than a Whole Foods aisle. I have nothing against using Facebook ads for challenges, but since this was my first "experiment" and I wasn't pitching anything at the end, I didn't want to throw down any cashola.

I didn't create a separate Facebook challenge group.

Most people do this because they think it adds scarcity. But since my goal was to build my main Facebook community, I didn't want to create a temporary challenge group only to archive it right after and lose out on the new connections I made through the challenge.

I didn't pitch at the end of the challenge.

Again, this wasn't my strategy or goal for this challenge, so I focused on pouring as much value as I could into it without any "ask".

I created participation prizes to encourage engagement.

Most of the challenges I've participated in myself seem to fizzle out after a few days. To make it worthwhile for people to go through the challenge, I thought, "Why not give people more incentive to get wordy with it?"

Our challenge participants were CRUSHIN' it all week long and I think this was part of the reason why.

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I didn't do any video training except for a single Facebook Live masterclass.

I think this is worth mentioning because some people see their lack of tech savvy and limited time as an obstacle when it comes to experimenting in their business. Would intense 30-minute daily video trainings get me better results? Probably.

But the point is: If you've got limited resources, START SMALL AND SIMPLE. Don't scare your hair out. 

Because I was juggling the Facebook group and 1:1 client work while running the #brandvoicechallenge, I decided to offer one 60-minute Facebook Live master class: "7 Ways to Infuse Your Personality Into Your Copy".

This became my TOP post in the Facebook group to date (and you can still watch this training under the group videos when you join here!).

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I ran a survey at the end of the challenge to get feedback from participants.

The biggest mistake I see other people make when I'm in their challenge is not following up on the content because it's free.

I asked my challenge participants what content wasn't clear or detailed enough, so I knew exactly what I could expand on and where I needed to tweak the challenge content in order to build out a paid product that people would be excited to buy.

What I'd Do Differently Next Time

Pitch at the end of it with a relevant product.

ZERO regrets here about not pitching the first time. But next time, I'd turn the challenge into a "mini-launch" for a special limited time offer to keep the momentum going (and make a profit!).

Do FB live trainings every day.

There was a lost opportunity to unwrap some of the trainings. By doing a more in-depth Facebook Live training every day, I'd be able to support my challenge participants more. And because not everyone who signs up for your challenge will join your Facebook group, you're more likely to grow your community if you've got extra Facebook Live trainings that are only available in your group. 

Start promoting the challenge earlier.

I think my sign-ups would have been better if I a) reached out to friends to mention the challenge earlier and b) started promoting the challenge earlier on social media. Next time, I'd promote at least 3 weeks out.

Clear my calendar of client work the week before the challenge and during the challenge.

I was still working with private clients leading up to and during the challenge. BIG MISTAKE. Thanks to dry shampoo and caffeine, I survived, even if it wasn't pretty. Weekends were worked, showers were missed, wine was had.

Dedicate a small ad spend to promoting the challenge.

Next time, I'd test out Facebook ads and compare my results, because I know this could make a big difference in sign-ups.

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My results

So...how did I do?

Not too shabby!

One thing's for sure: The #brandvoicechallenge went better than that time I coaxed my hubby into a NASA flight simulator with me...

Total Email List Growth: 10%

Final Facebook Group Number: 228 (52% growth)

Total Challenge Participants: 158 (I more than tripled my goal!)

Conversion Rate on the Challenge Landing Page: 54.6%

Beyond the measurable results, my biggest takeaways were:

  1. Learning more about my audience and what they struggle with when it comes to brand voice, so now I have notebooks brimming with paid product ideas even though I didn't pitch this time 'round!
  2. Understanding where the #brandvoicechallenge content can be tweaked, so I can make it even better next time and create a paid product that fills in the knowledge gaps.
  3. Lovin' up my audience with free value, so they know how committed I am to serving them.

Want to watch "7 Ways to Infuse Your Personality Into Your Copy", my most popular live training yet?  

Click here to join us in The Copywriting Squad and sling words with friends!

Have you ever run a free Facebook challenge? Or do you think you'll host one after hearing my experience?

Let me know in the comments! I'd love to hear what your Facebook challenge would be or how yours went.