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Let's talk about welcome emails
And why Mills Baker thinks they're worth 3 exclamation marks...
You might not have noticed but the ‘welcome email’ automation robots were MIA here on Substack last week. That little email that automatically sends when somebody new signs up? For some people, that wasn’t reaching their inbox.
Which, given that we’d just launched our Substack template freebie, delivered via that very same initial email, was… unfortunate.
(Still didn’t get yours? Drop us a comment below and we’ll forward it on!)
Anyway! It’s all a welcome reminder of just how important these little emails are.
Mills Baker (Head of Design here at Substack) agrees, responding to the pesky robot* mischief:
Did you catch that? Not 1, but 3 exclamation marks. Which means he really, really, really means it.
And we most definitely agree.
So today, we thought we’d share some ideas and pointers to give your Welcome Email that irresistible sparkle. To make it work as hard as you do at your writing. To create a reader/writer love affair from the very first inbox ‘ding’.
🌱 Tip: Looking to update your welcome email? It’s hiding in your settings menu, under ‘Basics’, where you can click ‘edit’ to open the editor page.
Why is a welcome email worth 3 exclamation marks?
Start how you mean to go on…
This automated email is our first chance to welcome our reader into our world. To deepen the connection. It’s our earliest opportunity to delight and inspire. The welcome email sets the stage for all of our future inbox interactions with our subscribers. It tells them what to expect.
Secondly, future emails have more chance of being opened.
We know from the swathes of research published on email marketing over the last couple of decades that getting readers to build a habit of opening your emails is an art all by itself. There’s a certain knack to being one of the fortunate few landing in your reader’s inbox that they immediately open and read.
One basic recommendation for helping a readership build a habit of opening our emails is consistency - not leaving it too long between updates, lest they forget who we are. If we currently publish to Substack say, twice a month, a brand new subscriber today could feasibly be two solid weeks away from getting their first real-time email from you to unwrap. In the meantime we might be pinging out Chat posts or ad-hoc event reminders - valuable content, for sure - but perhaps not the ideal introduction for somebody brand new to our work. A really good welcome email bridges this gap perfectly. It’s the glowing first impression we can never quite make in real life. And, it gives us a really good shot at being memorable…
New email, who dis?
If, like us, you ever go down a Substack rabbit hole and end up subscribing to a whole bunch of writers, you’ll know that it’s easy to forget who they are. Why did we sign up for this again? What was the hook? We want to be smack-them-in-the-face memorable. But like, in a friendly, good-vibes way.
Taking the time to craft a thoughtful welcome email that genuinely connects with our readers means there’s less chance of being forgotten later on. (More ideas on how to do this in the next section, below.) And if we do slip their mind, our email should help jog their memory along.
🌱 Tip: Some simple visuals will also help email readers connect your inbox words with the webpage they signed up from. Just a consistent colour, image or font is enough to cue people in. Our free Substack Branding Bundle for Canva can help with this!
All of this starts with the welcome email and yet for most of us, it’s simply an automated blurb. So let’s **fix that, shall we?
⭐️ Side note: The welcome email is currently the only email we can send automatically to every new subscriber, so it’s worth making it count. Our money is on Substack changing this soon enough; multi-email nurture sequences for new subscribers just make so much sense, especially when it comes to converting free subs to paid. Hint-hint, nudge-nudge.
Ok, cool. But where do we start?
We could spend forever getting super nerdy here, but all we really need are some of the following tweaks:
#1: A snappy title
Here on Substack it’s called the title, but in the email world it’s a subject line, and in an inbox, we’re just one of many. We want to stand out and get our reader’s attention, which makes them want to open the email. Something that captures their curiosity. If this feels like a big ask, don’t worry, it kind of is. Subject lines are one of the last things to be written by copywriters for this reason. So just know an amazing subject line falls from the sky for almost no-one and it can take a little crafting. Pay attention to the emails that make us want to open them. What caught our interest?
Some thoughts to get started:
‘Welcome to [publication title]’ here is fine, but erryone is going to be using that line so it doesn’t help us pass the ‘stand-out’ test.
Something like ‘You’re here! Let’s get to it…’ might jump out more. Better yet, a subject line that addresses our reader (not by name, we don’t have that feature here) but calls them out: ‘You magical creature you. Let’s talk about XYZ’. (Or if your publication is for mothers, creatives, photographers, or slow-seekers etc, you can call them out, make them feel seen: e.g: ‘Hey slow-seeker, come in, put your feet up.’)
(A lovely warm welcome Sara received from )
#2: Set the tone
The goal is to welcome our new subscribers with excitement and delight. Often we feel the need to start by expressing our overwhelming gratitude, which is very polite, but not always what our reader is most excited to know. It helps to remember this: They’re not doing you a favour by following your Substack. Sure, adding subscribers to our publications does help expand our work and any businesses we might be on here to grow, but that’s not why they’re signing up. They’ve seen something they want in their life, the value we offer and they’re excited to dive in with us. So we get to be excited with them! This is the start of a beautiful new friendship!
Of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t express gratitude (especially if they are joining a paid subscription). It’s just a subtle shift in energy. Less ‘Thank you SO much for giving me a chance to share my work with you…’ and more quietly confident: ‘You are SO in the right place. Look at all the good stuff you can dive into…’ It lands differently. It keeps the enthusiasm high.
#3: Step this way…
We've made it to their inbox. They’ve opened our welcome email, they’re reading it…
Let’s give them an open invitation to walk further into our world and get lost with us down the rabbit hole…
Traditionally this is known as a call-to-action, but ew. This isn’t a corporate marketing campaign; it’s our writing, our work. So instead, we like to think of it as being more like a tray of delicious cakes. We don’t want to leave our best baked goods sitting on the counter; we want to pick up that tray and offer it out to our guests.
Setting out our cake tray gives our new reader ways to dig deeper.
If your publication is brand new and you don’t have much of an online presence yet, your call-to-
action-cake could simply be asking them to reply to you and tell you something about themselves. If you do have work you can share, lead them to a popular post or work you’re proud of. (And then still ask them to say hi or reach out. This one is always a good idea. We want to get that personal engagement early on if we can.) Just don’t leave them hanging by the door like a wallflower.
🌱 TIP: Once you turn on payments, you’ll also see the option to edit the welcome emails received by Paid and Founding members, too. What do these members need to know? Perhaps a signpost to some paid-only content, upcoming event details or how to access their perks? Remember, members who upgrade from a Free subscription will have already received your main (free) welcome email in the past.
Leading with generosity
Especially when we’re just starting out, we really can’t give away too much value in the beginning. Creating from generosity, not fear or scarcity is always the way to go in our book. Of course, we don’t need a gift or a lead magnet to lure in subscribers - ultimately, we want our content to do that. In fact, too much emphasis on freebies can end up drawing the wrong crowd entirely - but we do want to give the right people who have already found us a gentle, loving nudge to open that very first email: A question that we promise to answer with that first automated send. A discussion point that we invite our new subscribers to hit reply on and sent back to us. Something ready-made we can delight them with: A playlist, a printable, a recipe card, a private link to a podcast episode, a free training, a joke. We love to approach this by asking, ‘what would feel like a gift to my audience right now?’ and then create a welcome email from that generous place.
Ready to revamp your welcome email?
Co-working session: Tuesday August 8th 10am BST // 7pm AEST (convert here)
We know that half the struggle of putting all of this into action is finding the time, headspace and motivation to get to work. So, we’re here to do it with you - literally, in a live group drop-in session with the two of us on Zoom, next Tuesday 8th August, 10am BST // 7pm AEST
Come along to ask questions, get unstuck or just work with the group in the warm glow of focused and companionable silence.
This co-working session is totally free and totally optional, (and you’re also welcome to just come along and lurk with your camera and microphone off).
See you next Tuesday?
But wait! That’s not all!
Anything static needs periodic review. Subscribe for free to The Substack Soirée and we’ll also remind you when it’s time for us to check back in on your welcome email and maybe give it an occasional spruce. Yep, we’re running quarterly co-writing sessions to keep everything fresh: about pages, welcome screens - anything that is evergreen and worth an occasional refresh.
No cost, no catch, no need to put it on your to-do list. Just look out for your quarterly invitation and we’ll handle the rest!
HURRAY! SIGN ME ON UP
PS: Permission to not? Granted.
Finally, a reminder: it’s ok to not set this - or anything - up straight away. Or ever! A welcome email will not make or break your publication on Substack. Your content does that. One of our founding principles here at the Substack Soiree is that good writing deserves to be read, so in posts like this we’re just sharing some tips and insights that we know can support you with that.
We all have lives, and dogs and children and businesses and washing that just keeps needing to be done. (Who is wearing all of these clothes?) So, in all seasons of our work there are priorities. And while our welcome email is important, it’s not urgent. Personally, neither of us had our welcome emails set up for our individual publications for weeks, even months after joining Substack.
And if/when ‘write welcome email’ does get its moment to shine on your to-do list? Well, this resource will be here for you.
Any of our evergreen pieces (welcome emails, about pages, yes, even our imagery etc) are like living work. There will always be evolutions, so the first one doesn’t have to be blow-us-away-amazing. It’s just a start. A shitty first draft, as Martha Beck would say. An iteration. We can elevate it and add to it any time we want in the future (including at our quarterly refresh-together calls, if you’d like some support! ❤️)
If the provided automated blurb email suits you just fine and you feel zero inclination to change it, we love that for you. We completely support you, your work and release you from any invisible shackles thrown over you by reading this post. Most of all, we you offer you this eloquent, timeless adage: You do you boo.
Nevertheless, for those interested, please see the following disclaimers:
* ‘Twas not actually robots. They switched off the welcome emails for…reasons. But it’s back to normal now.
** (*if you don’t want to or see the need to “fix” it, no problem! Please see our final point above.)
PS: Thank you to, and the team for wrangling robots etc to get this sorted out! We love the support and transparency here!