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How to Build a Six-Figure Email Business Without Paid Ads

Written by:

Howard Tillerman is the Chief Marketing Officer for Step By Step Business and an award-winning marketing professional.

How to Build a Six-Figure Email Business Without Paid Ads

We had a candid heart-to-heart with Liz Wilcox, the Fresh Princess of Email Marketing herself! She shares her journey from humble beginnings as an RV-travelling mom blogger to running multiple-six-figure email marketing membership on her website. She hopes to grow it into a million-dollar venture by the end of 2024 — without running paid ads and only three years into the business.

Liz also gives priceless advice for new entrepreneurs and highlights the simplicity of her business model. If you want to learn a thing or two (or three) from Liz, dive in!

Liz Wilcox

Liz Wilcox: The Origins

SBS – What was the main motivation behind starting your business in email marketing?

Liz – My last job was at a gas station in my early twenties. I got fired. Then, I realized I wasn’t making that much money anyway, and I could probably figure it out on my own, so I got on Craigslist and just started doing little gigs cleaning people’s houses, delivering food, etc.

Fast forward a few years, I had a child, and I wanted to start traveling in an RV. At the time, I was married. My husband was in the military. The military tells you where to go, and you have to move, but I didn’t really like that. I wanted my own freedom, so I decided to start my own business. I figured out how to make money on the internet before with Craigslist, so I just started getting on Google and heard about this thing called blogging. I listened to podcasts and webinars that said you could make a million dollars in 18 months and all these ridiculous things. I realized I could start a blog. If these other people can do it, certainly, I’m just as smart.

I started a blog, and the main thing I learned in those first few months was the importance of an email list. If you have an email list of subscribers and nurture them, you can have a business. While doing all the typical blog things, I focused on growing my email list. I got really good at email marketing, and that’s when I realized I had a business. 

Challenges in the Beginning

SBS – What challenges did you face in the first stages?

Liz – I was just out of my mind. I just wanted this, but I had almost nothing to start. I didn’t even have internet. I lived in my RV at the time. If you’ve ever been to the woods, you can imagine what kind of internet I had. I didn’t even have internet on my phone then because I was a new mom and wanted to be present, so I took it off my phone. Because of that, I had to go to libraries and laundry mats and steal the internet, and that’s where I would write my blog post, take an online class, or listen to a podcast. It was in the margins of life.

I also had a toddler. I don’t know if you’ve ever met a toddler, but they don’t care about business. That was a huge obstacle for me, learning to manage my time better between being a present mother (which was very important to me, especially in those first three years) and doing all the things you’re supposed to be doing in order to get your business off the ground, gain visibility, grow the email list, etc.

On top of that, we’re not married anymore, but my husband did not understand what I was doing, so I didn’t have much support or money to spend. He was the main breadwinner. He didn’t really support my vision, so he wasn’t interested in me spending any money on it. I had to find very cheap or free options for things I wanted to get done. For example, I couldn’t just hire an expert for XYZ. I couldn’t take a course to learn. I had to be in the Facebook groups, ask friends, and make friends in the first place.

Finding First Customers & Growing the Business

SBS – How did you find your first customers, and how did it slowly start to grow?

Liz – I started the blog as a business. Many begin as bloggers who love a particular topic and want to talk about it all day. That was not me. My motivation was, “I love money, and I don’t have any, so let me figure out how to do it.”

From the beginning, I started an email list because every guru out there, especially in the online business game, said you need an email list. Everything you’re doing is to get people on an email list so you can find and create a customer. I started building and growing that email list the day I launched my website. I’d be in Facebook groups and do networking events within my industry. I tried to network with anyone that would talk to me. Over the first seven months of my business, I had grown my email list to about 300 people. 

I was a little all over the place on my blog. I talked about RV travel, being a mom, and running (I’m a big runner). I emailed people and said, “I’m a little over the place. I wonder why you follow me. Why do you keep reading these emails?” They wrote back, saying I was really funny and good at storytelling. This is when I realized this was a product. I could create a book of funny stories that have to do with RV travel, so I did it. I told my subscribers I was going to write some funny stories, and it was going to be $10.

That’s how I got my first customer. It was through my email list, asking them what they wanted, and then creating the product. I didn’t try to create the product first. I tried to gather potential customers, find a common thread, and create a product around it. Imagine that — I followed the blueprint, and it worked. I’m not a rule follower, but I’m telling you — these guidelines or principles just work over and over. 

Customer Acquisition Strategy Evolution

SBS – How did your strategy change from that first product? Are you now using some other methods to attract new people?

Liz – For that first book, I used affiliates. I didn’t even write all the chapters in the book. It was just short stories. I wrote one, and I got other bloggers to submit their stories. In exchange, they got 50% of the sale. I mentioned that because I pretty much do the exact same thing today, eight years later — I find the majority of my customers through affiliate marketing. I have over 1,000 active affiliates. My main offer now is a membership where I send weekly newsletter templates. I got really good at sending newsletters in the RV industry, and I sold that business. Now, I sell my method of how I did that to people through a membership.

The second thing is doing interviews like this, just being visible. Going back to those simple principles — visibility and sales — they kind of go hand in hand. The more visible you are, the more views on your website, the more views on your sales page, the more subscribers, the more of everything. To me, it’s really about growing my affiliates and visibility.

Social Media in Email Marketing

SBS – Do you think that social media has some influence on your work and your niche?

Liz – On my work, no. I am present on social media, but I don’t take it into account as a way to grow. I use social media as a way to keep in contact with the people already in my audience. I don’t try to get on Instagram to get new eyeballs. I get on Instagram to keep my current eyeballs, if that makes sense. My main thing is email marketing, so I stay in contact with my list at least once a week there, and then if I’m on social media, it’s like a little bonus. It’s dessert for them. 

Unique Services 

SBS – How do you think your services differ from your competitors who are doing a similar thing?

Liz – There are a few different things.

One, if you look at Liz Wilcox, you can just say, “She’s really different.” So, right off the bat, I have a very strong brand that really stands out. 

Number two, I teach a different methodology. Many of my competitors teach something called storytelling, and that’s very “hot” right now in marketing. Everyone is telling you to tell stories— and I say the opposite. Nobody cares about your story. They just care about how you can help them. Sometimes, we need to get to the point faster.

The last thing is I talk to people in my niche that most people don’t want to talk to. In my industry, the email marketing industry, a lot of advice is not to talk to people just starting because they can’t afford your services. Many say you should talk to the people already making some money and then you can do something with them. That’s BS. I don’t like that at all. I like talking to the little guy. I like talking to the person like myself who didn’t have any money, no support, and no idea what was what. I talk to beginners. I welcome them, and that’s who I sell to. Most of my customers are zero to three years into the business, and I sell them something that most competitors don’t sell — newsletter templates.

Most of my competitors sell sales page templates, sales emails, and launch packages, and I’m not interested in that. I’m just interested in helping someone get started so I can talk to people and offer products at an affordable price. My main offer is only $9 a month.

Advice for Aspiring Email Marketers

SBS – What advice would you give someone who may be in the same position you were in and wants to start a similar business with little money? What things should they be aware of?

Liz – I would say to consume less and produce more. You can listen to a million podcasts, scrape up, and save for a course, but you just have to start producing. You just have to start taking action, and with that action is going to come a little more confidence until something’s working.

I mentioned earlier that I didn’t even have the internet when I started, but I was starting an internet business. I just decided I was going to follow one person. So, whether you’re reading this blog and that’s your one source of content for entrepreneurship, great. Don’t sign up for any more newsletters. Don’t follow 100 different TikToks or Instagram accounts. Pick one person or association, learn from there, and take action. Consume less and produce more. That’s my number one tip.

Membership Growth and Venture into Licensing

SBS – What are some of your future goals? How do you see yourself in a couple of years from now?

Liz – This is a really exciting question. I’ve got two big goals in the next year or so.

Number one is to grow my $9-a-month membership to 10,000 users by the end of 2024. Right now, we’re at about 4,200, and this is our third birthday month (we’re about to turn three years old on February 16). Since my goal is to have 10,000 users by the end of the year, that would be a $1.2 million in membership that I’ve created without advertising. I’ve never run ads, and I want to prove that you can have a million-dollar business without running ads, so I’m dedicated to finding those missing 6,000 people.

Number two, I’m going to get into licensing. I have a lot of templates. Everybody and their mother needs email marketing. Large companies need email marketing, and I’m looking to get some of my templates into larger programs and services, like MailChimp or ActiveCampaign, where you get these templates for free when you sign up for that service. So, I’m looking to license them in the future as well.

If you wish to connect with Liz, you can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or join her email list on her incredible and colorful website. You’ll love her cool 80s vibe, too!


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How to Build a Six-Figure Email Business Without Paid Ads