Militza Maury and Ciaran Lyons, the husband-and-wife team behind eco-lifestyle blog Little Green Dot, are always thinking a few steps ahead. But nothing could have prepared them for the runaway success of their email course How to Become a Morning Person, launched earlier this year.
Their original goal was to connect with existing readers and reach 1,000 new subscribers. But thanks to some well-timed publicity, the first session of the course was delivered to more than 26,000 readers. And the second session went to 10,000 more.
“I was completely freaked out,” says Militza, the blog’s founder, editor, and primary writer. “I had no idea what emailing that many people would be like.”
Militza and Ciaran launched Little Green Dot in 2011. “We’ve had a MailChimp newsletter since the beginning—before we had anything to say, even,” says Ciaran, who handles the blog’s technical stuff.
The business started small, but smart—bootstrapped but immediately profitable, with revenue coming from their Marketplace partnerships and Militza’s in-person workshops. But last year, the Singapore-based couple decided 2015 would be the year to take Little Green Dot’s email marketing to the next level. They wanted to engage more with readers, and they’d been itching to find the perfect use for MailChimp’s automation features.
That’s when How to Become a Morning Person was born.
The idea was simple: Readers would sign up for the course, and receive 1 email per day for 28 days, each including advice from a variety of experts on nighttime and morning routines, healthy eating, exercise, and more.
“I find that a lot of people are a bit reserved when it comes to leaving comments on the website or on Facebook, but I get a lot of incredible emails from readers,” Militza says. “So, having a one-to-one conversation in their inbox felt right.”
They hit their goal of 1,000 new subscribers within the first week. Then LifeHacker posted about the course, and things went nuts.
“I still remember stumbling out of bed with my phone in my hand and saying to Militza, ‘Six thousand people signed up last night,’” Ciaran says. “And it just kept going.”
Automation makes it happen
Miliza and Ciaran cite David Kadavy and his Summer of Design email course as inspiration for designing How to Become a Morning Person, but they built pretty much everything—from the content to the automation recipes—by themselves.
“How to Become a Morning Person is a mix of out-of-the-box MailChimp, some custom work with the MailChimp API, and a smidgen of ‘human-in-robot-costume’ where it looks like it’s automatic but in reality we’re too nervous to fully outsource the process, and instead do manual sends,” Ciaran says.
He and Militza put together the course’s individual emails using MailChimp’s drag-and-drop editor. “Over 50% of our students receive the lessons on their phones,” he says. “So the responsive templates are massively useful.”
The course’s signup, pre-launch, and wait-list flows are all pre-built recipes.
“When the course closes, we just need to pause one automation, start the other, and a whole different flow takes over,” Ciaran says. “We have a snooze function for people who want to opt out of receiving the lessons for a while—that took some custom work with the API. I’m pretty excited about the new List Group workflows, which will simplify things a lot.”
That’s a driving value of everything Little Green Dot does.
“It has to be simple—I’m not here to add clutter to anyone’s life,” Militza says. “I like that I’m able to completely customize my newsletter to communicate one message, really well.”
Connected readers, empowered users
Despite the craziness of the past few months, Militza and Ciaran didn’t forget about the subscribers to Little Green Dot’s main email list. For those campaigns, they rely on MailChimp’s RSS-to-Email features, plus some custom hacks, to send a digest of content from the blog. And the popularity of How to Become a Morning Person has only helped the main list to grow: Since January, its subscriber count has doubled.
The second How to Become a Morning Person session wrapped up in April, and another is planned to launch on June 1. Empowered by the success of the first course, Militza already has a second in the works: Simplify Skin will roll out this summer.
“I’ve been running in-person workshops in Singapore for a couple of years, but this email course has really opened my eyes to the potential!” Militza says. “It’s a bit unreal to be able to connect and to share with so many people all over the world.”
The course’s success prompted Little Green Dot to make some new hires: a community manager and a customer support agent. Militza, too, has become empowered to step into a new role.
“Up until recently, I had left the newsletter sending to Ciaran,” she says. “But after seeing the creativity and design elements that MailChimp brings out, I’ve been having good fun designing new newsletters and finding ways to share more with readers.”
“My lesson for new users is to start now, wherever you are,” she continues. “Three years ago—even one year ago—I wasn’t ready for such a large list or to design my own newsletter. But by simply starting, and allowing yourself to build up—it gets the momentum going that we need to create the things we love.”