How to use free email courses as effective lead magnets

Over the past six months, I’ve grown my newsletter subscribers 1200%, and an astounding 86% of that growth has come from just one simple lead magnet – an email course.

I’ll show you why email courses work & how you can run an effective email course yourself.

What is an email course?

First, an email course is not just email automation.

Lots of creators use automated drip sequences. A common example is to drip-share their best essays to new subscribers. While this can be a great tactic, it’s not an email course.

An email course is an automated email sequence that promises to teach one thing, & then does that over the course of several emails.

The idea is that by setting up a system to attract & provide value to people in a convenient & familiar medium, all while you sleep, you’ll have a steady faucet of new subscribers for your main newsletter, or even customers for a more detailed paid course.

I’ve seen some email courses as short as 3-5 days long, & others that send 1 email a week, for 14+ weeks – at which point, they’re almost indistinguishable from a newsletter. I personally prefer email courses that are daily (so they feel more like a course) & 7-10 days long – not too long to be overwhelming, but more than just a couple emails on a topic.

What if I don’t have anything to sell?

That’s perfectly fine & even ideal.

My email courses function purely as funnels for new subscribers.

I don’t have anything I could sell, and aside from Timeless, a Twitter automation tool, I don’t plan to sell any products in the near-term.

In fact, I’d argue that email courses are ideal funnels for newsletters, rather than paid products. Here’s why:

If you know who David Perell is, you likely recognize the value of online education, but for the vast majority of your prospects, Internet info products can seem like a scam. And given all the “free course” YouTube ads I get hit with, this is a reasonable thought to have. Unless you’re offering premium content & until online courses are more common, the better long-term strategy is simple to not do any selling in an email course. By providing value for free in a non-spammy way, you’ll build an audience more valuable than any revenue from a premium course.

In addition, just as Austin Rief & Morning Brew learned, the best way to grow on a specific medium is to promote on that medium. Since newsletters & email courses are both email, the former is the perfect offering for alumni of the latter.

The Tech Stack

You want to build your own course. How?

You can run an email course with almost any email provider, but note that email automation is usually a premium feature. When I started my email courses, I didn’t want to have to pay since I wasn’t selling anything & wasn’t even sure if they’d work. So, I chose SendFox, one of the few email providers whose free plan does include automation.

If you already write a newsletter though, set up your email course on the same platform you’re already using. This makes it easy to add subscribers to your newsletter after they finish the course, but if you aren’t already on a platform, I do recommend SendFox. A few reasons why:

  • It’s made by a creator, Noah Kagan, who was an early Facebook, Pinterest, & Mint employee, & the product is extremely simple & easy to use.
  • The only drawbacks to the powerful free plan are that it’s branded, & your emails will send over a couple hours, rather than immediately.
  • If you do decide to upgrade, they charge a higher cost upfront, but then a lower monthly cost, which is perfect if you’re thinking long-term.

A slight disadvantage though, is that SendFox only has a universal unsubscribe. This means that if you run both your newsletter & email course on SendFox, a subscriber can’t unsubscribe from one without unsubscribing from the other. However, this isn’t a big deal for a 7-day course, since if someone unsubscribes that early, they’re probably not a good fit for your newsletter either.

Why will someone sign up for your email course?

Just like any landing page or form, an email course needs its own sign-up form to convert viewers into subscribers.

And unless you’re Seth Godin, no one will sign up for an email course – or newsletter – that promises “my thoughts on marketing”.

You’ve got to promise tangible value. Talk about the results they can expect after taking your course & how it will transform them. Make it about them, not you.

For example: “In 7 days, learn how to find, attract, & convert customers for your SaaS business”

For more inspiration, here are the titles of my own courses:

Maximizing LinkedIn to Work for YOU


From Rejection to Killer Resume

Btw if you want to sign up for either one, here’s my LinkedIn course, & here’s my resume course.

I won’t go into too much detail, but here are a few tips for optimizing your email course sign-up form (and any landing page):

  • Use language that makes them curious. For examples, I coin terms inside my course to help explain key concepts & reference those terms on the sign-up page.
  • Use a benefits-focused CTA like “Learn about marketing”, or “Level up my landing page”
  • Reduce friction by not asking for a name or company, just an email
  • Be human, not robotic

(sample pic of the sign up page for one of my email courses)

What should your course include?

Writing the content is the hardest part of an email course, but it’s helpful to remember, this work is highly leveraged. Each email you write will get sent to hundreds & thousands of students without you lifting a finger. This will probably be the highest leverage activity you do all week.

Exactly how you write your course will vary significantly depending on your topic, but here’s a broad outline of the process:

  1. Break down your topic into 5-7 nuggets. Each email should focus on one & only one topic.
  2. Write each email, in order, so you preserve the journey your subscribers will go on. Shorter is better, but it’s ok to go longer if you need to. Plan to spend at least an hour crafting each one. Your time is well invested here.
  3. Make sure all your subject lines start similarly so people recognize your emails in their inbox. For example, I write mine as “LinkedIn Course – Day 4 – DMs: the dark web of LinkedIn”.
  4. Craft an intro email or “Day 1” email that serves to introduce the course but also provide value. Even though it’s just the intro email, if they haven’t already gotten something out of it, they’ll unsubscribe.
  5. In the first email (as well as later emails), assign homework that gets someone to respond. By transforming a passive reader into an active student, you’ll build a stronger relationship. For example, in my LinkedIn course, I ask them to respond with their number of profile views, & then I personally reply with a few personalized tips & a profile views goal to get to.
  6. As briefly mentioned above, coining new terms to explain key concepts is a great tactic. One, it’s memorable & will make concepts stick. Two, these new terms are great to implement into subject lines, as they tend to spark curiosity by being unknown & unfamiliar to readers.
  7. Wait a week.
  8. Go back & edit all your emails again.
  9. Unsubscribe rates often start to increase on days 3-5 (my highest unsubscribe rate of .33% are on days 3 & 4) as subscriber fatigue kicks in, so pay extra attention to cutting fluff out of these emails & making them extremely valuable.
  10. Set your “Day 1” email to send immediately after they sign up. Since you’re still fresh in their head, they’re more likely to open the initial email, & if it’s good, momentum will carry them through to opening all subsequent emails.
  11. Set a 24 hour delay between each of the rest of the emails. This is better than sending them at 8am everyday, since it’ll automatically send them at the same time each day that they signed up, which is presumably when they’re normally online.
  12. If you’re selling a paid course, you’ll need a CTA in the final email, as well as several teasers throughout the meat of the course. If you’re not selling anything, & instead transitioning them into your regular newsletter, let them know so they’re not surprised & unsubscribe.
  13. Bonus: craft a surprise bonus email to send AFTER your “conclusion” email. If it adds more value, it won’t be spammy at all, & is a great way to under-promise & overdeliver.

Great, now how do I get people to sign up for my email course?

It depends on your course’s topic, but here are a few options:

  • Turn each of your course’s emails into a short post for LinkedIn, Indiehackers, or a relevant sub-reddit or Facebook group. It’s quite natural in each of these mediums to provide value upfront via text, & end with a hyperlinked “Subscribe for the full 7-day email course on xxx.”
  • Put it in your LinkedIn or Twitter bio. Tweet nuggets from the course to raise awareness or even directly drive traffic through the link in your bio.
  • Mention your email course in your welcome email to new newsletter subscribers. This won’t get you NEW newsletter subscribers, but if your course is actually valuable, it’s a no-brainer to provide value to people already trusting you with their inbox. Besides, they’ll be more likely to refer you to friends after taking your course (a hunch).
  • I haven’t tested running paid ads for my email courses, but I know other people who have. If you’re offering a paid product, or are hyper-focused on growth, I’d definitely at least experiment with it (& let me know how it goes for you!). Email courses provide more upfront value than most ads, so I’d be interested to see how the conversion rate ends up.
  • Finally, just consistently plug it in front of audiences it’s relevant to. Anytime I post best practices for LinkedIn on LinkedIn, I un-aggressively plug my LinkedIn course in the comments below. And anytime I post resume tips on LinkedIn, I plug my resume course. You’ll be subscribed by how many sign-ups you can get with just this minimal amount of promotion.

(example of plugging email course below post on LinkedIn)

Finally, once your course is running & a few dozen people have taken it, click & open rates are great indicators for where you can make improvements. Is there a particular email that fewer people are opening? Use a better subject line. Is there an email with a higher unsubscribe rate? See if you can remove any fluff.

Building an email course requires a bit of upfront work, but it’s worth it. You’re creating a powerful machine that builds real relationships with subscribers, all while you sleep.

These tips aren’t revolutionary, but I hope they’re helpful. If you have any other email course tips, please let me know on Twitter @lukecannon727. And if you have a neat course idea you’re building, I’d love to hear it!

If you want more creative marketing tips, you’ll enjoy my weekly newsletter – Looseleaf Cannon – where I share new business ideas & how I’d market & launch them.