Jadah Sellner and Jen Hansard, two moms who co-founded a business called Simple Green Smoothies, added 28,000 people to their email list in 2013. These days, they have an active, engaged list of more than 385,000 people.
My first reaction when I heard those numbers was, “WOW.”
Want to know what propelled their accelerated list growth?
Four times a year, Jadah and Jen host 30-Day Green Smoothie Challenges. People who are interested sign up for the challenge and pledge to drink one green smoothie every day for 30 days. During the challenge, Jadah and Jen send weekly emails that include inspiration, shopping lists, recipes, and smoothie tips.
Challenges are a popular way to attract email subscribers and get people to spread the word about your business. They’re also a lot of fun for your community members.
Let’s take a look at how challenges work and how to design a challenge that will help you reach your business goals.
What is a challenge, and how will it help your business?
When you host a challenge for your audience, you select and promote an action you’d like your community members to take. It’s usually a short-term commitment.
To join your challenge and play along, your community members register for it either by signing up for your email list or joining a group on a social media site. Then you give the participants support, encouragement, and tips during the challenge itself.
Copyblogger hosted a content challenge in January 2016 that helped people build their cornerstone content.
Challenges are often free, but you can potentially charge for them as part of a larger program or online course.
Throughout the challenge, participants focus on one goal — whether that goal is eating healthier food, daily meditation, or writing a novel.
Challenges draw attention to your business. People get excited about challenges and share them on social media, so their friends and family can see what they’re up to (and play along). Dedicated community members will come back to participate in every challenge.
Let’s take a look at three successful free challenges.
Example #1: National Novel Writing Month
One of the very first virtual challenges that came on my radar was National Novel Writing Month. The annual NaNoWriMo challenge encourages participants to write an entire novel (50,000 words) during the month of November.
Writers sign up to receive inspiring and instructional emails during the challenge and get access to the community forums, where they can buddy up to get additional writing support.
The program started in 1999 and today NaNoWriMo is an official 501(c)(3) organization. More than 400,000 people participated in the fiction-writing challenge in 2015.
Example #2: The EFT Tapping challenge
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is a form of acupressure — similar to acupuncture — during which you tap on energy meridians with your fingertips to treat emotional or physical issues.
Claire P. Hayes is an EFT practitioner and author, and she regularly hosts seven-day tapping challenges where people can join live daily calls with Claire and other participants.
Claire uses regular challenges to build her email list, explain what she does in an interactive way, and create trust with her audience members.
Example #3: List-building challenge
For my business (BethHayden.com), I’ve invited my community members to play along with me as I attempt to grow my list to 16,000 subscribers by the end of 2016.
Email subscribers who sign up for the challenge get special updates from me about my progress, including tips on what list-building tactics are working and which ones are flopping.
So far, more than 500 people have signed up, so I know it’s a hot topic for my community members. You can sign up here.
How to design and host your own challenge
You don’t need to already have a huge email list to run a challenge, but you do need to have some type of community already established.
If your list is small and you’re not connected with any influencers who can help you promote your challenge, it might not produce the results you want.
So, first decide whether or not you have a large enough audience for your challenge to be effective. If you do and want to host a challenge, follow the five steps below.
1. Identify your business goals
Before you begin brainstorming challenge ideas, think about what you’re trying to accomplish — and how a challenge might help you achieve your goals.
Are you trying to build your email list? Get media attention? Pre-sell a course you’re building?
Write down your primary goal, plus any secondary goals you might have.
2. Brainstorm challenge ideas and select the best fit for your business goals
Take 15 minutes and write down as many challenge possibilities as you can. Then take a five-minute break and walk around the room or get a cup of coffee. To generate even more ideas, try another 15-minute brainstorming session.
Assess each of your ideas based on whether it will help you meet your business goal, how difficult it will be to implement, and whether it’s likely to be something that catches on with your audience.
Remember to think in terms of benefits to your audience, not features of the challenge.
3. Design your challenge
To create your challenge, outline:
- Complete instructions for your audience, including when it will start and end
- How you’ll entice people to join
- How you’ll promote it to your email list, existing social media audiences, and influencers in your network
4. Host the challenge
Once you’ve set your details and announced the challenge start date, focus your content marketing efforts on promoting it.
Publish content related to the topic of your challenge, host webinars, and talk it up on social media. Encourage your participants to share their challenge results and get other people involved.
5. Evaluate the effectiveness of the challenge
After you wrap up your challenge, write down what went right, what went wrong, and how you can improve your plan next time.
Did you meet your business goals?
If you’d like to do another challenge (or run the same one again), set your next start date.
Engage and entertain your audience while growing your business
Challenges can be a fun and exciting way to generate buzz for your business, engage existing subscribers, and build your email list.
As we’ve seen from the examples above, challenges can work for all different types of businesses — so pick a smart challenge idea and run with it!
Have you hosted (or participated in) a challenge you particularly enjoyed? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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