- In 2015, Helene Sula was employed as a marketing communications specialist for a mid-sized firm making $50,000 a year. Now she makes $250,000 as a freelance digital brand strategist and blogger.
- After breaking her leg on a rock climbing trip and having to go on medical leave, Sula launched a blog as a hobby — not knowing that several years later it would be her main source of income.
- Today, the bulk of her revenue comes from her online course, "Instagram for Success," and her blog membership fees.
- The secret to her success was building up a strong email list of over 100,000 subscribers. She shares with Business Insider the email template that helped her grow her fanbase — and turn a huge profit.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Back in 2015, Helene Sula was employed as a marketing communications specialist for a mid-sized firm, pulling in around $50,000 a year with a $5,000 annual bonus. Fast forward four years, and today she makes $250,000 a year working as a freelance digital brand strategist and blogger.
How did she do it?
Sula — who has a degree in corporate communications and had been working for six years in social media, marketing, and display advertising before she started her business Helene In Between — explains that her change in direction and fortune was precipitated by a freak accident.
In 2012, she went on a weekend rock climbing trip and was dropped during an ascent, falling 20 feet and breaking her ankle and leg. She also ended up getting pneumonia in the hospital and was having blackout spells.
Though employed at the time in one of her first corporate roles at the world headquarters of Dave & Busters, where she specialized in training and quality assurance, she found herself flat on her back and unable to go into work for the next six months, per her doctor's recommendations — for the first three months she couldn't work at all, and for the next three months she had to work remotely. With the added flexibility in her work life combined with her limited physical mobility, Sula did what any entrepreneur at heart would do: She started a website.
Read more: A 34-year-old freelancer who quit the job she hated and now makes $200K a year debunks 3 of the biggest myths she's encountered about becoming your own boss
"This began as mostly a lifestyle blog and outlet for me to share my feelings," Sula said. "But it quickly morphed into something that I wanted to make money from."
Sula caveats that in the aftermath of her injuries, she didn't at first know which direction to go with her life.
"I tried and failed with a t-shirt business," she said. "I quit my job and tried for a few months to sell the shirts through social media and my blog, but it just didn't make the salary I felt comfortable with to not also work full time."
So while Sula kept the blog going, she went back to traditional employment, but with a different endgame in mind: She decided to map out a business plan for her own venture.
"I created a plan that included multiple income streams and would help supplement my income in case one area didn't pan out," she said.
This is her current income breakdown by percentages based on that plan:
- Online courses and classes (65%): Sula's first online course, "Instagram For Success," and membership site, Blog Boss Babe, make up the biggest chunk of her annual freelance income. More than 3,200 students have enrolled in "Instagram For Success."
- Affiliate marketing (15%): Sula supplements her freelance income with affiliate marketing, promoting these sites on her website as well as in her monthly newsletter: Siteground, ConvertKit, Trello, Booking.com, and Trusted Housesitters.
- Display ads (12%): With 300,000 monthly hits on her website, display ads generate another reliable source of Sula's income.
- Other (8%): eBook sales, earnings from custom Adobe Lightroom presets, one-on-one coaching sessions, and sponsored posts make up the remaining percentage of her income.
In the startup phase, a key part of the aspiring freelancer's business plan was creating an email list. After about three months of focusing on this, she had compiled a list of 2,000 people, which inspired her to launch "Instagram For Success." She developed the course based on a combination of key points that she'd learned in her previous social media and marketing jobs and the questions she heard most from her followers and readers of her blog.
"Before advertising the Instagram course, I polled my audience to see their interest in such a course — what price points they felt comfortable with, and whether or not they had purchased one before," Sula said.
The course took her about a month to put together.
"This was my first run at doing this and I didn't have much money to spend, plus I was nervous — so I took a few online classes to guide me in making my own course," she said. Sula spent less than $100 on the initial development phase, primarily using her knowledge and background to create the course and hoping that her followers would be motivated by her background and experience to make a purchase.
She began by offering the course for $87, and it currently sells for $227. "The course is now much more robust and comes with an online portal, private community, and is updated quarterly," Sula added. "Once a user pays, they have access forever."
As for her membership site, Blog Boss Babe, Sula took about six months to design the website from scratch, planning out a year's worth of content plus expert interviews. On the site, she provides resources such as videos and courses, step-by-step tips, and community connections to help other entrepreneurs maximize their own blogging businesses. Sula charges $37 a month per user for membership on the site.
The marketing tactics Sula leans on to grow her email subscribers — and her revenue
When it came to putting her marketing expertise to work on building her business, Sula pulled out all the stops. To seed interest, she launched a free online Instagram workshop that greased the wheels to sell her course. Then, as a kicker, she told potential customers that if they signed up for the free course, they could get a free bonus eBook by sharing the course on social media.
"By doing this, I tripled my email list in the span of two weeks," Sula said.
Since the refer-a-friend tactic was so successful, she decided to add an incentive for buying the course as well, offering an additional one-on-one chat with her to those who purchased the course with a friend. All of these extra efforts paid off. The course generated over $15,000 in the span of a month, and since then, Sula has made increasingly more each year.
While she promotes the course once a year and updates it quarterly, she also completely relaunches the course annually with new videos, interviews, and yearly planners. For her most recent launch of "Instagram For Success" in February 2019, Sula made over $150,000 from the course alone. This fall, she plans on having a "secret sale" as well just for those on her email list.
Read more: A freelancer who has pulled in a 6-figure income every year since 2010 shares the exact process he used to quit his job and become successfully self-employed
And that list is no small potatoes, having swelled to over 110,000 to date — which is why Sula still uses the refer-a-friend tactic as part of her sales pitch. And she targets an email to those who don't initially use her social media freebie, nudging them to share the deal with their friends. She uses the tool GoViral to refer friends and have others share on social media.
The email template Sula uses to attract new customers
Here's a template you can use to help market your own services, based on the message Sula still sends out to subscribers to generate a six-figure return:
You just signed up for the free [describe the type of service] all about [describe the topic]. But want a few secrets RIGHT NOW? Send this [describe the type of service] to a friend by sharing it on social media or sending them a quick email. They will thank you for it!
Friends don't let friends miss out on opportunities like this. I ONLY offer this free [describe the type of service] [add the frequency of your offer] and I promise to pack a punch with lots of helpful information you can use right away.
Don't believe me? Join the [add the number of customers who have used your service] others who have signed up for this [describe the type of service] before.
Sincerely, the best [describe the type of service] out there.
[End with a testimonial from a satisfied customer to back up your claims.]
Click here to share!
And here's the exact email that Sula sends out to her prospects:
You just signed up for the free workshop all about learning the secrets to growing your Instagram authentically. But want a few secrets RIGHT NOW? Send this course to a friend by sharing on social media or sending them a quick email. They will thank you for it!
Friends don't let friends miss out on opportunities like this. I ONLY offer this free course once a year and I promise to pack a punch with lots of helpful information you can use right away.
Don't believe me? Join the 15,000 others who have signed up for this workshop before.
Sincerely, the best Instagram workshop out there.
"I'm getting more followers and engagement, but even better than that these people care about what I have to share."
Click here to share!
Read more: One email I wrote brought in 100% of my clients after I started my business — here's the template
With the salary that she makes from her blog and course, Sula was able to fulfill her dream of moving to Germany with her husband and their two dogs in 2016, securing a freelance visa based on the work she does and the income from her website.
Now, Sula (understandably) believes that the sky's the limit. "My blog and course made over $250,000 last year, and I hope to hit half a million by 2020," she said.
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