Advanced List Buiding: The Cake Construction And How To Use It

In September I wrote an introductory post to List Building, list building 101 if you will. This week I’m doing a follow-up on that post, in the form of Advanced List Building, essentially list building 202 – an advanced post about how to use Email List Building for marketing. I’ll be explaining my own signature method of using blogging to build your list. It’s called The Cake Construction, and was mentioned briefly in How to Grow Your Tribe and Market Like A Ninja. I’m going to go into it in more detail for you know, as this is a core concept I use in my content marketing strategy, and in planning blog schedules, both for myself and my clients. 

Imagine for a moment a giant cake. Like a wedding cake, with four big fat tiers of cakey goodness. The bottom tier is very large, the next one up is smaller, but still quite large, the third tier is a medium size, and the top most tier is small. Each tier of The Cake represents a form of content in your business. When combined to form The Cake Construction, this content is a marketing machine that will grow your list at a phenomenal rate. 

If for some reason you don’t like cake, you can think of it as a pyramid, but I like cake, so…

Advanced List Buiding: The Cake Construction And How To Use It

Tier Four: Free Content

The lowest tier in your cake is tier four, and it consists entirely of FREE CONTENT. Free content can be just about anything but the main forms you should definitely be using are:

  • Blog posts
  • Guest Posts (blog posts on other people’s sites)
  • Interviews
  • Newsletters
  • Social Media Posts – tweets, status updates, memes, videos etc.
  • SWAG – bookmarks, pens, postcards and other very cheap marketing materials featuring your business name, logo, website, and/or quotes and images by you.
  • Tasters & Testers – a mini version of one of your products or services
  • Tutorials (short and sweet)
  • Vlogs
  • Webinars

The reason this tier is so big is because you need to produce free content in swathes. It must be high quality, despite the fact its free. It must showcase your Zone of Genius and just how awesome you are. It must tease all your knowledge, but not give away the farm – keep the best bits back. It needs to be SERIOUSLY TASTY free content – entertaining, helping, informing, or a combination of the three. It has to make your ideal clients fill their bellies and purr like a kitten. Then it has to make them rub up against your legs begging for more. You need a LOT of free content so you can keep that kitty happy and get it used to eating your delicious cake.

Tier Three: Freebies & Upgrades

The content in this tier is still 100% free, but they do come with a very small, non monetary ‘price tag’, in the form of an email address. This is where your list building starts, but don’t be fooled – you can’t have this tier without the tier below it. Tier four is your base, it’s the foundation of the construction, without it everything else falls down. Your free content is what shores up everything else and makes the whole magical machine possible…

But how does it work? 

Freebies

Freebies should only be available for download in exchange for an email address and the agreement that it will be added to your list. It should be abundantly clear that people can unsubscribe from this list at will, and yes, you WILL get people signing up, nabbing your free stuff, and immediately unsubscribing, just like you will have an unsubscribe rate of about 1% every time you send out a newsletter.

Them’s the breaks, kid, suck it up.

Some great ideas for freebies:

  • Cheat sheets
  • Worksheets
  • Guides
  • Short eBooks
  • Desktop backgrounds
  • Planners

Content Upgrades

Any piece of 100% free content from tier four has the potential to be UPGRADED. For example, you have a totally free post (just like this one) that provides oddles of quality content, and then you add something to it. Something extra. You UPGRADE the blog post, or the vlog, or the guest post, or the interview, or the webinar, so that there is an extra awesome thing, directly related to the piece of content, that will either help readers action what they have been reading, further their understanding of the subject, or simply provide them with something pleasant but useful. You will very soon be able to download a nice poster version of The Cake Construction, as a content upgrade for this post (it was supposed to be available today, but the site is glitching so you’ll have to bear with me!).

You will notice I refer to this tier as the ‘low price’ tier. This is not because people are paying you MONEY. They’re not. But they are still GIVING YOU SOMETHING. They’re giving you an email address, which is worth a lot more than you think. Because once you have their email, once they’re on your newsletter list, once they’re on this level, getting them to graduate to the next level up, and the one after, gets a LOT easier!

Content upgrades are the very essence of The Cake Construction. You start by getting people hooked on something totally free of charge, you then offer them something BETTER, that requires a tiny bit more of a commitment – an email address. This steps them up a notch on your client ladder. They’re on your list. The next step after this is to get them to pay you cashy money for something…

Tier Two: Medium Priced Products & Services

Your next tier up is tier two, and it’s a reasonably large wedge of cake, but nowhere near as big as tiers three and four. Tier two products and services don’t have to be related to what was on offer in your third and fourth tier, but it really helps if they are. It’s a lot easier to convince the cat it’s worth paying for a larger slice of a cake they already love, than it is to convince them to buy a cake they haven’t tasted yet. Linking your content across tiers relies on the established relationship and experience the cat has had with you, the other requires them to take a leap of faith and trust everything you do is as good as the cake they’ve already eaten. Once your cat has been chowing down on your free content for a while, they will be addicted to the yummy cakey goodness of you and gladly hand over their email for more cake, taking them up to your third tier. Once they’re there, you can offer that happy little cat something EVEN BETTER in exchange for a SMALL amount of money. The cake on this tier is far superior to the free content, freebies, and upgrades. Your kitty cat will happily hand over a bit of cash to try it.

Here are some good second tier cakes:

  • Full Length Book (eBook and/or print), rather than a free guide or short eBook (< £15)
  • Full Versions of Your Tasters & Testers (<£15)
  • Masterclasses – in-depth tutorials that last c. 1 hour (Membership Club Content @ c. £10/Month)
  • Low Price Products/Services (<£30)
  • Short Courses (£20-£30)

You’ll notice I’ve assigned a numerical value to each suggestion. These are rough guides, and the exact price you charge will depend on your overall prices, but you should think of these items as The Cheap Seats. They’re introductory level products and services and you should have a range of them – different items, for different prices, from about £5 up to around £30. Books are great at this level, especially if you can link them to a high-priced product or service (see below). Short courses are also brilliant, especially if they follow on from free and full tasters and testers.

The idea is really very simple: create content that can incrementally increase in value and skill level. You can do the same thing with blog posts. Just as I did a basic ‘list building 101’ blog before I wrote this one, and will go on to blog about list building in more detail in the future. You build a catalogue of posts on a single subject that get progressively more and more advanced. If they become advanced enough you can make them exclusive newsletter content, only available to people on your list. The next step after that is setting up a paid membership club with a monthly fee, which gives members access to your best blog posts and some really high quality exclusive content, like master classes and webinars.

Tier One: High Priced Products & Services

Here we are at the top of your cake, and despite the fact this is the elite tier, the crème de la crème of your cake, it functions in much the same way the previous tiers did. This level of products and services is better than the last – more valuable, more advanced, more highly priced (and prized!). You can actually have five versions of one eCourse if you’re smart about it: an elite bells and whistles edition that’s top-tier, a full but not elite edition that’s tier two, an advanced edition and a full but basic edition for tier three, and an introductory and totally free edition for tier four. For example, you will soon be seeing this develop on The Write Copy Girl, as I will soon be launching The Divine Blogging Challenge, a free course to help you plan your blog schedule using my signature method. Some time after that I’ll be launching a low price (c.£15) Tool Kit to walk you through building a 12 month blog schedule, and a an advanced version of the Tool Kit including additional guidance on how to monetise your blog. The next step after that will be a full-blown eCourse, followed (at some point) by a live version. The trick is to ensure that each version has a lot more value than the last, while simultaneously covering what was included in the less advanced versions for anyone who’s not done them.

Designing Your Cake

You will notice I’ve described each tier in terms of price but that I’ve also marked tiers one to three with ‘Master’, ‘Journeyman’, and ‘Apprentice’. This is because there are two ways to ensure your offerings are more valuable the higher up the cake they go: one is to do it by price, from free to high, the other is to do it by skill level. When you’re first learning a new trade you are an apprentice. Once you’ve been at it for a while you become a journeyman, and when you really know your stuff you take the title of master. 

Your paid-for content should be divided according to price or skillset. Many products don’t require different levels of skill to use, so you must divide them by price. Supermarkets are brilliant at this – they have a cheap Value range, the everyday brand range, and a Premium range. Tesco, for example, have Tesco Value, Tesco, and Tesco Finest. Sainsbury’s has Sainsbury’s Basics, Sainsbury’s, and Taste the Difference.

Think of your first tier as the free tasters you get at the supermarket. As you’re walking around doing your weekly shop you can sample cheeses, breads, crisps, all sorts of yummy treats. If you like them, you’ll find the product right next to the sample stand, ready to be picked up and put in your trolley. It doesn’t matter which range the sample is from – value, normal, or finest – if you like it you’re likely to buy it. If you’re using the low, medium, and high price model, determining what goes in each tier is simple, you just need to decide a price bracket for each and ensure you have SOMETHING in every tier. 

For other products and services, you need to consider things from the point of view of the client and their skill set or current level of need.

Skill

Are they totally new to the concept, craft, or subject you’re selling? If so, they’re an apprentice, and need easing in. They will have to start on tier three because they don’t yet know enough to handle the higher tiers. Once they have some experience and are more of a journeyman, they can try the next level up. Once they’ve got a lot more experience and are getting really good, they’re a master, ready for the top-level you offer. Your free content is there to get them hooked to begin with, to convince them that, yes, they really are interested in learning about this.

Need

Dividing based on level of need is similar to skill, in that a person doesn’t need the tools of a master while still an apprentice. It goes beyond this, however, as you can have clients who are at master level in terms of knowledge, but don’t currently require the top-level materials or services. A good example of this is when you’re just setting up a new StartUp. You can have extensive knowledge when it comes to business etc. but because your business is brand spanking new, you don’t yet have an email list. You still need the software though, so you choose a provider and signup for a plan. You will select the lowest tier plan on offer, because you don’t currently have a lot of subscribers on your list. As your list grows, your need grows, and you will have to upgrade to higher priced packages to accommodate your growing list and business. Here, the level you are at is determined by need, not skill. In all other respects, however, the manner in which you allocate products and services to tiers is the same as that used for skill sets, so I include them in the same model to save confusion.

If you’re dividing your products and services using the apprentice, journeyman, and master model, price isn’t the point, skill level is. You might charge more for your apprentice course, products, or services, because they need to be broad in range, time consuming, and/or high in volume to get people started. You might charge more for your master course than anything else because once people reach that level, courses that can teach them new information are scarce. Price, in this instance, is irrelevant to determining what goes in each tier. Base it on skill level and/or need, not pricing. As with the price-based model you MUST have SOMETHING in each tier, but beyond that which tier things fall into is determined entirely by the skill level, or requirement of the client.

One final thing: free content (level one) should vary so that all your clients get good value free content, regardless of their level of experience, needs, or whether they’re already paying clients or not.

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Hazel is an author, copywriter, content marketer and blogger. She specialises in helping creative entrepreneurs, coaches and small business owners harness the power of the pen (or keyboard!) to market their products and services through soulful selling. She's had several academic papers published internationally, and featured on sites such as The Huffington Post. In addition to her professional work as a writer, Hazel is also a fiction author. She has published several books and short stories, including The Uber Author Planner, Chasing Azrael, a Urban Fantasy novel, and Bleizgeist, a Dark Fantasy novella. Hazel has a regular weekly column on Sci-Fi Fantasy Network, and is currently working on her next novel, Death Becomes Me.

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Comments

  1. Bookmarking this for a proper planning session later – I have recently been looking at lots of articles on this subject and yours seems to make so much more sense to me, thank you. Maybe it’s because it uses cake as the basis and I do love cake! Lianne x

  2. Thank you so much for this post! It was something that I have in my mind for a long time 🙂 And now I’m trying to build my own “cake” and one thing I’m struggling with is a very low open rate. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Tatyana,

      The low cost items that work the best tend to be books and short courses. By short courses, I mean a course your record/write and package, that can be watched immediately and takes an hour or so to work through. You’d charge £10-£20 for it. Books can be very cheap – you could start by releasing a short eBook for 79p and then work on a full length piece you could sell for £10-£15. Those tend to be the most popular low ticket items, especially if you link them to your high ticket offerings – it gives people a way in, so they can see what you’re made of before committing to a higher priced item, or get a little piece of you for a small amount, if they can’t afford the expensive stuff.

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