One of the biggest draw cards for online business is the ability to leverage resources and scale the size of business as a whole. For instance, as an individual guitar teacher, I would struggle to maintain a studio of 50 students a week, but online I can easily manage an entire school of over 600. There are several elements that help the leveraging process and one of them is automation.

Automation allows you to delegate certain tasks to a piece of software that will take action when certain processes are “triggered”. It can be a little bit of a mind bender to get your head around sometimes, but it is worth your time to understand and master.

Out Of The Office And Into Automation

The most common form of automation that you will come across has to do with email list management. More than likely you have been on the receiving end of email automation. The most basic form is the “out of office reply” that we sometimes receive when we reach out to someone. They set up an automation that told the email server to reply immediately with the out of office message when they were contacted within a certain time frame.

The out of office reply shows us the bare bones of what is going on here. We have the trigger, which is the incoming email, we have the amount of time the software waits to issue the reply (in this case it is immediately), and there is also an on/off switch that can be set to a timer (i.e. the amount of time you are out of the office) or toggled manually.

It is a cool and useful feature to be sure, but if you have never come across full blown email automation sequences… prepare to be shocked.

The Autoresponder Series

The next step up is not one reply email but several. This is referred to in marketing as an autoresponder. It is usually triggered by someone opting-in (signing up) to an email list or newsletter. This opt in can initiate a welcome email followed by an unlimited amount of automated emails at varying intervals.

This could serve under several guises: a weekly “tips & tricks” email, a course delivered by email, a sporadic series intended to maintain contact with your audience, a welcome series, which introduces your audience to your teaching over a period of time.

The time intervals can vary dramatically with a dusting of emails once every month or a deluge of emails multiple times a day. The application of an autoresponder series can be very broad, and it leverages the emails you have created. So, instead of crafting one email that is sent and consumed only once, your email will be received continuously over time.

Customizing The Autoresponder

The most immediate issue with the autoresponder is that it could become annoying and unwanted by the recipient. This then creates a negative connection to you rather than positive and you may deter a potential student.

Luckily there is a whole other level the we can get to with email automation that allows us to customize the recipient’s experience.

This is also a level that starts to freak people out a little.

It’s scary because we start to realize just how responsive the advertising world has become to individual needs and wants. We start to see how there is a very fine line between a customized message and overt manipulation. From here on, it is up to you to be ethical in your deployment of marketing techniques. All I will say is this… you reap what you sow.


1.Tracking People

Have you ever sent an email and you were desperate to know if the recipient had opened it yet? Well with email marketing you can do just that. Not only will you know if they opened the email, you will know:

  • If they clicked on the link
  • How many times they opened the email
  • When they opened the email
  • If they forwarded the email
  • Where they were when they opened the email (approximately)
  • If they didn’t open the email
  • What kind of device they used to read the email (phone/tablet/desktop)
  • And quite a bit more…

The way this is done is with tracking pixels and cookies. This is a minuscule graphic in your email that reports back data to the email management system.

Freaked out or not, this is where we are with digital marketing. This kind of tracking happens on almost all websites and the most intricate and deep tracking happens by Facebook and Google who use that data for advertising purposes.

2. Customizations Based on Tracking

With multiple data points coming out of a single email send, we open up the opportunity to customize our communications with each recipient.

For example:

  • If the recipient didn’t open the email after ten days, we could re-send the email.
  • If there was a click on a link inside the email that referred to a sales page, we could send them a follow up email about the product on that sales page.
  • If the recipient has not opened any email for the past six months, we can choose to remove them from the email list (large email lists get expensive to maintain so this becomes a useful option over time)
  • If the recipient clicks on a particular link in an email (let’s say it’s about a beginner’s course), then we can “trigger” a whole new autoresponder that will send them emails about beginner materials rather than advanced…

These are just a few ideas, and to be honest, they are not that sophisticated.

3. Segmenting and Tagging

Another very powerful form of automation doesn’t send any emails but rather sorts people on your email list into groups. This is powerful because an email in going to be more engaging if the content relates specifically to the person reading it.

Let’s say someone clicks on a link in an email that pertains to a lesson on technique. You could then “tag” that person in your email management software with “interested in technique”. It is kind of like updating the old roller decks of the 20th century. You are starting to build a unique profile for each customer although the process is automated and requires no work after the automation is set up. With this tag in place, you might create a segment of your email list to isolate just the people interested in technique and send them an email about technique.

Furthermore, you could segment based on geographical location, skill level, particular interests if they have visited sales pages on your site… the list is up to your imagination and insights.

4. If Not Then This

Lastly we come across a sophisticated tree of automated interactions that are based off of what the recipient does. If the recipient is an avid reader of your emails they can get more, and they can get emails on topics that interest them. If the recipient doesn’t open many emails, perhaps you don’t want to overload them or “spam” them, so you can only contact them once in a blue moon with the most important and useful of messages.

This can happen by setting up automation instructions that have two or more options based on an action.

For instance if email #1 is not opened, it will be re-sent one week later with a different subject line. If it was opened, email #2 will be sent three days after email #1 was opened.

This is a basic example, but this binary approach can be applied to a very sophisticated structure that funnels a lead down to a very specific and personalized set of communications.

Freaked out yet?

If this is new information to you, you might be slightly concerned. And rightfully so. I think this kind of technology and information could be easily abused.

What we want to do with this power is to provide the right education to the right person so that we can help them as effectively as possible. If you believe that you can make a positive impact on someone’s life, that you can help them, then these tools will allow you to help them directly and quickly.

In summary, I would recommend studying and understanding these systems. If you don’t, you will not survive the competitive online education marketplace, and you will not be reaching potential students.

I would also recommend taking time to develop an ethical approach to marketing using these amazing tools. Remember that we are always dealing with people, not numbers, and we should treat them with the same respect as if they were sitting across from us at a table.