How to Build a Mailing List and Send Newsletters as a Board Game Dev

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I’m a big fan of mailing lists. Sending email newsletters to well-targeted mailing lists is one of the best ways you can spread the word of your business and keep customers engaged. I spoke about the value of mailing lists earlier in How to Generate Traffic for Your Board Game Kickstarter or Website, but today I want to dive into the details you need to know to get started. As such, this guide will be split into five parts:

  1. Mailing List Basics
  2. Setting up a Mailing List on MailChimp
  3. Creating a Landing Page that Works
  4. Creating a Template that Works
  5. Building Your Mailing List

 


 

Mailing List Basics

 

Before you create a mailing list, you need to understand how they fit into your marketing strategy. I talk about this in How to Choose & Use a Board Game Marketing Strategy that Works, but I’ll recap the basics here. After people are paying attention and interested in your game or brand, you’ll need someplace for them to go before you ask them to take action. The best places I know to send interested potential customers is to an online community or a mailing list. In fact, I personally use both – providing access to an online community in exchange for an email address.

For you, emails are valuable to have because you can push marketing messages to customers. You can persuade people to read your posts, back your Kickstarter, or buy your game. For customers, this is an easy and passive way to stay in touch. Even better, if you’re putting thought and love into your emails, you can make their lives better by reading them. This is what I try to do – spend about 20-30 minutes every week crafting emails that people want to open.

Another thing you need to do before you create a mailing list is get a P.O. box. Yes, that sounds weird, but you need to hear me out on this. In order to be compliant with anti-spam laws, you need to have your business address at the bottom of every email you send out. This is a legal requirement. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in putting my home address – which is ██████████ – on the internet for strangers to find. That’s why you get a P.O. box. For folks based in the USA, that’s as simple as going to the post office and saying “I would like a P.O. box” and then paying them $60-or-so every six months.

 

 

Who would have guessed you needed a physical mailbox to send emails?

 

Once you set up your mailing list, you’ll become aware of a number of cryptic sounding metrics that will tell you about the health of your mailing list. Here are some you need to know:

  • Open Rate – the percentage of your mailing list that opens your email. (25% or higher is considered good.)
  • Click Rate – the percentage of your mailing list that clicks on at least one link in your email. (2% or higher is considered good.)
  • Hard Bounce – happens when you send to an invalid email address.
  • Soft Bounce – happens when your email is sent to a valid email address, but they don’t receive the email.
  • Subscribes – the number of people who join your mailing list.
  • Unsubscribes – the number of people who leave your mailing list. (Ideally, this is 1% or lower.)

By far, the most important metric is click rate. It indicates the number of people who are using your emails to get where you want them to go. If your click rate is low, that means you need to work on your call to action. We’ll talk more about calls to action in the template section below.

As with anything, I cannot give you the perfect answers on how to run the right email campaign for your business. All I can do is give you guidelines and examples. You need to go into this with the mindset of a scientist. Always be experimenting. Always be testing. Always be ready to change when the data says that’s the right thing to do.

 

Setting up a Mailing List on MailChimp

 

There are lots of sites that will help you set up a mailing list, but the one I use is MailChimp and I really like it. This is what I’ll be teaching you to use. Click that link and then click Sign Up Free. Provide an email, username, and password.

 

 

Once you’re logged in, create a list. At the time I’m writing this post, that means clicking Lists then clicking Create List button. You’ll be asked to enter the following:

  • List Name – I use Brandon the Game Dev Newsletter. Short and descriptive.
  • Default From Email Address – I set up one on my web server called no.reply@brandonthegamedev.com. This isn’t hard to do, but it’s out of the scope of this article.
  • Default From Name – I use Brandon Rollins. More personal that way.
  • Remind people how they signed up for your list – I use:
    • Thanks for signing up for my newsletter! You’ll very soon be receiving updates from Brandon the Game Dev.
  • Contact Information – I use my P.O. Box.
  • Enable double opt-in – I leave this unchecked. Otherwise, people have to respond to a confirmation email when they sign up, which lowers sign-up rates.
  • Notifications – I leave all of them unchecked. They get old fast.

Click Save. Then click Settings and click List fields and *|MERGE|* tags. Merge tags are really cool, so you’ll want to pay attention to this. They pull information from your sign-up form and they associate it with each email. For example, when I sign up for a MailChimp campaign, I might see Email Address, First Name, and Last Name. Naturally, I’d enter brandon@pangeagamescompany.com, Brandon, and Rollins respectively. That info is all stored in a database.

Each bit of information is associated with a merge tag.

  • *|EMAIL|* is brandon@pangeagamescompany.com
  • *|FNAME|* is Brandon
  • *|LNAME|* is Rollins

Someone can then write a newsletter that starts out as “Hey *|FNAME|*!” and it will show up as “Hey Brandon!” For my friend Carla, it’d be “Hey Carla!” and for my friend Sean, it’d be “Hey Sean!” This lets you personalize your emails with anything your users provide. You can add more merge tags if you want to customize your emails even more. There is a ton of potential here.

We’re going to stick to the basics today, though, so let’s talk about…

 

Creating a Landing Page that Works

 

MailChimp lets you create your own landing pages. You can create forms hosted by MailChimp and you can also get HTML code which you can put on your own website. I’ve used both, but I’ll stick to MailChimp’s basic forms since teaching you how to use custom ones requires you to know HTML. You can learn HTML on W3Schools for free – I used it in my teens and it’s still alive and well.

Click Signup forms. Click Select next to General forms. You can customize a whole bunch of forms, but we’re just going to talk about the Signup form itself since that’s the one you want to get absolutely right. This form will double as your landing page unless you decide to make a custom one and use Mailchimp’s HTML code on your own website.

 

 

 

What MailChimp gives you by default isn’t bad, but it’s not pretty either. You can spruce up this form very nicely with a little effort. First things first, though, think about the data you want to gather on your landing page. You need an email address for sure. I recommend gathering at least first name for your merge tags as well. Everything else is extra, so you have to strike this subtle balance. If you ask for too much information, people will drop off your page and not sign up. If you don’t ask for any extra information, it can be hard to segment your mailing list into groups of people with different interests. Regardless of what you decide to do, click on any fields you need to delete, rename, or relabel – you’ll have options on the right. Click on Add a field and then a button below to add a field asking for more information.

Once you’ve added and removed fields to your taste, click Design it. You can change the colors, fonts, and spacing of every part of your landing page – the page, the body, and the form itself. Click around in there and experiment to your taste. When you’re done, copy the Signup form URL that’s near the top in the screenshot above. That’s your landing page’s address. Share that address anywhere you need to such as your social media or your website.

 

Here is what my landing page looks like in MailChimp’s editor.

 

 

Creating a Template that Works

 

 

Click Templates then Create a template. I personally recommend that you pick one of Mailchimp’s featured templates and modify it to your tastes. On the right side, click on the Design button – you’ll see items including Page, Header, Body, Footer, Mobile Styles, and Monkey Rewards. You’ll be given lots of options on how to customize the page, such as colors, font sizes, line spacing, and more. I personally recommend staying pretty close to the original design, but swap out the colors for sure. Once you’re happy with the basic colors, fonts, and spacing of your template, click on the Content button to see all the things you can put into your mailer. What you see in the screenshot below can be dragged and dropped right onto your template.

 

 

Drag all the elements you like into your template. If you don’t want something in your template, hover over the item and then click on the trash can symbol on the top right. Once you get all your content items in the right locations, click on each one on the left. Then edit the details on the right. Details can be editing an image, updating text, changing where a button goes, and so on. Make sure to click Save & Close any time you make a change on the right side! When think you’ve got a good template, Preview and Test in the top right corner and then Enter preview mode.

 

This is an example of my newsletter, with the calls to action highlighted in yellow.

 

Now the whole time you’re doing this, you need to be looking at newsletters that you like and imitating their style. Pay particularly close attention to their “calls to action” – any articles they want you to read or buttons they want you to click. When you’re sending out your own mailer, you want to have one very clear call to action somewhere on the mailer. If you don’t, it’s pointless to send out in the first place. I personally put three calls to action in each blog email – one text link to an article and two image/text links to an article at the bottom – I’ve highlighted mine in red.

When you’re done with your template, click Save and Exit and give it a name you’ll remember. When you’re sending out email campaigns, you’ll be using your template. You can then swap out text and images and keep a consistent look and feel between all your emails. Go ahead and sign up for your email list and send out a sample campaign to yourself while you’re the only one on it. Make sure everything looks okay and go back and edit your template if it doesn’t.

 

Building Your Mailing List

 

Building your mailing list is a great first step, but it can be utterly defeating to put all this work into making a pretty mailer and pretty landing page only to send it to ten people. That’s why you need to think about ways to generate leads for your mailing list. There are a handful of ways to do this.

Create a lead magnet. That’s basically a fancy marketing term for a good reason for a person to give you their email. You could offer a print-and-play version of your game in exchange for an email. You could create something useful such as a how-to guide. You could offer people entry into a contest for a free game. I personally use my Discord server of over 1,000 game developers as a lead magnet because I put the invite link on the confirmation page.

No matter how you plan on reaching out to people, creating a lead magnet is essential. Why would anybody give you their personal information without a compelling reason? A lot of people don’t ask this question and therefore get hung up on the fact that people don’t want to give up their email addresses. You have to give them a good reason before you do anything else.

Link your landing page to your website and social media. Most of the time, my pinned tweets and Facebook posts go to my mailing lists. The same applies to the home pages of most of my websites, which usually contain a catchy line such as “Learn to make board games from scratch. Join my community of over 1,000 game developers, artists, and passionate creators.” Then right below that, I put a big, bright button that goes to my landing page.

Direct messages. Everything I’ve said above is great for passive outreach, but let’s assume you want to play hardball. If you have a social media following on Twitter or Instagram, you can send out personalized direct messages to each of your followers. Say something like “Hi (Name), I saw that you’re interested in (thing that’s relevant to your business). I’m offering (lead magnet). Is this something you’d be interested in?” If they say yes, send them the link and tell them what they need to do next, such as sign up and gain access to the lead magnet on the confirmation page.

Help content creators. I’ve talked about Why and How to Get Featured on Board Game Blogs and Podcasts. One of the best reasons to do that is because you can ask them to link to your landing page. You can often see this in the first or last paragraph of guest posts on your favorite blogs or in the show notes of podcasts you like. This is really solid way of growing your audience for free.

Do giveaway contests. Feeling a little more spendy? The absolute best way I’ve found of generating email lists is by offering something for free on Facebook in exchange for an email sign up. Just create a post like this, take out $20 in targeted ads, and watch the emails roll in.

 

 

Advertise. Last but not least, one of the best ways to passively bring in email leads with nearly no effort is to take out a Facebook ad. Target your audience very specifically by age, location, and especially interest. Keep an eye on it and make sure you’re not paying more than a dollar per email sign-up. You can read more about Facebook advertising in my previous post, How to Build up a Facebook Page as a Board Game Dev.

 


 

Mailing lists are pretty amazing for businesses. I hope this guide gives you what you need to get started. Come up with something to say, make a pretty landing page, make a professional email template, and bring in sign-ups using the methods I’ve described above. Monitor your metrics and experiment until you find something that works.

As always, feel free to ask questions below 🙂

How to Build up a Facebook Page as a Board Game Dev

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Of all the social media sites in all the land, Facebook is the king. Last quarter, it had an average of 2.2 billion monthly active users. That is such a phenomenally high number that there is no comparison I can make that will drive it home. Facebook has connected the world in an unprecedented way, opening up a wealth of previously unimaginable opportunities to business owners.

It’s funny that I’ve just effusively praised Facebook. I’ve only started really paying attention to it in the last year, particularly when I started working on Highways & Byways. In this past year, I’ve been using Facebook’s advertising system to increase the visibility of blog posts and to drive people to the Highways & Byways Kickstarter mailer. A few hundred dollars in advertising money have gone a really long way toward increasing the visibility of my projects. We’ll get to that in more detail below 🙂

 

 

Much like my old staple How to Get Big on Twitter as a Board Game Dev, I’ll be covering everything you need to know to get started on Facebook as a board game developer. There is quite a bit that goes into it, so I’ve broken this guide into five parts:

  1. What is Facebook Good For?
  2. Getting Started
  3. Getting Noticed
  4. Refining Your Approach
  5. Using Facebook for More than Just Posting

 

What is Facebook Good For?

 

Reasons to Use Facebook

Facebook is the biggest social media site in the world. In fact, at the moment I’m writing this article, it’s the third most popular website in the world, bested only by Google and YouTube. You can find the majority of people in North America on Facebook, making it the world’s de facto online water cooler. Basically, it’s the world’s biggest hangout spot.

Because Facebook has such a variety of people, this has opened up some incredible opportunities, which Facebook leadership has wisely taken advantage of. People on Facebook share lots of information about themselves – their age, location, interests, and so on. This is incredibly valuable information for marketers. That makes Facebook the best way I know of to target very, very, very specific niche audiences.

That leads neatly into Facebook’s main attraction for marketers: it has the best advertising system ever made. I know that’s a huge statement, but hear me out. Facebook reaches more people than any other entity in this world aside from Google. (Remember, YouTube – the #2 ranking site – is a part of Google.) People willingly share extraordinary and unprecedented amounts of information about themselves on Facebook voluntarily. For better or worse, it is a common behavior to compile a complete dossier of yourself online which is then accessible to marketers, which includes you as a burgeoning game developer.

 

The Big Reason not to Use Facebook

Facebook has one drawback and it’s a real doozy. The business model that Facebook uses is effective to a fault. They have practically eliminated the organic reach of Facebook pages. Facebook is basically pay-to-play if you’re not grandfathered in. It’s been that way for years, including after I started myself.

Facebook is worth paying for. From what I’ve seen, it gets a strong return on investment that Twitter and Snapchat can’t touch. It’s faster and more efficient than other methods I use such as Twitter direct message campaigns. The only problem is that making board games is already expensive, and the idea of paying a super-rich company to show your game to people is pretty odious.

New game devs: don’t write off Facebook because it’s expensive. Having a basic Facebook presence is really valuable on its own. On top of that, you can run ad campaigns for just a few dollars at a time. It doesn’t have to be inaccessible.

 

Insider look at the Facebook headquarters.

 

Getting Started

 

Setting Up Your Account & Making it Look Good

First things first, you will need a personal Facebook page in order to launch one for your board game or business persona. If you’ve got that, go to your Facebook home page, click the arrow in the top right, and click Create a Page. Click the Page type that best describes the Facebook page you’re creating, choose a category, and enter a page name.

 

 

Upload a profile photo, which will display as a circular 170×170 photo. Then upload a cover photo that is 851×315. When you’re done with that, it will take you to your fresh Facebook page. Click Settings. Go through every single item and update all the settings as you like, with special attention paid to: Edit Page > Tabs and Payment. The former will control the layout of your Facebook page. The latter will determine how you pay for advertisements.

Once you’re done with all that, go back to your Facebook page and follow all the “Page Tips” in the top center of your Facebook feed. Facebook is really good about walking you through all the steps you need to take to get set up.

 

Making Early Content

Once your page layout and settings are set up the way you like them, I recommend backdating two weeks of posts. Be sure to consider your Content Mix when you are backdating posts and scheduling future ones. As a review, here is a quote about Content Mix from How to Get Big on Twitter as a Board Game Dev. Swap out “tweets” for “posts” and the same principle still applies.

 

The first is what I call Content Mix. This is comprised of three different forms of communication: sharing, talking, and self-promotion. Sharing involves retweeting others’ tweets when they speak to you, or alternatively, finding cool stuff online that’s worth bringing up in conversation. Talking is simply hanging out and passing time. Self-promotion is self-explanatory. However, relentless self-promotion will make you look dumb. Failure to self-promote at all will give you very few benefits because no one will know what you do. You have strike a balance.

I suggest taking a 5/3/2 approach. For every 10 tweets, 5 should be sharing others’ work, 3 should be conversational, and 2 should be self-promoting. Naturally, you’ll want to tweak this to what your audience responds to. As for what specifically to say and share, watch what other successful tweeters do. Copy the things they do that you like, but make sure you do so in your own words. As time passes, you will find your own voice.

Getting Noticed

 

Getting Page Likes Using Existing Resources

Getting noticed on Facebook works differently than getting noticed Twitter or Instagram. On both of those social media sites, you have a good system for organic reach. That means you can reach out to people and make connections without spending money on ads. Facebook, on the other hand, has almost entirely eliminated organic reach.

That said, getting your first few page likes doesn’t have to be too tricky. The best thing you can do to get your first few page likes is to reach out to current Facebook friends. If you have a lot of Facebook friends on your personal Facebook account and you send out invites to most or all of them, you’ll pick up a handful of page likes that way. You can also use Twitter or Instagram to ask people to like your page, if you’ve got those set up already. Last but not least, if you’ve spent time building up a mailing list, you can always ask people to like your Facebook page in your next mailer.

 

Smart Advertising

 

The best way to build up your Facebook page quickly, though, is through smart use of their advertising system. You can boost posts and perform some advertising functions from your Facebook page itself, but the best way to access their ad system is to click the top right arrow on your personal Facebook home page. Then click Manage Ads. Here is what my Ads Manger looks like.

 

When you get to a screen like what you see above, click the Campaigns tab and then the Create button. You’ll be given a bunch of options for “What’s your marketing objective?” – the main ones being Traffic and Engagement. Traffic is ideal for getting people to click on links, such as blog posts or landing pages. Engagement is ideal for getting page likes or post comments/likes.

Of the two options, Traffic is better since you can actually use that to drive people to your landing pages. However, if you’re trying to build your Facebook page up quickly, you might like using Engagement to build up a few dozen or a few hundred page likes. This can get expensive quickly, and to be honest, I’m not convinced there is an ROI there.

Using a Traffic campaign as an example, here is what it’s like to set up an ad…

Choose where you want to drive your Traffic: I would recommend using your website.

Create an audience: This is the most important part. You can choose your audience by location, age, and other demographics, interests, and behaviors. You want to choose this very carefully and picked the narrowest audience you can so your ads are very well targeted.

For this website, to promote posts, I use locations of the US, UK, and Australia – all wealthy countries which speak English. I use ages 25-45 and market to men and women. Most importantly, though I make sure people like at least ONE of the following: BoardGameGeek, Geek & Sundry, Tabletop games, Tabletop Gaming News, or board games ALONG WITH Game Development or Game Design. That narrows down my audience to about 120,000 people and makes sure every dollar I spend is well-spent.

 

 

Choose your placements: You can choose where your ads will show up. That means different places on Facebook, such as the Feed, Instant Articles, In-Stream Videos, Right Column, Suggested Videos, and Marketplace. On Instagram, that means Feed and Stories. There are also options for Audience Network and Messenger, too, but I’ve never used those. When in doubt: use Facebook Feeds only – I’ve had good results with that.

Choose your budget and schedule: Start with one day and $5-10 until you know what you’re doing. You can always extend the end date and add to the budget later.

 

Pitfalls

By far the biggest thing you can do wrong on Facebook is to throw money away on bad advertising campaigns. You need to continuously monitor every Facebook campaign you run. If your ads don’t perform well, cut off the budget and try something else. Don’t pay more than $0.50 per page click or page like. If you have to pay more than that (at least within the board game industry), either your ad is unappealing or you haven’t defined your audience well enough.

Facebook will also constantly push you to boost posts for visibility. Don’t boost posts unless you have a very good reason. Good reasons to boost posts include links to your website, asking people to sign up for your mailing list, or giveaway contests. Otherwise, steer clear – it’s not the best use of your money.

 

You Must Experiment

Facebook rewards experimentation. I recommend that beginners play with the advertising system with $5 or $10 at a time until they get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. The ideal advertisement tomorrow will not be the same as the ideal advertisement today. Facebook isn’t interested in you using their ad system to its fullest potential. To them, a dollar is a dollar. The responsibility to learn falls squarely on your shoulders.

 

Refining Your Approach

 

Automating Your Posts: Ongoing

You can’t automate relationship building. You can’t automate making genuine, heartfelt connections with others. You can, however, automate the posts which you broadcast to the whole world. I strongly suggest you use either Buffer or Facebook scheduler to prepare posts in advance. Every couple of weeks, you can come up with a bunch of posts, and pick the optimal time to post them. You don’t have to be tied to your phone.

You should still check Facebook on a regular basis. It’s still a good idea to converse with others. Automation will allow you to have some constant presence at all times, even when you’re at work, with your kids, or on vacation.

 

Refining Your Account: Ongoing

Automating posts will also free up time for you to start refining your posts. After a month or two of posting, you’ll be able to make good use of Facebook Insights – a robust data-gathering system that comes automatically with your Facebook page. Figure out what people retweet and like and post more of it. As you refine your approach, you’ll get followers more automatically and less manually.

 

 

Using Facebook for More than Just Posting

 

Groups

One very popular part of Facebook are Facebook groups. People join these groups and talk about their common interests. There are lots of groups for board games on Facebook and a lot of them can help you promote your business, if you’re careful and respectful. Groups have great engagement and they all have a unique culture.

You should be careful before you start your own, though. They can be tremendous for your business, but it’s tough to get one started on your own. On top of that, recent changes to Facebook’s notification algorithm may reduce the value of Facebook groups in the near future. Long story short, people will likely see fewer notifications from groups. Between us, I think this is a good thing because groups spam my personal Facebook notifications pretty hard.

 

Market Research

Facebook is also a really good way to keep on top of market trends. Though I rarely speak in them, I’m a fly on the wall in at least ten different Facebook groups. I pay attention to what people are saying in the groups. In addition to that, I’ve been known to do $5 and $10 ad experiments just to see what people are interested in.

 

Testing Ideas with the Ad System

Speaking of advertising research, if you’re looking to test the market for a new game and you haven’t committed to a theme or mechanics, here is an experiment you can run. Make advertisements for a few different game ideas you have. Set up landing pages for each one. Take out Facebook ads for each game idea directing to their corresponding landing pages. Put the same amount of money on each ad. See which one gets the most clicks. The idea that performs the best is one you should consider designing.

 

Making Connections

As with any social media site, it’s not just about pushing your business and selling things. You’ll also be meeting people and making friends. That can open tons of doors for you, so don’t just bury your head in advertisements and analytics. Meet some people!

 


 

Though intimidating and sometimes expensive, Facebook is an extremely valuable tool for a board game developer to use. If you take the time to work it into your marketing approach and commit to experimentation and improvement, you will definitely benefit from being on Facebook over time.

I know this is a lot of material to cover, so if you have any questions about setting up or managing a Facebook page, please ask below 🙂

The Last Dev Diary & What Comes Next

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Today marks the conclusion of Dev Diary: Lessons Learned through the Making of Highways & Byways. This is the last Dev Diary. Start to Finish: Publish and Sell Your First Board Game is still going to continue. I’ll be doing a post every Monday instead of every Monday and Friday.

 

 

Considering the insights I have gained with the unsuccessful conclusion of Highways & Byways, I will be creating a brief series on Failure Recovery which will be worked into Start to Finish. This is a really important part of getting started in the board game industry which I had not considered writing about until now. Failed product launches happen from time to time, especially with newcomers. Keep an eye out for the Failure Recovery series around the middle of May 2018.

You may be asking: why stop the Dev Diary now? There are two really compelling reasons:

  1. The Dev Diary series was created to detail to development process of Highways & Byways from start to finish. With Highways & Byways having concluded, so too must the series.
  2. This will also help me since I’ll regain a few hours each week for game development.

 

Some of you may be wondering what the conclusion of the Dev Diary and the failure of the Highways & Byways campaign means for me personally. What comes next?

First and foremost: I’m still going to make games and write about making games. I’ll be taking the lessons I’ve learned from Highways & Byways and making games more carefully next time. The big two lessons for me are “start by validating the market” and “don’t work alone.” That means I’m doing a lot of polling and question-asking to see what people are into. I’ve also started working with some people who I’ve grown close to over the last couple of years on new games.

In addition, there is a whole lot of clean up I need to do in order to make sure Pangea Games runs smoothly in the future. For one, I have cut back on unnecessary social media accounts, including the War Co. and Highways & Byways accounts. I’ve streamlined my social media to where only the blog and Pangea Games have social media accounts. On top of that, there are a number of small inefficiencies that I’m resolving.

Most importantly, since I’m no longer working alone, I’m going to start making formal budgets and plans. I’ve always relied on written documentation, even while working alone. However, when working with others, it’s extremely critical to capture timelines and to-do lists in a formal way.

 

Here we stand on the precipice of a brave new world. There is an enormous amount of opportunity ahead for Pangea Games and my future projects. Bringing the Dev Diary series to its conclusion is just one part of that. Thank you for reading this series and enjoy the continuation of Start to Finish 🙂