Heather is known for her pioneering use of social media. She explains how Wiggly e-newsletters integrate with other social media and how they have changed from being an information tool to a sales tool since adopting them in 2003.
Listen to just over 20 minutes of extracts from the interview.
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Learn from this fascinating interview, where Heather reveals detailed facts and figures about her e-news campaigns.
Or below you can read selected transcripts from the interview:
Who’s your target audience – is it people out in the countryside?
No, our target audience is probably anyone who has any dreams of being a farmer, to whatever degree they consider that to be possible, so even if you’ve got a flat with a window box, then we want to help you make that window box peat free. If you’ve got 20 acres we want to start you off with a wildlife pond and make sure that you’ve got green washing up liquid.
When did you start using e-newsletters?
We started using e-newsletters probably around 2003 – very early on in terms of e-news. At that point we weren’t able to track results and we use them very much as information rather than a sales tool. These days they are one of our primary sales tools.
What prompted you to start using them?
We wanted to connect with our customers more and we wanted to give them lots of information. As times gone on and we’ve adopted lots more tools like Facebook and Twitter and the catalogue’s expanded, we use the e-news much more as reminders to people, e.g. anything that’s instant and needs to be talked about straightaway, I like to do an e-news for and I have no compunction in putting in a call to action and an ask to purchase in the e-news.
How often do you send them out – is it on a rigid schedule?
It’s about every couple of weeks but it’s not rigid at all. For example our hops – fresh hops – have just come in, so I’ll do a quick announcement on an e-news to let people know that, but I will no doubt do my regular e-news next week anyway.
Going back, you said that originally they were more of an information tool. Were they more like an offline newsletter – was it longer with several articles.
Absolutely – they used to have well over 400 words of text in them. Nowadays, if I wanted to write lots of text I would link to a blog post rather than write lots and lots of text in the e-news because if you look at the stats and even think about the way that you or me use an e-news we want to click, we’re dying to click – so it’s not the best place to put lots of text in. It wouldn’t stop me from putting text it just means that I would put that on my blog and link to it.
Which programme do you use to deliver you e-news?
Mail chimp and it’s fantastic.
How much technical support do you get from Mail Chimp and how important is that?
I’ve never phoned them. Every bit of support is online. It’s so easy to use. We’ve used lots of programmes over the years. Even I can send the e-news whereas before somebody else had to do it because I’m not a vey technical person. It’s totally easy, so they tell you, your complaints, they give you your reports. So in terms of their support, except for the initial sign up, where we needed a little bit of help, we haven’t needed any.
Roughly how many different programmes have you been through before Mail chimp?
I think probably 3 others.
What made you change programmes each time?
Last time we were with a company called Communicator. They wanted to put our prices up. They charged us per e-news after a certain amount and our e-news were gradually increasing and as with everything you don’t necessarily keep your eye on each single person that signs up and it ended up costing us over £800.00 for a month. That was absolutely outrageous, so I contacted them and had several extended discussions with them and eventually decided to look around for something else. We found Mail Chimp which costs us I think around £250 per month and is so much better for us in terms of stats.
And the previous one – was that price issues or were there other issues – you’ve obviously gone through a number of different programmes there?
We used our own in house system at that point. That’s all I can remember. The problem with that was it was taking too long to send it, we hadn’t got any stats and it was quite a difficult way of operating because our own server was responsible for the spam filter etc and we couldn’t really see what we were doing well enough. There was nothing really wrong – it was the worry that the possiblity of not being able to see what we were doing well enough. The reporting wasn’t good enough, whereas in Mail Chimp, the reporting is exceptional.
How do you decide what to put in your newsletters, you’ve said if there’s an immediate thing like hops you’ll bang one out?
Do you have a plan over 6 months or do you do it on an e-news by e-newsletter basis.
I know that I’m going to do 2 e-newsletters a month and I know that I’m going to make sure there’s an offer or a call to action in each newsletter and I have my historical newsletters so I know when we did flowers last year etc. So I’ve kind of got a basic calendar of what I can do if nothing else comes up that’s more important. e.g. I know that I’ve got my next e-newsletter is very likely to be about hedgehogs because people should be thinking about their hedgehogs hibernating.
The one after that will probably be about Bokashi compost because it’s a good time to do that. I just look at it seasonally as to what I would want to be doing in my garden or my home and therefore what I think our audience would be interested in that point on. The worst thing is if you do something that is irrelevant at the moment that you do it. So it can be the best product or the best service but if you don’t want it at that particular moment then no-one’s going to buy it.
It’s timed so that the aim is that it’s topical so that people say ‘oh’ yep that’s what I’m thinking about right now.
Do you know which has been your most successful e-newsletter?
The best result was the Summer Sale in terms of opening rate and in terms of click rate.
The opening rate was 20.18%. The click rate was 6.25%
I can go through to Google Analytics and see what that meant.
So you can actually go through and relate that to sales on the day, is that right?
Yes I can do that.
I can look and see where people came from.
Do you use codes so you can relate the sale to the e-newsletter?
No I don’t need to because I can track through from Mail Chimp to Google analytics I can tell you that from that e-news we had 2761 visits in that month from the 4th to the 31st August that directly came from e-news. Then I can follow that through to what they actually generated. Wiggly Wigglers e-list generated £7541.49.
You can relate that directly from visits from the e-news?
That shows that they clicked through from the e-news.
You clearly have a very clear link between e-newsletters and sales. You’ve said that’s quite simple to do with Mail Chimp – is that right?
Yes, and if you have a small list I believe it’s free.
I can see that you love the stats and clearly that’s ultimately the only way to measure the success in financial times of these e-newsletters.
Well not necessarily, before I had this ability I did go on gut feeling.
The monthly plan starts from $10.00 if you’ve got 500 people on your list.
Before we had Mail Chimp we did our best to measure it and we could kind of see an uptake and I suspect that a lot of small businesses would see an uptake much easier. If you’ve got a couple of products you can see whether or not business has increased without being obsessed with stats but because the stats are so easy once you’ve got them set up. I could not imagine life without analytics now and it really is so easy to do, then the stats are worth it.
I think that if I had less than 2000 products and I had simple products then you don’t necessarily need the stats.
What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think stats are the be all and end all. In the sense that if it takes you too long to assess the stats by then you could have done another e-news. They are so simple that because Mail Chimp and Analytics gives you the information then I become really keen on stats because they are so easy to see and I can see the results.
You know £7,000 odd from one e-news that’s cost me well under £500.00 is to my mind a staggering reason to do e-newsletters for Wiggly Wigglers.
With a bigger list and a larger amount of products a 1% difference in openings or clicks or whatever translates into a fair amount of money, doesn’t it?
You can have a huge difference. I’ve given you the best one. If I go back I’ve got one on 27th May that only had a 2.5% click rate. If you don’t get people to open them and you don’t get people to click through, obviously it’s going to be a disaster.
On that clicking through. I wanted to talk to you about subject lines. Is that an area you’ve changed over the years?
Yes and that’s partly due to you, you came here and said you know, this is how you need to communicate so we think much more about why they’re going to open it, rather than what it is.
Having said that Mail Chimp will give you a clue as to what’s going to be a disaster. So if you click “sale, free” all the time, then that’s not going to go through the spam filters. It gives you a basic idea of what’s a good subject line. It also, the most important thing has been where they click. If we put the interesting bit too far down, they don’t click. They generally seem to click in the top third of the e-news. It sounds completely obvious but I didn’t know that until I saw the stats.
For a lot of people this is a new form of communication and it was interesting about your journey from the longer information type e-newsletter. I think that’s where most people think of starting because they can relate it to a print newsletter they might have seen.
You’ve mentioned a few other online tools that you use. Could you just explain to us how the e-newsletter integrates with other internet tools like Facebook or Twitter, or maybe it doesn’t, does it stand alone?
No, everything integrates with everything. Often I hear people saying I don’t think Social Media can work for me. How do you get followers? How do you get listeners to your podcast? How do you get people on Facebook group? We use our e-news to do that. So for example on the last e-newsletter that I did, we always put on the bottom, follow Wiggly Wigglers on Facebook, follow Heather, follow Farmer Phil. You can see that 0.7% have clicked through to follow Heather on Twitter.
That’s 11 clicks (you might think that’s tiny) but for me that’s 11 people that are interested enough to go to Twitter and that’s how we get other followers which means that we can communicate with other people the way they want to be communicated with. It’s not that I’m obsessed with social media although I really do like it, it’s that different people want to listen or talk in different ways, so e.g. I hate my mobile phone. I don’t want to talk on it. I don’t want anyone phoning up on it. I don’t want you calling round here (this is in my personal life), but if you want to tweet me, I’m very, very interested because I can take that at my convenience. All these tools provide different ways of communicating conveniently.
With our e-news for example we try and send it out at 12.30, so just before lunch time because we can see that people like browsing just before lunch and so that seems to work a little bit better for us. It might be different if you’ve got a product like wine, it might be better if you sent it out at 6.30, I don’t know. For us at lunchtime, people like thinking about their gardens – I suppose it’s a way to relax – I don’t know.
It’s about finding what works and doing a bit of testing to see what works for your product or service.
I think what you’re doing is particularly good because what I would want is to see what other people are up to candidly, honestly because when I look at my stats it depresses me that only 19% of people open the thing. I’ve no idea if that is bad or good. So a bit of benchmarking and being able to compare with other people would be great. Often I think people start an e-news and think oh well only 10% of people opened that, so it’s a waste of time.
Actually it’s not because it’s probably a different 10% this week to next week and you know how many people open your catalogue if you send it and if they do open it, how many people read it. I like the fact that you’ve got some way of benchmarking it and comparing case studies so that people like me can see what other people are doing to make us feel better.
How large is your list?
Currently 51, 919
Having launched a product e.g. a calendar, and having see there was interest, would you plan an offer email on those products somewhere down the line?
Yes there will be a little reminder. Probably a P.S. These are quite sweet because people go to the p.s. On one e-news we had a P.S. On the last e-news I did a P.S. about Wrap’n Mats. It’s right at the point when people are going back to school. They’re good for school kids because you don’t have to have a plate and they’re quite hygienic and easy to use. I think we sold 42 Wrap’n mats. Which is great. I don’t get obsessed with “oh I need to turnover £3000.’ What I try and get obsessed with is “ah 42 people wanted that”. I try and think about how many wants there were, not the value of the order. If I sent an e-news about a £2500 Wiggly Ride On. If one person wanted it, that would be great, but no-one else would want it. I like to go on click throughs as a good measure. Or at least open rates and click throughs.
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