Making Onboarding Emails Valuable

7 approaches to great welcome emails

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There are many underrated things in life:

Apricot jam, nice long walks and onboarding emails.

Not everyone sends welcome emails and the people that do, usually set them up quickly at the start and then forget about them.

Like people who only use strawberry on their toast, and don’t like walking, if you’re not leveraging onboarding emails, you’re missing out.

Over the years, I’ve set up onboarding email flows for a number of companies.

These emails typically have the highest open rates.

They are automated so investing one day to set them up can often lead to outsized returns over a long period.

I’ve created welcome emails that have helped drive millions in revenue from one flow. No joke.

Your onboarding emails are a powerful way to educate users about your product, move them through the customer journey and build relationships.

For today’s newsletter, I analysed 30+ onboarding emails from leading companies and broke down the 7 main approaches of great onboarding emails.

Read on to see what companies like Coda, Memberstack and Zapier do in their welcome emails and get access to my Onboarding Email Series Template + Swipe File for free.

A big thank you to this newsletter’s first sponsor 🎉 -

They are the first marketing automation solution built for product-led growth, including onboarding and triggering campaigns based on product usage.

Perfect for sending the right email at the right time.

They just released a new product update.

Check them out:

Before I share the key ingredients, here are two major tips for onboarding emails.:

Your onboarding emails should match your trial period or period of the highest engagement.

If you offer a free trial that is 7 days, your onboarding sequence needs to be timed within this period.

If you don’t have a fixed trial period, you need to see when your new users engage most at the start.

Likely this will be the first 7-14 days. But if it takes 30 days to activate users, then you should spread the emails over that time.

Simple email designs work

You don’t need to have an HTML email that takes you weeks to design. They look good but don’t actually convert as well in a lot of cases.

Although I’m sharing some nicely designed emails below, they aren’t necessary.

Plain text emails often have better deliverability - meaning they don’t end up in spam - and they’re easier to create.

So stick to simple layout emails when getting started.

Now here are 7 ways to make your onboarding emails valuable (for you and your users):

1) Ask for Feedback

Before you use your emails to sell or convert, you should use them to seek feedback.

Your welcome email is a great way to build relationships with your new users and learn what they want.

Especially important when looking to figure out your product’s core value or if you’re a pre-product-market fit product.

You can use it to collect key user feedback that you can use later on to make the product better.

You can use these emails to get feedback on autopilot. 

After a few weeks of responses, you will have a clear idea of the Jobs To Be Done and what content to send in future emails.

This email is most effective on Day 1 as the first email.

As a user testing platform, it’s no surprise Userbrain asked for feedback in their onboarding emails.

Userbrain Email

2) Explain the product

Onboarding is about helping users to hit their goals using your product.

Some education is involved.

Your emails should teach your users how to use the product in the most effective way.

This is especially important if your product is complex or in a space where education is needed.

When I was working with Republic, it was important to explain how the platform worked and the steps required to invest.

Many users coming to the platform were new to startup investing so it was important to break down the process and give them the confidence to get started.

Below is an email I built to help do this:

Republic Onboarding Email

3) Offer Resources/templates

While email is a great place to educate - it’s not perfect.

Especially as people don’t love reading much these days.

So don’t try educating solely on email.

Send them to a resource on your site instead.

The companies that activate users the fastest don’t just rely on in-product onboarding and a landing page.

They have guides, videos and templates.

And if you don’t have these already, start building them today.

Every help desk article you write is providing your user base with a quicker route to value.

That template is having your new user get started on their project faster.

Make these and link out to them in your emails.

In Zapier’s email, in explaining ‘Zaps’ they link to a video and a couple of pre-made zaps.

Zapier Email

4) Invite users to community / social

Often your power users will know your product deeper than you.

They also use creative ways to get value.

So connect them with your new users.

This becomes a win-win for all parties.

The power-user strengthens their learning by sharing with others. (They may also become an influencer in your community)

The new user finds unique ways to learn about the problem and potentially gets peer support.

You build an ecosystem around your product.

Memberstack understands this.

They invite new users to their community so they can meet others in a similar situation to them.

These users can also find new workflows, examples and templates so they become power users fast.

Memberstack Email

5) Prompt Key actions

The goal of these emails should be to activate users and help them form habits.

The best onboarding flows personalise the experience.

They will separate based on whether a user has activated or not.

  • If a new user hasn’t activated, they will get a flow focused on getting them to do so.

  • If a new user has activated, they will get a flow focused on building a habit.

Leading products provide an experience that is focused on getting the user to the next step.

So whether you have one flow or separate them out, you need to get users to take that next key action.

In this example, Coda wants you to build your first doc.

Their content is around this.

In your business, you may want a user to integrate or send their first message.

Whatever your goal, make sure your emails will focus on them.

Coda Welcome Email

6) Manual Onboarding

Sometimes we need a helping hand.

Your users don’t need to do it all alone.

Offer manual onboarding help for the user to get set up.

This is a great way to reduce friction for the user.

It’s ideal for early-stage companies and products that are hard to use right off the bat.

Openview found that reaching out to new users is one of the major ways to increase free-to-paid conversion rates.

They found that:

“Both free trial and freemium products see higher conversion rates when reaching out to >50% of free signups.”

Manually reaching out to free users and offering ways to get more value has a clear correlation with users converting to customers.

Fomo sends a nice personal email offering help to get started with a video call.

Fomo Email

7) Make an offer

A mistake many freemium or companies with free trials make:

They never ask a user to become a customer.

So when you get to the end of your onboarding sequence, make your users an offer.

If have a free trial, your offer can tie in nicely to the length of the trial.

If you don’t, you can make it one of the final emails in the series.

Slack reminds the user when the trial is ending and then suggests they upgrade.

Slack Email

Your onboarding emails are powerful - they help to get your users further into the product and educate them on its value.

Some of the tools that help you to send these automated emails are highlighted in this vendor report - the customer communication and marketing automation categories are relevant. (Especially for more mature startups)

As promised, here’s my Onboarding Email Series Template. It has examples from 30+ companies and some copy templates to help you write effective onboarding emails.


When you’re ready, here’s I can help you grow:

Get the Startup Growth Roadmap - my playbook of 25+ templates that's helped 300+ founders and marketers to scale their startups.

Work with me 1-1 to solve your most pressing marketing challenges and help you set up a high-converting onboarding sequence.

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