How I Screwed Up (and What I Learned From It)

I messed up. I admit it.

Last week, I hosted a webinar with my friend and colleague, Nancy Juetten. I was responsible for sending out several emails to my email list, and asking my subscribers to sign up for the webinar so Nancy could give them advice on how to make their About Pages and social media profiles better.

When the time came to send the emails, I struggled. I had been sick for almost three weeks at that point, and had zero motivation to craft an email campaign that was convincing and persuasive. All I really wanted to do was pull the covers over my head and go back to bed.

So I rushed it. I threw together a quick email and send it to my list.

If you’re on my mailing list, you probably received the note, so you might know exactly what I’m talking about. You might even have some opinions about the note, and where I went wrong.

The email subject line was “You Need to Spice Things Up a Little,” and it basically said, “Your bio is boring. You need to change it.”

It ended with a pitch for the webinar, and information on how to sign up.

The note was sort of…obnoxious. But even worse – there were things I said in the email that made it sound personal, and some of my subscribers didn’t realized it was a mass email and got offended.

Some wrote to me and said, “Look, I don’t think my bio is THAT bad.” Others asked me how I even found their bios online.

Others were just flat-out offended by the tone of the note. They thought it was offensive.

I spend the next three days putting out fires, apologizing, and watching a massive number of “unsubscribe” messages flooding into my inbox. It was not fun.

I felt awful that I had offended my loyal readers – some of whom had been with me for quite a while. I did my best to explain myself to the people who wrote to me to complain, but all the folks who unsubscribed from my list are just gone forever – they’re not coming back.

It was not my best work, to say the least.

Before I tell you what I learned from this little disaster, I will say this – if any of you read my note and were offended, I apologize profusively. I didn’t mean to offend you. Please know that the note wasn’t meant to be personally criticial of you.

Okay, now that I’ve apologized, let me tell you what I’ve learned from this debacle:

  1. Do not send email messages to your subscriber list when you are sick, tired, hungry or otherwise compromised. If possible, put off sending a broadcast until you feel better.
  2. If you absolutely must send an email when you’re impaired, have an editor, friend or colleague read the note before you send it out.
  3. Your subscribers are sacred. If there’s a possibility you’re going to offend your list by sending something to them, don’t send it. Try a different strategy or rewrite the campaign. Rein in the desire to be cute or witty, and be straightforward instead. Your subscribers will thank you for it.
  4. Respect for your list should come before cleverness, before wit, and before following copywriting principles. If you write a clever and pithy email campaign, but you lose half your list because of it, you haven’t succeeded.
  5. Listen to the little voice in your head. When I was creating this failed email campaign, my intuition (just a tiny little voice at the time) was asking, “Are you sure this strikes the right tone? Are you sure this is what you want to send?” I ignored that little voice, and I paid for it dearly. Your intuition knows things you may not consciously know – so if it puts up a red flag, take note!

Have you ever sent a note to your list that you later regretted? What did you learn from it? Tell me about it in the comments of this blog post.

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  1. Beth — I commend you for writing this insightful (and heartfelt) blog post to help others avoid what befell you.

    And I have noticed that people often take “personally” an email sent to a list. Thus we all have to remember that, while we want an email to our list to sound personal, we need to be careful how “personal” that personal is!

    • Thanks for your comment, Phyllis! I have to admit that I was a bit surprised that so many people thought I had sent that note specifically to them (not as part of a mass email campaign). But then I realized that not everyone is signed up for thousands of email lists, like I am! They still expect that when someone sends them an email, it’s a 1-to-1 communication. That’s kind of cool, now that I think about it! But definitely something to be aware of in the future! πŸ™‚

  2. Nice work, Beth. I saw / scanned your emails are Nancye nd thought – ‘don’t have time, too busy – darn, I’ve missed out’ … and kept going (it’s been a great 2013 so far!).

    You are a great writer and always send news that’s worth reading and practical – plus timely – I’m still here and watching my inbox! ‘Go Girl’ for an enriching and very happy 2013, Beth.

    Blessings to you for an excellent one!

  3. Beth, I think you’re being too hard on yourself here. I didn’t take your email personally at all. I wished I could participate but was on my way out of town for a relative’s funeral and am still playing catch-up. I try to be in on pretty much everything you do because I always learn so much!

    • Thanks, Gail! I appreciate your support. I know I shouldn’t be quite so hard on myself, but I really did get quite a backlash! Oh well – live and learn, huh?

  4. Jeanne Rejaunier says:

    Hi, Beth,

    I received the mass email in question. For the first few seconds, I was puzzled, thinking how could you possibly find fault with my bio when I’ve had compliments on it many times. But then I just figured it had to be a generic email you sent to a whole slew of people, that you weren’t speaking about my particular bio. The one thing I would note is that your email speaks about learning to do a better bio for one’s business. I don’t have an actual business; I’m an author. So I didn’t sign up for your webinar because this didn’t seem like it would be directed to my interests and needs. Maybe you would want to expand the field in future postings? The thin skinned people who unsubscribed sound like they are creatures of impulse. I’m sorry you lost them.

  5. My daughter and I received your email and listened in to the call as well. It never occurred to me to be offended and we truly benefited from the call. We are very new to blogging however and I am so grateful for this post. These are things that we would have had to learn the hard way and I appreciate your transparency.

  6. Don’t worry about it Beth. We’re all inflicted with that stinking disease… Humanitis.

    Heck I’m a failpreneur. Mistake is my middle name.

    I’ve Started like 10 businesses in 18 yrs. I’m currently putting bread on the table with my current biz.
    I’m now working on a tech blog – educational (which my inner demons keep saying it’s stupid) because I’m addicted to entrepreneurism… is that even a word?

    Thanks Beth. And as my would say, you go girl.

  7. And as my Wife would say, you go girl.

  8. I’m still here Beth! Wow. I def didn’t think you were talking directly to me! I skimmed your email when I got it and wasn’t the slightest bit offended. In fact, your words, “Your bio is boring” is actually something I’ve known for a LONG time and agree with. But when I saw that I went, yep, one more reminder of something on my long to-do list and wouldn’t it be nice if I had the time to sign up for (and actually attend!) your webinar with Nancy. I def need to work on my bio! But I’m simply not focusing on it at the moment, so I moved on to the rest of my inbox. No offense taken.
    I appreciate a kick in the butt and don’t need soft-spoken suggestions on how to better my online presence. I prefer “get to the point and get it done” tutorials and advice… But hey, that’s just me… Of course there are different ways of sending the same message and I think your “what you learned” points are quite valid, especially the one about showing it to someone before you hit the send button.
    But if someone has been following you/enjoying your content, and then gets so offended by your choice of words in one email to call you names, etc., … Really? is it THAT great a loss to lose those subscribers who don ‘t respect you enough to stick around and perhaps have a polite discussion with you about your “offense”? They might have even appreciated your well written response above πŸ™‚
    Like I said – I’m still here. Thanks for all you do.

    • Thanks, Kelly. I appreciate your kind words! And yes, you’re correct – I need to remember that the people who like me and enjoy my content are going to be considerably more forgiving. I still have a core audience who will (within reason) stick with me through almost anything!

      And I’ve gotten some really nice responses to this blog post/email newsletter. People have been really supportive!

      Thanks for sticking around, Kelly! And thanks for all YOU do, as well!


  9. Beth,

    Sorry you were ill and glad you shared your learnings. But I had a different take on your email. It intrigued me. I didn’t take it personally, only as a wake-up for paying attention to my how I write my bio. It encouraged me to turn in to Nancy’s webinar–I learned a lot. Haven’t implemented what I learned yet as I am redesigning my website. Anyway, I wanted to send you some support. Say thanks for all your guidance, and send you best wishes.

  10. All those who unsubscribed: good riddance! How ANYONE can think it was a PERSONAL email for an event needs a reality check. You are a consultant, of course you send out MASS email announcements. Plus ppl w/such thin skins are not on the success track. If we can’t take criticism or be willing to review our bio or whatever, good luck w/that.

    I’ve learned having a thick skin is an essential business skills, but balanced with flexibility. None of us have perfect bios or sites or businesses. I love that Marshall Goldsmith title and books: “What Got You Here Can’t Get There.” He works w/top CEOs. Lots to learn from that book, which I saw at the library. The title grabbed my attention. Blunt, in your face and so true!

    There’s a whole school of thought amongst my metaphysical/new age/psychology pals (one of my tribes): that which offends us is usually something which hits close to home. Your friends will never tell you the truth about your site. Not the design, not the content, nothing. That includes the bio. They don’t want to upset you.

    Next, nothing wrong w/being witty. You gotta grab ppl’s attention w/something compelling. Gotta share this: most ppl are deathly afraid of change and being spicy. YOU don’t need those ppl who left. Ya think they are gonna pay for your service? You’d have to walk on eggshells and hold their hands. It’s a big world: aim for the grown-ups. Leave the low-hanging fruit to someone else, lacking character and humor.

    Finally, PLS get to the point … some ppl are so long-winded and NEVER say anything. I don’t mind a long email or post, but say something … get to the pt! IMHO.

    You go girl!

    Finally: look at your heart … when we act w/pure, good intentions, not out of anger, frustration or selfish motives, ppl ‘see’ that and respond with kindess, acceptance and support. If ppl so picky, then I question their ability to create a successful business. Let he/she who has not sinned cast the first stone. STAY WELL. Rest up and this too shall pass. Oy πŸ˜‰

  11. As I was reading this post, Beth, I kept thinking, “Stop kicking yourself. Their bios ARE boring!” At least the majority of them are boring, based on all the bios I’ve read over the years.

    But I certainly understand your point, and you’re right, of course. So I appreciate your words of caution.

    I’ve learned the hard way that on the rare nights when I pop one of those all-natural sleep aids if I can’t get to sleep, it must be AWAY from the computer. And no cheating by saying to myself, “Before it kicks in, I think I’ll write a quick email blast to my list.”

  12. I took the note as classic & recommended copy writing form. I do think we are all sensitive about how we present ourselves because we wonder if we sound boring, fake or not authentic. Listening to the call, I see that you could have focused on the fact we all can improve our bio by simply defining what we want to accomplish. It’s really hard to write a fabulous bio. We all can improve with input! Thanks for introducing us to this foundational piece early in 2013. Very smart building block for the year.
    Now, to your followers I say, please take the next step and get yourself to get a bio portrait that reflects who you want your clients, network or audience to see. So many intelligent and fabulous people are hiding behind drab & uninspiring photos. (If anyone needs a quick edit, or honest advice I’m happy to help. πŸ˜‰ or write you a guest blog post on the topic. I love meeting people at events that I can walk up to and say, I recognize you from your twitter pic. thanks Beth. Hope the Boulder sunshine makes you feel better soon.

  13. I have to agree that when I read it, I thought that is a little rude.
    I just figured it was my mother’s overbearing southern manners attitude
    taking over and I remembered I know where your heart lies and it is to help all of us out here
    floundering in this river of trying to build a reliable,profitable business.

    So, thank you for the apology and I am so glad you are feeling better.
    The best thing of all is that not only you learned from your mistake
    but so can hundreds of others.
    Hmmmm, maybe it was one that needed to be made.
    You have a great heart and intelligent mind.
    The people who truly need you and believe in you will always be here
    and not drowned in this river. Thanks to you:)

  14. Hey Beth,

    Thanks for sharing your painful experience! When I read your email, I thought, “my bio probably is boring…darn, one more thing to take a look at!” Then I messed up and missed the webinar – my loss! So keep putting yourself out there. You have a tremendous amount to contribute to your followers and now we all have a great example of an “apology” email.

    I also feel I’ve failed when someone unsubscribes from our Art Camp for Women newsletter and yet I know when I unsubscribe it’s usually because that’s just not where I’m at right now and it’s nothing personal.

    Hope you’re feeling better πŸ™‚

  15. Beth, I actually liked your email and saved it for my “swipe file” as an example! I loved the tone and thought it was just edgy enough to make me want to join the webinar.

    But it does bring up a great point, in that some people are very well versed in joint ventures and pitches and know how email lists work – but not everyone. It would have never occurred to me there would be people thinking you wrote that long email to them personally about a webinar. Especially entrepreneurs who I am assuming are trying to make a living online themselves!

    I don’t know that I’d necessarily call it a mistake, but it is definitely a learning curve. Do you think those people would have been your customers in the future or not? Something tells me not if an occasional sales letter for an appropriate product within dozens of great how-to articles will so easily offend. I mean, they’ve gotta know you’re doing this to make a living, right? πŸ™‚

  16. Hi Beth,

    Glad to hear you are feeling well…..I am on my third round of the dreaded flu and I could barely drag myself to my computer to listen to an awesome webinar!

    I did not take offense and I am sorry that so many of your subscribers did. I guess they were feeling insecure and you hit a nerve. I myself took saw it as an opportunity to learn and rethink how we as a company are going to implement the advice I took away from Nancy’s tutorial and put it into practise. So no need for an apology but gracious of you anyway. Hopefully, those who unsubscribe will realize what they are missing and come back to the tribe.

    Keep up the good work and all the great people you introduce us to.

    Health and wellness,

  17. Aleta Randall says:

    Hi, Beth:

    Well the good news about your fox paws (faux pas) is that you learned that many people are paying attention, right?

    I made a huge blunder a few years ago. I was working as the Development Director for The Dairy Center for the Arts here in Boulder and I was sending an email out to our Board of Directors, which, fortunately, was under 20 people at that time.

    In the email I was explaining something – I can’t remember the exact details – about how to make their annual contribution in a really easy way. I used as an example the credit card of a Board Member who had already made his pledge. Yes, I used a scanned photo of his credit card, with all the personal information right there smack in the public eye.

    I heard about it fast, and hard, and by many; I wanted to crawl under the hypothetical covers in my mind and never come out again.

    I learned the same lessons, really, that you did: don’t try to be overly clever or tech-goddessy over just getting out a simple message; not every email has to be a work of art. Always have another person check over your communications before they go, even if short and to the point and only going to a few people (the ‘few people’ in my case were the ones with the authority to hire/fire my position).

    I always have someone check over my articles before I send them to my publisher(s), but I think I fell into a relaxed thinking mode about emails. Not good! We have to remember that these are business tools, not only chitchat messages to friends.

    And of course, I learned how important it is to own up and apologize as fast as possible, don’t wait, don’t let the mistake float “out there” for any longer than it already has without taking responsibility and making a big, heartfelt apology. I was SO embarrassed.

    But, things happen, and as a boss of mine from many years ago once said to me, “You take a hit and you move on.”
    Thanks, Beth, I love your emails!

  18. Another great lesson from this experience, Beth, is that you’re doing something right. You’re connecting without your audience on a personal level to the degree that, when you sent out a critical email to them, they took it *personally*. I appreciate the challenges it caused, & you certainly wouldn’t want to make that mistake too may times, but it really does illustrate that, for the most part, you’re doing things right. Rock on!

  19. Hi Beth,

    Great post. Yeah, sometimes we really screw up. Hopefully your list will forgive you and you will be able to patch up your relationship with all of them.

    I have not made a mistake like that, although I did make others to be sure. I guess when it comes to autoresponders I always remember the good feeling from my first days online about the email being “personal” since it contained my first name. I was completely untechie at that time and did not have a clue about autoresponders. Believe it or not I thought I was truly receiving a personal email.

    I always remind myself that perhaps there are some people out there who do not understand mass emailing. For that reason I am very careful not to write something that could make anyone feel bad about themselves. I am almost paranoid about it.

    Your story, just confirmed that my approach is a right one as many people take these emails personally, despite the fact that they are mass emails.

    Best regards,


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