It’s not marketing – it’s making friends at scale

Most bloggers use Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter to cultivate their audiences. But lifestyle and party blogger Ashley McAllister has a knack for making friends (and clients) through email subscriptions – something very few bloggers, or businesses, get right.

Canadians party differently than their Stateside counterparts, according to Ashley McAllister, blogger at The Party Girl and Etsy store owner. Americans seem to take things further, creating epic events out of weekend girls’ brunches and balloon-festooned birthday parties for toddlers. Part of the reason, she suspects, is that Americans have so many more resources, including multiple craft stores and Target. Canada has Michaels… and the internet.

Before Amazon, life for a party girl was a lot harder. Especially in a small town just outside of Toronto. Ashley says, “I felt like all of this really cool stuff was out of reach.”

But that seems to have only made Ashley more creative. This woman can make a cake topper out of just about anything.

In a country where the population, outside of a handful of urban centers, is spread out over 3.8 million miles, it can be hard to find people who share your passions. Especially when the dominant culture is a bit more understated.

“There are people up here like me. But I couldn’t find them.”

That began to change with Instagram.

“You see images people are sharing and that creates a following, and as people see images of what other people are doing, that style of party throwing is growing here. Having a theme and different elements and DIY projects. I didn’t used to see that very much. DIY wasn’t that big here except maybe for weddings, and that’s changing.

“But there has been a bit of a gap up here. People thought the DIY projects were out of range.”

The Party Girl blog began as a desire to share her crafts with friends and family, but the more she crafted, the more she felt there was a gap to fill.

I thought maybe there are other people out there who would like to see this type of thing, or feel like they could do it if they saw someone else do it. The blog began as a way to create that community, where people could see what other people were doing and see that it isn’t crazy, that they weren’t alone, and that it’s not insane to DIY everything for your wedding or bridal shower.”

And it’s in creating community where Ashley McAllister truly shines.

Email subscriptions, giveaways, and staying approachable

Most party bloggers are all about Instagram, even over Pinterest (though most use both). Ashley uses Instagram and Pinterest, but found that the more her list of followers grew, the more distant she felt from them. That was the opposite effect of what she’d hoped to achieve with her blog. So she turned to an old-fashioned approach (old-fashioned by today’s standards). Email.

Create your own phone or desktop wallpaper in Canva using these templates: Flowers and Leaves Wallpaper and Tropical Desktop Wallpaper.

“Email is an opportunity to talk to people directly. It’s why I wanted to put more effort into the email subscriptions. It’s easy to put bloggers on a pedestal and assume they don’t have time to talk to individual people when you see hundreds or thousands of followers on their social media pages. Over the last year, I’ve gotten thousands more followers and I’ve noticed that, now, fewer people are commenting. I think it’s because they see how many followers I have and think I don’t have time, or don’t care, about them.

“But I really do!

“I’m completely addicted to Instagram, but it makes you feel like the person on the other end is a celebrity – you can’t really interact with them. I miss that connection.”

Finding connection is what social media is all about – or should be. But when you’re using it to grow your business and build your brand, the personal aspect can get a little lost. But in email, Ashley found a way to connect small-scale again.

Email is the opposite; it’s the modern day letter. It’s such a great way to connect personally with people.

“Email gives me the chance to reach people in their inboxes and let them know it’s okay to ask me questions – to email me back! Treat me like an actual person who makes this stuff, throws these parties, and has to clean up the garbage after. It’s a way to seem more approachable.”

This is the secret to Ashley’s success in building community via her email subscription list. She doesn’t just send out a newsletter, or promotions, or deals. She uses it as a tool to start real, one-on-one conversations. And relationships.

She asks her correspondents to email her back. No. Really. When is the last time you responded to a blogger’s mass communication as if it were a letter just to you? It doesn’t happen. Except, with The Party Girl, it does.

That level of engagement doesn’t happen by magic. She works for it.

Getting people in with giveaways

The first thing a new visitor will find on The Party Girl website is a pop-up invitation to join the email list. Not uncommon. But Ashley sweetens the deal with a colorful, useful, giveaway. It’s a simple monthly calendar she designs herself that can be used as wallpaper on smartphones.

“I find that people who are interested in DIYs and party planning and event coordination, they overlap with being particularly organized people. If you have the drive to plan your own event, you are an organized person!

“For me, with the new iPhones especially, it takes me so long to open my calendar to make plans or set up a party. It’s a little tiny thing, but not having a calendar available for easy reference was driving me crazy. So I made this calendar wallpaper for my phone and I thought maybe other people need these in their lives too. So I began making free wallpapers.”

Get the look with these Canva templates: Colorful Floral Grid Calendar and Floral Pattern Calendar.

Ashley creates a new wallpaper to send to her subscribers every month. It’s a very simple idea, but what makes it brilliant is how deeply it’s based in her understanding of her readers. She knows that they are highly organized people – throwing parties isn’t for the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants crowd. They are also highly motivated by beautiful images. Her freebie combines the two and is extremely effective at building her email list.

“It’s a way to build community by getting those email addresses. People have been really responsive to them. I’ve started doing another email thing – my email list has grown so much just by doing these.”

Email has become a valuable tool for staying top-of-mind with her readers and fostering those personal relationships, largely because she’s using it unlike any other business. Subscribers not only receive her free monthly themed wallpapers, she also sends them hilarious behind-the-scenes photos of craft projects gone wrong (before she gets them right for her blog), and even occasional free greeting card designs.

And then she does something no one else would dare to do.

“I invite people to interact.

“For example, if I was sending a newsletter this week for Father’s Day,  I’d say ‘did you forget about father’s day? Here’s a card you can print to make your life a little easier! If you want to add a name, email me, I’ll make you one.’

“My friends thought I was crazy, but it doesn’t take me very long to customize a card.”

Crazy like a fox.

“Of the people I emailed with the offer to customize a free printable card, 20 people responded. I talk to those people all the time now and they ask me to make them custom products that they now buy through my Etsy shop. And their custom orders give me great ideas for things like cupcake toppers that I design for them and then can sell in my shop. These are people I’d be friends with if I met them in real life.”

Ashley’s style of marketing may not be suitable for national companies, but when you’re starting a business, you don’t need to run it like Shutterfly. You need to make connections. Partnerships. Friendships. And that is where The Party Girl truly sparkles (or maybe that’s just glitter).

The Party Girl’s 6 tips for getting personal with your email subscription list

1. The number one most important thing to get right is visuals

People are so responsive if they see what they like. They’ll do what you ask them to do. So I have these pretty desktop images showing the wallpaper on a phone on a desk and I put everything in a pretty layout. If they’ve gone to my blog and like what they see, we probably have the same aesthetic, and if you get that in common, they’ll follow you. Sharing the aesthetic is where it starts – that’s how you pull them in, with your visuals. That’s very important for me, so I put the most effort into creating those.

2. Your copy, your words

My style is very cheerful and upbeat, I don’t take myself too seriously, which is how I live my life. I’m very honest. I don’t pretend to be an expert but I make stuff a lot. I’ll give a how-to for creating something on the blog, and I’ll tell people how many tries it took to do it right, and why the third way worked better than the first two ways. When you put yourself out into the community like that, people will respond well to you. If you’re genuine and honest, you’ve done the work right there.

3. Don’t show them impossible-to-attain images

Make it possible. I include as many photos as I can so they can visually follow the steps. I want to make people feel that these projects are something they can do themselves. I want to be their craft party mentor.

Get the fun party look with this Birthday Party Pinterest Graphic and images from the Canva library.

4. Share something people would actually care about

My readers get the month’s calendar, and if I do a greeting card design or something that I don’t end up using in my Etsy shop, I’ll offer it as a free download in my newsletter. Or if I work on a fun project and the pictures are funny, I’ll show my craft fails. There’s been more demand for that kind of behind the scenes stuff. It’s always fun.

5. Don’t send a lot of emails

I get a ton of emails every day, so I try to be respectful and only send one or two emails a month. I might increase that to 3-4, as long as they’re really good. You don’t want to bombard people with crafts, but you do want to stay front of mind

6. Invite people to interact

Not just with me, but increasingly with each other. This is the kick-off point to really creating that sense of having a group of friends who are all interested in the same hobby.

How Ashley uses Canva to make her emails pop

The Party Girl emails are very visual. That aesthetic appeal is where Ashley starts when forming more personal connections with her audience, which makes it extremely important. In email marketing circles, there is a lot of pressure to get the subject headlines right to increase open rates, but very little discussion of what happens visually inside the email. But if you can catch the reader’s eye with a visual that speaks to them, they’ll read what you have to say, and as Ashley attests, “do what you want them to do.”

She uses Canva as one of the ways to make that first visual impression.

“I use Canva to create banners for email signups, and the confirmation message for signing up looks like a header in an email. It’s really quick and easy to do it that way. When I started The Party Girl I didn’t have photoshop, and someone told me about Canva. I don’t think I’d be where I am if I hadn’t started using Canva. It honed my design experience and my eye. It gives you such a good head start. And even though I also have photoshop now, I still use the templates I used back then.”

Get the look with these Canva email header templates: Classic Mail Email Header and Tinted City Scene Email Header 

Emails aren’t the only places Ashley uses Canva to nail that first visual impression. She also uses Canva templates to create line sheets for stores selling her products.

“When I make line sheets for people selling my products in their stores, I use Canva, it’s super pretty and branded. I think it was a resume template originally that I actually customized to give an overview of my shop, why people should work with me, and display images of my products.

“Most people would email that information or send it in a word document. I went 300 steps further and have it perfectly designed, like a mini-poster. It’s a way to show people that this is what it’s like to work with me – I will go to THESE lengths!”

Social Media has its place too

Before anyone can sign up for Ashley’s emails, they have to find her blog first. And that traffic comes from social media – specifically, Instagram and Pinterest.

“People don’t really want to see my confetti manicure. They want to know what I made this week for cake toppers. So I try to keep it about The Party Girl. I keep the look very bright, pops of color, very fun. I’ll do fun GIFs. I don’t think there’s a science to it. Your Instagram should reflect your brand, that’s my hard and fast rule.”

Get the look with these Canva templates: Birthday Present Tips Collage and Rainbow Treats Birthday Collage.

While most of her Pinterest and Instagram are all about the crafts – because that’s what people come to see, first and foremost – she also includes a personal touch.

“I had this massive order for custom confetti poppers, so my office looked like a war zone. It was so insane, it was hilarious. I’m cutting confetti, watching Riverdale on Netflix, it’s so labor intensive but it looks like fun, so I live-streamed me making these confetti poppers because I wanted people to know how much work goes into them! I don’t use Instagram stories as much as I should. I love Snapchat, so I’ve been slow to convert.”

Instagram not only sends readers her way, it sends Ashley clients, many of whom come to her for the Bridal Emergency Kit she posted as a personal project for a nearly-wedded friend.

“NO Bride should have to live without superglue on her wedding day. Inside is everything you’d need in an emergency. I put it on Instagram and it snowballed from there.”

The popularity of that single post generated connections Ashley’s still cashing in on.

“I’ve connected with so many bridal boutiques because of it. From that I’ve talked with so many bridal boutiques in Canada. And it can be hard to make those connections in Canada. And I’ve gotten so many orders to work with brides – the confetti popper order came from a bridal boutique who found me because of the bridal emergency kit, and they had someone come in looking for confetti.”

You can grow your own way

If there’s one throughline to Ashley McAllister’s story of building her creative business, it’s this: she doesn’t follow any playbook but her own. She’s focusing on email when everyone else is on Instagram. She’s concentrating on forming individual, personal relationships when other businesses are only thinking of what will scale.

The result is a following of people who feel genuinely connected to Ashley as a person, not just as a blogger.

But to uncover why these methods work so well for her, you have to think back to her original goal – which every single marketing decision reflects: bringing people who love parties together.

SaaS Consultant & Customer Success Evangelist. Founder at Authentic Curation. Moderator at @ProductHunt & @GrowthHackers. Previously: Growth at @Inboundorg. INFJ.