Digit Disclosure: How sharing “bad” numbers built subscriber trust (and increased conversions)

Ep. 13 ft. Hannah Shamji

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What happens when you know your subscribers are itching to hear your growth story – as it happens – but sharing your vulnerability feels really… scary? If you’re Hannah Shamji, you push past the fear to treat your subscribers as friends – and turnaround more conversions than ever.

(4:30) How Hannah’s research brain – and TikTok culture – led to this email
(12:51) The balancing-act-slash-experiment that is Hannah’s email list
(14:37) How to set objectives in research so you don’t color the data
(18:09) The measure Hannah used for this email, in absence of replies
(21:29) The ripple effect this email gave to Hannah’s overall personal brand

About our guest
Hannah is a Consumer Psychologist for growth-stage startups. She’s also a Cornell Psych Grad & trained therapeutic Counsellor with 10 years of experience in qualitative research. Now she helps clients like HubSpot and Shopify Plus decode how their customers think, so they can connect with (and convert!) the human behind the buyer.

Links from this episode:
Take a look at the email we’re talking about today
Take a look at Jason Fiefer’s email with the full story of Naveen’s reframe
Follow Hannah on ⁠LinkedIn⁠
Get more transparent insights from Hannah at hannahshamji.com/newsletter
Get Nikki’s email musings at ⁠nikkielbaz.com/subscribe ⁠

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Hannah: I thought it would also be a good hook just because I think the subject line was like numbers from my free class. And who doesn’t want to know about actual numbers?

Nikki Elbaz: Welcome to email swipes, where we peek behind the scenes at the emails that catch your attention and earn their place in your swipe file. Every other week, we’ll talk to an email expert about an experiment they ran, and in the following episode, we’ll dive into the strategies and methods used in the email so you can inform and inspire your own email work.

I’m Nikki Elbaz, the copywriter behind winning emails for eight and nine figure SaaS and ecommerce brands like Shopify, four, sigmatic, and sprout social. And I know that hearing the background stories to these emails will help you turn pie in the sky insights into plug and play actions ready to make inspiration tactical? Let’s go first, let’s read today’s email.

Nikki Elbaz: Last month, I ran a free class on how to get leads to buy in on customer research. 65 people signed up. 25 people showed up live. 50 people watched the recording. That was up for 72 hours. For context, my email list at the time was 107 people. Talk about Tiny. Still, my conversions for this class were way above standard. Why? Because the topic of my free class struck a chord. See, the copywriters and marketers and strategists who come to the workshop have been around the block. They’ve felt the resistance to research from leads and clients, and they know it well, which is a problem when research is also your gateway to conversions. Want to know an even bigger problem? Despite how important research is to conversions, no one really tells you how to sell or position it to get company buy in. Until now. If you’re in my orbit, it’s to help sharpen your customer research skills in some way, right? This is where it starts. There is no research if leads don’t buy in. Even if clients agree to doing research, are you able to charge more for it? Do they see you as the authority because of it? Do they get excited about doing research and take your lead? Your answer to all of those three should be a big, fat yes. If it’s not, come to my free 30 minutes class on March 17. I’ll be sharing the exact strategies I use to close 20k research packages consistently and get leads excited and trusting my expertise. Here’s what conversion copywriter Sinead Arnold had to say about it. I’ve been honing my research skills because I know that’s where the conversion magic comes from. But I’ve noticed fellow copywriters leads or m clients have resistance towards voc. And that problem has been at the back of my mind as I get ready to relaunch my service offering. When your masterclass popped up, I figured why not bypass your of resistance and see what works for an expert who sells research for figures? I can only dream of invoicing. And you did not disappoint. I’ll be making an offer at the end of the class, but leave before that. If you’re not game, you’ll still get what you came for. Here’s the signup, um, link again. Hope you come. Hannah P’s. Know any copywriter or marketer friends who might like the class, have them sign up here.

Nikki: Hannah, it is so, so awesome to have you here. It’s always awesome to talk with you. Pick your wonderful research brain on everything. And I’m super excited to hear how things like gel into the emails themselves. Cause that’s always obviously a process and all that. So, yeah, tell us about who you are and what you do.

Hannah: Thanks so much for having me. I love the format of this. Like, I love the angle with the emails. I think it’s a lot of fun to bring something that, like, you’ve created in the behind the scenes. And I also love chatting with you always. So I’m a consumer psychologist. I have been a, uh, qualitative researcher for ten years and focused more on marketing in the past five years. So the research behind anything is really kind of where I excel and where I thrive. And so this is going to be a really interesting chat because email is not my forte, but the thinking behind and the work behind it is. So I’m excited to unpack that. But a lot of the work that I do is helping companies understand and decode how their customers think so they can market and sell better, so they can produce the content, the emails, the copy that they need that actually speaks to their audience. We’ll see if I did a good job of that here.

Nikki: I’m sure you did. I think we minimize often the, uh, strategy and the research that goes into it, not completely minimized to a point where it’s like people are writing copy without any research, but where the strategy is so, so important. And obviously the copy is and everything, it all meshes together and it’s all important. So it’s awesome to get all the different angles as we’re analyzing different emails. This email was born out of a feeling that people don’t share numbers

All right, let’s go talk about this email.

Nikki Elbaz: Where did it come from?

Hannah: So this is an email that it sales email. So it’s part of a sales email, but it’s about a free class. And I sent it to my list, and then I tried to, like, modify some parts of it for social as well, but it was sort of born out of the feeling I’ve had that, um, people don’t always share numbers. Like, they will sort of speak in maybe a grand way or a general way. And as someone who sort of grew up as an entrepreneur online, I always looked for, like, something concrete. Even if I was looking at someone who was doing really well, I was always in their archives. Like, I would go to that. What is that, like, way back, the way back machine or something? Uh, yeah. And I’m, like, digging through, and I think that’s, like, maybe my researcher brain. I’m like, where does this start? Because I know you didn’t start here. And I really appreciated it when people would be transparent about, you know, because you can say something has a high conversion, but maybe you have, like, two people and, like, one converted. So I thought that this would be something interesting to play with here, because my numbers are in this email especially, they’re not high. Like, I’ve just started this year, two and a half, three months ago, growing my email list. This was the second time I’ve done this free class. I did the first one in January. So I was like, there’s some level of intimacy and a vulnerability of me sharing my actual numbers that I wanted to play with because it feels like me. Like, there’s this bit of a scrappiness to it that I like, but I also wanted to be real that, like, hey, I’m not just saying a blanket statement. Like, these are actual people that I’ve kind of pulled through this once before, and this is what it looks like. I thought it would also be a good hook just because I think the subject line was, like, numbers from my free class, and who doesn’t want to know about actual numbers? But it was more a play on me, sort of flexing, like, that muscle of, like, can I be vulnerable and can I also make it useful at the same time? Can I connect and. And show some realness? But in a way that I know I appreciated and I know other people like to know kind of the actual numbers. So that was sort of the root. That was kind of how this email idea was born.

Nikki: So how did you get past this fear of, um, share? I mean, I think most people don’t share numbers because it’s like, it’s wrong. You know, my list is too small. My conversion is too low. Is high, high enough, like, all these kinds of things. So you said flexing your muscle, like, how do you kind of land on this? Like, I want to flex this muscle, and this is not scary enough. Going to put me in a place where I’m not viewed as an expert anymore.

Hannah: Yeah, it’s an important question. I mean, the truth is, I’m still terrified. It wasn’t that it went away, and then I did it, and it wasn’t that I felt sure. And then I hit send. It was, let me see if this is the right way to flex this muscle. It was very much an experiment for myself as much as, like, does this work? But I think that the angle was, is this something that I would feel okay sharing with a friend? And if I felt it was okay sharing with a friend, because I thought it would be maybe helpful for them. That was my justification to be like, okay, let me just share it with a few more friends. And in this instance, I was talking to someone who was kind of struggling with their emails, and not even their emails, they were trying to start an email list. And I was like, I’m just two months in. You know, like, you don’t. You don’t have to have big numbers to just start. And I was very transparent with them because I thought it would be helpful. And I. I think that it was. And so that became something that I’m like, oh, maybe I can expand this definition I have of, like, expert. And it can just be also this person. That’s something I’ve been, like, toying with a lot, especially since this year I’ve been on TikTok as well. And it’s so much about, like, being relatable. It’s like dressing down the expert and can you just be the person behind? In my work, I’m always getting companies to be like, look at the person behind the customer. And now I’m like, whoa, maybe I need to practice that, too.

Hannah: So it’s this fuzzy area that I’m trying to unpack it. Like, even now, it’s still kind of scary. But I think I’m like, well, the numbers are real. I’m not trying to change them. There was a cool story for me here that was like, I didn’t have huge numbers, but, hey, look at the response that I got. That was really interesting for me. And then in the second round when I did it, my conversions were not as great as the first time that I did it. So, yeah, I kind of feel like behind the scenes when I’ve gotten to know entrepreneurship or even, like, inside of bigger businesses, I’m like, this is. They’re always experimenting and they’re always flopping and then figuring it out. And I just like the idea of not waiting till someone gets behind to find that out. Part of working with me or being in my orbit is being able to see that that’s something that I. I really value in others. So I’m trying slowly to sort of bring that forward here.

Nikki: That’s so cool. I think you also touched on a really interesting point when you said, like, if I would share it with one friend, then I can share it with multiple friends. And I think when you look at your email list as a bunch of friends, then you end up creating these great relationships, which really is so in line with these kinds of email lists. Like, you know, you’re not an ecommerce brand. You’re not a SaaS company. You are a person talking about your experiences. And people are signing up to your list not just to learn about research, but to learn about the research process through your lens specifically. So treating them like friends to that level where you get the same treatment of friendship as my real people, it really will create this amazing authenticity. That’s so cool. I love that angle.

Hannah: Yeah. It’s something that I’ve tried to play with more, and I think it’s taken a while to get to a space of feeling, like, confident enough. I was following a lot of practices with emails even before I was doing news. My, like, I have a newsletter now, and I say now, as in, like, I just sent out a third one. Like, this is very, very new. But even in the past, when I have done, like, small sort of email sequences, I always felt like I was just trying to follow a practice, you know, because this is the right way and this works. And in this run, I’ve tried. I’ve been trying to be more my list, my rules, and that I can kind of play in this arena of, like, if I treat you like a friend, you will be my friend. Like, what, what would be the difference? And that’s kind of been my measure for, I don’t know, even if I’m writing a subject line or something, the more I’ve paid attention to this, the more I feel the difference between me trying to, like, sell and me trying to talk, you know, and, like, even a subject line, like, uh, if I’m writing an email to a friend, I’m very kind of scrappy with that. Like, I’m not using caps and I’m not like, I’m just much looser and, like, yes, there is a line and it needs to be more deliberate and thought out. But then I think this is a filter that I’m putting on stuff a lot more because I feel like you were saying it’s, like, about your lens, like, your perspective. And so I think this is the way I’m trying to bring me into my work.

Nikki: That’s cool. I just heard from, uh, Natalie Lussier. She said, look at marketing as, what are you trying to get the person to feel like? Not what am I trying to sell? What am I trying to get them to do? What am I trying to just, like, how do I want them to feel? And that kind of softens the whole salesy approach and all that kind of thing. So this is cool, tying those two things together. Yeah, that’s awesome.

This is also really interesting because you had an email list, like, I don’t know, let’s say two years ago, and.

Nikki Elbaz: You let that go.

Nikki: So this was really cool to see that you started up again, and I was like, okay, what changed? What’s different? So this is cool backstory of now. It’s the way that’s comfortable for you and the way that works for you. And I love that because so many times we try to follow the best practices, and it’s just not working either for clients, you know, or just for our own work. So it’s cool to kind of like, no, I can do this. I just have to do this differently to kind of, like, reimagine and re figure out and scrap and start over.

Hannah: Yeah, I love that. I think it’s such a marriage of, like, your audience and you, like, uh, even in my work, from the research side, it’s very much customer isn’t right. It’s like, now, you know, the line in the sand, and you can figure out which side you want to sit on. It. How do you want to engage with the customer based on what you know about them? And the same, I feel like is true here with emails. It’s, you know, what people are signing up for because you decided how to hold them in, draw them in, but then you can show up however you want. You know, just because someone wants a specific something from you doesn’t mean you have to deliver that thing that way. And that some, um, that relationship, I think, is something I’m, like, constantly toggling with. Like, it is this scale of, like, yeah, but if I follow the audience, maybe if I give them exactly what they want, the way they want it, then they’ll convert more, you know, and so I will absolutely fall under that slope, and then I’ll swing the opposite way and be like, no, no, this is about me. You know, this is my humor. It’s a constant balance. But I do think it’s an important, it’s been an important one for me to, like, keep trying to figure out, you know, I’m. It’s not a, like, done deal. I mean, I will, you know, if you are in. If you ever get my emails, maybe one will be, like, hard in one direction, I don’t know. Um, but it’s.

Nikki: And then when the next one will be in the next direction and then some will be in the middle, it’ll be fun. It’s part of the. But see, this is what you said in the beginning, how you want to flex this muscle of sharing more. So it’s even sharing that you’re sharing more and that, you know, so that’s pretty cool.

Nikki Elbaz: Yeah. That’s an interesting point about, um, I think there’s a lot of people and, like, either, you know, service based businesses, um, or bigger brands that are very scared of collecting feedback because what if everyone tells them to do things differently? Like, you have to lower your prices? Like, no, we don’t want to do that. So not being scared of the feedback because it doesn’t necessarily mean, and I guess that really, a lot of times ties into your work of making sure that the questions are not biased and are not bringing them to the wrong kinds of conclusions about things that they can change, that they can’t change. Um, so, yeah, I’m just curious, like, do you have ways of doing that, or is that more in the analysis of, um, understanding what needs to change and what doesn’t need to change?

Hannah: I try to keep them separate. So one is what the goal of the company, the person, the business has, and then using that goal will do research, and let’s talk to customers and see what their take is. So, hey, we want to. Sometimes it is like a partner analysis. Sometimes it is, what’s, ah, the right offer, or, um, what do customers define as, like, value? And then once I have that, then it’s a. Then it’s a separate question. That is, what do we do with this? Because if I, if I tiptoe into the research, then the research is already colored. You know, it’s important to get feedback in a, with. Without any kind of, here’s the topic I want feedback on, and let me just get the feedback, and then the sort of authority isn’t lost. It’s just that you have a full, you can read the full room and then decide what to do, you know, so then you can figure out, okay, well, do we change, um, our whole pricing? Well, okay, what’s our objective? Oh, no, we actually just need to message it better. Like, this happened with a, with a client where everybody was, all of the customers we spoke to, they were commenting on how, like, the platform felt. The way that the platform was positioned was, like, quite confusing and complicated. And the initial, they kind of had a hunch. The client, when they came to me, they had a hunch that this was the case. And then when we found that out, they were very quick, and I thought they would be, they were very quick to feel like, oh, no. Like, maybe we’ve done this, we’ve have to change the platform. But when you figure out all the data, and we kind of dug deeper, it was like, no, you don’t have to change the platform. The problem is that you’re positioning the platform as it does one thing, but actually, it’s like an all in one. And that positioning can completely change the expectation. And I find that that’s, there’s a lot of that. It’s because if you get data in a silo, it’s hard to figure out how to place it. But a lot of what people think are product or offer problems are maybe more just messaging problems. So I think it’s important to get it clean, get the data clean, then you can figure out what to do with it. But if you have a narrow slice, yeah, you’re going to be spinning. But the customer isn’t always right. They don’t know all of the details that you do. And I think there’s a lot of power in seeing that.

Nikki: Okay, back to the email. I just, if you’re in the room, I need to ask you a research question. I love the way you think about things. It’s awesome. So you had this idea, you sent this out. What happened next?

Hannah: So I got a good chunk of engagement on this email. Um, I think it was one of, like, the higher opens. And I actually had more people sign up for this free class from this email than any other email that I had sent out. And I think I sent out, like, to others after this. So it was good confirmation. I mean, when I hit send, I was terrified. I was like, should I not have, like, exactly what you said before with this feeling of, like, is this not what an expert does? Right. Like, it’s just kind of blow my whole cover. And, uh. But it was very freeing, I think, because it got people sort of pulled in. And I, sorry I said engagement before. What I meant by engagement wasn’t, like, responses. It was more in the, um, sign up, like, it did. It pulled people into the free class, which is what I wanted. But it’s difficult when people don’t always reply and this might be a consequence of, like, I’ll get a couple replies. But again, my email list is very small. And when you send something like this into the dark email list, it’s, like, in the ether, right? And you’re like, people are opening it and you have no pulse on, like, what do you think of this? Like, what happened when you read it? So my, my measure of this was like, okay, they signed up for the class, so that’s cool. That was great.

Nikki: You’re an expert.

Hannah: Yeah. So in that sense, I’m like, okay. Or they just wanted to see me bomb again or, like, see some other number. What I think I learned from this was, like, it set some kind of precedent of, um, this is the kind of, this is how I’m gonna show up that people maybe resonated with while kind of pulling on this. Oh, she might be. She’s gonna be super transparent because if she’s transparent here, maybe in the free class, even if it’s a different topic, she’s gonna be equally transparent. I liked that. And I think this has sort of changed the way that I do my emails. Like, because, like, this one was fairly recent. I must have sent this, like, maybe a month ago, but it certainly changed the way I do. I show up in my emails because I felt like I swung in a way that was out of my comfort zone here. And I haven’t seen this, I haven’t seen a lot of other people do this consistently or to the degree that, like, I would like to, mind you, I haven’t done something like this again. And maybe my numbers are still kind of, but I think it’s maybe also more of a practice. Like, it’s not always numbers. You know, it’s like, so the, so what happened here is once I sent this email, you joined the free class and then I sold an offer, I presented an offer at the end of the class and then my emails for that I think were also trying to swing big. So I was very transparent about stuff that happened with clients, the stuff that didnt go well and stuff that went well, but using these stories to really show keep that level of transparency because I feel like thats the guts that people want to see, that I wanted to see and was just kind of masked over with like, hey look, I have so many likes or attention or expertise that’s seen in social, but then I’m like, yeah, but like, what is it actually? Like, you must have some struggles, you must have red flag clients, you must have problems that you’ve learned out of. So this kind of became a trajectory. I feel like it’s now my theme of like, what is the tough to tell story that I can just hit send on that I’ve learned something from that is just a bit more real and also helpful. That’s kind of the vibe that I want to take since I sent this one.

Nikki: That’s super cool because now it’s not just this one email that you once sent out as an experiment, now it is. This is your list. Now, is this building in public kind of transparent, let’s figure this all out together kind of thing? I think that’s another thing is a lot of times you’ll see these more vulnerable, quote unquote, kinds of posts, uh, or emails or things. But, you know, they happened five years ago and now everything is fine and dandy and, you know, there’s no more emotion there. There’s no more tears, there’s no more frustration. Um, but it has that, like, sort of outdated feel because it happened five years ago and it definitely doesn’t feel as vulnerable because they’re in a position of more expertise. So it feels less like you can relate to them because they’re ahead of you, you know, so, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Hannah: There’s like a safety net now that they have, whereas I do, and I do think that, and I think my thinking around this has, like, kind of changed because I’ve been on TikTok and, like, been steeped in this world that I’ve been noticing how, you know, I’m, um, because I’m trying to, like, get more visibility on TikTok it’s such a, like, the barometer is so clear there. Like, did this work? Didn’t this. You learn right away. And that has been a really helpful tool to bring to the emails because I’m like, oh, I want, can I make someone feel this even though they’re not seeing my m face? And I do think that there’s actually a lot of power and positioned, uh, you can position yourself absolutely as an authority, even if you’re sort of, like, airing your dirty laundry, because you get to choose, like, how to, how to spin the story. You know, I think that it’s like the, there is so much of this, like, the person behind, are you real? Are you, like, a human? Do you get what I’m going through? You know, and if you can show that in a very intimate space, like, someone’s inbox, it’s. It’s kind of cool, you know, you get to, like, swap stories or, like, horror stories and then have the learning on the other side of it, you know?

Nikki: Yeah, that’s cool. I just read this amazing, amazing quote from, I don’t remember his name. I’ll have to put it in the show notes.

Nikki: I don’t remember if he’s a billionaire or a millionaire, some very wealthy, successful individual. And he came from, like, total poverty. He immigrated from India to the United states, and he was always, you know, he said, I could have looked at, he speaks with a very strong indian accent, and he said, I could have looked at this as a weakness. You know, here’s all these people speaking fluent English, you know, total sound american. You know, they give off over that confidence and, like, that knowledge. And here I am struggling. And he said, instead, I’m going to look at what’s the positive behind this challenge. And he said, when people talk to me, they have to listen 100% because I am harder to understand. So that means that I get full attention when people are talking to me, they’re listening to me. That is something that other people don’t get. That is amazing. That is so cool. This is the best thing ever. And it really changed his approach, and it gave him all this positive spin, gave him this amazing success, and I thought that was so cool. So what you’re saying about spinning the story of this weakness into a way that, you know, you can still be seen as expert because you are still the expert. Experts make mistakes, too. So, yeah, that’s a cool way of.

Nikki Elbaz: Looking at it, that it’s not.

Nikki: It’s not. I can tell you this mistake, uh, because it came success eventually came from it. Or I can tell you this mistake because I moved past it and now I’m successful.

Hannah: It’s.

Nikki: I can tell you this mistake because here’s what I’m learning from it, and. And here’s all the context of why mistakes don’t matter as much as we think they matter.

Hannah: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I like. I like that story that you shared. I think that’s. It’s cool. Like, there is always that spin that you can make, and I think the closer you can make it, the closer you make it to an event, the more vulnerable. Right. But you get to choose what you want to be vulnerable about and what you want to share and what that message is. I think you can definitely swing this in the opposite direction, and it’s, like, not helpful and it’s too kind of click baity, you know? Um, but because you really are tugging on, um, like a human reflex to, like, I want to know the numbers, I want to know the inside. But if you can, you know, do good with it and actually help or share something that’s important or something that you learned, I think it’s, um, for the better. I think it’s cool. Yeah.

Nikki: Super. And I love that you took the medium of TikTok and the. What you’re gaining from being there and applying it to other. I love that cross medium, uh, kind of thing. I think that’s super, super fun.

Hannah: And it wasn’t on purpose, I’ll tell you that. It was like, that’s the thing with inspiration.

Nikki: It comes from everywhere. That’s super cool. All right, so last question. What is your favorite brand to call inspiration from and why?

Hannah: I was thinking about this and, like, there are a bunch of names I have. I mean, I guess they’re brands, but they’re more people. Like, I love your emails. I love, like, Hilary Weiss, Margot Aaron Arzan, Kay, Matt Lerner. They’re just like the people, you know, it’s like, I get. It’s like getting an email that’s like the dressed down version of the business and, you know, you get a window into someone’s thinking that feels like I would this positioned in a way that’s very open. That’s kind of what I gravitate to. And I, uh. Like. And I think that’s had a lot of influence on my way of writing because if you feel a connection from an email, then, you know, it’s. I think that’s telling. Like, I’m on a bunch of, like, newsletters, but the second I feel, and this is my own bias. But the second I feel like the newsletter is, like, in this, it’s in the newsletter form, um, it has a different purpose. You know, um, it’s not, it’s not that it’s not valuable, it’s not that it won’t convert, but it’s, uh, I connect more with the emails that are, like, emails, you know, there’s a scrappiness to them. There’s a, like, you’re not following the same, like, properness that maybe a, you know, formal newsletter might. And there are other newsletters that are from people still, but they don’t have that same, like, I’m sending you an email. Hi, I’m in your inbox. This. I’m this person. You know, that’s kind of my vibe. That’s what I love.

Nikki Elbaz: Cool.

Nikki: Yeah, it’s taking email back to its root and using it the way that email was originally meant to be and the way that we’re still using it now, just not from businesses. So that’s pretty cool.

Hannah: Nice.

Nikki: Nice.

Hannah: What kid doesn’t want their toys to come to life

Thank you, Hannah. This was super interesting conversation. Always a pleasure and thanks for joining.

Hannah: Thank you.

Nikki Elbaz: Thanks for joining me for email story time. If you enjoyed today’s story, give this podcast a review so email marketers like, you can have more fun with email. See you next week when we dig.

Nikki: Into this toys takeaways up next on email swipes. And, like, what kid didn’t want their toys to come to life? Like, find me one kid who was not like, yes, if my Teddy bear or toy or whatever, like, Barbie came to life.

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