How I built an email idea machine

As I’m setting up emails to send to customers, I often wonder what emails my competitors are sending.

By competitors I mean other plumbers in general, not necessarily the ones in my geographic market.

I know I could sign up for a dozen email newsletters and I’d start seeing what the competition is doing.

I’ve done this in the past with big-name marketers to learn how they write a compelling email, and I learned a lot.

The downside is that your inbox fills up with marketing emails.

This tends to throw off my daily inbox routine, and it means I usually end up archiving or deleting those emails, so the whole thing ends up being a waste of time.

I knew that I wanted to collect marketing emails from other plumbers, I didn’t want to see them in my inbox, but I wanted to be able to review them at the right time.

Oh, and I wanted to be able to organize and share my email collection with others. So I couldn’t just create a tag/archive filter in Gmail, because I needed to move them out of Gmail.

Here’s what I ended up doing.

I signed up for newsletters

First, I started searching for plumbing companies with newsletter sign-up forms. Once I started looking, I found a bunch of sites that use an agency called Footbridge Media, and their newsletter signup forms ask for a lot of information.

A newsletter sign-up form that asks for your street address
I just wanted to sign up for a newsletter!

Since I didn’t want to give out an address, I skipped all of these websites (there were many) and went for those who let me sign up with just an email address, or a name and email.

So now I had emails coming in… now to get them out of my inbox.

I set up a basic Gmail filter

First I needed a simple way to tell these emails apart from my other emails. I opted to use the old plus sign trick: every time I signed up for a newsletter, I added a special identifier to my email address.

Gmail doesn't count anything between the '+' and '@' signs

There are other ways to set up a filter, but this is my favorite.

I moved them out of the inbox

Now that I identified the emails, I just needed to get them out of my mailbox.

I eventually found this blog post that pointed me to a Google Sheets Add-on called Save Emails & Attachments.

Save Emails & Attachments by Digital Inspiration

Save Emails & Attachments
by Digital Inspiration

The plugin has a walkthrough to help you get set up. The add-on lets you select which filter you’d like to use to collect your emails: I used the filter that I set up in the previous step.

The end result: an automated email swipe file

As I come across additional plumber newsletter forms, I’ll drop my special email address into them. When I’m ready to do something with the emails, I’ll have a folder filled with PDFs that I can review and sort. Tada! Email idea machine.

Plumber newsletters in their special Google Drive folder

In the future I’ll organize the emails by topic, type and quality. I’d like to start assembling statistics around the individual campaigns and see how often the average plumbing company sends email newsletters.

I’m also curious to see what type of emails are sent the most. Of course, just because they’re popular doesn’t mean their effective, but it will be interesting nonetheless.

If you’ve solved this problem before, I want to hear how you did it and what you learned.