Want to Start a Newsletter? Here’s How!

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image: Tatiana Nino for Unsplash

There are a lot of reasons to send out a newsletter. Email marketing — of which newsletters are a subset — continues to deliver the highest ROI available, so if you’re just starting out, the low cost of access is a terrific motivator. Perhaps you want to make some special offers, let your customers and potential customers get to know you, or even just want to make sure you stay top-of-mind for them. Whatever your reason, there are some clear do’s and don’ts when sending newsletters.

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Select a platform

You’re not actually sending out the emails yourself; you’re going to use an email messaging platform, many of which are available at a very low financial entry-point. That’s the good news. The bad news is there are so many out there that it can take time to choose. Determine what features are important to you and then consider which platforms offer those features at the lowest cost. Also, check out what other customers say about each platform — recommendations can make all the difference.

Build an email list

Notice that I said “build,” not “buy.” You’re trying to establish a connection, a relationship, with your audience, and you don’t do that by randomly throwing your newsletter out there. Plus, there’s the law. You may send one email to all your contacts, inviting them to join your newsletter, but that’s all: sending out unsolicited emails is not only a bad way to do business, it’s also illegal.

So how do you build the list? First, put together a paragraph of copy that describes (preferably in attractive and enticing terms) what the newsletter is about and inviting people to a signup link. Post this paragraph on social media, and include it after your signature line in business emails. Link to it from your website. If you do anything in the non-digital world (give talks, sell merchandise, etc.), have a signup sheet available at all times to capture names and email addresses.

Compliance

If your newsletter doesn’t get in their inbox, it’s like winking in the dark — no one will see it! CAN-SPAM is a federal law in the United States that …

  • prohibits misleading headers
  • prohibits deceptive subject lines
  • requires a valid physical address
  • requires a valid unsubscribe

Don’t worry too much about this, though: all the email marketing platforms have these requirements baked into their templates.

Make it personal

I’ve never understood why this is true, but apparently people like to be called by name when receiving emails. I don’t, but I’m clearly a minority. Check out the content section below for tips of subject lines.

Strategize frequency

Think about your target audience. (Um, you’ve already determined who this is, right?) How frequently will they want to hear from you? And how frequently can you consistently put out solid, quality content? These are the two factors that determine frequency. I know a company that puts out two newsletters a week, and their clients gobble them up; I do have a feeling that may be an exception. If you really don’t know what people want, ask them! There are a number of options online for taking polls, or you can do one through social media platforms.

CONTENT CONSIDERATIONS

The content of the email message, as well as the subject line, is the most important in engaging the subscriber/consumer/customer.

Subject lines

We’re all constantly inundated with messages to our screens. Companies are competing for consumers’ attention levels, and a message that’s clear, to the point, and easy to read will garner more attention from the recipient. And better results for you!

There are a lot of lists you can find online that will give you great suggestions for subject lines. Again, you know your audience, and should know what will pique their interest and make them want to open the email and read the newsletter. But the truth is, everyone stresses over subject lines — it can feel like a crapshoot. That’s why a number of companies (including some of the email marketing platforms) offer specialized testing for subject lines.

A quick overview of some subject lines:

  • Questions: Are you feeling overwhelmed by stress?
  • How-to: How to get better results with your diet for 10 minutes a day
  • Scarcity: Hurry — we have a limited number of seats available
  • Timing: This offer is valid only until midnight tonight!
  • Announcement: New gallery opening on Main Street
  • Number: 6 ways to improve your focus at work
  • Humor: What Genghis Khan can teach you about investing
  • Personalization: Mary Smith, this message is for you!

The subject line you choose doesn’t have to reflect the whole of the newsletter. You may be offering three separate articles in a given message. Have the subject line relate to the first article and you’re good to go. Just make sure it really does relate — headlines and subject lines that mislead readers are clickbait and you’ll see your open rates go down and your unsubscribes go up if you try it.

Articles

What you write about is really dependent on you and your audience. The most important consideration is this: you should offer 80% useful information to go with 20% promotional content. So if you run a cleaning company, for example, you might include tips for tidying, an article on how companies clean after disasters, a checklist for scouring the bathroom before your in-laws arrive, etc. These all give useful or interesting information to the reader and position you as knowing what you’re doing — an expert they can turn to when they need your services.

You have two options for articles. You can make them short and include the whole article in your newsletter; or you can post the entire long article on your blog and include two or three paragraphs of it in your newsletter with a button allowing people to click through to read the rest of it on the blog. Either way, the point is clear: keep it short. We’ve all developed the attention span of a goldfish, so don’t press your luck.

Images & video

I’m a wordsmith, so it pains me to say this, but without graphics no one’s going to read your newsletter. That’s the bad news. The good news is you no longer have to be a Photoshop expert to produce decent graphics on your own. There are a number of applications, many of them free, that will help you create images to go with your articles.

That said, I’m making an assumption here: that you already have a professional logo and branded look-and-feel created that runs through everything you produce: your website, your flyers, your social media presence. If you don’t, stop everything and work on that first. If you do, then make sure your newsletter conforms to the branding.

Making your newsletter eye-catching, with light copy and great consistent graphics and video will ensure continuing interest.

Call to action

Don’t forget you’re not writing this for the heck of it: you want your audience to do something, right? To sign up for something, to buy something, to visit your website… whatever the action is you want people to take, make that the easiest and most obvious option in your newsletter.

Remember: Google is your friend. Search for “best email newsletter samples” or something along those lines, and look at all the templates offered by email marketing platforms. Look around and see what’s out there, and what might make the most sense for your business. Engage others — colleagues, friends, your Aunt Edna — and ask for their opinions.

Happy writing to all!

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Written by

Bestselling novelist of mystery and historical fiction. Writer, editor, & business storyteller at jeannettedebeauvoir.com.

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