The effectiveness of newsletters
Newsletters are one of the best ideas for marketing a small business. These documents go by a variety of names, from email lists to subscriptions. Newsletters are great ways to convey information and connect with your customers. The first step to a newsletter is establishing a list of people interested in receiving that letter.
NOTE: You should not be sending your newsletters out unsolicited, whether or not they have shown an interest in your business. People who are interested have to say so themselves to make newsletters fair.
Why is the list important? While mass marketing strategies are a great way to start out, you need to ultimately build a customer base that you can connect with if you hope to be successful. Setting up a subscription is a perfect for establishing this base because it provides you with direct contact information for your customers.
Benefits of establishing a newsletters
- Always cheap (often free)
- Simple strategy
- Doesn’t take a lot of time (initially it does, but you will establish templates to streamline the process)
- Reliable contact information is gained from the customer
- This is a steady line of contact between you and the customer
- Acts as a call to action for new interested customers – See the person may not be ready to buy, but are ready to sign up for more information. Newsletters are a great call to action.
- Newsletters are a great place to advertise upcoming promotions, give away discounts, and offer benefits for sharing information
- People who sign up have interest in hearing what you have to say!
- You’re making it easy for people to share your information
Guidelines surrounding newsletters
Laws regarding newsletters
In addition, It is important to note that there are several laws regarding privacy and email marketing in Australia.
Things to avoid in newsletters
- Unsolicited emails
- Being repetitive
- Cold and impersonal
- All sales, no connection
If you send emails that are interpreted as spam, your company’s reputation will suffer and your interested potential client list will shrink exponentially. So don’t do it.
Do not underestimate the trust that clients are putting in you by providing you with their email address. Always respect their privacy, and the fact that they are interested (by keeping your content interesting).
Newsletters really are not about sales. They’re far more about connecting with the people who want to hear more about your business and what you do. They are about communication. Clear communication and absolute connection with people should be the primary goals at all times when writing newsletters. If you keep these things in mind, you won’t go wrong.
Now that all of that is in the way, let’s go into the specifics of how to make a newsletter and how to make it well.
Step 1: Your brand
So, you’re willing to offer an opt in newsletter or email list, you’ve got the basic idea. But how does this fit with your current business model?
It’s time to consider your brand. Your brand is the underlying message beneath it all that you want your company to always communicate. It is related to your target market, your product itself, your competition, and how you plan to stand out from the crowd.
Your brand is the foundation of your business.
Figuring out what your brand is
Grab a drink and a piece of paper, sit down in a comfortable chair, and pretend there’s somebody in the chair next to you asking you about your business. What are you going to tell them about your product? Your business? The competition in your market? Your target audience? Your goals? Yourself?
Make some notes on your page. What stands out? What’s most important? What is your bottom line message?
Once you’ve thought about these things, you’ll be getting a better idea of what your brand is and, hopefully, you’ll be getting used to the idea of incorporating your brand into your newsletter.
Step 2: Working your brand into your newsletter
So you’ve thought about your brand, and now you want to use it in your newsletter.
Time to start brainstorming for ideas related to your brand. What ideas clearly communicate your message? How can you use these ideas within your newsletter?
Helpful hint: one of the things you will want to get creative about is the titling of your subscription. Newsletter is a somewhat archaic term. We recommend trying to rework it wherever possible. (We will keep calling this a newsletter for clarity sake, but try to rename it)
Make a list of these ideas, write them down. We will use these ideas throughout this guide.
Tips for your newsletter brainstorm
- Rename the newsletter you’ll be sending
- Come up with a group name for those who sign up
- Brainstorm layouts and designs that will compose your newsletters’ look.
- Get creative about how your brand will be displayed throughout your messages
We’ve already mentioned that your brand will form the foundation of your content, but how will this work? Will what you do come through in the layout, or in the way you talk? These are things to think about.
- Think about how you can stand out from the rest, what will be your “wow”?
People should be able to feel excited about subscribing to your newsletter. Give them content that interests them enough that this can happen! Offer discounts, promotions that only subscribers get, be as creative as possible!
Step 3: Making your newsletter a must read
We’ve already said it, the purpose of a good newsletter isn’t sales, it’s to communicate effectively. However beyond communication, you need to know what else you are trying to accomplish.
Do you have any particular goals? Are you trying to educate people about the product, or establish yourself as an authority in your field? Are you sharing client stories or are you spreading your name throughout those who will be interested in it?
When writing content, you need to be strategic and focused about what you’re including.
Generally speaking, newsletters follow at least one of the following general purposes: to provide information, to amuse the readers, to educate on a specific topic, to foster a sense of community, or to form a sense of exclusivity amongst those willing to subscribe.
You can follow more than one purpose, but you need to be aware of what the goals are before you begin writing.
The type of newsletters
Now that you’ve figured out what you want to do, it’s time to figure out how you want to do it. Do you want more of a magazine feel or a letter? Are you running a course or a club? The following are the series of newsletter types that you have to choose from in general.
Catalogue – Catalogues are focused around the images that make them up. There are bits of information, but it’s a lot of splashy images, products, and descriptions.
Club – This publication’s primary goal is to foster a sense of community amongst your readers and between them and yourself.
Course – This can involve homework, questions and answers, training, and so on, within the specific structural framework of a class type publication.
Letter – This publication is driven by the text in it. It’s very conversational in style and has to end with a signature. A great way to bond with the reader.
Magazine – A publication that focuses on images, but does have some text as well.
News – This reads like the paper, fewer images and more articles.
Subscription – Similar to a club, a person who signs up for this want to feel like they have a community, they want access to exclusive discounts and what not, and to feel like it’s worth it.
Conveying the importance of your message
You need to be clear about three things in particular if you expect people to be reading your newsletter.
1) What they will get if they sign up?
2) How the newsletter is delivered, and how they will open it
3) How to sign up?
Make signing up for a newsletter a call to action. This can be done via an attractive sign up box, or just making lists of the most beneficial reasons to sign up.
Offer incentives and promotions! This can be the final straw that gets people to click through in the end. Just make sure that your incentive does not undervalue your product by making it seem like you have to give it away for some one to want it.
A certain amount of exclusivity is great, feeling like you’re being forced to give your product away, not so great.
- $25 vouchers if they spend a certain amount?
- Exclusive tips that aren’t available on your website already
- Special specific offers available only to those who have signed up for your publication
You do not have to offer incentives, but I think it’s a great way to pull in some extra traffic who may just be on the verge of trying out your newsletter. It also helps with the content.
If you’ve seen the small list and are still struggling to think of what your business could offer, consider the following page which is chalk full of suggestions for what your business can offer.
EXERCISE: See if you can answer these questions about your newsletter
1) What are the purpose(s) of your newsletter?
2) What type of newsletter seems right for you?
3) Will you offer an incentive? What kind?
4) How will you convey the benefits of signing up for your newsletter for your consumers?
Types of products:
Types of offers:
- Free giveaway
- Discount with purchase
- Exclusive ongoing discounts – An exclusive set of benefits available only to your subscribers
Examples of incentives:
- Free additional information
- Helpful hints not available on your website
- Summary sheets (usually posters or pictures) to remind the user of the content
- Planning sheets
- Detailed instructions
- Videos with yourself/some interaction
- Course access
- One-on-one estimates or planning with yourself
- Access to a seminar
- Anything else you think your business can provide!
Step 4: Content, content, content
If you’ve been reading along, you’re likely ready at this point to write some content. This article will review several tips and guidelines to ensure that your readers will have no doubts about your newsletter – it becomes a must read.
It is absolutely crucial that you remember at this point that this newsletter is not for sales. This publication should be focused on connecting with people and raising your credibility, so that when you are making a sales pitch on your website or blog, people will be more likely to follow through.
If you’ve already decided on the type of publication you want, the brand you are promoting and the message behind it, and you understand the goals of your publication, chances are you’ve already been brainstorming
If you still need some guidance, don’t worry, we have assembled the following list of sources that provide great sources for brainstorming these ideas:
- Topics that have come up on your social media resources
- Currently popular questions (or topics in general) within your market
- Frequently asked questions
- Surveys to discover more about your client base
Traditional types of content
You can talk about any number of things within your newsletter. From a detailed discussion of a specific product to a press release you want to distribute, there is a lot of variety within the content domain of your newsletter.
There are two primary classes of content: traditional, and alternate. Traditional content is, as the name implies, quite normal content that can be used regularly.
Here are some examples of traditional content:
- Blog posts, articles, from whomever you can obtain permission from to use (so yourself or somebody you’ve asked)
- Contest releases
- News of your business or of your market
- Youtube videos
Alternate content is content you may want to use if you’re looking to spice things up for your customers, keep yourself from being too predictable, or share any thing you don’t typically share.
Here are some examples of alternative content:
- Product launch excitement generation
- Regular deals/discounts
- Seasonal posts
Critical components of content
Regardless of the content that you decide to use, all of it will have to include specific components to make your product easy and enjoyable to read.
- The title – More commonly referred to as the headline, this piece is designed to attract attention from your readers.
- Objectives/table of contents – Overview what this letter will be going over to make your document easier to read and appeal to more customers
- Images wherever possible! Interesting, dynamic images or styles of the layout.
- Use subheadings – Using subheadings makes a newsletter type publication MUCH easier to read, which in turn makes your readers MUCH more likely to read it.
- Text that is easy to understand, easy to scan, and easy to connect with your brand.
- Links – for further research if the reader is interested. This is where you can get some return traffic to your site, use a call to action wherever possible!
- A teaser – Coming up in our next issue… and so on. These statements generate excitement surrounding your next publication, and encourage loyalty in readers.
Remember, the easier you make it on your reader, the more likely he/she will be to read and then share what you’ve sent.
Let the word be officially declared spread, you’re ready to produce a great publication!
See if you can answer these questions.
1) What types of content do you need to get your brand message out there?
2) How will you develop this content/where will it come from?
3) How will each piece of content fit into your specific publication?
Step 5: How to send your newsletter
A lot of people presume they will be sending out their monthly/weekly subscription publication through their email. We do not recommend this option.
Using your own email looks unprofessional, has a higher chance of being discarded, and makes it very difficult for you to keep up with all of your subscribers and avoid violating any body’s privacy. We could go on but the bottom line here is, you don’t want to use your email for your newsletter.
SO what DO you want to use? Ideally, a program designed to distribute newsletters.
Why pay money for something you can do yourself for free?
- These programs are designed to distribute newsletters better, and faster, than you could possibly hope to.
- Automatic replies can be set through the use of these programs to specific customers
- These programs make tracking your reader list and content clicked, easy and convenient to do
- Easy to use templates
- Conveniently set up options (like subscribe/unsubscribe) for your readers
- Your competitors are likely using programs like this (and can end up looking better because of it)
- You will pay in lost customers for what you save in small bits of cash
- You can get some of these programs for free!
So what programs should you use for your newsletter?
My favourite is Mailchimp. I’ll come right out and say it. Mailchimp offers tutorials for people who don’t yet understand how these programs work, it produces professional results relatively easily, the creators have been responsive to help requests, and they offer you a lot of their services for free.
But, I don’t just want to offer you one option, so here are some more newsletter programs:
- Mad mimi
There are other programs available, these are just some of the major ones known to be effective. This guide will focus on Mailchimp, because I am most familiar with it and I am absolutely confident in recommending that you use it to.
1. Mailchimp (Highly recommended)
What you get with Mailchimp…
Powered by MailChimp
MailChimp makes it easy to design exceptional email campaigns, share them on social networks, integrate with web services you already use, manage subscribers, and track your results. You’ll love mixing and matching MailChimp’s templates, features, and integrations to suit your needs—think of it as your own personal publishing platform.
What you get with Aweber…
AWeber is one of the best Auto Email Responders in the industry, which includes numerous features that can highly help you in the development of your business.
AWeber offers very intuitive scheduling and sequencing that make it very easy to organize and launch strategically timed mailing campaigns.
So pick one and let’s move on.
If you did not pick mailchimp, that is fine! You can continue to use this guide, just be aware that some of the labelling in the instructions may differ in your service provider’s program.
The Step by Step Guide
1) Create the list itself
- Make a list of the people that you know will want to receive your newsletter – those who have given their express permission for you to contact them ONLY.
◦ The easier you make this process, the better. Don’t ask for too much information, provide an opt in form when possible, give easy instructions – anything that streamlines the process increases the chances of people clicking to sign up.
- Separate this list into individual groups (by age, sex, business client or supplier, family or stranger, etc)
- Set up your colour scheme
- Create your sign up form to make this process easier in the future (so that you no longer have to manually build the list)
- Add the sign up option to your website (bottom of blog, side of website, etc)
2) Create the publication
- Consider the use of templates for the publications themselves. Your program should have a selection available. Just make sure that the template matches the colour scheme you’ve chosen that should match with your website, to keep your brand building up at all times.
- List the sections you intend to include every time (objectives, headings, consistent pictures)
- Write an about you/about the business blurb that will go in every time
- Add an archive link so that subscribers can look into your history should they develop the interest to do so (and even continue to share that material)
- Set up social media links throughout for easy access and sharing
- Save the publication as is (in template form) so that you can use it again, and again, with different content
3) Set up any auto replies you’d like
- Welcome emails for new subscribers (friendly, with some old content for them to peruse and some teaser content to keep the interest up)
- Incentive emails
Step 6: When to send it? And how often?
At this point you should have the template all laid out, some content brainstorming going on, and a target audience. This is great! When does your publication go out?
It’s time to start thinking about the timing of it all. When will you send it? How often will you send it? What holidays will you be able to take special advantage of? What holidays will you not be sending it?
The key is to prepare to be as consistent as possible, from choosing a time interval (weekly, monthly, etc) to choosing a particular time of day to send it (noon, 6pm, etc). The more reliable the newsletter is, the more the reader can know when to count on it being there, and thus the easier it is for them to plan to read it.
How often should you be sending your publication?
The answer to this question depends a lot on what kind of business you’re running. Some businesses lend themselves to weekly emails, others only need a monthly update. It’s up to you to decide what your business needs and how often you will be prepared to write it.
That being said, your general choices are as follows:
Make sure that once you have selected a time frame, you stay with that time frame! Consistency is king. If people don’t know when to expect your newsletter, or haven’t seen it in months, they will forget about it. You don’t want this! Your newsletter is to connect with people and to give them a chance to frequently be in contact with your information.
Think of your timeframe as a promise. And keep that promise.
What day should you send it on?
This too is a very individual question. The key to answering this will lay in your target audience. Will your reader be more likely to open a newsletter on the weekend or Tuesday afternoon? You need to figure this out as best you can, and try to remain consistent (even with bi-weekly publications as this goes to your reliability).
What time should you send it?
Mailchimp and various other newsletter programs often allow you to set a time of day to send out your publication.
So do some testing and see how people respond, but ultimately make this decision according to your target audience.
What holidays should I be making use of?
The holidays are a great time to send out special edition material or extra bonus incentives, even if the holiday falls outside your normally scheduled communications.
Pay special attention to any holidays that have specific connection to your business: your business’ anniversary, product launch dates, promotional offers (occasionally), or even individual holidays like birthdays or customer appreciation days.
Any of these days can be a great way to get extra attention for your business and your newsletter in particular. Try and line up your content wherever possible (whether that be in colour scheme or content itself).
Step 7: Who to send your newsletter to – figure out who you want and how to get to them!
You’ve got your newsletter set up, time to connect it with an audience!
We’ve already talked about it, to be successful you will need to figure out your target market and target them effectively. Who is it that would want to read your publication? What kinds of content might they like? The key to gaining an audience is finding one you think might want to listen, so figure out your target market and hold to it!
Where do you get subscriptions from?
From your existing followers
One of the easiest groups to convince you’re worth listening to is the ones who are already listening. This makes sense, but many people miss it, thinking that these people are already customers, why do they need to target them? Increasing brand loyalty, connecting with them, these are all major reasons you started a publication in the first place!
In fact, if you’re tactful about it (ie sending ONE email not several), you can even send out a friendly email to your current customer base letting them know you’re starting up a publication and asking if they’d like to be notified of it.
Be careful with this though, if you get to sounding remotely like an unsolicited advertisement, you’ll get thrown out like junk mail and you may lose a customer that you already had.
With all the forms of calls to action that are available (sidebars, bottom of blog, buttons along the side), the internet is an invaluable way to gain new subscribers. Make it easy to opt in, and chances are people will.
Just make sure that your opt in process is clear: provide benefits (even incentives at times), let people know what they are, and always stay on course/task with your publications when sending a newsletter. People like to get what they expected to get when they signed up, don’t disappoint.
Best places on your website for your call to action
- Above the ‘more’ tag on your webpage – Just like the above the fold section of the newspaper, this area of your articles is valuable as it naturally captures the interest of its readers.
- Links to sign ups throughout your website
- The sidebar
- Visitor pop ups that prompt new guests to sign up
- Footers at the bottom of the page
You can use social media to post teaser content or even the content itself. Having some one subscribe to your Twitter or Facebook now has almost the same following power as an email address in terms of access to the individual. They still have to elect to hear from you, they still get regular updates, but they are a little more in control of whether or not they see them.
An excellent use of social media is to engage with your readers. “What do you want to hear about this month? What was your favourite topic last month?” These are great questions that invite the reader to connect with you, encouraging loyalty.
Don’t forget to make it easy for your readers to share your stories via social media throughout the newsletter. The easier it is to share, the more likely they are to do it (I know, you’re getting sick of hearing it by now, but it doesn’t make it any less true!)
Host demonstrations, attend fairs, have your friends throw you a business party if possible. The bottom line? Get your business out there! This is a lot tougher offline, but the connections you make are easier to keep hold of in some ways, some one who can immediately look you in the eyes or receive their incentive today is very likely to sign up for an email list they won’t get until later.
Helpful hint? Avoid the untick to avoid contact from you option. Too many webpages assume you want their newsletter and while they think they’re being clever, there’s no way to guarantee that their audience didn’t just get tired of reading the form. By opting in (rather than forcing some one to opt out to avoid hearing from you) you put yourself and your business in a more positive light – do you want to hear from me? They have to say yes.
Don’t worry about unsubscribes!
Every one gets them. Sometimes it means your content needs improving, but other times it means simply the person doesn’t have enough time to get to your publication. Either way? It would be a pretty rare situation to have every single recipient of your publication to unsubscribe at once, focus on the audience you have left and on expanding and adding to it, rather than chasing those who no longer wish to be a part of it.
Make the unsubscribe process easy!
Not every one who is clicking unsubscribe is leaving your business behind entirely, but if you frustrate them with a 20 minute opt-out process? They might change their minds. You’d lose a customer instead of just a reader.
Step 8: Use your tracking statistics to modify your approaches
This is the final step of this guide. You’ve produced a document, you’ve got an audience, and you’re sending it out, it’s time to give you the final key: You should always be seeking to improve your newsletter content.
There are a few ways to do this, and they should be consistently sought after.
Google Analytics can be a great tool for this.
Any time you use a button or some other link, track it. This will allow you to see where your clicks are coming from, how many people are staying on those pages once they click those links, and even what times of day most of the clicks are coming from (which can give you a hint as to the timing of your publication).
You can also solicit feedback from your readers. This can be especially critical as they are the ones reading it and they can provide direct tips on how to improve.
Ways of soliciting feedback
- Invite people to reply to your emails
- Engage via social media
- Keep record of customer comments
Easiest way in the world to get feedback? Ask for it! Creating a survey can be a great way to show readers you care and get information at the same time. However, we do have a few tips we’d like to provide to ensure that your survey is effective – and that people actually do it!
Tip 1: Make it easy for people to complete the survey – Relatively simple to answer questions increase the odds of people being willing to answer. You can leave room for people to make additional comments, but we recommend mostly multiple choice surveys – they’re easy to analyze and they’re easy to take.
Tip 2: Be brief! The less time it will take your readers to complete the survey, the easier it is for them to complete. See tip 1 for the effects of ease of access! A good rule would be generally to aim for no more than 3-5 questions.
Tip 3: When you ask readers to take the survey let them know what it’s for, how long it will take them, and why you want the feedback.
Tip 4: Thank those who took the survey!
Use tracking to assess how people respond to surveys, if nobody is clicking through this may not be an effective way for you to gather feedback. Don’t panic, see the other methods listed above.
A lot of publication programs have built in testing systems (mailchimp has split testing for example) that will allow you to send out different copies of the same newsletter and track the results.
A key to this? Only test one difference or very few differences at a time – this is so that you can conclusively say “people liked factor A better than factor B”. The more changes you make, the more complicated it will be to assume what it is people responded to in the separate emails.
Testing can be done with subjects, calls to action, times to send the newsletter. It is an invaluable resource when sending out consistent publications.
This is it, this is the end. Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope it helped!
My advice to you? Follow the advice you’ve been given. Re-read chapters if necessary and always make notes as you work with your own publications.
If you’re focused on putting out a quality product, it will show. Pay attention to your target market and how they respond to your field in general and your product in specific. Work to make your newsletter the best it can be, and make it easy for people to sign up!
Most of all? Remember that you have things of value to say, and people will be happy that you spoke up to share them!
WHO – Who is your target market, what do they want to hear, and what can you specifically offer them?
WHAT – What type of content are you offering? How will you present it? How does it benefit your readers? What are your overarching goals?
WHEN – How soon do you expect to achieve your goals? Make a timeline.
WHERE – Where will you be distributing? Where are most of your goals going to happen? Where will you get the things that you need to attain your goals?
WHY – What are your goals? Why should people go along with them?
HOW – What is your brand and how will you consistently use the strategies you have planned above to promote it?
WATCH – How will you know when you have succeeded?