We create a lot of websites here, but we also give a lot of advice. One of the questions we get asked a lot is how to start a newsletter. How do you add a signup to your site, how do you get subscribers, what type of marketing automation platform to use, how to design a template for the newsletter, and of course, what should they write about?
Everyone wants to start collecting emails so they can market to those people, but very few people want to actually do the work that goes along with having a newsletter. And trust me, it is work.
Having a place online for your users to sign up for your newsletter is just one tiny step in this process. The hard part is creating the content that keeps them engaged. And one thing I’ve learned over the years as a regular content creator is that creating content can be tough.
Before you add a newsletter sign up to your site, first think about and make a plan for the kind of content you are going to be sending out in those newsletters, the newsletter schedule, and everything else that goes along with it.
Pick your schedule
A newsletter is only a newsletter if it’s being sent regularly. It can be weekly, biweekly, monthly, quarterly. Whatever regularity you want is fine, but sending one once and then not again, or just whenever it occurs to you, is typically not something I recommend. If you want to keep your subscribers engaged, then sending regular content is important. Consider that a newsletter isn’t just you giving a person some information, but it’s you taking up residence in the reader’s life. You, your brand, your company. Every time you communicate with someone, it’s like saying, “Hi! Remember me?” And when that person needs something that you offer, guess who they’ll remember?
Now that you’ve figured out how often you are going to send that newsletter, plan for when you are going to write this newsletter. Remember that newsletters don’t write themselves, and plan for it to take more time than you expect.
Plan your content
Don’t wing it when it comes to your newsletter. Plan your content in advance, and more than just one newsletter at a time. If you plan to truly engage with your audience, then planning is essential. Since you already have decided on your message frequency, now is the time to decide on what you plan to write about in each message. I recommend planning content for 4-6 months in advance. And if you are writing weekly, that is 16-24 newsletters that you need to plan for.
How do you plan for six months of newsletters? With a content calendar, of course. A content calendar is just a written schedule of when you plan to publish upcoming content. You can use one for publishing content to social media, to your website, to your blog, and for your newsletter. A content calendar isn’t just a list of dates and topics, but a thoroughly planned out schedule for publishing your content.
There are plenty of places where you can find online content calendars to help you get started. But personally, I like to use a spreadsheet to stay organized. You can make it as detailed as you like. Mine includes the date and time I’m going to publish, the title and overview of the content, what graphic I plan to use with it, and the blurbs I plan to share on social media when I publish. And of course, using a paper calendar works too if that’s your preference.
Depending on when and where you share your content, your content calendar may look different. But one thing you should trust me on, having a content calendar for several months out will definitely keep you on track and prevent those days when you sit down and think “What am I going to write about?” It also lets you plan a strategy for how best to engage your subscribers, rather than just writing random things that pop into your brain. (Not that I’ve never done that.)
Find your graphics
The days of the all text newsletter are long gone. People expect visually interesting newsletters, and that means you need to include graphics. Photos, charts, graphs, icons. Meaningful graphics that support the content and make it more interesting.
You may have a business that already has a lot of photos on hand to use in your newsletters, and if so, that’s amazing. Personal, real photos are always one of the better choices. If those photos are good quality, showcase your business or people in your organization doing what they do best, then that’s a great choice for your newsletter.
But what about if you don’t have your own photos? Do you still need graphics? Yes. Every article should have its own photo. You can’t just go and steal one off Google. (And yes, that is stealing.) You will need to find free or purchased stock photos for your newsletter if you don’t have your own.
Write your content
Remember up above when I said you needed to plan your content? You also need to actually write it. And you need to plan time in your schedule for writing it. Just because you wrote on your calendar that you’re going to publish a newsletter on the 12th, doesn’t magically mean that content gets written. One of the biggest issues I see with people who struggle to get their newsletter out is when they don’t plan for when they are going to write their content. And it will probably take longer than you think it will. You need to plan to write your content enough in advance that you’ve had time to proofread it and plan your social media strategy for that content prior to the date it publishes.
Last minute content tends to have more typos and errors and things you forgot to include. So plan in advance when you want to write that content and then stick to that schedule. People frequently get busy and push the content writing to the back burner, saying they’ll get to it when they have time and aren’t as busy. However, writing and publishing great content goes a long way toward preventing you from having those “not busy” times. Publishing content should be a necessary task of running your business, just like doing your bookkeeping, answering your phones, or responding to emails. It’s a part of the job too.
Proofread and edit the content
I’m going to be the first to admit that I am not the best proofreader, but it’s a good idea to write your content, then set it aside for a couple of days and go back through and reread it. Proofreading immediately after you write it makes it a lot easier to miss errors. If you give your brain some time off before proofreading, you’ll look at it with fresher eyes and be more likely to catch typos or other errors, or just remember things you may have forgotten to include.
Set up and design the newsletter
If you are sending through a marketing platform like MailChimp or Constant Contact, you now need to set up your newsletter to get it sent out. You need to select your audience(s), design your template, add your graphics and links, etc. Your newsletters should be branded for your business and should be easy to read.
What do I mean by easy to read? Think about your font choices to start. How big is it? Is it big enough to read on a phone, because a lot of people are going to read it on their phone. Is the font universal so that it works on everyone’s device? Does it have enough spacing between the links? Is it dark enough to read? There are lots of considerations when designing your content, and making sure it’s easy to read is key if you want people to actually read it.
I get frustrated when I open email newsletters on my phone and the font is too small to read easily. If I have to use two fingers to zoom into my paragraph, and then keep moving it around to read it, I’m going to be much less likely to actually read it and then what’s the point of the newsletter?
Now that you’ve written, proofed, and designed your newsletter, it’s time to schedule it. Do you know the best day of the week and time of day to send it? You should. And there unfortunately isn’t one simply answer to this question of when should you send your email. It would be easy to say “Monday at 2PM” but that isn’t the right answer for every audience. You may need to do some market research on your audience to decide when the best time to send that newsletter is.
Sending a newsletter is great, but if you’re on social media, you might also consider sharing it online. If your content is really only for subscribers, then obviously you wouldn’t share your whole newsletter, but if it’s not, you can get the content in front of more readers by sharing it on social media. This requires more planning as well. What do you include with your share? You can’t post the whole newsletter on social media, so it’ll be a blurb about it and a nice graphic to go with it. And if you’re on more than one social platform, as most of us are, then you’ll likely want to change that blurb to be different on different platforms.
Different platforms have different audiences who use social media in different ways, so it’s important to keep that in mind when sharing. Also remember that many people may follow you on several different platforms, so sharing the same thing at the same time may not be the best idea.
In fact, you may want to investigate using a content calendar for your social sharing as well.
And don’t forget to reshare. Because of the algorithms, not everyone will see your social post, so it’s important to reshare it at other days and times to make sure you’re reaching your audience.
Now that I’ve outlined what’s involved in planning and publishing a newsletter, does it sound easy? Something that anyone can do? Or does it sound like actual work? People often have high expectations about the content they are consuming, but underestimate how much work goes into producing it. If you’re thinking of writing a newsletter, understand that it’s probably going to be more work than you think it is. If you do it well, it can reap rewards for your business or organization.
(And of course, hiring a professional to do your newsletter for you is also an option.)
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