Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.
Chances are you’d like to know how to start a newsletter if you don’t already publish one. Or maybe you used to produce a newsletter that’s now lapsed. You want to know what’s needed to get going again and be successful.
In any case, you’re in the camp that’s already convinced that email newsletters are effective. Digital superstar Neil Patel calls email “the king of marketing channels.” Sixty-six percent of businesses surveyed by Forbes say they use email marketing to promote their businesses or communicate with leads and customers. And four out of five marketers say they’d rather give up social media than email marketing.
Plus, you’ve been told that newsletters are easy to produce and inexpensive to maintain. But even so … you hesitate. Email newsletters have been around for a while and you may believe some myths that have been perpetrated about them.
For instance, you may think you must master all kinds of strategies before you start your newsletter, like building your subscriber list, signing on advertisers, finding affiliates, conducting A/B testing …
Don’t let the Myth of “I-Must-Master-It-First” keep you from publishing success. Creating an email newsletter isn’t that complicated. If you want to know how to start a newsletter, you simply need to get going. And fortunately, you can do so with just three simple steps.
Myth #1: “Everybody publishes a newsletter, so I should.” The truth is that everybody doesn’t publish a newsletter. Even if they did, you need a better reason than that to start your own online publication.
Please don’t misunderstand. If you’re a small biz owner or entrepreneur or freelancer, I believe you should create and publish an online newsletter. But “because everybody is doing it” is not the reason why you should. If you’re starting a newsletter simply to keep up with the Freelancing Joneses, your enthusiasm will eventually wane. Or you’ll publish a lousy newsletter.
Instead, decide why you want to publish a newsletter. Perhaps you want to:
Knowing your “why” helps you choose the kinds of content you’ll publish. Why invest time starting a newsletter if you’re not going to stick with it? The purpose of your newsletter must drive you to be more than a flash in the pan … or you’ll end up like thousands of other former newsletter publishers who churned out one or two issues and gave up.
Your “why” can be simple. In fact, it probably should be. And you can have more than one “why.” Just make sure you know what it is.
Action step #1: complete this sentence.
I want to publish a newsletter in order to ___________
[name at least one reason].
Myth #2: “Email marketing is just about sales.” Some writers wrongly believe that email newsletters are all about writing promotions that “sell” their unsuspecting readers. Or would-be online publishers jump on the newsletter wagon because they believe it’s a quick fix to making more money with writing.
The myth points out a misconception about the kind of content that pulls in readers and keeps them reading your newsletter.
Don’t get me wrong … you can make money with an email newsletter. But an effective newsletter is not 100% promotion. Instead, the 80/20 rule applies. A healthy content ratio in newsletters is 80% useful content and 20% promotion (or less).
To underscore the point, think about the newsletters that flood your inbox. A subject line such as, “50% today only” may catch your eye occasionally. But if you get that email every day, will you open it?
Me, neither. You open emails that answer questions you have. A good newsletter offers useful information. Your newsletter should help readers fix problems or find solutions to their problems.
Let’s look at an example. Say you write for nonprofits. What kinds of problems or questions do nonprofit leaders have? They want to know what grants are available in their sector … when they should plan their year-end mailing series … how to write a homepage that rouses excitement in potential donors … how to recruit more volunteers. When your newsletter answers those questions for your subscriber, she will become a faithful reader.
“But if I give away all those answers in my newsletter articles and on my website, won’t I lose client work?” you ask.
No — in fact, quite the opposite. Biz leaders, particularly those heading up small to mid-size operations, look for ways to delegate tasks. Writing is one of them. They want to know that a freelance writer understands the special demands of their niche. When you write about those demands and offer practical solutions, prospective clients want to use your expertise so they can spend the rest of their time taking care of the zillions of other tasks that come their way.
While we’re on the subject of content, you may be ambushed by the term “newsletter” itself, wrongly thinking your publication must continually dredge up breaking news events. Very few newsletters publish news. The best email newsletter publishers offer valuable, useful information for a targeted group of readers. If you want to know how to start a newsletter that sticks, then be one of them.
Action step #2: complete this sentence.
My readers need helpful information about _________
[summarize the questions or problems in your niche].
Myth #3: “I need to be good at tech to publish a newsletter.” This myth discourages more would-be publishers than I can count. As does its corollary: “I need to vet lots of email marketing platforms, or I’ll choose the wrong one.”
First, some clarity. An email marketing platform is a service that allows you to create, send, and track emails to subscribers. You need to use one in order to publish your newsletter. There are plenty of email marketing platforms available. (Do a quick online search for “email marketing platforms” and you’ll see what I mean). Please don’t let me be one to discourage you from checking them out.
But be forewarned: choosing an email marking provider can lead you down a serious FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) rabbit trail. You can get hung up on “choosing the perfect platform” or worrying that “I’m not great at tech.” Weeks pass by and you can’t choose a provider. So you simply don’t start publishing and sending.
Let me help simplify the process for you. A good email marketing platform …
Years ago, I ventured into publishing an email newsletter with Constant Contact. The first issue was a struggle because everything was new to me. I needed to create a template, learn how to load images, start my email list …
Yet Constant Contact has excellent chat, help, and a plethora of online tutorials. I took advantage of all of them. The next issue was easier. So was the third. Soon, loading up my newsletter became almost mindless. In the meantime, the platform has continued to add features — some of which I use, which means I need to spend a little time learning ins and outs. When the platform offers a new feature that I don’t need, I leave it alone.
From time to time, I get enticing offers inviting me to change providers. But I have no reason to switch. I get excellent service. Constant Contact meets my current needs. I’d rather spend my time writing than adapting to new technology.
Action step #3: complete this sentence
I will consider a few email marketing platforms and choose one.
[List 2–3 platforms here] _________________.
I started my email list with Constant Contact’s free plan. It’s a great way to test drive sending automated email because you have access to all its professional templates, email tools, online resources, and analytics — and it’s all written in plain English so folks like me can understand it. And Mail Chimp is another terrific get-started email marketing service for small businesses. It’s free if you have a limited number of subscribers (500 at last check) and send a limited number of campaigns each month.
So yes, you can start a newsletter for free.
As for all those additional luscious features like pop-up forms and social media integration and events scheduling … don’t think you must master them right now. You’ll acquire those skills along the way. And yes, your provider will periodically add additional options that you can choose to embrace or leave alone.
Either way, you’ll adapt. But for now, just get going. Circle a launch date on the calendar and then take the three action steps listed here:
Then write your first issue. Load it up and give yourself some grace … because it won’t be perfect. Click “Send.” Repeat the process a few times. And welcome yourself to the community of successful email newsletter publishers.
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