Starting Your Own Newsletter?
Some things to consider
by Paul Myers, Editor of TalkBiz News

You've undoubtedly heard about the marketing advantages of starting your own email newsletter. It's something that everyone talks about, and more people consider it every day.

I recently saw a post on the subject on one of the marketing bulletin boards. I'll try to give a few helpful hints for you folks who are thinking about this as an addition to your business strategy.

We'll stay away from the software and the ad sales end of things for right now. First you should consider whether or not this is something you'll do and do well. If so, the rest is easy.

The post started out with...

I would like to start a newsletter but I'm afraid what will happen when for some reason I lose steam and have problems writing it regularly. Is there a place where I can get content and how much does it cost? Are there free places?

Boy, could I relate to this question!

When I first started my newsletter, over two years ago, I had the same questions. It wasn't that running out of steam was a concern, because I wasn't counting on it to be a money maker. But the rest was an issue, and burnout is a very real possibility no matter how much you enjoy the process.

Some suggestions that might help...

1. Have a standard format, so that you can plug in the content quickly, and to make things familiar for your subscribers.

This means simple things, like a standard header (the top part of the newsletter that people see in the first screen of the email), and a specific way to separate sections. Stuff like that.

2. If you're doing a solo publication, where you do all or most of the writing, learn to make a lot of mileage from one aspect of your topic. The way to do this is to get really into the details of one small aspect of it at a time, so that when people are done, they can apply the info immediately. Real nuts and bolts specific. For example, if you were going to do a series on autoresponders, it might consist of a general outline first. Then, as separate articles, you could cover:

  • Choosing your purpose: What do you want to accomplish? Be very specific. Do you want to sell your own products? Develop a name for yourself? Make contacts? Develop loyal visitors to your site? Publish articles? The purpose will play a big role in developing your strategy.

  • Choosing the right autoresponder: Sent from your email software, or from a full time server? Free or paid? Straight text or HTML? Each of these has consequences, benefits and drawbacks.

  • Writing a good teaser to get people to request the info. This can be your signature file, a classified ad, or a short blurb on your web site. This is the most important part of your copy. No matter how good the document on the autoresponder, people won't know it if they don't read it.

  • The straight sale, or the "two step"? Do you want to do followup? If so, will you do it manually, or with a followup autoresponder?

  • Writing motivating copy. (This could be a whole other series.) You'd cover just the points that relate best to the use at hand. Note: People will tell you that long copy is bad. Ignore them. If someone requests info on your product, service, or topic, they'll read it no matter how long it is. Just don't bore them!

  • Testing copy. The basics. Make one change at a time, and track the difference it makes. Give it a fair number of requests before you jump to any conclusions.

  • More on testing copy: Bots and a split test. You can test copy more quickly if you use two autoresponders at once, and really work on getting big numbers of requests. This is especially effective for testing the pulling power of your teaser copy and your headlines. (The Subject: header...)

  • Tracking those leads. Will you use different names for your autoresponders, or different subject lines? How will you track them? With filters in your emailer, or via a report from the service you use? How will you track which one produces the actual sales? (A whole other section...)

  • Planning followup. Key. Good followup will double your results from a given number of leads.

  • Integrating the autoresponder with your web site. Give people extra options. The more chances you give them to get the info the way they want it, the better your chance of getting the sale. And it's easier to follow up with someone who asks for info by email then just hoping they come back to your web site.

  • Multiplying your results by adding offers. If you can add an offer to your info without diluting the pull of the main offer, do so. It's a great way to make a lot of extra money without any extra work. The key is to make sure that your secondary offer is related to the main one. Don't distract people, and don't end up looking like those folks that send out 50 offers in a spam. You'll lose all credibility that way.

  • Best ways to generate leads quickly with an autoresponder. A book could be written on this alone.

Thirteen article topics, and the subject still has more to cover. LOTS more.

By the way, it wouldn't hurt to consider most of those when starting a newsletter either. ;)

Most subjects that are worth writing about have lots of facets like that. Before you start your newsletter, make lists of possible articles. Get enough ideas for at least six months worth of articles, and then get the first four issues ready before you even announce the newsletter. This will solve a few potential problems:

First, it will let you get into a routine for writing and editing while you tend to the important early stages of promotion. And still put out the newsletter on a regular basis.

It will also force you to consider your format carefully and have it more refined before you start to distribute the thing. That provides more consistency and a professional look early in the process.

Most importantly, it will let you see for yourself if this is something you want to do. Writing is not something that everyone likes to do on a schedule. The same is true of editing, but fortunately the two groups aren't always made up of the same people.

Contact some people you know who are involved with the same subject before you start. Tell them the specific plan you have for marketing the newsletter, and ask them if they'd be willing to contribute articles on a regular or an "as available" basis. If they're not sure you'll follow through, point out that writing the articles means they're available for other newsletters even if you don't follow through. You're making it hard for them to find a problem, and pointing out a real possibility. As an added benefit, being a feature in something new and original has as much value online as offline.

Then start contacting authors you see already publishing articles related to your subject, and ask for reprint permissions of pieces that fit well. It will be rare for you to be turned down.

One very useful strategy for getting ideas for articles is to keep an eye open for questions people ask that you can answer. (That's where this one came from, remember?)

Another is to keep an eye out for good answers posted to boards or lists. Then ask the poster if they'd be interested in writing the answer up as an article for you. (That's how this got to be changed from a short rambling post to a long rambling article!)

Next, plan to publish at half the rate you think you can, and be picky with your info. Quality material will win you more loyalty than volume or higher frequency. And it will allow you to avoid the pressure to publish second rate stuff just to meet deadlines or keep the same quantity.

Write in your own style. It's more believable, more readable, and less stressful. For example, I sometimes use a lot of wise cracks, and I hammer away at certain points mercilessly. Some people think that's pompous (mea culpa), some people think I'm a smart alec (it's humor, really!). But, they keep reading. Whatever else it is, it's me.

Other times I tend to the dry, how-to stuff. That's me too. (Usually I'm a smart alec. It's more fun.)

Never try to develop an image. Show your personality. Be you, and you'll attract the kind of people you want to deal with, and shoo off the ones that would be annoyances. Who wants to attract large groups of people who just read, delete, and don't CARE?

To do a newsletter regularly, you need to either:

A. Love to write, and
B. Know your stuff.


C. Like to edit, and
D. Have skill at networking.

and it's not unlikely that you need to ...

E. Be either a masochist or a megalomaniac.

Having at least 4 of those five is a good sign that you should do the newsletter schtick. If you don't fit at least two of them, consider writing for other people's newsletters. The visibility is almost as good, but you get to recycle your material more widely.

This is an often neglected avenue to the publicity you want. There's a huge market out there for quality content. If you publish regularly in quality newsletters, you'll gain as much recognition as the editor. Without the headaches. (Yeah, there are a few headaches in the newsletter game.)

The post continued...

Also - is it necessary to have a website first? I am thinking of building a site but it is so overwhelming and I thought that newsletter first might be good idea..

Having a website first is a Very Good IdeaTM.

Lots of the places you'll be listing your site will want a URL for people to visit. It shows also that you're a bit serious, and not just running an email address trap. It's easy to populate it with content. You'll be writing right along, right?

(Do two rights make a write? An airplane? A write cross? I'm confusing myself here.)

It doesn't have to be anything big to begin with. Simple isn't a bad thing.

Lots more to consider. Hopefully these will give you some things to think about. If not, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!


Paul Myers is the editor and publisher of TalkBiz News.
"Hard Core How-To for Small Business!"
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