Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Newsletters (But Were Afraid to Ask)

With the new GDPR privacy regulations taking effect not only in the E.U. but for businesses worldwide who might do business with residents of the EU, many digital marketers are starting to rethink their lead generation strategy.

For one thing, privacy regulations have made it so that we must specifically and directly ask people to opt-in for our email list — instead of distracting them with the shiny object of a free download to get them on the list.

For another thing, many small business owners are realizing that they may be attracting the wrong type of audience with those free downloads

What that leaves us with is the realization that we may need to take a good long look at a) how we’re enticing people to join our email list, and b) what we’re doing with them once they get there.

A return to the glory days of the e-newsletter

I, for one, welcome these changes. It means that, rather than focusing on the next shiny object that will entice people to part with their email address — a worksheet, an ebook, a challenge, a course, a quiz, etc. — we can return to focusing on delivering quality content once they’re on the list.

In other words, it’s a necessary return to making sure that the content you provide in your newsletter is of such high quality that people want you in their inbox, regardless of whether you offer them any kind of digital bribe to get there.

SHOCKING! 

For several years now, the prevailing wisdom was that an e-newsletter was no longer enough of an incentive to get most people to opt-in. But with the confluence of events we’re experiencing right now, I predict that we’re going to see (at least in some quarters) a return to the glory days of the e-newsletter, before they were all sales messages, all the time, when you signed up for someone’s newsletter because it was going to provide quality, valuable content.

I know — what a concept!

That means, we need to return to newsletter basics and ask ourselves a few questions to ensure that what we’re providing (or what we will begin to provide in the near future) is awesome enough that people will willingly trade their precious contact information in exchange for it. 

Why are you publishing a newsletter?

Just as with blogging, “Because someone told me to,” is not a good enough answer.

You must have a clear goal in mind for your newsletter, both for your business and for your reader. 

Goals for your business might include:

  • To build trust with your audience.
  • To be able to sell to your audience via email.
  • To become a thought leader.
  • To get traffic to your blog / website. 
  • To sell affiliate offers.
  • To provide a more private, VIP, or exclusive experience for a subset of your audience.
  • To be able to segment your audience to show them more relevant information or messages.

And so on. 

Regardless of what your ultimate goal for having a newsletter is, you must be clear on that goal. 

If, for example, you know that all your sales come from referrals, not from people on your list, then your goal is not to sell to your audience via email; it may be to build trust, become a thought leader, or drive traffic instead.  On the other hand, if you use an internet launch model to launch a product or program several times a year, your goal is definitely to be able to sell to your audience via email.

And if you’re a BSchool affiliate… Well, you’re pretty universally despised, but I do get it. 😉 

On the flip side of that coin, you also have to understand what the goal of your reader is when signing up for your newsletter. Too often in recent years, we’ve made the lead magnet or bribe the goal — and then hoped that people would stick around after to hear what we have to say.  Now, it may be in your best interest to focus on longer term goals.

The goal of your reader may be:

  • To learn more about your business (know, like, and trust)
  • To get coupons or discounts
  • To hear about new products and services before anyone else (FOMO)
  • To be entertained
  • To be educated
  • Or to be inspired. 

But you won’t know what you can deliver to them that will keep them on your email list as loyal readers until you figure out the goal.

A great example of this is from a client I’ve been working with for more than two years now. He owns a clothing brand for men, and while we do send out discounts and notices of sales, that’s not the main goal of his newsletter. The main goal is to build that know, like, and trust factor — because the CEO is the face and personality of the brand, and his customers really resonate with his lifestyle, stories, and goals.

The upshot of this is that we’ve been building trust with his readers for several years now — to the point that when we mentioned that he was looking for angel investors for his company in one of his weekly emails, he immediately got 16 responses, three of which resulted in $300,000 in funding for his company.

I’d say that’s a whole lot of trust!

When and how should you send a newsletter?

But usually those big goals aren’t the first question people ask about a newsletter.  More often, the first question I hear is, “How often should I send a newsletter?”

The answer, of course, is “it depends,” but in general, I recommend no LESS than once a month, and no MORE than once a week — unless you have a really good reason to go outside those bounds. 

Less than once a month and people forget about you; more than once a week and they get sick of you.

About once a week seems to be the sweet spot. 

Another important thing to consider about frequency is your give-to-ask ratio. In other words, how many emails are you sending that GIVE compared to those that ASK.

My friend and colleague and smart person Joanna Wiebe suggests that you should have a ratio of 4:1 — four emails that GIVE for every one ASK you make.

So if you have an email sales sequence (an ask) with 10 emails, you need to have sent 40 emails that give some sort of value. That’s just a ballpark, of course, but if you’re sending valuable content every week, in general you don’t need to worry about your ratio. You’re doing just fine.

For example, I chose not to write a new blog post or send out a regular newsletter last week because I was hosting a webinar for a colleague; I knew I was going to be sending four or five emails asking people to join the webinar, and I didn’t want to clutter their inbox with another topic. 

Which brings us to…

What should I include in my newsletter?

If you’ve gotten clear on your goals in the first question, you should have a pretty good idea of what content you should provide each week that will be valuable both to your reader and to your business. But there are probably still some questions you have about how to actually deliver that content:

  • Should I have more than one topic per email? 
    Unless you’re doing a curated list-type email (where the whole point of the email is to send a list of stuff) shoot for ONE topic per email. If that means you need to send more than one email per week, so be it.
  • Should I include the full text of a blog post or a link?
    Generally, I like to include a link; if people are on a phone they can choose whether they want to read a long text or not. Plus, you’re training them to click links in your emails if you ever plan to direct them to a sales page or buy now button in the future. 
  • What time of day should I send / what day of the week should I send?
    This depends entirely on your audience. Business people check email during the day; moms and dads check personal email before and after work; people do more online shopping on the weekends. I like to send my emails on Tuesday because I avoid the Monday rush and still get in early in the week. But that’s just a personal preference! See if your email service provider has a tool that recommends the best day and time for your list.
  • What about subject lines?
    Keep them short and punchy! I always like to try to open a gap of curiosity, so they feel they must open the email. 
  • How many images should I include?
    For me, the answer is NONE because I want my emails to be super easy to read. However, if your business has a visual element (product photos, artist, designer, etc.), I would suggest including one gorgeous image with your text, and then linking to a blog post with more. Remember: Google doesn’t automatically load images in Gmail, so be sure to include a short description of the image in your alt-text. 

Other useful things to consider about your newsletter

Remember that newsletters don’t exist in a vacuum: they are part of a relationship you’re building with a potential customer. So it’s important to think about how people find you, why they choose to get on your list, and how you introduce yourself.

  • Take a look at your analytics and see if you can tell where most people sign up for your list — on your home page? At the bottom of a blog post? On your about page? In a HelloBar? Understanding when and where people decide to join can give you information about their expectations.
  • What happens when they sign up? Do they go to a thank you page? What does it say? What could you add or change to give them a great brand experience right from the beginning? A funny gif or video? A message from you? A bonus free resource? A tripwire offer?
  • What emails do they receive right after they sign up? Are you introducing yourself or just adding them straight to your newsletter list? What do they want from you immediately? 
  • Do they know what to expect from your newsletter when they sign up? How can you fulfill those expectations right away? How can you be useful, helpful, inspiring, educational, or entertaining from the first moment they sign up with you? 
  • When do you make an ASK (if ever)? Is it at an appropriate time? If you’ve already got an ask in your email sequences, how well does it convert?
  • How clear and easy is it for them to unsubscribe or change their preferences? Are you upfront about what they will receive and how often they can expect to hear from you? Do you explicitly ask them to whitelist your emails so they don’t go to spam? 

Thinking about these sorts of things can make your weekly newsletters that much more effective at helping you create lasting relationships and happy customers.

Remember, I can’t possibly address every option or contingency in a single blog post! Every business is different. So if you’d like to chat about creating or improving your newsletter strategy, click here to apply for a strategy session today. I’d love to chat. 

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4 thoughts on “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Newsletters (But Were Afraid to Ask)

  1. I for one really look forward to writing again for the sake of building a community, not a sales list. I’ve reached that goal in part because I’m changing my business model, but also because of the recent changes and DAMN it feels goo!

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