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13 Steps to Launching an Email Newsletter People Actually Read

by Randle Browning
freelancing, money & life

How-to-Launch-an-Email-Newsletter-People-Will-Actually-Read

It’s Monday morning, and I’m drinking coffee and getting my inbox in order.

Of the 83 unread messages I got over the weekend, at least 40% of them are personal newsletters.

And they’re not spam. I signed up or joined the lists for one reason or another—to get a free download, to learn more about an industry, or because I heard from a friend that the newsletter was hilarious.

Check out Effective Email Marketing with Jeff Goins if you’re ready to get serious about building loyalty and engagement with your community.

Out of those 35 or so emails waiting for me on Monday, I’m actually going to open and read less than 5.

(If you’re looking for MORE email newsletters to feed your habit, check out these 35 Email Newsletters to Boost Your Career in Tech!)

These days, it seems like everyone has a personal newsletter. And it makes sense, especially in the creative industries. With a personal newsletter, you can talk directly to potential clients and other people in the industry, building up relationships and a body of work all at once.

And a personal newsletter can be a solid way to introduce new clients to what you offer so that they come to YOU when they need a new website, logo, or what have you.

Plus, it can help you become a well-known name in your industry. And the more respected you are, the more in-demand you’ll be, and the more you can charge for your work. All wins!

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So, how can you take advantage of the trend without getting lost in a sea of email that we’re all drowning in?

How can you build a list of people who are addicted to your newsletter?

Below, you’ll find 13 tips (from a newsletter connoisseur, yours truly!) for how to write a newsletter that people actually read.

And if you want more information about how to promote your newsletter and use it to build up a client base or become an expert in your industry, make sure to get a (free!) copy of our 30+ page ebook, The Ultimate Guide to Launching an Email Newsletter.

You’ll find out how a newsletter can be more effective than social media at getting you clients and building your expertise, how to format, design, and plan your newsletter, tips for what to write when you don’t consider yourself a writer, and tactics for making sure YOUR newsletter gets opened.

1. Find your format (and stick to it).

Do you want to know what all my favorite newsletters—the ones I open every single time, no matter how busy I am—have in common? They’re consistent. When I see that newsletter in my inbox, I know what to expect.

Take journalist Ann Friedman’s newsletter. In each edition, she starts with a short paragraph with links to her own work around the web, then moves on to a longer paragraph with links to interesting reads, a “DVR” section with links to videos, a funny “GIFspiration” section, and a final section about things she endorses. She also throws in live events, classifieds, and testimonials, but the important part is that I could tick off those first few sections from memory.

So before I ever open her email, I know what I’m going to get, and that makes it easy for me to open it up rather than skipping over something I’m not sure about.

Sticking to a formulaic format also makes it easier for readers to get addicted to your newsletter—it’s kind of like the way you might watch HGTV’s Fixer Upper just so you can see the part where they move the 2 huge panels and reveal the newly designed house. Ann always includes a hilarious GIF, and I don’t want to miss it!

2. Keep writing to the same person.

Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you write your newsletter just for your mom. I want you to have thousands of subscribers!

But, every time you sit down to write, you should have a single person in mind as your ideal audience.

Here’s why: it’s better to create something that is perfect for one person than something that might be interesting to many people.

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In marketing, it’s an industry practice to write copy and create designs that are meant to resonate with a very specific person, like a 33-year-old single mother interested in learning to code who is looking for a flexible lifestyle without giving up job security.

You’d think this strategy would alienate everyone else, but it doesn’t.

A neutral newsletter that tries to appeal to everyone will actually appeal to no one, but creating something specifically designed for a certain audience makes it much more likely to become popular within a niche.

3. Choose between your clients and your contemporaries.

This one goes along with honing in on a very specific audience. If you are writing a newsletter with the goal of landing clients or building up your reputation in a creative industry, you’ll also want to ask yourself: Are you writing this newsletter for your clients, or for your fellow creatives?

If you’re writing to get more clients, you want to make this newsletter valuable to them. Think: free resources, tutorials, and how tos. And don’t worry that if you give them too much they’ll never hire you. The more FREE value you deliver in your newsletter, the more trust you build…and the more likely those clients are to come knocking when they have a big project or problem.

However, if you’re launching a newsletter primarily to build up a reputation as an expert in your field, you might want to consider writing to fellow creatives. Think about covering topics like workflow, productivity, industry resources and reviews, and tips for working with clients.

Sometimes, you might be writing to both colleagues and clients, but when you’re just starting out, focusing on one audience or the other will be more likely to get you the results you’re after.

4. Stick to a specific theme or focus.

If you looked at point 3 and thought, “I’m not doing this to make money! I just want someone to read my writing/look at my designs!” then here’s where you’ll want to tune in.

It can be so freeing—your own platform for YOU to say whatever you want. But sticking to a specific focus is important.

For example, maybe you always write about women in tech, or how to navigate being vegan in Texas. In the same way a consistent format can keep readers coming back to your emails, it’s simpler to keep an audience engaged when they know what you’re going to be talking about and they know it interests them.

Now, there are always outliers. In Laura Olin’s newsletter, Everything Changes, that’s exactly what happens. On Laura’s list I’ve received everything from a 4-part short story, to an email choose-your-own-adventure, to a roundup of the greatest accomplishments of everyone on the email list. But then, if her newsletter ever stayed the same she wouldn’t be sticking to her focus of always changing!

5. Solve a problem.

Another great way to get engaged readers is to solve a problem with your newsletter. If you know that opening an email is going to help you with a huge pain point in your life, you’re going to open that thing faster than you can say “email overload.”

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Lily Herman’s newsletter, Network B*tch, solves a common problem for people trying to navigate a career in the new digital marketplace by connecting people through shout outs and sharing super actionable networking resources. She even calls out the problem she’s solving at the top of her first newsletter: “The monthly newsletter for busy, boss ladies who want to network and meet other cool women but don’t want to leave their comfy beds (or Making A Murderer) to do it.” Lily’s casual tone makes all that much-needed career advice super approachable.

Think about your audience—whether they are your clients or your colleagues—and find out what they really want help with.

6. Give readers something to dream about.

But newsletters don’t always have to be strictly helpful. Sometimes a newsletter is a welcome distraction in a day full of demands, questions, advice, and “must-knows.”

Even though Of a Kind’s newsletter promotes a brand and not a person, I think that the founders Emily and Claire do a great job of delivering a treat to the reader’s inbox. Each week, they send out their top ten list of favorite things they’re reading, chapsticks they’re using, workouts they’re trying, podcasts they’re listening to, and more.

If you’re aiming to inspire readers in a creative space, roundups of creative work you admire is a great place to start. If you’re a web designer, send out awesome designs you found on Dribbble, and if you’re a photographer, share your favorite Instagram photos of the week.

7. Create a community.

In the vein of using newsletters to give your audience something they need or want, you can also build a dedicated audience by using your newsletter to create a community.

For example, I love the way Stacy-Marie Ishmael’s weekly newsletter #awesomewomen builds a digital community around women working. The newsletter includes thought-provoking commentary—sometimes about navigating a career in tech, sometimes simply about being. And the newsletter is organized in a way that encourages readers to get out and see each other. Each one ends with 3 sections: Engage, Learn, and Connect. And that “Connect” section often includes links and invites to in-person events.

Think about what kind of community YOU would love to be a part of—maybe that’s a group of beginners in tech getting together to talk about CSS, or maybe it’s a group of illustrators or photographers you feel is underrepresented. You don’t need to be an expert on the topic to build an engaged group of people—you just need to get everyone together.

8. Be yourself.

At this point, you might be feeling like this whole newsletter thing is pretty prescriptive. Talk about one thing. Make it helpful. Stick to the same format.

But when it comes to the content of your newsletter, the most important rule of thumb is to  use your unique voice. I know thinking about “your voice” can be a little cringey, but in a newsletter it’s key to building up a following.

While borrowing ideas from others is a great starting place, you want to give yourself freedom to write about and share things YOU are passionate about in a way that only you would say them.

One of my favorite newsletters out there is Talking Shrimp, by copywriter Laura Belgray. It’s actually not a newsletter in the way I’ve been talking about them—it’s really just an email about something random encouraging you to go read Laura’s blog post about something random.

But when I see Laura’s email in my inbox, I read it every time. You know why? It’s hilarious, just like her.

And in the end, her nonchalant, tongue-in-cheek style is what attracts clients. So being herself in her newsletter means she’s snagging clients who already have a taste of the kind of copywriting she specializes in.

People are coming to your newsletter largely to get your take or your perspective, so you want to make sure you let that come through.

That said…a hallmark of an ultra-addicting newsletter is that it isn’t ALL about you.

You’ll notice that many of the examples I shared started with a section where the author writes about something personal—from accomplishments and recently published articles to personal reflections.

But to really get people addicted to your newsletter, you want to find a balance between sharing about yourself and sharing resources, tools, ideas, and other things your audience finds helpful or interesting.

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9. Stick to (the right) schedule.

When it comes to building up an addictive newsletter, it’s going to take more than the content. A lot depends on logistics, such as when you send it and how often.

For one thing, unless your newsletter is following in the footsteps of Laura Olin’s Everything Changes or Laura Belgray’s Talking Shrimp, you want your audience to learn exactly when to expect to read your newsletter. For example, I always receive #awesomewomen on Sunday evening, and I look forward to reading late at night or bright and early Monday morning.

And Marie Forleo’s MarieTV emails go out every Tuesday, so each week I’m ready to carve out 5 minutes to watch her video.

You’ll also want to think about the best time (and frequency) for a newsletter for your audience. If it’s more of a lifestyle newsletter, you might want to send it on the weekends, when your audience has leisure time. And if it’s a weekly roundup, the end of the week might make sense. Or perhaps your audience wants a fix every morning.

In The Ultimate Guide to Launching an Email Newsletter, we go into detail on the best times for sending newsletters in your particular industry and based on the content of your newsletter. Get the ebook here!

10. Make it easy to read.

If you’re writing an email for a creative audience, this one is probably a no-brainer, but when you format your email, you want to make sure that it is easy to read. Think: lots of white spice, a font size no smaller than 12pt, and colors that make it easy to read.

Also consider things like load time—if it’s packed with images or GIFs, make sure they aren’t too large or they’ll slow things down. And before sending your email make sure to take a look at the different preview options to check that the email will look great on mobile as well.

Nothing will get your newsletter sent to the Trash like messed up margins, unappealing visuals, and slow, bulky images.

The Ultimate Guide to Launching an Email Newsletter has more information on creating easy to read newsletters.

11. Make it EASY to join the list.

When it comes to building a huge newsletter audience, you need to do more than create an awesome newsletter. “Build it and they will come” does not apply here.

Once you’re all set up with awesome content (or even before you launch!) make it super easy for readers to join your newsletter.

Install a popup on your personal site or portfolio prompting visitors to signup (If you’re worried about interfering with the user experience on your site, try AmbitionAlly’s “polite popup.” It doesn’t interfere while visitors are reading or poking around your site.

In addition, feature your newsletter signup link your email signature, and include a short blurb about what you’re signing up for.

Ex) Join my newsletter, Waco is Still Here. Monthly updates from a tiny town with big news.

And of course, make sure to broadcast your newsletter as often as possible—add a click-to-tweet to your newsletter encouraging readers to share, post about your newsletter on social, and even mention it at in-person events or print it on your business card.

12. Optimize!

Once you start writing your newsletter, there’s a lot you can do to keep testing out exactly what is resonating with your audience. From there, you can tweak your strategy to keep giving them more of the content they love (and keep them coming back).

One way to do this to setup A/B tests. Try sending emails with 2 different headlines to a small segment of your list, then send the headline with the most clicks (the winner) to the rest of the audience. You can look at the winning headline and learn what kinds of topics or resources resonate with your audience most.

You can also experiment with things like the time you send an email, the length of the content, the tone, and more, but make sure that you only test one thing at a time so you can tell what’s making a newsletter succeed or fail with your list.

And you can always ask your audience what they want. Think about sending a “what do you want to know” email or Tweet every few months checking in with your audience.

13. Break the rules.

If you launch your newsletter with an epic plan that includes the elements above, you’re much more likely to be successful than if you just start sending emails. That said, almost every example I mentioned above of awesome newsletters that have a huge, engaged following actually break at least 1 or 2 of the strategies above. The bottom line? Figure out what works for you and your list, and keep building from there.

If you want more information about how to promote your newsletter and use it to build up a client base or become an expert in your industry, make sure to get a (free!) copy of our 30+ page ebook, The Ultimate Guide to Launching an Email Newsletter. You’ll find out:

• Why you should start a newsletter to get more clients

• How to format, design, and plan your newsletter

• What to write about in your newsletter, even if you don’t consider yourself a writer

• How to make sure people actually READ your newsletter

If you’re ready to start a freelance business, or get serious about growing your existing client base, download our free eBook, The Freelancer’s Roadmap.

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Randle Browning

Randle Browning is the Director of Content at Skillcrush, a digital education company for getting the tech skills you need to make a major career change. She’s kind of obsessed with Instagramming her vegan breakfasts.