"How to Start Your Own Online Newsletter"
By Simon Cope
Last week I received an e-mail from a business owner from Wellington, NZ (I am based in Auckland). He was having trouble downloading my free ebook off my website.
I promptly thanked him for visiting my site and attached my ebook to an e-mail message and shot it off to him. About a minute later he replied with a generous thank you.
Later that night I was reading a book and started thinking about that brief transaction I had with the fellow from Wellington earlier in the day. When I thought about it, I marveled.
The fact that I could send a book from Auckland, New Zealand to Wellington and get a reply in under a minute was simply amazing. Perhaps the greatest tool to come from the Internet is e-mail.
It travels at the speed of light. You can send documents, pictures and even videos with sound. And it's free! What an amazing tool.
But e-mail can also control emotions, make people happy, sad, or even mad through the power of words. Because of this you can use e-mail to significantly build your business.
E-mail allows you to do this by creating an electronic newsletter, commonly referred to as an ezine, which is short for "electronic magazine." Electronic newsletters are very similar to offline newsletters in that they can inform, motivate, and educate - - but at a sliver of the cost you'd normally pay to send out an offline newsletter.
Benefits of Having an Online Newsletter
I've already stated that the biggest benefit to sponsoring an online newsletter is the cost - - or lack of cost. The only costs incurred when sending an ezine is what you pay to use the software to send your message.
Other benefits are:
1. Great customer service.
People equate good customer service with timely communication. You can instantly send out an e-mail to help your customers that will arrive in minutes, if not seconds.
2. Build customer loyalty.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, loyalty is built as a result of what you do when things go wrong, rather that the quality of your product or service. E-mail allows you to communicate quickly and directly to solve your customer's problems.
3. Create a sense of community.
Frequent communication makes people feel as though they are a "part" of something. This addresses people's inner desire is to "belong" and "feel important." Consistent communication can create a sense of community among the list members.
4. Provide you with a ready market.
The list you create becomes a ready market that is willing to do business with you because they know, like, and trust you. In fact, your list of subscribers may be the most important asset in your business.
Your electronic newsletter may very well be your most important and powerful marketing tool in your business. The return on investment for creating and maintaining a newsletter is tremendous.
Nine Steps to Creating Your Online Newsletter
Now that we've talked about the benefits of creating an electronic newsletter let me introduce the eight steps to creating your own online newsletter.
Step 1 - Decide on the Objective of Your Newsletter
Step 2 - Decide on Newsletter Name and Content
Step 3 - Decide on Newsletter Frequency
Step 4 - Decide on Newsletter Format
Step 5 - Decide on How to Capture, Store, and Manage E-mail Addresses
Step 6 - Set Up Your Bulk Mailing System
Step 7 - Create and Test Your First Newsletter
Step 8 - Launch Newsletter
Step 9 - Continue to Review and Improve Newsletter
Each of these steps are simple but require some thinking on your part. Let's review each of these steps and learn what it takes to launch an online newsletter.
Step 1 - Decide on the Objective of Your Newsletter
Newsletters can have a variety of objectives depending on your goals. For instance, your newsletter could be used for:
1. Establishing your name and reputation
2. Selling advertising
3. Selling your product or service
4. New product, service, or company announcements
5. Writing a book
6. Collecting e-mail names to rent or sell
7. Keeping in touch with customers
8. Drive traffic to your site
Whatever your objective is, make sure that you align the content of your newsletter with your objective. Allow me to give you a good example.
I subscribe to a newsletter from a person who helps independent professionals market their services. He never sells ad space in his newsletter to other people and he is the sole author of the content of the newsletter.
He could have other income streams from selling advertising spots and he could lighten his own load by allowing other people to write for his newsletter.
He doesn't because his main objective is to establish a relationship of exclusive trust with his readers so that they'll purchase only his products and services.
Step 2 - Decide on Newsletter Name and Content
Once you know what the objective of your newsletter will be it's time to come up with its name. The name of your newsletter should be in line with the content of the newsletter.
The content of my newsletter gives website and marketing best practices for small businesses, hence, the name "Website and Marketing Best Practices Newsletter."
To jumpstart your thinking, here are the names of a few of my favourite online newsletters (in no particular order):
1. "Trey Ryder's Lawyer Marketing Alert"
Author - Trey Ryder
Topic - Marketing advice for lawyers
2. "Words that Sell"
Author - Kris Mills
Topic - Copywriting, Direct Mail
3. "Web Business Today"
Author - Damon Zachariades
Topic - Damon's whimsical comments on emarketing
4. "The Referral Minute"
Author - Bill Cates
Topic - Referral tactics for finance professionals
5. "The Publicity Hound's Tips of the Week"
Author - Joan Stewart
Topic - Publicity tips
6. "Give to Get Marketing Newsletter"
Author - Joe Gracia
Topic - Small business marketing strategies
7. "More Clients"
Author - Robert Middleton
Topic - Marketing for independent professionals
8. "No BS Marketing Letter"
Author - Dan Kennedy - Ken McKarthy
Topic - Thoughts on marketing for small businesses
9. "The Marketing Tip of the Week"
Author - Ken Varga
Topic - Small business marketing strategies
10. "Web Digest for Marketers"
Author - Larry Chase
Topic - Brief reviews on marketing websites
11. "MarketingProfs Today"
Author - Various Writers
Topic - Articles on marketing topics
12. "Website Marketing Plan"
Author - Bobbette Kyle
Topic - Website marketing advice
13. "Marketing Nugget
Author - By Referral Only Company
Topic - Marketing tips for realtors
14. "BizWeb Gazette"
Author - Jim Daniels
Topic - eMarketing tips
15. "All the Secrets"
Author - Phil Wiley
Topic - eMarketing tips and new product announcements
16. "Wordnet Chronicles"
Author - Ralph Hilliard
Topic - eMarketing tips and website design analysis
17. "Internet Marketing Secrets"
Author - Michael Campbell
Topic - Search engine and affiliate marketing tips
18. "Marketing Tips Newsletter"
Author - Cory Rudl
Topic - eMarketing strategies
19. "Web Marketing Today"
Author - Ralph Wilson
Topic - eMarketing strategies
20. "Profit Pill"
Author - Michael Fortin
Topic - Copywriting
21. "Web's Worth Watching"
Author - Ryan Deiss
Topic - Recommended websites for emarketers
Author - Abbey Drew
Topic - E-mail marketing
It's interesting to see how many newsletters I actively read. I get more newsletters than this but I usually only open up and read the ones I've noted above.
I have a bias against excruciatingly short newsletters because I don't feel they give enough meat. I like the longer, more involved newsletters because they provide me with substance and value.
The best ones I print out and leave in the bathroom. That way I know they'll get read (oops, too much information, Simon).
You'll notice that most of the newsletters I read are marketing oriented. If I was into dogs I would probably have the same size list but they would all be dog oriented newsletters.
Decide on the Content
The content of your newsletter should also be in sync with your objectives. If its to build relationships you might consider using only personally written articles with an interactive question and answer section.
If your objective is to sell advertising then you should consider an advertising section. Again, whatever you include in your newsletter should have a specific purpose that is in line with your objective.
The following are several ideas for content that you might consider for your own newsletter:
1. Recent industry or company news
2. How-To tips, hints, and articles
3. Reader's answers to other reader's questions
4. Your answers to readers questions
5. Readers testimonials, opinions, and feedback
6. Customer stories or case studies
7. Guest experts corner (for guest articles)
8. Editor's opinion corner
9. Recommended web resources
10. Classified advertisements
12. Expert interviews (by you)
13. Product reviews (books, tools, websites etc.)
14. Jokes, quotes, and anecdotes
15. Results of tests and polls
16. Progress on specific projects
Your content is only limited by your imagination. Many of the above mentioned newsletters contain one or more of the 16 types of content I just mentioned.
For instance, the Wordnet Chronicles has a project called, "SquiddlyBob." SquiddlyBob is an online product review business that is being developed and launched by Wordnet.
In each issue Ralph Hilliard survey's his readers for input on the project an he also updates the reader on the progress he's made. It makes for some very interesting reading.
Both the Publicity Hound and DEMC newsletters include answers from readers that were asked by other readers. It's interesting reading other people's views and opinions (I've contributed my own opinions to both those newsletters on several occasions - it was fun!)
How to Create Your Content
Fear of the inability to create worthwhile content is probably the number one cause of people not starting their own newsletter. Some people think they can't write and so they don't.
Listen, everyone can write about something. Everyone has something worthwhile to say. Just go for it. Now, I know that sounds like a silly recommendation but you'll never get started if you don't try.
The worst that could happen is nothing!
I always recommend that people come up with own content but if for some reason that isn't possible, here are some options:
1. Go to http://www.Elance.com and have someone do the articles for you.
2. Visit "free reprint rights" directories and use their articles. However, these directories usually contain marketing-type articles. Here are a few:
Idea Marketers http://www.IdeaMarketers.com
Yahoo Groups (Yahoo groups have many free reprint rights mailing lists)
Ezine Articles http://www.EzineArticles.com
What Makes an Ezine That Gets Read?
It's no use sending your ezine to thousands when it only gets read by a few people (it happens). A successful ezine is one that people open up and read as soon as it arrives. So what make an interesting ezine?
I believe there are five factors that make for an interesting newsletter...
Factor # 1: Interactivity
People like to get "involved" in things. They like to feel like they are a valuable "member" of a group. Interactive newsletters by nature make the reader get involved.
Conducting surveys, asking for answers to questions, and gathering opinions on things (products, websites, issues) are simple strategies for getting people to interact with you and your readers.
Factor # 2: Personality
People are attracted to real personalities - - if you don't believe me just turn on the television. You'll most assuredly find a reality-based television program playing that is full of personalities.
Injecting your personality into your newsletter makes it interesting. I read Damon Zachariades', Web Business Today newsletter for that very purpose. It is written with a whimsical personality woven into his opinions and comments.
Include your opinions, rants, raves, and personal experiences into your newsletter to give it personality. Don't hold back. People will either like you or hate, but either way, they'll probably read your newsletter.
Factor # 3: - Utility
Newsletters that don't give useful information will not get read. Include content that people can use to improve their lives, jobs, businesses, relationships etc.
If you are promoting yourself or your business, give your best tips. Yes, give the good stuff - - don't hold back. I've received many e-mails asking me why I give out such in depth information for free.
The answer is simple, 97% of all people will never implement it! They're either too lazy or too busy (usually the latter). By giving your best information your subscribers will come to trust and respect you as a true expert and will call on you when they need your services rather than do it themselves.
Factor # 4: - Attractive
Face it, no one is going to read your newsletter if it's a bunch of long paragraphs all bunched together. Ezines that are easy to read and attractive get read.
I'll talk about formatting in a minute so I won't say more about this topic.
Factor # 5: - Relevant
Your newsletter should be relevant to your target market. If you're trying to sell marketing services then don't write about logistics or human resources. Write about marketing topics.
If you make the topic of your newsletters relevant, people who are not interested will opt out. That's not a problem because they probably weren't going to be your customer anyway.
Step 3 - Decide on Your Frequency
How often you send your newsletter is important. You'll find that there are usually six choices when deciding on when to send a newsletter:
Daily newsletters require a significant commitment unless they are very short. Usually daily ezines consist of brief tips, quotes, or news updates.
If your newsletter will contain "evergreen" content (nice-to-know anytime information) you can create each installment in advance and put them into an autoresponder to be sent automatically.
Most newsletters come in a weekly format. Most publishers will tell you that Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday are the best weekdays to send your ezine. On Monday you'll most likely compete with the weekend's spam and on Friday you'll be competing with the golf course.
Another thought is to send your ezine exactly seven days after their sign up day. The theory is that the day they signed up is the day that they are usually online surfing the net (this strategy is particularly effective using an autoresponder).
One installment every two weeks is a comfortable period. Some marketers will tell you that every 21 days is the "right" customer contact period that doesn't abuse the reader and arrives right at the "forgetting" point.
Once a month is just beyond the forgetting point. However, it is a convenient time period because it gives you a good "end-of-the-month" deadline to adhere to.
Sending your electronic newsletter quarterly is simply a waste of time. Why do it. You've nullified most of the benefits of having a newsletter if you're going to send it once every 90 days.
People will forget who you are and just delete your message when it arrives. You'll have a lot of unsubscribes.
Sending your newsletter whenever you can is not optimal (unfortunately, this is my current operating schedule). The most effective newsletters follow a consistent delivery schedule.
When people are used to your newsletter arriving on a certain day, they're more likely to open and read it.
Step 4 - Decide on Your Format
The format of your newsletter takes on many issues. In the end, you want to use the format that meets the objective of your newsletter and the reader's personality.
Basically, there are two formats to choose from - - text or html. An html newsletter is graphical and looks much like a webpage. A text newsletter is simply a message sent with words and no graphics.
Text vs HTML
Currently, there is a raging debate about whether to send text-based newsletters or html (graphical) newsletters. Many e-mail systems still treat html newsletters in unpredictable ways.
It may arrive looking great and it may arrive looking like a scrambled egg. It's my opinion that in a couple of years, the debate will be over and every one will be sending html newsletters.
Because people like colors and graphics. Ads with colours and graphics generally outpull those that don't graphics. This is particularly true with consumer products.
If you do decide to develop an html newsletter, consider buying a professional newsletter template. Once that is specially designed to arrive intact. Visit www.DesignDoodles.com for a look at some templates. Make sure you tell Jessica that Simon Cope from www.ProductsFromNZ.com recommended her - and she will look after you (she loves us Kiwis).
Always test send your newsletter to see what it looks like using different e-mail programs such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, MS Outlook, or Eudora etc.
If you decide to send your newsletter using a text-based format there are a number of tricks you can use to make it readable and pleasing to the eye.
Most of these formatting tricks I've learned from receiving other newsletters. I've taken the best of what I've liked from other newsletters and use them in my own.
Here are few rules that I use when formatting my text-based newsletter:
1. Wrap your lines at between 55 to 60 characters long. This way other e-mail programs will read your line length correctly.
2. Use solid horizontal lines for headlines and subheadlines. It allows your reader to skim through your newsletter and find topics of interest.
Here is an example of a headline:
How to Improve Your Business with Less Effort
3. Leave two or three spaces on the left margin. It just gives it a professional, clean look.
4. Use an attractive header. The header I use was adopted from Jim Daniels Bizweb Gazette. You'll find there are a lot of designs you can do with text characters.
The heading should also give the newsletter name and publication information (i.e. issue number, issue date, your name and website address, maybe even your circulation count etc.)
5. Leave a lot of space (one line minimum) between paragraphs. This allows your newsletter to "breath." It's easier on the eyes and simpler to read.
6. Never use more than six to seven lines per paragraph. Again, spacing is very important when using text characters. When you have more than six lines, paragraphs become intimidating.
7. Don't create your newsletter in MS Word and then copy and paste it into your text editor. It will bring over weird codes that you can't see that will show up in your reader's browser, but not yours.
8. Use a lot of bullet-pointed lists. Lists are simple to read and are easier to comprehend. Use arrows, stars, numbers, dashes, stars, carats etc. to start the lines in your list. Here's some examples:
9. Use endings to end your newsletter. You can include specific instructions, your contact information, and any copyright clauses.
10. Use a table of contents if you have multiple, distinct sections of your newsletter. This way your reader knows what is inside and what to expect right away.
Step 5 - Develop a Strategy for Capturing, Storing, and Managing E-mail Addresses
It makes no difference if you have a fantastic newsletter if you have no one to send it to. You must develop a strategy for capturing your visitors e-mail address.
Here are a few tips to start you off...
Tip # 1 - Put an optin box on every page of your website. Go to www.PublicityHound.com and notice Joan Stewart's optin box. It's in the same place on every one of her pages.
Tip # 2 - Use a popup to ask people for their e-mail address. Although most people hate popup, they work. Your optin rate will increase the moment you start using a popup.
You might consider using an exit popup or popunder, which is displayed as your visitor leaves your site. This is less obtrusive.
Tip # 3 - Put your sign up box front and centre on your home page. You'll find I use this strategy on every one of my sites because I've tested it and it works.
Visit www.WebDoctor.co.nz and you'll see exactly what I mean. When someone lands on my sites there is no confusion as to what I want them to do first, before anything else.
Tip # 4 - Require an e-mail address to access important information or tools on your site. A good example of requiring e-mail addresses to access valuable tools can be found at www.FreeRealEstateInfo.co.nz
Tip # 5 - Buy subscribers. There are services that allow you to buy subscribers for a small fee per subscriber. Here are a few;
I always recommend that you start your newsletter by purchasing around 1,000 subscribers. This way your newsletter gets off to a good start and it will motivate you to continue.
I personally use Prospect Shop.
Tip # 5 - Ask for your customer's e-mail address at the point of sale by offering something of value for free such as coupon and sale alerts.
Tip # 6 - Hold a contest with your customers in which the winner will be announced by e-mail. This requires them to give you their e-mail address.
Tip # 7 - A variation of this is to do a joint venture with another business. Suppose you approached a restaurant and offered to award one of their customers each week with a free lunch or dinner for two in exchange for the name, address, and e-mail address of all the customer's that signed up.
Your JV partner would receive the goodwill of giving something of value away to their customers for free and they would be able to start building their own, in house e-mail list.
Storing and Managing E-mail Addresses
There are basically two methods to store and manage e-mail addresses, (1) from your desktop or (2) from an Internet-based service.
Each has its pros and cons. Let's review each strategy.
1. Desktop-Based Newsletter Management
This approach requires you to use a desktop software package. A few software options for doing this are:
- Gammadyne Mailer http://www.Gammadyne.com
- Mailloop http://www.Mailloop.com
- Group Mail http://www.group-mail.com/
The PRO's of using a desktop-based system are:
-> More control over your own data
-> You know what got sent and what didn't
-> Usually a one-time only cost
The CON's of using a desktop-based system are:
-> It is a very labor intensive process
-> You could be accused of spamming by your ISP
NOTE: If you're sending bulk e-mail through your ISP, give them a call and let them know you're sending out your newsletter in advance.
-> It will hog your computer's resources
-> It is usually very slow
2. Internet-Based Newsletter Management
This approach requires you to subscribe to a monthly service. A few Internet-based options for doing this are:
- List Managements Services such as
The PRO's of using a Internet-based system are:
-> Your data is protected (most services have strict backup procedures)
-> It is accessible from anywhere that there is access to the Internet
-> Usually it's fully automated (i.e. It automatically manages subscribes, unsubscribes, bad e-mail address purges, reporting etc.)
-> Less worries about getting accused of spamming
The CON's of using a desktop-based system are:
-> Monthly fees can be expensive
-> If your service goes down, so do you
-> You lose some control over the sending process
More and more people are turning to Internet-based systems to manage their lists. There're relatively inexpensive and has a lot of functionality.
Step 6 - Set Up Your Newsletter Management System
Once you have decided on the objective, name, content, frequency, format and tools you'll use to manage your newsletter, it's time to actually set up the system.
You'll probably need some help from the service that you are using to set up your system. But the first step is to...
1. Gather all your e-mail addresses
Gather the e-mail addresses from all the business cards you've collected, the contact information in your rolodex or contact management system, and any other source of contact information. This will be your initial mailing list.
The second step is to...
2. Install and set up your system
This will include setting user preferences and options to customize your newsletter service.
If you went the software route you'll usually have detailed instructions that come with it. If you went the Internet-based route there should be some online instructions. In either case, there should be a tech support line in which you can get the help you need.
The third step is to...
3. Hook up your website to your system
Finally, you'll need to modify your website to work with your optin boxes so that subcribes and unsubscribes are automatic.
Some people will probably need to hire a webmaster to get this working for you. You can always call on a technical person to help you over at http://www.RentaCoder.com
In some cases, your website and newsletter management system might not be hooked together at all. This is especially true with desktop-based systems.
Step 7 - Create and Test Your First Newsletter
It's time to actually create your newsletter and test it. Simply write your article, format it, cut and paste it into your system and send it to yourself.
As I already mentioned, consider sending it to multiple e-mail accounts that use different email programs such as hotmail, yahoo, MS Outlook, or Eudora.
Consider sending it to a few friends to get their feedback. You'll find their comments helpful, because they'll probably see some things that you've missed or they might have a different email program that manages your newsletter in a different way.
* * EditPad Lite * *
If you are creating a text-based newsletter a good tool to use is TextPad ()
Edit Pad Lite is a free tool text editor that will save you a lot of time formatting your newsletter. Specifically, it will automatically wrap your lines to whatever character count you desire (55 - 60 characters as recommended).
* * Spam Checker * *
You should also consider sending it to a spam checker service. These types of services are relatively new but are free. Most spam checkers will give you a number score that represents the likelihood of your newsletter getting misinterpretted as spam.
SiteSell.com has recently produced a free spamchecker for ezine publishers. Simply visit the link below and follow the instructions.
Step 7 - Launch Your Ezine
Launching your ezine is the simplest step. All you have to do is close your eyes, push a button, and off she goes!
It's actually a lot of fun. If you've made your newsletter interactive you'll start getting emails back from people. Before you know it you'll find that you've created your own fan base and user community.
Step 8 - Continue to Improve Your Newsletter
Make sure that you ask your subscribers for their opinion on how to improve your newsletter. You'll always get some valuable feedback. Subscribe to other newsletters and incorporate what you like from their newsletters into your own.
Your newsletter should always be in a state of flux. By that I mean that you should always be looking for new and different ways to make it achieve your objectives.
General Online Newsletter Tips and Advice
The following are list of do's and don'ts I've learned over the past two years of publishing my own newsletter.
Again, they are not in any particular order. However, they could be the most important advice you've received in this article...so pay attention.
Advice # 1 - You are going to get negative feedback and complaints. That's just a part of doing business, whether its online or offline. Don't let it get to you.
Deal with complaints professionaly, pleasently, and unemotionally, always giving the benefit of the doubt to your subscriber.
Advice # 2 - Try to spell and grammar check your newsletter. I've been hammered on this too many times. People tend to latch on to small errors with animal magnetism (and they let you know about it).
Spelling and grammar does affect the way people perceive you, even if you have great content (unfortunately).
Advice # 3 - When you get kudos from people, save them. Put them in a testimonial file and use them in your marketing efforts. They are invaluable.
Advice # 4 - Save all your articles. You'll find that you can reuse them over and over again. Also, submit your articles to other website and newsletter publishers.
Make a list of publishers that you send your articles to after you have sent out your ezine. This will bring you a fresh stream of new visitors from content that you had to create anyway.
You might even consider putting your articles in an ebook and sell them or use them as a viral marketing tool to give away to other people.
Advice # 5 - Put you articles on your website and make sure you optimize your meta tags (i.e. title, description, and keywords) so that they get found by the search engines.
You'd be surprised how much traffic you can generate through free search engines with your article archive.
The following is an additional resource that will help you start and manage your own ezine.