How to Start an Email Newsletter
Email newsletters are in. From journalists to mom-and-pop shops and large corporations, it seems like everyone wants to get on board. But what does it take to start an email newsletter – and make it successful? In this guide, you’ll learn how to begin and create a newsletter people want.
Why start an email newsletter
So you’ve decided to start an email newsletter. Nobody could blame you.
More than nine out of 10 Americans subscribe to at least one newsletter. Email is a way to reach people where they are. Consider this – already more than half of the world population uses it, but that number is expected to grow.
Also, email has a proven track record of increasing business revenue.
Email newsletters are a great way to:
- Solidify your relationships with your audience
- Establish your brand as a trustworthy industry authority
- Communicate positive aspects of your business
- Warm up and convert undecided prospects
- Turn one-time buyers into repeat customers.
Whatever your reasoning, it’s not like deciding to take an afternoon walk. On the contrary, starting an email newsletter requires some precision and preparation.
We’ve got it broken down into seven steps so you can move your email newsletter idea from the pondering stage to succeeding.
But first, let’s get a better idea of what an email newsletter is.
What is an email newsletter?
An email newsletter is a periodical electronic letter a company sends out to its subscribers. It may contain text and images or just one.
The purpose of a newsletter is to inform customers about the company, allow them to receive product updates and learn about promotions. A good newsletter also has an entertainment factor to help create engagement.
With that said, it’s important to note your newsletter is not direct marketing. Rather, it’s an inbound marketing tool. Instead of pushing your audience to buy, the purpose of your newsletter is to:
- educate and inform
- build visibility and brand awareness
- warm up your prospects ahead of direct marketing campaigns.
Let’s look at the seven steps you need to master in order to start an email newsletter successfully.
#1. Commit to doing it right
Starting an email newsletter is exciting. You have so many ideas you can’t wait to share with your list. While enthusiasm will help propel you, running a newsletter is not all fun and games.
Here’s why: an email newsletter isn’t like sending an email to a friend or colleague. Newsletters require strategy, plus brainstorming ideas for content and design.
Having an email newsletter means you must commit to the resources you need to create emails that people can use.
Some email marketers don’t put much thought into their newsletters – and it shows. Those are usually the emails that don’t take off or are a flash in the pan. Emails that are inconsistent in quality will have people reaching for the unsubscribe button.
Usefulness takes effort and is almost always intentional.
So, don’t underestimate the amount of time that all of this takes. If you can’t allocate time each week for newsletter duties, you shouldn’t go any further. The people who figure they’ll work on the newsletter when they “get some free time” typically don’t get very far.
But if you’re reading this article, you’re not one of those people. You’re ready to get your newsletter off the ground and make it great!
#2.Planning to start an email newsletter
So many email marketers start an email newsletter by jumping right in. When they ask if they would have taken more time to plan, they usually say they would have. You know the adage “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
Let’s look at what you need to plan so your email newsletter works.
Niching down helps you build authority
Carving out your niche and honing in on what makes you unique is important. You can’t be a carbon copy because why would anyone pay attention to you?
So, think about your niche and where you fit in the grand scheme. How are you alike competitors – and how are you different? What topics do you have the most expertise in?
Your experience and knowledge are your best assets. When you have a unique skill or information, you’re perfectly situated to be an authority.
So don’t be timid here. Because you do what you do every day, it’s easy to be humble and not understand how much you can teach others.
Decide on your content format
Now that you’re clear on your niche, how will you present your email newsletter? Choosing the format of your content helps you have structure from the get-go and use templates you can duplicate.
So, will your email newsletter be plain text? Or do you love playing around with design and creating beautiful images to go with your stories?
Whether you want to make it simple or spend more time building your content, you have total freedom to test and see what your audience likes.
What if I’m not sure?
If you’re not sure, it’s a good idea to look at some of the many email newsletters out there. You’ll immediately see that there are various types of emails and you’re free to take the best of all of them.
Maybe you want to do a short-form email newsletter, like weekly tips relating to your industry.
For instance, Westfield Creative founder Emily Ryan sends out a weekly newsletter that’s always short and sweet:
Alternatively, you could write longer emails, like MarketingProfs founder Ann Handley does twice a month:
Jason Feifer, editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur magazine, also likes writing long emails. As long as you manage to be engaging, you shouldn’t worry about the length of your email newsletter.
Really think about that place where your interests and expertise perfectly meet what your readers would like. Your email newsletter is to serve them, but it also has to be within the scope of what works for you.
How often will you send your email newsletter?
Now that you’ve considered your niche and content format, it’s time to determine how often you’ll send emails. As you set your schedule, think carefully about what you can do and what your readers expect. This is not an area that you can chalk up to “whenever.”
Scheduling is where a lot of senders fail. While sticking to a calendar can be challenging, so much of your success is about doing what you said you’ll do. If your newsletter comes out the first and third Monday of the month, make it happen!
Pro tip: Before you send out your newsletter, check the health of your email list. Sending it to outdated and invalid contacts will cause it to bounce and tarnish your sender reputation right from the start.
Why sticking to a calendar is important
Whether they realize it or not, your subscribers will notice a pattern.
For instance, there’s an artist email newsletter that comes out the first of every month. I always know it’s coming and there it is, without fail. I anticipate its arrival and that’s one of the reasons I always open it on the same day I get it.
When your subscribers know your email is coming, they expect it and therefore are more likely to engage with it. If you don’t follow a sending schedule, your engagement suffers. There’s another even more serious problem you’ll face.
Sending email newsletters sporadically will get your emails flagged as potential spam by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Why? Because you’re behaving exactly like a spammer does.
Those behind spam emails tend to lack discipline and order. The “who” and “when” of an email doesn’t matter much to a spammer and sending can be chaotic and indiscriminate.
When you show up in people’s inboxes at regular intervals, you’re sending a message to both your audience and ISPs that your emails are legitimate. So think about when and how often to send your emails – and stick to it.
#3. Shop for an email marketing platform
Inexperienced people think it’s fine to send emails from their personal account before they get things off the ground. They send an email to themselves and either bcc – or even worse – cc all of the email addresses they want to hit up. It’s not remotely the most professional image.
This is a mistake people inevitably regret. You’ll want to look for an email marketing platform so you can grow your email list, access your metrics and not worry about transferring email contacts over.
Consider trial or freemium options
If you’re just starting out, there are a lot of email marketing platforms that offer a free version for beginners. If your email list is under 2,000 subscribers and you’re sending just a few emails a month, you may be able to start for free.
This is a great way to keep your investment lower as you get things off the ground. Other platforms offer a free trial.
Whether you’re on a free plan or a trial, get a good idea of how the platform works and what features you like. Are things going well? You may have the right email marketing platform for you.
If things don’t feel right or the support leaves something to be desired, that’s okay because you’re just getting started. Cut the cord and find another service! However, if you look at reviews and get recommendations from people you trust, chances are you’ll choose a good one right off the bat.
Look at costs based on subscribers and plans
If you’ve already accumulated a copious email list, you’ll have to make a decision based on cost. Almost all platforms charge based on the size of your list and the number of emails you send, so a big list will mean higher expenses.
Look at how the costs are determined closely. Sometimes a lesser plan that you think will save you money actually won’t because you keep going over the limit. On the other hand, you don’t want to overpay and get a plan you don’t really need.
Cheaper isn’t always better
One tactic you shouldn’t employ is to find the absolute cheapest email platform in the world and just go with that. This isn’t like finding the cheapest gas station. Find a good deal, but reliability isn’t something you should compromise on.
ESPs have their own reputation. As a sender you’re sharing the sending IP with other companies. When you see that website that seems thrown together offering a price that seems too good to be true, please believe that it probably is. It pays to choose an economical package, but make sure it doesn’t end up costing you more.
#4. Promote your email newsletter
There’s no point in having an email newsletter if you’re not willing to invest time promoting it. In this day of constant distractions and endless notifications, you’ve got to put in the effort to get a person’s attention.
Are you promoting your email list in any way possible? Let’s look at some of the tactics you may not be using.
Sign-up forms? The more, the merrier
It’s incredible how many companies have an email list, yet make it so hard to find a sign-up form.
Make it easy for people to subscribe by having sign-up forms in several strategic places. You want to capture website visitors, social media followers and even in-store guests.
Also, make sure to use double opt-in to ensure that any subscriber puts in a little effort to get your emails.
Some marketers make the mistake of not explaining exactly why someone should sign-up.
Nobody wants to simply get more emails in their inbox, they already get oodles of them. Instead, briefly tell everyone what they will gain from signing up. What are the benefits people will get from signing up?
You have to earn their subscription, not the other way around.
Related: Need some help creating your sign-up form? Read this article – and see 22 great examples to inspire you.
Use social media to get the word out
Your social media and email newsletter don’t compete with each other. On the contrary, you should use your Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter to promote your email newsletters.
You can also include links to all of these profiles in the footer of every email you send. They should all work together.
Occasionally make a post on social media to give your followers a taste of what they may be missing if they don’t sign up for your newsletter.
I’ve seen marketers make the mistake of breaking up the newsletter and copying and pasting almost all of the email content onto these social media channels. Why would anyone want to subscribe to your newsletter if it’s all available on Facebook?
When someone gives you their email address, it’s a big deal. They’re giving permission to make more personal contact. Use your social media channels to entice someone to do this.
Think of other ways to let people know
If your email newsletter is great, be proud of it and let people know about it in as many ways as possible. This includes:
- phone messages
- receipt signatures
- your personal email signature.
Mention your newsletter in the press
It doesn’t have to feel like shameless self-promotion. Instead, you can naturally share an anecdote or story that appeared in one of your newsletters.
Think of podcasts, print and digital publications and every public relations opportunity that comes your way. Get creative. Enticing a reader or listener to subscribe to your newsletter is a fantastic way to rope them in to what you do.
Put a link to every email you send so new people can subscribe
A lot of successful email marketers include a CTA in every newsletter that says something like: “If you enjoyed this newsletter, please forward it to a friend.”
You can also put a link in every email, including your person-to-person ones. You never know when someone wants to sign up. Give them a way.
Here’s an example from copywriter Laura Belgray:
#5. Warm up your IP before you send
You’re almost ready to get your newsletter out there. Pat yourself on the back!
But remember: before you launch, there are a few technical things you need to focus on.
For starters, you must warm up your IP. This is one step many overlook that can affect your email deliverability. If you just send your first edition out without warming up the IP, a lot of your emails may land in spam or won’t get delivered because you haven’t had this type of email activity.
To warm up your email IP and get in good graces with Internet service providers, gradually increase the number of emails you send first. There’s a daily sending limit for beginners that you can consult in our Email Deliverability Guide.
Make sure to follow this step so you can start your email newsletter the right way. Thus your hard work won’t be in vain. Your subscribers will see your launch like you deserve.
#6. Regularly remove invalid and inactive subscribers
Throughout the life of any email list, you can help keep things functional by regularly removing less than prime email addresses.
It seems like a contradiction to novice email marketers, but more experienced professionals know that a list thrives if bad emails are slashed consistently. You should take this a step further and keep any bad data off of your list in the first place.
Choose an email validation service
As important as choosing an email marketing platform is finding the right email validation service. An email validation service is going to identify harmful email addresses that hurt your email deliverability.
What is email deliverability?
Email deliverability is a metric of how many emails land in the inbox. If you have a high amount of poor-quality data in your list, your emails will go to spam or may not be delivered at all. You can’t expect your email newsletter to survive if you don’t use a service to help you maintain data hygiene.
On average, almost a quarter of your email database decays – every year. What’s more, after verifying over six billion emails last year, ZeroBounce found that only 57% of the email addresses it processed were valid and safe to use.
Starting and running an email newsletter takes time and effort. So the junk folder is the last place you want your emails to end up.
Choose an email validation service that offers a variety of tools and has a good reputation. You also want to be able to get a hold of support if something goes wrong at midnight, just hours before that important newsletter needs to go out.
Bulk validate your list regularly
Now that you’ve decided on an email validation service, you’re ready to start protecting your list. Your first line of defense is to bulk validate your email list at regular intervals.
A good rule of thumb is to clean your list every-other month, and no less than quarterly. You just upload the entire list to the site’s platform and set it to verify the list.
When it’s finished, you’ll be able to see the problematic emails so you can remove them. Don’t have any regrets about decreasing the number of subscribers. Those poor-quality emails can’t deliver good results, they’ll only decrease your email deliverability and derail your efforts.
Setup an email validation API
You want to keep inferior emails off of your list. There’s no value in adding email addresses without any marketing value, so why not keep them away?
Setting up an email validation API keeps those bad emails at bay. The API, which is a little piece of software, connects to all of your forms wherever they are on the web. And it does a great job at keeping your email list healthy.
For example, suppose someone tries to sign up to your list using a disposable email address. Disposable emails, also called temporary emails or burner emails, have no marketing value and will hurt you because they are sure to bounce. The API would stop them and ask them to enter a different address.
Related: How to handle disposable emails
Also, if someone wanted to sign up to your email newsletter but made a typo, a prompt would alert them so they can enter it correctly. An email validation API helps you avoid a lot of trouble.
A worthwhile email validation service can handle both your bulk email validation and help you connect the email validation API to any form that asks for an email address. Once you set it up, you don’t have to worry about it. Just make sure you always have enough credits, which are tokens the software uses to validate emails.
At ZeroBounce, one credit allows you to validate one email address.
Weed out unengaged subscribers
When you have subscribers who lack enthusiasm in your emails, your results are probably unremarkable. The first step is to look at your reports to identify your unengaged subscribers.
Try to win them back
The top email marketing platforms allow you to determine who these people are.
Instead of culling them from your list completely, consider a re-engagement plan. Send them an email asking them if they still want to stay on your list. You can even give these subscribers the option of going to your preferences center to adjust the number of emails they receive. Some of them may choose to receive fewer emails, while still staying on your list.
Also, consider targeting these subscribers with a discount or special offer to win them back. While some of them may not react, you may be able to salvage and re-engage this audience.
Why part with disengaged subscribers?
Don’t feel too bad about any people who sign up and gradually drift away. Instead, do your best to serve your dedicated subscribers.
Most email platforms charge based on how many emails you send out and your number of subscribers. So, eliminating unengaged subscribers who never express an interest has plenty of upsides:
- It cuts your costs.
- It improves your sender reputation.
- As a result, your email deliverability will enjoy a boost.
So, how often should you remove unengaged subscribers? If someone is inactive for a month or two, it may just be a busy time for them. However, if more than six months go by without those people clicking, you should be sure to part ways.
#7. Always measure, assess and adjust
If you’ve followed all of these steps, you’re in good shape. But, like any art or pursuit, you can always grow by adaptation. Part of this is scrutinizing your work and questioning how you can improve.
Monitor your metrics
The savvy email marketer knows that you’ve always got to keep an eye on metrics. The main metrics to look at include:
- Open rate
- Clickthrough rate
- Conversion rate
- Bounce rate
- Spam complaint rate
- Unsubscribe rate
Open rates means what percentage of the emails you sent were opened. For the longest time, open rates were what everyone in the email marketing space talked about.
It’s still something you should consider, but keep in mind open rates aren’t regarded as highly as they were previously. Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection updates made open rates less reliable as a metric.
Be flexible to changes
Just because you did things a certain way in the beginning doesn’t mean that’s how it should always be. Being skeptical about what you’ve done is quite healthy. So be open to trying new tactics, approaches and styles.
Maybe you got your audience wrong or they’re interested in something you wouldn’t have guessed. It pays to be flexible. You may think your subscribers want a flashy html email, but in fact they prefer plain text.
Another thing that can help a lot is learning from your readers. So don’t be afraid to solicit feedback. Ask them questions all the time. While you’re at it, ask them for comments and pictures so you can feature them in the newsletter.
You started an email newsletter. Don’t forget to enjoy the flight
The people who get the most joy out of their newsletters are typically the ones who succeed. Their enthusiasm and genuine interest shines through every email they send. Think about ways you can enjoy creating your newsletter. If you love what you do, others will pick up on that.
Also, don’t forget that your newsletter doesn’t always have to be overly serious. If there’s one thing you can never go wrong with, it’s don’t forget to be human. Be human and honest, and your newsletter will always make an impression.
So, are you ready to send your first newsletter? See that your email list is in good shape so you can set yourself up for success.