Launching an Email Newsletter

As I explained last week, few marketing vehicles can match the power of a high-content, free email newsletter delivered regularly to subscribers. Here’s how not to get yours off the ground. A friend of mine, inspired by what he saw of my weekly Marketing Minute newsletter, created a list of movers and shakers in his industry and researched their email addresses. He wrote an inaugural issue that highlighted his specialized knowledge. Then, with some help from a technician in his company, he pressed “Send.”

When I checked my email later that day, I found more than a dozen messages that seemed to be from this friend. The first was his newsletter message, riddled with typos. The second read, “Take me off this #%*&@ list!” The subsequent ones were increasingly more irate and vulgar variations on that theme.

He’d made three mistakes. First, some recipients got annoyed because they didn’t know him and had not requested the newsletter. Second, because he sent it off unedited, he made a poor initial impression.

The third mistake he made compounded the first two into a blunder so calamitous that some recipients called him up and screamed. His technical helper had misconfigured the list so that everyone who had received the original email also received the increasingly vociferous complaints.

His reputation did not quickly rebound from this incident.

There’s more than one better way to launch an email newsletter. I got the first 500 subscribers to my Marketing Minute by sending postcards to a few thousand people who’d attended my seminars. From there, I mentioned it when I spoke, described it in my brochure, cited it on the air during a weekly television segment, sent an email about it to a Boston Globe columnist who subsequently mentioned it in print, and eventually, when I had my own web site, created a page that invited people to subscribe.

Other methods of generating a permission-only body of subscribers include running print ads, sending press releases, and posting to discussion lists like the ClickZ Forum with a sign-up invitation in your signature. Reminding subscribers to forward the newsletter to people who might be interested helps you reach people beyond your subscriber base.

To keep busy people from unsubscribing, you need consistently valuable content and clean, correct writing. In almost 150 issues, I have only twice misspelled a word and once wrote “inertia” when I meant “entropy.” All three times, I received a scolding within minutes.

As for length, shorten it. Then shorten it again. Of the newsletters I subscribe to, I always read the short ones and often skip the long ones. The feedback I receive suggests that many others react this way, too. My Marketing Minute contains just 180 words because that correlates with a minute out loud on the TV show on which I used to do a weekly segment on marketing. As most email newsletters do, mine includes identifying information, comparable to a publication’s masthead, before the article, and a special offer of the week and subscribe/unsubscribe instructions following the article.

A good rule of thumb is to fill your email newsletter with at least 80 percent meaty content and up to 20 percent promotional material. As for frequency, promise only what you can deliver, even when you get busy. Part of the newsletter’s impact comes from the dependability you demonstrate by showing up on schedule week after week or month after month. Occasionally I’ve written my Marketing Minute the Wednesday morning it was due to go out, but I try to have several weeks’ issues lined up at all times.

For delivery, I use majordomo, a command-based mailing list program provided by my local ISP, Software Tool & Die. This program is also available from some other ISPs. The first 500 subscribers cost me nothing, and each 500 beyond that costs $5 per month. The revenue generated by my special offers in the newsletter covers all my online costs many times over. A popular free service for managing this kind of list is eGroups. To find companies that can handle larger subscription lists for you on a fee basis, take a look at “The ClickZ Guide to Email Marketing” and ClickZ’s columns by Kim MacPherson and Heidi Anderson.

If you don’t get measurable results from your newsletter right away, stick with it because it works over time. Bob Baker, who publishes an email newsletter for musicians called The Buzz Factor and consults and sells information products for musicians, says, “Of my 3,400 subscribers, only a small percentage of them are ready to buy during any one week. But when one of them is ready, I will hopefully have built up trust and proven myself to be a reliable source of information. Judging by the steady amount of sales I get, that theory is working.”

I received much the same confirmation just the other day. A Marketing Minute subscriber called me to say, “I read your newsletter every week and pass it around to a lot of other people who like it, too. I knew that when I finally needed help, I’d call you. It was only a matter of time.”

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.