Should I start an e-mail newsletter?

A rockstar blogger asks: “Amy, I am considering starting an e-mail newsletter and I have a few questions.  Such as, how long should it be; how frequently should I publish it; and how long will it take to see results (i.e., interest from potential training/consulting clients?)  Thanks!”
 
I get this question A LOT or as 2.0 (aka the wee terrorist) says “a lot a lot.”
 
First, I LOVE when people/companies start e-mail programs.  I think e-mails (especially triggers) are THE most effective tools you can have in your arsenal.
 
Second, there are no hard and fast rules for developing newsletters.  I will give you some guidelines and places I’d start.  Then, when you’ve got things mastered, you should test them and try new things on your own.   Everyone has different experiences.  My advice is based on reviewing the results of thousands (literally) of companies over time and not from personal opinion.  (For example, we break all the conventional rules with our FREE Eight By Eight Newsletter and the response and the results are still through the roof.  You’ve got to find out what works for YOUR business.)
 
So, how long should your newsletter be?  I’ve seen 25 page newsletters, one paragraph e-mails and everything in between work.  Most of the success of your newsletter will come from “outside the envelope.”  (By the way, that link really does gives you the biggest secrets, be sure to click on it.)  In other words, the length is NOT the critical issue for the user.  You don’t see people not responding or unsubscribing because the newsletter is too short or too long — they take those actions because the content isn’t what they want.  Need a gauge anyway?  Strive for 1-1.5 page(s) printed out.  And yes, that “printed out” part is important because there are large groups of people who still print out stuff — especially CEO’s.  So be sure your newsletter is printer and mobile friendly. (Such a strange gap but alas…)
 
How frequently should you publish it?  Again, this depends on your goals and there are all sorts of formulas that work but I would strive for at least bi-weekly.  Weekly is better but if you can’t do it, try for every couple weeks.  Monthly can work but it’s often tough to build momentum. 
Over time, companies who have built really strong newsletter programs find that consistency helps.  So, if you are writing every Tuesday, try sending it out at the same time as well.
The thing that is super important to remember is that if you’re lucky (read: good), only a quarter of the people will even open your e-mail.  I won’t depress you by telling you how many folks will actually read it because the truth is that it’s all a numbers game and you can make anything work as long as you have the right numbers.  With that said, just remember that if you have 100 people, you have to mail about 6.8 different times for them all to receive just one of your messages.   (And no, you still wouldn’t get 100% but when you factor in the passalongs and such, you should be about even.)
 
How long will it take to see results?  The great thing about e-mail is that you will get an indication if what you’re doing is working immediately — as in your very first e-mail.   In terms of results?  Like everything else when it comes to e-mail, it varies depending on what you’re looking for.  If your goal is to get consulting business from your newsletter, you’ll need to have a good list (meaning not just your sister and your best friends) and you should likely commit to about six months.  (This is also an average but it is a good benchmark.)   The BEST news is that, as a blogger, you already have TONS of content that you can reuse/recycle.
 
Other things to keep in mind –
 
You need an unsubscribe message at the bottom (not at the top, at the bottom.)  Keep it simple.  If you can offer alternatives (i.e., increasing/reducing frequency, specifying content), do it on a page, not in the body copy.
 
Seed your list.  Deliverability is key.  Unfortunately every service tells you they have almost perfect deliverability – that’s why you need to seed your list.  More on e-mail seeding found here… 
 
Ask for FGAF’s (friend-get-a-friend.)  Everyone knows someone just like them and that person may be interested in what you have to say too!  So, in every second or third newsletter, make a push to get your subscribers to forward the e-mail to a friend or a colleague. (Yes, some consultants suggest that you do this in every e-mail.  Having tested it multiple times with multiple clients, I don’t.)
 
Use social networking icons, as applicable.  I say “as applicable” because this is where a lot of folks screw up.  Using the icons WILL help you IF you use the services.  For example, at Christmas, a lot of companies added Twitter-sharing icons to their e-mails, which would have been great, except they weren’t really using or updating their Twitter accounts.  Bottom line: if you use the services, it’s ok to promote them.  If you don’t use the services, save the traffic for yourself.  (As an aside, Facebook like-icons work like gangbusters for many consultants.)
 
Measure what matters.  Look at open rates, clickthrough rates, passalong/sharing rates, unsubscribe rates, bounce rates, and most important, action rates.  Putting together a solid e-mail program is a lot of work.  You’ve got to know what’s working and what isn’t so if you’re not going to read and react to your results, don’t even bother.  With that said, the thing that you’ll get the most out of measuring is the action rate — what action(s) folks take after reading your e-mails — you need to know if they buy something, request a quote, fill out a poll/survey, read more of your content, and so on. 
 
Sounds simple?  It is but this is the area where a lot of folks outside of the e-commerce world really miss the boat.  When you’re selling a product, it’s easy to know if your e-mail worked or didn’t.  When you’re selling a service, it’s a little trickier.  Your e-mails, just like your website, should be full of action directives and you should track them accordingly.  So, if your goal is to get more clients or speaking engagements, one of your overall goals would likely be to rank your readers’ propensity to hire you for training.  Therefore, in your newsletters/e-mails, you should have action directives to get people to use you (“click here now to book your training.”)  You should also have (or at least consider having) an alternative choice for people who are interested in your training but might not be ready quite yet.  That action directive could come in the form of a poll or survey, an ask-and-answer (the user writes the question and you respond, sort of what we’re doing here), a sign-up for a free whitepaper or podcast, etc. 
   
This information may sound a little dated (it’s been around forever) but there’s still a big difference between an e-mail and a newsletter, mostly in terms of measurement/response. Folks often mean different things when they’re talking about a newsletter so it’s important to note what it is that you mean.  Generally speaking, a newsletter goes out to a group of people.  Newsletters may be personalized but they typically aren’t (unfortunately).  Newsletters can have one topic or multiple topics per issue and they’re generally written for the average customer.
 
On the other hand, you could also send out an “e-mail” to your customer.  (Sadly, this generic term really does apply.)  Your e-mail would likely be personalized (which often helps with response) and would be written as a one-to-one communication.  It could have multiple topics or just one.  In a lot of cases, “e-mails” are more casual and less formulaic.  They may share a similar look and feel but they are not likely as templated as a “newsletter.” 
 
And yes, you may be asking if this a semantics type of thing?  Sort of but I mention it because there is a difference in your users’ minds and you should test which one works best for you.  Especially in B2B, your promotional response will vary so I’d test different banners and different pitches to determine which one gets you more sign-ups.  (FREE tips and/or FREE deals works best for some people.  For others, it’s just the offering of “FREE Newsletter.”)
 
Any more questions?  Jot them in the comments below or send me an e-mail to info@amyafrica.com.  Thanks for writing!

Comments

  1. says

    THANK YOU so much for this, Amy. Now comes the inevitable flood of questions: You mention in the Measure What Matters section that you should track clickthroughs, opens, etc. How do I get access to the stats associated with the newsletter? Will it be provided by whoever does the newsletter?

    And another question: WHO should I let handle the newsletter? Are their free options I can use? Or should I invest in letting someone handle it for me?

    Again, THANK YOU for this, am going to be bookmarking this one for sure!

    • says

      Mack (and amy)

      I’ve had huge luck with mailchimp. They offer quite a bit of features, A/B testing for newsletters, RSS feed to email services, and iPhone apps that really value add to what you pay. If you pay, that is – there’s a free option to test things out, and a nominal fee (based on number of subscribers) after that.

      • says

        Thanks for commenting Mitch. I like MailChimp too & I didn’t even know about all the benefits you listed!

    • says

      Hi Mack -

      So you got my not-so-subtle hint that you (THE Mack Collier) should have an e-mail program, eh? (Of course, you will need to footnote words like “apecrackers” for us Yankees as there’s no Rosetta Stone for How To Speak Southern…. yet.)

      Whichever service you use (even the free/low cost ones) will give you stats like clickthroughs, opens, etc. You will also want to tag your e-mails in your Google Analytics so you can track them there as well. This will be especially helpful if you set up funnels as your e-mail folks will — and should — behave differently than other incoming traffic.

      There are a lot of free/low cost services: Constant Contact, AWeber, Vertical Response, and MailChimp to name a few.

      I also know that several bloggers use Blue Sky Factory. They’re not free but DJ Waldow is the dude of all dudes and definitely worth chatting with about your program.

      Whether you do it yourself or outsource it, really depends on your list size and your budget.

      Thanks for writing Mack & consider me your first subscriber, ok?

    • says

      You should James — your e-mail program is killer. Solid headlines. Timely info. Written like a one-to-one letter. Nice use of personalization. Plus, you use a lot of cool techniques to get people to sign up. http://www.jamesfowlkes.com — folks should check it out!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *