Monday, January 29, 2018

Start an Email Newsletter in 5 Easy Steps

I started a newsletter this year. It's nothing fancy: short updates on life here at Hendrickson House and cool stuff I think other people might find interesting.

Probably apocryphal. By about 100 years...
Like, for instance, the fact that Betsy Ross (born on New Year's Day) likely didn't make the first American flag, but she made plenty of other flags, started her own religion, outlived three husbands, and ran her own business till she died at the ripe old age of 84.

And how Jill Fredstone (another New Year's baby) has singlehandedly rowed over 25,000 miles -- more than the circumference of the planet -- exploring various Arctic coasts in several countries.

I talk about the inspiration I find from Major, our most recently adopted dog, my attempts at "intentional neighborliness," some of my awesome clients, and what projects I'm currently working on.

Having a newsletter was always something I meant to do... someday... in the future... when I'd met some never-specified milestone I felt would warrant such a thing. But as the new year approached, one of my resolutions was to stay more in touch with the people in my life. The newsletter allows me to do that.

I was amazed at the level of connectivity that resulted. People who have been known to take weeks to respond to emails -- if they respond at all -- responded immediately to the newsletter. Several forwarded it to others. And I kicked myself for not starting one sooner.

So, if you are knocking around the idea of a regular News-From-You missive, these simple steps may help you start:

The target audience is an inexact science.
1.) Identify your target audience. If you are a writer, what is your main genre? Who are your ideal readers? Craft your newsletter to appeal to that audience. Similarly, if you are a teacher, a speaker, a researcher, or a scientist -- or if you are developing a newsletter for an organization -- know who you most want to connect with.

Though I write in several genres, complex female characters are my forte. My ideal readers respect and admire women. My newsletter recognizes and builds upon that respect.

2.) Determine your topics. Your target audience determines your content. While a newsletter is your opportunity to tell others about what you're up to, beware of devolving into banging the drum of shameless self-promotion. People are far more interested in what you are doing than what you are selling.

A good way to avoid falling into the "Me! Me! Me!" trap is to identify a few general topics you know you can consistently write about, much like the different sections of a newspaper or magazine. Each new edition of your newsletter, then, simply involves adding new content to each of your pre-determined topics.

For instance, my newsletter generally begins with an opening note about something that happened recently and how it impacted me. Then I share one or two things I've discovered in my recent research, or in my reading, that I found interesting. (These are almost always off the beaten path. I never pretended to be a Pop Culture Maven. I'm more comfortable as the Odd But Interesting Aunt.) A short update on Major, and the rest of our vast menagerie, follows. I wrap up with a sort of highlights reel of what I'll be working on in the month ahead.

3.) Remember to Provide Value. Honor your reader's time and attention. Make it worth their while to open your newsletter. If you recommend a book or a movie, make sure you really *liked* it. If you talk about your latest research, make certain your reader has a clear takeaway. Strive to ensure that your readers are more informed, more entertained, or more inspired after reading your newsletter.

4.) Start Small. You may not have a massive mailing list. That's ok. I started with just family, friends, and clients. Tell "your people" about you're newsletter ask their permission to include them in your trial run. Most will agree.

A side note: Even if your friends and family aren't your target audience, I strongly advice including them on your newsletter mailing list. They already know you and love you. They want to know what you're up to. As your mailing list grows, continue to write for your target audience. But never forget about the ones who "knew you when."

5.) Hit "Send." I use MailChimp. It's free and easy to understand -- both critically important criteria for any new undertaking on my part. Do your homework to discover which email marketing service (industry jargon for "the thing I do my newsletters on") is best for you. Then, take the plunge and check "Have a Regular Newsletter" off your list of Things to Do for 2018.

My MuseLetter goes out at the beginning of every month. How frequently will you send updates? That's up to you, but try to keep to a regular schedule. You know what your schedule can handle. Sending too frequently fills up in-boxes and runs the risk of annoying readers into unsubscribing. Sending too seldom makes it too easy for people to forget they gave you permission** to contact them.

** Remember, you must have someone's permission to email them. Permission is a person's specific, verifiable consent to receive communication. Sending emails without permission is a perilous pathway to being reported as spam. Spam is bad. You can start with a list of your current contacts. Then, use a simple sign-up form to let people ask to join your newsletter posse. (See Exhibit A on the top right of the web version of my blog. Feel free to sign up. I'd be honored.)

Sunday, January 07, 2018

A Major Milestone

Today is a special anniversary. One year ago today, I adopted Major.

My perfect, pudgy pillow.
Major is, as far as we can tell, part Chihuahua, part Corgi. Probably. He looks a lot like the love child between Yoda and a loaf of bread.

Was I looking to add to my pack o' dogs? No, I was not. As people informed me, I needed another dog like I needed a hole in my head. I had lost Robert only a few short weeks earlier. Christmas, New Year's, and Cassandra's birthday had passed in a grey blur. I already had a menagerie of dogs, cats, horses, chickens, and sundry other animals to care for. Plus, I'm not a fan of little dogs.


I *was not* a fan of little dogs.

Major helped me see the error of my ways.

On New Year's Day, 2017, I went to the animal shelter with my neighbor. Her elderly cat had died and she wanted to try to fill the hole in the house he'd left behind. (I went, warning her that if she expected me to talk her out of adopting a furry creature, I was the wrong person for the job.) She came home with Bowser, an adorable tuxedo cat. And I, perusing the kennels, discovered Major.

My mom lived in an elder care facility owned and operated by one of my longest, dearest friends. Some time earlier, I'd broached the idea of having a companion dog at the facility. "Let me know if you ever find the right dog," she told me. Which is the equivalent of a divine quest, you understand.

When I got home, I called her and told her about the little dog I'd seen at the shelter. She consulted with the main nurse at the home. The nurse agreed that a little dog might be a good thing. So the next day, I went back to Animal Control and hung out with Major. He was perfect for a companion dog:

Self-assured without being snippy.

Small but solid.



Quiet but alert.


... All good things.

I sent my friend pictures from the pound, got the greenlight, and came home with the boy.

"You got a new dog!?" people said, doing little to hide their incredulity, because everyone knew acquiring a new mouth to feed was NOT one of my priorities.

"No, no, no," I assured them. "Just fostering him a little while. Going to take him to the vet. Make sure he's going to work out at Mom's elder care. Probably take a few weeks to get him completely introduced and assimilated. But we're not keeping him."

"mmm-hmmm," they said, unconvinced.

Couch potato.
I had the best of intentions. Really, I did. So when I took Major to Mom's home for the first time and he acted as if he'd lived there forever, I basked in the glow. Then the nurse saw him. And the glow faded.

"Ohhhh...," she said, backing away when Major went to say hello. "I didn't know he'd be so big."


Now, Ten-Pound Tiny Boy is many things. But "big" is not one of them. His ears are literally the biggest part of him.

This was when I discovered that the nurse in charge had not only never owned a dog before, but she was also legitimately terrified of them. And while this information would have been good to know before adoption, there was no way in the world I was taking Major back to the pound.

"I knew you'd never give him up!" friends crowed.

Meh. Let 'em crow.

Major is made of awesome. He literally made 2017 bearable. Plus, I love what happens when I look at the world from Major's point of view:

*  Every time I look at him, I laugh. Every time. He's so compact, so dignified, so utterly self-possessed. Yet he's got these novelty-store ears that crack me up whenever I see them. He is not trying to be funny. He's not particularly playful, and he's long past the puppy stage. But he is still freaking hilarious. Whenever I need a laugh, I can count on Major to make it happen.

*  He is a fraction of the size of my other dogs, who are between 50 and 60 pounds. Yet he doesn't shy away from hanging out with them.  He will wait till the girls are all asleep, then crawl on top of one of them for his nap. Through his filter, everything in the house exists for his comfort and convenience.

*  Major loves to be with people, but he isn't always thrilled about hands reaching out to pet him. He's especially not a fan of being picked up. When a someone reaches for him, he'll back away, the giant ears melt, and his entire body droops. I have no idea what happened in the little dog's past. He likes people -- on his own terms. His favorite thing to do (he's doing it now, in fact) is to curl up beside you on the couch so you can use him as an armrest. But he prefers to be the one to decide how the physical contact happens.

Watching the road for intruders.
*  He is small, but he is mighty. He has no idea how insignificant he is. When he's outside, he will stand up to anything. Doesn't matter if it's a tractor, or my Percheron gelding, or the UPS truck -- Major will stand his ground and bark to alert the world of the intruder's presence. While the other dogs are frivolously wasting their energy chasing squirrels into trees, Major is watching the road for trespassing vehicles. (His definition of a trespasser is anything he can see that moves and is big enough to crush him.)

*  Here's how to ruin Major's day: raise your voice and yell at him. Or sharply reprimand any of the other creatures in the house -- he'll take it personally. Then the whole-body-droop will be in evidence, and he will do his best "bread loaf" impression as he attempts to become invisible.

* Major celebrates every meal. Food of any kind is the highlight of his day. He will literally bounce off the walls. Then, in anticipation of eating, he will spin in circles. (Always counter clockwise... I don't know why. His tail hooks permanently to the left...) Sometimes the Dining Dance is accompanied by yips of sheer delight. The ears flap. The eyes sparkle. He derives such joy and such pleasure from a basic daily event.

Those are just some of the reasons why I'm celebrating the anniversary of having the little guy in my family. I cannot fathom the reason that made his former owners dump him at the pound. But I'm glad we found each other. I'm glad we had this year together. With any luck, I'm looking forward to many more.