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.)

No comments: