How to Write a Newsletter that Works

Newsletters are a great way to stay in touch with customers – and today’s online tools make them easier than ever to inexpensively create and distribute. Too often, though, both mailed and emailed newsletters wind up in their respective trash bins.

Why? The answer is simple: The newsletter provided no value to you as a reader. While the author likely started with the best of intentions, he or she failed to engage you, failed to provide information you can use – in short, failed to write with the reader in mind.

Before you dive into creating your newsletter, consider these steps:

  • Define your reader’s persona. What are they like demographically? Why are they an ideal client for you? What do they care about? What do they not care about? A great newsletter, like any other form of communication, starts by understanding its audience.
  • Create the mailing list. The list is the most important aspect of your newsletter program. In business terms, your readers are:
    • Current customers
    • Former customers
    • Prospective customers
    • Referral partners
    • Providers of complementary products and services
  • Make an editorial plan. First, determine a newsletter calendar. Consumer and business-to-business marketers generally find monthly frequency works well. Then, decide on regular features, such as an employee profile, customer testimonial and/or special offer. Also, configure a distribution system for your newsletter - mail or email - and ensure that this is cost effective and easy to manage.
  • Develop content. Brainstorm a list of potential topics and set up a system to add to the list monthly. Start by thinking about your customers. What do they want to know? How can you help them solve problems? How can you provide information that makes a difference in their lives? Focusing on your readers helps ensure your newsletter will be effective.

    For example, say you sell plumbing supplies to homeowners. Your customers will be interested in learning about:

      • New products
      • Maintenance and repair tips
      • Do-it-yourself home improvement advice
      • Water quality improvement tips
      • Water conservation ideas

    Once you understand your audience it is a lot easier to develop content. Each newsletter should provide a variety of information. While every article may not be of interest to every reader, at least one article should be interesting to all your readers. Think about the retail plumbing supply example. Your newsletter could include articles in these categories each month:

      • Fire Your Plumber: Simple How-to Plumbing Repairs
      • What's New: Products You'll Love
      • Go Green: Ways to Reduce Consumption and Save the Planet!
      • Your Home is Your Castle: Simple Ways to Make Your Home More Livable

    Notice there is no mention of specific products or services for sale in the above categories. The key is to offer value first; then you can offer products for sale. Keep the sales pitch gentle; maintain an 80/20 split – or better yet, 90/10 – between value and advertising. Your readers won't mind small amounts of advertising mixed in with information of real value; but you must focus on value first, advertising second. Otherwise you will lose them.

    To make the content creation process easier, don't wait until the day before you will publish your newsletter to start thinking about topics. Keep a notepad handy; whenever a customer asks a good question, consider using that as the basis for an article. Watch for news about your industry. If you solve a thorny problem for a customer, consider how others could benefit from that information.

  • Distribute and Evaluate. Monitor reader feedback and statistics. Since most newsletter software builds in statistic functions, the latter is easiest with an online publication tool. Here are some overall best practices:
    • Be consistent and predictable in distribution
    • Keep your articles relatively brief. Stay concise and to the point.
    • Include photos or illustrations, but only if they enhance the printed information. Generic photos don't reinforce your message, but actual photos of new products or illustrated repair tricks, do.
    • Cleary display contact information. Make it easy for customers to find you. Don't assume every reader is familiar with your business; if you create great newsletters, satisfied customers may forward them to other readers.
    • Make it easy for customers to sign up for your newsletter. Prominently display the sign-up box on your website.
    • Post newsletters on your social media and website. Consider re-purposing the content in other ways. For instance, you might create a site archive with all your "how-to" articles, making it simple for visitors of your website to find that information.