I started my business with in-person marketing to my local community: speaking to groups, holding small workshops and attending or hosting networking events.
For the first few years, most of the people on my email list were people I met in person.
Since I started moving towards more of an online business model, many of the people on my list are from outside Vancouver and they found me through my blog or via social media. They liked what I had to say enough to invite me into their inboxes – and I want them to feel happy about that decision.
Sending a sporadic note with a link to my latest post and an invitation to a local event isn’t going to cut it anymore. I need to step up my email game.
What goes in a good email newsletter?
My goals for the newsletter are the exact things I’d advise a client. To:
- Provide useful, helpful information and/or encouragement/inspiration
- Build know, like and trust with my readers
- Remind people that I’m still here so they can buy stuff from me 🙂
I completely agree with what Seth Godin says about permission marketing: send something so good that people miss it when it doesn’t arrive.
This is a high bar to reach. In an effort to overcome my tendency towards procrastination by perfectionism, I’m setting that as a stretch goal. For now, I’ll settle for helpful, friendly and consistent. I’ll work towards “amazing” later.
I have a goal of sending an email to my newsletter list every Sunday. I often miss it.
In theory, this shouldn’t be difficult – I have a LOT to say, I like writing and I’ve blocked off the time I need to do it.
Where do I start? What do I say?
Performance pressure aside, the thing that’s been stopping me in my tracks is this: every time I sit down to write, I find myself getting stuck with where to start and what to say.
Over the weekend, I finally saw the obvious: I don’t have a template for this!
I have worksheets and templates for sales pages, networking introductions, follow up conversations, sales conversations, website content, appointment reminders, follow up emails, testimonial requests, client feedback, workshop and webinar structure – pretty much everything else. But no template for a newsletter.
So I decided to make one.
Keeping Seth Godin’s advice in mind, I decided to analyze the newsletters that I read and look forward to – the ones I would miss if they didn’t show up one week. I was hoping I could discern a pattern I could use for my own. What “secret” were they using to keep me so engaged?
I thought there might be half a dozen, but when I started my analysis I discovered that there were 15 of them. No two newsletters followed the same format, but they all had the following in common:
Hey! I know you!
Every newsletter on my must read list feels like it comes from someone I know. Some writers are super casual, some more professional. Some share a lot of information from their own life or business, others very little. They are all opinionated – they take a stance and aren’t afraid to say what they think.
The ones I like the most have some humour. All of them have personality. All of them are conversational.
I probably subscribe to 50 or more newsletters in total but these are the only ones I read on a regular basis. A lot of the others take a colder, more “professional” stance – or they come across as “salesy” or “lecturey.” Some simply have personalities that I’m not as drawn to.
Wow! That’s helpful!
They are all educational or inspirational in content. Sometimes providing a reminder of stuff I already know – sometimes offering a new insight or perspective. Some are short and pithy. Others are longer and more in depth. They all are worth the few minutes I invest reading them.
What I found most compelling and useful is when they shared what they were currently working on or experimenting with in their own businesses. Insights they had picked up, or projects they were working on. And especially especially especially the ones who were real – willing to share fears, uncertainties or the reality that something didn’t work out as expected.
I think we need more of this kind of truth-telling in business. Those who adhere to the advice to only share successes, never let them see you sweat, always show up perfect and glossy…well…they paint an unrealistic picture about what it really takes to succeed in business. If you get enough of this sugar-laden content, it’s easy to start to believe that things should come together faster and easier than they actually do. (Which, of course, is intentional seems these same people often have miracle programs to sell you.)
Oh! You have things for sale!
These are business newsletters and every one of them has products or services to sell. Sometimes the promotions are baked into the content – at the end you realize you’ve been reading a lead up to an offer. Other times the marketing is limited to a separate section at the end – or sometimes relegated to separate mailing. None of it feels aggressive or pushy to me.
Even the few that do “launch style marketing” – sending several emails in a row specifically to sell stuff – don’t annoy me because they send so much value on a regular basis. In some cases, their “sales emails” are just as informative and entertaining as their regular newsletter.
One of the most interesting observations I made was that the most spiritual, most ethical, most heart-centered newsletter of them all did the MOST marketing. And not by a small margin! Easily twice as much as the second most markety newsletter.
The fact that I hadn’t really noticed and never would have guessed is a good testament to the fact that “ethical sales and marketing” does NOT mean hiding and rarely promoting your services.
What they don’t do: violate trust for a quick buck
None of these people participate in joint venture promotions.
(If you’re not familiar with these – it’s when they send emails to promote other people’s programs. Typically they do this as part of a group – promoting each other’s stuff – so they send a LOT of emails for a LOT of different programs – and they all tend to follow the same format. Often the exact same letter. “My friend is doing this amazing thing…”)
A couple of them will occasionally recommend something that someone else is doing, but they do so with a single personal note and always disclose whether or not they’re being paid a commission on sales. Often they opt NOT to receive a commission in order to keep their recommendations clean.
This is contrary to a LOT of the advice out there about “list building” and “email marketing” – where the focus is on numbers of subscribers and short term sales.
To me, this demonstrates that they respect the trust their readers placed in them and are more interested in building long term relationships and preserving their reputations than making a quick buck.
Which brings me to the most important consideration….
Are they effective? Do they work?
To determine this, I asked: have I bought from these people…or am I just enjoying their free content?
Of the 15 newsletters I analyzed, I’ve purchased from 12 of them. From over $1,000 in some cases to a book or entry level product in others.
I was surprised by these stats – I would have guessed that I bought from maybe half of them. This goes a long way to underscore the importance of having an email list and communicating with it regularly and effectively.
Yes. I know. I’m a market of one – and a weirdo to boot. It’s entirely possible that most people prefer zero value, hard sell tactics and endless promotions from an never-ending group of “friends.” (Oops. Was that my out loud voice?)
Then again, all of these people have been around for a long time and appear to be successful. In once case, I’ve been receiving their newsletter for close to 20 years.
There is no “right” answer
No obvious “template” jumped out at me. 15 different newsletters. 15 different structures.
As is often (always?) the case in building a YOU-Shaped business – there isn’t a right answer. There’s only what fits for you.
Here’s what I’ve decided for my own newsletter.
- I’m going to share more about what I’m thinking about, reading, working on or discovering. Just like I’m doing right now with this post. This feels somewhat vulnerable – but I appreciate it when others do it – and it’s probably the most useful thing I have to offer.
- I’m going to follow the format that several of my favourite newsletters use in promoting services: a simple reminder at the foot of each email. Here’s how I can help when you’re ready – with a list of services along with links to more information. This feels clean to me and it removes the challenge of trying to tie the main content to one of my offers.
- I’m going to approach this as an experiment – trying things and adjusting as I go along.
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