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How To Start An Email Newsletter

A Tutorial

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Jason OConnor
February 08, 2007

Jason OConnor
Jason OConnor is CEO of Oak Web Works, LLC (http://www.oakwebworks.com/), an e-strategy firm.
Jason OConnor has written 2 articles for WebKnowHow.
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Here are the goals:

You regularly send out relevant and anticipated email newsletters to your ever-growing list. You have a form on your website that asks people to sign up for your email newsletter. When someone signs up, they give you their name and email address and they receive a few automatic and customized emails that you previously crafted while they wait for their first newsletter edition. You have a database that stores each person's email address and you have a way to send out regular emails to them all, including beautiful HTML newsletters (e-zines). You watch the list grow over time and watch readers turn into customers.


Here are the benefits:


  • You are continually building a list of loyal readers that grows over time
  • Your readers spread the word that your organization is helpful, knowledgeable and experienced.
  • Your readers are regularly reminded of your organization's continued existence, growth and relevance.
  • Some loyal readers will turn into loyal paying customers.
  • You learn more about your customers and site visitors by asking them to communicate with you through the newsletter.
  • You generate a new income stream by selling advertisement space
  • You'll have a regular source of fresh and original content to add to your website which will help search engine rankings.

There are two distinct, but equally important aspects of starting an email newsletter that need to be addressed for you to accomplish the goals and gain the benefits listed above. First, you need the infrastructure and functionality to make all this happen, such as a database, an HTML form, a method for sending out emails in quantity and so forth. Second, you need the content that will be in each newsletter. This article will explain how to do both.

The Needed Infrastructure & Functionality for an Email Newsletter

Does getting the infrastructure sound difficult? Does it sound like you have to know a lot about programming? Neither is true. This wheel doesn't need to be re-invented.

There are a number of websites that offer paid services that provide the entire infrastructure for you. The cost is a fraction of the cost of developing the infrastructure yourself. Two good examples of this type of service are Constant Contact and Aweber. I prefer Aweber (http://www.aweber.com/?208983) and find its interface intuitive and easy to use. I use Aweber for our company email newsletter and suggest it to all our clients.

Using a browser I can log into my Aweber account and create text or HTML email auto-responder messages for people to receive when they visit our site or sign up for our e-zine. I can create a simple HTML form that asks for people's name and email as well. In fact, the html code for the form is created for me and all I have to do is cut and paste it into my site. No programming needed.

Each person's information is stored in a database on Aweber's servers. I can manage my leads list in my browser and sort by different ways. It also allows me to see how many of my auto-responders have been sent already. And every email that we send out has a personalized first name greeting.

There is a place in Aweber where I can manage my messages, whether they are regular emails to part of the list or a newsletter that's sent to the entire list. And there is a place where I can enter my messages, edit them, check to see if they will trip any sp@m filters, I can test the messages by sending them to my own email address first, and finally I can send them all out at once with one simple click.

The Needed Quality Content for an Email Newsletter

It’s not good enough to just have the infrastructure and functionality. You need content that makes people want to accept and read your newsletters over and over again.

Your newsletter ought to be related to your website and organization. Every person and organization has valuable and unique knowledge and experience to offer others. And you'd be surprised at how many people want your unique knowledge. Sharing this knowledge and experience with your existing and potential customers is what the Web is all about. People use the Web for getting information. So make your newsletters about various aspects of your business or organization, and make them educational, so that your readers come away with more useful information than they had before.

So if you're a Web design firm, write about Web design in your newsletters. If you're a small local bookstore, write about how to become an author, or how to start a local bookstore. If you're a financial advisor, write about how people can make sound investments. If you're a furniture builder and seller, write about how to fix up old pieces of furniture on your own.

Newsletters that are just extended advertisements don't cut it. If your newsletter only has announcements of new or improved products or services, or specials that you're running, then you're missing the boat completely. There is so much more you can offer.

Creating newsletters that contain useful, relevant and anticipated information for your readers is what to aspire to. You want to give away ideas and concepts for free that can be used to help improve some aspect of your reader's lives. You obviously don’t want to give away the whole farm since a lot of your expertise is what you charge for in the first place. But giving some information away for free is a win-win.

Most often, your readers don't care about you or your company or your specific products or deals, they only care about what you can do for them. If they take the time to open your email newsletter and read it, it better provide them with some real value or they won't bother again and your list will not grow, but eventually wither away into oblivion.

In return for providing useful, original content, you develop a constantly growing list of loyal readers who will spread the word that you are an authority in your field. Your readers may eventually buy from you if they haven't already. And you can use your list to occasionally sell your products or services, but do this very sparingly. You can use the newsletter for selling advertisement space, but again, use sparingly. Finally, you can use your list to learn more about your customers and site visitors. You can ask the people on your list to fill out an online survey, but be sure to offer them an incentive for their time.

If you don't know any programming or HTML but want to send out a regular newsletter, you can use Aweber to create text-only messages. If you want to send out professional HTML email newsletters, then either learn HTML and design (which is obviously time-consuming, but certainly possible), or hire a Web firm to do it for you. I would also suggest hiring a firm to help you with writing the content as well if you’re not comfortable with writing.

But as you can see, you don't need much to get an email newsletter going. If you can regularly create quality content, just sign up for an online service like Aweber and away you go. An internal customer email list is a very valuable asset for any organization. Handle it with loving care. Never sell or rent your list to anyone, try to offer value in your writing, and don't overuse it as an advertisement medium.

Good luck and happy e-zining!


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