A flying envelope: article on how to create an e-newsletter

In this post we show you how to create an e-newsletter that you can send to your business leads or clients; we also advise on how to run an effective e-marketing campaign in general.

1. Start with the most important thing: your data

Before you think about ‘how’ you are going to send an e-newsletter, think about the ‘who’. You probably have an existing database of leads and clients tucked away in an Excel spreadsheet somewhere – or more likely, your database is spread across several very messy spreadsheets. Before even thinking about sending an e-newsletter to anybody on your mailing list, is a good idea to consolidate all your files into one clean, well-organised spreadsheet. You should also ensure that this is ‘segmented’ as well as possible – i.e., ideally you should have a field in it containing information which lets you flag data as leads, current clients, past clients and so on. That’s just an example  of how you could organise things though: how you segment your database should depend on what you are selling and the nature of your business – for example, if you sell different types of products, you may wish to flag your data by product type. The basic aim of the exercise is to get your data into shape, so that you are able to send an appropriate message to an appropriate prospect at the right time.

2. Create a content plan and e-newsletter schedule

The next step is to plan your communications carefully. It’s a good idea to create an ‘e-communications schedule’ which maps out what you are going to send out in an e-newsletter, to whom, and when. You can then refer to this schedule throughout the year, and ensure you have all the necessary content ready to go. And because you’ll have segmented your data nicely in advance (see above) you will be sending your beautiful and interesting e-newsletter to precisely the right group of contacts.

3. Pick the right tool for sending your e-newsletter

For many small businesses, sending e-newsletters means compiling a mailing list in Excel, then copying and pasting the addresses into the BCC field of a clunky-looking Outlook message. This is a time-consuming way to go about things; it’s also very ineffective, because it doesn’t allow you to a) send very professional-looking e-newsletters or b) accurately measure important stats like open rate and clickthroughs.

It is a much better idea to use a dedicated tool for sending your e-newsletter. There are many web-based solutions available now: big-hitters include Aweber, Getresponse, Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor and MadMimi. These all allow you to import your database, create attractive templates, and send out proper ‘HTML e-newsletters’ that stand the greatest chance of being delivered (and crucially, read!). Of the e-newsletter solutions we’ve tested to date at Style Factory, our favourites are Getresponse and Mad Mimi, chiefly because they are inexpensive by comparison to their competitors, easy to use, and pack in an awful lot of functionality. Both come with free trials:

4. Create an attractive e-newsletter template

Once you’ve decided upon which bit of software you’re going to use for your e-newsletters, you need to design a nice HTML template for it. Getresponse in particular comes with a lot of designs that you can modify easily enough (as do most of the other solutions). If your design skills are not all that strong, you might consider hiring a designer to set up your email templates. Ultimately your e-newsletter template should look professional and uncluttered, and should feature your business’ logo and branding prominently.

5. Split test!

Once you’ve got your database, your e-communications schedule, your choice of software and your template sorted, it’s finally time to start sending some e-newsletters. But it’s really important to send them in the best way possible. This generally means 'split testing' your subject headers and/or content. Split testing means trying out different versions of your message on a relatively small sample of your data before sending it to the remainder of your database. You might, for example, create three versions of the same newsletter, each with different subject headers, and send it to 500 people on your database – after a day or so, you can identify which subject header led to the best open rate, and then use that header for the remainder of your data. Note that this is only worth doing if you have a relatively large database – if your business database is only a few hundred records in size, you might find split testing doesn’t really lead to particularly informative results.

6. Use good landing pages

It’s not just essential to have attractive, well-constructed e-newsletters: it’s important that the links in those e-newsletters take you to pages that actually ‘convert’ readers into taking further action too. Generally speaking you don’t want to send people to a page that contains a huge number of competing calls to action or links – it’s better to present a page that encourages users to take one specific action, be that buying a product or completing a form. Your landing pages should be attractive, easy-to-use and focused firmly on conversion.

7. Measure success

Most e-newsletter tools come with detailed reporting functionality – after sending an e-newsletter, you will be able to access statistics that let you measure open rate, click-through rate, unsubscribe rate and more. Study these stats carefully, as they will help you create better e-newsletters that generate more conversions in future.

8. Allow people to sign up to your mailing list via your website

Tools such as Getresponse and Mad Mimi allow you to easily embed sign-up forms for your mailing list directly on your website. Make sure you do this, as it will save you having to repeatedly upload spreadsheets of data to your e-newsletter service. Additionally, by connecting your website’s mailing list form directly to your e-newsletter software, you can make use of autoresponders or ‘drips’ – automated emails that you can ‘pre-program’ in advance so that when somebody signs up to your mailing list via your website, they will automatically receive messages of your choosing at intervals of your choosing. For example, a subscriber could get a welcome message immediately upon signup; a special offer one week later; an encouragement to follow your company on Facebook two weeks later and so on.

9. Allow people to share your e-newsletter easily

Most e-newsletter tools will allow you to add ‘forward to a friend’ or social media sharing buttons to your e-newsletter. Make use of them! It means that your content and offers get a good chance of being seen by an audience outside of your mailing list.

10. Always follow best practice

And finally, if you want to run an effective e-newsletter campaign, there are four important things to remember:

  • Don’t spam: always ensure that anyone on your list has actually signed up to it
  • Don’t over-commmunicate: leave decent gaps between messages
  • Always send relevant, interesting content to people on your mailing list: this will minimise unsubscribes
  • Always make it easy for people to unsubscribe

Hope you find these e-marketing tips useful. If you enjoyed this article, please do share it with others!

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