E-newsletters are a great tool for promoting a business, and an especially good tool for promoting a freelance writing business.
You’d have learned that in the opening minutes of today’s WordCount Last Wednesday live chat with finance writer Susan Weiner, who explained the tricks she’s picked up in seven years of using an e-newsletter to promote her business and Investment Writing blog. And with an e-newsletter subscriber base of 700, she’s definitely worth listening to.
But in case you missed it, here are some of the highlights from the chat. Call it a freelancer’s guide to newsletters.
What’s so great about e-newsletters?
Freelance writers and other small businesses can use e-newsletters to promote their work, find customers, keep in touch with sources and sell products such as whitepapers, e-books and reports. It’s also a great way to show off your writing chops. And, according to Weiner, some people prefer getting information via email over visiting a blog.
What should I put in mine?
Original material, repurposed blog posts, links to blog posts, information on classes you’ll be teaching or events you’ll be speaking at, polls, teasers, jokes, photos, videos – anything goes. Some writers use only recycled material, while others always include at least one original article to reward subscribers for signing up. One writer regularly runs polls on her blog then shares poll results in her newsletter before putting them on the blog as a thanks to subscribers. Weiner says, “I write teaser copy to entice readers to read my blog posts and articles. A recent teaser, ‘Steal this idea!’ did very well.”
How long should it be?
That varies too. Weiner generally runs nine articles per issue plus links, though she’s been known to go even longer. Others are much shorter, such as this Marketing Profs newsletter that Weiner referenced, which only has 1 story plus links. To get the hang of it, “I recommend starting short,” Weiner says.
How often should I publish?
That depends on how often you blog, or how often you want to. If you blog every day it’ll be easy to come up with enough content for a weekly e-newsletter. But that’s pretty ambitious, so Weiner and other writers with e-newsletters find publishing once a month is more doable. Sara Lancaster, a Denver copywriter and blogger at No. 2 Pen, distributes her newsletter once a quarter.
How much time should I spend?
Weiner spent 5 hours pulling together her August newsletter, which had 11 articles. Lancaster says she spent 4 hours on her latest issue. Weiner says, “Best to tailor frequency & content to your readers’ needs, so ask them.” Aha, a poll!
What kind of software can I use?
Popular programs include Constant Contact, MailChimp, Mad Mini and iContact. Prices vary. Some programs charge nothing for maintaining subscriber mailing lists of less than 500 email addresses. Others charge $10 to $15 a month to handle lists of more than 500 addresses, plus extra for add ons such as premium newsletter design templates. Constant Contact also allows you to create a customized welcome message to new subscribers, which is a good way to give them something for signing up, such as a free report, according to Weiner. Read more of Weiner’s advice on available options for e-newsletter mailing list managers in this blog post.
How can I connect my e-newsletter to my blog or website?
Email marketing programs such as Boomerang can turn existing HTML files (think blog posts or web pages) into newsletter content, though Weiner says she hasn’t personally tried them. Writer and web design guy Ron Doyle recommends WP Responder, an e-newsletter and autoresponder plugin for WordPress blogs that allows you to create newsletter lists, schedule follow-up emails and use widgets to add subcription forms to a blog’s sidebar.
How do I know my newsletter is working?
One way to tell is by measuring the “open rate,” or the percentage of subscribers who open an e-newsletter issue. According to Weiner, a 30 percent open rate is average for finance e-newsletters – far better than the average for direct mail (which if memory serves is around 2 percent). Writers with e-newsletters also use much less formal measuring sticks, such as spikes in traffic to their websites, or if they get client phone calls after an e-newsletter goes out. Lancaster, the Denver copywriter, says the 4 hours and $17 she invested on her latest newsletter resulted in two small jobs, which made it a break-even proposition. But it was still worth it she says, “for the ripple effect.” Plus, Weiner says, a “newsletter builds awareness, too. That’s valuable, but can’t be measured in dollars right away.”
How can I get subscribers?
Prominently display newsletter sign up information on your blog and website and in your email signature. After Weiner meets people at networking events, she emails them a link to her latest newsletter issue and asks if they’d like to subscribe. Just don’t put people on an e-newsletter mailing list without permission – that’s a big marketing no no. Freelancer Stephanie Suesan Smith, who participated in the chat, says, “In WordPress you can have a thank you page for first comment. Maybe put sign-up link there.”
Should I expect to have as many subscribers to my e-newsletter as I do for my blog?
That really depends on your industry. Weiner has far more e-newsletter subscribers than subscribers to her blog’s RSS feed, but that’s typical of the industry she covers. “In financial circles people prefer email,” she says.
Where can I find out more?
Weiner recommends Michael Katz’s Newsletter on Newsletters .
Got your own e-newsletter tips, tricks or resources? Please share.