#085: Why You Should Start a Newsletter (and How to Keep it From Being a Drag)

Back in 2004, I had a newsletter for my freelance copywriting services. But after about 18 months, I let it go.

That was a mistake.

My newsletter could have helped me weather the storm of 2008 (I lost several big clients that year).

It would have given me one more way to stay in touch with longer-term prospects and dormant clients.

And it would have made it easier to promote new services and openings in my schedule.

If you’re starting a new freelance business, I don’t recommend launching a newsletter right off the bat. It can easily become a stumbling block to getting your business off the ground.

But if you already have a client or two, the benefits of a newsletter far outweigh the time and costs needed to launch and maintain one.

In today’s episode, you’ll hear from my friend and colleague Michael Katz. Michael is an authority on launching, publishing and leveraging a newsletter to grow your service-based business.

He explains the biggest (and not-so-obvious) benefits of having a newsletter…

How to launch one…

What format to use…

How often you should publish…

How to easily come up with a ton of topic ideas…

And how to keep it from becoming a drag.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself

Michael’s company is Blue Penguin Development. Since 2000, he’s worked as an independent marketing consultant specializing in email newsletters. Most of his clients are professional service firms.

What are the benefits of having a newsletter?

  • Trust: Newsletters work really well when you and your competitors sell essentially the same thing. It’s a great way to differentiate yourself. People get to know you. Then when they need you, you’re the obvious choice. And because they’ve come to trust you, they treat you well and won’t haggle on price.
  • Repetition: Prospects will subscribe for the information you provide, not to hire you. But as the newsletter lands in their inbox over and over again, they’ll get to know you. Eventually, you’ll have a growing basket of prospective clients.
  • A risk-free sample: A newsletter gives people a sample of your work and allows them to check you out.
  • Clarity: It helps you clarify your thoughts about your profession. You have to think about a topic to write about it.
  • Content: If you put your newsletter content on your blog, it makes Google happy.
  • Distribution: People can share your newsletter.

The biggest problem people have with putting out a newsletter is that they can’t write. But you can! So that’s not an obstacle.

You have to be patient because it takes time to see results. But if you keep publishing, good things happen.

How frequently should we publish?

Fifteen years ago, Michael used to recommend publishing around once a month. But today, if you’re publishing less than once a month, don’t bother.

Also, today you can do a lot more with your newsletter content. You can put it on your blog and publicize it through social media. You can leverage your content.

What email newsletter service do you like best?

Email vendors provide backend support for your newsletter. Michael likes Constant Contact and MailChimp. Constant Contact has free phone support. MailChimp is cheaper and the interface is easy to use, but it has no phone support.

These vendors have templates you can use. They can also help make sure your email is spam compliant and provide you with tracking information.

Should people use a template or custom design?

The most important thing is to start publishing. Often, an email newsletter template will get you going sooner. Getting a custom design takes time. So start with a template and then change to a custom design later, if you want.

Also, people sometimes want to stockpile a bunch of issues before starting. This isn’t necessary.

What if we miss a publication date? Is that a big deal?

Your newsletter publication schedule isn’t for your readers—it’s for you.

It’s easy to push a newsletter off, so you need a deadline. If you do miss one, just pick up where you left off and keep going.

Instead of picking a date (which will move around in a week) pick something like the third Thursday of each month at 10:00 a.m. Try to develop a rhythm.

How do we get subscribers?

Start with the people you know. Email them and ask if you can add them to your list. Remember, it’s not a number game, it’s a relationship-building game. The more you personalize the process, the better.

Invite anyone who might be interested, even if they’re interested in you and not your business. You may get referrals.

A free giveaway with signup can really work well.

It also works to offer your articles for re-publication. Allow other sites to publish your content and then include a blurb about yourself and a link where people can sign up for your newsletter.

How do you come up with topics?

Write your newsletter for your perfect client. Develop a persona to write for. The purpose of your newsletter is to educate him or her on your area of expertise.

You don’t have to come up with new, super-impressive ideas. You’re writing to non-experts.

Pull your newsletter topics from Your Expertise 101. They don’t have to be groundbreaking.

Michael divides his expertise into little pieces and only covers one piece in each newsletter.

Tell us about your training program

Michael’s program is Create Exception Email Newsletters. It consists of 10 video-based modules designed for solo professionals. It covers all the topics you need to start your own email newsletter, including what to write about, layout, formatting as well as growing and managing your list.

Learn more at Create Exceptional Email Newsletters.

Where can listeners learn more about you?

Learn more about Michael at michaelkatz.com.

  • Thanks guys! This was just what I needed, I’ve struggled with enewsletter on and off. As I’ve clarified my niche- content writing and pro blogging for business recently listening to this-I geared up, took some content I had set up and split it into smaller bits to publish to those who join my list. So now I have content for 10 emails to auto-send (rather than the way I had all “10 Tips on Marketing via Website,” which was really pretty complex. I used to send it out all at once.
    So thanks for the idea to take 1 simple thing each eblast!
    Also rather than wait- like Michael recommended, I set up first 1, and the next wont’ go out till next week-in that time I have time to tweak the next email before it’s due to go out.

    • edgandia

      Way to take fast action, Vivinne! Thanks for tuning in and for the great feedback. 🙂

  • This episode couldn’t have come at a better time for me, Ed, for so many reasons. I have been a long-time Michael Katz fan, and even purchased his “How To” self-study course back in 2007 to get my own newsletter off the ground. I am taking lots of detailed notes because even though I think I know newsletters, there is always a bit more to learn and adjust. Thanks for the awesome content to get me through my desert walk this morning!

    • edgandia

      Awesome! Glad to hear this was timely and useful. And thanks for taking me with you to the desert. 🙂

  • “Repetition: Prospects will subscribe for the information you provide, not to hire you. But as the newsletter lands in their inbox over and over again, they’ll get to know you. Eventually, you’ll have a growing basket of prospective clients.”

    That’s soo true! I had my first encounter with you (Ed) when you published a guest post at Make a Living Writing, about focus@will. Soon, I subscribed to your newsletter and the trust started building up. And, finally, I purchased something. 🙂

    Can you explain what do you (Michael) mean by “Content: If you put your newsletter content on your blog, it makes Google happy?” Newsletter content on the blog?

    What do you mean by “Your newsletter publication schedule isn’t for your readers—it’s for you.”

    • edgandia

      Great! Thanks for your kind words, Raspal.

      RE: adding your newsletter content to your blog, Google likes to see websites that are continually updated with new and relevant content. Michael advises not to let your content stay in an email newsletter. Upload it to your website eventually. It will help with SEO.

      RE: the publication schedule, the point there is that clients aren’t keeping track of when you miss a self-imposed publication deadline. They’re too busy to pay attention to that sort of thing. But the reason to keep (and follow) an editorial calendar is so you have something to follow. Helps you stay on track and accountable to yourself.