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How to master the art of the email newsletter

How do you create a powerful email newsletter? The answer isn’t as elusive as you might think.

You’ve been making all the right noises on social media, but the results aren’t up to your expectations.

Why aren’t people lining up to buy your new products or sign up for your webinars?

The answer is very likely to be: you need an email newsletter.

Yes, the humble newsletter, at times branded “uncool,” is a mighty conversion engine.

In this article, find out how to win over the hearts and minds of your customers every time you land in their inbox.

What makes a great email newsletter “great”?

We’re all clear on what makes a bad newsletter. Our inboxes are stuffed to the gills with unwanted messages.

It’s no wonder the email newsletter frequently gets labeled “dead”. But for every thinkpiece on the subject, there’s a counter. Hundreds of thousands of folks make money through email lists.

Indeed, email is 40 times better at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter. 59% of buyers say email newsletters influence their decision to buy.

So what makes those newsletters so good, where others fail?

For a newsletter to be fabulous, it has to tick at least one of these boxes:

  • Useful. Newsletters providing a service. For instance, recapping news or your top tips on a topic. They’re practical, valuable, and trustworthy.

  • Entertaining. Funny or creative newsletters — they make you smile as you open them.

  • Inspiring. Newsletters that fill your brain with awe and wonder.

Most types of emails will be a mixture of the three. This is the case with content creator Charlotte Jacklin’s newsletter.

Her newsletter falls into the “useful” category (though it has a substantial dollop of “inspiring” too). Charlotte rounds up accounts and products her audience will love to wake up to.

On the other hand, for a mixture of funny and useful, you’ll love bytes.dev’s newsletter.

JavaScript might not seem like the most obvious bedfellow of hilarity. And yet, his snarky takes on JavaScript news have over 87,000 devoted fans, two of which you can see below.

Here’s just a small sample of the type of formats your newsletter could take:

  • Long-form first-person emails, with one CTA at the end.

  • GIF or meme roundups, or curations of other people’s humor.

  • Newsletters curating things their reader will find beautiful, whether it’s art, nature, etc.

  • Cutting-edge news and alerts, so you’re informed before everyone else.

  • Tips and tricks to do whatever it is you’re interested in.

  • Special offers from a retailer. These are short on text with multiple CTAs.

The list can easily keep going.

There’s one thing all these successful newsletters have in common: they resonate with their audience.

Everything else is variable: length, colors, images vs. text, number of CTAs, etc.

What will work for one newsletter will flop for another if it’s not right for its audience. Here’s how you can ensure your newsletter hits that balance of being both resonant and worthwhile.

Find your idea for a newsletter

The best newsletters are consistent. Their readers know what to expect when they open them, even if they don’t know the exact content.

And when that content is what their readers want, the results are phenomenal. 78% of marketers have noticed an increase in email engagement over the last year.

Ideally, your newsletter should sit somewhere between your expertise and what your audience wants.

Ann Handley, master of the newsletter, chose to write as if to one person. “It’s really important for the creator to realize … that there’s one person on the other end and they’ve got to be useful to them,” she says.

But how do you find out what’s useful to one particular person? The right idea doesn’t always pop up immediately.

If you want unvarnished truths, social listening is the direction to go in. Dip your toes into groups and communities discussing relevant topics. This will give you the insights you need.

1. Research topics on Reddit

Whatever your topic, Reddit is bound to have a dedicated board (“subreddit”).

Do a simple search in Google of your term + “Reddit” to find a few relevant subreddits. For example, typing “Learn French Reddit” brought me to the subreddit /learnfrench.

Then it’s time to dive in. Check out the “Hot” section and take a look at the questions people are asking. In this subreddit, a few questions about slang are popping up.

Focus your research by heading to the search bar at the top of the page. Type “how to /[name of your subreddit]”.

If the results aren’t interesting, switch the search term with others, such as “what does,” “why does,” “where can,” or even “help”.

Open a document and list ideas based on the questions you find. For example, after searching through /learnfrench, a few newsletter ideas include:

  • The weekly slang — a newsletter in which a different slang term is explained every week.

  • French in action — a script for an everyday scenario (e.g., buying bread) for your readers to use and apply.

  • Listening 101— a newsletter sharing resources and tips to improve your French listening ability.

As well as Reddit, there are many other communities where your prospective customers could be hanging out. Check out specialist Slack groups, Facebook groups, Twitter, Clubhouse, etc. And don’t forget about Community boards for apps (such as the Duolingo forum).

As well as researching potential customers, don’t neglect the ones that already know and love you. Their opinion should be an important part of your decision process.

2. Ask your existing customers

Reddit is a goldmine for ideas and information, but so are your existing customers.

Look back at your interactions with them, and ask yourself: what questions frequently come up?

Which products/courses seem to be particularly popular?

For example, if your beginner’s guide to crochet is getting more love than your intermediate course, you know who you could aim the newsletter at.

Again, make a list of ideas and add it with the list you generated when social listening. Is there an overlap?

To make sense of all these ideas, you’ll need a system, and that’s where our Passion/Profit Matrix comes in handy. We created it to come up with online course ideas, but it works for newsletters too.

To use the matrix, you need to organize your ideas into one of two categories:

Passion. How excited are you about the topic? Could you happily write about it week after week?

Profit Potential. In the context of a newsletter, this means: will it help you sell your products/services?

For example, here are a few ideas mapped out in the matrix.

Your winning idea should be in the top right quadrant, as it’ll be the right balance between profit and passion. In this case, it’d be “Listening 101”.

If you’re still hesitating between different options or you need further convincing, then it’s time to ask your customers outright.

Narrow down your list to three great ideas for a newsletter. Create a poll or a survey and ask your customers to vote for their favorite.

Depending on where you communicate with them, this could take the form of a:

Alternatively, create a simple poll online, using a site like Fast Poll, and email it to your customers.

Choose the poll’s visibility as well as other options, such as whether you will allow comments or not.

Your poll is then ready to share with your customers through a variety of platforms.

Choose the “Share Link” option to grab the link and share it with your customers. Here’s a template you can use to encourage them to answer.

Customer request email template

Customer request email template

Subject line: I need your help!

Hi [first-name]!

I have some exciting news to share: I’m launching a [frequency, e.g., weekly] newsletter soon to help you [your business proposition].

But I need your input before it goes live! You see, I’m torn between three great ideas and need your help to choose.

It’ll take you less than 10 seconds (I timed it), and you’ll earn my eternal gratitude (priceless).

So, can you help? [share the link]

Best,

[your-name]

Armed with your customer research, you should feel secure about your final decision for your newsletter. But the only way to be sure it’s right is to launch it.

Hook your audience by involving them

You’ve developed a solid idea for your newsletter — now it’s time to plan its launch.

There are two paths to success: involve your audience in the creative process or nurture them with a dedicated campaign.

1. Engage your audience

Customer appreciation (including subscribers) is hugely important. The top reason why a customer switches brands is because they feel unappreciated.

One surefire way to make your audience feel listened to is to get them involved in your newsletter.

Tris J Burns based his whole newsletter, the MicroQuiz, around that concept. Every week he polls his audience on a different topic, then shares the results the next.

This works because the polls are relevant to his digital tech audience. Besides, it’s not just a “poll and run” situation. He turns each result into a mini-blog with further insights.

You too could poll your readers or ask them for feedback as a marketing strategy.

You could also feature individual subscribers in your newsletter.

The Idea runs a subscriber spotlight feature in its newsletter. It takes the form of a Q&A with one of their subscribers.

There’s more than one way to make subscribers feel special. Another is to roll out the virtual red carpet when new subscribers join.

2. Welcome sequence

Who doesn’t like to feel welcomed when they enter a space? Whether it’s your local coffee shop or a newsletter, feeling included will encourage you to stay.

And, if you want to reduce customer churn and stop losing customers, making your reader feel cozy is essential.

Welcome emails receive twice as many clicks and opens as other email campaigns. This great opportunity is all too often wasted, with only 39% of brands sending one.

This is why creators like Harry Dry of marketingexamples.com use welcome sequences.

Dry’s approach to the welcome sequence is simple: share his five most popular case studies. This way, the subscriber feels caught up, gets maximum value straight out of the gate, and is less likely to hit “unsubscribe”.

Even if your newsletter is too new to have an extensive archive to pick from, you can still create a small welcome sequence.

Thank your subscribers for joining by sending them free and relevant resources (either created by you or others).

Alternatively, use the sequence to introduce yourself and the work you do.

Roxy Bike’s first welcome message is signed off with a picture of the two coaches, Roxy and Berni. This immediately makes it feel more personal.

That covers when and how to make your audience feel welcome, but that still begs the question of how to manage welcoming them. For that, you need our next section.

Build your newsletter with Podia

You’ve got a brilliant newsletter idea you know your audience will love. The last thing you want to stress about is technology.

The process of scheduling and sending needs to be as straightforward and painless as possible. Otherwise, you’ll quickly feel discouraged and frustrated.

At the same time, you need your email service provider to have some sophistication.

Some “great to have” features include: landing pages, segmented audiences, signup forms, email metrics (your click and open rate), and the ability to lead a drip campaign.

Podia offers all of these. It’s the best email newsletter option if you need a platform combining simplicity with power.

What it doesn’t have is all the bells and whistles of, say, a dedicated email marketing tool like Mailchimp or Sendinblue. You won’t find A/B testing options.

You also won’t need 50+ tutorials to manage your newsletter services.

Likewise, with Podia, there are no complicated email newsletter templates to wrestle with, though we have plenty of copy-and-paste email templates for you to choose from if you need them:

Each email newsletter design is minimalist and responsive. Clean text-based emails result in higher open and clickthrough rates because they provide a better user experience. They also increase the deliverability of your emails.

Erin Stern’s newsletter favors minimalist design. Her words don’t need any distractions to work.

Though, for the record, you absolutely can add gorgeous graphics to your newsletter, you just don’t need to.

There are two types of messaging to choose from: “new broadcast” (a one-off email, such as a newsletter) and “new campaign” (a sequence, such as welcome emails). Let’s walk through the process of both.

1. Creating a newsletter in Podia

First, head over to the “Email” section at the top of your navigation bar.

Then click the big “Create” button and choose “New broadcast” to send a standalone email.

Choose your email subject line and email list. If you have several products on Podia, they’ll show up here. Select the ones you want to send it to.

Here’s the fun part: write your newsletter (or copy and paste it if you’ve created it elsewhere).

Use the drag and drop editor to add images. You can also include an attachment if required.

Before you decide to send your newsletter, check that it’s looking good. Hit the preview button or send yourself a test email.

Ready? Send your newsletter or schedule it. Job done.

Creating a one-off email newsletter is one option, but there’s another. Explore drip campaigns to discover how to create a sequence of emails.

2. Creating a drip campaign in Podia

Automation is magic. Set up a sequence, and it’ll keep working for you without your input.

To create an automated campaign in Podia, select the “New campaign” option in the “Email” section of the navigation bar. Then choose a name and the sequence’s trigger.

For example, a trigger could be someone subscribing to your newsletter.

From here, you can build your sequence, choosing when they’ll be sent and what they’ll contain.

When you’re happy with it, activate your campaign. And that’s it. The platform will take it from here, sending and scheduling an email for you every time someone subscribes.

Looking for an example of the Podia email builder in action? Here’s what Needle & Hook’s welcome message looks like on mobile devices.

The header is bright and cheerful and shows how you can add graphic design to a Podia email.

If you’re ready to create an email marketing campaign in Podia, signup for a free trial today, and don’t forget to swing by our email copy generator.

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Keep growing your business with an addictive newsletter

Email newsletters are a powerful tool for small businesses and can help them get to the next level.

To recap, here’s how you can create a newsletter people look forward to opening:

  • Decide if your newsletter will be helpful, funny, inspiring, or a mixture of these.

  • Know what your audience wants — research their questions on Reddit or poll your existing customers.

  • Keep them wanting more by involving them in your newsletter.

  • Create a welcome sequence for new subscribers.

Ultimately, the difference between a successful newsletter and one languishing in the spam folder is purpose. Find the sweet spot between your interests and their needs, and your audience will keep coming back for more.

About the author

Claire Trévien is a content writer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and membership websites – alongside their creators – thrive. Claire also enjoys writing poetry, painting landscapes, and watching the world go by on the terrace of a café.