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HOW TO START A NEWSLETTER 

You Should Understand by Now that You Need a Newsletter.  Here is How You Start One.

Before you can begin using one effectively, you have to know how to start a newsletter.  There are three main ways you can maintain a newsletter: do all the work yourself, use a free service, or use a paid service.  Each has its pros and cons.  But, regardless of which method you choose, there are a few foundational aspects of starting a newsletter that you need to understand.

How to Start a Newsletter: Principles     How to Start a Newsletter Principles

Before getting to the details, it is important to lay the foundation for successfully starting and running a newsletter.  There are a few principles and pointers that need to be reviewed prior to making decisions regarding your newsletter.  Understanding these things will help get you up and running quickly and keep the subscribers coming.

First, you need to give each visitor a good reason to sign up for your newsletter.  Give them incentives over and beyond just the information they will get in the newsletter.  If you offer a high-perceived-value report, ebook, manual, or something else, many more people will sign up than would have otherwise. 

Also, tell them what they will gain from the newsletter.  If you are confident, guarantee it.  If you don't deliver, they can unsubscribe at any time.  Are you going to save them time or money?  Exclusive information?  Make it known. 

Respect the privacy of the subscribers, and make it easy for them to sign up.  Your goal should be to reduce the barriers that stand in the way of people signing up.  Require as little information as possible.  Just a first name and an email address are usually all that is needed.  Asking for any more than that will cause some individuals who do not yet trust you to never subscribe when they otherwise would have.  You could even skip asking for a first name.  However, you will find that people, on average, respond better if they are addressed by their first name, even if they know it is just pulled from a database and inserted into a form letter.

Remember that time is your only non-renewable resource.  Select a newsletter delivery method that doesn't cost you too much time.  Email lists can become tremendously cumbersome.  Don't discount paid newsletter delivery services simply because they cost money.  Like any good business, they exist becasue they provide valuable services to their customers.

Additionally, there are no free lunches.  Somebody pays.  The various methods of running a newsletter all cost someone something.  If you aren't paying, be aware of the "catches" that are inherent in your chosen system.  You will lose time, money, or control/opportunities in exchange for gaining a functioning newsletter community.  There are no free lunches. 

Some people are sly.  They will enter false emails into signup boxes in an attempt to be take directly to a download page.  Don't play those games!  Put your download link in the welcome message email instead of having an automatic redirect after the initial opt-in opportunity.  After a person has successfully opted in, be sure to make it easy to get the advertised benefit - but not before.  And, make sure there are no other links to the download or download page anywhere else on your website or blog.  Doing this will ensrue that the individual has to give his true email address to get the free download and not the address of Mr. Jones down the street.

Finally, you need to have an idea of what form your mailing list will take.  Most business websites use Announcement Lists instead of Discussion Lists.  Announcement lists are newsletters that are controlled by a single person.  Only the owner of the list can send messages to the list subscribers.  A discussion list, on the other hand, is a list that is open to all participants.  For most businesses, announcement lists better serve both the reciepents and the business.  There are instances, though, where groups would most benefit from a discussion list.  For example, a discussion list composed of home schooling families would likely benefit from the interaction of multiple parties.  Think about which model best suits you and will allow you to serve your clientele best.

How to Start a Newsletter: Do It Yourself     How to Start a Newsletter DIY

There are a few main ways to start and run a newsletter by yourself.  I honestly don't recommend these methods as they have a tendency to eat much more of your time than is warranted.  But, every person's needs are different, and one of these may be the solution you are seeking.

Utilize your web host's software: most good web hosting services will provide you with mailing list software.  If you are set on managing your own list, this software can be quite helpful.  Some even have the ability to automatically handle subscribe and unsubscribe requests and archive past editions of your newsletters.  As with anything, there are benefits and drawbacks to this:

Benefits: the cost is included in the price of hosting the website.  You should have your own hosting service anyway, so this extra shouldn't cost any money.  You often will have more control than a free service gives you.  There usually aren't third party ads that go out with your mailings.  You have access to detailed instructions on how to use the host's software.  The automated systems of adding/removing/blocking users frees you up to do other things.

Drawbacks: there is almost always a limit on the number of mailings you can send out.  If your list grows, you'll either have to upgrade with your current host or move to a different free or paid service - both of which could be a considerable hassle. 

Use a mailing list script.  Most modern hosting services will provide mailing list functions with whatever hosting plan you purchase.  If they do, it is usually easier to use what they provide.  However, if they don't provide a mailing list function you can still run one of numerous free CGI or PHP scripts for mailing lists. Click the link for Free Newsletter Mailing List CGI Scripts, and click the link for Free Newsletter Mailing List PHP Scripts.

Benefits: depending on the script you choose, they can be inexpensive and highly functional.  Most easily integrate with web hosts.

Drawbacks: it may take more time to learn how to install and use the scripts.  There are usually better options available.  Depending on the script you use, you may spend a lot of time managing the lists.

Manage and publish with your email program.  In the old days, most people with mailing lists just used whatever email program they had to send out newsletters.  Over the years, the software has developed quite a bit, and some programs are quite adept at managing lists.  However, of all the do-it-yourself methods, this one is probably the most time-intensive. 

Benefits: probably the cheapest in certain circumstances.  You don't have to pay a web host or any other mailing list/newsletter service to facilitate your mailing lists.

Drawbacks: using an email program to manage mailing lists will likely absorb your time to the detriment of everything else.  You'll likely have to delete bounced email addresses manually.  In today's internet world, the delay that happens with manually monitored lists can mortally wound a business.  If you still have a dial-up connection, it can take hours to send out messages.  This is probably the worst option for starting a mailing list.  Don't go this route unless you have all the time in the world and nothing else to do. 

How to Start a Newsletter: Free Services     How to Start a Newsletter Free

To streamline your mailing list management for your newsletter, I recommend using an established service.  There are free services and services you have to pay for.  As always, each has its benefits and drawbacks.

 

Click the link to see my top four Free Newsletter Mailing List Hosting services. 

Benefits: the hosting service usually takes care of the tedious aspects of list management for your newsletter.  Many even automatically archive past issues.  You don't have to configure much of anything and you don't have to fool with scripts.  Double opt-in is used by the free services, and they don't require any additional software.  You sign up and are ready to go.  Plus, some of the well-known free services like Yahoo Groups lend a certain amount of credibility to your list/newsletter due to the fact that Yahoo is quite famous. 

 

Drawbacks: you lose control when you use a free service.  You also place yourself at the mercy of the controlling entity of the list.  Should they shut down for some reason, they will most likely take your list to the grave with them.  Also, remember that there are no free lunches.  In order to be able to provide the services free of charge, many mailing list hosts will automatically place ads into your newsletters or mailings.  You rarely have any control over this if you use a free service.  It is the price you pay for not paying. 

How to Start a Newsletter: Paid Services     How to Start a Newsletter Paid

The two best paid services for managing newsletter mailing lists are Constant Contact and Aweber.  Both have tremendous reputations.  The reputations are well-earned.  Some of the biggest and most successful internet marketing and internet businesses use one or the other of these two services.

 

You will want to seriously consider using one as well.  Eventually, most people come to understand that the flexibility and power of these services more than justifies the fee that is charged by each.  My personal favorite is Aweber.  I highly encourage you to investigate it to see if it is a good fit for what you want to accomplish.

Benefits: most of the same benefits of the free services apply to the paid services as well.  Additionally, you can customize nearly all aspects of the newsletters.  Your own ads can be inserted.  You can maintain continuity of appearance with your website or blog.  You have access to statistics that are provided by the services so that you can focus your business strategies.  Your time is maximized.

 

Drawbacks: it costs money.  This expense, however, will almost always be quickly overcome by the additional customers and profits that are generated through the newsletter mailing list. 

How to Start a Newsletter: Format Considerations     How to Start a Newsletter Format

Once you've worked through the basic principles of newsletter publishing and decided which management option is right for you, you have to decide on the format.

 

The two types of format that are generally used in newsletters are HTML and plain text.

 

HTML newsletters allow for colors and images and a more aesthetically pleasing presentation of information.  They can be designed to graphically thrill the reader as well as providing valuable information.  However, there are also drawbacks to HTML.  While most people like the added visual elements, some don't.  Know your audience and what they prefer.  On the technical side, most spam messages are in the HTML format.  So, a lot of spam filters automatically send all HTML messages straight to the trash bin.  You don't want the work you put into a newsletter ending up in the garbage without the subscriber ever getting a peek at it.

 

Because of the spam-filter-straight-to-trash-bin problem, a lot of online businesses send their email newsletter in plain text format with a link to a HTML version that is created as a separate page on their website or blog.  Sending in plain text has its own issues as well.

 

For plain text there are a few tricks to ensure you get the best product to the most people and see the highest return on your time investment per newsletter that is sent out.  Here are some of the things to remember when sending plain text newsletters:

-  Use plain, non-hyperlinked text for websites and email addresses.  Just about all of the email clients in use today recognize the plain text and convert them to links for the reader (AOL is the exception).  For website URLs, simply type the entire URL in plain, unlinked text and it will be a clickable link on arrival (example = http://www.understandwebsites.com).  For email addresses, add the prefix "mailto:" to the email address (example = mailto: notarealemail@understandwebsites.com).

 

Use a lot of empty space.  Don't shy away from using a lot of white space in your plain text newsletters.  Put a space between each paragraph, and keep the paragraphs short.  This increases readability and the overall look of your newsletter.

 

Keep each line at 65 characters.  Many email clients will automatically wrap lines that exceed 65 characters.  If each line in your newletter were, say, 80 characters long, it would look like a jumbled mess.  You would have one line of 65 characters followed by one of 15 and then one of 65 and then one of 15, etc.  This not only looks unprofessional, it is distracting to most readers and hampers the main purposes of sending a newsletter in the first place.

How to Start a Newsletter: Conclusion     How to Start a Newsletter DIY

You need a newsletter.  Use this information to get it started.  Keep working on your Website Development strategy, and be ready to launch your newsletter around the same time you have your Website Launch.  Now, keep moving.  Click the link to investigate your Small Business Website Creation Options.  Or, for more information on newsletters, see Starting a Newsletter in the Website Improvements department.

 

 

Copyright © 2009-2010, Issachar Knowledge, LLC: How to Start a Newsletter

 

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