It's very hard, apparently, to get a newsletter right, and really, really easy to fuck it up.
And so, in the interest of me, me, me...
The communicatrix's top 10 tips for creating a newsletter people will read every time it hits their inbox:
1. Content is king
I'm a designer. I like things to look nice. My two favorite newsletters? The only ones I will recommend at the end of this post? One is text-only and one is, um, ugly. There, I said it. Who cares? I read that sucker every Friday morning, stem to stern. Like I said, content is king.
2. Leave me wanting more
People who subscribe to newsletters usually subscribe to lots. If yours is too long, guess what? There are others that come just as regularly, and aren't. Of course, there is almost no such thing as too long if your content is good enough. But why kill yourself? You've got 51 more weeks to fill, cowboy. Besides, the point of the newsletter, as I understand it, is to get someone interested in your business. I would think the two greatest ways to do that are to tell me incredibly useful information, thereby establishing yourself as an expert, and to leave me wanting more of your expertise.
3. Watch the ads
Hey, it's your dime and your time. I can understand an ad or promo here or there. Just be careful. No one's content is that good.
4. Be as regular as taxes.
Those "when I feel like it" newsletters? Those are articles. Unless you are one of maybe 25 people whose words I hang on, I'm not interested in your articles. Really, I'm not.
5. Regular means once per week, per two weeks and if you're amazing, per month.
I mean, go ahead and send me that once per month email. But know that there are some people sending me an emailed newsletter with great content every week. Which means maybe consider #1 & #2 and go back to the drawing board.
6. Think long and hard before using that email I gave you to send me something else.
I'll give you one, maybe two shots. Then you're outta there.
7. Keep the self-congratulations for friends and family.
I almost never care if you've won something. Unless it directly affects me, in which case, knock yourself out.
8. An HTML email with links back to your site instead of embedded content is not a newsletter.
It is a pain in the ass standing in the way of me and information. Don't do it.
9. Keep it within your purview, but useful to me.
This is incredibly hard to do, but it's really how you hit it out of the park. One of my new favorite newsletters is Mark Silver's Business Heart. It's all text, has a dopey-ass name and is outstanding almost every single week. Silver's area of expertise is "heart-centered business practice", in other words, how to do business without feeling like a tool. He's focused and passionate about what he does, and communicates simply and elegantly about all sorts of things I find helpful, like how to approach writing a book, how to think about marketing in a way that doesn't make you cringe, etc. He's consistent, respectful, gives openly and doesn't push. Guess who I'm going to refer someone to first when they're looking for a coach like him? (UPDATE 6/17/09: Mark's newsletter is HTML-beautiful and easy to read. Slam dunk, baby!)
10. When in doubt, offer tips.
Everyone loves tips. Well, everyone who subscribes to newsletters, anyway. Rebecca Morgan and Ken Braly's SpeakerNet News gets read first, every Friday, even before I click on my Salon links. I'm not even a speaker, but (UPDATE 6/17/09: I am now!) It's chock full of excellent tips on stuff like self-promotion, marketing, travel, organizing, systems, etc. In fact, if someone has a newsletter for me that is as good as SNN and has only organizational stuff, I will pay you five American dollars. (I must subscribe to it for at least one month before you receive your prize.)
UPDATE: I just found another great point about what makes a great newsletter in, you guessed it, a newsletter!
11. Don't forget outbound links.
This is kind of a corollary of Rule #1, but enough of a good point to bear mentioning on its own. I like goodies! All people like goodies! Give away goodies! Lots of other good stuff in this article, although the newsletter itself breaks Rule #8, so it doesn't make the hit parade.
Nick Usborne in "Four Ways the Best Newsletters Are Like Blogs," from the MarketingProfs.com newsletter (link)
UPDATE (11/30/07): I'm going to start a list here of additional newsletters to add to the canon:
- Michael Katz's newsletter (bi-weekly) continues to hold up to the test of time. Great writing, good information, highly motivating. It should be: he wrote the book on it. (And a great book, which I still recommend for people starting out.)
- Robert Genn's newsletter (bi-weekly) is crafted for fine artists, but great for any kind of creative soul (and possibly, inspiring for those who don't consider themselves creative)
- The Lefsetz Letter (mostly daily) is a different sort of "newsletter", really, it's blog posts, sent out via an email service. But it's addictive in the best way that newsletters are, filled with interesting things to check out. Bob's beat is the music industry, so if you're in any creative industry undergoing upheaval, you'll find lots of great info here.
- Power Writing (bi-weekly) Professional writer Daphne Gray-Grant has tons of useful things to say about writing more easily and having more fun doing it.
- The MOOsletter (bi-weekly) Outstanding tips on marketing from one of the smartest companies around. A joy to read and chock full of awesome, week after week.