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What Makes You Wonder About Newsletters?

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I’d like to hear from you–

what do you most want to know about company newsletters?

I’ll answer these questions in upcoming issues of Newsletters in Focus.

To post your question, scroll down to the bottom of the screen where it says “Leave a Reply.”

I’m looking forward to hearing your question!

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50 Responses to “What Makes You Wonder About Newsletters?”

  1. Sally Says:

    Jessica–
    I’d like to know how to pick a newsletter distribution system.
    Thanks!
    Sally

  2. Nate Says:

    How do I get the newsletter contributors to get there articles submitted on time?

  3. Fred Glosser Says:

    How do I get more subscribers? My list is growing too slow.

  4. Becky Says:

    Thanks for that great report, Jessica! I’m really enjoying using it.

    Here’s my question: how can I make sure I’m not doing too much selling in the newsletter? I get so many newsletters that seem to really push their products too much in the newsletter and I don’t want to do that in mine.

    Thanks!
    Becky

  5. Patty Says:

    Hey Jes, okay, so what I’m wondering is how long is long enough. My boss wants this monster-big newsletter and I want people to actually read it. I just don’t think they’ll read something that’s 16 pages long, but he thinks that’s the only way people will take it seriously.

    Any advice?
    Patty

  6. Richard Says:

    how do i get readers to buy from me? no one seems to ever buy anything.

  7. Jessica Albon Says:

    These are great questions! Keep ‘em coming :-) .

    Sally–the short answer ;-) is I highly recommend phplist if you have either a) lots of tech experience yourself or b) a really great tech support person. If you don’t, constantcontact.com is another solid choice. MarketingSherpa.com offers a fabulous report on selecting a distribution company.

  8. Jessica Albon Says:

    Nate–sounds like you have a boundary issue. The first thing I’d do is compile plenty of content so there’s never going to be extra space if someone’s late. Then, make sure people know if their article’s late, it won’t be published. People often have trouble getting their articles in on time because they’re just plain too busy. And make it fun for them–they’ve got a ton of stuff to do as it is, and most people dread writing, at least a little. By offering regular rewards (donuts after the issue has gone out, perhaps), plenty of recognition, and really clear parameters (when do you need the article, about how long should it be, who can they turn to with questions, etc, etc), you’ll find participation goes up.

  9. Jessica Albon Says:

    Fred–first, make sure you’re making subscribing super easy and super obvious. Also, focus on what’s in it for readers–what will they *get* from a subscription that will really make a difference in their lives. Then, you’ve got to start getting traffic to your subscribe form. Our report “Getting Permission” would be a great resource for you–it outlines the 10 step process we used to triple our list growth in a very short time. These are the same steps we continue to use to attract a couple hundred new subscribers/month.

  10. Jessica Albon Says:

    Becky–What a great question! You’re absolutely right, you need to approach the balance between advertising and content carefully. But, really, it’s much more about only doing one at a time–so, when you’re writing content, focus on *giving* value; when you’re advertising, focus on *offering* value.

    Most of the time, when something feels uncomfortable as a reader, it’s much more that that line’s not carefully drawn than that there’s too much advertising. (Although sometimes it *is* just a case of a bad balance.)

    In general, aim for about 70% content and 30% ad space.

  11. Jessica Albon Says:

    Hi Patty–Newsletters can be as short as 100 words (or shorter) and be really effective. And, of course, there are many that are lots longer that are also effective.

    In your case, I think shorter is better. In fact, in every case, I think a newsletter should be “as short as possible, and no shorter” ;-) . Shorter newsletters can be sent more frequently, longer newsletters should be sent less often. So, in your case, I’d recommend about 500 words sent every three weeks–that’s frequent enough that you can remind people of upcoming events, and long enough that you’ll have the space; but it’s also easily managable (for your readers) in one sitting.

  12. Jessica Albon Says:

    Richard–Sounds like our report, “Make Your Newsletter Sell” was written just for you ;-) .

    In order to make a regular income from your newsletter you need at least three things:

    1) 500+ regular readers (generally you’ll need 1000+ subscribers to have 500 regular readers).

    2) Something to sell for under $20.

    3) Super valuable, highly relevant content.

    As a bonus: 4) A great relationship with your readers.

    Your newsletter can support your business, financially, *and* creatively. It’s just a matter of deciding what you want and doing what it takes to *get* what you want.

  13. Jade Says:

    Hi Jessica, I really enjoyed today’s issue! Okay, my question is this: how do I make sure I don’t run out of things to write about?

    Thanks,
    Jade

  14. Heather Says:

    What distribution system do you use?

  15. Alex Pastor Says:

    The company I work for wants to put up a newsletter and they have asked me to put it up. What is the first thing that I need to do and how do I go about it?

    Thanks.

    Alex

  16. Jessica Albon Says:

    Heather,

    You can read all about our distribution system here.

    Hope that helps!

    Jessica

  17. Jessica Albon Says:

    Alex,

    The first thing to do when you’ve been asked to start a newsletter is to clarify everyone’s expectations and goals. Why is the newsletter being started? What does it need to accomplish? A newsletter, for instance, that’s designed to get sales will be very different from a newsletter that’s designed to build media interest. So, make sure everyone who will be evaluating the newsletter is really on board with one very specific goal for the newsletter so that you’re not trying to do five hundred different things at once with each issue ;-) .

    Our newsletter foundation report might be really helpful for you as it walks you through all the steps of creating a newsletter, building a team, establishing expectations, and publishing the first issue. You can find more about it at http://www.designdoodles.com/shop .

    Hope that helps!

    Jessica

  18. Gwen Says:

    I’m getting a lot of unsubscribers lately! What am I doing wrong?

  19. annie Says:

    how do i get started.am about publishing the median edition of our companies newsletter.
    how do i report events,talk about celebrities etc in my newsletter

  20. Marianne Says:

    I publish an ezine using Constant Contact. I’m trying to manage the bounce list in the most “intelligent” manner. Do you have a checklist for this? Also, do you have any insights into the constant contact bounce list properties? There are several catagories and I find that sometimes an email will show up on the bounce list and other times it won’t, even when I don’t ‘manage’ it from one campaign to the next. One last thing, they have an ‘other’ category in their bounce list. I’ve found that several people in this category actually DID receive the ezine…. I’m confused.

  21. Jessica Albon Says:

    Hi Gwen,

    As your list grows, your unsubscribe rate almost always goes up as well–check to see what the actual percentage of subscribers are unsubscribing each time. As long as it’s under 5%, you’re doing just fine :-) . (In fact, for most lists, you *want* it to be over 1%.)

    Hope that helps!

    Jessica

  22. Jessica Albon Says:

    Hi Annie,

    That’s a huge question ;-) –in fact, it’s the topic of a complete book on our site that you might want to check out called Your Newsletter Foundation

    I always recommend starting slow, getting used to the technology and just communicating with your readers. Start with a schedule, a distribution tool, and something to say ;-) –you’ll do just fine.

    Hope that helps!

    Jessica

  23. Jessica Albon Says:

    Hi Marianne,

    We did do an article awhile back about handling bounces. That should help.

    Also, there are lots of different reasons for a bounce email and you may sometimes even get a “false” bounce registering with Constant Contact (because sometimes a soft bounce simply means that the newsletter hasn’t been delivered *yet*, and Constant Contact can misinterpret that as a hard bounce depending on the error code it produces). Basically, bounce messages are computer generated based on the configuration of the server–so it’s entirely possible for another computer to misinterpret the message sent.

    There are standards, but they aren’t always followed, and that’s probably the reason for the incorrect bounces registering.

    I’d recommend you talk to Constant Contact directly and see how they recommend these miscommunications be handled.

    Hope that helps,

    Jessica

  24. Emmanuel Says:

    Good morning Jes…
    My boss wants me to make a banner on our newsletter.
    Can you show me some of your newsletter banner.
    Thanks a lot

  25. Jessica Albon Says:

    Hi Emmanuel,

    Newsletter banners (also called nameplates) are so much fun to create! You can see some of the ones we’ve designed for clients in our newsletter design portfolio.

    I’ve also written an article about precisely this topic which you might want to read.

    All my best,

    Jessica

  26. Virginia Says:

    If you have a newsletter that is an internal publication, is it okay to have personal articles in it?

    Example…Congratulations to Virginia her daughter Kim just gave birth to another girl. How many is that now grandma?

  27. Jessica Albon Says:

    Great question, Virginia. The answer depends a bit on company policy–so, for a larger company, you may need to be more careful than within a smaller company.

    But, such mentions are a great idea for a couple reasons–they make the mentioned person smile (although you may want to get their permission before sharing), they get people talking, and they build morale. They may help keep people at the company longer, over the long term. And, it plays well into the perspective offered by The Customer Comes Second.

    The bottom line is, as long as it doesn’t cross any company lines, and as long as you’re sure the person will be glad to share the news, it’s a really great way to make the newsletter more personal and to get people engaged.

    Thanks for asking!

    Jessica

  28. Lovemore Says:

    how do i come up with a newsletter? Any where i am asking about a newsletter template as my boss wants me to publish a newsletter as internal PR.

    ANy advice please.

  29. Jessica Albon Says:

    Hi Lovemore,

    These are great questions! Getting started is an enormous topic–in fact, I’ve filled more than one book with how to do it ;-) . I recommend you check out The Ezine Report if you’ll be doing the newsletter by email and The Newsletter Foundation Report for all the details on getting started.

    If you’re just looking for templates, you’ll find a wide selection at http://www.stocklayouts.com.

    Best of luck with your newsletter project!

    Jessica

  30. Sarah Says:

    Our company newsletter has just come under the marketing department. We’ve had the same look/feel ever since it was created 15+ years ago. How do we change it up in a way that gets people energized about the newsletter without alienating them with something too different? How important do you think it is to keep a print format versus moving to an online/email format?

  31. Jessica Albon Says:

    Hi Sara,

    Typically, you can get away with changing a newsletter design every 5 years or so without upsetting readers (beyond that normal adjustment period). More often (with a print newsletter that’s published monthly or less) tends to make readers feel a bit on edge. After 15+ years, it’d definitely be time for a change, and the key is to make sure you change things strategically. You can make small adjustments over a certain number of issues, or you can make the changes all at once, but make a plan first ;-) . (So, know where you’re headed before you make any changes at all.)

    You can involve readers in a redesign by asking them what their favorite sections and design elements are before making any decisions–don’t let them have the final say, but do take their comments into consideration.

    Print vs email/online is completely a question of audience preferences (and whether or not your current format is working). So, if the print approach is meeting your goals, and your audience tends to not like email (or not use it–there are still entire industries reluctant to really embrace email), you’ll want to stick with print. But, if your audience is receptive, switching to email while redesigning can be great timing (get all the changes out of the way at once).

    If you’d like one-on-one guidance, please feel free to get in touch. This is exactly the sort of project we help clients navigate.

    All my best,

    Jessica

  32. Kevin Says:

    I am interested in generating an Email Newsletter Campaign that can also be printed and forwarded via USPS as well. I do not want to over burden myself with content creation. If I decide to move forward what is the correct balance of personally developed content and “AP Type Content”? Then where do you get the “AP Type Content”

  33. Jessica Albon Says:

    That’s a great question, Kevin. Where to find the content will depend on your audience, for instance, for a general consumer publication, ARA Content can be a good source. You can buy content directly from AP as well.

    Honestly, though, I wouldn’t recommend it–there’s no reason to fill your newsletter with lots of filler and pay increased printing costs.

    You’ll get just as much “bang for your buck” from a postcard newsletter and it’s quick and easy to put together.

    Your other option is to work with a company (like us) that will provide custom-written content just for your audience. That’s an easy way to provide high-value content for your readers.

    If you do find a source of articles you want to reprint, though, the standard recommendation is that a business to business newsletter should be at least 50% custom written–any less and your readers may figure they’ll just go directly to the source instead of reading your newsletter. For a business to consumer publication, you’ll want no less than 75% of the newsletter to be custom written.

    All my best,

    Jessica

  34. Greg Says:

    I am just starting to do a newsletter in hard copy because people don’t read emails. So I am searching for as much info so that I make the newsletter read and people stay interested in getting more of my product with incentives or showing the newsletter to others to get them involved.

    How do I do that?

    Greg

  35. Jessica Albon Says:

    Hi Greg,

    Welcome to the email newsletter! People read good content–whether it’s delivered via email, snail mail, or carrier pidgeon. Of course, the question is, what constitutes “good” content. I’d stay away from incentives because that can tend to make it seem like you have to bribe people to read your newsletter. Instead, find out what your readers really value, what they most want to learn, and give that information to them. Give them your Kings–your very best stuff–and they’ll read it.

    Read your copies of Newsletters in Focus, and feel free to browse our article archive–you’ll find lots of tips on writing great content there.

    Again, welcome!

    All my best,

    Jessica

  36. aakanksha Says:

    hi,

    i would like to know how to write the introductory piece of the a company newsletter. the one that is written like an editorial. we are doing our firt newsletter and want to make the editorial bit for the newsletter.

  37. Lily Says:

    My boss wants me to create an internal company newsletter. The first question for me is to make a new letter lay out. Will you have some ideas for me? Thanks so much!

  38. Jessica Albon Says:

    Hi Lily,

    That’s so exciting! A new newsletter is great fun. We do have a complete report on designing a newsletter that sounds like it’s exactly what you’re looking for. It’s called How to Give Your Newsletter a Face Lift, but will work just as well for a brand new design. You’ll find the details here.

    Good luck!

    Jessica

  39. Jessica Albon Says:

    Aakanksha,

    Welcome to the newsletter! Writing the editorial of a newsletter is super personal, but we do have a great collection of writing prompts that should help. You can find that here

    And, of course, keep reading the newsletter for more writing tips!

    All my best,

    Jessica

  40. Gina Says:

    getting more sign-ups and writing more relevant stuff.

  41. Jessica Albon Says:

    Hi Gina,

    Getting more signups is a huge topic, so I’ll share my favorite tip with you here and if you’d like to explore this topic more, I’ll encourage you to pick up my home study program “The 8 Utterly Unsexy Keys to Astounding List Growth” which will teach you, step-by-step how to grow a high-quality list.

    When it comes to getting list signups, I’m going to assume you know all the basics (only ask for information you actually need, keep the form short and to the point, make sure the form actually *works*, etc) and that you’re looking for something that’ll really make a big difference in your conversion. And here’s the number one thing that’ll increase your signups: write an awesome newsletter and write it regularly. Anything less and you can try all sorts of tricks to grow your list which will only result in unsustainable growth. But, do just this one thing and your list will grow all on its own.

    I know, it’s just about the hardest thing I could recommend, and you were probably hoping for the tips like, “Add a graphic cover for your ezine” or “Make a link that says, ‘Free Stuff’ for the subscribe form” or “Put a price tag on the newsletter to show readers its value” and all of that is great. But it only works if your newsletter is already outstanding.

    So, find a need and fill it with your newsletter content. Then, send out the newsletter! And the readers will flock to you.

    And keep reading NIF for content tips–that’s what I focus on most of all, how to write engaging, fantastic content that readers love. It’s the key to the results you crave.

    All my best,

    Jessica

  42. elizabeth Says:

    How do i get my readers to get the humour in my newsletter and to look forward to reading it more plus how do i inspire them to submit there contributions?

  43. Jessica Albon Says:

    Hi Elizabeth,

    When it comes to newsletter humor, your best bet is to attract readers who like your style. You do this by infusing everything with your sense of humor–from your subscribe page through your welcome message to each and every issue. That way, the readers who don’t get “it” will unsubscribe quickly and the readers who *do* will share the newsletter with their friends. Humor is very personal, so you’ll need to share yours in an organic way.

    Inspiring reader contributions comes down to two things:

    1) Give them something for contributing (fame and fortune, a chance to win a prize, an answer to their question, etc); and,

    2) Be prepared to beg your friends. In the beginning, no one wants to be the first to share, so you’re going to need a few people whose arms you can twist to get things started. Once you’ve published a few reader contributions, it’ll be easier to get more readers to contribute.

    Also, never expect more than .1% of your subscribers to contribute–so, if you have 100 subscribers, expect that one subscriber will contribute every 10 issues or so ;-) . In other words, for regular reader contribution, you’re going to need a decent-sized list, a great bribe, and some starter stories from your friends. Good luck!

    Jessica

  44. Kate Says:

    How do I start putting together a newsletter? What style & template should I use?

  45. Jessica Albon Says:

    Hi Kate,

    The style and template are completely up to you. For print, if you don’t want to do it yourself or hire a designer, check out StockLayouts.com. For email, again, if you don’t want to do it yourself or work with a professional, ConstantContact.com has a wide variety.

    Ideally, you want something that looks fantastic that aligns smartly with your brand; you also want something your readers won’t be seeing everywhere, so definitely don’t use the same template as your competitors. Obviously, the easiest choice is to work with a professional because that’s how you’ll get the most polished, attractive, well-branded design, but you can absolutely do this on your own with plenty of time. You might want to pick up a copy of my Facelift ebook which is great for either starting from scratch or remodeling an existing design–its well worth the $20 price tag to save yourself several hours worth of work.

    All my best,

    Jessica

  46. John Says:

    Hi Jessica

    As someone thinking of a newsletter how can I communicate to a potential provider my personality, my hopes for the newsletter and the ‘feeling’ I want it to convey?
    I think I’m OK on the spec for the tangible aspects – how can I get across the intangible? You know, those things that will make it ‘my’ newsletter and not just ‘another’ newsletter.

  47. Kathy Josselyn Says:

    Our monthly newsletter goes out to church members and attenders. There tend to be a lot of “repeat” articles for events which happen every month (book clubs, small groups, Bible studies, etc). How can we make these inviting, so new people will want to come?
    Kathy

  48. Jessica Albon Says:

    Hi John,

    When we first start working with a client, we have a questionnaire we send them for all the intangible stuff–newsletter tone, style, goals, etc–and you’re right, it can be hard to capture. My favorite way to pin down a client is two-fold:

    1) I start by asking them all about their favorite writer–who is it? Why? What do they really like about that writer’s style? Is it the subject matter? The way they describe things? The stories they tell? etc

    2) Then, I ask them to send me 3-5 articles they’ve written that capture the tone they’re going for.

    This is a lot more work than just diving right in, but I find the extra time up front results in a much stronger newsletter in the long run. Plus, it’s actually a lot of fun ;-) .

    So, I’d recommend building a complete creative brief and collecting newsletters that do certain things well and also brainstorming stories you’d like to share with your readers and putting that all into a package for whomever you’ll be working with to give you both a good starting place for the working relationship.

    And, of course, if you’re looking for that company to outsource to, you know where to find mine :-) .

    All my best,

    Jessica

  49. Jessica Albon Says:

    Hi Kathy,

    The first thing that came to mind for me was that you could start profiling the regular attendees at these events–depending on your space, highlight one event (and one person) per time, or do several events each time. That way, new people will feel like they already know someone who participates and people who attend regularly will get to “be famous” in the newsletter.

    The other thing you’ll definitely want to do is make sure you add “Visitors [or New members] Welcome” to each listing. You don’t want people to wonder if they can come. Adding the phone number of someone can also help so that when newcomers have questions, they know the specific person to get in touch with.

    Another way to make newcomers feel welcome is by being really clear on what they can expect–so, “We’re reading the book and the discussion usually lasts about a half hour. Feel free to participate, or not, as you feel comfortable.” In other words, share the same details you’d likely say in person, in the newsletter so that people know what to expect.

    You’ll always have people who’re comfortable just jumping in, but by and large, most people prefer to know a bit about what to expect, so sharing details–whether that’s with a member profile, a “what to expect” paragraph, or just a simple, “Everyone’s welcome”–can go a long way towards encouraging people.

    All my best,

    Jessica

  50. sabu Says:

    Hi Jess,

    i am in the initial stage of preparing a newsletter. Little confused about, how it should be? what content to be added? how many pages? should the same newsletter go to the customer as well as employees?

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