So here's what you need to know.
1. Think it through first.
You might think they're a good idea, but are they? Are you going to write one yourself? What will you use it for? How often will you send one out? Did you know you have to obey anti-spam laws? Do you know what those are?* Did you know it usually costs money to send them out? OK. Calm down. Here's the skinny:
- Yes, you will write one. You will write one that alerts your mailing list group to a new release, a contest, a giveaway, or an appearance. You will use it to invite feedback. You will write the newsletter in a cool way that will not make your newsletter readers feel instantly nauseated when your newsletter arrives in their inbox. (I have tips below for preventing that.)
- Yes, they cost money. But they are very inexpensive. We're talking pennies (3 cents per email). Why do they cost money? Because you're using a service. Yes, you can write and send your own newsletters for free from your own email account. Have fun with the subscribe and unsubscribe system.
- Yes, you will send them out on a schedule. That is, one that you choose. No, it doesn't have to be every week. Just not never.
- Anti-spam law, or the CAN-SPAM Act, which is a fabulously contradictory name, generally says that you need to have a real, physical address to send out a newsletter (a PO box will do) and that you cannot harvest addresses or put people on mailing lists without their express permission, usually given through an opt-in form. It's why we have all those annoying emails that say "Click here to verify that you want to sign up for Stripper Poles R Us." You can read more here. (About the CAN-SPAM act, not stripper poles. You're on your own for those.)
There are a bunch of services out there. They're probably all fine. Here are some:
- Vertical Response. I use them and I like them. You don't have to.
- Mail Chimp. These guys are good.
- Aweber. I know nothing.
- Constant Contact. High user base. Never used them.
3. Configure the list and signup form.
This is the tricky bit. Don't be afraid, though. All newsletter services let you say what you want to say both on your thank you for signing up page and your enter email address box. Yes! You can customize it all! And you should. The best way to figure out how you want to customize it is by subscribing to your own newsletter and watching what happens when you do. You'll likely get confirmation emails and things. See the Scott Stratten link in item #5 below for a tip on how to make this a nice experience.
- Definitely use pictures and graphics
- Use the same graphics as your website so there's a branded, cohesive look
- Customize your thank you page when people sign up--most services have a place for you to put your own link for this
4. You can Lead a Horse to Water....
So how do you get people signed up for your newsletter?
- Invite them on your website with the code -- usually provided by your service (see above)
- Ask friends and family if you can add them. ASK FIRST. Not asking is rude--no, it's worse than rude. I have gotten a few newsletter type emails from people who got my email off their blog. This is spamming.
5. Keep people reading.
- Do not tell them it's "free" -- no one cares. All newsletters are free. Read this post by Scott Stratten on how to keep your subscribers. Read and learn how he does it.
- Write cool copy. Keep your subject lines short and interesting. Read this post by CopyHackers' Joanna Wiebe on which subject lines worked for her newsletters.
- Have a nice design to your newsletter. You can hire me to create a custom, beautiful design, or you can use one of the pre-made designs offered by your newsletter service. Either will work. Most newsletter services offer a bunch of nice pre-made designs.
So, ready to see how it works? Sign up for mine. Why do I have one? For purposes of this post, of course! (And also to begin building my World Domination list.) If at least 5 people sign up --and I have it set to tell me when people sign up, oh yes-- then I will send out a newsletter and you can see what I do with it. In it, I will tell you all my good news. And I will share super secret links with you.P.S. Author Amy Sue Nathan put this out on Twitter today --her first newsletter-- and I thought it was a good example of how to do one as well. Check it out.