Your Mailing List: Why You Need It, and What To Do With It

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For a while, I struggled with my newsletter, and wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I didn’t really understand what the difference was between email subscribers, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and people reading my blog. What to do, what to do?

It turns out an email newsletter is a very valuable marketing tool, and I feel like I’ve gotten to a sweet spot with my newsletter, and would like to share a bit of what I’ve learned.

Why should I send newsletters?

Good question, and exactly what I had been unsure about! I already had people following my updates on Facebook and seeing what I was saying on Twitter. Now I needed another place where I was supposed to come up with engaging things to say? C’mon!

Your posts on Facebook and Twitter go by quickly, in a stream of other content. If your customer isn’t checking Twitter around the time you post, she’ll likely never see your tweet, and Facebook’s algorithm only shows your posts to some of your fans. There are also plenty of people who would be happy to get an email from you, but are unaware of you on social media.

Your email newsletter will go directly to your customer’s email box to be read when she gets around to it. This is extremely valuable! People place a high priority on their inbox, and if someone has asked you to send them newsletters, by all means, send them newsletters!

What should I use to send newsletters?

While it’s possible to just save addresses to your contact list and send emails to your subscribers from your email program, please don’t do it! There are many reasons to use mailing list software, and these are the reasons I find most important:

Mailing list software:

  • Makes it simple for people to subscribe and unsubscribe
  • Makes it easy for you to send emails
  • Helps keep your email out of spam folders
  • Helps your emails look good in different email programs
  • Gives you reports so you can see what’s working well

At Aeolidia , we’re most familiar with MailChimp and can recommend it. It has an easy to use interface and lots of considerations for making sure your newsletters aren’t reported as spam. They have tons of great resources and articles, and they have a great sense of humor, as well! MailChimp is free or cheap if you have a small list or don’t send emails very frequently.

Who can I send to?

Ideally, the only people on your email list will be people that purposefully subscribed. However, there are grey areas, and MailChimp has a great article to help you decide if your list is okay or not: Is my list okay to use in MailChimp?

This example is probably pertinent for many of you:

I’ve been running an e-commerce site for years. Now I’m ready to start sending my customers email newsletters. They’re my customers, so I have a “prior business relationship” with them, right?

Maybe. Problem is, permission goes stale after about 6 months. So weed out the recipients that haven’t ordered (or heard) from you in a while. Send a “Thanks for being a customer. Would you like to subscribe to our newsletter?” You might even include an e-coupon as a gift for opting in. Use common sense. How would you like to suddenly start receiving full-blown email newsletters from some convenience store you bought milk from 5 years ago?

How often should I send email?

If you only send email rarely, in the months in between your emails, your subscribers may forget why they subscribed and who you are, and are much more likely to delete, unsubscribe, or report your mail as spam. If you send every day, there’s a greater chance that your subscribers are going to get tired of hearing from you. It seems that a good rule of thumb is to send once a week or once every two weeks.

Consistency is important. If you normally send once a month, then suddenly increase to twice a week, you’re going to unpleasantly surprise a lot of people. Choose a schedule, and stick to it. If you want to make a big change to schedule, why not mention it in a newsletter prior to making the change?

What kind of content should I send?

This is the big question! I would love to have some conversation about this in the comments. Deciding what to send in emails is going to depend on:

  • Your business type and what you sell
  • What your customers are interested in online
  • What you’re trying to accomplish with your newsletter
  • What you’re posting on other social media outlets

If you check out my End Each Day With an Empty Inbox article, you’ll see that I’m a ruthless unsubscriber from newsletters. I do have a few newsletters I keep up with, though, and here are some of the small biz ones, and why I continue to be interested in them:

  • Noisette Academy’s Happy Start Up emails – Isa sends thoughtful emails that feel like a personal note from her to me, with a new and interesting twist on a problem all small businesses are likely to run into. I told her recently that I feel sorry for anyone not subscribed! You can’t find this content anywhere but in her emails, so it’s a no-brainer to subscribe.
  • Hawthorne Threads’ newsletter – This follows the same format every time – photos of new fabrics in stock, and then a giveaway winner announced and a new giveaway to enter. I can see what’s new without going to their site, and there’s always a chance of winning their giveaway.
  • MyFonts’ Rising Stars email – This shows me what fonts have been most popular recently, giving me a good overview of trends in graphic design and alerting me to fonts I may be interested in purchasing.

I also subscribe to mailing lists for service providers that I use, so I can take advantage of any coupons they may send. Your content needs to be interesting or useful (and preferably both!) to be successful.

You may want to send more than one type of content. This is okay to do! Mailing list programs make it very easy by allowing you to segment your mailing list into groups, and by letting your subscribers self-select the types of content they want to see. I have three different types of info that I send, and you can see how I explain and segment this on my signup form (as well as give people an idea of frequency): Aeolidia mailing list subscribe.

How can I tell if my content is successful?

To determine success, you need to first have a goal. My goal is to keep Aeolidia on the minds of potential clients, so that they will eventually contact me to purchase services. I attempt to do this by featuring interesting content from around the web that is relevant and useful, and by directing people to our blog. On our blog, small business owners get this same type of useful content, and they also can see proof of our expertise, view interesting work from our portfolio, and read glowing testimonials from our clients.

MailChimp click rate

The best way to judge the success of your newsletter is to view your stats directly in the email tool, and compare to past campaigns. MailChimp has great reporting, letting me see and compare my open rate and click rate, as well as see exactly which links are being clicked. This way, it’s easy to see what content is interesting to people and what is a waste of space.

You can monitor your success by:

  • Viewing your mailing list stats
  • Seeing how many direct emails, inquiries, or sales you get
  • Checking for noticeable increases in traffic on newsletter days
  • Seeing if your content is shared by your subscribers

Let’s talk about newsletters

I put a lot of work into my newsletters, and feature articles that are useful to small creative businesses (you!). You can see one of my recent newsletters at this link: Aeolidia newsletter. If you like what I’ve put together, please subscribe!

If you have a mailing list that you think the Oh My! community would like, please post a link to a past newsletter or to your join form in the comments so we can check it out.

What newsletters do you subscribe to, and what do you like about them? Have you hit on a great method for sending newsletters? What do you struggle with when putting a newsletter together? I’d love to share some advice in the comments!

54 comments

    • Casey, you seem so active on social media – what about having your newsletter be a round-up of the favorite things you’ve posted around the web recently? Then people who’ve missed certain blog posts or pins on Pinterest would get an overview of the best things you’ve already been putting out there?

      • Casey Carroll says:

        Oh goodness! I’m just seeing this. I didn’t know I could see everything on DISQUS! lol How does the Mail Chimp program work? Do I just insert everything and it creates it for me?

          • I don’t have many blog followers though. Less than 30 (that I know of). Is it worth it, or would you suggest waiting until I get more of a following? I have about 950 on twitter though. This social networking stuff can be overwhelming.

          • You know, I’m not sure how to prioritize, but I do know that you don’t need to be doing ALL the things ALL the time. It’s hard to track blog followers, since there are people using RSS and just visiting your site. Do you have stats available of actual visits to your blog, to determine how popular it is?

            If you aren’t feeling motivated to do the newsletter right now, it might be a good thing to put off until a future date. It’s definitely good to start gathering subscribers early, but if you don’t have anything to say to them, they will lose their value the longer time passes since you’ve emailed them.

  1. Naomi says:

    I have lost count of the amount of times i have gone and signed up with mailchimp with the intention of using them but for some reason i find the site a bit drab and limited to what you can do, so i do not really like them, if anyone can recommend another service preferably free i am all ears. I am in the UK.
    When subcribing to newsletters i do not mind recieving them weekly at most i find some places can over do it and i get sick of seeing them pop up in my email.
    This post has sparked off some ideas for me on what to include in my newsletter, very useful and i love your site i got some useful info from one of your tutorials recently when i was stuck on something.

  2. Isa Maria says:

    Thanks so much for including the happy start up newsletter as one of your must reads! I spend quite a bit of time on it each week to make sure subscribers are getting exclusive content and on a more personal level than I go into on the blog. I always reply back if you press send too! If you have a product based biz you might have to experiment with how frequently your subscribers want to receive content from you. If it’s valuable information then they will be happy to get it weekly but if you are just sending out product info, I think monthly is enough. You’ll know if your content is resonating by checking your stats, open rates, unsubscribes etc. If you are on the fence about starting a newsletter, just do it! You have nothing to lose, especially if you use a free provider and you can always tweak and experiment until you find your groove. (Did I just say groove?!) Isa | Noisette Academy xo

    • I have a set schedule for newsletters and blog posts, and mark a day for prep on my calendar. It also helps that you can schedule newsletters, so depending on your type of content, you could theoretically prepare a whole bunch at once, then “set it and forget it.”

  3. Sarah Lee says:

    I am totally lacking motivation to write newsletters and/or blast new blog posts. How can I find a way to keep interested and interesting? My click through rates are very low, but I do like that Mailchip gives me a lot of feedback so I can see which emails are opened more. Do you think give aways are a good idea? How can I get motivated to keep trying? How can I know what people want to hear from me? http://sarahssilks.com/blog

    • Right, Sarah – it’s hard to put together an interesting newsletter if you’re uninterested in it yourself! Maybe it would help to think of the newsletters you subscribe to yourself? What keeps you interested? How could you duplicate that with your newsletter?

      I couldn’t tell if you didn’t want to send new blog posts in email, or if you did want to send them, but didn’t want to set them up yourself. If it’s the latter, I think you will be very pleased with MailChimp’s RSS to Email newsletter: http://blog.mailchimp.com/rss-to-email-tutorial/

      Yes, I think giveaways are great for newsletters, especially if they happen regularly (and aren’t just a one time treat for subscribing). Then you can also interest people in subscribing to your newsletter by mentioning on the sign up form that they could win a giveaway!

      • Sarah Lee says:

        Thanks. I do have the blog posts set up to blast through Mailchimp. That is a really helpful tool! I am interested in the subject, but don’t know what to write about. My DIY posts seem to get the most open rates so maybe I should do more craft ideas and add a give away if they leave a comment they can win. That has worked before for getting 50 or so comments. Maybe I need a support group, where we all commit to a blog post a month….and read/give feedback to each other.

  4. Tricia says:

    I love this article! Thank you so much. I have a boutique in a busy tourist area where I have two high seasons per year and 2 months of low season in between each. During the 2 low seasons i have a big 50% sale. In the boutique, I have a guest book where interested clients can sign up to be on the mailing list for those 2 sales. In addition, when I make a sale on Etsy, I also ask to include them on the mailing list. The list has grown quite quickly and in the 3 years I’ve been doing this I have only had 3 unsubscribers. Not bad!

    Here’s a link to my most recent newsletter:.

    http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=db3ea6afe7f7e08efa5013985&id=3395f4a395

    Since the majority of my list subscribers were vacationers – I always include a photo of the area — bringing them back to bliss of vacation:) For the Etsy buyers, I think the photos keep their interest because they get to see a bit about me and where I am.

    I recently started adding details to the e-mail that drive interested readers to my blog. For example, in this recent newsletter I mentioned the portfolio of work that I recently put on there and offered a discount on custom orders.

    I use MailChimp. I think the program is very user friendly and allows me to see who is most interested, how many times the re-enter my e-mail, etc. And I most certainly see a HUGE surge in traffic to my Etsy page during these sale.

    These newletters are definitely worth my time. I make many sales with them and it always reconnects me with buyers I met in person in the shop. I like that personal connection.

  5. Sam Osborne says:

    I use my newsletter to send out my monthly calendar desktop and gadget wallpapers to subscribers each month – this gives me a reason to contact them on at least a monthly basis and I usually include a little special offer, links to some blog posts and updates about new products etc ( I’d like to send a little more often perhaps once every two weeks but struggle to work out what to put in another one!) I’ve been doing this regularly since the beginning of the year and am now starting to see an definite up-turn in subscriber numbers! > http://www.sam-osborne.co.uk/newsletter/ <

  6. Stacey Brown says:

    I’ve had a mailing list for 2 years now & can’t seem to get it off the ground. There are 25 subscribers, most of whom are friends & family. Every few months, I get ambitious and send out a few emails and then crickets… I don’t know exactly what it is about the emails I send to my mailing list that results in absolutely no response or impact, but I’m going to take your post and use it as a guide to help me figure it out. Thanks, Arianne 🙂

  7. Alison Butler says:

    Hi Arianne,

    I’d like to take my e-mail newsletter to a new level. Do you know of any examples or resources for allowing readers to access e-mail archives?

    I’d like to offer exclusive newsletter content – but have past content available to new readers – kind of like a members only thing, but simpler.

    Perhaps I might just create a separate section on my Web site, that’s not linked from my blog, to include this content. E-mail subscribers would be able to link to the archived posts that way, but it seems maybe a bit complicated.

    I’d love your thoughts or suggestions.

    Great post,
    Alison

  8. Gwen Bortner says:

    This was a FABULOUS post! I have had a newsletter in various e-mail forms for over a decade and have struggled with purpose and content on and off throughout that time. As the internet (and social media) landscape continue to change, figuring out the piece each element plays becomes even more difficult.

    Your thoughts, and the comments below have been wonderfully inspiring to help me refine my thoughts on my newsletter. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your great content and provide such information-filled responses.

    It is much appreciated!

    Gwen Bortner

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