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How to Write Email Newsletters When You Hate It

“How to Write Email Newsletters When You Hate It” is part of a series. Other installments include Social Media Posts, Search Engine Optimization, Blogs and About Me pages.

A woman typing her email newsletters on a laptop in front of a wall painted with bright leaves.

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I don’t know about you, but I actually kind of like marketing emails. Not all marketing emails, obviously – which is why the unsubscribe function was created. But if there’s a brand I like, I love reading about new product launches, for example, because it lets me stay on top of what’s current without having to go looking for it. Which is great for group texting: why yes, I did browse Lizzo’s new shapewear line! What are you gonna get? 

I also love marketing newsletter from coaches and service providers. Are they trying to sell me something? Yes, of course. We’ve all gotta eat. But people are giving so many things away for free. Inspiration. Recommendations. Discounts for sites they partner with. New ways of looking at things. Solutions to struggles they’ve overcome.

The Advantages of Email Newsletters

Email has things going for it that websites and social channels don’t.

  • For one, there’s no algorithm. That means everyone on your list will see your newsletter. Even if they don’t read it, they’re reminded of your business. Instagram could NEVER.
  • Two, you don’t even have to get fancy. A lot of my favorite newsletters are black text on a white background. No fancy formatting, no clever images (although I do love clever images). Make it easy on yourself!
  • And finally, over half of the world uses email. Yes, half the planet. Half of earthlings. The population of the world is currently around 7.7 billion people. 4 billion people use email. Compare that to the number of people who use Facebook (2.91 billion), Instagram (1.4 billion), YouTube (2.5 billion) and TikTok (1 billion), and email looks pretty good.

So here’s how to make the most of email marketing, even if you struggle to do it:

1. Use your email newsletters to tell a story.

One great thing about email marketing and newsletters is that people are used to reading longer emails. You can tell a story, loop it back around to your business somehow, and you’ve created a memorable and pleasant association with your brand.

For example, if I owned a home security business, I might tell a story about Home Alone.

“The first time I watched Home Alone, I was seven years old. Every time Kevin unleashed a new torturous punishment on Harry and Marv, my little heart thrilled. I got a perverse delight out of the Wet Bandits suffering horrible consequences because it made perfect sense to me that Kevin should be able to protect his own home from burglary. By any means necessary.

“But did you know that booby trapping your house is actually WILDLY illegal? In many states, it’s a felony. That means if someone gets hurt while you’re protecting your own property, you could be the one behind bars. Crazy, right?

“But there’s a good reason why it’s illegal, and it has to do with law-abiding citizens. Booby-trapping is illegal because in the event of an emergency, people like police, EMTs, firefighters, etc., need to be able to access your property without risking their lives unnecessarily. Not to mention that rigging up your home and land with hidden traps could unwittingly kill a mail carrier, a neighbor, a child, or even you.

“Besides leaving their youngest son home alone for several days, the McAllisters messed up before they even left their driveway. And that’s by not having a comprehensive home security system. Imagine if they’d set the house alarm on their way out the door? They would’ve discovered Kevin was missing before they even made it to the airport. (And saved thousands of dollars in damage caused by all those impromptu weapons.)…”

Have I convinced you to buy from my home security company? Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow–but I’m willing to bet the next time you watch Home Alone, you’re going to be thinking about my business. And that’s a win.

2. Write an outline for your email newsletters, then fill in the rest.

People skim when they read. We all do it, especially if we’re not entirely sure about the content or the person writing it. But one simple way to slow down those bouncing eyeballs –  while making things easier for yourself – is to write your outline in bold. Then, go back and fill in each section.

So, if you run a company selling slave-free baking chocolate and you’re sharing a recipe in an email, your outline might look like this:

Melt your chocolate and butter together.
Whisk in your eggs, then add vanilla.
In a separate bowl, combine sugar, flour and salt.
Add to the chocolate mixture.
Pour into a pan and bake at 325-degrees for 30-35 minutes.

Then you’d go back and fill in more details, like so:

Melt your chocolate and butter together. We’ve worked hard to make our baking chocolate easy to melt, with a smooth, glossy texture. Add in a nice Irish or European butter for the best flavor, we like Kerry Gold… (etc.)

Whisk in your eggs, then add vanilla. Any eggs will do, but we find that farm-fresh eggs from the farmer’s market perform really well and give the finished brownies a certain something extra. When it comes to vanilla, you can use a high-quality extract or paste–we prefer Bomb Ass Vanilla from our friends at XYZ brand because they source…

In a separate bowl, combine sugar, flour and salt. Use whatever flour you have on hand, since the recipe calls for so little of it. But when it comes to sugar, we think our Vermont Trapper maple sugar adds a lovely flavor. Add some to your next chocolate order and get 15% off with code…

Add to the chocolate mixture. If your chocolate mix looks a little lumpy or separated right now, don’t worry, it’s all going to come together in this step.

Pour in the pan and bake at 325 for 30-35 minutes. It’s the perfect length of time to watch an old episode of Parks and Rec or fold a basket of laundry (if you must). When they’re firm at the edges and still fudgy in the center, they’re perfect!

3. Create a template for your email newsletters.

At the moment, I’m helping a friend with her email newsletter. She owns a delightful local coffee shop, which, as you might imagine, has had its fair share of struggles between Covid and midwestern winters. But she’s busy AF, she doesn’t have time to reinvent her newsletter from scratch every time she sends one.

So we sat down and came up with a template. Each newsletter can draw from the following buckets of content:

  • Drink menu updates
  • Bakery menu updates
  • Events
  • Partner Feature (sharing pics and social handles for pop-up event participants)
  • Shop News
  • Spotlight on a Staff Member
  • A Recent Instagram Post
 

Do we use every category in every newsletter? No. But because we pre-built a template that has space designated for each category, when it’s time to write a newsletter, we’re good to go. All we do is make a copy of the original template, fill in the blanks, delete what we don’t need, and it’s ready.

What would your categories be? What would you include? You might include links to recent blog posts, recommended reading elsewhere, podcasts you think your readers would find helpful, etc. Or you could include a playlist you create that was inspired by one of your products, or a TikTok video you made showing one of your processes. You’re allowed to reuse your content from elsewhere, and you’re allowed to make things easier for yourself by pre-determining the different categories you want to choose from for each newsletter.

4. Created targeted lists for different email newsletters.

Not every email of yours needs to go to the same people. Using targeted email lists can help you reach the right people with the most useful content.

For example, if your business is hosting pop-up embroidery workshops, you might make an email list of people who have attended one of your events, a list of people who signed up but haven’t attended an event, a list of people who attended an event and then bought a kit from your site, etc.

The first group of people may be more likely to come to an intermediate level class; the second group could be enticed to join a beginner video workshop online; the third group might jump at the chance to shop a sale on your kits. So, segmenting your lists like this keeps your message tailored to a specific audience, which increases your chances of success. And it gives you a better idea what to write to them.

5. Use this one trick doctors don’t want you to know…

Okay, kidding, but this does feel like witchcraft. Illicit knowledge. A cheat code. Is your spine tingling yet?

You may already know that your subject line can make or break your email’s success. After all, it’s the first thing people see–and some subject lines are just more compelling than others. What’s the trick?

Go to subjectline.com. Enter the subject line you want to use in the box in the middle of the site, and click “Evaluate.” It will give your subject line a score out of 100 to let you know the likelihood of people clicking on it.

I tried the subject line, “Check out my special offer” and got a score of 83/100, with the recommendation to add subtle urgency (as an old boss would say, rub some hustle on it).

A screenshot from subjectline.com showing a score of 83 out of 100. They help you write effective subject lines for your email newsletters.

I tried the subject line, “Get a discount on Clown College for one week only!” and got a perfect 100. (Friends, is this a million dollar business idea? I don’t know why I’m taking this metaphor to the end zone; I’m actually terrified of clowns.)

A screenshot from subjectline.com showing a score of 100 out of 100. They help you write effective subject lines for your email newsletters.

The internet is full of wonders like this–little tips and tricks, services set up to help you succeed. There are bound to be tons you and I don’t know about, all of them making email newsletters and email marketing easier to write than before. What are your special tips and tricks for email marketing? What’s helped you the most?

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Hi, I'm Lana.

I’ve spent 16 years in advertising, and now I’m using that knowledge to help creatives grow their own small businesses. Will that include you this year? 


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