Newsletters aren’t new. They’ve been around ever since the postal service was first created. Donna Maria from Indie Business Network (a trade organization for the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry) has blogged about the importance of having a newsletter (as have many smarter business people than I). But, this subject just came up in a phone call I was having with a customer who was trying to determine what to best spend her limited marketing time on. After all, there are SO many social media outlets. This is what I suggested for her limited time allocation – by priority. And, if she can only get to 1 or 2 … just do the two most important:
There’s a method to my madness putting an old school, boring newsletter in my top two content marketing (aka: communication) strategy and this post will cover newsletters – why they are important, some best practices and how a newsletter is your strong foundation for a good content marketing strategy.
Newsletters (and to a lesser extent, blogs) are one of the only bodies of work that you actually own in your marketing. Think about it; Facebook can change their Terms of Service in the blink of an eye and poof, all your content could be behind a pay wall. Or, Pinterest could get purchased by a huge conglomerate that didn’t allow any commercial link posting. There’s any number of things that could happen to third party services that could disrupt your ability to use them effectively for your business.
Not so with a newsletter. If the internet was actually shut down, you could physically print and snail mail your newsletters. You own that content. You create it. With the exception of copyrighted and trademarked materials, no one controls it except you.
Five Golden Rules of Newsletter Writing
(1) Make it Useful. You do not want people to feel like you are SELLING to them. Rather, you want them to feel like you are being helpful and sharing information with them. This is not about coercing people to buy your products. Rather, this is about telling people what they may have missed during the month, helping them find what they need and letting them know how a product you sell may meet their need. It is not a pushy piece of writing. If it is, people will unsubscribe faster than toddlers running towards the dessert table at a birthday party.
In Bramble Berry’s Newsletter, there’s always an exclusive subscriber-only discount code, information about a new product we’re excited about and an exclusive recipe.
(2) Pictures Make the World Go Round. If they say a ‘picture is worth a thousand words’, let your photos do the informing and include beautiful, high quality photos to illustrate what you’re talking about in your newsletter. Make sure you don’t steal photos. Just because it’s on the internet does not mean it’s free game to take. iStockPhoto is a great place to illustrate your newsletters with if you don’t have your own photographs. Bonus points if you can use a program to put words on your photos. Flickr gives you the ability to add text to your photos, Text on Photo (iPhone app) or Pixlr all work to add flair to your photos.
(3) Consistent. It’s important that your customers know when to look for your newsletter. You can do weekly or monthly or some variation in between but make sure it’s on a schedule people can expect. After all, if you make it useful, people will genuinely want to read it and they’ll start looking for it.
(4) Don’t Silo. If you are on other social media outlets, connect them up with your newsletter. Include content from your other social media outlets because you do want customers to connect with you in those mediums. Make sure your contact information and the information on where and how to find you on all the other social media outlets is easy to find on your newsletter. This is about a continuing conversation with your customers, not a one time brain dump.
(5) Double Opt-In. This is not considered an industry best practice; industry best practice is to sign everyone up that even looks your way and shows the most remote interest in your product or site. Remember how some people find newsletters to be irritating? Could it be because they didn’t sign up for the newsletter to start with? Currently, the law allows you to put anyone that buys from you on your email newsletter. But really, did they ask to be? For this reason, I don’t advocate just putting people on your newsletter email list just because they ordered for you one time. Have an opt-in button and then make sure that they confirm their subscription. This is the ‘double opt-in’ option and it helps to ensure that people that actually want your email get it. Otherwise, they might mark your email as ‘spam’ and too many of those marks mean that your ISP can be banned or your email service provider could drop you.
There are many mail services out there to use to start your newsletter – and they all cost money after a certain amount of readers. Of course, we hope that at that point, you’re generating sales from your newsletter so it’s worth it. Some of the ones we have tried and liked are: MailChimp, Constant Contact and Streamsend. No matter who you use though, it’s all about the content so figure out what you can do to be useful for your customers base and subscribers and you’re 90% of the way there. The rest is just the writing.
Thanks SOOooo much for this post! I had been struggling with a different newsletter program for months. Yesterday I read this post and checked out one of the hosts you mentioned and now I am signed up, and my first newsletter is almost ready to send out! Just another one of the reasons I love you and Brambleberry! So very helpful! 🙂
Becky with Bramble Berry says
That is so exciting! Some programs can be a little bit difficult to work with, but I love using MailChimp as it is just so easy to work with. Happy Newslettering! =)
-Becky with Bramble Berry
MailChimp is the one I chose and yes, it is extremely easy! I sent out my first newsletter on Friday!
Becky with Bramble Berry says
Congrats, Leslie! That’s so great to hear. =)
-Becky with Bramble Berry
Donna Maria Coles Johnson says
This is a super post, and thank you for including links to my posts about the importance of a newsletter. You are spot on … a newsletter is an integral part of any cohesive and holistic marketing strategy. It was the first thing I added to IBN’s repertoire in 2000 when I launched the company, and it remains one of the most effective methods we employ to stay in touch with the people we serve and the people we are hoping to serve in the future. Thanks for a great post. I’m honored to be included.
You were preaching this concept as long as I can remember – in fact, I think you were the first person I know that was embracing that “old school” content. Everyone was a’twitter about all the ‘new media’ coming out and some of the basics were easy to ignore.
Anna Keppel says
Very helpful post as I am a soaper and natural bath and body homemade product enthusiast. (Thats a mouthful, but you get the picture). I love writing my blog but knew it was time to “step it up” a notch to incorporate my new soap business. I started my business with your help, products and the tip to get Kari Chapin’s book “The Handmade Marketplace”. Since I bought that book from your site, and followed tips received in your newsletter I’ve been able start from scratch a fun and rewarding hobby/business, with a successful blog. Now, I will get started on a newsletter! Thanks! Your stories about your life Anne Marie, make you real, and sincere, and yes even more trustworthy in a very vague disconnected world.
Thank you Soap Queen and Brambleberry, Anna
Wow, that is awesome! What a great testimonial. Thank you for letting me know that you’re loving what you do and find that it’s rewarding as well. YAY! That makes me absolutely smile =) Thank you for being a reader (and a customer).
thank you! I just started a newsletter this month for the first time. I appreciate your tips!
Casco Bay Soap Co.
That is great! I’m so glad you are trying it out. Just remember to keep going, even when it seems like no one is reading or responding. It took about 2-3 years of refining ours etc… before we felt like it was definitely helping to communicate with customers and helping to drive sales as well =)
Thank you so much for this Anne-Marie!
This was an incredibly useful post! I decided to unsubscribe from the Soapqueen newsletter today, not because I don’t enjoy it, but I think I maybe getting it confused with the brambleberry one, as I have subscribed to it three times since November and still have yet to see it in my inbox 🙁 I added the email address as a contact just to be sure it doesn’t go to spam too 🙁
Anywho thank you sooooooooooo much, and btw, I like those “stories” 🙂
I will go check out that Bramble Berry newsletter subscription list right now and make sure you’re in there – and I’ll ask Kristen or Becky to email you the last one we did.
We’re writing our new one right now (on creating lipsticks) so it’s definitely something I want to get sorted for you ASAP. I don’t want you to miss how to re-create a lovely color, inspired by Clinique’s Black Honey ‘Almost Lipstick.’
Joan's Garden says
Wow…what a hurtful comment. A “newsletter” is for news about your business and products and a “blog” is for adding a personal touch which includes a little about yourself…to make you more human. I don’t think Anne Marie has crossed the line there.
It’s clear that when someone is as talented and successful as A.M….there are going to be people/groups that will strike in many ways. If you don’t like to watch, read, hear, or see something……STOP!!!!!! I for one TRULY, TRULY LOVE, LOVE hour newsletters. I has and will always inspire me to be more and to do more…as a woman, mother, and upcoming entrepreneur…..definitely…….keep up ALL of your good works. It’s those with that type of comment that should push you to achieve more greatness.
Thanks Joan. =) You’re right, blogs do help to humanize businesses and I love to use this blog, Twitter, Pinterest etc.. to connect with others, emphasizing the social aspect of ‘social media.’
baley brees says
Very well said. I would include one final tip which is to keep the content topical to what the reader signed up to read. If your newsletter is for your soap making business, please don’t subject readers to multiple issues that include articles and pictures of your beloved pet fish. As much as I admire and respect Anne Marie and her incredible talents, there have been quite a few Soap Queen editions that got deleted because I just wasn’t interested in reading about or looking at more picture of her child. An occasional mention of your personal life is nice but Soap Queen sometimes resembles a Mommy blog. I didn’t sign up to read about your guilt when your child has an accident on the slide. I have seen two forum conversations at Etsy about this issue with Soap Queen. One person summed it up perfectly by saying “It’s like being around a co-worker whose expertise I need but I have to tolerate regular stories about and pictures of her grandkids in order to get it.”
That is such an excellent point, Baley. Content for business newsletters should remain topical.
I think you might be confusing this blog RSS feed (which is emailed daily; sign up on left top of blog for anyone that wants it) with what I’m talking about in the blog post above – an opt-in newsletter. They are two different things and I treat them differently.
I use this blog to create relationships, form connections and humanize Bramble Berry. I believe that people buy from people they like and that people like connection. Before I had the baby (soon to be babies!), I blogged about personal interests like cupcakes (ah, the great Portland cupcake tour … drool), vacations with friends (who can forget the Hawaii vacation and diving in the vicinity of whales?) and my awesome parents. As I’ve grown up and become a Mother, the blog has grown with me and instead of cupcakes, it’s working out, parenting joy or fun crafty or cooking projects that aren’t necessarily soap related. In my opinion, blogging 7 times a week on just soap tutorials would be robotic (not to mention, unsustainable – a tutorial takes me anywhere from 10-20 hours to design, test, make, photograph, write, edit etc…). I want to have a relationship with my readers, some of whom are Bramble Berry customers and some of whom are not. To that end, I post on forums, I read many and comment on many blogs per week and I try to keep up on the happenings in the lives of the Soap Queen community as well.
I spelled out my blog philosophy here: http://www.soapqueen.com/business/tweeting-blogging-posting-poking-2/ This blog is 50% product and project related, 25% personal and 25% business advice. I actually go through monthly and slot in how much of each I’m going to do. Interestingly enough, the family blogs are actually more read than the business-advice blogs.
But, for people that don’t want to read the blog posts about kids, cooking, or new crafts I’m getting into (sewing!), the good news is that since the blog is so varied, there is something to appeal to everyone that’s crafty, or into cooking, or likes soaping, or interested in creating their own homemade products or yes, those who just need a ‘baby hit’ every so often. =)
Let me know if you need help figuring out how to unsubscribe from the blog RSS feed and get signed up for the Bramble Berry newsletter. =)
😀 well said!!!!!!!
baley brees says
Thank you for clarifying this, I apologize as I now understand that this was my mistake. I thought I had opted in for a blog about Soaping simply based on the title. I was remiss and didn’t read the blog philosophy. The people here making snide remarks about my feedback need to follow your example and recognize that it’s always better to create a safe place for negative feedback in social media. First because if the person has a legitimate complaint, you are given a golden opportunity to demonstrate to the public how you handle this professionally. This can even win new customers more effectively than any paid advertisement. It’s far better for people to have this kind of conversation with you directly than having them gripe to others online.
If the negative feedback is based on a misunderstanding (such as in my case),you demonstrate professionalism and graciousness by explaining this clearly and respectfully. Public relations fiascos have occurred for companies who have either removed negative comments or fired back in an ugly way on social media sites. Whereas other companies have received big kudos for the manner and tone in which they handled negative feedback-some of which was even unfounded.
Thanks to the way you responded to my words, I am anxious to return to the Etsy forum and explain why we are the ones in the wrong here…and that’s not the kind of positive promotion you can buy. Thank you for demonstrating class and patience in the face of unfair criticism. You have a fan and customer for life.
Aw, thanks Baley! Let me know if you need help getting off the daily email (or maybe you can set up a filter in your InBox so that the word ‘Jamisen’ sends the email directly to the Trash/Read Later box and you mostly just get soap/project/product/hobby/business stuff). I want this to be as useful as possible for you and totally understand not wanting to read about things you’re not interested in. It’s like a newspaper – I don’t read the Sports Sections so I skip over them – so if we can use technology to help you skip over the sections you don’t want to read, it’s a win-win for everyone. =) If you have any other thoughts on how to improve the blog, please let me know. After all, if an idea or an action plan doesn’t hole up to public scrutiny or questioning, it probably needs some refining anyways =)
baley brees says
Thanks again. Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, I wanted to share with you that disinterest in your child is not the issue. After three miscarriages in the last year coupled with other health, marital and financial problems, it has become difficult for me to read about other people’s joy. Your life seems so perfect with a happy marriage, great family, thriving business, friends, a child and another on the way. I feel badly for not being able to celebrate that and cheer you on…but right now it just feels like a painful reminder of my losses. I hope to be able to enjoy your blog and share in your joy..just wanted you to know that this really is my own issue and not one related to your blog content.
Oh that is heartbreaking. I am so sorry to read about your troubles. You have definitely been going through a rough spot and I don’t blame you for not wanting to see the baby stuff. I wouldn’t want to either. I cannot imagine your pain. While life is joy-filled right now, I also am acutely aware of its fragility; a clump of errant cells, a single drunk driver, a brief moral lapse – any of those could change everything very quickly. In case you haven’t read the early years of the Bramble Berry story, there was much pain and struggle (complete with a first unsuccessful marriage as a punctuation point). I too have known pain, loss and fear for the future. And, for me, the key has been never letting the negative have the last word. Edison said something like ‘no one ever fails until they quit trying’ and I try to follow that philosophy in all that I do. Thinking of your situation, while my baby is “perfect”, my body is not. I carry the Leiden V factor that causes early or late fetal loss and take a blood thinning shot daily to reduce that risk. If your doctor has not checked you for this, it would seem prudent to ask. Our insurance did not initially pay for the test so we paid out of pocket at Navigenics (now Life Technologies). I wish you much hope, love and laughter in this upcoming year (even if it seems far off now) and will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.
Thank you for the great and very timely article featured today! You have affirmed some conclusions I have been forming since I started blog writing several months ago. I have taken my blog back to the drawing board and have been working on improving it with these factors in mind. My passion is for writing and the domestic arts both of which I have been practicing for almost twenty years now. Now that my kids are mostly grown and I have been suddenly transplanted from the Pacific Northwest to Hawaii recently, I am turning to blog writing as a way to marry my writing and artistry, and a newsletter would be a fabulous addition. This week I turn forty, and my goals for the year are to write a successful blog and run the Honolulu marathon (up to 7-8 miles daily now 🙂 Thank you for your warm, helpful, generous, and sweet spirit. Your attitude is contagious and helps women like me feel like they can achieve their goals.
Another Anna Marie
Hi Anna Marie,
I love your name (of course!). =)
I love having a blog – it helps with SEO to websites, it is a fantastic way to connect with customers and it’s a useful tool to encourage and inform a greater audience than the one that shops at your website only.
I use the blog and newsletter differently, though they definitely interact with one another. The blog for me, is about creating a relationship, a two way conversation, a community of sorts. And the newsletter is a 1X per month email that drives sales for Bramble Berry.
If I am understanding what you’re thinking about doing, I love the idea of you adding a helpful newsletter. “Don’t want to miss out on my posts? Here are my top 3 posts from the month!” Or something similar. I definitely think that if you’re wanting to marry your passion for domestic arts and writing that there’s a niche for you. Lots of people are actually making money doing that; I love that the internet allows people to follow their passions, do what they love and create a sustainable income for themselves =)
Thanks for being a reader!
THX for sharing this detailed post.
I personally do not have any newsletter, not because I’m lazy, I only do not want to disturb the customers, who probably receive tens of newsletters everyday with another one. I inform those who might be interested via my blog and FB and personally send 80% of newsletter I receive unread direct to trash. I come to this blog whenever I have time and the mood or whenever I’m looking for a certain content, and appreciate the time, energy, passion and correctness which is hidden between the lines but probably I would not subscribe to a newsletter or read all of them if I would receive ony regularly.
Once more thank you for sharing this point of view.
I totally know what you mean! That’s the reason the Bramble Berry newsletter only comes out 1 time per month.
There are some vendors that I’ve purchased from (Banana Republic, Gap, Wine.com, Amazon.com) that send me daily newsletters (though I did not subscribe to them that I recall) and because I get them so frequently, they aren’t special to me anymore.
That’s where the content part of creating a newsletter comes in – if it’s special or unique content, I’m happy to receive it … and read it.