A regular newsletter or an email marketing campaign is a long-term investment, more of a commitment than social media – a conversation instead of a shout-out. If you’re consistent and respectful, and you present your subscribers with something they want, the newsletter will bring your customers to you.

According to the U.S. Direct Marketing Association, in 2016 every dollar you invest in email marketing will return $35.02. Social media has its place, but it shouldn’t be the basket in which you keep all your eggs.

The number of “likes” you have on Facebook doesn’t correlate with the strength of your customer base, and their engagement with your posts is a passing glance most of the time. Without a newsletter in the mix, small businesses and entrepreneurs risk wasting valuable time on social media for no good reason.

“But everyone’s on Facebook now!”

True. But that’s the problem. It’s getting harder to earn people’s attention and keep it for more than a fraction of a second. In order to turn a profit, Facebook has also made changes to the way people’s news feeds are organized. If your post isn’t “promoted”, most likely no one is seeing it in the first place. People also receive far fewer emails than new posts on their Twitter, so you get a much higher percentage of their attention. When an email comes in, the reader has to look at who it’s from and the subject line in order to decide whether to delete it or read it. Even when the message is deleted unopened (as 80% of emails are), that requires a lot more brain power and decision-making than scrolling past it.

While only 20% of subscribers open the email, only 3% of those click on content within the email. This may sound like discouraging math, but remember your email subscribers haven’t clicked “like” or “follow” in passing. They’ve made an educated choice to listen to what you have to offer. Don’t waste the opportunity.

How often should you email your subscribers?

You want to keep yourself present in people’s minds, but you don’t want to alienate them with unwanted emails, or “list fatigue”. Decide this before you begin, because your readers want stability. They want to know what you’re going to be sending them before they commit.

How often you send the newsletter depends on what is going to be in the newsletter and how often you have that kind of material to offer. Once a week is a stable schedule for most.

You also shouldn’t blast every email out to every subscriber. Email platforms are sophisticated enough to send certain emails to certain subscribers depending on their click history. In other words, as your list grows, you can send people what they are most likely to want to see, increasing your chances of success.

What do you write in the email?

Give your readers some variety. Coupons and promotions are a great start, but add some substance, too – some industry-related news, innovations you’ve made, projects or products you’re developing, a glimpse at the staff to make it more personal. A lot of email newsletters also include interesting historical facts or quotes related to their content.

Definitely include regular “newsletter only” offers in every email.

If you send your readers rambling fluff just to fill a newsletter, they’ll know it and unsubscribe faster than you can say spam folder.

Where do you get subscribers?

The method that other people’s trial and error has proved most successful is called “permission marketing.” This means your subscribers give you their information willingly and with expressed permission.

Don’t buy a list of random people and suddenly start emailing them when they haven’t asked you to. That’s the fast lane to the blacklist.

Begin with the basics: social media posts (they don’t work well, but they work sometimes) and a pop-up form on your website that states how often you send the emails and what is in them. That will be a start, your first handful, but to really grow the list, you need an “ethical bribe.” In return for something that interests them (and is pertinent to your business – like a coupon for 10% off or a small freebie), all you want is an email address and permission to send a lovely and irresistible newsletter at a preset frequency. Who could resist?

Once you have a small list with which to begin, you’re ready to start designing.

The must-dos of newsletter design:

  1. Large, high-resolution images of your product. Nothing says amateur like blurry pictures. They are the rotten apples that spoil the whole bundle. They also should be large enough to be engaging- the focus of attention, not teeny afterthoughts.
  2. A dynamic, consistent layout that resembles your style. Your newsletter is an extension of your public image. Use colors, fonts, and text blocks that make a seamless transition to your website. Each news item or interesting tidbit should be short and direct traffic to your website for further engagement. Use clear headers to make your newsletter easy to navigate.
  3. The right subject line. Your subject line entices the reader to open the email. If there’s a promotional offer in the email, reference that directly. Don’t use all caps or exclamation points. That’s a spam filter magnet.
  4. A tone that targets your audience. It’s best to be direct and conversational, not too formal. If you sound like a likeable human being, the subscriber is more likely to like you.
  5. Use hyperlinks to keep it brief. People don’t want to spend all morning reading your email, so keep each item or bulletin to a couple of sentences, or even just a header for promotions, with hyperlinks leading to more information. These should not be hyperlinks leading to all the far corners of the internet, but mostly hyperlinks back to your website and your products.
  6. Encourage engagement. If you ask your readers to answer a specific question, if their input is essential to your success, you’re more likely to keep those people committed. Tell them to reply to the email in order to join the conversation. If you do this, you’ll have to make sure someone is reading and engaging with those responses in some way. You can also add a section to the email with quotes from other customers.
  7. Schedule delivery strategically. Most people spend the most time reading their email first thing in the morning, so you want your email to be in their inboxes before they log in. If your email arrives at 3PM, they will be less likely to open and read it. Most email-generating software will also link to your social media so the newsletter will automatically appear there, too.
  8. Avoid spam filters. There are a lot of no-nos in this area because spam filters have become more sophisticated to catch the more crafty spammers. Take the time to learn how they work so you can avoid getting caught in the crossfire. Don’t just add contact emails to your list; make sure they sign up willingly. Your email also has to, by law, have an opt-out or unsubscribe option.
  9. Encourage sharing. Make sure you have social media share links in every email and entice people to share. You can’t manufacture better targeting than one person telling his or her friends about you.

The Role of Social Media

If you have an exciting new product coming out or a new promotional campaign coming up, use your emails to build excitement for the social media launch ahead of time so your customers are encouraged to help boost your efforts. This creates buzz, and buzz is your friend.

Remember those social media posts blasting off into the void? Well, the void isn’t void if customers are seeking out those posts because your email told them to.

Live up to your strategy

No amount of emails and social media posts will ever be effective if your offerings aren’t dynamic and evolving. If you don’t have something new and exciting to say every week, it’s not the newsletter’s fault if your customer base plateaus and peters out.

Your emails plant seeds, which you then have to nurture if you want them to grow.