How to write a consistently good email newsletter

I hope you found last week’s conversation about the perils of being a digital sharecropper useful. Relying on someone else’s platform to spread your content is a practice many of us follow without thinking about the economics or the consequences.

On to this week. What I wrote must have resonated because several people asked me how to start a new newsletter or improve their current newsletter. Perfect timing! Because Chris Brogan wrote a newsletter last Sunday that’s right on point.

And if you’re new here, welcome aboard. This is what we do!

One thing I found last week … from RainToday.
And the Winner Is Low Price. Wait – No …

Charles H. Green (of Trusted Adviser fame) leads you through a short exercise to get you thinking about how buyers of professional services think about price.

So, how do you write a consistently good email newsletter?

Well, when someone like Chris Brogan writes about the same topic, you unabashedly and unashamedly (but with attribution) repost what his experience has been. Here is what he had to say.

Prework – Become an idea machine

I talk about Claudia Altucher’s Become an Idea Machine book as often as I can. The idea is simple. Write out lists of ideas every day. Ten ideas a day. Every day. I use this to have an endless supply of what to write about. (This prework step helps fuel step 1 and 2).

Step 1 – Practice delivering one piece of simple value every week

First off, know that the more you practice something, the better you get at it. IF you practice the right things. In this case, your goal for practice is to deliver at least one piece of simple value every week. Let’s define “value” as “something that appeals to your potential buyers that they can do with or without your products or services.” That’s the practice.

Step 2 – Keep a list of what you’ve sent, keep a calendar of what you WILL send

The next way to get better is to keep track of what you’re writing. [I keep a] running list of newsletter subject lines week to week. I scan these every time I get ready to write my next newsletter. They follow a rough editorial theme per month so that I can try and hit different potential buyers in different ways. That way, no one ever goes more than a few weeks without feeling they aren’t seeing something they can use.

Step 3 – Practice brevity and cut out everything that doesn’t serve the main point

Brevity. That’s your third requirement. Kill everything that doesn’t deliver on the purpose of the letter. Edit to remove all the superfluous. When writing, especially when attempting the conversational tone, people tend to blather a bit. They tend to get all explainy. It’s not helpful. It clutters things up. Look for ways to cut the sentences short. (Ideal newsletter length is 300-600 words.)

Step 4 – Remove almost every sentence that is built to prove that you’re smart or worth it; let your service be your confidence

Check your ego. Here’s a tricky one, but not the way you might think. In this case, I mean “stop explaining yourself or defending yourself or writing so much to the tune of how great you are and why you’re worthy of your potential buyer’s time.” Yep. MOST newsletters have a healthy dose of “I’m really good. Honest! I’m worth your time. And I’m smart, too!”

Step 5 – Serve them and then you, but always both

This last one is technically the first step as well. It’s important that you know this is where a LOT of people get it wrong. They either send letters that help the community they serve but don’t help themselves grow their business, OR they send letters that help ONLY them and not the people they serve. You have to have something for both of you.

Check your newsletter before sending it to see if you match all five steps on this list. Work on it consistently (using that prework step to get yourself smarter and smarter). I promise you’ll see results.

Rod’s notes:

  1. Chris Brogan has 33,ooo subscribers to his email newsletter. Holy cow!
  2. As I am preparing this, the Kindle version of Claudia Altucher’s book is $0.99.
  3. I think weekly is the best frequency for an email newsletter … more, and you become an annoyance to your audience … less, and you never gain momentum/traction with them.





Action Items:

If you like what I write about, tell a colleague.

If something resonates and you want to reach out directly, email me.

If you think we share common interests, connect with me on LinkedIn.

If you want a sense of how well your practice is working for you, take this Practice Self Assessment.

Are you a digital sharecropper?

I hope you enjoyed last week’s conversation about focus days, free days, buffer days and scheduling. As Henry Mintzberg said: “You are your calendar – how you spend your time demonstrates what you care about.”

On to this week. Many of us are creating content for, and marketing on, social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. The questions are: Is this a dangerous practice? And if so, what should we be doing instead?

And if you’re new here, welcome aboard. This is what we do!

One thing I found last week … from NACVA’s QuickRead:
New Research Points the Way to More Referrals

According to a new study by NACVA and Hinge Marketing, most firms could be getting far more referrals if they made a few changes to their marketing. This article shares the findings.

What is digital sharecropping?

Originally, the term “sharecropping” referred to a farming practice that became common after the Civil War. Big landowners rented small plots (and sometimes even the tools) to individual farmers who worked the fields … and took most of the profits generated from the crops.

Today, “digital sharecropping” means large internet companies renting us their platforms and tools (Apps) so we can create and spread our content … and they take most of the profits generated from our efforts.

The hidden economics

Think about this: Without our content, companies like Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube wouldn’t have anything to distribute and nothing to sell. They rely on us to drive interest in, and traffic to, their sites.

The more content we create for free, the more valuable these platforms become. We do the work. They reap the profits.

And we don’t give it much thought. In fact, we are enamored with the business model – contributing our content in exchange for attention, not dollars.

What are the problems?

Social media platforms should only augment the presence we already have with our own(ed) website and blog or newsletter. They shouldn’t be the presence. That’s dangerous. Here’s why.

  1. If we’re relying on these platforms to generate leads, we’re hoping the landlord will continue to like us and support our business. But the fact is, the landlord has no idea who we are and likely doesn’t care.
  2. We don’t own the content. I mean the content is ours if we keep a copy for ourselves, but once it’s on a site, the company’s terms of service take over.
  3. If they change the terms, as they often do, our existing and future content is subject to those changes.
  4. If we inadvertently violate the terms of service and our account gets temporarily or permanently shut down, we just lost everything we invested in that platform.
  5. Or what if the platform, which was distributing our content for free to everyone that followed us, intentionally reduces our reach so that we now have to pay to “advertise” the same content to the same audience?
  6. Finally, the landlord could lose favor among users for a new platform (Digg) or disappear (MySpace), and our content would fall into the darkness with them.

So what should we do instead?

I think the solution is obvious. We need to spend most of our time and energy building assets that we control. And so there are three things we should be creating today and continue to focus on for the life of our practice.

  1. A great website with our own hosting.
  2. An email list of leads, prospects, clients, and referral sources in our niche.
  3. A reputation for providing high-quality content for #1 and #2.

Then, our operational strategy should be to use social media platforms to build an audience of clients/prospects … convert them to a community (Seth Godin calls it a tribe) … and drive awareness back to our website/newsletter … for products and services we currently sell or plan to offer.

In real life

(Note that the “selling” DOES NOT occur on social media platforms – it happens on our website. Simply put, social media platforms should only be used to provide evidence of our credibility while sharing glimpses of our personality … you know, like good old one-to-one relationship marketing.)

Don’t make it more complicated than this!





Action Items:

If you like what I write about, tell a colleague.

If something resonates and you want to reach out directly, email me.

If you think we share common interests, connect with me on LinkedIn.

If you want a sense of how well your practice is working for you, take this Practice Self Assessment.