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How to start a newsletter in 2021

Newsletter is one of the mediums or tools available for you in this era of content creators. Great writers are being rewarded with followers and even paying subscribers. Doesn’t matter if you are an individual or a company using a newsletter as part of your content marketing strategy, can give you a lot of benefits. So how do you start a newsletter?

We’ll help you understand what’s involved in creating a newsletter, which platforms or tools can help you, what should you think about in terms of content, paid content, community and more. By the end of this guide, you’ll know exactly if it’s for you and how to do it.

What is a newsletter?

When we talk about newsletters, we mean a digital tool that helps a person/organization to communicate with an audience. A newsletter could be a regularly scheduled one, sent every x days, or it could be an update sent to customers sporadically.

What’s the purpose of a newsletter?

There are many reasons why you should start a newsletter:

For solo creators:

  1. Build an audience to later on upsell another product/course/book.
  2. Making a living from writing a newsletter (quit your day job). Some successful writers have managed to monetize their free newsletter (by paid membership or sponsors).
  3. Create a name for yourself to get opportunities – job offers/ book deals.
  4. Making an impact – adding value to the world with your knowledge or talent.
  5. Building relationships and a community of like minded people around you.

For businesses:

  1. Customer marketing – as a way of being in touch with existing customers, increasing their loyalty and retention.
  2. Getting new customers – a great piece of content could go viral and get to the hands of new potential clients.
  3. Attracting potential employees – the newsletter is a space to show your company values and culture.

So how do you start a newsletter?

Start a newsletter – guide

Let’s start right with picking the right platform for you:

1. Choose a platform to start your newsletter

There are many platforms that you can choose from that would help you with the newsletter.

Substack

Substack start a Newsletter

Substack is the trendiest tool at the moment. They let creators share content, build a community and make money from paid subscribers. With Substack you get your own email list, a website that curates your posts and let readers subscribe, community features, and a way to control what’s available for the free vs paid users.

Pricing: publishing is free, they only make money when you are making money. They charge 10% of your revenue.

Convertkit

convertkit start a newsletter

ConvertKit is an audience building tool for creators. You can build a relationship with your followers through great emails, custom landing pages, free automatic download through an opt-in form and personalized content.

Pricing: the free plan comes with unlimited landing pages & forms, unlimited traffic, and customizable domain. It is limited to 1,000 subscribers.

The ‘Complete’ plan cost changes with the number of subscribers. Starting from $29 per month for 1,000 subscribers, up to $3,999 for 900,000 subscribers (with multiple price points in between).

GetResponse

getresponse start a newsletter

GetResponse are offering an email marketing tool with templates, easy design, and sign up forms. They also have landing page builder and they integrate with marketing and sales tools.

Pricing: Their plans change according to the number of subscribers you have. The basic plan comes with email marketing, autoresponders, landing pages and 1 sales funnel. The Plus plan comes with everything in basic plus 5 automation workflows, webinars, and more. They have a bunch of more plans, see more on their website. For 1,000 subscribers the pricing of the 2 plans are $15 and $49 accordingly. For 100,000 it jumps to $450 and $499. In between you have few more price points.

EmailOctopus

emailoctopus start a newsletter

EmailOctopus is an easy to use, affordable email marketing tool. They have around +50,000 organizations. They offer a simple drag and drop editor to help you build emails. You can also start with a pre set template. Automation, segmentation and analytics are also core features that come with this platform.

Pricing: they have 2 plans. The free plan is limited to 2500 subscribers and up to 10,000 emails per month. You’ll have EmailOctopus branding on the emails though.

The pro plan pricing scales with the business. It starts with $20 per month for 5000 subscribers and up to 50,000 per month and goes up to $950 per month for 500,000 subscribers and 5 million emails per month (of course in between you have many price points).

Read more here – a deeper review on EmailOctopus.

ActiveCampaign

Active Campaign start a newsletter

ActiveCampaign is a marketing automation solution. They have a drag and drop email designer, and also email templates you can start with. It is optimized for mobile as well.

Pricing: They actually don’t have a free plan. They have 4 plans with multiple price tiers. The “Lite” plan is the one that is relevant for newsletter creators. It starts from $15 per month for 500 contacts and unlimited sending. The price then go up – $29 for 1,000 contacts, $139 for 10,000 contacts, etc..

Sendiblue

Sendiblue start a newsletter

Sendiblue has a complete marketing and sales toolbox. What’s relevant for us newsletter writers are the email marketing, segmentation, signup forms, landing pages, and automation tools.

Pricing: The free plan comes with unlimited contacts, but up to 300 emails per day. The other 2 plans cost $25 and $65 per month and are limited to 100,000 and 1 million emails per month respectively. The first 2 plans do not include the landing page builder.

ButtonDown

buttondown start a newsletter

ButtonDown is a tool built by a creator that wrote a newsletter for years. It’s a simple tool that is great for anybody that is starting with this rather than someone who needs a robust CMS. You get a content editor, integrations with automation tools, analytics, and paid subscription capabilities.

Pricing: Start for free, then you’ll need to pay $5 per month for every 1,000 subscribers.

MailerLite

Mailerlite start a newsletter

Mailerlite lets you manage your email marketing with a drag and drop editor, newsletter templates, landing page builder, pop ups, embedded forms, automation, and more.

Pricing: Their free plan includes up to 1,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails. Then the rest of their plans come with unlimited emails, but the amount of subscribers is limited. $10, $15, $30, and $50 per month for up to 1,000, 2,500, 5,000, and 10,000 respectively.

Revue

revue start a newsletter tool

Revue is an editorial newsletter tool that lets you write, monetize your audience and also offers referral program tools for the newsletter creators. It seems that Revue customers are well established publishers.

Pricing: Revue has a free plan that is pretty limited. You can only have 50 subscribers to this plan. They also have a tier based pricing. The next plan starts with $5 per month for under 200 subscribers and gets up to $135 for under 40,000 subscribers. If you need more than that, you should reach out to request the publisher plan. All of their plans come with the possibility to add a paid version of the newsletter, which is very compelling.

Medium

Medium content writing

Medium is an online publication platform, similar to a other blogging tools. Different from all the other solutions, Medium is actually a middleman in between the creator and the subscribers. They claim to have 200 million views per month.

Pricing: Medium lets the writers us the platform for free, and pay them when readers read their articles. Medium charges the readers a monthly subscription to get access to all the articles on the platform. If you are starting out and don’t have an audience, it might be the tool for you.

Be minded that you can’t collect the subscribers details here or update your audience through Medium. You can leverage Medium’s audience and SEO ranking on Google.

Iteretta

Iteretta start a newsletter

Iteretta is a simple newsletter tool. Plans come with an easy email markdown tool, signup forms, and ethical tracking.

Pricing: pay as you go – free for 200 emails per issue sent, $5 for up to 1,000 emails, $15 for 5,000 emails, $50 for 25,000 emails, and $100 for 100,000 emails. It is not a monthly payment, rather a payment per a bundle of emails, which is pretty refreshing.

Mailchimp

Mailchimp lets you create beautiful branded emails to engage with your audience. They have a drag and drop builder, content studio (to store your images and files), marketing automation (build a customer journey – reaching the customer at the right time with the right message), and analytics.

Founded in 2001 as an email marketing tool, today they offer also landing pages and shopping landing pages (through Square).

Pricing: The free plan includes 7 marketing channels, 1-step automation, up to 2000 contacts and 10,000 emails per month. Their paid plans are calculated based on the audience. It starts from $9.99 for 500 contacts and up to $1,000 per month for 200,000 contacts.

2. How to start a great newsletter – content and format

So now that we know how to publish or where, we need to think about what to publish. Great quality content is the most important thing you should think about. It does not matter how pretty your landing page or email is if the content sucks!

First, think about the thread that connects your newsletter issues. It’s important to pick a niche subject, or a trendy topic that you have something valuable or unique to say about.

Consistency is key, If you decide to write a daily newsletter, it should appear in your subscriber’s inbox every day. Do you have enough to say in the frequency you chose? Do you have enough time to spend on writing between the issues?

Next, think about the subject line. If my inbox is full of emails, I’ll probably open yours only if I’m already familiar with the content and am thrilled about it. Otherwise, a catchy subject line might do the trick. Growth.design analyzed the reasons why Morning Brew grew to 1.5 subscribers in 5 years – they found 2 reasons MB has high open rate (~40%). The first reason is that MB are a/b testing the subject line. Recently Morning Brew shared that they send 4 batches of emails with 4 different subject lines to ~80,000 readers early in the morning. Then they pick the one that had the highest open rate and send it to the remaining 1.8M readers. The second insight they had is that Morning Brew has a nice avatar that makes them stand out from the rest of the emails.

morning brew newsletter avatar
Photo credit: growth.design

Writing tips

Newsletters are actually not that similar to one another. But there are general tips that could help any type of newsletter:

  1. Write as if you are writing to one specific person – It will help make your message more compelling, concise, and on point. You’ll notice that even the tone will change, instead of referring to your readers as a crowd, you’ll use a more conversational language.
  2. Comprehensive/focused length – Depends on your newsletter format – if it’s a curation of updates, make it brief and simple to digest and add links to a more elaborated version online. If it’s an in depth content, write it all in the newsletter, don’t send the reader elsewhere. If you stay consistent, the reader will know what to expect and will get used to the format.
  3. Formatting – Make it easy to read. Add headings, images, and divide the text into paragraphs. Use bold and italic to help guide the reader.
  4. Description – with the overload of newsletters, it might help add a one liner in the top of the newsletter with the description. “Your daily news digest”/ “You’re getting this because you subscribed to the xx newsletter to get updates on yy”.

3. How to promote your newsletter

So now that you have already decided about the topic, frequency and style of your newsletter, it might be the time to get people interested in your newsletter. You can start getting people subscribing even before you wrote a single line of text with Presubscribe.me or others.

Once you do already have a newsletter, how can you promote it and grow your subscribers list?

Social media

The easiest way to get new subscribers is to convert followers from social media to your newsletter. Start by adding the link of your newsletter to your bio. You should start sharing on social media content that is similar to the topic you are writing about in your newsletter.

Twitter threads are a great way to share your knowledge and to get it in front of many people. Twitter is probably the best tool for this – you can reach new people that are not following you at the moment, but are following people that liked or re-shared your post.

Additionally, you can come up with innovative and interesting ways to show the value of your newsletter. For example, Polina Marinova Pompliano, the founder of the newsletter ‘The Profile’ (it features the best long-form stories on people and companies) has started a game on twitter where people give her a topic and she replies with an interesting article on that specific topic. This worked out unbelievably well, getting her 1.5k likes and a lot of comments and retweets.

Other than Twitter, you can also use Reddit. On Reddit you can join relevant subreddits and publish there valuable content with a link to your newsletter (make sure the rules of the subreddit allow to share links and to self-promote). You can also search for questions that are relevant to the topic and answer them. It will most likely get you upvotes and engagement that could lead people to subscribe to your newsletter.

Finally, just try out different media outlets. You can start a podcast/ YouTube channel/ tiktok/ share on Facebook groups and more. You can write a guest post on another newsletter or blog or get someone to write a guest post in your newsletter (attracting their subscribers). See what’s working out for you.

Read more here on how to get new subscribers.

Newsletter directories

Add your newsletter to a directory of newsletters. Not only will it has a potential to attract potential readers, it might also improve the SEO of your website. There are probably more directories out there, but this is an initial list to get you started.

Referral loops

There is nothing better than getting referred to a product or a service from a trusted friend. If you add a referral program to your newsletter, it might incentivize happy subscribers to share your newsletter with their network.

There are tools you could use to build a referral program:

  1. SparkLoop – SparkLoop helps you get more subscribers in an automatic way, without coding.
  2. GrowSurf – GrowSurf is the easiest way to build a referral program into your newsletter directly. You can choose from four flexible reward types. Mix and match, or keep it simple.

4. Getting paid for writing a newsletter

Once you get to a point where you have a steady stream of followers, you might be able to monetize your newsletter and gain revenue. Before you go for it, think if you want to make this change. Moving to a paid version is putting more pressure on you. If people are paying for your writing, it means you need to produce it without excuses. Let’s say someone paid for an annual subscription for your newsletter, it means you need to work on it and deliver the newsletter for at least a year.

In case you do decide it is for you, you are ready to invest time and efforts to turn this hobby into a revenue stream, here are your options:

  1. Get a company to sponsor you – You can either approach companies in the field of your topic directly, or you can use a marketplace that connects sponsors and outlets. HypeLetter, Paved, are trying to help with this problem.
  2. Substack – as mentioned above, Substack is built to help you charge your subscribers. You can share free content with free subscribers and premium content with the paid ones.
  3. Adding a members-only content gate to your website. If you don’t want to use Substack (if you already have a website and a blog in your website), you can add a tool that will help you add user login and payment for any website. Check out Memberstack, Memberful, and MemberSpace.
  4. Affiliate Marketing – You can add links to services that offer percentage of the revenue they get from your referrals. You should disclose that this is an affiliate link in the newsletter though.
start a newsletter- getting paid

5. Community

I came for the product and stayed for the community. Building a community around your newsletter is a superpower. Not only will it attract new subscribers, it will get the existing ones to participate more and gain more out of your newsletter.

People are looking to be part of a community of like minded people. Your newsletter could be this common ground for them.

So what does a community means? You could create a slack, discord or any other messaging platform for the community to interact and get to know each other. You can do virtual or in person events where people meet or hear a lecture or get to do some sort of an activity together. Basically, anything that involves the participation of people in an activity that could bring them extra value, on top of just reading your newsletter, is great.

Read more about creating a community for your newsletter here.

6. Legal considerations

When you use email to communicate with users, you need to act according to specific regulation. GDPR will say you must get an opt-in from readers in order to send them emails. CAN-SPAM is another law with the following requirements:

  1. Don’t use false or deceptive information in the information – for instance don’t write RE: to make it look like you already had a conversation with the person before they subscribed. The domain name and email address must be accurate.
  2. Don’t use misleading subject lines – it should portray the content of the message.
  3. If your message is an ad you should clearly disclose that it’s an advertisement
  4. Include your address in the footer.
  5. Give the subscribers a way to opt-out. If they unsubscribe, make sure to not send them future emails.

Final thoughts – Starting a newsletter

There is no need to commit and go full force into this if you think you want to start a newsletter. You can dip your toes in the water, start by writing one post, see if you are enjoying the writing process. Then start to work towards gaining followers.

Having a newsletter truly does have a lot of benefits. In this guide we reviewed the benefits, tools, tips and more.

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