The 3 Basics You Need to Start an E-Mail Newsletter

“Self-expression must pass into communication for its fulfillment.” – Pearl S. Buck

Our guest bathroom boasts a herd of 327 zebras of all stripes… though there is room for more. Cuddly zebras, ceramic zebras, pencil-eraser zebras, zebra fishing lures, zebra-striped candy, zebra lithographs, fluffy zebra slippers, a zebra joke book, and zebra bath towels. Last month, I found a printed cotton cloth, the size, shape, and colors of a real zebra hide.

Collecting zebras is my wife’s hobby. Every zebra tells a story… and that’s a great place to start an e-mail newsletter.

Why would you want to start an e-newsletter? According to Michael Masterson, an e-newsletter is one of the best ways to make almost any business at least twice as valuable, to generate substantial cash flow, and to double or triple your profits. It’s also the perfect way to turn an interest or hobby into a money-making venture.

And the good news is that starting an e-newsletter is much easier than you might think. You really need only three things. (Notice that the ability to be a good writer is not one of them.) You need:

  • Something to write about
  • An audience
  • A means of transmitting what you write about to your audience

1. Finding Something to Write About

The best thing about the Internet is not that it has 1.173 billion users, but that it’s full of thousands of people who are interested in the same things you are. (Internet marketers call this pocket of similarly minded people a “niche.”) So when you’re looking for a topic for your e-newsletter, think about your own interests, your own hobbies, and your own areas of expertise. This has two benefits: First, you’ll be able to write about the topic with endless enthusiasm. Second, you’ll be able to write articles that are useful, informative, and based on your own real-life experience.

Maybe you have a knack for fixing things around the house. Each one of your newsletters could be about a different home repair.

Or perhaps you’re a keen whitewater rafter. You could write about the best destinations for rafting, plus where rafters can stay, eat, and be entertained in those locations.

Or maybe you, like my wife, are a collector who wants to share how you found each item. Every zebra my wife collected has a story behind it – a story that would be of interest to fellow collectors looking to buy other cute or quirky collectibles.

Like I said, you don’t have to be a stellar writer to write an e-newsletter. You might find that it’s easier to just “talk” your way through each issue by using a rough outline of what you want to say and a tape recorder. Or jot down some questions that would open up an interesting conversation about your topic, and have someone “interview” you – in person or on the phone. (“David, tell us the three best clam chowder restaurants on the Oregon Coast for people on a migratory whale-watching trip.”) You can even “interview” yourself.

Transcribe the recording yourself or have it transcribed by a service like, and use that as the copy for your newsletter. Once you get into the swing of talking into a recorder about a topic you love and are knowledgeable about, you’ll forget you ever had writer’s block.

Another way to come up with content for your e-newsletter is to review things other people have written. You could summarize interesting articles in your own words, publish excerpts (which is legal for review purposes), and comment on them.

Whatever means you use, make sure that your e-newsletter offers your subscribers something useful, interesting, insightful, relevant, or timely. Tell a good story that captivates their attention.

2. Finding an Audience

Remember those 1.173 billion Internet users out there? Among them is your audience. People are out there in cyberspace, excited to read about the topic you want to talk about. But it’s up to you to find them.

Possibly the best way to find readers and build your list of subscribers is to do some search engine marketing.

First, you or your Web designer should create a small webpage – or “landing page” – that explains the benefits of reading your newsletter. Make sure you include a sign-up form that allows you to “capture” the names and e-mail addresses of people who are interested.

Next, you need to set up a pay-per-click (PPC) ad campaign with some of the major search engines. This means you buy keywords (on Google or Yahoo) that are related to your topic. Then you create a small ad that offers a free report full of useful, actionable information. When people search for the keywords you’ve purchased, they’ll have the chance to see your ad. Once they click on your ad, they’ll be routed to the landing page you set up earlier.

There are also plenty of ways to get the word out about your e-newsletter for free. Make sure you’ve got a small ad for it on the back of your business card, on your voicemail message, and at the bottom of your e-mails. Tell other enthusiasts about your e-newsletter and ask them to share it with their friends. Newspapers and television news programs love local stories, so come up with an interesting angle about your newsletter that will capture the public’s attention AND get you some free publicity. (Who knows, you may even find yourself with national media attention!) Learn how to write a press release and try some of the online media distribution channels (such as PR Wire).

If you currently have a brick-and-mortar business, you can start a subscriber list with your current customers. Ask them for their e-mail addresses when they make a purchase, and you’ll have a ready-made list of people who’ll likely be interested in your newsletter.

If you have a small, highly responsive list, you can make a very comfortable living from a small Internet business without incurring a large overhead. I know of newsletter publishers with a few thousand e-mail names on their lists who run online businesses from a spare room in their home that generate profits of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

3. Getting the Message Out

You’ve got something to write about and a group of people eager to read what you have to say. Now, all you need is a way to connect the two.

Although it’s possible to send out your e-mail newsletter through your regular e-mail program, I don’t recommend it. Many years ago, a Swedish client of mine sent out an investment newsletter with an attached Adobe Acrobat file to 10,000 subscribers every day from his personal computer. At one point, it was taking him until the next afternoon to get all the e-mails out and the bounced e-mails back.

A better way – and the way I’d suggest if you want to get started immediately – is to use one of the e-mail service providers available on the Internet. These include Get Response, AWeber, and 1Shoppingcart, and should set you back less than $30 a month. They provide all the features you’ll need: being able to add subscribers (including letting people add themselves through auto-generated sign-up forms you can put on your website), creating newsletters with pre-designed templates, and tracking who opens your e-mails or clicks on your links (which is useful to measure which readers are more responsive to your offers).

Don’t Just Say Something – Sell Something

You now have all the information you need to start publishing your own e-mail newsletter. But there’s one important thing you must remember: It’s easy to get immersed in writing about a topic you enjoy. But unless you want your newsletter to be nothing but a hobby, you’ll want to find ways to “monetize” it – generate income from it.

You can create your own information products – e-books, special reports, teleseminars, and more – and sell those to your e-newsletter subscribers. This is the easiest and most cost-effective type of product you can sell, because you can create it yourself and deliver it digitally.

But you can also sell practically anything else that might appeal to your subscribers. If you are a yoga expert, you can sell yoga equipment. If you’re a gourmet chef, you can sell homemade biscotti. If, like my wife, you’re a zebra collector, you can sell porcelain figurines.

If you don’t want to make or ship these products yourself, you can find a supplier who offers drop-shipping. (You take the order and payment, and they send the product directly to your customer.) This is a great way to make money online without having to tie yourself up with inventory.

[Ed. Note: David Cross is Senior Internet Consultant to Agora Publishing in Baltimore. Get more practical techniques for publishing and monetizing your e-mail newsletter this October at ETR’s Info Marketing Bootcamp: Making a Fast Fortune on the “Other Side” of the Internet. And learn more money-saving, time-saving, business-building Internet marketing techniques from some of the world’s top business-building experts.]