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How to Create a Newsletter

Digital Library > Building and Inspiring an Organization > Written communication “How to Create a Newsletter”

A newsletter is a promotional tool that provides businesses with an opportunity to enhance their image while increasing sales. It can be two sheets stapled together or eight glossy pages that resemble a magazine. Can it be an appropriate tool for your business growth&#63n

WHAT TO EXPECT

A newsletter is a promotional tool that provides businesses with an opportunity to enhance their image while increasing sales. This Business Builder takes you through the steps of creating a newsletter that will generate these positive results for you.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE GETTING STARTED [top]

What is a Newsletter?

A newsletter can be two sheets stapled together or eight glossy pages that resemble a magazine. The purpose of a newsletter is to provide highly specialized information to a highly targeted audience. Today, there are newsletters for virtually every industry and profession.

How is a Newsletter Different From a Trade Publication?

A magazine that provides specialized information to an industry, market, or profession is called a trade publication. A newsletter is similar to a trade magazine in that it provides specialized information. However, a trade magazine is typically longer and has a more complex design than a newsletter and takes a longer time to produce. On the other hand, the information provided in a newsletter produced frequently (once a month or bi-monthly) is considered more timely and up-to-the-minute.

Types of Newsletters

Generally speaking, there are two primary types of newsletters:

    Paid Subscription — this type of newsletter is produced by a publishing company and sold via subscription, like a magazine.

    Promotional — a promotional, or client, newsletter is used for public relations purposes.

A promotional newsletter is free or offered as a premium. A premium is anything used as an incentive to motivate buyers to respond to an offer made via a direct mail piece or an advertisement. An example might be, "Order today and you’ll receive a subscription to Printer’s Press newsletter free for one year!" A promotional newsletter, because it’s free, can make sales pitches to prospective customers and can freely promote your business or product. A paid newsletter however, must not use its editorial content to blatantly promote products or businesses. It must provide unbiased, objective information.

How Can a Promotional Newsletter Help My Business?

A promotional newsletter can help you build credibility and enhance your image with potential and existing customers. By providing useful information in a professional format, your readers will perceive you as a knowledgeable person in your field. They will also appreciate any information that can be helpful and/or save them money.

For example, suppose you own an auto dealership, and you produce a newsletter for new car buyers. You can provide valuable information to your customers on how to maintain their new cars, advice on how to know if there’s serious engine problem, and how much they should be paying for simple repairs.

Your customers will appreciate the fact that you still care about them after they’ve made their automobile purchase. This positively reinforces your image. Your customers will feel that you must really care about their needs if you’re taking the time to provide them with free and helpful information. This builds your credibility. This is important for you to do because the time will come when your customers will require a major repair or want to buy another car, and you’ll want them to come to you instead of one of your competitors.

Creating a newsletter is an excellent way for any business to stay in touch with customers — whether to remind them of your product or service or to let them know about new or enhanced products or services. You don’t always have time to talk to or personally visit your customers on a regular basis. A newsletter is an effective tool you can employ to bridge the time and location gap. It sends customers the message that you know they’re out there, you’re thinking of them, and you appreciate their business.

CREATING YOUR NEWSLETTER [top]

Creation of your newsletter will follow four stages.

The two stages requiring the most effort are:

  • Planning and
  • Designing.

The remaining stages, once your newsletter is put together, are not as complex and, therefore, less time-consuming:

  • Editing and
  • Printing.

Planning a Newsletter

Producing your newsletter, especially the first issue, will require a significant commitment of time on your part. It’s important to remember that each subsequent issue will be much simpler and faster to produce. You will need to address the following issues during this stage:

Decide on who should receive your newsletter.

Anyone who might benefit by or appreciate the information it contains or who might be motivated to purchase your product or service after reading it should receive your newsletter. This would include:

  • Current customers. Those businesses or individuals currently purchasing your product or service.
  • Former customers. Those businesses or individuals who used to purchase your product but no longer do so.
  • New prospects. Those businesses or individuals who might be likely to use your product or service now.
  • Old prospects. Those businesses or individuals in the past you thought might have been candidates to use your product or service.

Anyone with whom you want to maintain a good image should also receive your newsletter. This would include:

  • Vendors. Other businesses that provide you with a product or service.
  • Financial backers. Those who invest or might invest in your business.
  • Colleagues. Those who work in your industry or business area.
  • Editors at trade publications. They might read your newsletter and decide to include some of the information from it in their publication. This will give you free exposure to your market.

Begin Building Your Mailing List

You have many sources for building your mailing list:

  • Ask your sales representatives to provide you with current and former customers as well as current and former prospects.
  • Include anyone who routinely inquires about your product. This would include anyone who phones or writes requesting additional information about your product.
  • Collect business cards at trade shows. This is a great opportunity to build your list of prospects. Make a sign that says: "To receive your free, one-year subscription to our newsletter, drop your business card or fill out a form."
  • Get names of editors at trade publications from your PR person or go to the library and research these publications. The names of editors are listed inside the magazine.
  • Buy a mailing list. Through your local yellow pages, locate companies that specialize in creating mailing lists. Or, contact your professional trade association and inquire about the cost of purchasing their mailing list. Trade magazines often sell their subscriber list as well.

Remember to carefully target your market so your mailing list represents those individuals who are most likely to purchase your product or service.

Determine Your Budget

Early on in the planning process, you’ll need to establish a budget from which to work. A preliminary estimate of a budget will drive other key decisions you’ll make regarding your newsletter. For instance, the size of your budget will impact:

  • The number of people you will send it to — also known as your circulation.
  • The frequency that you publish your newsletter.
  • Whether you purchase mailing lists, lease them, or construct your own.
  • The resources available to you for designing, laying out, printing, and mailing your newsletter. If you have a modest budget, you may not be able to afford professional assistance in these areas.
  • The type of paper stock you use and whether you can incorporate color.
  • The method in which you mail your newsletter — first class, bulk, etc.
  • Whether you charge for your newsletter and how much.

Determine How Often You Will Produce Your Newsletter

You may have enough material to fill a newsletter once a month or once every three months. But material or not, you need to assess the time you can devote to producing the newsletter. Only you can realistically evaluate how much material and time you have to devote to creating your newsletter. As a rule of thumb, four times a year is a minimum. Why? In order for your newsletter to fulfill the goals of enhanced image and increased sales, it needs to be a consistent information vehicle. You want your readers to be familiar with it when it arrives in the mail. Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall mailings will establish its regularity, and your readers will come to look forward to its arrival in the mail. Producing your publication less than four times a year will not be an effective use of this promotional vehicle.

Now, take a few moments to determine your newsletter’s frequency. Don’t forget to factor in the time constraints on you.

Decide on the Content of Your Newsletter

There are two primary ways to generate the content of your newsletter:

  • Reuse existing material. The benefit of a promotional newsletter is that you can virtually reprint other existing written materials such as speeches, press releases, company backgrounds, and annual reports. Call the appropriate trade associations to inquire about information that they can provide. Contact specific companies yourself and have them send you their press releases. Investigate computer on-line services like CompuServe, America Online, and the Internet. There is a wealth of information that these services provide. Also, utilize your local reference librarian. She can show you the vast amount of resources available to you at your local library. In some cases you may have to get approval from an author to reprint a story. In other cases, proper sourcing will suffice, but it’s best to check with the source first. Make a list of written material you have right now that you can use to create your content:

  • Develop and write your own articles. There are many kinds of stories and articles you can use to fill your newsletter and make it a valuable and interesting source of information for your customers and potential customers. You may also solicit articles from colleagues. This is good PR for them, as well. It’s important to remember that while you want to promote your business or product, you need to make your newsletter worthwhile enough so that it doesn’t appear to be a long advertisement.

Consider the following in generating ideas for your newsletter’s content:

Product stories — these stories focus on what’s new about a product whether it’s the product itself, a new feature, a new technology, new improvements. For example, as an innovative electronics supplier, you could write a story about a new miniature CD player that can be worn on a consumer’s wrist.

Company News — this kind of story offers information and insight on relevant company matters such as mergers, significant plant improvements, new divisions or expansions planned. An article on your new 13,000 square foot distribution center would make an excellent news story. This would illustrate to your readers that your company is growing and expanding. Financial information such as sales figures, earnings, and dividends is also interesting to your readers.

Industry News — noting trends, making predictions, or analyzing events within an industry or profession are samples of this kind of story. A lawyer specializing in taxes, for example, might generate an article about how changing tax laws will mean more small businesses will need the expertise of lawyers in the upcoming year.

Advice — write an article providing tips to your customers that will help them do their jobs better or save them money — "10 Ways to Lower Your Heating Bill" or "How To Make Your Meetings More Productive." Encourage your readers to write in with questions that you can address in future issues.

Company Milestones — anniversaries, a million dollar sales mark, and sales goals reached are examples of this type of article.

People Profiles and Interviews — feature industry leaders key employees, top customers, and/or vendors. You can ask them questions and write down their answers, provide biographical information, and career highlights.

Opinions — an article in which a person expresses their opinions or ideas can be an interesting addition to your publication. For example, you can discuss how new government regulations will hurt everyone in your industry. Or, you can provide a forum for a government official to tell your readers why new regulations are needed. Or, you can invite your industry’s trade association president to make a statement or express their views.

Book Reviews — highlight or critique new books of interest to those in your profession or industry. You may do this yourself, have colleagues write them, or contact trade associations for their assistance. You can also call the author or publisher directly for their suggestions.

Success Stories — describe how a customer overcame an obstacle by using your product or how the company overcame an obstacle in manufacturing, production, or sales. This kind of article is a dynamic sales tool because you’re not only giving your readers real advice on how to overcome a similar problem, but you’re giving yourself a customer endorsement and testimonial.

Community Relations — if your company sponsors a local arts program or participates in a fundraising event, be sure to write about it. This communicates that you’re socially active within your community.

A Message From the President — the president or business owner can write a letter to all customers emphasizing how their patronage is valued or thanking them for their continued support.

As you’re deciding on your newsletter’s content, remember your articles won’t be very long. The length of a short, one column news story (vs. a feature) in a newspaper is about the length you want. It’s better to have an excess of ideas than not enough. Having a surplus will give you a head start for planning your second issue.

Next, determine who will write the stories for your newsletter. If writing isn’t your favorite task or if you don’t have the time, you may want to consider hiring a freelance writer to help you write your stories. If you are going to use a freelance writer, you will need to provide that person with all of the information they will need to write each article. This would include the names of people to interview and their telephone numbers, plus extensive product and company information.

Each of your articles requires a short headline to indicate what each story is about. Newsletter headlines have to be shorter than newspaper and magazine headlines because of space limitations. Article headlines must entice people into reading the story to make them compelling. You have to convince your readers that the information in the article is worth reading. Headlines must instantly communicate what the reader will get out of reading a particular article. The most effective headlines appeal to some human emotion by illustrating what the reader will gain. Saving money or time, being properly informed, having status among peers — these are all common headline themes because they appeal to human emotions. Some examples of effective headlines are:

New Product Can Save You $$$ vs. New Product
No Price Increases For ’94! vs. Same Prices
Customer Of The Year! vs. John Smith
New Industry Regulations Will Cost You vs. New Industry Regulations

If you establish regular column features such as a message or letter from the company president or an advice column based on reader inquiries, the column name would become the primary headline — "From The Top" or "Quick Tips."

If you have a four page newsletter, pick one article idea and make that your feature or lead article. This article will be longer than the other articles and provide more in-depth information. This feature article will typically begin on your first page, comprise about 1/3 of the first page’s space, and then continue on another page. If you have six or eight pages, you may want a second feature article which would also begin on the first page and continue later on in your newsletter. The idea you that you think your readers will find most interesting or helpful should be your feature article.

Designing a Newsletter

Now that you have your articles written, it’s time to put them into a newsletter form. This is called layout — literally laying the text into the newsletter format. Layout is the most fundamental aspect of the design process. You must get it down on paper before you know how it’s going to look and fit. It’s quite acceptable for your newsletter to have a simple design. Remember, you’re trying to increase awareness of your product or business so the key design element is consistency. From issue to issue the look and layout should be the same so readers will come to recognize and expect it.

Do you need to hire a designer? Thanks to the proliferation of desktop publishing programs, the answer may likely be no. Today’s desktop software programs make designing a newsletter a fairly simple (and even fun) process. If you are seriously committed to the idea of publishing a newsletter it may be more cost-effective in the long run to consider purchasing one of these programs. There are many excellent software packages available now on the market. Because the technology is changing so rapidly, it’s best to consult your local software supplier for advice on the program that’s right for your needs and computer capability.

The look and general content of your newsletter will probably not be totally established with the first issue. Don’t worry. Usually after the third or fourth issue, you will have a better idea of how your newsletter will appear, how much space you have, where the regular columns will appear. Give your newsletter a chance to evolve. If you feel that you’re still having trouble establishing the look and image of your newsletter after the fourth issue, you may want to consider consulting a professional designer for guidance.

Following are the Design Elements Critical to Your Newsletter

  • Nameplate. Probably the most important design feature of your newsletter is your nameplate. This is your newsletter’s name, or title, which appears as a banner running across the top first page of your newsletter. It’s the most important design element because it does the most to establish your publication’s identity with your readers. Because a nameplate will typically take up as many as three inches of space on the front page, it’s a very pronounced feature as well.

    the Prescription Pad

    GREEN THUMB

    AUTO

    UPDATE

    Your newsletter’s nameplate shouldn’t be your company or product name. The title of your newsletter may incorporate your product or service, but should expand upon it to give the impression that it’s a legitimate information source, like a newspaper or trade magazine. Express, Times, Tribune, News — these are all words associated with newspapers and common names used in creating newsletter nameplates. For example, if your business was "Printer’s Press," your newsletter could have a title like "PRINTER’S PRESS EXPRESS."

    Another option is to use a name that isn’t directly associated with your product or service, such as NEWSLINE, INSIDE PRINTING, TODAY’S PRINTING INNOVATIONS. You would then use a subhead — a headline in smaller type — to indicate more specifically your company or product name or to indicate who the newsletter is intended for. Possible examples might be:

    Solutions: The Legal Information Source For Small Business Owners

    INSIDE PRINTINGHANDS-ON INFORMATION FOR USERS OF MICRO PRESS 2000

    Also, your nameplate should include the date and issue number underneath the title/subhead. For example:

    INSIDE PRINTINGSPRING 2002  Hands-On Information For Users of Micropress 2000  ISSUE 8

  • Layout. The standard newsletter layout is three columns, though it can be two. A more advanced layout is a split page, where the top may have two columns and the bottom has one. You can also have boxes within columns to split them up. The complexity of your layout depends on your software and your own capabilities.

    Your feature article for any given issue should appear in the first column since it will get the most attention in this space. Try to decide what your regular monthly features will be from your first issue so you can establish their placement immediately. For example, A "how-to" column can appear in a box in the bottom right-hand corner of the first page. Reader’s letters can appear on the second page of every issue. A customer profile can always appear on the third page in the first column. Remember, the idea is to establish consistency.

  • Paper. You should choose a paper, maybe a 20 pound bond, that has some weight and texture to it. It should be white or lightly colored. If you can afford to have it printed in two colors, then do so. Utilizing two colors might mean that your nameplate and your article headlines would be set in a color, and your text would be in black ink. Two colors may likely give your newsletter a more professional and sophisticated look.
  • Typestyles. You should choose one typestyle, or font, and stick with it. Experiment with the typestyles included in your software program. Choose a font that is easy to read. There are two types of font — serif and sans serif. Serif type is usually used for your body text since it is the easiest to read. Common serif fonts include Courier, Times, Times Roman, Bookman. Sans serif fonts are typically used with headlines and subheads. Common sans serif fonts include Helvetica, Avant Garde, Geneva. Your headline will typically be in larger type, usually 18 to 24 points. Don’t use too many different sizes, and don’t make the style you choose too small. Within your text you’ll want to italicize and bold only when you really want to emphasize a point. Avoid strings of text with all capital letters. They tend to be difficult to read.
  • Visuals. Illustrations and photographs will enhance the appearance of your newsletter. Most desktop publishing programs will include graphic illustrations that you can easily insert into your text. To give your newsletter a more sophisticated appearance, however, you may want to use photographs. Photographs are especially appropriate to accompany articles spotlighting or featuring people. If you don’t have the ability or equipment to scan photographs by computer, you can supply your local printer with the original photograph, and they can place it into your newsletter. If you’re printing your newsletter using your own office equipment (which you should do only if it delivers good copy quality), don’t include photographs. Photocopies of photographs are poor reproductions and will give your newsletter an unprofessional appearance. Use your judgment on the type and amount of visuals to use. Visuals can be excellent fillers, but don’t go overboard. Remember, your newsletter’s value is in its content, not artistic appeal.
  • White space. Don’t ever try to insert too much text into your newsletter so that you’re not allowing for any areas of white, or empty, space. Even if the information is interesting to the reader, you run the risk that the reader won’t read the article at all. Save the surplus information for your next newsletter, and make sure you have enough white space around your nameplate. The impact of your nameplate will be greater if it’s set apart from the rest of your text. You want the name of your newsletter to be easily read.

When text is laid out in columns, it will be difficult to read if there’s not enough space between each block of text. The wider the columns, the wider the space allowance between them should be.

So once you have your text all laid out into a proper format, what do you do if there’s too much white space? It’s as problematic to have giant gaps of white space as it is to have too much text squeezed together. If you find you need space fillers, try making your type a point size larger. Or, insert a quotation by a well-known person. You might enclose it in a shaded text box to make it stand out from the rest of your text. Also, trivia quizzes and motivational quotes are another fun way to fill small areas of space.

Proofreading Your Newsletter

Once you have completed the text, and it’s laid out in your computer or on paper, you should make copies and proof it. A trick of the trade is to proof your copy by reading it backwards. This forces you to read each work separately, rather than scanning groups of words as you might do in reading. Another rule you should always follow after you’ve proofed your own work is to have at least one other person review the copy. It simply isn’t realistic to think you can catch all of your own mistakes. Errors in your text will diminish all the good work you’ve done on your newsletter, so try to catch them all.

Printing Your Newsletter

If you’re creating your newsletter on your own computer, don’t output it unless you have a printer that delivers excellent print quality, such as a laser printer. If you don’t own a high quality printer, then consider leaving your newsletter on a floppy disk and take it to a reputable printer. It may cost a little more for a printer to reproduce it, but the result may well be worth it.

Three-hole punching your newsletter before it’s mailed will encourage recipients to save the back issues in a three-ring binder. You can send the premier issue to your current or potential key accounts in a binder with a personal letter stating that you hope they will find the information valuable.

Some Thoughts on Mailing Your Newsletter

Newsletters can be mailed in envelopes or as self-mailing pieces. If you use an envelope, a 9 x 12 inch is preferable because it will allow you to mail it flat. If you use a regular business envelope, you’ll have to fold your newsletter which can make less of an impression than sending it flat. If you mail it as a self-mailing piece, you must allow room on the outer back page for the label and postage. Self-mailers will save you the cost of envelopes and maybe some postage, but it can make designing your newsletter more complicated and will force you to fold your newsletter.

Mailing costs will vary depending on the amount of pages of your publication and the weight of your paper stock. It’s best to consult your local post office for rates and information. Also, if your circulation is large, you may want to investigate utilizing a mail house to send out your newsletter. There are those that cater to small businesses so their fees are reasonable. Check with local printers. They may have some suggestions. Or refer to your yellow pages for mail houses in your area.

Other Uses for Your Newsletter

Producing a newsletter for the first time represents a significant commitment of time and energy. Make sure you utilize this resource as a selling tool whenever possible:

  • Hand out issues when you make presentations or speeches, conduct seminars, or attend trade shows.
  • Offer back issues to new subscribers. Record the content of every issue you produce on an information sheet. Update it and send it to new subscribers. They may find something useful and contact you for more information.
  • Offer a sample copy when you send out a press release.
  • Provide copies to your sales representatives to leave with new or existing clients.

CHECKLIST [top]

Plan

___ Determine who will receive your newsletter.

___ Build your mailing list.

___ Determine frequency.

___ Decide on the length that’s best for you.

___ Generate the content of your newsletter.

___ Write your articles.

Design

___ Determine if you need to hire a professional designer or purchase a desktop publishing software program.

___ Develop your nameplate.

___ Decide on layout.

___ Choose your paper.

___ Choose a typestyle.

___ Implement visuals such as illustrations and photographs.

___ Make sure there’s enough white space.

Proofread

___ Read your copy in reverse.

___ Have another person proof your copy.

Print

___ Determine the best source for output and reproduction.

Mail

___ Obtain cost estimates from the post office.

___ Determine the method for mailing.

RESOURCES [top]

Books

The Publicity Handbook: How to Maximize Publicity for Products, Services, and Organizations by David R. Yale. (NTC Business Books, 1991).

The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells by Robert W. Bly. (Henry Holt, 1990).

Public Relations Writings: The Essentials of Style and Format, 4th edition, by Thomas H. Bivins. (McGraw-Hill, 1999).

Looking Good in Print, 4th ed. by Roger C. Parker. (The Coriolis Group, 1998).

Professional Associations for Freelance Writers:

International Association of Business Communicators

Public Relations Society of America

Writer: Susan MaGee

All rights reserved. The text of this publication, or any part thereof, may not be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher.

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