7 Steps to Create a Newsletter That Drives Results

A newsletter is an excellent way to market directly to both your current and prospective customer base. Newsletters are typically designed to either drive sales, acquire new customers, nurture existing ones, or increase engagement with your brand.

Here’s a step-by-step approach for how to make a newsletter and use it to bolster your business.

1. Define the strategy you should use.
  • Do you need a newsletter?
    Probably. But the first question to answer before you jump in is why. What are you specifically trying to accomplish with your email newsletter to your customers? There are a number of different end goals, each requiring a different strategy and mindset.

  • What type of newsletter will you use?
    Here are the most effective types of marketing email:

    • Email newsletters
      Regular, subscription-based newsletters are great if you have a consistent parade of stuff going on every month. That means things like events, marquee pieces of content, or regular promotions. A dog supply shop, for example, might send out a newsletter containing a sign-up for its upcoming leash-training workshop, a link to its latest video on how to stop chewing, and information on a blow-out collar sale.

    • Digest email
      If you’re going whole hog on your content marketing strategy — that is, you’re publishing multiple pieces on your blog and elsewhere each month — a digest email is something you should get going. A digest newsletter is a place to round up and then distribute your most popular pieces of recent content. (You can figure this out by looking at your blog traffic via Google Analytics or through your social media engagement metrics.) It’s an extremely effective way to ensure regular (and relevant) touch points with your follower base. Here’s an example of Square’s Best of Blog email:
      Square's Best of Blog email

    • One-off email
      Having a massive holiday sale? Hosting a special event? Introducing an exciting new product line? Cornerstone initiatives like these probably deserve a dedicated email. But be selective about how to leverage these. Only reserve dedicated email for the big whammies. Too much email about stuff going on at your shop is going to land you a slew of unsubscribes.

    • Action email
      This is email that includes a specific, front-and-center CTA (call to action) button like “Buy Now,” “Reserve Yours,” “Sign Up,” or “RSVP.” It’s typically short and sweet. The point is to get people to click through and complete an action.

    • (A word about RSS feeds)
      RSS feeds (which display a list of the most recent content on your website) are pretty antiquated. (Google, in fact, closed down Google Reader in 2013). Email newsletters (and also social media) are now a far more effective way to distribute your content.

  • Email capturing versus customer nurturing
    Newsletters typically have one of two end goals: new customer/lead acquisition or engagement with existing customers/leads.

    You capture someone’s email with the hopes that you can turn that person into a customer. There are several ways to add more email addresses to your newsletter list.

    The first (and the most obvious) is to collect new customer email addresses at the register (either in the store or out at an event). Square’s email marketing software automatically does the former for you because it’s linked up to your Square POS.

    The second way is through outbound marketing. You could partner with another company and do a content swap on its blog, newsletter, or social media channels, for example. However, you often see a better return if you put some marketing dollars behind these efforts, either through a paid sponsorship or boosted social media posts.

    Nurturing newsletters are the ones you send to people who are either already your customers or have expressed interest in your business. The goal of these newsletters (like digests, happy birthday offers, special invites, etc.) are to reengage people with your business.

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2. Create and gather your content.

After you nail down the type of email you’d like to create (as well as its goal), get to work gathering the assets.

Writing the copy is the best place to start. When crafting your copy, always keep the end goal of your newsletter in mind. If it’s an action email, you want to get to the point quickly, guiding people to the CTA immediately. If it’s a blog or digest email, create an enticing headline for each piece of content, as well as a snappy description of the articles or videos.

You want to reveal just enough so people know what it’s about, but hide just enough to get them to click.

Images are also a crucial component of newsletters. Text-only email can be pretty drab. Include eye-catching visuals for each piece of content if you’re doing a digest or engagement newsletter. For action email, make sure your CTA button pops so recipients don’t miss it.

3. Find a design template.

Software with professional, ready-to-go templates (like Square Email Marketing) is a must, especially for small businesses just beginning their email marketing efforts. Without a professional designer, it can be a time-consuming endeavor to whip up a polished-looking email from scratch.

With any design or template, however, it’s standard practice to use something called “alt text” when you’re including images. This is text that appears when the image doesn’t load on someone’s device — a common occurrence in places with weak Wi-Fi or if the recipient has settings that block images in email. Alt text lets people who can’t see the image know what it’s all about.

Quick pro tip: Square Email Marketing also provides ready-to-use templates for newsletters.

4. Personalize your email newsletter.

Many studies have shown that personalized messaging increases the effectiveness of email and other marketing channels. That’s why it’s a small business trend worth investing in this year. Here’s how to get started:

  • Segment your customer list
    To give your newsletter the best chance of resonating with your audience (thereby increasing your ROI), you need to segment your customer list, dividing people into buckets based on their demographic or purchasing behavior. Square Email Marketing, for example, segments your list into loyal, casual, and lapsed customers. That means you can target a campaign with one set of copy to your regulars, and another for those you haven’t seen in awhile.

  • Personalization tokens
    Your newsletter stands apart from the pack if you personalize it. One common way to do this is to greet the customer by name either in the subject line or in the body of the email. (A 2014 Science of Email Marketing Report found that just first-name personalization increases your clickthrough rate from about 5.8 percent to about 7 percent). Most email marketing tools contain a feature that allows you to pull customers’ first names as part of your sends.

    You might also consider personalizing the sender of the email. It can be effective for the newsletter to come from someone specific at the company, rather than the company itself.

  • Smart content
    Automated newsletters are an excellent way to nurture customers and scale your newsletter program. They tend to get high engagement as well. Automated happy birthday messages containing a special offer sent through Square Email Marketing, for example, have nearly twice the clickthrough rate as normal blast campaigns.

5. Make it easy for people to unsubscribe.

Don’t take it personally — as compelling as your content may be, there’s always going to be someone who wants to unsubscribe from your newsletters. (Though if you have an extremely high unsubscribe rate, that is something to dig into and fix.)

Unfortunately, you have to make it easy for people to opt out. If it’s difficult for people to unsubscribe from your newsletters, you’re going to get a lot of complaints. If it’s impossible, that’s against the law (see below).

6. Make it legally compliant.

There are a variety of legal rules you need to follow when sending newsletters to customers. Before you begin your efforts, familiarize yourself with the FTC’s CAN-SPAM Act, which clearly lays out the legal dos and don’ts of email marketing. If you have more questions, talk to your lawyer.

7. Test in mail clients and phones.

Do a few test runs before you deploy your newsletter into the wild. Make sure to test how it looks in different mail clients and especially on mobile devices, where the majority of email is now opened. If something is wonky, it reflects poorly on your brand (and probably gets you some unsubscribes).

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