How to Start and Grow a Newsletter: 11 Tips

A newsletter is an excellent way to market directly to both your current and prospective customer base. Newsletters are typically designed to drive sales, acquire new customers, nurture existing ones, or increase engagement with your brand. Done right, newsletters will ultimately help you build stronger relationships with your customers and better connect them with your products or services.

“We send out a weekly newsletter with Square Marketing, letting our customers know about new beers that are coming out, new breweries that are opening, or events that are happening nearby,” says Dieter Seelig, owner of New York bar and bottle shop Craft + Carry. “Being able to let customers know that some awesome new beers are coming out near them, they tend to run in as soon as they get those emails. It’s a great way to keep in touch.”

By alerting customers of promotions and new beers on their menu, they’re able to stay top of mind with customers and generate continued demand.

“We’ve seen as much as $5,000 in sales, just from a single marketing email,” Seelig says.

Read more: How This NY Bottle Shop Grew Its Loyalty Program

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

1. Define your strategy.

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 different end goals, each requiring a different strategy and mindset.

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 hope that you can turn that person into a customer. There are several ways to add more email addresses to your newsletter list.

  • The first 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 their 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.
  • The third is to have customers opt in when they are on your website. Entice customers with a discount in return for subscribing to not only capture their email, but to also lower the barrier to a first purchase.

Nurturing newsletters are sent 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.) is to re-engage people with your business.

Next, decide what kind of newsletter you want to send. Here re some options:

Newsy newsletters

Regular, subscription-based newsletters are great if you have consistent updates. That means things like events, marquee pieces of content, regular promotions, or new products. 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. Meanwhile, a craft beer bar could send out weekly newsletters with their latest batch of hard-to-find brews or new branded merch.

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.

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 an 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.

2. Avoid the junk folder by giving your readers value.

Don’t send a newsletter just to send a newsletter. Think about what topics your readers value. If you’re telling a story about your business, think about why you’re sharing it and how it’s relevant to your readers. If you’re alerting them about an event, tell them what they’ll get out of the event. Lead with the benefits of whatever you are sharing. The more readers engage with your email, the less likely it is to be flagged as spam or stuck forever in Gmail’s oft-ignored “promotions” folder.

3. 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 emails, make sure your CTA button pops so recipients don’t miss it.

4. Capture attention with your subject line.

Inboxes are a noisy place, so you have to find a way to get customers’ attention. After all, if people don’t even open the email, there’s no hope of them clicking any content. Consider pithy and fun subject lines, use eye-catching emojis when appropriate, and include compelling information that makes a customer want to learn more. For example, if you’re doing a giveaway, include “GIVEAWAY” or “FREE” right at the beginning of the subject line. If you’re sharing a story about your business in the newsletter, reveal an interesting tidbit in the subject line. Compose your subject line in a way similar to how you’d compose a tweet — but even shorter. Ideally, you want the length to be 60 characters or less so readers see the whole subject line.

5. Find a design template.

Software with professional, ready-to-go templates (like Square 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.

Read more: Introduction to Basic Email Design

Newsletter template

With any design or template, make sure you include “alt text” when you’re adding 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.

6. 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% to about 7%.) 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 more than twice the click-through rate as normal blast campaigns.

7. Set an email cadence — and be realistic.

Have a regular cadence for sending out your newsletters, so that your readers learn to expect it. Be realistic about what you can really commit to. It’s fine to start once a month, and then increase the frequency down the line. You can also send one-off emails here and there, like if you are having a sale or throwing a special event. Avoid sending emails more than once a week on a regular basis, as that can feel heavy-handed and decrease your open rate if they go ignored.

8. 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).

9. 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.

10. Test various mail clients and devices.

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).

11. Track what’s working.

Keep track of which newsletters have high open rates and look for patterns to see how your customers are engaging. Ideally, you want an open rate of 15% to 25%. With Square’s email marketing software, you can see not only how many people opened your email and how many clicked to learn more, but also how many made purchases as a result.

Are there certain subject lines that work well? Are there topics your customers are more interested in? Not only can looking at these cues help you figure out your newsletter strategy, but it can inform your overall marketing strategy. For example, if you sell healthy meal kits and you find higher open and clickthrough rates when you share ingredient stories versus when you talk about health benefits, you know what messaging is resonating with consumers.

If you consistently have low open rates, reconsider the subject lines and your opt-in tactics.

A newsletter is an excellent way to market directly to both your current and prospective customer base. Newsletters are typically designed to drive sales, acquire new customers, nurture existing ones, or increase engagement with your brand. Done right, newsletters will ultimately help you build stronger relationships with your customers and better connect them with your products or services.

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

1. Define your strategy.

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 different end goals, each requiring a different strategy and mindset.

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 hope that you can turn that person into a customer. There are several ways to add more email addresses to your newsletter list.
The first is to collect new customer email addresses at the register (either in the store or out at an event).It’s convenient if you can do this with your Square POS.

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

The third is to have customers opt in when they are on your website. Entice customers with a discount in return for subscribing to not only capture their email, but to also lower the barrier to a first purchase.

Nurturing newsletters are sent 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.) is to re-engage people with your business.
Next, decide what kind of newsletter you want to send. Here are some options:

Newsy newsletters.

Standard, subscription-based newsletters are great if you have consistent updates. That means things like events, marquee pieces of content, regular promotions, or new products. A dog supply shop, for example, might send out a newsletter containing a sign-up for its upcoming lead-training workshop, a link to its latest video on how to stop chewing, and information on a blow-out collar sale. Meanwhile, a craft beer bar could send out weekly newsletters with their latest batch of hard-to-find brews or new branded merch.

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.

One-off email.

Having a massive seasonal 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 an 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.

2. Avoid the junk folder by giving your readers value.

Don’t send a newsletter just to send a newsletter. Think about what topics your readers value. If you’re telling a story about your business, think about why you’re sharing it and how it’s relevant to your readers. If you’re alerting them about an event, tell them what they’ll get out of the event. Lead with the benefits of whatever you are sharing. The more readers engage with your email, the less likely it is to be flagged as spam or stuck forever in Gmail’s oft-ignored “promotions” folder.

3. 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 emails, make sure your CTA button pops so recipients don’t miss it.

4. Capture attention with your subject line.

Inboxes are a noisy place, so you have to find a way to get customers’ attention. After all, if people don’t even open the email, there’s no hope of them clicking any content. Consider pithy and fun subject lines, use eye-catching emojis when appropriate, and include compelling information that makes a customer want to learn more. For example, if you’re doing a giveaway, include “GIVEAWAY” or “FREE” right at the beginning of the subject line. If you’re sharing a story about your business in the newsletter, reveal an interesting titbit in the subject line. Compose your subject line in a way similar to how you’d compose a tweet — but even shorter. Ideally, you want the length to be 60 characters or less so readers see the whole subject line.
Read more: How to Write Email Subject Lines

5. Find a design template.

Software with professional, ready-to-go templates (Like Square 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, make sure you include “alt text” when you’re adding 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.

6. Personalize your email newsletter.

Many studies have shown that personalised 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. Certain software 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.

Personalisation tokens.

Your newsletter stands apart from the pack if you personalise 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.The Hubspot State of Marketing Report 2021 found email marketers were using “hyper personalised messages” to drive campaigns.

Most email marketing tools contain a feature that allows you to pull customers’ first names as part of your sends. You might also consider personalising 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, for example, have more than twice the click-through rate as normal blast campaigns.

7. Set an email cadence — and be realistic.

Have a regular cadence for sending out your newsletters, so that your readers learn to expect it. Be realistic about what you can really commit to. It’s fine to start once a month, and then increase the frequency down the line. You can also send one-off emails here and there, like if you are having a sale or throwing a special event. Avoid sending emails more than once a week on a regular basis, as that can feel heavy-handed and decrease your open rate if they go ignored.

8. 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 UK law.

9. 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, familiarise yourself with the Mail Preference Service’s FAQs and the UK Government’s GDPR guidelines. If you have more questions, talk to your lawyer.

10. Test various mail clients and devices.

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).

11. Track what’s working.

Keep track of which newsletters have high open rates and look for patterns to see how your customers are engaging. Ideally, you want an open rate of 15% to 25%.

With Square’s email marketing software, you can see not only how many people opened your email and how many clicked to learn more, but also how many made purchases as a result. Are there certain subject lines that work well? Are there topics your customers are more interested in? Not only can looking at these cues help you figure out your newsletter strategy, but it can inform your overall marketing strategy. For example, if you sell healthy meal kits and you find higher open and click through rates when you share ingredient stories versus when you talk about health benefits, you know what messaging is resonating with consumers.

If you consistently have low open rates, reconsider the subject lines and your opt-in tactics.