I have often heard clients express interest in creating their own email newsletters or improving their existing ones. I typically tell them they should, but to avoid the common mistakes companies make with their emails. Primarily the newsletters in question are salesy and boring, just like their competitors and won’t result in anything other than the recipients unsubscribing or pushing them into spam. Over the last decade, I have sent out a ton of newsletters for Sharp Guys‘, previous employers, and a myriad of clients and have used a writing process that has stayed pretty much the same that entire time. While this process may not be right for you, it may give you some ideas for how you could write some content for your own company newsletter or at least explain why I write so infrequently these days.
When I need to get ideas for what to write (yes, even this blog), I simply begin typing something until I have an idea. This may not work for most normal people with better writing habits and skills but I found long ago simply trying to think of a specific idea and getting the urge to write can take me longer than simply using this method (which is basically typing off the cuff). Plus, this method typically finds me writing in directions I didn’t plan on – something I consider a huge positive for engaging content. When using this writing method, I often will begin with several different ideas before settling on what I consider is the best one and leaving the others out entirely or possibly using them again later. Writing in this way has served me well over the years but it is a headache to begin because I don’t necessarily know where I’ll end.
Once the writing has begun, it is rare that the first draft takes too much time – the majority of time within the process is spent during the editing phase, improving and distilling the content to make it as strong as possible. This is the writing process when I create an email newsletter for Sharp Guys Web Design:
I simply begin typing, as described above, not knowing where my thoughts are going to go. If you have read our email newsletters then you know that a lot of things I write are stream of consciousness. Here’s a recent newsletter paragraph:
Have you ever needed to go out to your car and grab something really quick – maybe you forgot your wallet or headphones or sunglasses? No point in grabbing my keys, you think (rather smugly), I always leave the car unlocked. With a knowing pull of the handle you whip the door open. But no! To your shock, you find the car door locked tight. One by one, you casually and increasingly desperately begin trying all the other doors thinking there must be some mistake, but the only mistake it seems was yours.
As shown above, I generally begin the initial part of the newsletter with just a thought, idea or an observation, none of which ever has to do with work. This is by far the most fun part to write and seems to be the best received part of the emails I send out. I highly recommend you do something similar for any company newsletter you write – be a real person with unique thoughts that your competitors won’t have. Show your personality and the mores of your company.
Before using the above email beginning (about my car door being locked), I also began writing about:
- How awesome it is that self checkouts aren’t requiring you to put your groceries in a bag during Covid which always caused the dreaded ‘please wait for assistance’ message.
- How I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been since having kids in daycare, due to them not being around other kids that haven’t had their temperature recently checked.
From the above list, I still feel like I made the right choice based on what I was interested in writing about and what people don’t want to read about (more Covid stuff, even if it is intended to be humorous).
Once I selected one, I began running with it and created a general draft within Word. I run a simple spellcheck and then work to enter the text from Word into Mailchimp. Then I find the imagery or videos I want to link and set up the basic email layout. At this point I choose a subject line. Here’s the main takeaway for a subject line: it is critical so take your time with it! No one will read all of your awesome content if they don’t open it up. Another thought, spend more time on the subject line that the layout of the email.
From there, I send out an initial test email.
The initial test I read out loud to myself and always find a number of general mistakes with how I have written some things. Or perhaps the ideas were poorly expressed or as I read the premise, I think of something that could be amusing or a specific word that may work better. When writing, I am really focused on the thought that the different between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug (thanks Mark Twain). I generally edit these additional changes into Mailchimp and send over another test version, this time reading the test on my phone to make sure that the email looks good on mobile devices – sometimes I make a few changes to image sizes and yet again, revise some of the wording, or remove unneeded words.
Finally, I have my wife look it over. Not because she will laugh at my musings (to her credit, she almost never does) but because she is a great editor. When writing something you want a bunch of people to see, you should always have one outside editor look over everything you’ve already looked over yourself multiple times. Even if you write all of the time, it is critical to make sure the things you think ‘work’ actually do work. From there, I make my final few edits and click ‘send’. Generally, a few paragraphs takes me an hour or two all-in which is well worth it when the content comes together.
Have an email newsletter you are proud of? Add me to it – I’d love to see what you write about – cody [at] sharpguyswebdesign.com