How to start a successful newsletter

Finding your niche, formulating a newsletter concept and format – here’s how to make sure your newsletter stands out from the crowd

Going all-in on a niche, investigating that curly question or promoting your passion project – newsletters help you take your readers along for the ride. But there’s a lot to consider when starting a newsletter. Here are the main considerations.

Set your newsletter goals

Newsletters are experiencing a revival, but there are many reasons why you might choose to jump on the bandwagon. You might be looking to reach a new audience, draw your existing community closer to your work, or dig deeper into a topic that’s been on your mind but that you haven’t been able to investigate at your day job.

And then there’s the question of money: are you expecting your newsletter to be a source of income, and if so, would that be right from the start, or something you might consider later?

It’s important to be clear about your aims, otherwise you might never be able to tell whether you have succeeded. Once you’ve got your head around your general aims, it’s time to set a measurable goal. That way, you’ll know when to celebrate your success!

Your goal might be to reach 1000 subscribers in three months, to recruit a certain number of subscribers from a certain demographic or community, or to maintain a certain click-through rate if you’re hoping to use your newsletter to direct people to another project. Alternatively, if you’re just looking to give newsletters a go for the fun of it, your goal might simply be to regularly publish a newsletter once per week for three months.

Whatever your goal is, make sure it’s measurable and set yourself regular reminders to check your progress.

Develop your newsletter concept

Once you’ve set your goal, it’s time to develop your newsletter concept. This part can be creative and inspiring and will help you nail down how you’re going to promote the concept to potential readers.

Say it in a sentence

Is there a question at the centre of your concept? A clear purpose or reason for writing, or a general theme you’re hoping to explore?

If you’re not quite there yet, see if you can take all your ideas for your newsletter and try to distil them in a sentence. This sentence might not cover every idea you have in mind, but if you can describe it in a sentence, then your readers will be able to, as well. This is crucial for helping them to spread the word to other potential readers – because if they can’t describe it, how will they recommend it?

Here are three examples:

  • A weekly newsletter covering the best German rock music you’ve never heard of
  • An occasional newsletter following my journey to publishing my first book
  • Who really owns the Ain’t No Thing chicken franchise? A newsletter investigation

More on crafting a mission statement

Go niche

Some of the most popular newsletter writers are the ones who aren’t afraid to go all-in on whatever topic makes them tick. The kinds of topics that are too niche for the mainstream publications they write for, or simply wouldn’t find a home at a big-name newspaper or website – these are exactly the kinds of intriguing topics that newsletter readers are excited to sign up for. Being able to subscribe creates a sense of complicity and draws readers closer to the project or investigation.

Make it personal

Another thing that makes readers keen to subscribe is a personal touch – many of the most successful newsletter writers are those who aren’t afraid to bring something of themselves to the project. Readers are much more likely to get behind a visible personality than a faceless author, and even more so if you are able to show your personal connection to the project: what is it about this topic that draws you in?

It’s important to show this personal connection right from the start, on your newsletter’s About page. More on how to write a great About page for your newsletter.

Nail down your newsletter format

Once you’ve got your concept sorted, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty and ensure that the newsletter you’re envisioning will help you reach your goal. Here are the factors to take into consideration:

  • Who’s involved? Will you be the sole newsletter writer, or will you work with someone else? Will you have guests? Who will bring it all together?
  • Frequency: How often would you like to send out your newsletter? Weekly, fortnightly, monthly, or just occasionally? Consider what is going to be realistic for your schedule. If you’re not expecting to make any money from your newsletter for some time, you need to make sure you can keep up with writing alongside your other work or family commitments. Establishing a clear rhythm from the start will help manage your readers’ expectations and encourage them to build a regular reading habit, too.
  • Segments: Is the newsletter going to be one long letter from you, or will there be different sections? Your editorial segments might include a collection of links relevant to your topic, a recommendation from a guest writer, or the show notes from your podcast. Establish reliable segments that compliment or feed into your project – these will help to keep your readers coming back.
  • Length: What is feasible for you as a writer? And how much time and attention do you think your readers will be willing to give to your project?
  • Money: Will your newsletter be free and available to everyone, or only paying subscribers? Do you have a strategy for converting readers to paid subscribers? Would readers pay for access to bonus newsletters, perhaps? This is a good time to refer back to your goals and consider what’s appropriate.

If you can get these different considerations humming in tune, you’ll be well on your way to making a compelling newsletter readers will find irresistible.

Collecting newsletter reader feedback

It’s good to establish a framework for your newsletter before you put it out into the world. But if it feels a bit trial-and-error, don’t worry: you can always adapt your concept or format to suit your readers.

One really enjoyable part of running a newsletter is the personal responses you receive from readers – often much more considered messages than you will get if you post your writing on social media, for example. Newsletter subscribers sign up because they want to follow along with your project, which means they are invested, and therefore likely willing to offer you constructive feedback.

Don’t be afraid to ask your readers what they think about your newsletter from time to time, or whether they have any suggestions for improvement. You can ask a simple question in your newsletter and encourage them to reply with their answers, or you might like to set up a survey in order to learn more about what your subscribers are thinking.

Newsletters can be places for experimentation, in collaboration with your readers. So what are you waiting for? It only takes 5 minutes to get your newsletter set up on Steady.