Marketing & Small Business

12 Email Newsletter Rules Every Creative Business Owner Needs to Know

September 1, 2021


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Article by Colette Nichol, Solo Filmmaker and Story Strategist

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

If you own a business then you need an email newsletter. You might be wondering how to create an email newsletter. In this quickie post I’m going to walk you through my 12 rules for email newsletters. But first a tiny story.

I’ve known about the power of newsletters since I was 10. 

My mum had a newsletter that went out a few times a year to our customer list. The point of the newsletter was to sell wine. 

This newsletter usually had a story about the winery, a recipe, tasting notes from the latest releases, and an order form.

We stuffed the envelopes, put on the stamps, and mailed the newsletters with fingers crossed. It worked. Envelopes came backfilled with order forms and checks.

Some people ordered a single case while others order 5-10 cases. In other words, the newsletter was a money machine. Without the newsletter we couldn’t have sold all our wine every year.

Now, my mum was busy. Like most small business owners she had A LOT TO DO.  

She was running the business side of a winery. She was also managing the vineyard, the kids, the house, and making dinner every night. Did I mention she did manual labour in the vineyard for 6-7 hours per day?

Despite all that, she still put out those newsletters. 

She didn’t just send an order form in the mail and hoped that people would buy. She knew that we had to continue to build relationships and tell the narrative of our family business. 

I’ve learned a lot from my mum about getting things done.

She’s a master of “good enough.” My mother is not a perfectionist. She’s all about doing the thing “properly,” but not sweating the small stuff. My mum didn’t try to make the best newsletter on the planet. She didn’t try to make the prettiest newsletter. Or the most high-brow newsletter. She just told a story, picked a recipe, wrote the tasting notes (with her daughter), and sent the darn thing out. 

This is how you’ve got to be with your emails. 

Don’t sweat it so much. It’s okay if your newsletter is sometimes a so-so affair. The point of your emails isn’t to create riveting works of genius, it’s to stay connected with your customers and tell a story that lets people into your world. (Which, of course, results in sales.)

As a side note, in order to make the most of having an email newsletter you also need to get traffic to your website. So make sure you’ve got website traffic and list growth covered too.

Okay, ready?

This one single thing (having an email newsletter!) will change your entire business, boost your income security, AND help you be more creative and autonomous.

So, read on!

Storytelling Sidebar

When I say, tell a story, I don’t mean talk about the weather or the daily menial activities of your business life.

Tell a story (or anecdote) that actually lets people under the hood of your business or lets people see you for who you really are. This is what forges a connection, builds trust, creates affinity, and allows you to be of real service. Here’s a storytelling hint: if there’s an element of conflict or pain, it’ll capture attention more effectively. 

No pain, no gain also applies to storytelling.

I’ve been creating newsletters for myself and coaching or creating newsletters for other businesses since 2015. These are the rules I’ve come up with to simplify my life. I hope they help you simplify yours. They’re long but worth it. 

My 12 Email Newsletter Rules

1. Don’t call it an email newsletter

When you’re creating your opt-in (i.e. the subscriber form and incentive.) Unless your audience base is on the older side of 70. I know I’m using the word newsletter throughout this post. That’s ‘cause it’s easier. But you won’t get big subscriber numbers from calling it a newsletter and leaving it at that.

2. Make sure you remember what you promised people.

When they signed up for the newsletter. If you said you’d tell stories and give tactical advice, do that. If you said you’d give health tips, make sure there are some health tips in there.

3. Know the explicit consent rules of your country. 

In some countries, you have to have some hard-core consent checks in place before you can start sending emails out to anyone. 

4. You can do whatever you want in your newsletter. 

You don’t have to do a video just because everyone is doing the video. Write a letter, share a quote, share a photo, share a podcast or simple audio recording. As long as it’s something that makes your customers feel good and relates to your business in some way, it’s fine to share. In most cases, it won’t even look like a traditional newsletter.

5. Tell stories. 

Even if you don’t write letters, you can slip in a three-sentence anecdote that makes your readers feel connected to you and your business.

6. Make it easy!

If you’re struggling, don’t choose the most complex format out there. 

7. You can repurpose. 

Take images or text from Instagram or your blog, and use them in your newsletter. A blog can become a newsletter. Or a newsletter can become a blog. A quote you tweet can become the center of an email. 

8. Be consistent. 

Ghosting your list is what happens when your newsletter structure is too complicated. If it’s not easy, then it’s not sustainable. Even if you just share a quote, email according to your schedule. 

9. Make a schedule that’s sustainable.

If every week is too much right now, do it every two weeks. –> But, if you’re an online retailer, please note that the more you email, the more you sell. There is a direct correlation between emails and sales. 

10. Always, always, always have one person in your mind.

Who do you make your newsletter for? Think of them as you create the newsletter. Write to one person. No matter what newsletter-style you choose, it should always feel like you’re writing to one person. No generic, “Hey y’all,” openings allowed.

11. Never, ever, underestimate the power of the newsletter. 

This is one of the main economic engines of both online and offline businesses today. 

12. Give more than you sell. 

If you sell digital products or high-priced services, make sure you’re giving at least 75-80% of the time. You can be selling the other 20-25%. 

For online retailers, every email will offer something for your customers to buy, but you can still sneak in some free goodies i.e. stories, tips, beautiful pictures, a song you’re listening to, or an article you like, and the occasional sale code.

13. Did I say make it easy? 

Well, it bears repeating. Make it easy! 

Today’s To Do

Go through these rules, and decide which you’re going to adopt. Then start being consistent with your newsletter. That’s it!

A few months ago my mum dug up a binder with all the old Nichol Vineyard newsletters in it. 

She’s writing a book about the story of creating the vineyard and winery, and she wanted to refer to them. These newsletters were hilarious. They weren’t sexy or refined or elegant. They were home-crafted simple text-based newsletters on 8.5 x 11 paper. 

But they worked. 

They told a story. They gave people something extra beyond just an order form. The letters had personalities. They fit the scrappy brand my parents were building. 

Those newsletters helped send me and my brother to school, put food on the table, and eventually paid for my parents’ retirement.

Your emails will do the same thing. They’ll help you build the life you want and earn the income that you want while giving your customers (and soon-to-become customers) something of value that makes them feel good. 

Thank you for being here, reading to the end, and for having the courage and tenacity to be a mini-business owner. It ain’t easy.

If it were, everyone would be doing it.

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About the Author

Hi! I’m Colette Nichol. I’m a solo filmmaker and story strategist based out of rainy Vancouver, Canada. I’ve been making videos and micro films for small businesses and global brands since 2014.

Plus, I LOVE to help aspiring filmmakers pursue their dreams and start making films. This blog is designed to help you gain the knowledge you need to become a filmmaker.

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