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The Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Newsletter and Email List

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The Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Newsletter and Email List

By Pat Flynn on

At the beginning of the year (2010), I started a newsletter here on SPI and used an ebook I wrote, Ebooks the Smart Way, as a free gift to help generate more leads. Three months later, I had over 2,250 people signed up for the newsletter and it averaged about 30 new subscribers a day.

I have no previous email list to compare these numbers with, so I can’t say for sure whether those are stellar numbers, or just average—but either way, I’m very happy with the results and would love to share with you how it’s all done, especially for you beginners out there.

Update (January 2016): This post was originally written in early 2010. It has been updated to reference ConvertKit (as opposed to Aweber) as the email marketing tool that I use and wholeheartedly recommend.

If you’re interested, you can read more about Why I Switched from Aweber to Infusionsoft to Convertkit. In that post, I’m very honest about my experiences and interactions with Aweber and its team, and I encourage you to check it out!

For further reference, here are a few more posts and podcasts I created in late 2015 on email marketing and ConvertKit (plus a video):

Thank you for trusting me with your time and business!

—Pat

P.S. I’m currently seeing an average of 225 subscribers per day, and have accumulated more than 143,000 subscribers! Imagine if I had started sooner! That said, you are in the right place, so keep reading!

What is a Newsletter, and Why Would You Want to Offer One?

Before I get deep into the how-to of building a newsletter, I’d first like to address what a newsletter is, and why you might want to think about offering one for your blog or online business.

For the sake of this post, I’ll be talking only about email newsletters. Some websites, especially those doing business in a specific niche, offer a print newsletter, which is a fantastic way to keep in contact with customers and subscribers through “snail mail,” but that’s a whole different ballgame that I have yet to experience.

When you set up an email newsletter, you’re offering your audience a way to subscribe to get emails from you that contain informal news or broadcasts that you send out. This is usually in addition to the content you already have on your blog or online business website, and totally separate from an RSS feed subscription.

Now, you might be wondering: “What’s the point of offering a newsletter subscription to my audience, if they can already subscribe to my blog’s RSS feed?”

Good question.

The short answer is: the email list.

By offering a subscription to your newsletter, you’re giving yourself the ability to capture email addresses, which is something that you cannot do with an RSS feed. It’s important to capture email addresses because:

  1. It’s a great way to communicate with your audience on a more personal level. There’s just something about receiving an email from somebody that makes it extremely effective at getting a point across, or making people take some kind of action.
  2. An email list will never die. In other words, if you have an email list, you will always have a way to communicate with your audience. Blogs and websites can die. RSS readers and feed subscription services could vanish. But those email addresses will never change, and you can always keep your audience informed of what you’re up to, even if you go completely off the radar.
  3. It’s where the money is.

Regarding #3, you may or may not have heard this expression before: “The Money is in the List.”

It’s an expression that has been used in the online marketing industry since the birth of email (or “snail mail” for that matter), because it’s true. However, you have to be careful if you’re going to try and use your email list to make money online.

Like with any platform that you use to communicate with people (a blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.), the moment that you start to become “all about the money” is the moment that you end up losing credibility (and the respect) of your followers. That’s why I make sure that in whatever I do online, helping and informing people come first. I’m speaking from experience when I say that if you can make helping others your primary goal, the money will come your way.

Online karma does exist!

Does it Have to Be a Newsletter?

You can set up an opt-in form to capture email addresses on your website and only email your subscribers when you need to, but let me tell you why I think this is a bad idea.

Imagine signing up for my free ebook and never hearing from me again until months later, when you finally get an email from me promoting some kind of product.

You would probably do one of the following:

  1. Forget who I am and think my email is spam.
  2. Unsubscribe from the list because you realize that there’s really no point of being on it.
  3. All of the above.

What you write in your emails doesn’t have to be “news” either. It can be about anything really. But it’s important that you consistently contact your subscribers and provide them with some kind of useful information in order to keep them around. All it takes is one click to unsubscribe from your list.

What’s the Difference Between RSS Email Subscription and the Newsletter Subscription?

This is actually the most common question I get about newsletters and email subscriptions, so I’m happy to address this here publicly.

email-rssThe RSS Email Subscription (through services such as FeedBlitz, which is something you can setup within your FeedBurner account) is a way for your readers to get your blog posts (and only your blog posts) emailed to them. This is convenient for many people, especially those who work 9 to 5 who like to catch up with their favorite websites at work, and are unable to use a standard RSS feed reader.

Here on SPI, I used to offer this option in a link at the upper right hand corner of the page. Now, I link to my RSS feed on the home page, but encourage people to subscribe to my newsletter in more places on my site.

The newsletter subscription is totally separate from the content of your blog. With it, you have the ability to email your subscribers whatever you want, whenever you want. Again, it’s a more personal way to communicate with your readers and you can utilize that ability for marketing your own products, affiliate products, or just simply driving traffic. The possibilities are endless.

Yes, people will have to sign up twice if they want your blog content and newsletter both sent to their email. And even though many email list services have the ability to send out broadcasts that contain your blog’s RSS feed, I’d much rather keep those things separate so that people can have the freedom to choose how exactly they want to receive your content.

Now that I’ve answered the most common questions, let’s get down to business.

How To Start Your Own Newsletter Subscription

Understanding the Process

First, it’s good to know exactly what happens once someone signs up through a form on your site. Here’s a diagram below that outlines everything that should happen:

newsletter-diagram-sequence

As you can see, there’s quite a bit involved, but I’ll help you through the entire process below. Please note that rectangles represent webpages, and circles represent emails.

Step 1: Sign Up For a ConvertKit Account

You have many options when it comes to signing up with an email marketing service, but ConvertKit is by far the best in my opinion. I personally use it, and have been really impressed with the ease of use and quality of customer service.

ConvertKit is definitely the way to go.

You not only have the ability to set up email automation Sequences, but you can divide your list into categories according to user preferences. I implement this by asking people where they are in their journey of building their online and/or passive income businesses. Then, based on their answers, ConvertKit places them into a category so they will receive a series of emails that will benefit them the most.

Step 2: Get to Know ConvertKit Terminology

Like with any new platform, there are new terms to familiarize yourself with. ConvertKit makes it pretty simple. Here are the terms you should know:

  • Form: A Form is a way for people to subscribe to your list from your website. Forms work well for specific downloadables, such as an ebook. There’s an easy way to embed forms too! For example, on EbookstheSmartWay.com, I have the following form:

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-11-00-03-am

  • Sequence: This is what ConvertKit calls their auto-responder. It’s a series of emails sent automatically based on subscription date. For example, I have Sequences set up based on specific parts of your entrepreneurial journey you’re on. In the below example, you’ll see that this Sequence (or “Bucket”) includes 10 emails over the course of 49 days:

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-11-08-58-am

  • Broadcast: A Broadcast is a one-time email sent to a specific group of your subscribers.
  • Automation: Within ConvertKit, you can set up unique automations for specific actions your subscribers take. When an action is taken, you can automatically add a Tag or automatically add that person to a specific Sequence. Here’s a sample screenshot of some of mine:

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-11-16-59-am

Step 3: Create Your First Form

One way you can start building your email list is through forms. To create a form, click on the Forms tab in your ConvertKit dashboard, and then click the “+ Create Form” button.

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-2-31-19-pm

Once you do that, you’ll be taken to this screen. Click on “A form.”

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-2-34-59-pm

Once you click on “A form,” you will be given three unique form style options.

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-2-46-21-pm

I am going to choose the style in the middle. When I do, ConvertKit takes you to a basic layout you can use to start building out your first form!

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-2-50-11-pm

The view above is the basic layout of what a potential subscriber would see on your website. To make changes to the content, just click in the text areas to adjust the call to action (“Join the newsletter” in the example), entry fields, and so forth. To adjust the settings, click on the Settings tab and you will get this screen.

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-2-52-42-pm

This is where you can do a wide variety of fun things, from adjust the form name, and editing the visual style to creating custom Twitter cards and incentive emails (the email a subscriber gets when they fill out your form). You can even connect this form to a Sequence (more on that later). Once you’re finished customizing your form, click on the Embed tab to be taken to your three embed options: Javascript, Raw HTML, or WordPress. If you choose HTML, be sure to re-copy and paste when you make changes to your form. If you have a WordPress site, you can use the WordPress plugin option.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-6-32-01-am

Once you pick your embed method, you just add it to your website, and you can start collecting subscribers! Make sure you have something of value to trade for their subscription though!

Step 4: Set Up a Sequence

A Sequence is a series of emails you can send to your subscriber base. Here’s a snapshot of a few of mine.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-6-47-30-am

Click on the “+ Create Sequence” button in the upper-right corner. Then you can give your Sequence a name. The name is internal only, but it’s still helpful to be specific about it so you can easily review your Sequence dashboard to see how each sequence is performing.

Once you create your Sequence name, you’ll be taken to this screen.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-6-54-31-am

The default Sequence comes with eight pre-populated emails. That’s just a recommendation from ConvertKit; you are free to add or subtract based on your specific needs. It’s here where you can adjust the timing/scheduling, create the subject lines, fill out your email content, and more.

Note: Remember, as you start to build out your sequences, take a moment to think about why you’re doing it. What is the goal? How are you serving your audience? What is going to make them want to be consistent subscribers?

ConvertKit even has some nifty reporting for when you’re off and running with your sequences. Check out mine for my SPI Main sequence.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-7-05-08-am

Want to connect a form to a sequence? You can.

Step 5: Managing Your Subscribers

I don’t wish to reveal the email addresses of my subscribers (:D), so I’m going to let ConvertKit take over here. They have a great walk-through of your Subscribers dashboard, complete with Subscriber States, Tags, Importing, and Segments.

Check out how to Manage Your Subscribers.

Thank You!

I know this post is lengthy, but I wanted to create a one-stop resource for any beginners out there who may be interested in starting their own newsletter and building an email list. Now, you should have no excuse not to get started, because everything you need is right here.

Thanks again for your support, and if you’re interested in seeing what my own newsletter is like, please feel free to subscribe using the form below, and you’ll also get free instant access to my popular ebook, Ebooks the Smart Way, as a free gift! Cheers!

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