Publishing Your Own Newsletter

Alexis Gutzman gives an in-depth walk-through on how to start your own newsletter. Part one of a multi-part series.

You have read over and over that it is less expensive to get an existing customer to make a purchase than to get a new customer to make a purchase. The most recent figures I've read suggest that it is six times as expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain a customer. You have also read that the least expensive way to market to existing customers is via targeted e-mail.

Yet, you have been reluctant to begin any marketing via e-mail because (choose all that apply):

  • You have yet to ask your customers or visitors for permission to market to them,
  • You don't want to look like an amateur,
  • You don't have any systems in place to actually send the mail, let alone deal with irate customers, handle unsubscribe requests, handle bounced messages, etc.,
  • You don't have content other than the promotion you would like to send out,
  • You don't have any e-mail addresses.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to take you through the entire process of starting your own newsletter. I went through all the steps outlined below myself, identifying and testing each product. I also corresponded with the developers of the various tools you may need; I will also have tips from them on getting the best results.

For more information about publishing your own newsletter, check out these other articles from Alexis Gutzman's ongoing weekly series:

Publishing Your Own Newsletter
Alexis Gutzman gives an in-depth walk-through on how to start your own newsletter. Part one of a multi-part series.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 2
The second part of a multi-part series on how to publish your own newsletter, Alexis Gutzman discusses how to clean up and perfect your email list.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 3
Alexis Gutzman discusses the pros and cons of sending HTML vs. plain-text versions of a newsletter, and how to know which one is right for you.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 4
The fourth part of a multi-part series on how to publish your own newsletter, Alexis Gutzman discusses the ins and outs of designing your newsletter.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 5
Alexis Gutzman reviews four newsletter-mailing solutions and discusses the finer points of creating and sending a professional newsletter.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 6
Alexis Gutzman outlines the features to look for when selecting a newsletter service.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 7
The seventh part of a multi-part series on how to publish your own newsletter, Alexis Gutzman discusses five must-haves for a successful newsletter and how to find content.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 8
Alexis Gutzman discusses how to manage undeliverable email messages, and the importance of keeping your lists clean.

Yes, you can do e-mail promotions without doing a newsletter. However, if you want to grab and hold the attention of busy customers or members, then you have to provide them with more than just the information about the products or services. You have to give them a reason to care about the product.

Procrastinate No Longer
Every reason you've been putting off starting a newsletter is easily addressed.

In brief, here's the list of tasks you need to perform to start your own newsletter:

  • Get a list of e-mail addresses.
  • Verify that these addresses are still good (valid).
  • Get the addresses into either a bulk mailing package or sign up with a list-management ASP.
  • Design the newsletter.
  • Develop or purchase content for the newsletter.
  • Send the newsletter.
  • Manage bounced messages, handle unsubscribe and subscribe requests.

If you're really ambitious, you might want to do the following, as well.

  • Grow your list.
  • Get sponsors for the newsletter.
  • Find resources to stay abreast of newsletter trends.

Getting a List to Get Started
Getting a list together is actually much easier than it sounds. If you have a customer database then that should be the first place you start. If you have a membership database, use that. If you have been selling in the physical world — for example, a law firm or a dentist — and you hadn't been in the practice of asking clients or patients for their e-mail addresses, then the time has come to start.

If your business is not the kind that's inclined to having lists of interested parties — such as online publishing, consulting, or any site without a membership requirement — then you'll have to rely on other sources of lists. In fact, pack rats have an advantage over the rest of the world in this regard.

To Purchase a List or Not?
It isn't necessary, or even advisable, to purchase a list for a newsletter. There are good lists and good list providers, but purchasing a list is generally better for a one-time mailing. An alternative to purchasing a list is coordinating a mailing with the trusted list owner. For example, if I want to create a newsletter in order to market software that optimizes hard drives, then I might do a joint mailing with a hard-drive manufacturer, thereby having access to a list of customers who have demonstrated an interest in hard drives. If I were to purchase that list for direct marketing without the "social introduction" that the hard-drive manufacturer provides, I'd get a much lower open rate, click-through rate, and conversion rate, because many people would delete it based on the fact that they don't recognize me.

Other than being ignored, the problem with purchased lists — particularly when you purchase them from someone offering you one million addresses for $99 — is the quality of the addresses. There may be one million e-mail addresses, but how many of them are still good? Since you may end up paying for list services based on how many messages you send, you will really regret paying for 500,000 messages that bounce.

Harvesting Addresses from Your Inbox
My own recommendation is — if you're not the super-neat sort who only has 12 messages in your inbox at any given time — is to harvest all the addresses from your mail folders. Anyone who has ever written to you or to your company is fair game. Personally, I never delete messages. If you wrote to me two years ago, I still have it in a folder.

It's relatively easy to harvest addresses from an Outlook Express folder or from any text folder. When it comes to harvesting, you can either harvest only from the sender's address or you can harvest from the entire message. The advantage of harvesting from the entire message is that if someone sends something to you and eight other people, you'll get the sender's address as well as those of the seven other people. The disadvantages of harvesting from the entire message are that you'll get more junk addresses on your list, and you are more likely to have your newsletter seen as spam by people who have never corresponded with you. On the other hand, if your newsletter is going to be inspirational, for example, and you've received inspirational messages in the past that were addressed to 40 people, then those people might also appreciate your newsletter. This is definitely a judgment call on your part.

There is pretty good software available for harvesting from the entire message. E-mail Address Extractor, from MazePath Software, is a very fast product for harvesting from the entire inbox. My inbox, including all subfolders, yielded over 5,000 addresses. If you don't use Outlook Express, then you need to export all your messages into a text file and harvest from that. The harvested addresses go into a text file, with one address on each line and no duplicates. If you are harvesting from several files, be sure to save the harvested text files with different names or you'll overlay your previous file; by default all addresses go into addresslist.txt.

For harvesting the sender's address from Outlook Express, you can use Outlook Express Archive Pro, also from MazePath Software. In addition to backing up your folders, Outlook Express Archive Pro will also permit you to filter messages or extract all senders' e-mail addresses into a text file with one address on each line and no duplicates.

By now, you should have a text file with one address on each line. Whether those addresses came from a database, your order-management system, or your inbox, you're ready to verify that the addresses actually work. Next week, I'll tell you how to do that.

Alexis D. Gutzman is an author, speaker, and consultant on e-business and e-commerce topics. She's the producer of The Online Marketing Report. Her most recent book, The E-commerce Arsenal: 12 Technologies You Need to Prevail in the Digital Arena, was named one of the 30 best business books of this year. For up-to-date information about her research and speaking engagements, visit The Alexis Gutzman Group's Web site.


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