Today, we're jumping headfirst into the world of email newsletters.
Back in 2021, I co-founded a little venture called Ticker Nerd, a premium investment newsletter.
It was an exciting journey, with our newsletter built entirely on email marketing, from customer acquisition to feedback collection.
A profitable startup that we sold to a FinTech company within eight months.
The moral of the story?
Email newsletters are powerful.
They give you the unique ability to cultivate direct relationships with your audience, and if done right, they can be a lucrative venture. Plus you own this audience, it is not borrowed, like your followers on Facebook or Instagram for instance. Which could disappear in an instant.
So in this guide, I'll share everything you need to know to start, grow, and monetize an email newsletter.
Let's dive in!
What is an email newsletter, and how does it make money?
An email newsletter is a regular email sent to subscribers on a recurring basis that contains valuable content related to a specific niche. It could cover anything from fashion tips, to investment advice, or even your favorite pasta recipes. The possibilities are endless.
But you’re probably wondering how they make money and there are several ways:
- Sponsored content: Partner with brands that align with your newsletter's niche, and promote their products or services for a fee. The more data you have and the more engaged your audience is the more likely you’ll sign on lucrative (and loyal) sponsors.
- Affiliate marketing: Promote products from other companies and earn a commission for every sale made through your referral.
- Premium subscriptions: Offer premium content or exclusive benefits for paid subscribers. This is how we generated revenue for Ticker Nerd.
- Physical or digital product sales: Use the newsletter to promote and sell your own products or services. I sometimes do this for my personal site, I have an email sequence that upsells a more advanced information product for those that want to learn more.
How to start an email newsletter
Starting an email newsletter might seem daunting, but it's a manageable process when broken down into steps.
Step 1: Pick a niche
Your first task is to select a niche or topic for your newsletter. This should ideally be something you're passionate and knowledgeable about, as this will make it easier for you to consistently generate engaging content. It could be anything from investing tips to book reviews to weekly recipes. The more specific your niche, the easier it will be to target and attract a dedicated audience. I personally like to reference Warren Buffets Circle of Competence Model when choosing something.
Step 2: Research
Understanding your audience is crucial. You need to know their interests, challenges, preferences, and the type of content they value. My favorite tools for this include Google Trends, Gummy Search, Anvaka Github Tool, and reading reports like Trends VC. This step will help you tailor your content to meet the needs and expectations of your target audience.
Related article: How to validate your Micro Saas Idea
Step 3: Choose an email newsletter platform
Select an email marketing platform that suits your needs. Tools like MailerLite, Beehiiv, ConvertKit, and Substack offer a range of features including email templates, eCommerce, analytics, blogs, and subscriber management. Most will be free to start and my personal preference is MailerLite, which I use for all my businesses.
Related: 7 best email newsletter platforms
Step 4: Write a draft
It’s time to start writing.
There’s no point doing anything else if you can’t sit down and write.
Expect your first draft to be rough and embarrassing. This is what a first draft is supposed to be. The idea is to just start writing. Your initial draft should showcase your unique voice and offer immense value to the reader. When you start editing remember to keep it concise, engaging, and relevant to your chosen niche.
Step 5: Send it live
Since you’ve already selected your email newsletter platform in Step 3 you should be able to publish your first email newsletter. I understand that some of you might not have a large list (or any list) of subscribers to send it to. And that’s totally fine. Ask your friends and family to become subscribers.
This step can feel intimidating, but remember that perfection is the enemy of progress.
Step 6: Get feedback
It’s essential to listen to your subscribers. Whether you run an email newsletter or a software company, customer feedback is critical to your success.
When I started interviewing Ticker Nerd customers I learned many of the features and processes we had were simply assumptions. By asking our users for their thoughts we were able to improve the product dramatically.
How to grow an email newsletter
Starting a newsletter is exciting, but it won’t be very long until you give up if you haven’t figured out how to grow your list. It’s going to require consistent efforts and strategic planning. Here's a breakdown of you can approach growth.
Lead Magnets: You can offer valuable resources or services for free in exchange for a person's email address. For instance, if your newsletter revolves around fitness, your lead magnet could be a free eBook on “10 Quick Home Workouts for Busy People”. You can promote this lead magnet on your website, social media platforms, and other marketing channels to attract potential subscribers. Most email marketing platforms allow you to build a simple form or landing page to collect the email without coding. Take a look at the example on the Ticker Nerd home page.
Guest Posting: Guest posting is writing and publishing an article on someone else's website or blog. I’ve done this for many sites including Zapier and Starter Story. It’s an excellent way to reach a broader audience, establish authority in your field, and direct readers back to your own newsletter. Be sure to choose blogs that align with your niche and have a substantial, engaged audience. Use a tool like Ahrefs, SimilarWeb, or Ubersuggest to validate.
Social Media: Social Media such as Twitter or Instagram can be a powerful way of promoting your email newsletter. You can share snippets or highlights from your latest newsletters, create engaging threads around your niche, or even run targeted ad campaigns. The key here is to provide value and engage with your followers, sparking their curiosity to learn more through your newsletter. At one point I started running Reddit ads and found them to be fairly cheap and somewhat successful.
Cross-collaboration: Teaming up with other newsletter owners or influencers in your niche can help you tap into their audience. This could be through a shout-out in their newsletter, a joint webinar, or co-creating a piece of content. It's a win-win situation where both parties get to expose their work to a new set of engaged readers. My go-to tool is Sparkloop since it’s extremely easy to use and land new subscribers.
SEO: This one is a long-term strategy and the one I use to grow my email newsletters. Ideally, you want to write evergreen content for your blog so that you can attract organic traffic from search engines. Include your newsletters in your website's blog section, including embedding forms, popups, and slide-ins. The goal is to funnel website visitors into newsletter subscribers.
Email Referral Programs: You can encourage your existing subscribers to share your newsletter with their friends or network. The best way to do this is by providing incentives like access to exclusive content, discounts, merchandise, or gift cards for every successful referral.
Provide consistent value: Above all, consistently delivering high-quality, relevant content is the best way to grow your newsletter. Word of mouth is still incredibly powerful and I would not discount this. When you provide value, your subscribers are more likely to share your newsletter with their networks, leading to organic growth. For every business, this is the ideal method of growth.
Remember, growing a newsletter takes time.
You probably won’t see immediate results, but don't let that discourage you.
Keep refining your strategies and stay patient. As long as you're providing valuable content and actively seeking out your target audience, your newsletter will grow.
Email newsletter tool stack
- Email marketing platforms: MailChimp, ConvertKit, MailerLite, Beehiiv, Substack, and Flowdesk.
- Grammar tools: Grammarly, Hemingway, or ChatGPT.
- AI writing tools: Copy AI, Jasper, or ChatGPT.
- Design tools: Canva.
- General marketing tools: Sparkloop, Viral Loops.
Frequently asked questions
How do I create an email newsletter template?
Creating an email newsletter template involves a few straightforward steps:
1. Choose a Platform: Use an email marketing tool like Mailchimp, ConvertKit, or Substack, which offer a variety of customizable templates. I’ve linked to the best email marketing platforms above but be sure to review it if you’re stuck.
2. Define Your Structure: Decide on the layout and elements you want to include. This could be a header, main content area, call-to-action, and footer. Consistency across newsletters helps your readers know what to expect.
3. Customize Design: Apply your brand's colors, fonts, and logos to your template. This reinforces your brand identity and makes your newsletters instantly recognizable. Make sure it’s scannable and easy to read on mobile.
4. Add Content Blocks: Most platforms offer drag-and-drop content blocks for text, images, links, and more. Arrange these to suit your needs, if you have advertisers then be sure to create one for them.
5. Preview and Test: Always preview and test your template before sending it out. Check for mobile-friendliness and any rendering issues. I’ve been caught out here before so be sure to check on multiple devices and email providers.
How do I start a profitable email newsletter?
There's really no point starting an email newsletter unless you intend on making it profitable. And this requires a strategic blend of choosing the right niche, understanding your audience, and consistently delivering high-quality content. Here's a succinct guide based on personal experience and industry best practices.
1. Choose a Niche: Select a niche that you're not only knowledgeable about but also genuinely passionate about. This passion will translate into engaging, authentic content that will keep your audience coming back.
2. Understand Your Audience: Do in-depth research to understand your audience's needs and preferences. What are their pain points? What kind of content do they find valuable? Use these insights to tailor your content to your audience's needs.
3. Deliver Quality Content: Consistently provide your readers with high-quality, valuable content. This builds trust and loyalty, encouraging subscribers to stay and recommend your newsletter to others.
4. Monetize: There are several ways to monetize an email newsletter. These include selling sponsorships or ads, offering premium content for a fee, or leveraging affiliate marketing. Choose the method that best aligns with your brand and audience. Find a blueprint of another company such as The Huslte or Morning Brew that has successfully done this and adopt their strategy.
5. Work out your key metrics: Running a successful business of any sort requires you to understand your key metrics. How much does it cost to acquire a customer? How much is a customer worth? What’s your primary mode of monetization? How many active subscribers do you have? What’s your NPS score? These are some questions you need to be asking to get clear on the important metrics.
6. Use the Right Tools: Use an email marketing platform like Mailchimp or ConvertKit to design, send, and track your newsletters. Also, consider using referral tools like SparkLoop or Beehiiv to encourage subscribers to share your newsletter.
7. Test and Iterate: Always test different elements of your newsletter like subject lines, content types, and sending times. Use the data to continually refine your strategy.