Before the Content: How to Start an Email Newsletter


Over the course of my 13 years in business, I’ve done my fair share of newsletter projects, which include teaching “how to start an email newsletter” programs at industry events to writing articles and designing email marketing campaigns for my clients.

Before I began my freelance writing business, I wanted to learn all I could about starting an email newsletter so I read Michael Katz’s bi-weekly newsletter “The Likeable Expert Gazette,” where, in every issue, he shared ideas for creating a stronger connection with clients using e-newsletters. I also read “The Magic of Newsletter Marketing” by Jim Palmer cover to cover. I devoured both resources because I not only wanted my newsletter (Jottings) to rock, but I also knew that newsletters would become the “bread and butter” of my content writing business.

I wasn’t wrong.

In my first two years of business, I wrote and published 30 newsletters.

Fast forward to today, and I’ve completed nearly 450 newsletter projects for my clients!

I love newsletters because they work. They nurture people through the process of getting to know, like and trust you. By the time subscribers are ready to buy whatever service or product you sell, they reach out to you—because they’ve been reading your newsletter for weeks, months or years!

I’ll never forget the custom home builder from Maine who reached out to me to write copy for his new website. When he and I got on the phone, he said, “Tess, I’ve been reading your newsletter for years. I know you are a hockey fan, and I want to work with you—even though you cheer for the University of New Hampshire!”

My newsletter introduced him to my services and a bit about me, too.

How to Start an Email Newsletter Program

Naturally, beginning any new marketing initiative can be intimidating, especially when you don’t know where to begin and have more questions than answers. Some of the questions I get asked all the time about how to start an email newsletter program include:

  • Do I need an email marketing provider, like MailChimp, or can I just use Outlook?
  • Can I use my existing database?
  • How do I compile my master list?
  • Is there a special format I can use to make it easier to upload my list?
  • Where do I find content?

So, let’s answer each question.

Step 1: Choose an Email Marketing Provider

Q: Do I need an email marketing service like MailChimp, or can I just use Outlook?

A: Yes! Having an email marketing provider is a must!

Gone are the days where you can bulk email from Outlook, Yahoo, Gmail or another email service. Your email will most likely get flagged as spam and can cause issues where your email address becomes blocked.

With this in mind, the first step to starting any email newsletter program is to choose an email marketing software provider. You’ll find that there’s no shortage of providers from which to choose. Some of the better-known vendors include Constant Contact, MailChimp and ConvertKit (affiliate links).

These companies help simplify and automate the process of designing, sending and managing your email marketing campaigns, as well as providing other helpful services:

  • CAN-SPAM compliance. Most jurisdictions have rules about commercial email. While not foolproof, email providers can help you stay compliant with regulations and restrictions.
  • Customizable templates. Most email marketing providers have dozens of templates to help you get started with designing your newsletter and collecting new subscribers. This saves you from needing to design one from scratch. You can also amend existing templates to create a more custom look.
  • Data and reports. While your immediate goal might be to start an email newsletter, you’ll eventually wonder how it’s performing. One of the best features of any email marketing provider is being able to review the metrics after your email is sent, such as open rates, click-throughs, etc. This is valuable information and can provide direction for future content and help you further segment your list.

Step 2: Compile a Master List of Subscribers

Q: Can I use my existing database?

A: It depends, but most likely you can use many of your contacts.

The second step to start an email newsletter is to compile your master email list. Your master list is simply your “big list” that includes everyone to whom you want to send your newsletter.

Q: How do I compile my master list?

A: Before you start “dumping” your contacts’ email addresses into your list, remember that if they have not given you permission to email them, you cannot include them in your list. That is considered spam and is in violation of the Federal Trade Commission’s CAN-SPAM Act.

For remodelers and other professionals in the building industry, here is a general guide of questions to ask to determine who you can include in your initial email newsletter list:

  1. Are they previous or existing customers who have willingly provided you with their email addresses? If yes, you can include them.
  2. Are they prospects who have willingly provided you with their email addresses? If yes, you can include them.
  3. Are they prospects that you’ve spoken with at shows, open houses or other events, and who have willingly provided you with their email addresses? If yes, you can include them.
  4. Do you have emails that you’ve collected as a result of a drawing and noted in the drawing that emails will be included in your email marketing? If yes, you can include them. If you did not include that message, you may not use those email addresses without first asking their permission.

After reading the above list, you can see that the key phrase to consider when developing your email list is “willingly provided.”

As you carefully hand-select people to add to your list, think about each person, and ask these questions: Do you remember the conversation? Do you feel comfortable enough with the relationship to include them in your email list?

Many contractors often start out with a small email list. This is not a bad thing. A list of 100 customers and prospects who are happy to hear from you is much more effective than a list of 1,000 that don’t know you, don’t remember you and are annoyed to receive an email from you. I’ve seen great success with contractors who have started with a list of under 150 contacts and grown it from there. This isn’t about quantity; it is all about the quality of your subscriber list.

A second, and highly recommended, step to this process is once you have compiled this email list, send out a friendly email announcing that you are starting an email newsletter and ask them if you can include them. When I work with clients, I automatically include a version of this welcome message in the first issue of any new newsletter program.

Step 3: Format Your Master List for Import

Q: Is there a special format I can use to make it easier to upload my list?

A: Create a simple spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to help you with compiling your list for easy import.

  1. In a spreadsheet, create columns for the contacts’ email addresses, first names and last names.
Email Address First Name Last Name Sally Sample

2. If you have more than one email address for a contact, list them on separate lines.

Email Address First Name Last Name Sally Sample

3. If you’d like to include additional information you can use to segment your list, insert another column for the audience category. These categories could include customers, vendors, employees, etc.

Email Address* First Name* Last Name Company Audience Sally Sample Acme Company Customer – New Homes Joe Vendor Gadget Man Prospect Mary Smith Your Company Customer – Remodel

Even though you may have multiple columns in your spreadsheet (such as last names, companies and audience), the only required fields are email addresses and (usually) first names.

Now You’re Ready to Create Content

Q: Where do I get content? What do I write about?

A: There are three approaches to getting content for your newsletter program.

Create Your Own Content—This is the most affordable option, as it only costs your time. The hardest part for most remodeling firms is sticking to a consistent schedule. Often, the newsletter program gets sidelined when you are busy. When things slow down; it can take a long time for the leads to generate into actual projects. Many remodelers use my “52 Content Ideas for Residential Contractors” as a resource tool for ideas.

Done-For-You Newsletter Program for Remodelers—There are several “done-for-you” services available, including mine. My “Done for You” newsletter program is the only e-newsletter program that gives design/build remodeling firms high-quality content affordably. The content will inspire and educate your audience while giving you the flexibility to personalize each issue with your own photos and message—all aiming to keep you top-of-mind, so they contact you when they are ready to renovate. Starting at $250 an issue, it’s an affordable newsletter content option.

Custom Content—You can work with a freelance content writer, such as myself, to create custom content for your newsletter program. This option affords you the greatest diversity in topics, as you and your writer work together to create a customized newsletter editorial calendar. Time-wise, this falls in the middle between a “done-for-you” service and the create-your-own-content option, but it is the most expensive option of the three, as all of the content is custom.

A final word about content: The quality of content does matter. Today, consumers expect content to have substantial value and not simply be “fluff.” With many options available, the quality of content you choose could be the deciding factor as to whether your readers read your email or delete and move on.


Does the Done-For-You Newsletter for Remodelers Program sound like the perfect fit for your business? Let’s talk!

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