So you want to start a new blog or newsletter? This article is a cornucopia of a bakers’ dozen of things for you to consider when setting that up. Even though I’ve numbered them, these are presented here in no particular order.

1. What’s in a name?

A catchy name is not a requirement for a successful newsletter or blog, but it can be a big help. If you can’t think of something really good, then keep it simple and plain rather than risking something that may come across as cheesy. And here’s an important consideration: choose something for which you can own the domain! (Check out this blog post about choosing a domain name.)

2. Develop a realistic schedule

The business world and the Internet is littered with blogs and newsletters that started with proud  announcements that they were a weekly communication. For the first few weeks or a month they were. Then a few weeks are skipped here and there. Then they become monthly communications, then quarterly at best. What should you do? First, don’t advertise what your schedule will be unless there is a compelling reason to. Next, realistically assess the amount of content you can create and the time you can devote to your newsletter or blog before you determine your schedule. See “Build a content backlog” below for more. (Also see my previous post about why I don’t call this my blog…)

3. Mind the Ps and Qs (and commas, and…)

Even though misspellings and grammar goofs are tolerated in today’s age of texts and IMs, it’s important that you edit your content before putting it out there in your newsletter or blog. If this is not your strong point, hire or barter with someone else to be your second pair of eyes. In any case, make sure your content has been proofed and projects your professional image before you publish it. Nobody will blacklist you for the occasional typo – but they do have a negative effect on your message. One thing I do is to never publish a post the day I write it. I write it, save it as a draft, then re-read it (aloud) the next day to make sure it still resonates. And after you publish your blog, it’s fine to go back in and fix things if you later find errors!

4. Make sure there is some “There” there

You are competing with every email, website, television show, radio program, and ubiquitous social media for your readers’ attention, so you’d better make it good! Don’t waste their time with mere fluff: If you’re going to say something, make sure it’s something that is useful, novel, important, or helpful to your readers. See “Syndicated content” below for more.

5. Home, home on the web

If you’re looking to launch an email newsletter, depending on what your goals are, you will want to have a website that is a destination for the links in your newsletter. Two common approaches to take are duplicating the newsletter in whole or in part on your website, or using your newsletter to provide links to your blog.

6. It doesn’t always have to be personal

Helpful information and useful data that your newsletter readers want and need is far more valuable to them than having something that is addressed to them by name. If you plan to personalize, remember that it can come across as cheesy if it’s not done well.

7. Size matters

There are two different aspects to the question of how long your newsletter should be. How many different stories or articles should you include in your newsletter, and how long should they be? This also applies to your blog: how long should a blog post be? There is no one right answer, as it depends largely on your goals and on what you think your readers would want.

  • It’s what you do with it – Article length: If your readers are skimmers, then your newsletter articles should have a headline and just a sentence or two with a link to more if the reader wants it. If your readers are the type who prefer not to follow a link to the web, then keep your articles short and include them in their entirety in your newsletter. For blog posts, my policy is to write enough to fully express your message: no more, no less. That means sometimes my posts are long, and sometimes they are short. (However if you are writing for someone else’s blog or newsletter, ask them what length they prefer.)
  • One size does not fit all – Number of articles: The longer your articles are, the fewer there should be. Even if your articles are very short, remember that your readers typically are looking at your newsletter as they are sorting through everything else in their inboxes. Give them enough to satisfy, but not enough to lose their interest.

8. Use a friendly return address

You spent your time and effort building a valuable mailing list. You went to the trouble to write a great newsletter. Don’t add an unfriendly, uninviting undertone to your message by using a return address like DoNotReply@mosquitowing.com. A better choice would be Clients@mosquitowing.com, Newsletter@mosquitowing.com, or just about anything else. Worried that people won’t realize that replying to your newsletter isn’t a good way to reach you? See “Autoresponders” below.

9. Consistency is key

It’s okay if you bounce around between styles and layouts at first, but work on settling down to a consistent newsletter or blog style as soon as possible. Consistency instills a sense of professionalism, longevity, and reliability in your messaging. Also a consistent look and feel allows your readers to comfortably navigate your newsletter or blog and provides familiarity, and if your content is good, loyalty. But even though consistency is key, you have to be flexible. Many great writing and style rules have to allow for the odd exception, and so should your blog or newsletter style. A tree must be rigid and stand firm, but it must also be able to bend or it will break.

10. Build a content backlog

Even busy weekly bloggers like to take vacations. How do they do it? They build a stash of extra material that they can post at any time – a backlog of content. Those random inspirations that don’t quite fit in with your current issue: write them up and hold them aside for a rainy day… or a week of vacation.

11. Syndicated content: Content for the masses

Search online for “syndicated content” and you’ll find many resources for ready-made content for you to plug into your newsletter or blog. The problem with using syndicated content is that it is usually (not always) fluffy stuff that is written for the most general audience possible. If you want your readers to spend even one minute of their time reading your newsletter, be sure to provide them only with content that will matter to them… and that delivers your message and leads to your call to action.

12. Autoresponders

Most email systems let you set up an autoresponder, which is a message that is automatically sent as a reply to any message received by a particular email address. Set an autoresponder on the email address that you use for your newsletter. This response should inform the sender that this email address isn’t monitored, and give the sender the appropriate email address to use for correspondence with you as well as a link to where the sender can manage his or her newsletter subscription status.

13. Unsubscribe

Giving your readers a way to unsubscribe from your newsletter list is more than common courtesy and good business sense: it’s the law. Check out this Wikipedia article about CAN-SPAM, and here’s a readable explanation of CAN-SPAM from the Federal Trade Commission.

The moral of the story

Put some planning and thought into your new blog or newsletter before you launch it to make sure it projects the professional image that you want to portray.

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