You know you need to stay in touch with the people on your list, but you're in two minds about starting a newsletter. Will it take up too much of your time? What if you run out of things to say? Can you maintain quality over a period of time? How long should your newsletter be?
Your first aim should be to offer useful or interesting information. (If you don't do that, you won't have subscribers for long!) Your second aim should be to keep your newsletter short. Remember that people are inundated with email these days - they actually prefer something they can skim quickly and then put to use.
Spend some time thinking about the best format. You need a model that will be easy to reproduce week after week, month after month. Any one of the following five ideas will make your job easier. Choose one and keep it as a regular format, or combine several of them (for example, you could use the "Tip of the Week" format for weeks 1-3 each month, and offer a checklist every fourth newsletter).
1. Tip of the Week
This one speaks for itself. You can easily brainstorm enough content for six months of weekly newsletters (you need to come up with 24 tips, which you will present weekly). Anyone with a degree of expertise on a given topic should be able to do this without any trouble. A handy way to organize this is to (a) explain the problem then (b) offer the tip which will solve it. Length? Anything from 150 - 500 words.
2. Top Ten
This is a tried and true format, and easy to create. Example: if you are an expert on finance, you could offer advice on the Top Ten Ideas for Getting Out of Debt, or the Top Ten Ways to Save Money on Car Expenses, or the Top Ten Tips to Pay Off Your Mortgage in Ten Years. Make sure you keep a tight rein on word length - just offer a couple of sentences for each tip, not half a page.
3. Three Ways to...
Sometimes it can be a bit of a challenge to come up with ten ways to do things, whereas just three ideas is a cinch. You can also explore three ideas in more detail. Alternatively, you can alternate the "Top Ten" format with "Three Ways to... the two of them will work together nicely.
4. Before and After
Who doesn't like makeovers? This works in a similar way to 'Tip of the Week' in that you show the problem and then provide a solution, but the 'before and after' approach lends itself better to case studies. This is a good way to interact with your clients - invite them to send in details of whatever needs a makeover: an article, a website page, their wardrobe etc, then present your solutions. Alternatively, you can ask for 'before and after' examples from readers who have managed to do this themselves, then showcase it for the rest of your customers. (If you don't use HTML for your newsletters, you can add a link to a website page for the accompanying photos.) This works particularly well if you have a health and fitness related newsletter - your readers will be motivated by seeing the changes others have made through diet, exercise and weight training.
When you're learning to do something new, there's nothing like a checklist to make sure you don't leave out a crucial step. Checklists can save a lot of time, and your readers will be delighted to get one. Write a brief introductory paragraph, present the checklist, and then follow it with a few final tips. You can either base your entire newsletter on the checklist format, or present one at regular intervals as a change from the standard article format.
Final tip: set up an address at yahoo or gmail just for newsletters. Spend a few hours checking out sites related to your own interests, and sign up for any free newsletters. Every so often, check your new email account and browse, looking specifically to see what approach other editors use for layout and articles. When you see a format you like, print it out and put it in an 'ideas' folder. Unsubscribe from any that are constantly filled with junk or endless sales pitches.