Editor’s note: This post comes from our Constant Contact UK office. You can view all the posts from our UK team here. Or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

I get 20+ different email and printed newsletters a week from all sorts of people. You probably get a good few as well.

Of the newsletters that you receive, how many do you read? How many do you even scan? How many get instantly deleted?

There is an argument which states that even an unread newsletter serves a purpose because you are reminding the recipients that you are still there, even if they see your name and delete it straight away.

I don’t agree with that myself, because what you could actually be reminding people of is that you are boring and never have anything useful or interesting to say. I believe that your newsletter should be an email that your recipients genuinely get something out of reading, and that they should look forward to seeing in their inbox.

There are a whole host of ways to do this, and I’m going to explain 5 of the absolute essentials right here:

 1. A good title

For many newsletter-publishers, the game is lost well before your recipient opens your email. In fact, it’s enough for many people to just read an email subject line in their packed inbox and decide not to bother with the rest of it.

This is why your first newsletter essential is a good title. What I mean is the title that appears in the email subject line AND at the top of your newsletter.

Here’s how I do it:

  • First I start with the name of my newsletter in brackets, so people know what it is, e.g. {The M.A.P.}
  • Second, I add the subject of this issue, e.g. Do You Have A Cathedral In Your Back-Yard?
  • Put together it looks like this: {The M.A.P.} Do You Have A Cathedral In Your Back-Yard?

I like to capitalise the first letter of each word, so it looks like a title, but not like you’re SHOUTING AT THEM (beware of your caps lock!).

It’s also important not to make the title too long, or much of it won’t appear in the inbox preview pane, and you’re failing to give your recipient a reason to read the email.

There are many types of newsletter title that can be very effective. Remember, your objective with the title is to get your email opened. So, you can try being intriguing, enlightening, amusing, or creating urgency or suspense. In my example above, I’m being intriguing. Why would I ask my reader if they had a cathedral in their back-yard? What’s that got to do with marketing? People want to open the email to find out.

2. A real ‘from’ address

The ‘from’ address on your email newsletter is another important ‘outside the envelope’ factor (i.e. something your recipient sees before they even open your email.

The very best thing you can do is use an email address that looks like a real person at your business, rather than newsletters@ or no-reply@. A really great example of this that you might have seen before was the US presidential campaign by Barak Obama. People who signed up for updates on the campaign received emails from Barak himself, Michelle Obama, and key members of his campaign team. All of them signed their emails with their first name (as if they were emailing a friend) and each of them used a real ‘from’ address, so you would see an email from Barak Obama popping up in your inbox. Would you open that email? I would!

I know that you may feel your skin crawling with apprehension at this idea. What if you use a real email address and then people *gasp!* EMAIL YOU!? What will you do!?

If that’s your worry, there are 2 things you need to know:

a) We WANT people to email you. Your email (if done well) is an engagement tool, not just a broadcast.

b) You won’t get as many emails as you think you’re going to – by a LONG way. People are simply backwards about coming forwards, so even though your readers will be thinking about you and your emails, very few of them will actually contact you in this way. To give you an idea of volume, I have over 1,000 subscribers on the mailing list for The M.A.P., and only receive a handful of emails about it each week – most of which are a simple comment or a question, and so are quick and easy to deal with. Many more tweet or Facebook about it, or click through on any links I’ve put in it, but most of those don’t require a response from me.

3. Your voice

Assuming that you’ve got a good ‘from’ address, your readers are now expecting to open your email and read a message from you. Imagine how confused and disappointed they will be if your email sounds like it was written by someone else – maybe even an impersonal template!

Whenever you write your newsletter (or any customer communication), make it sound like it’s from you. This doesn’t mean that it should be at all un-professional, however it should have your business personality running through it.

The best way to achieve this is to imagine that you are sat face-to-face with one of your best customers. They have just asked you a question, and you are going to tell them the answer. Write that answer as you would say it (maybe a little more succinctly), and you will have put your voice into your writing.

Like to crack a joke every now and then in meetings? Feel free to pop an appropriate one in.

Often use stories when explaining things to your customers? Go ahead and tell the story.

Your readers will identify with you more strongly, and feel that you are really talking to (and caring about) them.

4. Useful content

What do you want to see when you open one of the newsletters that you receive? You either want to be informed or entertained. As we’re talking about business newsletters here, keeping people informed is the number one thing that your readers need from you – that doesn’t mean that you can’t also be entertaining, but any entertainment should always support the useful content that you give your readers.

Useful content is easier to create than you think. All you have to do is give your readers one small thing that will help them in some way. With The M.A.P. I do this by giving my readers a Marketing Mission to carry out each week. It’s quick and simple, and will help them to sell more of their products and services.

Other examples include the wedding planner who shares wedding tips and trends; the shoe shop who showcases new styles, deals and offers; and the life coach who answers coaching questions. If you were interested in their topic (weddings, shoes, or life coaching), then each of these newsletters would be something that you’d want to read.

5. People to send it to

Your newsletter won’t be doing you any good unless people are reading it, and they won’t read it unless you have people on your mailing list.

This is not a numbers game. You could have a list of 5,000 people, but if not one of them was in a position to buy from you, or was interested in what you offer, then it wouldn’t do you much good. On the other hand, you could have a list of 50 previous clients that you keep in touch with through your newsletter, and if all of them are really interested in what you have to say, you could make sales every time you email them.

Of course, 500 highly engaged readers would be better than 50 highly engaged readers (for most of us), but you get the idea.

So now, you need to build up that list. Go for “permission only”. This means that everyone on your list should have agreed to receiving your emails. Do not buy a list! For most small businesses that’s a bad thing to do, and will damage your reputation.

You also need to give people the option to sign up for your newsletter. You can do this on your email signature, your website, and on your social media profiles – just about everywhere you can think of.

A final point:

If you only have 5 people on your list at the moment, don’t wait until you have more people to send your newsletter to – start sending it anyway. As you practice, you will get better and better at it, and those first few recipients will start to tell others about your newsletter and pass it on to others.

Want some help?

If you are seriously thinking about using an email newsletter to build your customer relationships and create sales, or you already have a newsletter that you want to get better results from, I have something that might just be what you’re looking for. To be one of the first to find out all about it AND receive a whole bunch of free tools and resources you need to (yup, you guessed it!) join my mailing list here.