How to build a mailing list and send newsletters

Everything a creative needs to know
Common Exception Shout About It Newsletter and Mailing list guide
Never underestimate the power of the humble newsletter. In 2008, Gwyneth Paltrow started sending her first weekly newsletter with recipes and nutritional tips. Love it or loath it, Goop was valued in March 2019 at $250 million. Here we give you all the reasons you should start a mailing list and tips to send out your first newsletter.

Why have a mailing list?

There are so many reasons why you should start building your mailing list. The primary one is that you own it! You might have followers on social media but what if the platform goes down or Elon Musk buys it? The second is, not everyone is on social media and because of the algorithms, you’re also not going to be able to reach everyone following you. A mailing list is your investment, and also a sign of your people investing in you and your vision.

Don’t be afraid

Worried about people not being interested? Having nothing to say? Honestly, don’t be. People subscribe because they want to hear from you, and anything can be an interesting story with your unique take on it. You just need to get creative. And if anyone unsubscribes, who cares! They’re not your people anyway so it’s just making space for a true fan.

Sharing is caring

Newsletters are a great space for sharing different content or expanding on content that you’ve shared on social media. Perhaps it’s your weekly musings, talking about your process or sharing useful tips, or a new article or blog post you’ve written or something you’ve read or seen. There’s no right or wrong content to share, it just needs to be interesting for you to share, because you have to write it, and resonate with the people you’re writing to — because people are reading it!

What’s the right time to set up a mailing list?

There’s no best time to start your mailing list. Starting one before you launch is perfect as you don’t miss out on early clients or customers, but if you don’t have one yet don’t worry. You’ve got time! You can also start sending newsletters as soon as you have a subscriber. One friend is better than no friends!

How often to send newsletters?

Think about the newsletters you receive, and how often you receive them. Which ones do you remember? The frequency you send newsletters is determined by what feels right for you and your brand, and also what you’re selling (we’re all selling something!), but you also want to be remembered. Weekly is our preference, but if you need to share something don’t be afraid of sending two newsletters in one week. You also don’t need to wait until you have news to share — make your own news! Your thoughts or work in progress are worthy of being shared.

How to build a mailing list

Setting up a mailing list is fairly straightforward. You don’t even have to automate your list. You can simply collect emails and put them into a spreadsheet. Sure, it’s time-consuming but if that’s what you can do, do it. Even your newsletters can simply be an email with everyone blind-copied in. If it’s authentic to your brand, this might be lovely and stand out for being low-fi. But for those who want an automated system, read on.

  1. Find the right platform for you. We like Sendinblue, Mailerlite, Mailchimp and Substack — perfect for writers — which all have free options. We’ve also recently come across Pencilbooth — the brainchild of Aussie agency Jacky Winter — which looks great for busy artists and designers. Image-led and very user-friendly, we like the archive function which acts like a portfolio. We’ll share a review of the different platforms soon so you can see the pros and cons — there are always pros and cons to any platform!
  1. Set up a form or link on your website to collect names and emails. If you’re using Sendinblue, Mailerlite or Mailchimp, create a form and ask for their first name too so you can personalise emails and newsletters. Personalised emails are often underestimated but help creates a personal connection. For us, we offer a deeply personal service and friendly service so being able to address someone by their name helps us convey that. We also know of startups that use this function and have received greater investment than if they had sent out the same email without a name.
  1. How to grow your mailing list? Ask people to subscribe to your mailing list. And keep asking. It’s as simple as that.
  1. Don’t wait until you have a certain number of people before you start sending your first newsletter out, but also don’t feel any pressure if you’re not quite ready. If you have one person on your list, that’s one person on your list to write to. If you’re ready to start sharing, it’s time to start.

How to create your first newsletter

  1. Make something you love. Our guiding principle when we’re creating a newsletter is to make something we want to read. Image-led, concise and interesting. We also know we’re improving with each one we send out so don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Let go, and do it anyway!
  2. Remember you’re writing to a person. Every time we write a newsletter, we imagine you reading it. Share anything that you think is helpful, or that creates a connection with you and the person you’re writing to. We also write with a smile because we want you to feel good! Think about one person you enjoy spending time with and write to them.
  3. It’s time to get creative! You can focus on images or words, it’s up to you. We like to keep it concise now — and to a single topic — so all our newsletters are short and sweet. Longer newsletters we love getting are from Anna Jones and Zoë Gibson Quirk’s The Mind Matters. We also enjoy receiving newsletters from artists Ordinary Shapes and Zanny Mellor which are both image-led.
  4. Design your newsletter. Think about what’s important to you, and what’s authentic to your brand. Use the templates, or have some fun. Don’t forget to add your logo and link to your website.
  5. Each platform has advice on how to send your newsletter to your mailing list. Read it! Follow it! It’s simple, but honestly just follow their advice. They’ve written it to help you.
  6. Test, test, test. Send yourself a test before sending it out to everyone on your mailing list. Check for typos and weird spacings, and that it looks how you want it to look. If you’re dyslexic don’t be held back by spelling mistakes. You can ask someone to read it but there is a loveliness to dyslexic spelling. Don’t be afraid of sharing who you are.
  7. It’s time to send it! Press that send button.
  8. Relax and pat yourself on the back. You did it, sending a little bit of happiness out into the world.
  9. Don’t stress if anyone unsubscribes, that’s ok. You don’t need to appeal to everyone, and you only want your true fans on your list because, as you get bigger, you’ll be paying for their rent on your mailing list!

The nitty gritty

  1. Analytics. If you’re interested in your performance (we are!), you’ll want to choose a platform that provides analytics. You can see how many people received it, who opened it, what time they opened it, and what they clicked on. We use it to improve what we share, how we share it and when.
  2. It’s all about the timing. Most email marketers think that Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the best days but it depends on what you’re sharing and who your audience is. Some platforms like Sendinblue on their paid plan can also optimise when your newsletter is sent. This is where analytics help because you can see what your audience likes. But also don’t stress about this. If you’re ready to go, just send it.
  3. Data protection is important and real. You are collecting sensitive information and if you’re holding data you need to respect this and understand your responsibilities. If someone wants to unsubscribe, you need to do this no questions asked. You also need to be transparent about how you are using their data and storing it.

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