3 Rules For Building A Following, One Newsletter At A Time

When I started my new social-media training business in 2009, I knew email newsletters were an excellent way to stay in touch with prospects and customers. I was determined to make my new business work, and I had a feeling that if I produced a high-quality newsletter every week, the word would spread and my business would grow.

There was just one little problem: I had been down this road before. I had attempted to write a monthly newsletter for my previous web design business and failed entirely. Some months, the newsletter went out, some months it didn't, and I always agonized over how to fill it. I knew that if I was going to do a weekly newsletter, I needed a smart plan to ensure that it would actually get done.

I went for a walk on the beach to brainstorm. I had been thinking about this from my perspective, but what about my readers' perspective? What would my readers want in a newsletter? My readers want what I want: something short, simple, and easy to digest. Something useful to take action on, not just another theory to file away in my head.

The answer suddenly appeared: My newsletter would be a short, simple how-to, every week. I could go over basics like how to create a Gravatar, add new connections on LinkedIn, and optimize an email signature. There was no shortage of these simple, how-to topics, and the format of quick, step-by-step instructions would be easier and faster for me to write.

As I let my big idea sink in, I started to feel unsure. I certainly wouldn't win any industry awards by explaining how to leave a comment on a blog, or retweet a message on Twitter; these weren't groundbreaking social media theories, they were just simple little tips. Should my newsletter be something more impressive?

However, I kept in mind who my newsletter was really for. It wasn't for my peers, it wasn't so that I could win a social media award. It was for my customers--people who were desperately searching for someone to break down the basics in a clear, friendly manner.

I learned three important lessons from forming this idea:

  1. Have a plan. You can’t just hope that you’ll get something done, especially when you've tried and failed before. Willpower is not a strategy. Feeling like you "should" be able to do something is not helpful. Instead, get real about your strengths and your schedule. How can you do your best in a way that will leave you successful instead of frustrated? Break it down and make a plan.
  2. Don't be afraid to deviate. How could I fill a newsletter with engaging, customer-centric content every week as a one-woman business? Where would I find the time to write long articles, which just didn't come naturally to me? Reconsidering the existing model and try a format that works for you.
  3. Your customers are your bottom line. It's so easy to get caught up in what our peers are doing that sometimes we overlook our most important constituent: the customer. Often we make things overly complex or lengthy, when our customers just want short, fast, and to the point! Make your decisions based on your customers’ wants and needs.

I've published The Dash every single week--without fail--since January 1st, 2009. That's over 150 weekly issues, and we're still going strong! The idea works because it serves my customers and is easy for me to maintain. Now I see the format copied all the time, with quick tips becoming more popular than lengthy articles. People love The Dash and they pass it on to friends, resulting in the over 30,000 readers we have today.

Laura Roeder is a social media marketing expert who teaches small businesses how to become known as #1 in their field and claim their brand online. She is the creator of Creating Fame and Your Backstage Pass to Twitter.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), is an invite-only nonprofit organization composed of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.

[Image: Flickr user Adam Hassnal Sulaiman]

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