How to set up a successful e-newsletter and get 8,000 subscribers

Print may be dying but people still want great content delivered directly to their inbox.

The fact there’s still a thriving market for static content delivered periodically on an individual basis may seem counter-intuitive in a world of tweets, blogs and 24-hour news, but the e-newsletter model is becoming more and more prominent.

On the surface it’s the same as posting a glossy flyer through a letter box, but e-newsletters have a distinct difference: unless you’ve managed to get your paws on a third-party list of email addresses, the group of individuals that receive your newsletter will have actively signed up as willing recipients. You can’t walk the streets of cyberspace and push your wares into people’s homes at random, which means that your e-newsletter readership is likely to be incredibly engaged with what you have to say. They’ve told you: “I like what you’re doing. Please send me more!”

It’s this that makes the e-newsletter model great for individual writers who have ideas but lack the funds to run print production, marketing and distribution. And an engaged and active audience is particularly attractive to advertisers as well.

Where do you begin? To get a bit of guidance, I spoke to Nicky Clarke, Editor of Friday’s Child (@fri_child) – a food and drink tip sheet for Londoners looking to make the most of their weekends. Clarke’s e-newsletter has garnered thousands of subscribers and a long-term sponsor. Here’s how he did it:

What’s your background…

I’m a journalist by trade, and have worked at several glossies and a luxury city guide publisher as well as freelancing for everyone from The Independent and The Guardian through to OK! and Attitude. Mostly food and travel, but I’ve done the occasional personal piece, too — like a recent feature I did on my family for the Stella supplement in Telegraph. I always think it’s nice to do something that touches a nerve now and then.

What gave you the idea for Friday’s Child?

I sign-up to everything going — food and drink newsletters, marketing communications from restaurant groups and stuff from overseas — and I wasn’t reading anything that was providing me with a quick, sharp hit of what I should be doing at the weekend. Those that did focus on the weekend were too long and varied — trying to be everything to everyone. I wanted to create something that took a risk and didn’t sit on the fence.

Friday’s Child readers are fun-loving professionals who are over clubbing but still like to wine, dine and have a good time. The format of the newsletter — a pick for Friday, Saturday and Sunday with an overview intro — also means that it’s short and sweet. An edit in the truest sense of the word.

How important is the editorial side of the newsletter?

It’s everything. So far, readers have said that they don’t only read for my weekend recommendations, but also for how they are written: fun, irreverent and very tongue-in-cheek. The tone doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I’d like to think it’s also a little bit sexy sometimes. I also try to weave in relevant news stories people will have been reading about, too — at least where it’s possible.

How many subscribers do you have at present?

I have 8,000 at the moment, but that goes up with each edition sent out. It’s nice to see that only 12 or so people have unsubscribed in total — which isn’t too bad at all, as I don’t expect it to appeal to everyone. Nor should it.

What strategy did you use to go from 0 to 8,000?

I have experience in PR, so I’d like to think I know how to create a buzz. Prior to launch, I did a bit of a PR campaign — talking about the brand, and about what it would offer. I set up a number of interviews, much like this one, to ensure that potential readers would know about it. Since launch, growth has been largely organic, but I push stories in each edition via social media. I think in this day and age I’d be stupid not to!

Is your newsletter ‘monetised’ in any way?

I’ve had one paying advertiser since launch, but it’s not strictly monetised as yet. I have a plan to monetise it down the line when readership is greater, then I’ll sell banner ads on the newsletter and consider ‘skinning’ the homepage. But I will make sure that I align myself with the correct brands so we’re complimenting each other. I think that’s the way to do it.

What in your mind is the key to a successful e-newsletter publication?

It needs to connect with its reader, and I can see from the emails, social media engagement and redemptions on the reader perks I offer that it is. Going forward, I’d like to expand my content remit — perhaps in the form of a daily recommendation on the website that tells readers what to do Monday to Thursday. But you’ll have to check back for developments!

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