I met Andy when I asked Kari Chapin who I should talk to about writing a kick ass newsletter. She unequivocally recommended Andy. I signed up for his newsletter to see what all the fuss was about. Since then I have bought a boat load of tea. Yes, tea. He owns Plum Deluxe, which sells hand-blended organic, fair-trade, loose-leaf tea that is delicious. Warning: If you sign up for his newsletter, you will want to buy all of his Plum Deluxe Tea. I asked Andy if he could take a break from tea-life and write a little something for my blog and he graciously agreed.

Written by Andy Hayes, of Plum Deluxe

How many times have you heard on a webinar, teleclass, or blog post the phrase “the money is in the list?” With social networks pulling back hard on organic reach, making the way for pay-to-play situations for businesses of all sizes, email newsletters are starting to look pretty satisfying.

I’ve been writing email newsletters every week for 8.5 years.  Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.

1.    Spend time branding your newsletter.

Here’s the reality check: nobody wants another newsletter in their inbox.  In fact, there are not very many things that your customers probably need.  You need to understand what they want.  Maybe they want some free tutorials or downloads (often called a “bribe” to get people to signup).  Maybe they want to know about coupons, discounts, and promotions.  You need to have something to offer your subscribers beyond “free updates.”

The biggest improvement you can make here is not calling your newsletter a newsletter.  Why not brand it like it is another product in your lineup?  Because if you treat your newsletter like a product – always improving it, marketing it, and making sure it fits into all of your other activities – you’ll find your zone for success.

Learn by Example:  Uppercase Magazine calls their newsletter a “letter” – which feels more like a personal note than an emailed spam blast.  They also let you see a preview, which is nice so you can see what you’re in for.

2.    Timing is everything (and nothing).

It feels there has been as much research done on what time to send your email newsletter as how to solve global warming.  Here’s the thing:  I can’t tell you what is the best time to email.  Because only you know the best times for your customers.  But I can give you some food for thought.

As far as frequency, I don’t think you should email more than once a week – people are busy, and you have better things to do.  I would at least email once a month, so your subscribers don’t forget about you (waiting longer than that can increase your unsubscribe rates).

When it comes to day/time, think about what will jive with your customer.  Is she a working professional gal, making Monday morning a terrible time to reach out?  Is she a busy mom who usually has a bit of time around lunch during the week? Does she own a business and only reads non-customer email on the weekends?  You need to do some digging and find this out – the easiest way is to try playing around with your send times and see what gets the best results.

Learn by Example: Danielle Laporte offers her subscribers not one, not two, but three easy-to-pick options: somewhat weekly, monthly digest, and daily emails.  When in doubt, give them options.

3.    Show some personality.

If you’ve managed to get your customer to not only subscribe, but then open, your newsletter – congrats!  You’re on a roll.  But now you need to get them interested in clicking and continuing to read your updates.  It’s time to show off your creative self.

My biggest tip here is to write like it’s an email to ONE person.  This will help you not get into stiff, stale language.  Don’t be afraid to have some fun.  Make it feel like you’re really trying to connect with your customer over a cup of tea.

Learn by Example:  Of a Kind does a weekly newsletter that features 10 things they’re doing besides email.  It’s a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that we all get too much email, and the format allows them to cover a lot of ground in each update.

4.    Make it visual.

We’ve all known for some time that customers often buy from us based on the pictures that tell a story about our products, services and us.  The rapid-fire growth of Pinterest serves as an example of this.  Exercise your creative photography muscles when it comes to your email newsletter; the more you can swap out large blocks of text with photos + captions that simplify your message and encourage clicks, the better.

Learn by Example: Uncommon Goods does an amazing job of visual storytelling on their weekly newsletter; check out their own gallery of their favorites. Wow!

5.    Go mobile.

Regardless of your target demographic, it is a rare case to not see a growing portion of your subscribers viewing your emails on a smartphone or tablet.  If you want to grow your email list and engagement with subscribers, the emails you send must be easily viewed on these mobile devices.

Luckily, if you’re using a platform like MadMimi or Mailchimp, they take care of this for you.  I won’t dwell too much on the technical aspects, but if you are not sure if your newsletter is mobile-friendly, test it – and take care of any major issues.

Learn by Example:  Good Food Jobs does a good job of packing in a ton of information into a format that is easy to browse via phone – here’s an example from their online archive.

Andy Hayes is the founder and creator at PlumDeluxe.com, the website that helps you create moments that matter.  He’s also the curator and maker of Plum Deluxe’s lineup of organic, loose leaf teas, and publishes the company’s award-winning email newsletter, The Blend. A published author and prolific author, Andy is based in sunny Portland, Oregon.