Ack, Our First Newsletter! Will Anyone Care?

So we finally jumped into the water with our very first newsletter — high time for a graphic design firm that has designed dozens of newsletters for our clients! Getting the newsletter out the door took twice as long as we thought it would. But what we learned through the experience was eye-opening — and extremely gratifying.

Working on the newsletter in Mailchimp

First, the content. We decided to start with a weekly blog that we would post on our website. And once we had a few blogs posted we rolled them up into a newsletter and added a case study to showcase some of our work. Some internal focus-grouping among the marketing gurus I network with helped us refine our approach and settle on a Challenge / Solution format for our case study. They also got us to rethink the way we displayed our work in our online portfolio, which resulted in a 30-page overhaul that we are now quite pleased with.

Next came the layout, which was especially challenging — as a graphic design firm, the one thing we could not do was have poor newsletter design! Some research helped us choose a less-common layout so that we could stand out in the crowd, and the challenge was integrating graphics for all four blogs along and the case study without overpowering our own logo and branding, while making sure that the newsletter was both easily accessible at a glance (vs. confusing) and visually balanced.

Then, oooops! we’d forgotten the call to action, that direct and salesy bit that bluntly reminds readers that if they’d like the same great results we’ve provided for our clients, then hey, they should contact us. Like many small business owners I tend to shy away from in-your-face sales and assume that people skimming the newsletter know to reach out if they want our services. But that’s not always the case! How to say that in a way that wasn’t too awkward and where to put the call to action was another important decision.

By the time we’d gone through a few iterations we thought we were almost done. The last part of the project was the mailing list, and this aspect turned out to be the trickiest and most time-consuming of all. Combing through 27 years worth of e-mail addresses in our contacts database was no small task. Who were some of these people from many years ago, and would they even want to hear from us again?

Because of anti-spam regulations I knew we had to clean our list before we sent the newsletter via MailChimp (e-mail newsletter software), since a high proportion of bouncebacks, unsubscribes, and — god forbid — being reported as spam would penalize us and potentially shut down our e-mail account. But how in the world to do this?

The answer turned out to be obvious and inspiring. We drafted an e-mail saying that we wanted to reconnect to offer some resources in the form of a newsletter we’d be launching shortly, and noting that we’d love to include the recipient because we wanted their feedback. We told them there would be no hard feelings if they chose to  unsubscribe afterwards and that if they knew right now that they didn’t want to receive it to just let us know and we wouldn’t even send it. We also asked them to let us know what’s going on in their lives.

Part of the genius of this idea was breaking my contact list of 1,500 into small batches and sending those through my regular e-mail account, using bcc. This way it came across as much more personal than utilizing e-mail newsletter software, and we didn’t have to be penalized by all of the bouncebacks. And there were many! We sifted through them and tracked down updated e-mail addresses for the people we really wanted to include on our list using LinkedIn and Google, culling our mailing list down to about 1,100.

And here’s the best part — the response to that initial outreach was overwhelming! Many people wrote back to say how great it was to hear from me, and to give me their own update. Some hadn’t spoken with me in 20 years and were astounded and pleased to receive my outreach. Response was so prolific that during the two weeks I was working on this project I became overwhelmed trying to respond to it all. You can’t really tell someone you’d love to receive their update and then not reply within 24 hours!

From that initial outreach alone I landed more than a dozen meetings, one with a firm that happened to need a website refresh right then and had been wondering who to work with until my e-mail landed in their in-box to remind them we were here! They signed on after our first meeting, and we’ll be starting their project next week.

Two meetings were with other creative firms who had projects they wanted to collaborate on (proving that it makes sense to include everyone in your mailing list, even your competitors). And the rest were meetings with business owners who wanted to “catch up,” which may or may not lead to closed business but so far have produced two referrals that I’m meeting with next week.

I was amazed at the response, especially since the newsletter had not yet even been sent! A number of people I saw at networking events over those weeks commented on my upcoming newsletter launch, showing me that it had registered with them even if they didn’t respond. And only nine people replied to ask me not to include them in the launch.

When we finally did send the newsletter out, we got a 32% open rate (which is very good), a 4% click-through rate (which is average), and only 4% unsubscribes. It’s likely that our open rate was so high because we had seeded people’s interest by telling them to be on the lookout for the newsletter, and by soliciting feedback on the finished product from everyone who replied to the initial outreach. I’ll be interested to see if that statistic can be maintained, while trying to increase our click-through rate for next time.

No additional meetings came as a result of actually pressing “send” on the newsletter, but we did gather a good amount of feedback from recipients, which will make the next edition even better. And actively soliciting input definitely made sure that a good number of people carefully looked at the newsletter.

Now that the excitement has died down, it’s back to work. We’ve got a lot of feedback to incorporate into the June newsletter, more good blogs to write, and most importantly, a number of leads to follow up on!

Lara Kisielewska, Founder