So, you’re starting an email newsletter? Don’t do this.

If you're looking for advice on starting an email newsletter, start here.

Eye-candy has a lot to do with which emails I love – because I tend to admire what I can’t do myself – but you don’t have to be an artist or a writer or a tech geek to compose a really great email – you just have to know yourself.

I will admit that a tiny part of me gets my feelings hurt when people I know are starting an email newsletter for their business but don’t ask me for my help¹. To a lesser extent, I feel this way when clients of mine do their own marketing emails and don’t call on me for help, but somehow that is easier to take.

Both situations have happened more than once, and what makes it hard to get over is that I keep getting their emails… and they suck.

Yes, I signed up for their emails for a reason (besides the self-flagellation). I want to see what they’re up to! I want to see what kind of information they give out and how they present it – because, for me, all marketing emails – amateur or professional, abysmal or exceptional – are of interest.

There are some lists I stay on for personal reasons – like Apartment Therapy & Yoga Journal – and then there are some I stay on specifically because I like the quality of the marketing. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is a perfect example. Jeni’s doesn’t have a regular sending schedule, but when they DO send an email, it charms my pants off! The photography & design is clean and colorful, the marketing angles are ingenious, and their copy is downright delightful. More than once I have been so excited about their call-to-action that I’ve filed the email away with the intention of stealing the idea later.

Then there are the emails from my friends (or even from clients who do their own emails).

They are not clean. They are not sassy. They are not exciting. Here’s why:

1. They try to write a novel. I am the first to admit that Hemingway was probably talking to me when he said “kill your darlings.” I am verbose. I love to read my own words. I love composing long, rambling emails. The summer after my sophomore year in college, I had an email exchange going with a friend that probably totaled in the 10s of 1000s of words. But, then, I was not trying to market to my friend (she liked me well enough already).

THE FIX? Be concise. The easiest way to do this is to link to content on your website – if you have a lot to say, boil it down to 50-words-or-less and use those 50 words to tease your email recipients into visiting your site.

2. They repeat themselves. No one appreciates getting an email once a week with practically all the same content from the month before but one new update buried way down at the bottom. You will lose readers. It doesn’t matter if you’re offering a 20% off coupon or have included tomorrow’s winning lottery numbers. Readers will see that recycled content and stop reading… and likely stop opening your email at all.

THE FIX? Wait until you have something new to say. Even if people don’t hear from you for 3 months, they will still open your email if you consistently have something new and interesting to tell them (I could go on at length about emailing frequency, but that’s a post for another day).

3. They think they’re a graphic designer. I admit that in my past, I have used Comic Sans². Clearly, I am not a gifted graphic artist, which is why the font on this blog is all wonky. But when you’re not an artist, and when what you want is to get a clear message across quickly to as many of your readers as possible, you’ve got to let go of your pretensions at graphic design.

THE FIX? Keep it visually simple. Stick with bold/larger headlines and straightforward, sans-serif body text. No colors! No font changes! No funny business! Make use of that “Remove Formatting” button if you have it.

4. They try to talk to everyone or sell everything. This is kind of a “bonus” item in the list, because with the limited resources & time that most small business owners have, they can’t be bothered with segmenting their audience to target specific groups (A/B testing, gathering more personal information from audience members, action/response-triggered campaigns). But the answer is not to try and appeal to everyone and sell every item in your inventory.

THE FIX? Pick a lane. (who’s Elanie?) Just pick one thing that you want your email to be about. Maybe it’s a customer testimonial. Maybe it’s the month’s upcoming events. Maybe it’s a new product or a specific sale. But just let your email be about one thing – your audience will be happier and more loyal.


I had to sit down and write all of this tonight just so that I don’t start replying to my friends’ email newsletters while tears run down my face, writing the email equivalent of “Why Don’t You Like Me?! A Bitter Woman’s Journey Through Life.” The bottom line is that I want to see good emails in my in-box, I want to read them. Yes, I’d love more work, but more than that, I’d like to see others doing good work, too. It inspires me to be better myself.

So – if you plan to sent out an email newsletter, will you please give me a ring? There are still about 8 months left before I stop giving away the milk for free. At the very least, read Email Design Review on a regular basis. Your audience will thank you.



¹secret confession #1 – I’m still willing to give away advice for free all day, despite what this article that I found through Jenni Leeds admonishes. I’ve promised to stop doing this by the time I’m 30 but it’s going to be a hard addiction to beat.)

²secret confession#2 – When I was a kid, mom bought this software called Print Shop Deluxe, and we used it to make homemade banners and cards. PSD’s limited toolkit was my first introduction into design and typesetting. I moved on to using Claris Works, then Word, and finally, blissfully, QuarkXpress, InDesign, Dreamweaver and now WordPress. Throughout my experience with layout & typesetting for print and digital media, I’ve been a font-lover. My uncle, our computer/networking guru, would constantly chastise mom & me for having too many fonts loaded on our computers. When Google WebFonts came onto the scene, I had to change my underpants I was so happy. That is all just to say – I know. I knooooooow.


by | Last Updated: Mar 3, 2012 | marketing advice