How to Create a Newsletter: 12-Step Checklist

How to Create a Newsletter: 12-Step Checklist

A newsletter can be an excellent vehicle for an independent professional to stay top of mind with potential clients. Many consultants wonder how to create a newsletter, but hold off actually starting because getting it launched seems overwhelming.

We spoke with more than 20 independent consultants on how they started their own newsletter, and distilled what we learned into a 12-step checklist. This resource walks you through each step of how to start your own newsletter.

1. Find your target audience before starting a newsletter

Regardless of what industry you are targeting, there are three main pools for your prospective audience:

  • Potential clients. Aim to get potential clients by having your readership participate and engage, whether that is reading your content, attending an event, or taking some other action.
  • Those who influence prospective clients. The organizational development staff within a large company can help you recruit potential clients, and those who receive steady newsletters are more likely to have you in mind when a prospective project arises. Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, says, “Our primary target audience is decision-makers who can hire us. Our secondary audience is advisors to decision-makers.”
  • Everyone else. Influencers and the occasional reader who might be interested in your newsletter’s content, from analytical writing to videos, are important. Umbrex member David Fields, managing director of David A. Fields Consulting Group, says he doesn’t send his newsletter to everyone he knows, but doesn’t focus only on “potential clients,” either. He finds there are plenty of influencers and occasional readers who just like his “bad drawings and puns.”

Josh Spector, an audience growth strategist and digital marketing consultant, calls his newsletter the “engine of his entire business.” He gets all his clients from the newsletter, “For the Interested,” and doesn’t do any other outreach or marketing promotion.

For independent management consultants, Spector says newsletters can accomplish many things:

  • Draw clients to you.
  • Maintain relationships with people you’ve already worked with.
  • Establish yourself as a leader in your space.
Newsletters can help brand your business
Susan Meier uses her newsletter to share her latest thinking on branding, strategy, design, and creativity.

2. Narrow your newsletter’s objective

newsletter can be a good way to establish your reputation in your field, particularly in recent years when in-person networking activities have been limited or nonexistent as a result of the pandemic. Decide what your focus and goals are before you get started. Some common objectives may be the following:

  • Staying in touch with past clients. A newsletter can help you stay top-of-mind and make connections with potential investors or clients. Umbrex member Maureen Dolan Bala, managing advisor at Galway Group Life Sciences, obtained a project to help a research institute of 400 people transition to the office strategically. “That happened through someone coming to my webinar, then getting subscribed to and enjoying my newsletter, and eventually contacting me for the consulting project,” she said.
  • Demonstrating your credibility. Increased visibility and credibility can help you become an obvious resource for prospective clients, and can give simple reassurance to a client who is looking for social proof before committing.
  • Having a vehicle to force you to learn something new every week. Writing can be a forcing mechanism which helps you produce fresh ideas and perspective. It can also keep existing clients up-to-date on the nature of your industry.

Newsletters are a long-term strategy, says Spector. “It’s not a short game. It’s gonna take time, and that’s fine. Be patient with it. You want to go into it with a bit of a commitment.”

3. Give your newsletter a catchy and relevant name

When thinking about how to create a newsletter, the name should reflect your content and area of expertise, without being jargony or offbeat. Aim for something short that readers will remember. Ask yourself what the keywords are that you’d like your readers to take away. Common approaches include using a firm’s name or related keywords. For example:

  • “Careviser,” by Marie Loubiere, is a weekly newsletter about the healthcare industry.
  • Barry Horwitz writes “The Strategy Game,” a monthly newsletter for business leaders on achieving sustainable growth.
  • Edwina Pike offers insights into transforming business at “The Change Wizard.”

Spector’s advice for coming up with a name is to think about what your audience is interested in. “Your newsletter is not about you,” he says. “Nobody cares about the updates of what you’re doing. Assuming you’re trying to attract new potential clients, they don’t know who you are.”

He adds that naming a newsletter after yourself or your firm is not the best idea because that makes it about you — and the audience doesn’t care. Think about what matters to your audience and what is valuable to them about the content you’ll be offering, and use that to inspire a name.

4. Decide which aspects you will do yourself — and what you will outsource

Take stock of your own talent, time, and interests to see whether you need to engage someone else when going through your newsletter checklist. Outside contractors can help:

  • Writer: Content is first and foremost. Writers can focus on establishing a rhythm and voice, in addition to helping you execute your vision.
  • Text Editor: Any writer can benefit from having a second pair of eyes. If you’re writing your own newsletter, an editor can challenge you to develop a topic, make your ideas watertight, and review your copy.
  • Photo and Illustration Editor: A photo or illustration editor can help you with visual details to separate your newsletter from the rest.
  • Administrator/Virtual Assistant: An administrator or virtual assistant can help maintain your email list and set most of your content, as well as collate, finalize, and convert your copy to a template. An assistant can also manage and send your newsletter through contact management systems such as Mailchimp, extract portions to create LinkedIn posts, or put content onto your website.

Spector adds that there is another benefit to producing a newsletter beyond marketing — one he says is the most valuable aspect for him.

“You will learn so much, that will make you so much better at your job. Every week, for five-and-a-half years, I have found and read and summarized at least five ideas about how to grow your audience and business. That’s thousands of things that I’ve consumed over the years, really smart ideas from really smart people that have made me way better at my job than I would have been had I not done that.”

newsletter design templates
FloDesk is one of many services that offer beautiful, pre-designed email newsletter templates.

5. Create a design for your newsletter

At this point in your newsletter checklist, turn an eye to design.

Visual elements are important, though they need not be elaborate. The look of your newsletter should reflect your brand. Below are some key options for design:

  • Use an out-of-the-box template. This can allow you to start with a predesigned newsletter, in which you can easily edit content and style as needed. Aim for a strong header, logo and color scheme and include visuals such as pictures and illustrations. Most email marketing services such as Mailchimp and Constant Contact offer a wide array of templates to choose from.
  • Hire a designer. Designers don’t have to be a fixed cost. Services like MailChimp offer hourly designers who can help you stand out. Upwork is another good resource for finding a freelance or one-time designer.
  • Get personal recommendations. Umbrex community member recommendations include Emily Ryan with Westfield Creative and Michael Katz of Blue Penguin Development.
  • Keep it simple. Fields says a newsletter can even be “purposely devoid of design,” depending on your aim. For some professionals, a simple and clean newsletter that looks like a typical email might work best. Spector’s “For the Interested” newsletter simply has his logo at the top, and the rest is text on white space. Having too many images or design elements can, in fact, even backfire. It looks more like a marketing piece, and may be more likely to be flagged as spam.

“There’s no fancy template. There’s no fancy design,” Spector says of his newsletter. “None of that stuff really matters. It can be simple, it doesn’t have to be long.” He believes one of the reasons why people don’t do newsletters is because they have an assumption about what it needs to be; they think it’s complicated and hard. But he says if you can post on LinkedIn, you can have a newsletter. “Just take the same stuff and just put it in email form.”

6. Decide on your tech platform

There are multiple options when it comes to your tech platform, depending on the size and ambition of your newsletter’s reach. We have already mentioned a couple, and here are additional options and information to consider:

  • Mail Merge: If you’re starting with a small list of about 10-30 people, consider a simple mail merge on Gmail or elsewhere which allows you to send personalized messages to a large group. Google offers a good tutorial on how to do this.
  • MailChimp: For those with an expected email list of 30 contacts or more, MailChimp is the most popular option for independent consultants. This tool streamlines the world of email, and the majority of its features are free up to 2,000 contacts, and includes 10,000 sends per month. Note that some who use Mailchimp advise disabling the “link tracking” feature, which often triggers a “malicious links” tag.
  • Constant Contact: Constant Contact offers a 60-day free trial and is another relatively straightforward and robust platform. Pricing depends on the number of contacts a business has, with plans ranging from upwards of $20/month.
  • Flodesk: This service offers beautifully designed templates. The service can be as low as $19/month, and they have a Flodesk University full of training and tips to help you master email newsletter marketing.
  • Other options: ActiveCampaignSendGrid, and HubSpot are all solid options although they tend to be better geared toward high volume contact lists. At this level you may want to consider hiring a consultant.

7. Focus on the type of content you’ll include

A newsletter can be a valuable tool, but only if you have something to say related to the subject at hand. Before you get started, ask yourself a few simple questions: What are you researching? How are you spending your time? What news is happening around your practice? Below are other ideas to get started: 

  • A curated set of links. You don’t necessarily have to write new, original content all the time. You can also curate content. Share what’s pertinent to you as an expert in the field. 
  • An essay with your perspective on some topic. Develop consistent content which either elucidates recent developments in your space or offers a fresh perspective. 
  • Case studies of work you recently completed. Tying in a mention of work you have done can exemplify your expertise. Think about where you have made advances and what you have found. Barry Horwitz, of Horwitz & Co. LLC, says his newsletter is mostly an essay with perspective. “I often try to tie in a mention of some work I have done as an example,” he says.
  • News on your specialty or industry. Spector offers a tip on using Google News searches to generate content ideas. “Do a Google News search each week for a specific topic in that niche. And you find stuff that’s going to be relevant and interesting to that audience, and write a one or two sentence summary, and share the link. But to those people that’s really valuable, because they probably didn’t see it, you’re doing the work for them.”
  • Something else. Videos, podcasts, media appearances, speech recordings, or testimonials are all rich content mines for a newsletter. 
  • Engaging topics. Whatever content you use, make sure it’s engaging to view and read. Don’t hesitate to let your personality shine through, or even use appropriate humor. Approach it as one person (you) talking to one other individual person.  Fields says he goes for essays with perspective, plus “goofy illustrations.”

If this all sounds like a lot of work, keep your newsletter simple and include just one or two pieces of relevant, engaging content in each issue. Evergreen content can also be planned out in advance, and Spector suggests having an assistant put together a lot of the content that you can then oversee and edit. He also offers a helpful suggestion on how to get started:

“One of the simplest ways to come up with content ideas is literally just make a list of 20 questions that you get asked the most often. And those are 20 pieces of content. Write up your answers to them, in a couple paragraphs for each. Each issue features your answer to one of those questions, and a link to one article or video or something you found that’s relevant that someone else created,” he says. If you send your newsletter every two weeks, that’s 10 months worth of content right there.

8. Decide on the frequency you will send the newsletter

Recommendations vary on when and with what frequency to send your newsletter, but one piece of advice is unanimous: Consistency is key. Send newsletters on a consistent basis so readers know what to expect. The actual frequency matters less than making sure the content lands on time. 

  • Twice a month rain or shine.
  • Three times a month, always on Thursdays. 
  • The first of each month. 

Offering a reliable source and stream of information — unless you’re overworked or on holiday — can be a way to ensure your readers return. Fields says he sends his newsletter, “every week, come hell or high water.” 

“I don’t think we’ve missed a week in the past five years at least, though I could be wrong,” he says. He estimates having sent 350+ articles, but “probably more.”

The key is building habit, which is crucial for any publication. By publishing consistently on the same day — even the same time — you become a habit for your readers. Spector recommends publishing weekly or every two weeks, but if that timeframe is hard to commit to, it’s better to publish monthly on a consistent basis than try to publish more frequently, but have big skips.

Generally speaking, sending a newsletter less than once a month may not have the impact you’re hoping for.

Newsletter sign up form
New Markets Advisors incorporates a visually attractive newsletter sign-up form in their website footer.

9. Add recipients to your mailing list

A spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets with names and emails works perfectly for creating a list of recipients. If you are using Mailchimp, the import tool can help you to add contacts and tags. Segments can help organize and target them.

How proactive do you have to be to get new subscribers to your newsletter? The key is determining what works. There are multiple options:

  • Adding people upon request. Most independent consultants report they manually add most of their recipients. We recommend asking people for their permission — or adding someone only upon request. If you are highly confident someone will appreciate receiving your newsletter, add them. Ensuring people actually want to be on your list will reduce your unsubscribe rate.
  • Including a signup feature on your website. If you want to have a signup feature, Mailchimp and other platforms have their own API, and a web designer should be able to build a simple form that can enable users to be added automatically. Unless you have a website that gets a particularly high amount of traffic, you may not get too many subscribers. Gary S. Chan, who focuses on information security, says he does a manual add whenever people ask, usually by “word of mouth.” On rare occasions, he’ll get a subscriber through his website, but he estimates that happens about “once every couple of years.” Others have a lead magnet or use an opt-in for those who want to get resources during presentations, such as executive groups or associations.
  • Promoting content. Whether you’re posting on LinkedIn or hosting an event, promoting your content is one of the most assured ways to get newsletter subscribers. Tell someone you send a weekly or monthly newsletter when you give a talk, and ask if attendees would like to receive it. Or include a box that people can check or uncheck, depending on their preference. The default may be: “Please add me to the newsletter.”
  • A combination of strategies. Barry Horwitz says he employs a combination of strategies: A link in the signature of his email, a button on the homepage, and a side sign-up box on the web page where his issues are archived as a sort-of blog. “I have not done anything more proactive — and am starting to think I should,” he says.

Spector suggests that any sign-up box or page needs to explain the value the recipient is going to get from your newsletter.

10. Prepare your first few issues in advance

Hold your issues until you have enough content to ensure your newsletter will run steadily. What you don’t want is a big launch followed by radio silence. You can use our handy checklist for starting a newsletter, at the bottom of this resource, to help organize your process.

Planning out issues with a simple calendar or spreadsheet is useful to keep track of what content you will put in what newsletter, and making sure you always have at least two to three issues planned in advance.

Ideas for your Newsletter

You can use the list below to help brainstorm and generate content ideas for your newsletter.

  • Reflections based on some current project
  • Industry news
  • Book recommendations
  • Professional news (I was featured on this podcast!”)
  • Report after attending an industry conference
  • Send a poll
  • Do an interview
  • Share tips
  • Give your opinion on a relevant topic
  • Explain something
  • Introduce someone on your team
  • Explain your day-to-day routine
  • Talk about developments in your practice
  • Share a personal story that inspired you
  • Interview someone interesting
  • Ask about your readers
  • Break down a development in your field
  • Give expert advice
  • Send content of interest, i.e., jokes or memes
  • Talk about a recent event
  • Explain how you got where you are
  • Do a contest
  • Offer a deal
  • Write a review for a podcast, film or book
  • Talk about job openings at your company

11. Send your first issue

In your first issue, acknowledge that you’re embarking on a newsletter project. Explain how often your readers should expect to hear from you, and why they would benefit from your content.

Spector offers a piece of advice: make sure the send-from address is your direct email address and name — a real person, not a company. Particularly for independent consultants, you want it to “feel like it’s coming from a person, you don’t want it to feel like it’s a marketing or sales email. The newsletter name is designed to attract people who may not know who you are, but the email that you’re sending from is designed to then get those people to know who you are.”

12. Check the analytics for open rate and which links got clicks

The last step on our newsletter checklist is monitoring trends and tracking performance, which can help you figure out what works and what doesn’t. On your Mailchimp account, you can also receive real-time stats to get a better idea.

  • Click Map can help you track where people click.
  • Mailchimp Transactional can help you track opens. Usually you will have a recorded open when someone downloads images in your message.
  • Turn open tracking on or off via the Sending Defaults page.

The data can not only help you figure out what content is working and generating the most interest with your audience, but Spector says it is also a valuable lead generation tool. If you are going to market your services to a newsletter subscriber, you can look at what they’ve clicked on and read to figure out their interests and pain points.

“That becomes vast, super valuable lead gen information. When you’re reaching out to pitch that company or that person, you know they’re at least thinking about that. So you can shape your pitch to that,” he says.

He gives an example of a newsletter subscriber who clicks on a link about expanding business development teams. This tells you they are at least thinking about spending money to expand their business. They might not know much about that topic, but you do — you’re the expert with valuable knowledge and skills they need.

Final thoughts

A newsletter is just one part of your overall marketing strategy, but it can have a powerful effect on both drawing in potential clients as well as establishing your expertise in your field. Take advantage of our handy 12-step newsletter checklist below to help launch your newsletter.

Download our 12-step checklist to creating a newsletter

Sample Newsletters from Umbrex Independent Consultants

Below are useful links for sample newsletters from members of the Umbrex community:

  • Amquant Newsletter: Luiz Zorzella offers research insights to boost growth in financial services. Use this sign-up form to subscribe to and view his newsletters.
  • Careviser by Marie Loubiere: Uncovers the largest healthcare market opportunities with years of research summarized in a weekly email newsletter on Substack.
  • Change Wizard: This sign-up form will get you newsletters from Edwina and Nick Pike with their insights from the world of change and leadership.
  • Commander-In-Chief BriefYuri Kruman promises fast growth in business and life with his newsletter based on his book, Be Your Own Commander-in-Chief.
  • Cross-Connect: Newsletter from Sunstone Associates, in which Terry Chevalier offers perspectives on telco industry trends and implications. Sign up on the website.
  • David A. Fields Blog: While not technically a newsletter, Fields offers indispensable advice and puns for leaders of independent consulting firms in his blog. This is a good example of one post.
  • Emergent JournalThis newsletter from Jesse Jacoby at Emergent Consultants includes practical tools and tips for driving business transformations and executing business strategies from a people and change perspective.
  • Galway Group Weekly Roundup: Maureen Dolan Bala writes about Patient Considerations in Biotech and Pharma. View her sign-up page here.
  • IPCH Global Perspectives Quarterly: These reports, published on Medium, are written by Xenia Razinski on a quarterly basis to provide insights on global markets and industry developments covering various topics and industries relevant to international business.
  • Lauren Chan Lee: Lauren writes about new product discovery and growth from the perspective of a product manager in her Substack newsletter.
  • Leading Well: This newsletter is about leadership insights for Improved Workplace Wellbeing, from member Andrea Miller.
  • Make Philanthropy WorkMember John Pepperdine puts out a newsletter about powering the future of fundraising, with the help of Matt Wasserman and Odette Tisseglo. Sign up here.
  • Mile ZeroRobyn Bolton offers insights and expertise at both her blog, and her Navigator’s News with the latest and greatest innovation insights (sign-up form in footer).
  • New Markets AdvisorsSteve Wunker gives his latest thinking on innovation, strategy, and customer insights.
  • On Purpose: Newsletter from Adam Schorr, founder of Rule No. 1. Sign up here.
  • Professional Business Coaches: Bernie Heine produces monthly newsletters as part of his business coaching.
  • Setili Perspectives: Use this sign-up form to subscribe to and view newsletters from Amanda Setili, covering leadership, business agility, career, and innovation. Check out the footer of their website to see how they incorporated newsletter sign-ups.
  • Susan Meier StudioBrand strategist Susan Meier helps healthcare brand leaders understand customers, evolve strategic vision, and create effective communication. Her newsletter sign-up can be found here.
  • The Competitive EdgeInsights from the Burnie Group, by David Burnie.
  • The Forever Transaction: Robbie Kellman Baxter is an expert on the membership and subscription business models, and shares her insights on this LinkedIn newsletter as well as a separate newsletter available on her website.
  • The Strategy Game: Barry Horwitz writes this monthly newsletter for business leaders on achieving sustainable growth.
  • WGP Strategic Management: Geoff Wilson of Wilson Growth Partners offers a blog and newsletter (sign up in the footer) focused on improving strategic positioning and performance.
  • Wise Decision Maker Guide from Disaster Avoidance Experts: Dr. Gleb Tsipursky (and Agnes Vishnevkin) help clients with future-proofing, decision-making, and cognitive bias risk management. Sign-up page here.
  • WorthMore: This organization from member Kathryn Valentine helps professional women thrive and is focused on closing the gender gap. They include a sign-up form in the footer of the website.

Additional Resources on how to create a newsletter:

  • For the Interested: This weekly newsletter from Josh Spector features ideas to help you produce, promote, and profit from your creations (sign up here). His website offers a collection of curated and original ideas about self improvement, career growth, and social media. He also offers a Newsletter Accelerator course. Listen to our Unleashed Podcast episode with Josh for more insights.
  • Not A Newsletter: This is one long, ongoing Google Doc from Dan Oshinsky, the founder of Inbox Collective email consultancy. The former Director of Newsletters at The New Yorker and BuzzFeed, Oshinsky has some extremely valuable insights and growth strategies to build some of the most-read newsletters on the web. Not a Newsletter is his monthly guide to sending better email, and is one of the internet’s most-read sources for email advice and industry trends.
  • How to Newsletter: Ann Handley wrote this PDF e-book on how she grew her newsletter by 2,000% in three years. In it, she shares what worked and what didn’t, and actionable steps you can take to create a valuable newsletter.