Three Things That are Wrong With Your Newsletter

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As someone who traffics in email newsletters, I receive and read a lot of them.

These days, most look very nice. Thanks to the Mailchimps and Constant Contacts of the world, the formatting and publishing part has become relatively straightforward.

But the formatting is just the wrapper. 

It’s like a movie: sure, it needs to look good. But if the script is terrible, all the special effects and talented actors in the world won’t save it (Spider-Man 2 being the notable exception).

When it comes to your newsletter, the “script” is the content. And in almost all cases, when a newsletter is ineffective, it’s a content problem. Here are three common mistakes of this type that I see most often:

Mistake #1: Showing What You Know, Instead of Teaching What You Know

spiderman poster

I work exclusively with professional service providers – executive coaches, management consultants, financial planners, etc. Maybe, like me, you are one of these.

In order to get clients, people like us spend a lot of time talking about our credentials, explaining our processes, and doing our best to differentiate ourselves from the competition. We tend to be pretty good at it – it’s a survival requirement.

But that’s not what this is.

Yes, a newsletter is “a marketing tool.” We send them, primarily, in order to get more clients.

But it only works when you change the focus from what you know and why you’re so capable (and, in my case, so good-looking), to teaching the reader something they can use to make their lives or jobs (or both) better.

If you can do that, some of these people – a tiny fraction, but that’s all you need – will refer and/or hire you.

But the entire model falls apart if you don’t give them a reason to stick around, month after month after month. And that reason is not why you are so wonderful (and, in my case, so distractingly attractive).

Mistake #2: Thinking Short Term

I have a rule: If you use the phrase “email blast” in my presence, you owe me a dollar.

First, because you’re on the wrong track if you think of readers as targets to be hit. Nobody wants to be blasted.

Second, because it suggests that you think of your newsletter as if it’s an event promotion; a “special offer” that will blow the doors wide open and make your phone ring off the hook.

In practice, it’s more like exercise. One time, two times, five times … no benefit. You may as well stay on the couch and watch Spider-Man 2 (recommended).

But… do it over and over again, over time, and not only does it get easier, the benefits are nearly guaranteed.

The magic is in the rhythm and the regularity; the cumulative sharing of your knowledge and personality, so that people feel like they know you, and that you know what you’re talking about.

Think conversation, not big announcement.

Mistake #3: Aiming Too High

I’ve been talking about newsletters for twenty years. The funny thing is, whenever I speak to an audience on the topic, the same questions keep popping up:

“How often should we publish?”

“How long should a newsletter be?”

“Weren’t you here 20 years ago?”

What I’ve realized is that while my depth of knowledge on the topic may have increased over time, the audience is perpetually sitting at square one. Which, of course, makes sense – newsletters are not something they pay close attention to.

I’m sure your business works the same way.

Your readers don’t want to join your profession and your audience is not made up of your industry peers. It’s people who want to read something, learn something, and move on.

Which means that you need to keep your topics at the beginner/advanced-beginner level. Simple things – things that, by the way, all your fellow industry experts already know.

I think of it as taking that huge block of knowledge sitting in your brain (let me know if this is getting too technical) and chipping off a single, 800-word piece of insight each time you publish.

It’s not a PhD thesis, and it’s not an idea that nobody on Earth has ever had before. It’s just one useful insight/observation after another, so that over time, you come to be thought of as an informed source of valuable information (and, in my particular case, a delightfully eye-catching human).

Here’s the bottom line.

The email newsletter formula is a simple one: useful information, wrapped inside a friendly authentic voice, delivered over time, to people who look like your perfect client.

Do that, and even Spider-Man may swing your way.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What’s your favorite “really bad” movie?
  2. Have you ever said “email blast?” Send me a dollar.
  3. What business-related questions are you asked over and over again by those outside your profession?

Share your answers below…

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14 thoughts on “Three Things That are Wrong With Your Newsletter

  1. Bob Wakitsch

    Michael, I have never said ‘that phrase,’ but I have said “blasted emails!” Does that mean you owe me a dollar? (Not that yours make me swear, though I do know two languages: English and Profane)

  2. Mark Walker

    1. My all-time favorite “bad” movie has to be THE GREEN SLIME, 1968, with Robert Horton (a hero whose hair never moves and has all the charisma of a board), Luciana Paluzzi (my all-time favorite Bond girl and a bad one!), and Richard Jaeckel (THE DIRTY DOZEN, sucking it up and playing it straight). The effects are reminiscent of early Dr. Who and in technicolor, you’ll be howling with laughter at its terrific awfulness! And the score, with a theme song, THE GREEN SLIME… you owe yourself this mess!
    2. I had never heard the phrase before you brought it up… I think you owe me a dollar! 3. I found that when I said “copywriter” people would ask if I was a lawyer! So I learned to say, “I’m a writer.” “What do you write?” “I write for businesses to help them market their services and products on the web.” “Oh! That sounds interesting…”

  3. Vaughn

    Perhaps this suggestion will say too much about me. For a top-of-list really bad movie, try “Big Ass Spider,” (2013) starring Greg Grunberg. You can find it on Amazon Prime.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Loved your post about the boring movie!!
      And when the days comes that we can finally meet in person, I look forward to hearing about #3 (don’t forget the quarters!)!

  4. Nan Ingraham

    Favorite bad movie: The Rocky Horror Picture Show… yes, I’ve partaken in the theatrics. I’ve got my kit with TP, newspaper and spray bottle always at hand.
    #1 Question asked at my place of work: How do I make my hydrangeas blue? Followed by how to prune them.
    And no on the blasting, I’m more a light saber gal.

  5. Nan Ingraham

    Many people use Aluminum Sulphate, but the aluminum part is toxic to underground water. Being on the coast makes us not want to do that. We recommend using Garden Sulfur. Mix with water according to package directions and water every other week or once a month depending on how fast you want it to go, until you reach desired blue coloring. This can take all summer and it is a slow process. It may also depend on the type of hydrangea you have. If it is purple it will only get more purple, and if it is white, it will not change. Blue hydrangeas will become bluer and almost look like cotton candy if you use too much; not bad if you’re a sweet tooth.

    Some old-timers tell me that they put iron nails in the ground to release iron slowly. They swear by it. I’ve never tried that but I’d be willing to run an experiment. Hope that helps! 🙂

  6. Kristine Schroeder

    1. Lost Boys
    2. When I worked at the Chamber of . Commerce, we sent a “Quarterly E- Blast” that was just pages of ads from the members to the members & anyone else who wanted it. I think we just called it that to avoid confusing it with our actual newsletter. Not my invention – no dollar.
    3. Constant Question: (more of a statement) “I don’t get it.”


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