The Four-Minute Email Newsletter

Seven steps to spending less time in the email newsletter machine

I’ll start out by saying that you’re just about as likely to put together an email newsletter in four minutes as you will be able to truly implement The Four-Hour Workweek or The Four-Hour Body. It’s just not likely for us non-superhumans. But, as an ode to the mighty Tim Ferriss who inspires us all to do as much as we can in as little time as possible, I’m going to walk you through how to try to get it done in an hour.

In an interview with Tad Clark of MarketingSherpa, Clark told that “a typical newsletter they produce involves 1-2 hours of research, 1-5 hours writing each story, the submission of each story to an editor and someone who formats the work…resulting in a total of about 16-20 hours PER newsletter.”

Others at a recent MarketingSherpa email event said that they were spending even more time on their email newsletters; often 35-60 hours!

The first step in identifying the problem here is that it’s not entirely accurate. Most publishers write articles for their websites, not simply for their email newsletters. So those hours of research and writing are dissolved and moved into the Tupperware container labeled “content creation”.

In fact, if any publisher took 16-20 hours per newsletter (or 35-60 hours) when they publish daily, they’d simply go out of business. They could probably hire trained monkeys to do it in less time.

The important steps that do make the process of content creation a little simpler are these:

1. Get your content in line.

You can’t expect to deliver your email newsletter at the correct times and with enough time to edit copy and create hyperlinks without doing the original content, the articles, ahead of time. Get your ducks in a row when it comes to content publishing and your email publishing will follow suit.

2. Get your email schedule established.

With your content prepared ahead of time, you won’t waste time rushing around making corrections to copy and editing silly mistakes. Know exactly what days and times you’re publishing for the entire week ahead of you and make sure the articles have already been edited before they get to your email newsletter.

3. Use templates.

Depending on your email provider, you may be able to use templates. Mostly likely, you can.

Email Service Providers like MessageSherpa let you create point-and-click templates that pull in your blog posts and RSS feed as articles. That’s your simplest solution. Other providers like MailChimp give away free email templates for use on their platform, while corporations with a web team would enjoy more advanced solutions like WhatCounts, which will allow you to build your own templates. In any case, you can’t start from scratch on every email newsletter.


4. Use excerpts.

Many companies over-analyze their email newsletters because they know they won’t have a chance to come back and edit it later, like a blog post. If you publish multiple stories per day, then just stick to excerpts that link back to the full article.

You probably want your readers to come back to your website anyway, so excerpts not only make your job easier, but they get the job done.

5. Try text emails.

Not only do text emails take a fraction of the time to create, but they don’t run the risk of getting thrown in the junk box for images. In many tests, they also get higher response rates when used as promotions.

6. Write subject lines last

An article is never written exactly as you intended, so save your subject line for the last step in your process. Once you know the content that will be in the email newsletter, rather than the theme you “think” it will be, you’re ready to write a subject line. Otherwise, you might waste valuable time writing a subject line that you only have to rewrite in the end anyway.

7. Implement a two-test rule.

The more time you give yourself to test emails, the more time you’ll spend. It’s like giving yourself a deadline for a project that is a month away. How often do you start working on that project right away? Not usually, because you have a whole month to do it, right?

Forcing yourself to pay close attention to the details of your email newsletter will not only make you a better editor, it’ll save you time testing and re-testing. It also eliminates the issues of having multiple versions that we often encounter with email tests. The first test is the only real test. The second test is to confirm that you caught everything.

No email newsletter should take more than two hours to put together. If you’re well-organized and have a system in process, it should take about an hour. If it doesn’t, you may consider scheduling content further ahead of time so that it has time to be pre-edited, and possibly even changing email providers if it’s hanging you up for minutes at a time.

Are there any tips or tricks you’ve come across that have made your job easier and quicker? Pass them along in the comments!


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