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How to Plan the Content for Your Email Newsletter

Read Time: 8 mins
This post is part of a series called Building a Successful Freelance Email Newsletter.
The Benefits of Offering an Email Newsletter for a Freelancer
The Incentives that Will Convince Subscribers to Sign Up for Your Email Newsletter

Operating an email newsletter means that you need to plan on producing content (probably written) on a regular basis. You may be publishing weekly, monthly or on an entirely different schedule.

It’s important to plan out your content in advance. One of the hardest parts of writing a newsletter is getting in the habit of writing content regularly and making sure that it’s properly published. But you can make the process much more manageable with proper planning.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

The more you can make the process of writing your email newsletter easy, the faster the process will go — and the more likely you are to do it on a regular basis. Even if your freelancing skills are less focused on writing, you can set up some tools for yourself that will make things easier.

  • A template: Each newsletter you send should look similar to the last. When you’re working on a publication, each issue should be identifiable as part of the series. That’s a plus for busy freelancers, because that means that you can write out a standard template and follow it for each newsletter you send out.

    If you’re feeling a little unsure about publishing your own newsletter, going to another freelancer for each newsletter can be expensive, but it’s very practical to work with an email newsletter specialist on getting your template right and then writing the rest of the content yourself.

  • A style guide: Freelance writers out there tend to be fond of style guides, but for the rest of you, the idea may change your life. Using words and typography the same way throughout the entire life of your newsletter will make it look much more professional, but you don’t have time to keep checking how you’ve written something before. So create a document where you keep track of problem words, phrases and other items.

    Include details like whether you underline book titles or you use ‘eBook’, rather than ‘e-book’. It may seem like a little detail, but a style guide will elevate your writing to a more professional level immediately.

  • An editorial calendar: Having a clear idea of what you want to write about lets you plan ahead. Consider getting a few email newsletters written up in advance so that you don’t have to rush when you’ve got plenty of client work in front of you.

    An editorial calendar lets you schedule content that will take advantage of what is going on in the world (such as helping your clients prepare for the holidays long before they ever come along). You can also use your editorial calendar to plan sales and other key promotions so that they match the content you’re publishing.

There are plenty of other ways to streamline the content planning process, but creating these three documents to help you on your newsletter will get you the most return on your time.

Building and Maintaining an Editorial Calendar

The editorial calendar, in particular, is crucial. Even if you just make a list of dates that you plan to publish your newsletter on and a general topic you want to cover, you’ll be ahead of the game. An editorial calendar offers you a lot more opportunity to plan than that, however.

It’s often best to set up your editorial calendar in a spreadsheet, rather than on an actual calendar or as a document

It’s often best to set up your editorial calendar in a spreadsheet, rather than on an actual calendar or as a document. That way, you can include several different types of information easily. You’ll need details like the date you need to run a given newsletter, as well as the topic. But if you include more than one piece of content in a given newsletter, you’ll want to detail that. You can also break out those other pieces. For instance, you might have one in-depth article, but also include a link roundup.

You can use your spreadsheet to track other details about a given newsletter. If you need to conduct an interview or do some other research, making a note of it can streamline the process and help you list specific tasks you need to get done. The same goes for if you’re including photos or other media in your newsletter, keeping track of them in your editorial calendar can ensure that you have all the pieces you need when you put together a new edition.

An editorial calendar is also valuable in the long run. If you find yourself in the position where someone else is writing at least a few of your newsletters, having guidelines and a way to track what needs to be written is crucial.

Keeping Your Audience in Mind

If you were the only person you were planning this newsletter content for, life would be much easier. You’d just write about what was interesting to you and get a move on. But if you’re doing things right, the topics that interest you aren’t going to be so exciting to your audience: that’s because you’re targeting potential clients, who want you to worry about the creative stuff while they get on with their own work. That means that you’ve got to provide them with articles and other content that will get them excited.

You’ll want to know as much about your audience as possible. If you can survey a few people who fall into the right demographics and niches about what they read and what gets them excited, do so. That sort of information should be what guides you when planning your editorial calendar.

It’s also worth reading the other publications that cater to your niche, if only to see what the competition is up to. You don’t want to mimic those other publications — no one wants to read the same article that happens to have been rewritten elsewhere. But you can use them to inspire ideas about followups or related topics, as well as to give you some ideas about what you shouldn’t bother covering. That sort of information will make it much easier to learn about your own readers and what they want to see.

Tracking Your Ideas for the Future

For many people, one of the toughest parts of writing a newsletter on a regular basis is to keep coming up with new ideas to write about. It’s not always quite the problem you’d expect: once you get in the habit of writing regularly and you see what your audience likes, you’ll have ideas. But you’ll likely forget them before you get around to writing.

Creating a system to keep track of ideas as they happen is important.

Creating a system to keep track of ideas as they happen is important. Even if you just start a text file and jot down ideas the moment you get them, writer’s block becomes less of a problem.

You can build up a surprisingly elaborate system for coming up with ideas and keeping track of them, if that’s your preference. One of the easier approaches, however, is to just start keeping that text file and then planning out big runs of topics at one go. As long as your editorial calendar is in order, you can group topics together and decide when you’d be best off running them. You can also work out themes: perhaps you want to focus on one concept for three newsletters in a row. Having some ideas to draw on will make the process easier.

Planning Way Ahead

Depending on how much you want your newsletter to reflect current events, you can plan what you want to write far in advance. There are plenty of cases (at least with a newsletter published on a monthly schedule) where someone might go through and write a year’s worth of newsletters in advance, schedule them for publication in an email service provider and forget about them until it’s time to write the next year’s worth of content. It’s not an approach that works for everyone — but it can be very practical if you have some decent sized blocks of time between projects, but no time at all when you’ve got client work.

It’s also worth planning your email newsletter for the freelance business you want, rather than the one you currently have. Be a little ambitious with your writing. Building out a newsletter that covers the specialty that you want to move into, even if you aren’t ready to focus the rest of your market on that area, can help you build up a reputation much more quickly.

Put some big plans into place. Don’t be afraid to plan quite a bit out. You can always tweak your plans as you get closer. Think about it the way a print publication might: a monthly magazine, even one that tries to be somewhat timely, has the big picture of what will be published in a given month far in advance. They might plan six months to a year in advance, sometimes more. The actual work is also done in advance, so that the only thing that needs to be done just before delivery is production. It’s a much longer cycle than an email newsletter requires, but you can learn from that long-term mindset just the same.

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