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The 3 Types of Email Newsletters for Startups

Scenario: you and some hacker friends built a cool product, then you attracted some users, so you started a company, and maybe have some investors. All you have to do is keep the product working, the servers spinning, and things are good, right? Not so fast.

Soon, all those users/customers will have questions. And if you have investors, they'll want to know where things are headed. And if your little team outgrows the back seat of your Toyota Corolla, then you will have to do that dreaded thing called…COMMUNICATION. But don't worry, it's actually not too bad. 

I like to separate communication into two buckets: reactive and proactive. Reactive communication involves responding to requests from others. It can take the form of feedback tools (Olark, GetSatisfaction), Twitter/Facebook, or phone/email/IRL conversations. Reactive communication is time consuming because it's unpredictable. If done well, proactive conversation will save you time by reducing the amount of reactive communication you'll need to do. Two popular types of proactive communication are blog posts and email newsletters. This post will cover some strategies for the latter (letter…latter), as I've recently spent some time doing email newsletters for my crowdsourced indoor mapping startup, BuildingLayer.

There are three main groups of people with whom your startup needs to communicate: users/customers, investors/mentors, and your own team. Your message should be different for these three groups. The tone of your conversations, the content of your messages, and the frequency of your updates will vary according to your audience. Here are a few quick tips for each:

Users/customers
  • Tone: Let your personality shine through. Micah Baldwin of Graphicly is awesome at this. I don't even use his product, but I read each one of his user newsletters.
  • Content: New features. User/customer success stories. Awesome people who have joined your team. 
  • Frequency: Don't leave people in the dark, but don't spam them. No more than once per week.
Investors/mentors

  • Tone: Be yourself, but focus less on personality than in user/customer emails. Choose "concise" over "flowery". Your audience here is busy. Respect that.
  • Content: Milestones. The key thing these people want to know is that you can set and achieve goals. There are two responses you are looking for from these messages: a pat on the back for hitting your milestones, or an offer for help in achieving them. One HUGE reason to send these newsletters is to get help when you need it. Things will go wrong, but the sooner you can get help in fixing them, the better for all involved.
  • Frequency: If you're in really early stages and making rapid progress, once per week. The goal here is to show consistent growth. Once per month to once per quarter may make more sense as you mature.
Your Own Team
  • Tone: Be yourself. Similar to investors & mentors, don't hide anything from your team. If times are tough, they need to know. If times are good, let everyone join in the celebration.
  • Content: Progress on products, funding, new marketing campaigns, new customers, new team members.
  • Frequency: This is one way to have fewer time-wasting meetings. Once per week to once per month.
While effective communication takes time, proactive communication like this will often save you in the long run. While blog posts and social media status updates can be helpful, being in someone's inbox is still one of the most effective ways to communicate with groups of people. Finally, if you arrive at the question of "should I communicate or not?", always favor the side of overcommunicating. I have never had an investor, customer or team member (…or parent, or girlfriend…) say, "I wish Nick would keep me less up-to-date".

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