Building an email list is nothing new - it's a tactic that savvy internet marketers have been using for well over a decade. But for a lot of bloggers, email marketing is a struggle. So we're starting our Building Your List series to help food bloggers start, grow and leverage the power of their email lists!
In today's article we talk about how food bloggers can monetize their email newsletters.
In our Building Your List series we've covered a lot of the basics for email newsletters. Today we're moving into more advanced territory with how to monetize your newsletter. But, before we dive in, we strongly recommend you master all the email newsletter basics before you jump into monetization. If you've missed out, here's what we've covered to date:
- Why Do Food Bloggers Need An Email Newsletter List
- 5 Popular Email Newsletter Marketing Providers For Bloggers
- How To Get Started Growing Your Email Newsletter List
- 25 Email Newsletter Content Ideas For Food Bloggers
Now let's get into newsletter monetization!
Should You Monetize Your Email Newsletter?
This is the first big question you need to ask yourself and before you even begin to ponder this, know that there is no right or wrong answer. We're not going to tell you what you should do - we're simply going to give you the tools to make the decision that's best for you, your blog and your business, if, in fact, you treat your blog as a business.
There are multiple ways to monetize your newsletters. You may choose to monetize every newsletter, or you may choose to only monetize a handful per year, or you might decide you don't want to earn income at all from your newsletters. All three scenarios are perfectly acceptable.
Consider Your Newsletter Costs
There are two costs to doing newsletters - the first is time, which we will all have to deal with. The second is financial, which anyone with a list of over 2000 people will also have to consider. (As we mentioned before, there are a couple of options for free newsletter provider services but they have limits to them).
Don't undervalue time. Your time is precious and, if you decide you don't have time to write your newsletters, you will have to pay somebody to do it for you so that's another financial cost.
Email newsletters can be considered a marketing expense so the costs associated with running your list are likely tax-deductible to some extent. Check with your accounting professional to make sure.
Do you want your email list to pay for itself? Do you want to make a profit from it? Or, do you want absorb the cost of your newsletter because of the community and loyal readership it builds up that you hope, or know, will translate into income elsewhere?
Consider User Experience
Just as you should consider user, reader or client experience in every aspect of your brand (i.e. your blog posts, your social media, your brand clients), you should also consider it in your newsletter.
User experience is tricky - that's why there's people who specialize in it and they're very well paid! You need to balance earning a living with giving your community a pleasant experience that makes them want to come back again and again. Those two don't always go hand in hand and can often make for some difficult decisions. Sometimes you can make extremely good revenue for a short period of time by ignoring user experience but it rarely works out over the long term.
How do you want your newsletter readers to feel when they see your emails land in their inbox? How do you want them to feel after they read them?
How do you feel when somebody is constantly selling to you every time you open an email from them? Is it annoying? Or overwhelming? Or make you feel like you're just a dollar sign?
Or... do you even notice?
And that's the trick to monetization... ideally, in a perfect world you will hit that balance just right where you're earning money and nobody really even notices!
Of course, there will be times where overt selling will happen, especially if you're launching a new cookbook, a class, a food tour, a product... you need to tell your people about it! But if you've managed email newsletter monetization carefully, your readers will welcome it rather than hate it.
Let's be crystal clear on one thing though... there will always be somebody who will get upset when you ask for money - don't take it personally. If you're being a respectful and ethical blogger who provides oodles of free, insanely useful content don't feel bad about asking for money for a product you've created that is legit amazing. You're not forcing anybody to buy it.
Ok so, let's assume you've decided you're good with monetizing your email newsletter but now you need to figure out your options.
Know The Value Of Your List
Before you can make money, you need to know the value of your list. And by that we mean that first you need to know the basics:
- how many subscribers do you have?
- what's your open rate?
- what's your click through rate?
Your subscriber number is a vanity metric and while having 10,000 people on your list may sound impressive, it doesn't mean a thing if none of them open your newsletters (and you're also paying a lot of money to have people on your list who never read your stuff!)
Open rate is the most important metric. This is how many people, on average, open your emails. You can have 10,000 people on your list but if your open rate is 10%, only 1000 of those people are regularly seeing what's inside. That's the number that brands and advertisers are interested in.
Click through rate is a little harder. If you don't have any links in your newsletters, you'll have a zero percent click through rate, which while technically accurate doesn't give the full picture. It can also impact the overall average click through rate of your list. So I don't worry about that one too much. Look at click through rate more on a campaign basis.
The Hidden Value of Your List
You've now got the immediately tangible numbers for your list but also consider less obvious things - like surveying your subscribers to find out more demographic information about them like where they live, what their interests are, what life stage they're in, etc.
This is the type of info that makes platforms like Facebook so valuable to advertisers - they have gobs and gobs of demographic information on their users. So know who your subscribers are.
Pay special attention to the kinds of newsletter content your audience engages with. When they do click through on your links, which links are they? What motivates them to reply to your emails?
That's all very important information that you can use when building your monetization strategy.
Don't underestimate the power of a small but highly engaged niche list.
Six Ways To Monetize Your Email Newsletter
And now the million dollar question! How do you make money from your newsletter?
Well, you can be subtle or you can be in your face or you can do a combination of the two! Here's 6 ways you can monetize and we rate the subtlety of each one.
1. Sell Your Own Products (Definitely NOT Subtle)
This is the most obvious way to monetize and the least subtle way. If you write a cookbook, teach a class, launch a course, run a food tour, create a product - either physical or digital, or host or speak at an event you're going to need to convince people to buy a ticket, buy a book, or shell out for your product. Because, they're not going to sell themselves! (wouldn't it be nice if they did?).
This is a big part of why you have a list - to share your products to your most loyal and engaged fans. These are the people who want to know when they can meet you or get your expertise in person or buy something you've created for them. Don't be shy about selling to them. Just don't overwhelm them every. single. time. you talk to them.
As we mentioned previously, break up your newsletters so for every direct, obvious sales pitch, your audience gets a break with a few emails that aren't overtly selling to them. This is especially important if your business or blog has a particular cycle to it. For example, maybe you run a course every September. You may spend all of August talking about your course launch and sign- up but then perhaps you don't really mention it much the rest of the year unless it fits nicely into the content of a particular newsletter.
2. Driving Traffic To Your Blog Where You Earn Ad Revenue (Very Subtle)
The other most obvious way to monetize is also, in our opinion, the most subtle way. You drive newsletter traffic back to your blog where you earn ad revenue.
There's a couple of ways to do this.
- Simply create a list of "Did You Miss It?"links at the end of each newsletter that directs people to recent blog posts they may have missed
- Create original content for your newsletter but work in links to complementary content on your site that will build upon the topic or go in more depth. Your audience is getting useful new and exclusive content in the newsletter and you're giving them additional value by directing them to even more information
- Always link your images in your newsletter to a post on your site (that matches the photo). We get as many click throughs on images as we do on text links so we always ensure we use both.
- Theme your newsletters or turn them into mini-guides that direct them to older content on your site. As we've mentioned before, we do a Holiday Entertaining Guide every December. It has zero new content in it but it's carefully curated with old and new seasonal content from our site. After 7 years we have everything you could need for holiday entertaining from food to decor to budget friendly to specific types of parties. It generates a ton of traffic.
There's no direct monetization using this method but you should see a little traffic boost after every newsletter and if you run ads, that should turn into additional revenue.
3. Sponsored Content (Not Subtle)
You likely do sponsored posts on your blog so... why not do them in your newsletter? If you can show a brand that your newsletter list is engaged (probably even more so than your social media), then that is an opportunity for them to get in front of people. There are multiple ways you can do this:
- the brand can purchase an entire dedicated newsletter from you - this means nothing else goes in it except content related to them. If you're a brand ambassador and have done multiple posts for them over the previous months, package those into a brand exclusive newsletter digest.
- create new, newsletter exclusive content for the brand as an extension of an existing campaign you're working on with them or as a completely separate campaign. This can be exclusive like the first suggestion or it can simply be part of a regular newsletter
- give extra promotion to a brand campaign you've partnered on in your newsletter
4. Affiliate Income (Subtle)
This can be very effective BUT you have to be very careful with this one. The biggest affiliate program we all belong to (Amazon) does not allow affiliate links to be used in email communication. So, do not use Amazon affiliate links in your newsletters.
Having said that, you can create gift guides, a guide to your favourite tools, an essential cookbook list etc on your site and link to those posts in your newsletters. If you have an Amazon Influencer page, you can include a link to that in your newsletters but double check that frequently as Amazon changes their terms of service regularly.
But there are loads of other affiliate programs out there that you can link to in your newsletters. Especially programs or products created by other bloggers. Always check the Terms of Service or if in doubt ask your affiliate partner. But in the case of other bloggers, most of them will be quite happy for you to directly sell their product or events in their newsletters (remember, Canadian Influencer Disclosure Rules apply in your newsletters as well!)
5. Newsletter Ads (Somewhat Subtle)
Sell ad space in your newsletters. This is pretty self-explanatory. Ad tolerance is generally pretty high in the on-line world so depending on your audience, this can be a pretty simple and subtle way to monetize. Those interested in it will click, those who aren't will just ignore it.
I don't recommend more than one ad per newsletter and choose the spot wisely - usually mid newsletter or at the end. Make sure it's a visual ad as well. Include this as an option in your media kit and on your website so that companies know you offer the service. Don't be afraid to pitch an ad to brands you think are a good fit. Because this is your newsletter, you really want to make sure any ads you run are a good fit for your audience - far more so than on your website. It won't do you or the client any good if the audience is the wrong fit.
Know your audience though - if your audience complains a lot about ads on your site, maybe be careful with putting the in newsletters!
6. Newsletter Insertions (Somewhat Subtle)
These are a little bit different from an obvious ad. These are usually text insertions and may have an image that goes with them. Think of them as more of an old fashioned classified ad. It might be for an event or a contest promotion or a job opportunity where your audience is a perfect fit. You can charge to put those in your newsletter to compensate you for your time and effort.
Now What? Some Preparations to Make And Some Words Of Warning
Ok, so you've considered whether or not to monetize your email list, you've worked out the value of your list and you've got some useful ways to make some money. What else do you need to think about?
- Update your media kit and your Work With Me page to let brands and agencies know that your newsletter is a valuable addition to your offerings.
- Remember that you must still abide by Canada's Influencer Disclosure Rules. While an image based ad is probably very obvious, and affiliate link isn't. So make sure your readers know when something's an affiliate link or not.
- Selling or renting your email newsletter list: this is not a good idea on any level and could even get you in legal trouble. We don't recommend you do this unless you're selling your entire business and this is an asset that's being handed over as part of the business (not being sold separately). Make sure you get legal advice if you decide to do this.