Starting Your Local Newsletter
Everything you want to know about starting your local-based newsletter.
Local journalism is important, but physical newspapers have a problem with their business model. Newspapers require an increasing number of readers to be profitable through their advertisements. Compound that with readily available digital news, and acquiring additional readers for a newspaper is becoming an increasingly difficult task.
A local email newsletter solves traditional newspapers’ largest issues: the cost of production is lower, distribution is simple, and there are several options for monetizing.
What is a local newsletter?
A local newsletter focuses on a specific location as its target audience. Similar to how a local newspaper would distribute its papers, these newsletters cover one town, city, or region.
As we will talk about in the steps below, there are a variety of options the content can include. Content may focus on listing local events, reporting local news, or curating stories or reviews.
Local newsletters also have an easier time marketing to readers than a free paper thrown at their doorstep. An email newsletter must be signed up for, and readers have taken a step to engage with the content. That content then arrives in their inbox - which is where most people start and end their days.
Step 1: Define Your Newsletter Strategy
There are some important decisions you need to make before starting your local newsletter. Who will your target audience be? What style of newsletter will it be? How will you monetize? How often will you send it? Let’s dive into how beehiiv will help you answer those questions.
Define Your Audience
The first step to creating your local newsletter is to define your audience. You’ll need to pick a location to write for, and there is more to that decision than first meets the eye.
For example, your audience is larger than just the residents of that area. In addition to locals who just want to stay updated and plugged in on current events, there are people who have moved away and want to keep up-to-date on their hometown. You can also target people who are looking to move to the city you are writing about, and those in neighboring cities who may have an interest in your content.
Need some inspiration?
The Ottawa Lookout is a local newsletter, published by beehiiv, covering political news from the Canadian Capital City. They have narrowed their focus to the local Ottawa area, and have narrowed down to the political niche to focus their content.
The Boston Globe just launched a newsletter with beehiiv called The B-Side. Published every weekday, The B-Side bills itself as “the daily dose of Boston news you actually want to hear.” The newsletter breaks down daily Boston news into bite-sized chunks to keep Bostontonians up to date on their local news every weekday.
The Mobile Rundown keeps residents of Mobile, Alabama informed of things to do around the area. This newsletter is an another great example of how you can successfully cover a niche with a local newsletter.
The Ottawa Lookout, The B-Side, and The Mobile Rundown are fantastic examples of what is possible with running a local newsletter. The Ottawa Lookout and The Mobile Rundown take a niche approach to focus content for a particular audience. In contrast, The B-Side takes a more general and light-hearted approach by choosing to focus on general news for the Boston area.
Be sure to consider your audience size and potential revenue streams before you choose your location. How will you connect with people, and what will they be interested in reading about?
Choose A Content Type
Email newsletters have a variety of options for content. When you first hear “local newsletter,” you typically think of typical newspaper-style reporting. But especially with big cities, you can choose to focus on a niche audience with a specific interest. Here are a few examples of newsletter content types.
Replicating a traditional local newspaper but now in an email newsletter. You could choose to target a niche instead by reporting on local sports, politics, or the arts.
Curation-style newsletters often save their readers’ time by compiling all relevant stories in one place. A niche version of this could target parents with events to attend with their families.
Providing reviews has proven to be a reliable content strategy. A newsletter focusing on reviews could provide reviews on a variety of industries or focus specifically on hotels, restaurants, or entertainment.
A local newsletter could also choose to focus on long-form content that addresses local issues.
Of course, you can choose to combine some or all of these content types. For example, your newsletter could have a section on reporting, a review, and a long-form original piece on a hot topic.
Decide How To Monetize Your Newsletter
Traditional local newspapers only have one business model - ads. Demand is not high enough for a subscription model, and referral or affiliate links are not easily incorporated. Luckily for email newsletters, there are several ways to monetize.
Sponsorships and Ads
Local businesses can choose to sponsor the newsletter in several different ways. There are options for banner ads, brought to you by introductions, advertorials, or CTA copy worked into the newsletter text.
Ads in newsletters are typically charged on a cost per thousand sends (CPM - cost per mille). What you can charge will vary wildly depending on your niche and the type of ad you’re willing to include.
As a baseline for the price of ads in a newsletter, The Hustle charged between $50 and $200 per 1,000 email sends, but they had a high open rate to justify their higher prices. A more typical rate is somewhere between $10 and $30.
If you’re familiar with affiliate blogs, exactly the same principles apply. This strategy will work especially well in a niche-specific local newsletter. If you’re targeting local sports teams, including affiliate links to sports-related items and event tickets will convert much higher than if the same affiliate link was included in a general letter.
As with any monetization strategy, there are pros and cons. Affiliate links can compromise trust if they aren’t used in a transparent way. A bad experience with an affiliate company can also damage your newsletter’s reputation. On the pro side, affiliate link monetization may mean you don’t need to run ads to make a profit, which makes for a better reading experience.
A subscription is a straightforward monetization model – our readers pay for access to your newsletter. There are examples of this everywhere, and the model works well if you are able to provide consistent value to your readers.
Paid newsletters can be more difficult to acquire readers, though on the plus side, you have a monthly recurring revenue you can count on. On the other hand, similar to a SaaS company, churn becomes the enemy. For a paid model to work, you must find a way to continually provide your readers with value or they will churn away from the newsletter. With churn and the fixed market size of a local newsletter, there will be an eventual plateau you will reach by monetizing with a paid subscription. That’s not to say it’s a poor choice of monetization, however.
There are a number of ways to do a partially-paid newsletter. Typically, there will be some portion of the content only available to paid subscribers or “premium members.” Others may choose to have a certain number of newsletters that are for all subscribers, and a special weekly edition is only sent to paying members.
Hybrid newsletters can also be scaled to have a paid community built around them. The newsletter acts as a value add and marketing channel for the paid community you gain access to with a membership.
For a local newsletter, a hybrid model could have access to local business deals or coupons locked behind a paid subscription. Alternatively, you could have a member site to go with your newsletter that requires a paid membership to access exclusive content or access to local events.
Choose a frequency
How often do you want to send your newsletter? That depends on a number of factors.
For example, consider how you want to structure your newsletter. Do you have enough content to provide value to your readers daily? Weekly? How much content do you want to include per email?
Whatever you decide, stay consistent with your frequency. Allow your readers to know when they can expect your newsletter in their inbox, and they will be more likely to read it.
Step 2: Setup Your Email Software
Don’t worry. You don’t need to send out hundreds or thousands of emails by copying and pasting each email. Here at beehiiv we have you covered. Our step-by-step onboarding will get you up and running in minutes.
If you have an existing newsletter, we will help you migrate your list over to beehiiv.
If you’re just starting out, no worries – we all start somewhere. Check out this cool story of how The Milk Road started their newsletter on beehiiv, and in 10 months were acquired. We will walk you through naming your newsletter, picking theme colors, and selecting the categories your newsletter belongs to.
At any time, you can customize your newsletter’s look. Change the colors of the background, buttons, and text. Adjust the spacing of any element, add borders, and so much more. If you need some tips for designing your newsletter, check out our post on improving your template.
With beehiiv you can also set up a welcome email to let your new subscribers know what they can expect from your local newsletter moving forward. How often are you delivering their local news? Daily? Weekly? This is a good place to let your subscribers know.
Once you have your newsletter designed how you want it, you’re ready for getting subscribers signed up!
Step 3: Setup Your Subscription Opt-In
beehiiv will take care of this for you as well. On the free plan, take advantage of your free customizable beehiiv domain.
Here beehiiv takes care of most of the work for you. Customize your colors, featured posts, and fonts. Now your opt-in is ready to go.
beehiiv also comes with the ability to use magic links that work as a one-click signup. Magic links work with all major email platforms including Mailchimp, Active Campaign, Drip, and Hubspot - among many others.
If you use Twitter for your newsletter you can integrate signups right into your tweets. This integration makes for fantastic growth potential when your next tweet goes viral.
[Image for marketing - potentially one showing free with a list and then paid with a list to showcase the next section]
Step 4: Market Your Local Newsletter
beehiiv took care of the heavy lifting on the backend, you wrote amazing and engaging content targeting your local market, and now you need to tell your target audience about it.
You have already determined your target market - now the next step in marketing is to figure out where they spend their time online. You have options for both free and paid marketing to reach your local audience.
Marketing your newsletter is without a doubt the most difficult part of the process. But don’t worry, let’s talk about how we can get the word out about your newsletter. Take it one step at a time, and dive a mile deep on one or two tactics instead of an inch deep everywhere.
Free Marketing Tactics
Join the discussion
Does your chosen location have large Facebook groups to join? Does the niche in that city have specific sites they visit often?
Typically spamming your signup link is a quick way to be banned from groups like these. Instead, try and join the conversation. Be a contributor, ask questions, answer questions, and be relentlessly helpful. When and where appropriate, mention and drop your link to your local newsletter. With this method, your newsletter is enhancing the discussion as a valuable piece of information adding to the discussion. Thanks to reciprocity, the people you have spent time with will be more likely to sign up.
Reach out to local businesses
Did you mention a local business in your latest newsletter? Reach out to them and let them know! Social proof does wonders for small business marketing, and many businesses will be happy to share your newsletter on social media as validation of their business.
Email local journalists
Finding good content to share is difficult. Reach out to local journalists and mention your newsletter to them. Since your local journalists are from the communities you’ve focused your newsletter around, they will be more likely to respond, and can provide great exposure for you.
Cold outreach can be difficult, and is typically a low-conversion tactic. Outreach works best if you warm them up first. Comment on their tweets and articles, then send an initial email providing value for them before you ask for anything. Once they know who you are, they’ll be more likely to respond or include a link to your newsletter.
Local Podcasts and Guest Posts
Spend some time on podcasts and blogs focused on your area of choice. Then pitch them a podcast or guest post.
Podcasts became popular during the pandemic, and finding guests to fill slots can be difficult. Reaching out and offering your time for their podcast will provide your newsletter with exposure and a valuable link to your signup page.
Guest posts work in a similar way - but you’ll need your writing skills. Thankfully, because you are a newsletter writer you have writing samples to show off your skills. You also have something to trade - a mention in your newsletter will go a long way in having your guest post pitch approved.
Paid Marketing Tactics
You have endless options for advertising your local newsletter. But again, when you are choosing your ad placements, consider where your local audience hangs out online.
Back to Facebook groups for a second – many large local group administrators will accept advertisements. You have an engaged audience from your exact location to target in a more seamless way than most Facebook ads.
On beehiiv’s scale plan you have the option of seamlessly integrating a referral program. Turn your readership into a marketing team by offering rewards for referrals to your newsletter. Referral programs will promote word of mouth and sharing of your letter with a low cost of acquisition. If you need help with your referral program check out our post on building a successful referral program for your newsletter.
Print off invitations to your newsletter and head out to local events. The monetary cost is low; this will mainly take your time. The strategy is similar to outreach on social media, but this is in-person relationship building. Remember those times?
Talk to people, don’t be pushy, and bring up your newsletter where appropriate. Make real connections, and if somebody shows interest, hand out an invite to your newsletter. Your invitation should include a QR code taking them to your sign-up page to make the process as easy as possible.
Now go make your voice heard
You’ve got the steps and the ability to start your local newsletter today! We believe in you.
Sign up for your free beehiiv plan today here!