An email newsletter is a simple, paperless way to stay in contact with your students. It's not only an easy way to keep your audience updated on your class schedule and workshop offerings, it also offers another opportunity to teach. Here's how to get started with a newsletter of your own, and how to ensure that it's something that will be read, not deleted.
Build a List
First, you'll need to assemble a list of your students' contact information. Newsletters are a form of permission-based marketing—and the key word here is permission. Throughout the process, make sure that students give you permission to contact them. Ask for contact information anew instead of gleaning it from waivers, unless the waivers explicitly give permission for such use. It's also a good idea to check with your studio owner to be certain there's no problem with collecting students' addresses.
A brief notice at the start or end of class and a sign-up sheet for addresses should be all you need to get started. Mention what students will receive in return for sharing their contact information. Lori Burgwyn, owner and founder of the Franklin Street Yoga Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, suggests linking sign-ups to students' opportunities to receive alerts about invitation-only free classes, or follow-up information on class themes. "Because I use a lot of quotes in my classes," she says, "I add that my newsletter would contain useful information [about] a theme."
Sadie Nardini, co-owner of the Fierce Club in New York City, creator of the Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga Power Hour DVD, and author of The Road Trip Guide to the Soul, also emphasizes what students will receive from her newsletters. "When I talk to my students," she explains, "I tell them that I'm doing x, y, and z this month, and I encourage them to sign up for my monthly newsletter by adding their email to my list. When I speak about my services, it's always in the spirit of an offering, and of a chance for them to continue their personal spiritual education."
You can also garner new readers online. A simple text-only email can be the extent of your newsletter. However, if you point your readers to an online page containing the bulk of the newsletter (you can use a free blog site such as Blogger.com), you make it open to search engines, which may increase your readership and number of contacts. "My list grew because people were finding my website when they did a search for 'yoga research' or 'yoga lesson plans,'" explains Kelly McGonigal, a yoga teacher at Stanford University and Avalon Yoga Center in Palo Alto, California. "Provide content, and people will sign up to receive more. And of course I would announce in my classes, the week before I sent out the monthly email, that people could sign up."
Manage Your Contacts
Once you start sending out your newsletter, be sure to use the BCC ("blind copy") email feature, so that recipients' addresses are hidden. An email that shows the names or addresses of everyone you're sending to is both a violation of privacy and unwieldy to read. Also be sure to include a line letting readers know how to unsubscribe if they would rather not receive your news. While you have an existing business relationship with your students and therefore are not subject to the Federal Trade Commission's CAN-SPAM Act, it's good form to include your physical address at the bottom of the email (use your studio or home address).
When your list grows long or becomes hard to manage, consider using an online email distribution service, a program you can access online that provides newsletter templates and also allows you to segment your contacts. This way you can, for example, write to all the people who joined in the last month, or to everyone in a state or city you'll be visiting soon. Just be careful not to send too many messages.
Various companies offer email marketing services. Namaste Interactive will design a website and newsletter template and carry your theme across both. Emma offers lots of free advice, entertainingly written, in addition to marketing offerings. Constant Contact and iContact offer reasonably priced options for newsletters. All of these services will provide you with code for an online sign-up form. Options begin at $9.95 a month.
These programs save you management tasks by allowing users to sign up or unsubscribe without your direct involvement. You simply include a form on your blog or website so that readers can sign themselves up for your newsletter. If anyone decides they don't want to receive your news any more, they can unsubscribe at any time by clicking a link at the bottom of the newsletter.
Some of these programs also offer surveys, which can be useful for learning about your students' experiences. For example, Burgwyn uses Constant Contact to take surveys following her studio's Forty Days to Personal Revolution program. You might also offer a survey to learn more about demand for workshops, or to receive feedback on your teaching.
What to Include
Your newsletter should contain your contact information, including a Web address if you have one, a physical address, and your teaching schedule or a link to it. But as you draft your newsletter, your main focus should be providing useful content. McGonigal says, "The best newsletters from teachers actually teach. The lists I stay on are the ones that include some personal message from the teacher, a link to a new podcast, or a suggestion for yoga or meditation practice. I want to feel connected to the teacher or organization, not just marketed to."
Nardini offers one way to structure the newsletter: "The first thing to script is your free offerings. Pick a theme for the month, then write an inspiring philosophy section using your take on yoga, Buddhism, or your area of expertise. Then do an into-the-world section, or an action step students can take to emulate that philosophy in real life. Put in an asana of the month, where you teach alignment of a posture and align the benefits of the pose to your original theme. Inspire your readers with user-friendly information and they will look forward to [your newsletters] each month, instead of deleting them because they're hard-sell."
What to Exclude
Be careful not to include overly personal information, and don't overdo the length. Burgwyn recommends having a friend—ideally someone in the intended audience of students, rather than another teacher—proofread your newsletter before you send it. Your reader's feedback will help you revise your draft.
As you search for meaningful content to include, be original. McGonigal warns not to include other people's work: "I have received more than a few newsletters that were taking things verbatim from my website, or articles I had written for magazines, and including them in full—sometimes with my byline, sometimes passed off as the other person's work." Get permission from the author or publisher before you send something you didn't write—or don't send it! It's better to include a link to someone else's work than to cut and paste. The same goes for artwork: It should be original or lie in the public domain. Don't simply grab a picture from a site under the assumption that it's fair game.
When to Send
Sending a newsletter once a month will keep students in the loop without creating too much of a workload for you. But be careful about the timing of what you send. "If you will be away for a week of teacher training, don't send out a reminder two months before you leave," Burgwyn cautions. "People will forget."
Occasional supplemental messages with important announcements are acceptable, but don't barrage your readers with information, especially if it's purely marketing without content.
The Golden Rule applies here, Nardini suggests: "Make your monthly news something people want to read, something you'd like to receive." Delivering useful content will extend your teaching beyond the studio.
Sage Rountree, the author of The Athlete's Guide to Yoga, coaches endurance athletes and teaches yoga in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and nationwide. Find her monthly Sage Endurance News, sent using iContact, at sagerountree.com.