How to keep your newsletter design simple – be inspired by newspapers

Words You Can Use
My simple, basic design for a single-page newsletter

If you’ve never had any design training, learning how to put together a newsletter page can be a painful and time-consuming experience.

This blog aims to give you some basic pointers to help you minimise the amount of time you’re spending on it – giving you more time to deliver for your customers, and run your small business.

Newspapers are a great place to start to look at the sort of design you’re going to need to use to create newsletter layouts which won’t detract from your content.

They’ve honed their styles over decades, and they know how people react to the pages they’re printing.

The Washington Post has recently been involved in a study of the best methods to use to design a page, and it found there’s one key message: keep it simple.

Readers react best to clear, simple, and impactful layouts.

Here’s my guide on how to keep it simple for small business newsletters. I’m looking at a one-page newsletter here for ease of explanation, but the principles remain the same whether you’re producing a one-page or eight-page newsletter.

Decide what the main story on the page will be.

Do this before you start to design. Ask yourself what the most important story is, and ensure it has an impactful image to go with it.

This is your ‘lead’. It should be the longest read on the page.

What else do you need to include on the page? In my basic example, I’ve created a page (using Adobe InDesign) which has two stories and a picture for each of them.

What other elements will be needed? Each story will need a headline, each picture will need a caption box. Does your newsletter need a logo and date?

Once you have a clear idea of what needs to be included, you can start.

How many columns will you need?

My example has three columns, and I think four should be your maximum per page. Columns help to organise the way your eye processes text. Newsletters without any columns at all often look ramshackle and difficult to read. Too many columns, and your newsletter will be reminiscent of an early 20th Century newspaper with small classified advertising columns.

I’ve contrasted my columns in my ‘lead’ with text run across two columns as if one in the secondary story.

Where does your eye naturally start to read?

The answer is at the top left hand corner of the page. So after you’ve put in any headers needed, date lines and headlines, that’s where your text should start.

In my example, I’ve placed an image on the right hand side of the page, and run text from the top left, then underneath that image, as the eye naturally moves from the left to the right on the page.

You could run an image across the whole width of a page and start text from the left underneath that, too. The aim is to have text which flows from one column to another without significant interruption. A design which placed a picture in the middle of two, unconnected columns of text, one on the left one on the right, starts to disrupt the natural reading process. It jars the reader.

Which text fonts and sizes should you use?

There are many fonts available. A general rule is that for a print newsletter, a font with serifs (extra flourishes on letters eg. Times New Roman) is a good thing as it helps the print reader’s eye. For the web, use a sans serif font for the cleaner look. Try them out on your text characters to find those which suit your project.

Headline fonts should be considerably larger than that of your body text. They can be bold, italicised or coloured. But, beware. Simplicity is the aim. Too many flourishes will detract from the overall look.

If your body text is at 12 point, for example, you could have a 48 point headline.

Don’t mix too many different fonts – two or three should be enough for all your elements. And don’t pick fonts which are too alike. Oddly, that triggers a subconscious response in the reader that something looks wrong.

Secondary elements on the page should have a smaller headline than your ‘lead’. Choose a smaller point size.

Use good images well.

Impactful images are a great way of getting your readers to sit up and take notice of your content.

Use them well – a postage stamp sized image is pointless.

To ensure you can use them in a large enough size, check how many pixels per inch they have. For a print newsletter which will be sent to an external printer, work on the basis you need a 300ppi image. For a laser printer, you’ll need 200ppi. For the web, you could use a 72ppi image.

How will your design divide your page?

There are two basic methods – a vertical design, and a modular design.

Vertical divides the page up vertically between left and right. You might have one story on the left of the page, for example, with a photograph, and two smaller stories on top of one another on the right.

My example here is a modular design – it divides the page up into sections between the top and bottom of the page.

There’s no right or wrong. If your impactful image is a longer, vertical image (what photographers call portrait shaped), a vertical design might suit you better.

My image is rectangular – what photographers call a landscape shaped image.

How can I use colour?

Keep to a simple colour palette – use one or two colours. Think about what matches well together, and with your basic body text colour. I’m a big fan of the classic black body text. Purple text on a red background is probably not the look you want for your newsletter.

I’ve used a cyan colour in my date (which also has a black ‘stroke’ around it, an edge around the letters), plus a deeper blue fill colour for my secondary headline box, with white text on top. In newspaper terms, that’s what we call a ‘reverse’.

It’s a good way of separating elements on a page, as is the box I have drawn around the ‘lead’ and image.

Write headlines to fit.

If you see a lot of white space at the end of a headline, that’s off-putting to the reader, and not the best use of precious space.

Write to within one or two characters of the end of the line. A character is a letter, or a space between words. If you have two lines of headline – what we call two ‘decks’ – and the words cannot fit exactly, the top deck should be longer than the bottom.

Headline writing is an art. It’s all about practise.

Use short, active words in a headline. Think about what you want to say. A strong, simple headline which fits is far better than one with a tortuous pun, or one which leaves too much white space at the end (we say ‘that headline’s windy’.)

I’ve used some of my last blog as the text for my page. You can see that far fewer words will be needed than in my blog. It’s important that articles written for newsletters are written to the appropriate length. Cutting out the secondary story and using more words with the ‘lead’ would have a large impact on the attractiveness of your newsletter page.

Could your article be segmented into different pieces so that one piece could be used in a secondary story slot? It’s worth taking the time to think about that.

At the end of the blog, I’m including a front cover for a newsletter I designed which shows what you can do with simplicity, a great image, and a splash of colour.

I hope this blog helps you get back to basics with your newsletter design!

Words You Can Use Limited
My simple cover for a four-page newsletter with bags of impact



Use the tricks of the journalism trade to improve your newsletters

Words You Can Use Limited
Don’t be daunted by the prospect of writing your newsletter – use our tricks

Sitting in front of a blank document on your laptop screen is daunting.

It’s sometimes difficult to know where to start when it comes to writing an article for your newsletter.

I’ve seen a number of small business newsletters which look and read more like the parish pump magazine than the professional face companies wish to present to their customers – and potential customers.

What every journalist will tell you is that it’s all about practise. All of us started out with that same fear of the blank screen until we learned a few key tricks which I’m about to share with you.

Who will be reading your newsletter?

All journalists writing a story know for whom we are writing – we have a picture in our heads of the ideal reader. We imagine their age, where they live, what interests them, what they do with their leisure time. Sometimes, we know that specific stories are more interesting to a different type of reader, and we adapt our writing style and story emphasis to cope with that.

For example, the average reader of a newspaper might be aged 45 to 70, care about issues such as local transport links, pensions, work opportunities for their teenage children, local crime rates. A story about the opening of a new primary school, however, would speak more to people in their 20s or 30s with younger children, who care about issues like local play and leisure facilities, waiting lists at other local primary schools.

How would you know your reader profiles? Take a look at web and social media analytics. Who are your Twitter and Facebook followers, for example? Both platforms can give you invaluable information about your customers’ ages, gender, location, and about what subjects they post. Who follows you on LinkedIn? In what kind of industries are they employed and at what level?

Take a look at the Google Analytics for your website – who are your web visitors? Of course, you will also have your own customer records, and they can tell you a great deal too.

Armed with that information, pitch your newsletters towards the interests of the largest numbers of your followers/customers.

Knowing your ideal reader, what writing style should you use?

If you’re writing a news article, the best advice anyone can give you is to imagine that you’re telling this story to someone you’ve met in a local coffee shop or pub. Don’t assume they know the same things you know. Don’t assume they understand your subject as you do.

Write in a clear style which is accessible to them. Don’t try to impress them with your flowery use of language – the whole point of a news article is to convey information in the most direct way.

People have a natural cut-off point in their interest. Where that falls depends on the content of your article. I have read every word of a 10,000 word long-form magazine article on the female survivors of capture by IS, for example. However, most business newsletter articles will not have that kind of staying power.

A good rule of thumb is that your most interesting article should be between 300 and 500 words long. Unlike a blog, where there is unlimited space to develop articles, your newsletter articles will be constrained by the size of your pages, the other pieces you wish to include, the photographs you intend to use, and the headlines and sub-headings you need to draw in the reader’s eye.

I’ll take a look at good newsletter design in my next blog.

If you have a great picture or graphic for your article, write it around that.

There should be a good marriage between your words and your images.

Having a great image is pointless unless you use it well in your design, and make good use of it in your article. Images are, all too often, an afterthought in newsletter design. In newspaper design, they are the starting point for the page.

A direct way of marrying words and images together is the journalistic standard introduction: “This picture shows…..”

You could also choose an introduction which reflects the content of the picture in a more features style: “John Edwards, the first customer in the new, multi-million pound shopping centre, beams with delight – he’s won a luxury trip to Australia thanks to the centre’s owners.”

Where do you start?

The introduction is everything – it is the thing which will decide whether someone gives up on the piece or reads on.

Make it short, to the point, and summing up the most important thing about your article. Ideally, aim for a maximum of 25-30 words. Think back to the person you met in the coffee shop – what’s the most important thing about your article? What would you tell them first?

Back up what you say in the introduction in the next two paragraphs. Need to introduce a different line to the story? Do that in paragraphs four to six.

Think of your article as a pyramid. The introduction is the most important part at the top, the next few paragraphs hold that up, the next few hold up even more, and so on.

How do you create flow in your writing?

Each paragraph should underpin the previous one in some way. A statement of fact in paragraph four could be underpinned by relevant quotes in paragraphs five and six.

Think of it as advancing a logical argument. You can’t jump ahead without fleshing out what you’ve said, and you can’t jump back and forth between points, without seriously affecting the flow of what you’re saying. That will confuse your readers.

Each article should have a starting point, a middle which flows from there in a sequential way, and a clear ending.

Sometimes, a nice little twist in the tail of a piece is possible. Journalists call that the “pay-off”.

Don’t use huge slabs of quotes. That, also, is a turn-off for your readers.

Read through your article at least three times. Don’t be afraid of re-writes.

It’s what we do all the time. We write out our articles, read them through a number of times, looking for “typos”, spelling errors, grammatical errors, ensuring the sense of what we’re writing, accuracy, that quotes are used well.

We may well decide the emphasis of an article needs changing, and we’ll completely overhaul it, changing the structure.

Of course, no matter how much we look at our own writing, it’s never as good as a fresh pair of eyes to check it over. Other people see what we can’t, sometimes because we’re too close to a story as we’ve researched it heavily.

Editors and sub-editors look for “holes” in an article – things which aren’t there like basic facts (ages, names, for example), and things which simply don’t make sense because they aren’t explained clearly enough.

Here’s an important rule when writing a newsletter article: If you don’t understand something, you cannot explain it properly.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You’re not foolish, you’re thorough. Better to ask lots of questions of one person than get something wrong in print and get numerous complaints.

Happy writing!

Maria Williams is a copywriter, professional blogger, and PR for small businesses. Visit


Your 12-step guide to building your online community of customers

Words You Can Use Limited
Social media is all about your relationships with customers – not the hard sell

For most small businesses, an online presence is vital.

Most have websites, most use some form of social media to promote their products or services. A survey of more than 300 UK business owners by Hiscox showed that in 2011, 57 per cent of the small businesses used social media to support their marketing drives. There has been an explosion in social media use by firms since then, and social media companies expect that figure to grow even more in the next year.

Changing the way you think about social media, though, might be the key to ensuring one-hit customers are transformed into repeat business.

Instead of thinking of online as a way of reeling in new fish, why not start thinking of it as a great way of building your own community?

Business is all about relationships. In this era of apps, smartphones and tablets, the best way of gaining new business is still by word of mouth, by personal recommendation. The only real difference from previous decades is the way that word of mouth is spread.

Here are a few key ways to do that:

  1. Find out who your customers are and where they hang out.

Are you selling a product or service directly to the public? Do you service other businesses?

Before you start to look at an online community strategy, it’s key to know your ideal customer. Build up a profile of them – their age, location, their problems, what they need, how they use the internet, which social media sites they are likely to use.

  1. Social media is all about building a community.

If you post three times a day on Twitter asking people to buy your product, that’s a sure-fire way of losing followers and alienating people. Social media is just that – social. The best business users understand that, and understand that building a community has great advantages. Play the long game. It’s all about offering your potential customers the chance to exchange good word of mouth about your business, and to see you as their first port of call in your field.

  1. Offer your social media followers something they can share.

Share-ability is the way to get that word of mouth out there. Give your followers content they can use from your field of expertise, give them something fun and educational. Use video and pictures – they will get you extra shares, and help transform that into more social media followers. Video and still pictures have been proven to gain more engagements for tweets, and more likes and shares on Facebook.

4.   Blog.

Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? But it’s a fantastic way of reaching out to potential customers and bringing them into your online fold. Blog about your expertise, your experience in setting up a small business, key trends in your field. Not a writer? Consider out-sourcing your blog to someone who is, someone you can brief and who can turn around polished posts for you. Then, of course, share those posts on a widget on your website. That will freshen your web content regularly, something Google spiders and other website crawlers love, and help boost your visibility and page ranking. Share your blog posts on social media.

  1. Selling directly to the public? Don’t forget Facebook pages.

Facebook is still one of the most powerful ways to connect with a group of people – and it can give you valuable information about where your customers are, what their social networks are like, and what interests them. Setting up a Facebook page for your business is a great way of letting your core audience know what you’re doing, and allowing them to give you feedback. Facebook had 31 million UK users in 2014, the largest age group being the 25 to 34-year-olds at just under 26 per cent. It’s still the largest single concentration of users on any social media platform. 89 per cent of businesses have a Facebook presence, according to UK firm Real Business Rescue.

  1. Use your Twitter Analytics.

All your tweets will have a link to your analytics page on the bottom. If you’ve never used it, take a look. Twitter gives you lots of information about who your followers are, their gender, what interests them. It will also show you which tweets have engaged your followers. There were 15 million Twitter users in the UK in 2014, and 80 per cent of those used mobile devices to view tweets. 89 per cent of businesses have a Twitter presence, says Real Business Rescue.

  1. Pick your social media presence to suit your customer base.

If you run a food business, for example, images are important to your word of mouth. Sharing mouth-watering pictures of your latest product would be an excellent way of ensuring share-ability. You should, therefore, be on image-led sites like Instagram (150 million users worldwide) and Pinterest (which has two million UK users), as well as Twitter, Google+ (300 million users worldwide) and Facebook. A business based on words or analysis would do well to have a blog on WordPress (126 million visitors per month, more than 300 posts per minute) or Blogger (with more than 670,000 blogs currently active). Already on a social media platform which isn’t performing well for you? Don’t be afraid to ditch it and concentrate on those which are delivering.

  1. Video platforms are an under-used resource for small businesses.

It can be off-putting to even consider posting videos on sites like YouTube (one billion active users a month) and Vimeo. Don’t they have to be professionally-directed? Don’t they all have to be of the highest quality and cost a fortune? The answer is, of course, no. What you don’t want is a terrible video which would damage your business reputation. But you can achieve good quality short videos with iPhones or relatively cheap equipment. Do you run events? Why not add a few videos giving a flavour of those events? You could then share them on social media, or embed them in your blog or on your website. Have expertise you want to impart? Consider making an instructional video.

  1. Are your customers other businesses?

LinkedIn is a great way to get the word out to other businesses. It has more than 10 million users in the UK, and has 60 million page views per month. Share updates or post articles on the site to increase your profile and drive traffic to your blog. Simply liking, sharing, or commenting on other people’s posts can get you noticed. One small business owner told me recently: “There is a direct correlation between me liking posts on LinkedIn and commenting on them, not even posting my own, with every spike I have in customer enquiries.” The company Econsultancy says LinkedIn is responsible for 64 per cent of visits to corporate websites from any social media site. Use the tools it gives you – see who has been looking at your profile, which sectors your followers are working in, for example. Are there business forums in which you could post your content? Or, perhaps, could you set up your own group for your industry? 88 per cent of businesses have a LinkedIn presence, says Real Business Rescue. When it comes to other social media, where do your customers talk to one another? If most do that via Twitter, concentrate your efforts there.

  1. Think about infographics.

They’re a great way to impart information quickly. You’ll need someone with graphic design skills to create a good, shareable infographic. But once you’ve created it, you can continue to use and share it for as long as you like. That’s a key message for a lot of your social media content – share it more than once to get the best value for money from it.

  1. Be consistent.

Whatever you do on social media, do it consistently. I recently saw a post asking a comedian where his usual Tuesday tweet to a competition was, as it was later than scheduled. People have their routines, and they like you to fit into them. If you post three times a day, or once a day, do it at the times your customers will come to expect. The Hiscox survey said 25 per cent of small UK business they asked posted “when they have time”, with just 12 per cent posting all the time. Think about when your ideal customer would be on social media. Are your ideal customers busy parents with young children? Posting during the school run slot would be pointless. Most parents, though, tend to be up and about early. Try posting then.

  1. Maximise your website visits.

The goal with all of this is, of course, to interest people in your business – and get them to visit your website. Make sure your website address is on your Twitter and Facebook profiles. Add it as part of the caption to your images. Make sure it appears at the end of your videos. If you give your website content an overhaul, why not post a link on social media asking your followers to visit and give you feedback? Have a competition on your website? Post a link asking your followers to share.

Here’s one final tip – there’s nothing social media users hate more than being ignored or taken for granted. If they reply to your posts, please answer them, they’ll appreciate you taking the time to do that. A welcome message thanking them for following is also a touch they will appreciate.

Good luck with building your online community.