If you’re a writer looking to build a stable income, setting up paid sponsorships on your newsletter could be a perfect fit.
Swapstack, a premium newsletter advertising marketplace connecting brands to newsletter audiences for relevant sponsorships recently reported that their Gross Merchandise Value crossed $100,000 US in June 2021. This means more than $100,000 US has been paid to writers by brands for successful collaborations over their marketplace.
As a writer, you might wonder why brands would pay so much for collaborations. Swapstack knows that newsletter writers have a unique relationship with their audience. They speak to a specific demographic about niche topics. Swapstack allows brands to do the same through sponsorships.
Also, businesses that collaborate with newsletters & other influencers have much greater revenue growth than the businesses that don’t, as established by a 2018 report by Business Insider Australia. The study also found that mid-sized businesses that collaborated with content creators on joint initiatives made $430,000 more than those that didn’t.
If you’re a writer looking to build long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with brands through your newsletter audience, this article is just for you.
What to expect in this article (Table of contents):
- The Landscape of Newsletter Marketing
- Finding Brands 2.1 Thinking about the right brands to collaborate with 2.2 A marketplace to find sponsors
- How to Price Ad Space 3.1 Classified or Sponsored by 3.2 Shout out 3.3 Deep dive or Takeover
- What to Include in A Pitch 4.1 Should pricing be included in the pitch? 4.2 Following up after the first pitch
- How to Sell Ad Space Without Being Too Sales-y 5.1 Frequency 5.2 Type of writing
- Final Words
1. The Landscape of Newsletter Marketing
A 2019 study of social media users found that over 50% of users prefer getting product information from other users rather than straight from brands or advertising. Additionally, 34% of users have found a brand solely because of a post made by someone they trust.
These are statistics for social media users where most people are just “casual” followers. If social media marketing can have such promising results, imagine how powerful sponsored brand collaborations on a newsletter would be.
Your newsletter subscribers are the people who went beyond the usual “like, share, subscribe” on social media and took the time to sign up to your email list. They are your dedicated followers, the people who trust you enough to welcome you into their digital homes, aka their email inboxes.
If you can introduce these people to a company or brand that will solve a common problem they have, you’re essentially building up their trust in you, while also helping the company (and yourself) make profits. It’s a win-win-win situation for all parties and can be a powerful income stream as you go ahead building your newsletter audience.
What makes newsletter marketing so powerful
As a writer, you already talk to your audience in a way that makes them trust you and follow your recommendations. Your focus over all the months or years you’ve invested in building your newsletter creates a really targeted audience for brands to collaborate with.
Since they already know the demographics of their target audience, brands are just looking for a trusted voice to put their message across to the right people. Your newsletter can be that medium — the trusted voice for the brand to reach its target audience.
When you collaborate with brands that have a similar target audience, you’re leveraging the best of your strengths to create more targeted campaigns with high conversion rates (meaning, more people will buy what you’re selling while also thinking highly of your newsletter for recommending them exactly what they needed).
Things to know before getting started with brand sponsorships
While it’s undeniable that collaborating with brands can be a win-win situation, there are some cons too, namely-
- If you aren’t part of a marketplace, getting in touch with potential brand partners can be overwhelming.
- Setting up a collaboration is an exhaustive effort. It requires lots of planning, coordinating, and exchanging back-and-forth communication before a deal can be finalized.
- While looking for the common ground to benefit both the brand and you, you might have to give up some creative control over your newsletter structuring and formatting. Conflicting ideas regarding the planning and execution of the collaborative campaign might arise.
- No matter how much you plan and research, there’s a chance of ending up in a bad collaboration, where one party walks away with a lot of benefits while the other gets nothing.
If you work with the brands directly, you expose yourself to more such potential pitfalls.
If you’re protected by the rules of a marketplace like Swapstack,the chances of a “bad” collaboration decreases and you can work on building meaningful, long-lasting connections with the brands that match the most with your niche and target audience. More about Swapstack in the next section.
2. Finding Brands
2.1 Thinking about the right brands to collaborate with
As a writer, the ideal brand for you is one that can have a mutually beneficial relationship between you, your audience, and of course, the brand. There has to be an intersection between your readers and the potential customers of the brand. The product, service, or values the brand is selling have to be such that they’ll impact the lives of your readers.
The fact that you’re recommending the brand adds another layer of trust, making your readers more likely to follow your recommendation and place their belief in the brand.
Here’s a brief look at what you should consider before shortlisting potential collaboration partners:
- You have a shared target audience and similar definitions of “ideal customer.”
- Their brand’s identity is complimentary to you without being a direct competitor. For example, if you write a newsletter about diet and exercise, it would make sense to collaborate with a brand that sells a particular type of diet. Collaborating with another newsletter about health and exercise might be a risk. What if you end up sending a large chunk of your readers over to the other newsletter?
- You have similar marketing goals.
“Followers like you because of your brand. Brands like you because of your audience. You must know your audience very well in order to know how to pitch yourself to brands. That is why niche matters.” — Elaine Rau, founder of LadyBossBlogger.com.
Once your niche is clear, make a list of at least ten brands that would gain by collaborating with you. Then, you can either cold-email them with your pitch, or you can reach out to an employee on social media and see how the conversation goes from there.
2.2 A marketplace to find sponsors
If this sounds too much of a hassle, the alternative is to join a marketplace where both brands and writers hunt for potential collaborations. Swapstack is the premier newsletter advertising marketplace that connects brands to newsletter audiences for relevant sponsorships.
The onboarding process is easy. All you have to do is sign up with your email ID and fill in a few details about what your newsletter is about, how many subscribers you have, and how frequently you send emails, etc.
After that, you’ll have access to hundreds of brands and their objectives, with the option to pick one (or several) that suits your newsletter’s purpose and can collaborate with. Once the brand finalizes the deal, you can send an invoice according to the amount you’d like to quote, and you’d get the full payment in your Stripe account. Swapstack charges a 10% fee to the brand — their effort to make sure the creators get exactly what they quoted.
3. How to Price Ad Space
Brand collaborations can take many forms. It could be something as simple as giving a ‘shout out’ to a company on your newsletter in exchange for a fixed amount. Or it can even be a full-scale joint ad campaign with a variable pay depending on the number of conversions.
On Swapstack, there are three ways you can typically carry out collaborations with brands. Each of these can be priced differently, as discussed below:
3.1 Classified or Sponsored by
This is the shortest ad unit where you add a single link and a short description of the brand. Typically, these range from a few words and can go up to 50 words. Some classifieds also include a logo.
Examples of classifieds can look like: “This week’s edition of the
Since these are shorter, the click-through rates (CTR) on these are typically low as well. The pricing strategy is discussed in the next sub-section.
3.2 Shout out
A shout-out is a longer form of collaboration, ranging from 100–200 words and including multiple links, images, and logos of the company. If placed in a strategic location on your newsletter, shout-outs can drive a high volume of traffic and can be priced accordingly higher.
Both Classifieds and Shout-outs can be priced either of the three ways:
- Cost per 1,000 opens (CPO): CPO is the rate you can charge based on how many opens you expect. The data is based on your audience size and your newsletter’s average open rates. Typically, it is suggested to start with $50 for 1000 opens. You can lower it if the brands start negotiating. If they go ahead with no questions asked, you can raise this amount for the next collaboration.
- Flat rate: These are pre-decided rates based on your newsletter’s historic open rates and audience size. If you have a very specific audience that meets the brand’s target demographic, you can charge more. If you have a more general audience with broader tastes, the rates would be lower. You can start with a standard $100 flat rate and later keep on increasing as your readership grows.
- Package pricing: You can bundle multiple ad purchases together for a static cost per “package.” For example “$500 for 4 shout-outs in a month” or “$1000 for one deep dive and four weekly shout-outs.” This approach can speed up conversations with brands and make it easier for you to pitch high-value sales in one go.
3.3 Deep dive or Takeover
These are long-form collaborations, usually 500–1500 words or even longer, where you take your readers on a virtual tour of whatever product or service the brand is offering. Such posts can have detailed descriptions, multiple links, images, and the company’s logo.
Of course, it’s important to only do deep dives with companies that are highly aligned with your readership. The pricing can be decided based on several factors like the quality of your audience, how engaged they are, and the brand’s budget.
For example, if you have a newsletter with 1000 subscribers and a 20% open rate with an average conversion rate (or CTR) of 10%, you can expect 20 people to click on the company’s link. If the company is selling a product or service worth $50, the collaboration will earn them $1000. In that case, you can easily charge $300 or even $500 for the proposed deep dive.
These rates will vary with your audience size and how niche their interests are. As your audience grows and your voice develops, you can pick more niche brands to collaborate with and charge even higher as your engagement rates increase.
4. What to Include in A Pitch
Before you set about writing your pitch, remember that brands probably receive hundreds of pitches every day. You need to make your stand out. Get quickly to the point without wasting their time or yours.
On Swapstack, you can reach out to brands by “requesting an introduction” to a brand that matches your niche. Here are some things to include in your pitch/introduction request:
- A short and catchy first line to get their attention. Ideally, this should reinforce the values of the brand and state why it’s such a good idea for you to collaborate.
- Next, add a direct link to your newsletter. Some writers prefer adding a pitch deck or a media kit, but all it does is increase the steps it will take for the brand to find your newsletter. A direct link works because they can see your newsletter upfront and gauge the kind of value you’ll bring.
- Make your offer. What can you do for the company and how it will help them. You can either offer a classified, a shoutout, a deep dive, or a package with combinations of these three.
- Include your qualitative stats when you talk about your newsletter. Include the open rate, click-through ratio, and audience demographics in your pitch. These will help the company gauge the value you’re offering and set a price accordingly.
- If you’ve previously worked with brands, list the top 3 collaborations you’ve done with a quick review of the results. If you haven’t worked with any brands yet, include your monthly growth and an estimate of the number of clicks each link on your newsletter gets.
- Add a call to action in the end so the company can know what to do next. It’s often a good idea to propose a call to discuss possible future collaborations. This makes it easier for them to just reply with a convenient time or show up at the Zoom meeting at the pre-decided time.
Be genuine and do your research. If you write a generic email that’s been sent a bunch of times, people can tell. Include a genuine compliment or personal takeaway about the company to make your pitch stand out.
4.1 Should pricing be included in the pitch?
Creators are conflicted about whether or not to pitch a price in the first email you send. The pro is that you’re setting your rate and not settling for anything less. The con is that if you’re the first person to pitch a price, you lose bargaining power, and the only direction the final price can go is down.
This is a matter of personal preference and will only make sense after you’ve done your first few transactions. Maybe you can try doing both for the first few cases and then go ahead with whichever option makes more sense.
4.2 Following up after the first pitch
If you’re reaching to brands by cold-emailing or on social media, it’s possible to not get a reply even after writing the perfect pitch. The brands might be busy or your email might get buried under the tons of correspondence they receive every day. While you don’t want to pester them by sending too many emails, one or two follow-up emails might be a good idea.
If you’re reaching out to brands through Swapstack and the brand accepts your request for an introduction, but you receive no further communication after that, you can send a follow-up email after a few days.
- The first follow-up email should be a quick summary of your pitch and a line mentioning what the brand stands to gain from it. An example could be along the lines of — “I thought you’d be interested in working on this project because [reasons]. I’d love to hear your take on this and figure out how we can make the collaboration beneficial for both parties.” You can also add a quick summary of similar projects you’ve done before and what results they achieved. Don’t forget to end with an action step, usually a prompt to get on a call or to reply with their intention via email.
- The second follow-up email should be sent essentially a week after your first follow-up email. You don’t have to recap what you stated. Just make sure the brand knows you’re still open for collaboration. This could be something along the lines of — “I wanted to check in one last time and make sure you don’t miss out on [collaboration opportunity]. It’s alright if you’re not interested, but I would appreciate it if you could let me know.”
If they don’t get back to you after three emails, you can assume they are not interested. It’s best to send two follow-ups because the first two might catch them at the wrong time of the day, and a third email sent a week later might find them at a time they’re less busy.
5. How to Sell Ad Space Without Being Too Sales-y
When you do a deep dive or a shout-out in a newsletter, it’s important to make sure there’s enough value in the post for any user who chooses not to purchase the product or service you’re selling.
Understand that your motive is as much to create brand awareness as is to make sales. Your tone shouldn’t be too aggressive. Your readers shouldn’t walk away with the feeling that they signed up to receive updates from you, but are getting sales promotions in return. Here are some points to keep in mind while going ahead with brand collaborations on your newsletter:
- Include a creative headline that entices readers to open the email while also accurately representing its contents.
- Include a strong call to action that leads the reader to the desired action (typically visiting the brand’s website or landing page).
- Have an uncluttered format so your leads aren’t confused or overwhelmed by the formatting.
Aside from these, here are some other factors to consider for effective email marketing without compromising on the quality of your newsletter.
A key point here is the frequency with which you do sponsored collaboration posts. This is again a personal choice and there isn’t a “one size fits all” solution.
This is also where the package deal we talked about earlier comes into play. In the beginning, if you work with a new brand every week, your readers will be confused and might not click on the links. But if you talk about different aspects of the same brand over a few weeks, your readers get the time and space to ease into the brand and everything it represents. This helps build a rapport and better chances of conversion. This also shows why a package deal is often a better idea than a one-time collaboration.
As your newsletter grows and your audience starts knowing you better, you can start exploring more options of leveraging your niche.
Ramit Sethi, the author and founder of I Will Teach You to Be Rich, says that frequency isn’t the most important factor for email success. He believes content is. “Writing amazing emails that provide value is [most important]. If your emails are incredibly entertaining, informative, and engaging, you can send as many as you want.”
To measure the effectiveness of your email campaigns, Sethi says, “Watch your open rates and unsubscribe rates closely.”
5.2 Type of writing
Collaborating with brands might take some of your creative control away. But having liberty over the writing style is important. Brett Chang, the co-founder of The Peak, a daily newsletter covering the latest Canadian and global business, finance, and tech news, suggests treating brand collaborations like partnerships, and not ads.
“When The Peak does brand collabs, we treat them far more as partnerships than ads. We work with our clients to develop content that matches the format and voice of the newsletter.”
Working closely with the company, it’s possible to arrive at a middle ground where you can write about the company in a tone that matches your usual style. This might take several iterations, but it’s worth the effort, at least in the beginning. As your experience grows, you’ll be able to figure out a way to talk about the brand in a voice that resonates the most with your audience.
After all the discussions on building the perfect collaboration are done, the next step is to run the ad, report on the analytics, measure its success from parameters like click-through rates, site visits, etc. The analytics would give a better idea about how interested your audience is in collaborations like this, and whether it makes sense for the brand to continue the relationship. This involves several steps and will be discussed in detail in a subsequent article.
6. Final Words
A newsletter is often a more personalized way of connecting with your audience. It’s the modern-day equivalent of them getting a closer look at your life. It’s your attempt of adding a personality to the image you portray online, making it easier for your audience to trust you and root for you.
Collaborating with a brand to write about them in your newsletter is a powerful way to drive their target audience towards the partner brand. If you work with companies that offer value to your niche audience, your readers will feel highly connected to you and trust your recommendations even more. If the collaboration is successful, you can form a lasting, mutually profitable relationship with the company, leading to more extensive collaborations in the future.
Summing up, here are the steps you need to keep in mind before considering sponsored brand collaborations as a way to convert your newsletter into an income stream:
- Decide your niche and find brands that have a similar target audience and whose brand is complementary to your own.
- Price your ad space based on how both you and the company would be able to get the maximum value from the collaboration.
- Write and send a killer pitch that gets their attention.
- Carry out the brand collaboration at a pace and creative style that suits your audience the most while keeping in mind the message and interests of the brand.
When executed well, a writer-company collaboration via email marketing can be a powerful tool to not only build a strong income stream but also forge long-lasting and meaningful relationships with brands and companies in your niche.
If you have any questions about any of these steps, please let us know in the comments. Feel free to mention if there’s any other topic related to working with brands you’d like us to cover.