From the June 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Newsletters can be wonderful tools for communicating with your customers, employees and other key audiences. Because of their format, they're often infused with more credibility than traditional brochures. If your newsletter is little more than blatant self-promotion, however, it's likely to hit the wastebasket before it hits your target's desk.

By following a few basic tips, you can cultivate interest in your newsletter and make it an effective marketing tool.

  • Keep it interesting. Whether you're informing prospects or encouraging team-building among your employees, provide useful content and avoid the temptation to use a hard-sell approach. For example, if you own a home-decorating supply store, include "how-to" articles on faux-finishing and wallpapering featuring products that you carry in your store. While these topics relate to your field and reinforce your message, they also offer valuable advice and will help cultivate a loyal audience.
  • Do it yourself . . . or not. The abundance of desktop publishing programs on the market makes it easy for virtually anyone to create a newsletter. However, poor knowledge of design basics and overzealous use of difficult-to-read fonts has led to more than one design disaster. Before you try to do it yourself, consider hiring a professional graphic designer to create a template into which you or a staff member can input copy. If you still want to give it a shot yourself, pick up a book on graphic design basics before you create your masterpiece.
  • Find your look. Depending on your budget, you can choose from a variety of styles--from a simple, one-color piece to a multipage, full-color format. Factors such as the number of colors and pages, type of paper, and paper size can mean big differences in cost, so ask for quotations on different specifications from several printers.
  • Keep it short. Generally, it's best to limit your newsletter to eight pages or fewer and keep articles at 300 words or fewer. If you have a lengthy or complex issue to address, try to break it up into two articles or one longer article accompanied by a short sidebar piece.
  • Remember what a picture's worth. Photographs add interesting elements to your piece--as long as you use something more creative than the traditional "smiling head" shots. If you choose not to use a full-color format, keep in mind that photographs reproduce best in shades of black. Learn from one unhappy marketing manager whose two-color newsletter featured the company president's face printed in a very unflattering shade of green.
  • Don't ignore the details. Triple-check spelling and grammar. Typographical errors can quickly damage your credibility and distract your reader. In addition to running the document through spelling and grammar checkers, have someone proofread it--preferably someone who hasn't seen the article before. He or she will be more likely than you are to catch any errors.
  • Include a feedback mechanism. Make it easy for readers to respond by including a contact name, phone and fax numbers, and postal and e-mail addresses.

Cost Cutters

Looking for ways to cut your newsletter costs? Here are a few tips:

  • Team up with another business that reaches out to similar prospects. Split the content--and the cost--of the newsletter.
  • Run your rough design by your local post office. Sometimes, simple size changes can cut postage costs.
  • Get prices from at least three printers, and let them know you're soliciting multiple bids for the job. Competition can help you get a better price.
  • Offer an e-mail option. This allows you to save on postage and printing, but send it only if customers ask. New laws are cracking down on unsolicited e-mail.

Gwen Moran is president of Moran Marketing Associates, a public relations and marketing communications agency in Ocean, New Jersey. She is currently completing a marketing workbook titled Promote Your Business. E-mail her at moranmarketing@erols.com