From the October 1999 issue of Startups

Are you ready to increase awareness of your business, enhance your company image and boost your sales--all without breaking the bank? Try adding an e-mail newsletter to your marketing mix.

An e-mail newsletter is a document you put together yourself and distribute via e-mail, usually free of charge. E-mail newsletters are either text-based (without art, photos or fonts) or HTML-based, which requires a more complex design process.

Gary K. Foote's two-person Webbers Communications, a Web site development agency in North Conway, New Hampshire, has grown substantially as a result of its e-mail newsletter, The E-Marketing Digest. "When we began e-mail publishing," says Foote, "our business customer base came 90 percent from offline contacts and 10 percent from online contacts. Today it's more like 30 percent offline and 70 percent online."

Any business whose customers regularly use e-mail can benefit from this marketing method, says Leslie Speidel, a marketing coach in Raleigh, North Carolina, who has launched four e-mail newsletters.

You don't need to be a tech or writing whiz to publish an e-mail newsletter, but you do need energy, motivation and dedication. While e-mail publishing requires some time on your part, the result is worth the effort. Consider the following investments you must make:

  • Time to research the technology you'll need
  • Time to write content or find writers
  • Creativity to come up with fresh, useful content
  • Time to maintain subscriber files
  • Time to read and answer mail

Producing your newsletter should take from two to six hours per issue, depending on the length and how much you write yourself. Also, plan to devote about two to four hours the first time to setting up a template. Finally, expect to spend about five hours per week marketing your newsletter. The following steps will maximize results:

Step 1

Write a mission statement. Before her clients launch e-mail newsletters, Pullman, Washington, public relations consultant Cynthia Freyer has them "determine what competition exists, create a mission statement and determine how they'll evaluate the newsletter's success."

To develop your mission statement, decide what information would help your typical customer make purchasing decisions. Put this in a three-line summary. Remember, your newsletter isn't about your business, it's about your customers. A sample mission statement includes:

For a travel agency: "Our newsletter covers issues of interest to the business traveler. Sections in each issue include tips to make travel easier, a humorous Top 10 list and a profile of a major metropolitan area." A sample article: "Atlanta's Best Breweries . . . Where to `Head' After the Convention." Your mission statement guides editorial content. Keep it in mind when putting together articles for each issue.

Step 2

Tell the world. There are several places online to announce your new publication:

Directories: The two biggest are Listex (http://www.listex.com) and the Publicly Accessible Mailing Lists index (http://www.neosoft.com/internet/paml/).

Other newsletters and Web sites: Search newsletter directories and the Web to find examples of other e-mail newsletters. If they're complementary (not competing), write the editors and ask if they want to offer your newsletter to their readers.

Step 3

Start writing. You can do the writing yourself or outsource it to a professional freelance writer. This costs $150 and up per article, but it saves time and can mean better writing. Or try money-saving options:

  • Ask authors of previously printed material for permission to reprint their work.
  • Ask vendors of complementary products or services to write articles about their businesses.
  • Ask customers to write articles about how they've successfully used your product or service.
  • Find writers or experts who will write for free to gain exposure. List your publication in Inkspot (http://www.inkspot.com) or other online writer's resources as a nonpaying marketplace. For a frequently updated directory of writers' resources, visit About.com's freelance writer site (http://freelancewrite.about.com).

    Design a standard template to use for each issue. Start with a header that includes your newsletter name and your business name (for example, "Gorgeous Gardens, published by Silver's Landscaping Service"). Follow with your name and contact information.

    Present a consistent format to your readers in each issue so they know what to expect. Think about how your favorite magazine includes the same regular columns each month. Dividing your newsletter into regular sections also makes writing easier. Sections to consider: "Expert Tips" (perhaps written by a vendor), "Success Stories" (telling how a customer used your product or service) or "How To" (explaining a useful skill).

    If you distribute your newsletter weekly, include no more than five sections with three or fewer paragraphs each. If you're distributing less often, you can double or triple that length. Online newsletters can be delivered as often as every day or as infrequently as once a month. Plan yours according to how much time you have to spend. Include a copyright notice indicating that because you own the publication it may be forwarded only in its entirety. Also include a privacy statement promising you'll keep subscribers' e-mail addresses private. (The Direct Marketing Association will generate a free privacy statement for you at http://www.the-dma.org/topframe/index7.html)

Step 4

Plan your distribution. Because your newsletter will be a plain ASCII-text document, follow these formatting rules to ensure the line breaks are even:

1. Put a hard return at the end of each line; each line should be 65 characters or less.

2. Use special characters (such as plus signs and asterisks) to divide between paragraphs. Subscribe to other e-mail newsletters before designing yours to see how they are laid out.

3. Carefully proofread your newsletter, and do a spelling check and a grammar check.

There are three ways to distribute your newsletter: with a basic e-mail program, a Web-based distribution program or custom list software.

Beginners can use a basic e-mail program such as Eudora Light or Pegasus Mail, both available for free on the Internet. Maintain a file with all your subscribers' e-mail addresses in it; to send the newsletter to your list, paste the file in the `bcc' (blind carbon copy) field of the message. (If you paste it in the `To' field, recipients will see a long list of e-mail addresses.)

A Web-based distribution program, such as those offered by Listhost, Revnet or Oaknet Publishing, uses a Web interface to distribute your list, either for free or for a fee. The distributor maintains your subscriber list and handles requests for new subscriptions. When you're ready to distribute, simply paste the content into a Web-based form and press a button. You won't need to consider custom list software, such as LISTSERV, until your list exceeds a few thousand names.

Step 5

Keep marketing. The best way to promote your newsletter without blatantly advertising is to become active on discussion lists and newsgroups.

  • Discussion lists: Messages are sent to readers via e-mail. The content isn't written by the editor or publisher; instead, readers send an e-mail (a `post') to the entire subscriber base. Most discussion lists have rules about what's appropriate to contribute.
  • Usenet newsgroups: These are similar to electronic bulletin boards. There are thousands of different newsgroups that cover just about every topic imaginable. Visit http://www.dejanews.com for a searchable database of newsgroups.
  • Chat rooms: Commercial services such as AOL and CompuServe offer chat rooms, which allow for real-time online discussions.

With all three groups, your goal is to present your expertise by offering suggestions and asking informed questions. Create a signature file you attach to each e-mail, briefly explaining what your e-mail newsletter offers and how to subscribe. Each time you post in these groups, your signature file subtly promotes your publication.

Make sure online promotion is a continuing priority in your business, says Freyer. Think of your e-mail newsletter as a handful of seeds you plant with every issue. Eventually, the seeds will grow, and you'll reap more sales than you thought possible.

Newsletter Perfect

Try these products and resources to help get your newsletter online.

E-mail programs:

Distribution programs:

  • Coollist (http://www.coollist.com) and ONElist (http://www.onelist.com) are free mailing list services that will distribute your newsletter with their ad on each issue.
  • Both Listbot Free and Listbot Gold (http://www.listbot.com) offer easy-to-use, feature-rich Web-based e-mail newsletter distribution, including a submission button you can put on your own Web site.
  • Listhost.net (http://www.listhost.net) offers for-fee, Web-based distribution services and excellent customer service.
  • OakNet Publishing (http://www.oaknetpub.com) offers both free and for-fee distribution services for online publishers.

List management programs:

These programs offer different levels of service. Some collect names and automatically distribute; some just manage subscriber lists.

Other:

  • Increasing Hits and Selling More on Your Web Site by Greg Helmstetter (John Wiley & Sons, $24.95, 800-225-5945).
  • Online Publishers is a discussion-based newsletter on producing an e-mail newsletter. For a free subscription, e-mail op-request@listhost.net with the word "subscribe" (minus the quotes) in the body of the message.
  • The Marketing With E-Mail Idea Feed is a weekly tip from the author of this article about marketing with e-mail. Subscribe at http://www.ideastation.com/feed.htmlShannon Kinnard is Business Start-Up magazine's monthly "Browsing" columnist.

    Contact Sources

    Leslie Speidel, c/o The Speidel Group Inc., http://www.themarketingcoach.com

    Webbers Communications,gkfoote@webbers.com, http://www.webbers.com