At first the decision to publish a newsletter looks easy: "My competitors have newsletters; therefore, I need one." Theirs come out monthly, so yours needs to be monthly. Theirs is HTML-based, so yours needs to look the same.
Many first-time newsletter publishers make this mistake. But launching a newsletter because your competition has one is not the right reason to publish one.
It takes time, money and energy to produce a newsletter that people look forward to reading, enjoy and are willing to pass on to their friends and colleagues. Before you make this commitment, you should have a mission for the newsletter and a plan for creating it on a regular basis.
A newsletter can be promotional or marketing oriented, informative or relationship building. Regardless of the mission you choose, you should let the reader know your intentions about the direction of the publication and stick to that plan. Consistency is important. If you promise news and information, don't bore the reader with sales promotions. If, on the other hand, the plan is to send out a relationship-building newsletter 11 months of the year and then publish a promotional one come spring, let readers know it’s coming.
Readers are looking for timely, practical, useful information. If a company increased profits by 320 percent over the same time last year, that’s news! News can also be promotional. Do you have a new service or product coming to market, or a seasonal item? Then it makes sense to publish the newsletter at that appropriate time.
You can also use the newsletter to build relationships with clients. For example, if calls are coming in about specific problems with a product, then discuss the problem and solution in the upcoming newsletter. This is a win-win situation. Customers are grateful that someone is looking after their best interests and the number of support calls will certainly drop.
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Your newsletter can be informative. You can discuss how a new technology may affect your customers’ or prospects’ business. Give them honest information about how this improvement helps them deliver better service or generate more revenue.
Another way to pique readers' interest is to write two- and three-part stories. It's a good way to keep people coming back for more, and sometimes information just cannot be crammed into one issue. Don’t be restrictive. Give the information the space it deserves.
Now that you've determined you have enough news and information to share, decide how often you to publish. Newsletters need to come out on some schedule so people can anticipate receiving them. If you publish too often, the reader’s interest will wane or they will start considering you spam, even if they willingly signed up for the newsletter. Newsletters can also drain resources. Writing articles can take enormous energy, and sometimes newsletter editors find themselves trapped in a format they must "feed." Keep it simple and newsworthy.
A good approach is to start out slowly. Make sure there is time allocated to produce the newsletter and it’s a good read. Perhaps start out quarterly and then move to bimonthly. People rarely complain about receiving useful news too often.
One of the best advantages email newsletters have over their printed compatriots is metrics. When you mail a paper newsletter, it's impossible to find out if it went straight into the recycle bin or if the recipient loved it so much they photocopied it and passed it on to numerous friends. Email newsletter services, however, offer many useful metrics.
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You can find out how many people received the email, how many "bounced" because of a bad email address, how many people opened the newsletter, how many forwarded it to friends, and more. These services also handle your unsubscribe requests, ensuring you are following the law when people request to opt out of your newsletter.
And because of the importance of these metrics and the unsubscribe process, finding a good email service provider -- Constant Contact and iContact are two popular choices -- is a crucial step in the creation of your email newsletter.
Serving the Reader
Finally, know your reader base. Don’t take them for granted. Find out what they are interested in knowing or learning. Invite readers to respond. Ask for their opinion. Let the reader get to know the editor of the newsletter. A person should let their personality show through the writing. It is much easier to build a relationship if each party shares information about themselves.
Respect their time: If a newsletter cannot be read within five minutes, it’s destined for the trash folder. It hurts, but it’s the truth. Busy people segment their time with five minutes for this and 10 minutes for that. A good newsletter fits into that window.
John D. Leavy is president of InPlainSite Marketing, a Divide, Colo.-based digital-marketing strategy company, and author of Outcome-Based Marketing: New Rules for Marketing on the Web (Entrepreneur Press, 2011), a finalist for Marketing & Advertising Book of 2011 by USA Book News. Connect with him on LinkedIn.com/in/JohnDLeavy.