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Using E-Mail to Build Your Business Network

An e-mail newsletter helps ensure your success by allowing you to develop a network of strong business relationships.

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So your small business is off and running. You know that making connections is important, but how will you develop yours? And how do you make them pay off over time?

One of the most important things a small-business owner can do is talk to all sorts of different people--prospects, customers, potential partners, possible team members, vendors and potential funding sources--about what they're doing. Of course not every connection you make is the right connection at the right time. Often the people you meet are interested in your business, but either you're not ready for them or they're not yet convinced they want to work with you. But they want to keep in touch and you want to keep them interested and informed. So how can you keep these important connections alive and engaged? The answer is an e-mail newsletter.

An e-mail newsletter is a great way for you to develop interest from others in your company and market space, and build your brand and credibility at the same time. When done right, a newsletter can be tremendously valuable to the reader. And though it's not promotional in nature, it allows you to demonstrate your expertise and depth--your biggest assets when you're small. And remember, your e-mail newsletter isn't about you and your company. It should be about your product space, service area or market niche, and should include content that's relevant and useful to the contacts you want to develop.

Why is it worth your time to create this newsletter if it isn't all about you? Sending a newsletter keeps your company in the mind of your burgeoning network and builds your brand. It informs your audience that you're thriving and often inspires them to take action. And although your company isn't the star of your newsletter, you can communicate your company progress--customer success stories, key additions to your team, funding events--as sidebars and additional stories.

And good e-mail newsletters are frequently forwarded. This means your network will grow and your reputation will spread. For example, if one of your connections has been planning to introduce you to an individual or another business that could benefit from your products or services but he hasn't yet, forwarding your e-mail newsletter gives him an easy way to break the ice and makes you look professional at the same time.

Although you'll need to commit some time to making your newsletter interesting and relevant--especially that first newsletter to grab your readers' attention-you'll find that it's easier than you think. Most businesses have an opinion or a point of view about their market space. Couldn't someone on your team easily write a small piece once a month, or once a quarter? Your e-mail newsletter doesn't need to be long. In fact, less is more. People like to receive short, well-targeted newsletters that add value. And your newsletter doesn't have to contain only original content from your company. You can ask authors of interesting articles if you can include links, or even excerpts of their articles, in your own newsletter. Most will say yes.

So how do you get started? First, organize your contact database and get permission to add contacts to your mailing list. Then begin collecting new contacts with permission: No one likes to be added to a mailing list without their knowledge, so tell people you plan to add them to your newsletter list and let them know they can unsubscribe at any time. Next, find an e-mail marketing service that's the right fit for your business. A good e-mail marketing service will provide list management services (opt in, unsubscribe, de-dupe, etc.), newsletter templates (HTML formatting, table of contents and more) and mailing, delivery and reporting functions. Using an outsourced service is inexpensive, low risk and will ensure that you look highly professional when you send your newsletter.

An e-mail newsletter is an investment that pays off. It lets a startup cultivate contacts and build the network of relationships that will ensure success. A good newsletter makes a small business look more advanced and more professional. It also builds brand and credibility and drives your network of connections back to your website to learn more about your company. It keeps your company in the mind of your audience and can encourage the kind of two-way communication that will bring you closer to your network. It's the most effective way to develop connections--from the very first contact to profitable results down the line.

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