Monday, October 5, 2009

Creating an Email Newsletter

The best marketing serves customers. That's a fact lost on most marketing professionals. They churn out the usual self-serving promotional hype that's easily ignored in our marketing-saturated world. If you want your marketing efforts to attract inquiries from potential clients, you need to provide content that clients value.

One of the simplest yet potentially most effective tools in your client-oriented marketing toolbox is an email newsletter or ezine. To be sure, there are advantages to printed newsletters, especially among us Baby Boomers who tend to favor hardcopy over electronic delivery. My generation also represents most of the decision makers you're targeting. But there are several disadvantages to print as well:
  • It's expensive
  • Therefore firms tend to publish less often
  • Your firm has to produce all the content
  • You can't track what happens to it after it's delivered

An email newsletter overcomes all these shortcomings, which in my opinion makes it the favored option. So how do you get started? Having produced a monthly ezine for several years now, let me offer some suggestions:

Identify the issues that your clients care about. This is one of the biggest advantages of focusing on a few key markets; you can become intimately familiar with your clients' world and tailor your services (and marketing) to fit their needs. You can also readily target your newsletter. Whatever your market mix, find out what topics your clients are likely to be interested in reading about.

The content of my ezine, like the content of this blog, usually is inspired by conversations with clients and work assignments. I do spend time researching issues relevant to the A/E business. But most of my ideas come with little extra work, just listening to what my clients are concerned about.

Search for the best insights, information, and resources you can find on those issues. I advise using the internet because it yields several advantages over printed content, as I'll note below. This, of course, can be time consuming. But it doesn't have to be. A few shortcuts to keep in mind:

  • Find web sites that routinely post content relevant to the targeted issues. For my ezine, I've bookmarked several sites that regularly post new content: Industry-related publications, top blogs, consultant web sites with extensive articles sections, even competitors' sites. I draw from these sources on a regular basis.

  • Subscribe to free email newsletters. Ideally you're looking for those in the format I'm recommending, where the content consists primarily of links to various internet articles and resources. You can choose the best content from these newsletters and link to them in your own publication. The one reservation I can think of is drawing from newsletters that a substantial portion of your audience might also receive.

  • Use Google Alerts. This can be a valuable tool, but use with caution. If you're not careful with search terms, you can be easily overwhelmed with too many email notices from Google. Start small and increase the scope of your search terms as you become more comfortable with it.

Of course, I highly recommend writing your own content. This is key to establishing your firm as content experts. But the advantage of email newsletters is that you don't have to produce all your content, or even any of it if you choose.

Select one of the many email marketing services. These services provide several tools that are really helpful in producing an email newsletter, including templates, list management, delivery, and reporting. The reporting function is particularly valuable. You can track how many open your newsletter, forward it, read which articles, and refer back to it multiple times. This enables you to evaluate which topics generate the most interest and the least. Some of the more popular email marketing services are Constant Contact, iContact, GetResponse, Stream Send, and Bronto. Here are a couple of reviews of these services to help you make a choice: TopTen Reviews and Star Reviews.

Design your email newsletter. The email marketing services above all provide a variety of templates for your newsletter, or you can import your own HTML. The important decision is how to organize the content. I suggest doing what I do in my own publication: Provide an introductory paragraph with a link to the full article. This makes your newsletter easy to skim, with a minimum of scrolling. You might choose to have different sections within your newsletter. I have three: Feature Articles, Industry Trends, From My Blog. You can check out my ezine here.

Commit to a publication schedule. Most firms I know that publish a printed newsletter do so only every quarter. I recommend monthly, which is much more achievable with an email newsletter. This is one of the easiest ways to get your firm in front of existing and potential clients on a regular basis. Only about 30% of my subscribers open my ezine (which is twice the industry average), even though they requested it. But every month they receive a publication they know has some useful insights and information, if they took the time to read it.

The point is: My ezine still pays off, even among those who don't read it. I've picked up several new clients who heard me speak at a conference, requested to be added to my mailing list, then called me when the need arose--sometimes years later. The ezine was the only contact I had with them. I've learned that whether they read my ezine or not was not a significant factor in getting the call. It was the monthly "reminder" they received in their inbox.

Any reason not to do an email newsletter? The most common one I hear is lack of time. I can empathize. But if I can publish a monthly ezine as a one-man shop, can't your firm? I promise it will be worth your time.

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