How (and why) to publish an e-newsletter that works

Tom TumbushWhen I first launched my e-newsletter about a year and a half ago, I wasn’t sure the effort would be worth it. How could I hope to stand out from all the other creatives and corporate giants who were already clogging inboxes with similar stuff?

To my surprise, Currents (my humble little newsletter) turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done for my business. It’s boosted my visibility, enhanced my positioning, helped me stay connected with potential buyers, and yes, brought me new business. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that can help you enjoy the same benefits:

Have realistic expectations

E-newsletters are about relationship building, not instant sales. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results right away. The goal is to remind buyers that you’re out there on a regular basis so that they’re more likely to call you when they need the service you offer. In the last year alone, several prospects have said something like “I’ve been meaning to contact you for six months” when they called—usually one or two days after I mailed my most recent installment.

Publish free for as long as you can

Unless you have thousands of people on your mailing list, the best thing about publishing an e-newsletter is the price: $0.00.  I’ve been using Mailchimp for a year and a half without spending a dime, and they even sent me a T-shirt. Constant Contact, Mad Mimi, and other mailing services also offer free plans or trial memberships, so poke around and find one that fits your style and geek level. If you’re a social networking junkie, many services offer integration with Facebook, Twitter, et al.

Follow the rules

I could easily fill another article or six with best practices for e-mail newsletters, but I don’t have to because so many great resources are already out there. Any decent mailing service will happily provide guidelines and a quick Google search will turn up many more.

The #1 rule is this: ask subscribers to opt IN instead of forcing them to opt out. Ignore this and you’ll be branded a spammer. The best method is the “double” opt-in, where the subscriber has to click a confirmation link in an email message. All three of the mail services I’ve mentioned have this capability built in so that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel.

One big idea per newsletter

Don’t try to cram a bunch of stuff into each installment of your newsletter. Your readers are busy people who are less likely to plow through your message if it looks like the front page of a newspaper. Find a way to state your message in one sentence before you start writing. Then write it in the margin or paste it to your computer screen with a sticky note so you’ll keep looking at it while you write.

Give, don’t sell

Each newsletter should give your readers a tip or a bit of information that’s useful to them. Give buyers something that demonstrates your expertise and shows that you understand the challenges they face. Think of this as a free sample that shows off your value. It’s a great way to say “wouldn’t it be great to work with me?” without actually saying it.

Hard selling has no place in your newsletter. You can put a short blurb about what you do at the bottom or in a sidebar, but make sure it’s clearly marked and segregated from the rest of the content. Avoid making your service the “solution” to any problem you pose in a newsletter story. Even the suggestion to hire a generic designer/writer/consultant/whatever can come off as a thinly-veiled sales pitch and discourage readers.

Be professional and personal

The best way to keep your image “real” and encourage buyers to keep reading is to share your own stories. (You may have noticed that I did this myself at the beginning of this article.) Your buyers want relationships with people, not faceless companies, so don’t be afraid to give your writing some personality. Letting your true colors show will also help you attract clients who are in tune with your style and temperament.

Publish regularly and on time

Some people read my newsletter top to bottom every month. I love both of them for it. Most folks are less regular: some months they open it, others they don’t. I also know that part of my “open rate” comes from people who click on the message just long enough to delete it. I don’t care. I’m still on their radar and some of them send me business. Strange as it sounds, it’s more important to stick to a consistent schedule than it is to write great prose. Showing up on time, every time, sends the message that you’re reliable and professional.

Use your data

You can get a lot of valuable feedback from the tracking data your mail service provides. Use an HTML template and you’ll know roughly what percentage of your subscribers open messages, what links get the most clicks, and how often readers forward your stuff to colleagues or social networking peeps.

These stats aren’t 100% accurate but over time they’ll tell you what’s getting the best response. You’ll also get insights about your market. I’ve learned that about 2 out of 3 of my best prospects are female. One of my clients gets a lot of activity from Italian subscribers even though her newsletter is published in English.

Promote, promote, promote

Once your newsletter is up and running, make it easy for potential buyers to opt in. When you connect in person, on the phone, or online, ask if you can stay in touch by adding them to your list. You can show a little extra respect by asking which email address to use—some of my clients have a secondary addresses for newsletters. I also provide links to my newsletter signup on my website, in my email footer, on my Facebook page, and right here.

(BTW: if you need help creating your own email newsletter, check out this Marketing Mentor group with Ilise Benun.)

Tom N. Tumbusch writes copy that creates action for Green businesses and creative agencies. His tiny solar-powered corner of the Internet can be found at www.wordstreamcopy.com.

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