Building Your Small Business with Email Newsletters Part 3

We’ve discussed the why of email newsletters.  Yesterday we discussed the how.  Today, we’ll take a look at the what and the where.  What do you put in your newsletter and where do you get it.

Remember, the first word in newsletter is news.  Your customer hasn’t given you her contact information so you can clog up her inbox with a constant barrage of ads.  You’re certainly entitled to include "a word from our sponsor", but if you don’t provide valuable content your customer’s only action will be to hit the "delete" button.

Another important point, never be a slave to the calendar.  If you don’t have anything to say, don’t send a newsletter.  It’s much better have an irregular schedule than to be like clockwork with nothing to say.  You’d rather have them wondering where you are than have them wondering why you came.

So, what’s news.  Assuming that you got into business because you love your chosen industry then anything about your business that’s interesting to you should be interesting to your customers.  Take trade magazines.  Most articles that deal with happenings in the industry have the potential to be rewritten as a consumer item.  Many of your customers are "first adopters".  They want to be in on what’s new.  Write about it.

Another good source for content is your vendors.  We do our best to keep you supplied with current information.  Most of it can be adapted for a consumer audience.  Talk to your sales representatives.  Most of them should be more than happy to help you get your newsletter off the ground, and to be a continuing source.  You won’t know unless you ask.

Possibly the richest never-ending source of material is the Internet.  The web is full of blogs, podcasts, web sites and forums that can be a rich source of content.  Do a Google search on any topic and you’ll have all the material you need.  Set up a Google Alert for topics of interest to your customers and your inbox will soon be full of article ideas.  If you don’t already, start following relevant blogs and podcasts.  If you’re not sure how to do that, here’s an earlier post on RSS feeds.

There are a couple of resources for your newsletter that are literally right under your nose.  One is your customers.  Has someone found a new use for your products?  Have them tell you about it and write it up.  Is someone particularly delighted with your products or service, have them put their feelings in writing.  There is nothing more powerful than an endorsement from a satisfied customer.  Remember, there’s nothing wrong with stories that highlight items for
sale in your store.  "Come in and buy this" is an ad.  "Here’s how your
neighbor used this" is a news item.  It’s a subtle difference, but it’s
important.

Another excellent resource is your staff.  They’re on the front lines.  They know what’s going on with your customers.  Ask them what’s new and use that for a topic.  Better yet, invite them to be a contributor to the newsletter.  You might even make it a perk.  Give the Employee of the Month a chance to tell their story.

Last but not least, you can draw on your own knowledge and experience.  After all, you’re the expert. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.  If you love to talk about your business, writing about it is just another way of communicating.  Your customers are particularly interested in upcoming events.  If you’re planning a sale, or if a brand new product is coming in, that’s news.  Write it up.

This brings us to a final point, don’t expect to win a Pulitzer Prize for your writing.  If your customers are looking for great prose, they’ll subscribe to The New Yorker.  Unless your customers are all English teachers, you won’t be graded on your work.  The best way to kick off a newsletter is to just do it.  Check out the services we mentioned in yesterday’s post.  Sign up for one of the free trials and start experimenting with some of the templates.  When you find one you like, go with it. 

Do a practice run.  Put together a sample issue and show it to your family, your staff, your friends, anyone who will give you an honest evaluation.  If there are bugs in your first effort, try again.  Even if you have to do three or four test issues before you "go live" it’s worth your time.  You don’t have to be perfect, but you want to do a professional job.

Have fun with this and your customers will have fun too. 

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