My company is revamping its newsletter strategy. I'll have lots to share as we go through this process. The first topic is the art of discipline. As my staff and I discuss this undertaking, we're realizing the role discipline plays in the success of a newsletter program. Not only self-discipline, but also a kind of military precision you, the publisher, must inflict on others. Some insights on how to make discipline work for you:
Strategy development. Be strict with yourself on this one. Consider developing a strong strategy as a gift to yourself, an opportunity to build a strong infrastructure that will last. This involves meeting initially with anyone who cares what your newsletter looks and reads like. What does the CEO want to achieve with the newsletter? How does sales use it as a tool? How do the product marketing and development teams envision using the newsletter? Create a list of common objectives that fulfill overall company goals. Use this as your monthly checklist to make sure your newsletter hasn't wandered off course.
Sections. Your life will be much easier if you create a standard list of sections, or buckets, you use every month. How does this involve discipline? Along the way, you'll get lots of great new ideas for the newsletter. Your first instinct will be to jump on them. Instead, file them away for two or three months. Discipline yourself to keep on track. You spent a lot of time developing strategy, and you didn't go down the path you're on lightly. Stick with it for a while.
Editorial calendar. Don't wait until the last minute to decide what's going into the next couple of issues. Sit down right after you determine the sections and develop as comprehensive an annual calendar as possible. Things will change (that's a promise). But the more you map out the newsletter for yourself and those working with you, the less dictatorial you'll need to be.
Deadlines. Everyone has way too much work and very little time to complete the work they're responsible for. Since you've become a strict disciplinarian, establish clear, hard and fast deadlines for what's needed. Communicate these to all involved and build in reminders. You can include a grace period for emergencies, but if people use the back-up date too frequently, you have a problem. If management bought into the importance of this project, you may need to be the bad guy and request assistance getting things in on time.
Team selection. Choose your team wisely. If you work with someone who's a great contributor but unreliable with deadlines, you have a couple of options. Give that person her own, much earlier deadline. Talk with her frankly and ask her to tell you whether she's too overcommitted to participate. If she claims she isn't yet continues to miss deadlines, even after a prod from her manager, you'll have to politely, but firmly, kick her butt off your team.
Reporting and analysis. I'm sure when every issue goes out the door, you heave a great sigh of relief, then groan as soon as you realize you must start on the next issue tomorrow. Don't forget the key interim step: Learn from what you publish. Build sufficient time into your plan to figure out what works and what doesn't. Ideally, you can develop a template for summarizing what happens with each issue. Quickly plug in new statistics and see trends that will either help sales now or strategic direction over time.
Flexibility. Discipline may sound like a rigid word, but even the strictest disciplinarians permit flexibility. Step back every so often and look at what's working and what isn't. Recognize what needs to be fixed. Or, when an absolutely brilliant suggestion walks through the door, it's worth incorporating today -- even if it throws your schedule amuck.
What tricks have you come up with to keep your newsletter on time, fresh, and successful -- without driving you and your team crazy? Share your thoughts.
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Kathleen Goodwin is the former CEO of IMN (formerly iMakeNews), specializing in customer acquisition and retention through permission-based e-newsletters. For nine years, she was vice president of marketing for Ziff-Davis' publishing division, where she oversaw the marketing of all print publications and their early online siblings. She also serves as an advisor to early-stage companies and has been responsible for several successful new-business launches.