Virtually every business colleague, client, and potential client I talk to these days tells me starting an HTML e-newsletter is on the front burner of her marketing plans. This is the month/quarter/year, it’s gonna happen.
What’s holding them back? For starters, it’s a lot of work. There are many steps and multiple pieces to the puzzle. From vendor selection to HTML design to figuring out what to write about, there’s much to think through.
If you are poised to launch an e-newsletter but haven’t made the leap yet, here is a checklist of key steps and considerations. This is not a complete list. (You can read about a content formula in my last article.) Nor are the steps necessarily in order; a number of things must be done simultaneously. But if you can check off most of the items below, you’re ready to go.
Define Your Business Objective
Launching and maintaining an e-newsletter eats up a surprising amount of time. Be absolutely clear about why you’re doing it before jumping in. Think about what you hope to achieve: more leads, increased sales, higher dollar value per sale, bigger customers, and so on.
Most e-newsletter vendors enable you to get detailed reporting on open rates and click-throughs. You’ll know who’s reading what and how often (down to the specific email address). It’s up to you to take the data, track and analyze it over multiple issues, and tie it back to the business results you’re looking for.
Create a Premium or Incentive
This is the sorry truth. You need to dangle a carrot — a free minireport, a free conversion rate calculator (I love this one), or some other tangible giveaway — to convince people to sign up for your newsletter. You’ve got lots of competition. It’s no longer enough to say, “Sign up for our FREE newsletter!” You may get a few takers, but you want to maximize your sign-up rate.
You may already have the makings of a free guide that answers the top 10 questions about your product or service. Scour your existing collateral. Sit down with one of your savviest salespeople and quiz him on what questions he is asked most often.
Have a Plan to Acquire Subscribers
Even if your planned launch is six weeks away, you can put a sign-up box on your site now. Don’t have a vendor yet? No matter. Get your tech team to create a simple capture form. If it’s just for a few weeks, you may accumulate a hundred or several hundred names in a flat file. You can import these into a more sophisticated subscription management system later.
There’s more. Consider creating a tasteful-looking pop-up window on your site that invites visitors to sign up for your e-newsletter. With people as busy as they are, they don’t keep track of time very well. If they sign up and don’t receive the first issue for a month, you’re unlikely to get any complaints.
Craft a Welcome Message
You need to choose a vendor whose system can kick out a welcome (or confirmation) email message every time someone signs up. This is where you get to practice developing the voice and tone of your e-newsletter. You’ll want to provide specifics in the message: what to expect in the newsletter, when to expect it (if the first issue won’t be delivered for a month, just say so), how to unsubscribe, and any other information you want to offer. For example, “In the meantime, take a look at the knowledge section on our Web site.” Cite a study or statistic that backs up the importance of the topic your newsletter will address.
Develop an HTML Template
Ideally, you’ll want to work with a Web designer who understands e-newsletters. In addition to being visually appealing, an HTML newsletter needs to work with different email clients and in different browsers. You’ll need to decide whether you want an “open” look or a “boxed” design. How wide do you want the newsletter to be? The standard default is 650 pixels, but I’m seeing newsletters that are much wider and still quite readable.
Do a Soft Launch
The best way to alleviate launch jitters is to try out your newsletter on a group of colleagues. Do a test mailing to about 50 people and ask them for specific feedback. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll learn.
No matter how much you tweak or obsess, the first issue is not going to be perfect. Like so much email marketing, the proof is in the testing and modifying. You may look back after several months and cringe at those first few issues. Don’t worry too much. Whatever the initial design and content, your newsletter will look new and fresh to your first-time readers.
In addition to signing up for every newsletter that you can find (to get ideas for HTML design and content), you might want to do a bit of reading. Two e-books on the topic of e-newsletters are good references: “The Keeping the Key Report” by Mark Brownlow and “E-Newsletters That Work” by Michael Katz.