Daily E-Newsletter As New Business Incubator

Yes, e-newsletters are a great way to create an ongoing, “most favored company status” position for your business, right in recipients’ inboxes. They can also be a testing ground and launch pad for creating new revenue opportunities, even new businesses.

That’s the experience of Sherman Ventures’ AustinXL daily business news, sent to about 6,000 Central Texas subscribers. Since launching AustinXL, founder and publisher Chris Sherman has leveraged the XL brand’s success and introduced two additional publications, DFWXL (serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area) and HoustonXL. The newsletter also spawned two successful conferences and an email marketing service.

One key to Sherman Ventures’ success was teaming up with SKYLIST to analyze its subscriber list. SKYLIST’s tracking capabilities provide valuable business intelligence, based on what readers click on, that helps fine-tune AustinXL. That’s what led to the new services. (An additional case study describes how SKYLIST used a two-step process to help Sherman Ventures increase delivery to corporate email addresses, where aggressive content filters were blocking subscriber email.)

The Business Growth Conference was spawned by readers’ keen interest in small business issues as a result of the economic downturn. Says Sherman, “A lot of folks have lost their jobs in Austin. In the past two years, I think we’ve lost 25,000 jobs. Many of those people wanted to stay in the city, and therefore hung out their own shingles. It’s quite a dynamic small business marketplace right now.”

“What’s great about a daily news service is that you’re in someone’s email inbox every day,” he continued. “It’s a great carrier for information, whether you’re selling your own services or someone else’s. We’ve been able to launch our events division, which now also includes our Austin Game Conference, based on our ability to take the pulse of our readers and use the AustinXL vehicle to drive home the unique selling points of the events.”

For each event, weekly e-newsletters are broadcast. They contain updates on new speakers, sponsor support, and added tracks.

AustinXL’s ability to track readers’ interests creates new opportunities for advertisers, too. According to Sherman, “What we offer advertisers is the ability to understand who clicked on their ads. Due to privacy issues, we can’t tell them exactly what individuals clicked, but we can provide the name of the interested company or type of company. That gives the advertiser a leg up if they’re going to make sales calls. If you’re going to call on a specific market segment in Austin, that could mean getting in touch with several hundred companies. We tell advertisers to do some advertising with us first, and we’ll let you know the 15 or 20 companies that clicked. [This” narrows your follow-up call list considerably by identifying your hottest prospects.”

Sherman Ventures’ latest new business, an email sales solutions service called Grass Roots Marketing, is an offshoot of Sherman’s own successful experience with email. “We’ve put together what we’ve done so well for ourselves for other companies. We call it ’back-to-basics email marketing.’ It’s based on writing emails as if you’re talking one-on-one with individuals.”

“For AustinXL, we don’t use the term ’special offer.’ We use the term ’invitation’ instead. Our email comes from myself as a publisher, as opposed to ’from lines’ that say ’info’ or ’publisher.” We always use a conversational tone in our emails and even in our advertising.”

Sherman advises against Grass Roots Marketing clients using too many graphics, varying font sizes or centered text. All look too much like spam. A recent subject line for one client, visual effects company Pro:Fusion, simply read, “Scheduling some time at the Austin Film Festival.” It was a personal email from the company’s founder.

Sherman passes on this tip about how he reaches the C-Level executives and entrepreneurs that make up a large portion of his audience. “With CEOs, it’s about the money. They want to know, ’What can you do for my bottom line?’ That’s why they’re reading: to save money or make more, particularly in today’s economy.”

We all learn from case studies like this. Send yours along to Karen.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Strategies is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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