My E-Newsletter & Me: The Journey Begins

I’ve been writing e-newsletters for my clients but have been without my own for quite a while.

I knew I needed one to keep my name in front of clients and prospects and inform them of my ever-expanding repertoire of capabilities and projects. Finally, after putting up my also long overdue Web site, I was ready.

Being a writer, my first thought was the copy. That was relatively easy to knock out. Then, I brought in my designer to create a template. Again, that was painless, as the e-newsletter graphics reflect the Web site.

What stymied me was the list and email service provider evaluation. I had a list in Outlook but no idea what to do with it. And I was clueless about getting the right email service provider for my size business.

Luckily, my business coach had heard Jennifer Shaheen of the Technology Therapy Group speak at an event. He suggested I contact her, and I’m happy to say that I’m on target to publish my first issue by the end of October. (The fact that I’ve been promising it to my charter subscribers since May is another story!)

In the process, I’ve learned a few things that I’ll pass on to you.

First, I made a big mistake in the way I organized contact information in Outlook. I had created separate folders by company name for each client group and listed all the individuals I worked with at each company in them. It was easier for me to view my contacts that way in my folder list, but now I’m paying a high price time-wise. I now have to export each client group individually into an Excel spreadsheet.

The better way is to have one long contact list in Outlook, then create “Categories” that I can check off at the bottom of the individual Outlook cards. Live and learn.

Next, it helped to work over the phone with Shaheen, who could walk me through the process of importing lists and setting up my e-newsletter with the email service provider. Using an application file-sharing program, Shaheen was able to see my Outlook screen and instruct me specifically on what to do every step of the way using my own contact information. We practiced everything a few times together. She made screenshots of each step, which she emailed to me for future reference.

The email service provider she recommended (and that she is affiliated with) is OpenMoves. I found this saved me having to do the vendor selection on my own. And her familiarity with the ins and outs of the technology saved me a lot of time.

We also had a conference call with my designer to talk about how to connect the e-newsletter sign-up button from the Web site to OpenMoves. After the call, Shaheen sent him the code, and a few days later he designed the box for me. Again, this saved me a lot of time because I was clueless about this area.

Now, I’m uploading my database to Open Moves, my designer will put the sign-up box on the site, and next week I’ll have another phone call with Shaheen to learn how to update the actual email content and design for every monthly issue.

In the process of working with Shaheen, I asked for her best advice to pass on to other small business owners considering an e-newsletter:

  • Know your e-newsletter’s goal. Do you to keep your name in front of prospects? Position yourself as an expert? Show samples of your work? Shaheen finds a lot of self-employed people are overly humble about talking themselves up. It’s your time — and your dime. If you put out an e-newsletter, make sure it achieves your business goals.

  • Don’t send an e-newsletter as a mass mailing through Outlook, Eudora, or Entourage with all your recipients’ names in the BCC field. You won’t be able to track whether they open your message. You need an outside company to send the email for you.
  • Set up a publishing calendar and stick to it, such as the second Wednesday of each month. Many readers will actually look forward to your e-newsletter and expect to receive it on a regular schedule.
  • Version your email to different audiences. It doesn’t take long and will increase your response rates when your e-newsletter shows relevance to your reader’s needs and interests.
  • If you’re not a writer, include links to interesting articles from other sites or invite your colleagues to contribute articles. Lead off the e-newsletter with an editorial note from yourself, and be sure to include your photo for brand recognition.
  • Keep on top of spam filter triggers. Instead of saying “free,” say “no cost.” If you sell products with red flag words such as “mortgage,” put the word in an image, which is less likely to be picked up by spam filters.
  • Link back to your Web site so you can track what your audience is really interested in.
  • Review the data. Shaheen says practically no one does this. You can find out what topics really resonated with people, and you can follow up individually with highly interested prospects.

Stay tuned for more on my e-newsletter odyssey. As I learn, I’ll pass it on to you. If you’re a consultant, freelancer, or entrepreneur, send along your advice or success stories from your own e-newsletter experience.

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

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