ELECTRONIC NEWSLETTERS LEAD THE pack when it comes to successful communications tools. Much less costly than paper newsletters, with no printing, postage or mailing costs, e-newsletters mailed to opt-in lists (which consist of people who have signed up to receive them) may get better readership than newsletters sent by traditional direct mail.
If you're wondering whether to add an e-newsletter to your marketing mix, consider these benefits. An e-newsletter builds return traffic to your Web site while adding value to your company's services. It's also an excellent public relations tool. It allows you to get information to your customers, as well as gain their feedback and learn more about them. And eventually, as you build your subscriber list to sufficient size, you may choose to accept advertisers, making your e-newsletter a valuable income generator for your company.
To launch your own e-newsletter, follow these three steps:
1. Build your list. The simplest way to build an opt-in list of subscribers is to add a sign-up box to the main page of your Web site. It's vital to keep this as brief as possible--perhaps as simple as entering an e-mail address. And make it clear that subscribers are registering to receive information from your company, so your communication won't be confused with spam. (To gather more information, you can add a longer registration form deeper in your site, but know that the longer the form, the less likely visitors will be to complete it.)
In addition to gathering names, online, ask customers and prospects for e-mail addresses in other forms of company communication. If you're a retailer, you can collect e-mail addresses for new subscribers at checkout.
2. Structure your content. Every issue of your newsletter should have a consistent masthead that includes the name of your newsletter or company, the issue date and a hyperlink to your site. While HTML mailings are more visually interesting, 80 percent of e-mail newsletters are still sent in plain text, according to The Direct Marketing Association (www.the-dma.org), to accommodate the large number of recipients who don't have e-mail programs that can display HTML.
You have at least two choices concerning content: A series of short promotional blurbs with links to longer articles found on your site or a complete in-depth article interspersed with links. If you promote multiple items or products that cover diverse interests, short blurbs on various product areas or topics may work best for you. But to establish your company as a resource in its field, a longer piece that covers a relevant topic of interest will best do the job. No matter which format you pick, keep the overall length relatively short-- recipients don't want to wade through 10 pages of copy online.
Surveys and customer feedback are a great way to learn more about your customers and make your e-newsletter relevant to their needs. In each issue, encourage readers to hit "reply" to supply feedback. And regularly survey your list.
3. Manage your mailings. The frequency of your e-newsletter should be consistent. Whether it's monthly, biweekly or weekly, customers will expect it to arrive on a regular schedule.
You can contact marketing expert KIMT. GORDON (author of Bringing Home the Business) at www.smallbusinessnow.com.
You can either manage your list in-house, use a free list server such as Topica Inc. (www.topica.com), or hire a professional list host such as SparkList.com or BigList Inc. (www.biglist.com). If you choose to send your own mailings, it may be helpful to break your list into groups of 50 names or less, so your mailings won't be kicked out by the ISPs as spam. When choosing a mailing service or list server, look for one that includes bounce management (to keep your list continually updated and free of undeliverable e-mail addresses), basic management reports, a security system and easy access to your list at all times. Soon you'll have an e-newsletter that builds strong customer relationships and adds to your bottom line.