Electronic Newsletters – Building a Personal Marketing Database

Having a free newsletter or eZine is an essential marketing tool for any business, individual, or organization. Upon first consideration, it may seem like a third-rate marketing ploy, or not worth the hassle to maintain. However, when you create a newsletter, you not only provide your subscribers with valuable information, you also create a mechanism to reach out and touch your subscribers every month or week, or any time period of your choosing.

Everyone who receives your eZine is a potential customer. Whether you are selling your services or products, each newsletter is an opportunity to generate revenue. It is also a chance to increase recognition and grow your business.

And the reason it’s free? You want as many names in your database as you can get. In order for someone to give you their valuable, personal information, you need to provide them with something equally valuable in return. Also, if you ask people to pay for your newsletter, some may if they perceive significant value above and beyond the fee, but most will just move on to someone who will give them the equivalent information for free.

Your eZine can be created in either plain text or HTML (HyperText Markup Language) formats, or both. HTML is the same code that is used to create web pages, so it allows you to incorporate design elements such as colors, graphics, photos, and links in your eZine. At one point, plain text vs. HTML format for newsletters was a highly debated topic and the vote was pretty evenly split. With the advancement of technology, such as increased storage capacity in inboxes, this is no longer such a pressing issue; however, there are a couple of things to know.

First and foremost, you want your readers to be able to read your newsletter. There are a couple of great websites that will help you manage and send out your newsletter with this priority in mind; I use Aweber (http://www.aweber.com). This site sends out both types and then the receiver’s email software chooses which format will be the most readable. However, if you cannot send out both, there are certain advantages and disadvantages to either type.

Text: Text documents are the easiest to read because all email servers can receive them. They also are less likely to be caught in spam filters, so you can be sure that your subscribers are receiving your newsletter (see tip 9 for more information on spamming). However, you have to worry about “wrapping” the text so that it looks the same in everyone’s inbox. And, you can only work with text color to make your content and product presentations flashy and visually exciting and interesting.

HTML: As noted above, an eZine in HTML format will display like a web page. However, not all email programs will be able to read it properly. While the technology has improved, many people still own older machines that cannot decipher HTML embedded in an email. Also, the spam rating for this type of newsletter is significantly higher than it is for a text document, so there’s a chance it may end up in your readers’ spam folders. The possibilities for design, color-scheme, and product placement are endless, and usually make it worth your time to explore this option.

Best of both worlds: Another option for format is to send out a plain text message that simply introduces that issue of your eZine, then provides a live link to the full version online, which can include as many graphics and media as you want. This ensures that your email will get through, but also allows you to take full advantage of online resources. Keep in mind, however, that not all readers will be willing to click out of the message to another web page. Consider what’s best for your readers.

Content

It is essential that you take your newsletter or eZine seriously and create high-value content. If you deliver sub-par information, you will quickly lose subscribers. At the same time, however, don’t overwhelm your readers with too much information, even good information. Short is better than long. Many people are inundated with emails every day; they are not going to take the time to read your weekly novel. If you can condense your message into three really pithy paragraphs and deliver great value to your reader, you are golden.

Ideal target: Try limiting each issue of your eZine to 350 words of text. This will fit on most viewers’ screens, without having to scroll down. Subscribers really appreciate having all the content at their immediate view.

Once you’ve struck this balance and engaged your readers, you can then use your content to promote your products, speaking engagements, or your media placements. If you can incorporate a plug for your latest eBook, mp3, or any other item into your newsletter, you will sell infinitely more merchandise. You will do best if you can make a connection between the message you are sending and the product you are presenting. If your message is all about reading body language and you can say, “For more about the subtle messages you send with your body language, check out my new eBook on …” By giving readers a bit of useful information, you are creating an interest in the specific topic, and you can build on that by immediately offering to expand their knowledge of the topic with a related product.

The best balance: While each issue of your eZine is a great marketing tool, there’s good reason to give your readers a break from promotions once in awhile. They’ll surely appreciate the occasional reminder that you are providing a worthwhile service outside of your product plugs, and that might make them even more willing to purchase a product the next time. A good balance is a 3:1 ratio of issues without and with product plugs.

Sell Your Products

Having products to sell and incorporating them into your eZine are obviously a great way to generate income and make your newsletter profitable. I currently make on average about $8,000 a month from products people buy off of my newsletter. That’s a lot of money! I’ve been able to accomplish this by taking the time to create 70 pieces of merchandise. These range from eBooks and mp3s to assessments and soft-cover books. I am also in the process of creating Podcasts and video downloads to complete my range of media offerings.

Explore all of your options. Your products do not have to be tangible; they can be electronic. Things like eBooks and mp3s are great items because there are no manufacturing, distributing, or shipping costs. Once you pay to create the file, that’s it. It’s pure profit!

Also, your products should be as specific as possible. If your newsletter is on a broad topic, such as cooking, create products that address specific issues. You may have “how to grill the perfect steak,” or “when a vegetarian menu is your best option,” or “the top 25 chocolate recipes.” By breaking down your expertise into specific titles that solve a certain problem or meet a specific need, you will be able to easily generate products and start earning money off of your “free” newsletter.

In order to sell products in your eZine, you will need some type of online shopping cart to process the transactions. Most of these systems have the capability to automatically handle the purchase and distribution of eProducts such as mp3s and eBooks (I use AutomatedShoppingCarts.com). Another useful feature called “Ad-Tracking” allows you to track which purchases were made from each eZine so you can monitor your most and least effective product sales copy. Ad-Tracking also allows you to do “split testing,” which enables you to track the results of several versions of sales copy for the same product. This process will let you see which sales copy is the most effective at generating sales. By dividing your web traffic for a product between several destination pages, each with different sales copy, you will be able to easily determine which page is performing best. There are also software programs available to help you test and optimize your online ads.

Promotional Content

There are three approaches to newsletter content: the type that exists to sell products, the type that exists to promote the author, and the type that purely gives information.

Obviously, if you have a lot of products and are using your newsletter to generate income, the first option is the best. However, make sure that the content of your newsletter doesn’t suffer. You are still providing your readers a service and feeding them valuable content. If your content suffers because you are trying too hard to sell your products, you will lose subscribers and ultimately lose money.

If you are a speaker, author, consultant, personal coach, or expert who wants to gain recognition, you should promote yourself in your newsletter. You should talk about what you’ve been doing, your recent articles and media mentions, your speaking engagements, problems you have helped your clients solve, opportunities you have helped your clients seize, and how potential clients can contact you. After all, there is no better product than yourself, so you need to market your services as effectively as possible.

If you don’t like the idea of using your newsletter as a promotional device, the solely informational option is probably what you’ll choose. Companies can use newsletters to educate customers on effective product usage or share ideas from other customers. While your newsletter is still valuable as a database generator, I would advise against abstaining from all promotional copy. If you are going to take the time to create a newsletter, you want it to work for you as much as it can. There is always a way to find a balance between maintaining the integrity of your newsletter and either promoting yourself or your new project/product.

Auto Responder vs. Here & Now Tips

There are two different types of newsletter formats, the auto responder and the Here & Now time sensitive tip.

Auto-responders (or evergreen eZines) are a series of tips or eZines that are created in advance and sent out at set intervals (weekly, monthly, etc). First, you must write several tips or newsletters that you put into a reserve database of eZines. When someone subscribes to your newsletter or tip series, they receive issue #1. Consequently, if person A signed up for your weekly tip a year ago and person B signed up yesterday, person A would be on tip #50, while person B would only be on tip #1. This is a great system if you do not want to create a new newsletter every month or week. Once you write enough tips, you can sit back and wait as your subscriber network reads through them all. However, you need to monitor your newsletters and subscribers carefully. Once your readers start to catch up on the eZines you’ve already written, you need to create more. The downside of this system is that you cannot make your tips relevant to items in the breaking news or seasonal happenings. The topics need to be able to stand on their own.

The Here & Now time sensitive tip is an eZine you write each week or month. If you enjoy relating your advice to current events, holidays, or seasons, or just like writing a newsletter every so often, this is the best option for you. It is also a great way to promote your speaking engagements, current articles, or recent sightings to keep your readers up-to-date on your activities. If you are just starting out and don’t have a lot of products to promote, this might be your best option because it allows you to create
visibility for your marketing efforts before you have product.

The Layout

Laying out your newsletter is extremely important. You have many more options with HTML, which makes your eZine display like a web page, than you do with plain text. However, if you are confined to text, play with color, spacing, and font to be as creative as possible.

In HTML, it is important to create continuity between your website and the newsletter. If you have a logo, a slogan, or any type of branding on your website, make sure that it is also on your newsletter. I am a proponent of creating a column that takes up one third of the page either on the left or right side. While your content goes in the middle two-thirds of the page, this side column is purely promotional. You can use this space to write catchy copy about yourself and your products or services. Or, you can create buttons that make it easy for people to buy merchandise directly from your eZine. But most importantly, the best way to promote your products and your services is to make your newsletter as visually interesting as possible. Use of color, pictures, and design will entice people to buy and help them remember you.

HTML layout also enables you to create hyperlinks within your message to pages on your website, particularly your shopping cart. (You can also do this in plain text, but it is clunky and intimidating.)
All the Stuff That Goes on the Bottom

There are a couple of items that need to be included in every newsletter, regardless of its intended use. Most important is an easy way for your readers to subscribe and unsubscribe. Most newsletter service providers insert this link automatically and make it user-friendly.

You also need:

oA link to update contact information. If your subscriber is changing email addresses, make it easy for them to keep subscribing to your eZine.

oA phrase about the author, i.e. “Check out Dr. Alessandra’s website at …” to keep referring your readers back to your site and products.

oA copyright notice–for your own protection.

oA link that they can click on if they want to share the newsletter with their friends.

oIf you are a speaker or author, contact information where interested parties can book you for a speaking engagement.

oA privacy policy.

oA legal disclaimer.

Don’t Spam!

Every newsletter or eZine you send out gets rated by the recipient’s spam filter, and could, if you’re not careful, end up in their spam folder! You want to keep this rating as low as possible. To do this, be conscious of your word choice, color scheme, and background template. Certain words, like “free” or “guarantee,” and certain non-web colors or excessive use of graphics trigger spam alerts. Also, limit your database to people who have signed up to receive your newsletter and to those who you’ve done business with. By sending mail to parties who have “opted in,” you will be less likely to be flagged as a spammer.

But why care about spamming?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. First, if your message has a high spam rating, it will never make it to your subscribers’ inboxes. Many eZine systems allow you to monitor what percentage of your emails is actually getting through. It is a good idea to keep on top of these stats. A newsletter is worthless if your readers aren’t reading it. Secondly, there are anti-spam laws in place, both on the federal and state levels. While they aren’t generally enforced unless the violation is egregious, just being aware of these laws is essential.

The federal anti-spam law, called the CAN-SPAM Act, was passed by Congress in 2003. It contains several important provisions that you should know about:

oYour email’s “From,” “To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person who initiated the email.

oThe subject line cannot mislead the recipient about the contents or subject matter of the message.

oYou must not send to anyone unless they “opted-in” to your list by signing up or you have an existing business relationship with them.

oYou must provide recipients with a mechanism to “opt-out” of receiving future emails.

oEach violation is subject to fines of up to $11,000.

But most importantly, if you consistently spam your subscribers, the ISP (e.g., AOL, Comcast, etc.) can block your domain name. These big ISPs provide their users with spam-flagging tools. If enough people flag your newsletter as spam, these providers will block EVERYTHING you send. That means that no one from AOL will be able to receive newsletters, emails, or anything else from you. And, unlike the spam legislation, these ISP providers monitor spam very closely because they want to keep their subscribers happy. And if they do decide to block you, there is no warning; they can just flip the switch. Once blocked, it is also extremely difficult to get unblocked, and you must provide the ISP with evidence that you are not in fact a spammer.

Monetizing Your List

Deciding to offer access to your subscriber base to someone else, or sell your list of subscribers, is a slippery slope that will take you down a path of consumerism that may or may not hurt your business. Selling your list to another vendor may result in customer dissatisfaction, spam issues, and most importantly, loss of subscribers. I wouldn’t do it.

However, you can partner with another vendor or exchange your list with someone in a data-share arrangement. If someone has a product that you think would benefit your customers, you can make an arrangement with the seller to give him or her access to your list of subscribers. You can put an advertisement in your newsletter and tie your content to this other product or service. However, make sure that the product you are promoting is not, in any way, in competition with your products or services. Also, you should create an agreement with the other vendors with whom you are exchanging marketing lists so that they promote your products and services in their newsletters. This type of agreement, or exchange of lists, is a great way to expand your marketing reach and also maintain the integrity of your newsletter and the loyalty of your readers.

Keep in mind that a list exchange, or joint venture as it’s sometimes called, is not the same as selling your list. You don’t give up control of the information in your database; you simply agree to mail them your list without giving them access to your actual database. They only get access to your list through you.

Another important issue to keep in mind is to make sure that the person who you are exchanging lists with has a list that’s comparable to yours in some way. Size can matter; if you have a list of 5,000 subscribers, it’s not usually a good idea to exchange your list with someone who only has 1,000. Sometimes, however, the content of the list is more important than its size. If the list contains information on the best 1,000 people out there to whom you wouldn’t otherwise have access, then that would be a good deal. Try to keep the exchange even and in mutual benefit to both parties. This way, your readers get the benefit of exposure to new information, and you get the benefit of expanding your reach through all of your hard work on your newsletters!