Do you keep in touch with your current and previous clients? Are you building an email list of your potential customers? What about those prospects that you've been meaning to contact... do you feel a little awkward cold-calling them?

Having your own opt-in, permission based electronic newsletter might be the answer. It is one of the most effective marketing tools you can use, because it is fast, personal and inexpensive.

Many small businesses are using email newsletters to introduce themselves to new customers and to communicate with existing ones. By sending useful information on a regular basis, you maintain constant contact without being annoying. In addition, an email newsletter can enhance your credibility and increase sales.

Following is some advice to help you with the basics of producing your own newsletter.

Creating an Email Newsletter

Producing your newsletter doesn't have to be a monumental task. First, decide on the frequency of publication. This is based on how much time you have to do the work. Publishing it monthly or quarterly is probably a comfortable pace for both you and your readers.

Next, produce a graphic design for your layout. Many email list management companies provide online templates for their customers. You simply type or paste in your information online, and an HTML or text-based newsletter is automatically created for you.

Now it's time for the content of your newsletter. Concentrate on topics that your readers will be interested in, not only the ones that only you find fascinating. Try to use real-life applications.

For example, you can describe past successes and maybe even interview a customer or two. This way, you tell your audience how you solved a problem that relates to them and convey that you are a results-oriented professional.

The 12 Tips

Here are some ideas for successful email newsletters and campaigns:

1. Do not purchase, trade or borrow an email list

Sending email to people who have not specifically requested to receive your mailings (opting in) is almost always regarded as spam.

2. Make signing up and unsubscribing easy and visible

Add a sign-up form to your home page or link to it and ask your customers whether they would like to sign up when you speak with them in person. You may want to ask subscribers only for their email address, first and last name, and one or two other questions such as their interests. This will allow you to target future mailings.

3. Use double opt-in registration

There are two standard methods for online registration, single and double opt-in. Double opt-in is the preferred method, because it requires confirmation.

4. Link to your privacy policy

Place a link to your privacy policy near your list sign-up form. Your policy should describe how you handle the information you collect and how people can contact you in case they have any concerns or questions.

5. Send a welcome message to each new subscriber

Once someone subscribes, send a welcome message immediately. Include a description of what they will receive and how frequently, and how to unsubscribe.

6. Keep accurate sign-up records

Sometimes, you or your Internet service provider (ISP) will get a spam complaint from someone who forgot they subscribed to your list. Keep accurate records that include the date and Web address from which they signed up.

7. Ask your members to opt in again if you are using an older list

If you have not sent a mailing for a while, ask subscribers to indicate that they want to stay on your list by sending you an email, clicking a link or visiting a Web page.

8. Remind people that they subscribed

Include a standard heading each time you send a message. A short note such as “Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter, Mary,” will remind recipients that they requested your mailings.

9. Avoid certain terms in your subject line and message text

If your message contains words frequently used by spammers, people will delete it and possibly file a spam complaint. ISPs often filter emails with suspicious subject lines; also note that it is illegal to use deceptive or misleading ones.

10. Include your physical address and phone number

Put your phone number and postal mailing address in your message. This allows readers to contact you to place an order or inquire about your services. In addition, new federal legislation requires physical addresses on commercial email messages.

11. Send your mailings regularly

Keep in touch with your subscribers frequently so they don't forget they signed up to receive your mailings. They will begin to anticipate your messages if you adhere to a schedule.

12. Reply promptly to each inquiry or spam complaint

When you receive an inquiry or a spam complaint, respond to it as soon as possible. Always include the subscriber's sign-up information with your response.

Following these simple suggestions will help you retain your subscriber base, which is fundamental for a thriving permission-based electronic newsletter or outreach campaign.

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Raj Khera is a partner in MailerMailer (