Email newsletters are a marketing tool that can help you to stay in regular contact with current and former clients and strategic alliances, and to create relationships with potential clients. But in order to be effective, your email newsletter needs to provide value to your readers, not just serve as a promotional vehicle for your practice.
In the January 2015 issue of Entrepreneur magazine, content marketing expert Ann Handley, in her article, “Before you hit ‘send’: 13 steps to emails that don’t suck,” says, “[E]mail is the Rube Goldberg machine of online marketing: There are multiple moving parts in what has become a complicated process.”
Handley’s article covers her 13 point email marketing checklist, which focuses on some of the practical mechanics of making your email newsletter work, including: subject lines, images, calls to action, headlines and links. It is definitely worth a read. (You can find the online version of the article here). But before you begin working on those aspects of your email newsletter, you need to consider these factors first:
As with all marketing and business development initiatives, you must begin by identifying why you have decided to use email marketing and what result you would like to see. Are you starting your e-newsletter to increase the amount of business you receive from existing clients? Are you hoping to attract new clients? Do you want to educate referral sources? Or are you seeking to establish yourself as an expert in your field?
Keep your purpose in mind when creating content for your newsletter and in measuring its success.
Next, determine who your target audience is. Are you writing strictly for current clients and potential clients, or do you also intend to reach business colleagues, strategic alliances and former clients? You may choose to direct your email newsletter to a single audience (such as clients you represent only in a particular practice area), develop separate newsletters for separate audiences, or create separate sections that target different audiences.
For example, I work with a law firm who has an e-newsletter that was developed specifically to reach referral sources from a particular profession. That newsletter is written with that particular audience in mind, using language they use in their profession. The firm recently decided that they would like to reach clients and potential clients using email as well, but their existing e-newsletter is not appropriate for that audience; their clients and potential clients have different needs, different interests, and a different perspective than their professional referral sources, and clients and potential clients might not understand the technical language in their existing newsletter.
The solution? Create a separate newsletter targeting clients and potential clients, written with their needs and interests in mind, and written in a way that a lay person can understand.
As you can see, the identity of your target audience informs many of the decisions about your email newsletter.
Once you know who you will be sending your email newsletter to and why, it’s time to consider some logistics based on your purpose and audience. For example, you will need to decide the frequency of your email newsletter: will you send it quarterly, monthly, weekly, or more often? Whatever the frequency, be consistent so your audience will come to expect (and look forward to) your e-newsletter. Send your email newsletter regularly to stay ‘top of mind,’ but don’t overload your audience.
You may need to do some experimenting to determine your audience’s need for (or tolerance for) your content. You don’t want to water down or de-value your message by overwhelming or annoying your audience, but you do want to ensure that you are reaching your audience consistently enough to make an impression and to provide value. Experiment with sending your email newsletter at different times and/or on different days to see what your audience responds to best.
Look at the analytics: how many people are opening your email newsletter? How many click on the links? How many calls or emails do you receive as a result of your newsletter? Do clients or other recipients mention your email newsletter when they speak with you? Are they sharing it with others? This information will not only help inform the timing of your e-newsletter, but it will help you with content development as well.
Make the sign up process easy. Many people are reluctant to put their telephone number into an email newsletter signup form because they think that you are going to call them and solicit them for business. Ask only for information you need. The key is to get them on your list so they begin to receive your content.
Do not send your email newsletter by using your regular email account. Use a reputable email service such as Aweber, InfusionSoft, MailChimp or Constant Contact to send your e-newsletter. These services not only send out your emails, keep track of your statistics and open rates and manage your list, but they will also help you by requiring an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of your messages and providing other built in precautions to help keep you in compliance with the CAN-SPAM act.
Building your list
When you first begin your email newsletter, you will need to do some work to build your list of recipients or subscribers. This work will be ongoing, but it is especially important at the outset. Be sure to get permission before adding a new recipient to your newsletter list. Don’t assume that everyone you meet – or everyone who gives you a business card- is fair game to be added to your newsletter list.
The best way to build your list is for your network to see value in what you have to say and decide that they want to receive your content by signing up for it themselves. But in order to do so, they will need a reason to want to receive your newsletter. You can get the ball rolling by asking contacts to subscribe and sending them the link to your sign up page. Tell them what benefits they will receive from subscribing; let them know what kind of information they will receive, why it is important to them, and how it can help them.
Give prospective subscribers a preview of your content by directing them to your articles, blog posts, or other content that might be of interest to them, and then post links in those places to your newsletter sign up page. Or forward a single issue of your newsletter as an example of the content you provide, and include a link to your sign up page.
Provide incentives for people to sign up for your e-newsletter: offer some content (in the form of a white paper, book, video, checklist, etc.) for free, with the newsletter as the added bonus.
Allow readers to forward your e-newsletter to others, and be sure that there is a link in every edition to your newsletter signups so that new readers can subscribe.
Integrate your newsletter with other marketing efforts. Include your contact information and links to your website and other online activities in each edition of your e-newsletter. Post links to your newsletter content and signup page on social media, in your email signature, and on your business card.
Although there can be some value in simply sending an email newsletter and having your name appear in your readers’ inboxes on a regular basis, the content of your e-newsletter provides the real value. Give some thought to your audience and their preferences when deciding how long your email newsletter will be: will it contain one long article, multiple news items, short informational items, or some combination?
Don’t send a canned email, especially if your audience is likely to receive more than one e-newsletter from individuals in your industry or practice area. Nothing looks worse than receiving the exact same email newsletter from two completely unrelated sources. Canned emails don’t showcase the unique culture and personality of your firm; they represent a missed opportunity to differentiate you from others in your field.
Make every email newsletter interesting: include some personality, but don’t get too personal. Include information about your successes to build your credibility and create continued confidence in your expertise. Use case studies and or testimonials (where permitted in your jurisdiction) so clients and referral sources understand what you do and for whom. Use email marketing to announce upcoming events, new services or general news about you, your firm and your strategic business partners. Highlight significant accomplishments of those within your firm, in your industry or community, or among your client base (with their permission and within the bounds of the ethics rules).
If you or your firm are involved in community events or organizations, or if you do presentations or workshops or offer seminars, include a calendar of events so that your audience can see what you are doing and where. This helps to build your credibility, demonstrate your expertise, and cross-market your other services.
Be sure to include your contact information and links to your website and other online activities.
But remember that your e-newsletter shouldn’t be all about you – it is written for your audience, and should provide them with information they need, alert them to changes in the law that affect them, or provide insight and perspective on what is happening in their industry or community. Provide links to articles, information and resources that are helpful to your audience.
Finally, review your email newsletter to ensure that it is easy to read: use language clients and potential clients can understand. Don’t be boring or use ‘legalese’ or jargon (unless it is the jargon your audience uses and relates to).
If your newsletter is done well, you’ll find that clients and colleagues actually look forward to receiving it, and you’ll stay in the forefront of their consciousness when the opportunity to refer work comes along.