An image of a letter. Successful email newsletters start with MarketVolt's strategy and free customer care
Raise your hand if your company has an email newsletter that is more boring than the St. Louis Rams’ offense?  Raise your hand if your company’s email newsletter seems like an aimless collection of information snippets and meaningless factoids.

Raise your hand if you’d rather eat liver and onions (no condiments allowed), with a side of Brussels sprouts, than read another boring, aimless newsletter.

OK…Put your hands down (Wow! That was a lot of hands in the air).  Grab a pencil.  It’s time for a little homework assignment.  Make a list of at least five specific goals or milestones you have set for your business in the months ahead.  Be specific. “Make more money” is too general.

Build or hone a list of categories that divide your overall list into logical segments. Make sure those segments align with your business goals.  For example, if run a pet supply store, and one of your goals is to sell more dog accessories, one of your categories should be “dog lovers.”

Jot down nine tips or industry trends that might interest your clients.  Think of different topics for different list segments.  Note three stories or jokes that will entertain your clients or prospects.  Write three client success stories (just a sentence or two for each) that you can share with other clients or prospects.  Choose clients who will give you a testimonial.  Devise nine or more questions you would like to ask clients in a feedback survey.

Congratulations! You are well on your way to outlining your email newsletter for the next few months.

Too many email newsletters are written on the fly with little advance planning and purpose.  The company commits to send a newsletter around the first of each month. As the deadline approaches, the writer thinks, “Darn! Time to write the newsletter.

What should I write this month?”  The writer pulls together a few factoids, product promotions, and maybe a short employee profile (Meet Wilbur, our new assistant to the vice-president in the accounting department…)

Voila!  Another boring, aimless newsletter that does very little to help you gain, retain, and maximize the lifetime value of clients.  Newsletters should be part of your marketing mix.  But you will waste resources and pollute inboxes if you produce newsletters without a plan.

That plan must begin with your business goals.  I recently performed triage on a client’s email newsletter.  I asked the client why the company sends the newsletter.  Her response: “To remind people we’re here.” Sure, it’s important to stay in front of clients and prospects, but an email newsletter can accomplish much more if you focus on business goals.

The tasks I outline above can help you frame your plan around business goals.  You don’t have to follow those steps precisely. But you do need to understand the principles behind those tasks. Here are five guiding principles for email newsletter success:

No. 1 Provide Value and Utility in Your Newsletter (Don’t Just Sell)

Every edition of your newsletter should include news you can use. That might be a tip or how-to blurb.  It might be a summary of an interesting industry trend.  Readers should value your content so they’ll open the newsletter each month.

No. 2 Put Personality in Your Copy

Clients and prospects will read your content if it’s entertaining.  More importantly, if you put personality in your copy, you strengthen the bond between you and the reader.  Give the reader a reason to relate to you.  Give the reader a reason to like you.

When choosing between you and a competing business with similar products and services, the shopper will favor you if you have established that bond.  You will retain the client longer if you have established that bond.

No. 3 Include Case Studies   and Testimonials

You will sell more if you show how others have benefited from your products and services.  A case study should be instructive, not self-congratulatory.  The headline should emphasize a benefit that your readers might seek.  Testimonials are essential. Include at least one, and preferably more, in every newsletter.

No. 4 Make Your Newsletter Interactive and Solicit Feedback

Include interactive surveys that ask your clients and prospects for their opinions, and then share with them some of the feedback from previous months.  The feedback will instruct your business on many levels.  It will reinforce that bond discussed above (they will like you more if you listen to them).  And most importantly, surveys help you sort, sift, and segment, so you can separate true prospects from suspects.

No. 5 Think of Your Newsletter as a Prospecting Tool, Not Just an Advertisement

Remember, the newsletter has to provide value and utility for the reader – not just sell, sell, sell.  But that valuable, entertaining content can still serve your sales process.

If you run a pet supply store and want to sell more dog accessories, you need to identify the dog lovers and separate them from cat lovers.  Email marketing services, like MarketVolt, can track who clicks which links.  If you want to find your dog lovers, include tips, news items, and other dog-speficic content (with “click here to continue” links) and track who clicks those links.  Those who click the links go in to the “dog lovers” segment in your database. You now can follow-up with a more aggressive sales piece, specifically for dog-lovers to close the sale. The more you know about your prospects, the more you’ll sell.

If you’d like to see these principles in action, you can sign up for my company’s email newsletter at

This article first appeared in St. Louis Small Business Monthly:

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