Recently several solopreneurs have asked me to write about a marketing creature that still roams the Earth, but not in the numbers it once did: print newsletters. The interest in newsletters surprised me, but perhaps it shouldn’t, because in the right situations print newsletters can be a valuable marketing tool for solo business owners.
The Rise and Fall of Print Newsletters
When I started as a solopreneur in 1993, newsletters were a big part of my business. I had the skills to produce print newsletters (I was a Quark expert at a time when not many people were), and desktop publishing helped to make newsletters one of the most cost-effective marketing methods available to small businesses and organizations. At the peak for print newsletters, I used greatnewsletters.com as my domain and I produced an average of 12 newsletters per month, including one for paying subscribers. It was a tidy, little business. (Disclosure: I still create print newsletters for a very limited number of clients.)
Newsletters fell from grace because they were so much more expensive to produce and distribute than e-newsletters and some other forms of online marketing. And there was another drawback: print newsletters didn’t carry the potential to go viral.
But newsletters have their place and continue to be used by businesses and organizations. For example, I receive newsletters in my mailbox from: my healthcare provider, utility company, alma mater, golf course, church, car manufacturer, and a Sonoma winery and a financial advisor. I must admit that I spend a lot more time with each of those newsletters than I do with any of the e-newsletters and RSS feeds that I receive.
In my opinion, print newsletters live on because the return on investment can equal or exceed the ROI of other marketing tools:
• Print newsletters put your message literally into the hands of your target market on a regular basis.
• They establish you as an authority. In many ways, newsletters were the forerunners of blogs—both are tools that businesses or organizations use to share information.
• They have a long shelf life—you can use them as marketing pieces for months and even years, and readers can (and do) keep them for reference. Compare that to e-newsletters, which have extremely low click-through rates and a lifespan of about 45 seconds after they’ve been opened.
• Your customers’ inboxes are stuffed, but their snail mailboxes aren’t. There’s less competition in the mailbox, so your chances of being noticed and read can be better than with an e-newsletter.
• Print newsletters can separate you from other vendors and make your business memorable in the process.
Remember that print newsletters—just like Twitter, YouTube, e-newsletters, and blogs—are tools for your business. Establish your business goals first and then select tools that support the goals.
Tips For Producing a Remarkable Print Newsletter
If you decide that a print newsletter is right for your business, here are a few tips for creating a fine one:
• Use the print newsletter in tandem with your online presence. For example, the print newsletter can be used to: send traffic to your Web site; drive online sales; invite readers to join your online community, if you have one; tell your audience how to find you via social media.
• Make your target audience the focus of the newsletter. This is the number-one mistake that I see in print newsletters (and all marketing, really). Your customers don’t want to hear about how great you are; they want solutions to their problems, medicine for their pain. If you give them that, they will look forward to your newsletter and think of you when they need the services you provide.
• Be consistent with publication dates. If you say the newsletter is going to be published during the first week of every month, make sure it’s delivered during the first week of every month. If quarterly publication is the best thing for your business, then deliver it quarterly. If you don’t deliver on time, your audience will assume that you don’t deliver as promised on your products and services either.
• Don’t use a mix of your own photos and stock photos. I see it all the time: newsletters that have photos of “real” people on one page, and then stock photos on the next. There’s only thing worse than using stock photography, and that’s using a mix of stock and nonstock.
• Never, ever use stock content! To be effective, a print newsletter needs to be written by you for your audience. The content needs to contain your ideas and be written in your voice. (That doesn’t mean you have to write it yourself—you can give notes or an outline to a writer, who can turn it into an article.)
• Make sure the newsletter is well-written and has an original design that fits your brand. It should go without saying, but spelling errors, usage mistakes, lack of captions with photos, and boring design won’t help your business.
• Build measurement into the newsletter, using perhaps a contest or drawing.
• Hire a printer you trust to produce top-quality work. Since 1994, I’ve been using the same printer, located here in the great state of Minnesota. I guarantee their work. Clients can take the printing elsewhere, but then I do not guarantee the print quality.
Have You Ever Used Print Newsletters?
What has your experience been with newsletters? Please share your comments below.