By Jason O’Connor

Here are the goals
You want to regularly send out relevant and anticipated email newsletters to your ever-growing list of customers. You have a form on your website that asks people to sign up for your email newsletter. When someone signs up, they give you their name and email address and they receive a few automatic and customized emails that you previously crafted while they wait for their first newsletter edition. You have a database that stores each person’s email address and you have a way to send out regular emails to them all, including beautiful HTML newsletters (e-zines). You watch the list grow over time and watch readers turn into customers.

Significant benefits

  • You can continually build a list of loyal readers/customers that grows over time.
  • Your readers spread the word that your dealership is helpful, knowledgeable and experienced.
  • Your readers are regularly reminded of your continued existence, growth and relevance.
  • Some loyal readers will turn into loyal, paying customers.
  • You learn more about your customers and site visitors by asking them to communicate with you through the newsletter.
  • You generate a new income stream by selling advertisement space.
  • You’ll have a regular source of fresh and original content to add to your website which will help search engine rankings.

There are two distinct, but equally important aspects of starting an email newsletter that need to be addressed for you to accomplish these goals and gain the benefits listed above. First, you need the infrastructure and functionality to make all this happen, such as a database, an HTML form, a method for sending out emails in quantity and so forth. Second, you need the content that will be in each newsletter. This article will explain how to do both.

The needed infrastructure and functionality for an email newsletter
Does building the infrastructure sound difficult? Does it sound like you have to know a lot about programming? Neither is true. This wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented.

There are a number of websites that offer paid services that provide the entire infrastructure for you. The cost is a fraction of the cost of developing the infrastructure yourself. Two good examples of this type of service are Constant Contact and Aweber. I prefer Aweber (http://www.aweber.com/?208983) and find its interface intuitive and easy to use. I use Aweber for our company email newsletter and suggest it to all our clients.

Using a browser, I can log into my Aweber account and create text or HTML email auto-responder messages for people to receive when they visit our site or sign up for our e-zine. I can create a simple HTML form that asks for names and emails as well. In fact, the HTML code for the form is created for me and all I have to do is cut and paste it into my site. No programming needed.

Each person’s information is stored in a database on Aweber’s servers. You can manage a leads list in your browser and sort in different ways. It also allows you to see how many of your auto-responders have already been sent. And every email that’s sent out has a personalized first name greeting.

There is a place in Aweber where I can manage my messages, whether they are regular emails to part of the list or a newsletter that’s sent to the entire list. And there is a place where I can enter my messages, edit them and check to see if they will trip any spam filters. I can test the messages by sending them to my own email address first, and I can send them all out at once with one simple click of the mouse.

The needed quality content for an email newsletter
It’s not good enough to just have the infrastructure and functionality. You need content that makes people want to accept and read your newsletters over and over again.

Your newsletter ought to be related to your website and your business. Every person and organization has valuable and unique knowledge and experience to offer—you’d be surprised at how many people want your unique knowledge. Sharing this knowledge and experience with your existing and potential customers is what the Web is all about. People use the Web for getting information. So make your newsletters about various aspects of your business or organization. Make them educational so that your readers come away with more useful information than they had before.

Successful websites in the water treatment industry provide an outline of the products and services that they provide and also give viewers a basic understanding of water quality issues and concerns. When viewers are using your website or e-zine as an educational tool, it reinforces their confidence in your expertise and puts you head and shoulders above the crowd if they need help with their drinking water.

Newsletters that are just extended advertisements don’t cut it. If your newsletter only has announcements of new or improved products or services, or specials that you’re running, then you’re missing the boat completely. There is so much more you can offer.

Creating newsletters that contain useful, relevant and anticipated information for your readers is what to aspire to. You want to give away ideas and concepts for free that can be used to help improve some aspect of your reader’s lives. You obviously don’t want to give away the whole farm, since a lot of your expertise is what you charge for in the first place. But giving some information away for free is a win-win situation.

Most often, your readers don’t care about you or your company or your specific products or deals, they only care about what you can do for them. If they take the time to open your email newsletter and read it, it should provide them with some real value or they won’t bother with again and your list will not grow, but eventually wither away into oblivion.

In return for providing useful, original content, you develop a constantly growing list of loyal readers who will spread the word that you are an authority in your field. Your readers may eventually buy from you if they haven’t already. And you can use your list to occasionally sell your products or services, but do this very sparingly. You can use the newsletter for selling advertisement space, but again, use it sparingly. Finally, you can use your list to learn more about your customers and site visitors. You can ask the people on your list to fill out an online survey, but be sure to offer them an incentive for their time.

If you don’t know any programming or HTML but want to send out a regular newsletter, you can use Aweber to create text-only messages. If you want to send out professional HTML email newsletters, then either learn HTML and design (which is obviously time-consuming, but certainly possible), or hire a Web firm to do it for you. I would also suggest hiring a firm to help you with writing the content as well, if you’re not comfortable with writing.

But as you can see, you don’t need much to get an email newsletter going. If you can regularly create quality content, just sign up for an online service and away you go. An internal customer email list is a very valuable asset for any organization. Handle it with loving care. Never sell or rent your list to anyone; try to offer value in your writing and don’t overuse it as an advertisement medium.
Good luck and happy e-zining!

About the author
Jason O’Connor is the President of Oak Web Works (www.oakwebworks.com), a Web marketing, design and programming firm located in Boston. He has clients in North America and Europe and has helped Intel, M.I.T., a New York Times best-selling author and many other types of businesses and people with their Web needs. He has written numerous articles that have been published on countless websites and in many enewsletters and regularly speaks at the Boston Small Business Association. He can be reached at jason@oakwebworks.com. To learn more about Aweber, visit www.aweber. com/?208983

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