How To Decide If Your Business Needs a Newsletter

It’s a pretty good idea to come up with your own marketing plan based on the abundance of advice you can find online, then outsource it to third parties, for example a printing service who can produce communications for you, this way you save money. People pay me to write newsletters for their businesses, and I’m mostly in favor of them. But there are some situations where they just don’t work. In this post, I’m going to tell you about three of my past clients. Reading about their experiences with newsletters, and in one instance, social media, may help you make some decisions about your own marketing efforts.

Blueberry or Apple? Sometimes decisions are hard!

Case Study #1 – The Plumber

I live in a small community, on a mountain. There are somewhere around 7,000 residents, and three plumbers. One of those plumbers decided to hire me to improve his company’s web site copy and to write a monthly newsletter.

What kind of content would you like to receive from your plumber? In retrospect (this was one of my first clients) I think that a quarterly newsletter, sent at the beginning of each season, would have been better than a monthly newsletter. It should have included lots of tips on maintaining your home during the upcoming season, a funny story or customer highlight, a coupon of some sort, and maybe a note about the plumber’s family, or even a small community news section. There is no need for anything to go out more regularly than each quarter, as generally if someone wants a plumber they will visit their website. The newsletter simply acts as a way of keeping this plumber’s name in their mind.

Instead, I did what the owner asked and sent out a rather bland, monthly newsletter with sort of generic content that was more or less an ad being delivered to customers via email. I will readily accept the blame for the fact that this newsletter didn’t produce the desired results because hindsight is 20/20. If the same, or a similar, client were to approach me today, my advice would be much different and also much more adamant.

Producing a newsletter that is almost like a community bulletin board is hard work. For any contractor, whether it’s a plumber or HVAC contractor, telling people how to fix things you get paid to fix feels like a risk. Writing in a very personal way to your customers can feel unprofessional. But those are the ways to make a newsletter work for a company that customers only need to call every few years. It may very well be that your time and money would be better spent on ad space and building an online presence. You can learn more about the advantages of an online presence for contractors on this page. Obviously, it goes without saying that there is not a one size fits all marketing strategy.

*Note: Every business with a physical location should be findable online. There are still people who keep phone books, but most of us are searching for phone numbers online. Make sure we can find you!

Case Study #2 – The Hair Salon

Another of my very early customers was a hair salon. The owner of the salon had tried a newsletter and gotten very poor results – along the lines of a 7% open rate. That means only 7% of the people she sent the newsletter to even opened it. Since this was still early in my copy writing career, I wanted to see if a newsletter could be effective for a salon, so I talked the owner into trading three haircuts for three newsletters.

You may be wondering what kind of open rate you should expect. It varies by industry. For the beauty industry the average is around 15%, which I think is absolutely dismal and reflects the fact that there is some bad email marketing going on in that business sector. The average open rate for my clients is around 30% across a range of industries.

For a hair care/beauty related establishment, email marketing can work wonders. By the end of our three months, the salon’s open rate had moved to 27%, and with each issue the owner reported a bump in the number of appointments for the following week. So, what did we change?

We took the stories from general to specific. Instead of talking about trends across the nation, we talked about things that were becoming popular locally. We offered customer spotlights, and included photos of customers. The salon owner kept track of questions customers asked each week and we developed articles based on those questions. We tested subject lines to find out which ones motivated people to open emails. The owner offered exclusive deals to newsletter subscribers.

The salon owner and I talked on the phone about once a week, and exchanged emails a couple of times a week. Generating ideas, finding images or taking photographs, thinking up deals and promotions, and even proofreading the rough draft of each issue took up a significant portion of her time. In this instance, it was worth the effort because it paid off in at least a few appointments more each month. Depending on your resources, time, and situation, you may decide email marketing is not worth the effort. This case study illustrates that poor results from email marketing can be remedied.

Case Study #3 The Truck Repair Business

Of the three case studies presented in this post, this is the one that I hesitate to share. I’m going to be very vague about the details, in an attempt to protect the identity of the company. I met with the CEO who had started his business in the 70s out of a trailer and worked his ass off to turn it into a nationally recognized company with representatives all over the country. There is absolutely no denying his business acumen, and I was flattered he agreed to talk with me.

He had been approached by an agency who had pitched him a digital marketing package. They would handle his company’s Twitter account, blog, and Facebook page – none of which existed at that point. He did have a website, although it wasn’t great. It was quite bland and not the most informative. It was a shame, especially when there are free keyword research tools available which can help someone boost their ranking online. Anyhow, he asked me for a proposal, and my price was a fraction of what the agency was going to charge. He accepted my proposal, and I set about trying to learn how his industry works, and what his needs were. Even though I really believed a newsletter would be an excellent tool for his company, he was unconvinced, because he really hated receiving newsletters from other companies. I began with social media.

He was desperately seeking a salesperson for a particular region at that point, so I offered to try write an ad he could post on a couple of major sites. I mentioned it on his newly-built Facebook page.

As soon as he saw it, he called and scolded me and asked me to immediately take down the post mentioning the job opening. He told me “We are not the kind of company that looks for help in a place like Facebook.” I cannot adequately convey the amount of scorn that went into his voice when he said the word “Facebook.”

I am not now, nor have I ever been a big fan of Facebook for business purposes. It’s hard to deny the power of social media when it comes to filling employment vacancies, though. Maybe he didn’t want his competitors to know he had a vacancy. Maybe he had some other reason, I don’t know.

What I do know is that if you feel annoyed every time you open your email because you have too many messages, if you can’t stand Facebook, if you think Twitter is the stupidest thing ever, and you have no clue what Pinterest is, but you know that anything with a name that dumb is worthless…well, digital marketing is probably not a good place for you to spend your marketing time or budget – no matter what people are telling you.

When you run a small business, you must be comfortable with your marketing activities. It’s okay if you distrust the internet. There is no rule that says that you have to market online. People need to be able to find your company using a search engine, but you don’t have to use email marketing, or any other digital tool, to be successful. Just because something is working for someone else does not mean it will work for you.

Evaluate your customers’ needs, your resources, and your tolerance levels before you make decisions about newsletters or any other marketing tools. Even if the gurus are telling you that you must do a thing, decide for yourself, and if something doesn’t work, abandon it and find something that will work.

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