Learn how printed newsletters can increase your sales, build loyalty and educate your customers. Delivering information that is relevant to your customers will help your bottom line. Get tips on who to send it to and how often to send it. Follow our key steps that take you from creative concept to mailing, all designed to save you time and money. Find tips for efficiently doing it yourself or economically hiring people to help.
Know this: Creating a printed or email newsletter for your business can help you establish a way to regularly communicate with your customers and potential customers. In marketing, newsletters are frequently used by businesses to promote a product or service, and are typically sent to current or prospective customers free of charge. The intent is not only to promote sales, but also to build customer loyalty, establish your expertise, and encourage customers to become your biggest cheerleaders.
Why publish a newsletter?
- To communicate with current customers and build customer loyalty
- To promote your business and keep it top-of-mind
- To educate customers about an aspect of your business, in order to compel them to purchase more of your products and services
- To create a forum for establishing your expertise in your industry, providing tips on how to use current products or generating interest in new products
- To increase engagement with your products and services and your brand
Alternatives to a printed newsletter
Email newsletters. Creating your newsletter electronically and delivering it via email is a cost-effective approach to customer communications. You’ll have increased flexibility in message customization, but you won’t have the “touch and feel,” pass-along, and shelf life of a printed piece.
Blogs. A blog, short for “web log,” is an ongoing string of “posts,” or short articles written and posted to a specific web page. This page can live independently or could be included as a section of your website. If you’re looking for a more informal communication vehicle that you can update as often as you like, this might be the right solution for you.
Tips for creating and printing a newsletter
Consistency is key. Whether you are creating a printed newsletter or an email newsletter, it’s important to set expectations in terms of timing and content, then stick to those expectations. If you say you’re publishing a monthly newsletter, then do it monthly. And keep content relevant to your audience and your business.
Know the U.S. Postal Service requirements for sizes, binding, quantities and mail preparation required to qualify for bulk rate discounts. Here’s a link to that information on the USPS.com site.
There are different types and sizes of newsletters. Easiest and least expensive to produce are those in standard sizes, such as 11 x 17 folded in half (to make a four-page newsletter).
If you’re not comfortable with a computer graphics and design, hire an agency or freelancer to create your newsletter template, then use that design and fill it with new content each month. This way, you’ll benefit from professional design expertise but have the cost-efficiency and control of doing it yourself.
Alternately, there are a number of newsletter templates available on the market that can also help you do it yourself.
How to save money on printed newsletters
Meet with a commercial printer before you start your project. They can tell you what different sizes and formats for direct mail cost and recommend the most cost effective newsletter formats to print and mail. Most people meet with the printer last, when the direct mail piece is finished, and it is too late for them to take advantage of the money-saving advice.
Don’t use an envelope. Design your newsletter to be a self-mailer to save money.
If you do choose to send your newsletter in an envelope, make sure it will fit in a standard size envelope so you don’t have the added expense of creating custom envelopes.
Check the cost differences for printing in black and white, 2-color, and 4-color to determine how to best spend your budget. Often a 2-color printing can have just as much impact as 4-color, and it costs less.
Can you print the newsletters on your color office printer? That will save a lot of money.
Key steps to creating your newsletter
1. Plan your newsletter
Creating a newsletter for your business requires thoughtful planning and commitment. The expectation when a customer receives a newsletter is that it is not a one-time (“one-off”) marketing piece, but will be something that the customer should expect to receive on a regular basis. Upfront planning will position you for an ongoing program that can be fairly self-sustaining once established, especially if you use email. Asking yourself a few fundamental questions before you begin will set you on the right path:
What is the purpose of your newsletter? Are you trying to inform your customers about your products or services? Educate them on how to use you products or services? Offer value-added information about your products or services? Ultimately, you want a tool that is going to drive customer loyalty and repeat business.
Where will you get the content for your newsletter? What do you have to say to your customers that will be both relevant to them and beneficial to your bottom line?
Who is the newsletter for? Will you send it only to existing customers, or use it as a direct mail and collateral piece to attract new customers? Do you have the mailing list to send to, or will you need to purchase a direct mail list?
Your existing customers will generally have the highest response rates, so if you’ve been maintaining your own customer list (called a house list in the direct mail industry), you’ll want to start with that.
How will readers receive your newsletter? Will you mail it? Have it in your office waiting room? Post it on your website? Or all of the above?
How frequently will you distribute your newsletter, and how long will it be? The key to an effective newsletter is meaningful content, delivered in a timely manner in line with whatever expectations have been set.
Know this: A single-page, two-sided newsletter that appears every month is preferable to a four-page newsletter that appears every other month or an eight-page newsletter that appears quarterly. Your goal is to build awareness and maintain mind share among clients and prospects. The shorter your newsletter, the more frequently you can mail it and the greater the number of prospects you can send it to.
From our experience: Avoid overly-ambitious newsletter programs that require more time and money than you can comfortably invest. A simple newsletter program focused on delivery of quality information in a clean, usable format should be your goal.
What will you call your newsletter?
- Newsletter success begins with the name and style of the newsletter title, called a “masthead” in the industry.
- Your newsletter’s title should serve as an icon, or visual symbol, signaling the content of your newsletter. A title consisting of a few short words is better than one containing several long words. Short titles and words permit the use of a large type size. Instead of a long title, consider breaking the title of your newsletter into two parts; a short, key word set in a large type size supported by a longer subtitle set in a smaller type size which amplifies its meaning.
- Avoid “brag and boast” titles, titles that do not offer readers a benefit. Instead, focus on the benefit your newsletter offers and make that your key word. Always eliminate “empty” words like “newsletter” and “the.”
What kind of budget are you willing to commit? Printing and mailing costs can add up quickly, especially if your newsletter is in full-color and is more than one two-sided page. Be realistic about the time and money you are willing to invest and remember that publishing a newsletter is an ongoing commitment. Be sure to build in a method for measuring Return on Investment (ROI) so you can determine if a newsletter is the right marketing tool for you.
2. Determine Your Audience
Get a direct mail list. Your existing customers will generally have the highest response rates, so if you’ve been maintaining your own customer list (called a house list in the direct mail industry), you’ll want to start with that.
Know this: Direct mail experts believe the list is responsible for 40% of the success of a direct mailing. Spend the time to select the list with the most qualified prospects and the least duplicate names or addresses that will be returned as undeliverable.
From our experience: It’s expensive to send newsletters, especially if you have a really large list. You should be testing lists.
Know this: The U.S. Postal Service has specific acceptable format sizes for direct mail, along with other information to help you with your direct mail campaigns.
3. Develop and write content
Create a mock-up and outline
Determine what content (articles, offers, notes from the owner, etc.) you want to include and what each page, including the front, back and inside covers will include.
Keep the page count in four-page increments since printing companies print four pages on an entire sheet of paper (two on the front and two on the back). For most business purposes, a four-page monthly newsletter is more than adequate.
Write it yourself
Write compelling and interesting articles about your company’s products, services, community work, special offers, etc. Though you want the content to be newsy in nature, keep the focus on the benefits of what your company has to offer the reader. Focus on benefits. Suggest people go to your website for more information on any of the information included.
Include testimonials from customers if you can.
Consider including a letter from the founder or company president and his or her photo. Make sure the letter is welcoming to both first-time buyers and long-time customers.
Have at least two people proofread the newsletter to catch errors and confirm all facts and product information are correct.
Add graphics and photos.
From our experience: If you plan to create the newsletter yourself using desktop publishing software, be sure to pay attention to Design Fundamentals.
Hire a marketing expert. If you want help with your newsletter, you want to find a specialist in direct mail catalogs who ideally also has experience in your industry or type of business. Or experience in catalogs with similar customers to the type you want to appeal to.
Know this: Typical direct mail response is 1-2%.
4. Print and mail your newsletter
You may want to consider what’s called “print on demand.” A commercial printer will need digital press equipment to do this. This equipment allows the printer to do short runs (print small quantities) with the same print quality as an offset press. You’ll pay more per printed piece to do this but this allows you to print smaller quantities to test mailing list and test a catalog before making a substantial investment in printing a larger quantity.
If your newsletter is only a few pages, you could try printing it yourself on your office printer.
TIP: Direct mail experts recommend sending newsletters so they arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday because less mail is delivered on those days. They say Monday is the worst day for your newsletter to arrive because it’s the day most people receive the most mail and it’s also a busy day for most people who are just starting their week.
5. Measure the effectiveness of your newsletter
Quantifying the return on investment of a business newsletter can be a challenge depending on your type of business. At a minimum, you should feel it provides a tangible communications vehicle with key customers.
Other ways you might measure your newsletter’s success:
- If the newsletter included a coupon or offer, count the number of customers who redeemed it.
- Include a clear message in the newsletter that provides an incentive for people to visit your website and send them to a unique landing page for that newsletter. Count the number of people who follow through.
- Press inquiries. The value of free publicity can never be overrated. Journalists and commentators have a nose for the real deal: quality, substance, and flawless execution.
- Speaking engagements. Conference and panel organizers always seek expert speakers. If your newsletter has made it on to the radar of those knowledgeable about your industry, you can expect the phone to ring with speaking requests. Many of these opportunities are unpaid, so you need to ask if it’s worth your time out of the office. If you get even one solid lead from the audience, it usually is.
- Anecdotal feedback from readers. This is the Holy Grail for most e-newsletter publishers. Good or bad, feedback lets you know you’re being heard. Your e-publication is making an impact. Subscribers care enough to read it and take the trouble to write to you.