August 30, 2012

9 Ways to Personalize Your Newsletter

We tell our new clients that the newsletters we design for them will be completely unique. Part of being unique is making a personal connection with your reader. Here’s our best advice about how to make your newsletter more personal and distinct.

1. Write a personal introductory note. Share news and give teasers for the content to follow. Inject your personality. Your writing may be more informal here.

2. Insert your signature as a graphic. Sign a blank piece of white paper and scan it - first name only. Use a pen or marker that matches your branding.

3. Use a good photo of yourself. You want this photo to look like you now, not 5 years ago. Dress as you would when you meet contacts in person. Incorporate your brand colours into your clothing if possible. Keep in mind that the direction you are facing in your photo will determine where it goes in your newsletter, you don’t want to be facing off screen.

4. Use your own photos. Instead of common, often overused, internet photos, create your own. If you can design, create your own graphics. This may not be as easy as other suggestions but it definitely makes your newsletter unique.

5. Use appropriate branding. Your newsletter should be easily identifiable as coming from you. This means it shouldn’t look like anyone else’s newsletter. If it does, see #6.

6. Incorporate a unique layout and design. Consider the types of content and space requirements when designing your first issue. Incorporate space for ‘standard’ items, such as contact info, social media icons, photos, testimonials, and quotes. The key is to make each segment or piece of the newsletter fit nicely into the whole.

7. Send it from your own email address. People will open mail from a person more than from an info@ address - especially if they have a rule which sends info@ emails to their spam folder.

8. Write your own content. One thing you can write about that no one else can is your own experiences and interpretation of them. If you are an expert at what you do, you will have opinions that are unique too.

Last and most important...

9. Have a clear vision and strategy for your newsletter. This will affect the success of all those items listed above. If personalizing your newsletter is appropriate, include these tactics into your strategy. Here is a worksheet to help you strategize.

August 25, 2012

Why NOT Buy Mailing Lists?

There are many reasons why it's not a good idea to buy mailing lists. In fact, it's quite clearly a bad idea. Aside from being a potential nuisance, somewhat unethical, and risking having your bulk email account shut down, there is another downside you may not even consider...

If you were to open each of these emails, you'd see that they are addressed to different names In fact, I apparently have 17 employees I don't know about. None of these were actually addressed to me. So how did they all end up in my inbox? I have a catch-all set up so that if someone spells linda wrong, I'll still get the email. If you don't have a catch-all, you probably wouldn't even know it was happening to you.

This has been a bother to me now for well over a year. The first time it happened, I phoned the company that sent the emails and was told they bought their list from

I suggested they get their money back. That's the biggest downside to buying a list: you don't even know if the email addresses are valid. I feel sorry (sort of) for these companies that keep emailing like this because they obviously all got ripped off. But then again, maybe they got what they deserved.

Enough ranting. Here's a little humour. That email from Ask Bick above had this footer:

I'm wondering how my 17 imaginary employees opted in!

To his credit, when I tweeted directly to @askbick about this, he responded quickly, thanked me for the feedback, and offered to unsubscribe those email addresses.

August 23, 2012

3 C's and the Strategy Solution

The 3 C's of enewsletter execution are contacts, consistency and content. All three can cause issues, some of which can stop you in your tracks. The good news is that all of them can be managed with a well-planned strategy.

Vet your initial contact list and then work to grow it with subscribers within your target market, friends, family and fans. A high bounce rate, unsubscribe rate, or complaint rate on your first send will be a red flag to your bulk email service provider and may cause them to lock your account. Do not start your contact list with every email you have collected since the dawn of the computer! Subscribers outside your target market are costing you money and bringing you little value. Identify your target market and fill your contact list with subscribers within that market. Don't forget your fans!

Consistency is important to your subscribers. Over time, they will come to expect certain types of content on an established schedule. Your sign up form should also advise them of issue frequency (your service provider will expect this) and once you give them an expectation, you should work to deliver. Never sacrifice quality content for schedule, but never underestimate the importance of your schedule. Guest articles are a good strategy for finding great content on time. When developing your strategy, make sure you set your schedule and identify how you will manage content to that schedule.

Content is a huge topic. The most important thing is to make sure that your content is interesting and valuable to your subscribers. If you have identified your target market, content is easier to manage. It is impossible to create relevant content for every reader but it is possible to create content that is relevant to every reader within your target market.

Take the time to plan ahead. Having a strategy before you start will go a long way to keeping you confidently on track and stress-free as you launch your eNewsletter.

August 17, 2012

eNewsletter Design and Formatting Mistakes

Mistakes stand out and they can be fodder for others’ discussions. Aside from obvious spelling, grammatical and hyperlink errors, formatting and design can also be a big turn-off.

You can have awesome content that delivers value to your readers – but it’s no good if they don’t read. First impressions count! Your design does not need to be WOW! but it does need to meet at least a minimum standard. Keep in mind that expectations will vary. For example, if you are a designer of any kind, your newsletter design should be top notch. If your message is supposed to be a quick read, then it better be easy to navigate.

Here are some of the characteristics that immediately turn me off when I open a newsletter:

Lack of white space:
The worst case is when text is jammed up against borders and graphics.

Too many colours: This distracts your reader rather than drawing attention to your content.

Too many fonts: I know, there are so many to choose from! But several different fonts, of varying sizes and colours will break concentrated reading. One or two is enough. Don’t use larger sizes, bold, italic and colour willy-nilly, make sure there is purpose behind your use of these elements.

Poor alignment: This includes things like using indented bullets in very narrow columns, trying to align text into columns by using your spacebar, inconsistent spacing between sections. Basically, if you wouldn’t do it in Word, don’t do it in your newsletter.

Unsuitable layout: This would be things like not building in proper sections for items like contact info and testimonials, jamming a whole bunch of words into very narrow columns, lengthy text in side-by-side columns, or worse, lengthy side-by-side columns with unequal length of text, leaving long blank spaces in the body of the newsletter. This is one of those things that is obvious when it’s not right but more difficult to give specific advice about.

Lack of identification: Your newsletter should encompass your branding and be easily identifiable as coming from you.

An attractive newsletter only gets you past the first step. If your newsletter content does not bring value to your readers, it won’t matter how great your newsletter looks.

August 11, 2012

How I Emptied My Inbox!

This is what an empty inbox looks like! It's the first time I've seen mine like this in at least a couple of years, maybe longer. It looks kind of strange, doesn't it? Even a little hard to get used to. What a boost of self-gratification I got from accomplishing this (been patting myself on the back ever since). So much so that I'm now determined and motivated to keep it this way.

Does this mean that I have nothing to do? That all my action items are completed? Not by a long shot - but now they're not staring me in the face all the time distracting me.

My inbox will no longer be used as an ineffective to-do list.

Now I realize this is a bit of psychological manipulation - it's all about my state of mind. But I've learned that my state of mind is about the most important consideration to accomplishing anything.

What brought about this most awesome accomplishment? A handy little online app called Follow Up Then. It is by far the most useful app I've found in awhile. It's easy to get, easy to learn, and easy to use. Check it out and view the little video on the home page. It'll take you about one minute to be using it.

Now when I open an email, I have only 4 self-imposed choices:
  1. read and delete
  2. read and file
  3. do the task and/or respond right away
  4. send to Follow Up Then for a future date/time

I'm also using it for simple reminders and there are many other ways to use it. Here at Daley Progress, we're setting it up to manage our client reminder system. If you decide to get the premium version, you get some extra useful tools. Your first month is free and it's only $24/year. It was also the easiest, fastest purchase I've ever made online. They understand SIMPLE.

Update Jan-24-16: You can use this affiliate link now to get $5 off.

August 8, 2012

Content Creation (Wrap-up)

If you are looking for writing ideas, how to manage your content, or just a bit of inspiration, you've found the right post. Here is a library of links to all of our articles about content creation (up to May 2012).

You may not think of testimonials as part of your content strategy, but they certainly are. Ask anyone who's had to rush to gather a bunch in a hurry to put on a new website. Requesting a Testimonial gives you suggestions about how to manage that.

What to Write About has lots of general tips and suggestions to help you get started plus some info specific to enewsletters.

Don't Forget Your Fans gives you ways to get your 3 F’s - friends, family and fans - to help extend the reach of your messages.

If you're wondering about newsletter content strategies, How Much is Too Much? gives you some ideas to answer that question for yourself.

If one of your goals is to build your reputation, then Content that Builds Trust is an essential read.

Being an expert means that you have strong opinions about best practices in your industry. Writing the Wrong is all about expressing your opinions.

Keep Your Content Fresh has a few ideas for maintaining momentum with your content creation activities.

Your Goals Shape Your Content so choose specific goals for your newsletter (or blog). Then create your content to meet those goals. Check back on your goals to keep yourself focused.

To get more reach, learn How to Create Content for Sharing. This is a primary way to grow your audience and make new contacts online.

Out of Ideas and Still Have a Deadline? Here are some suggestions to get you through that last minute crunch.

Get a Head Start suggests a process to start gathering ideas for your next issue as soon as one has gone out.

How do you compete with all that content that’s readily available? You give them something they can’t get anywhere else! Original Content Makes YOU Unique!

August 2, 2012

Awesome Inspiration!

I always recommend having an idea catcher. Somewhere that you record all of your content ideas as they come up. Finding an idea that inspires you can sometimes be the hardest part of getting started when sitting down to write. But ideas can be found in any situation. They can be:
  • Problems you solve
  • Something new you have learned
  • Questions you get asked
  • Concerns in your market
  • Trends and news
  • Real experiences and examples
  • Your opinions
Once you have the idea, you need to start writing. The suggestion that I give to clients, friends and anyone else who will listen is this: introduce and explain an idea and then give practical advice about how to implement it. Of course that’s fairly simplistic but not a bad place to start.

My reason for this suggestion came from my previous Insights training about different personalities. Some people have a preference for ideas and the big picture. Other people prefer detail and the practical application of concepts. If you write as I’ve suggested above, you’ll have something for everyone.

Scott Stratten, in his book Unmarketing. Stop Marketing. Start Engaging., recommends a peppy little formula for successful content creation – his 3 P’s:
  • Point – State your main point.
  • Prove it – Give an example, scenario or other proof.
  • Perform it – Tell people how they can learn from the proof and make it happen for themselves.
It’s a little more savvy than my version and inspired me to think about writing in a new way.

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on August 2, 2012

Graphic Solutions

Copyright and graphics are topics that come up in our business all the time. When you are using images on your website, blog or in your newsletter, you need to ensure they are copyright free or you have paid the copyright owner for use. You should not search Google images and take any image that pops up. Google searches for all images and does not filter out any by copyright status.

There are several free sites for images and several more that are reasonably priced under $10. I recommend that you take some time to search for images that are not overused on the internet. You will come to recognize those that are most popular.

Some of the places you can find free images are:
  • Morguefile - a lot of free images, some very artsy, some not great quality but lots of quality there for those who are willing to browse
  • Microsoft Office clipart - images that come up in that search are copyright free
  • Unprofound - created and run by designers, this site has the very cool feature of searching for images by colour rather than subject. Great for designers of any kind.
  • Free Digital Photo - has pages and pages of good quality business photos. Only the small version is free with the larger versions being reasonably priced. But typically, the small version is large enough for a newsletter or blog post.
Once you get started looking for images, you will find a wealth of copyright free or free photos you can use with credit attribution. It is worth taking the time to do this right rather than infringe on someones copyright in your published content.

And remember, you can always take your own photographs as well. Take your camera to events you attend, workshops you hold or spend a day setting up artsy photos in your garden that speak to your upcoming blog topics.

Get creative in developing your own or searching for that special free photo that no one has seen yet. People will notice.

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder, August 2, 2012

August 1, 2012

Introducing Your Very First Issue

Update November 9, 2015 - Find a newer version of this topic here: How to Write the Introduction to Your First Newsletter.

When writing the introduction for your first newsletter issue, here are some things you might want to include:
  • Acknowledge that this is your first issue and that you appreciate your readers' attention.
  • Tell readers what they'll be getting and how often - think about value/benefits to your readers.
  • Tell readers that it's easy to unsubscribe via the footer in every email.
  • Ask for feedback and suggestions.
  • Ask readers to share with colleagues and friends.

Here are some examples of first issues - perhaps you'll find some inspiration: