Please welcome guest blogger April Finnen from OnePersonShop.

It’s happened again. Someone said, “Why don’t we start an email newsletter?” Everyone then loudly proclaimed this idea’s brilliance. Except you—the person who will make it happen.

Or maybe you’re a small business owner, and it was your own idea to regularly reach out to your customers through email marketing.

Done correctly, an email newsletter is, in fact, a great idea. It keeps you top-of-mind with your customers and prospects, helps build loyalty, and introduces your products to new audiences. But like so many other great ideas, execution is where the rubber meets the road—and where many great ideas fall flat.

Despite sending your email to dozens, or maybe even hundreds, of subscribers each week or month, you won’t hear much feedback. Few will say, “Great newsletter; keep up the good work!” Instead, you’ll have to depend on analytics to gauge success (how many people opened, clicked, subscribed/unsubscribed, etc.); all email marketing platforms offer at least basic stats—use them.

How do you keep your email on track? Brainstorm content ideas, and plan several weeks or months in advance what you’ll write about. For ideas, identify your customers’ problems, and offer ways to solve them. Important caveat: Don’t talk about how you can solve the problems. Successful email newsletters don’t read like sales brochures. Instead, build your credibility by offering useful information.

  • Does your audience have limited time to keep up with industry news? Provide a highlights section, with links to the most important happenings in your industry. Maybe add an editorial comment or two, and be sure to include the original source with a link. You’ll need to subscribe to several industry news feeds or publications to find trends and offer a unique perspective. This is a great approach for B2B.
  • Are you a food business or farm? Offer nutrition tips, recipes and food preparation/storage tips for your products. Customers who know how to use your product creatively will return and buy more.
  • Do you sell gifts or clothing? Offer gift ideas (what Mom really wants for Mother’s day, what every college grad needs, what to give the person who has everything), ideas for homemade gifts (which are often accompanied by store-bought gifts), and trends (5 must-have pieces to update your Spring wardrobe on a budget). Minimize promotion of specific products, and stick to sharing ideas and trends. The exception would be when you’re offering an exclusive discount on a certain product.
  • Sell services? Talk about how to choose a good dog trainer, what to look for in a stylist, how to pick a good accountant, trends in small business marketing that will impact every business owner, and so on.

Several years ago at the Frederick Chamber’s New Media & Technology conference, I heard an idea that really stuck with me: If you don’t learn something new while writing your email newsletter, don’t send it. Since I heard this advice from Christopher Penn, I’ve made it a point to learn something new while preparing each of the several dozen email newsletters I’ve sent since.

It works. My newsletters improved, and more people forwarded them to friends and colleagues. Subscriber numbers went up. We started achieving pre-set goals (the reason we created the newsletter).

But it didn’t happen overnight. Or even in the first six months. Email newsletters—like all content marketing—require patience, persistence and an unshakable belief in your products (or, for service businesses, in yourself). If your numbers are going up, even by twos and threes, you’re on the right track.

Review your stats to learn what people are opening/clicking, and offer more of that. Put your subscribe link in your email signature, and on your business cards. Subscribe to a newsletter full of content ideas (like this one), bookmark 29 sure-fire content marketing idea generators, and hang in there. As Dale Carnegie said, “Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.” Stick with it, and you’ll start seeing results.