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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

I'm interested in starting a newsletter for my customers (and potential customers), but I'm not too sure if it's a cost-effective way of marketing my painting service. If I do decide to do one, I was wondering how long to make it, what to include in it, and how much it'll cost to mail per piece. Does anyone have any experience with newsletters who could help me out?

Thanks, Jim D.

Answer from our Guest Expert Laura Wiegert of Creative Consultants

Now you're cooking, Jim!

I think a newsletter is a Terrific way to market your painting business. Newsletters help you keep in touch with current and potential customers in a non-threatening way. They also build positive relationships, educate customers on your service, and position you as the expert in your field. And ultimately this increases sales.

The great thing about newsletters is they can be done very cost-effectively and still be successful. A newsletter can range from a two-page, black and white publication to a four-color, eight-page plus glossy publication. But for the purpose of your question, let's keep it short and sweet and look at what it takes to put together a two-page, black and white newsletter.

The Right Blend of Ingredients

Your first considerations are content and format. Length is up to you, but the length isn't as important as the content itself. As long as it includes a tasty mix of timely, helpful, and interesting information, the publication's bound to be a success -- whether it's two or twenty pages. Consider including the following types of articles in your newsletter:

  • Customer profiles/success stories -- Show off your biz with positive customer testimonials or quotes.
  • How-to and feature articles -- Give your customers practical, helpful info to promote their loyalty.
  • Product information -- When you get a new paint product in, brag about it.
  • Industry trends, research, and findings--Inform your customers on the latest, cutting edge info.
  • Response devices -- Wine and dine your customers with contests, giveaways, and coupons.
  • Customer support -- Host a Q&A column or a tips-for-painting column yourself.
  • Sites of the Week -- Let customers know about paint-savvy sites you've found.

Be A Creative Content Chef!

Once you know what types of articles you'd like to feature, whip up your newsletter ingredients. As the expert in your field, you can probably write some very informative and interesting articles yourself. Don't be shy!

But in case you're a little bashful in the content kitchen, you'll probably find some hearty content by searching trade publications or newspapers for articles to reprint or paraphrase. (If you reprint entire articles word for word, be sure to get permission!). You can also surf the Net for articles and advice on your topic.

Format Attire for Your Newsletter

Once you've gotten the content menu covered, it's time to make your newsletter eye-appealing. Here are some basic design tips.

  • A two- or three-column format is easiest to work with and read. Stay away from one long column; it's difficult for a reader's eye to digest easily.
  • Use a point size of 11 or 12 for your text unless you're targeting an older audience. When dealing with the baby boomers, use 13 or 14 point type; it's easier reading for this age group.
  • Balance your text and graphics on each page. For example, one large graphic, instead of several small ones, can look more appealing and professional.
  • Headlines can be in a different font than the text's to make them stand out.
  • Come up with a snappy name for your newsletter that invites readers to read it -- like, Brush Strokes or Painting with Pizzazz.

Some Layout Short Cuts

To help you out with layout and design, you can find many low-priced design programs that are easy to use, such as Microsoft Publisher. Word-processing software, such as Word and WordPerfect, and Macintosh's ClarisWorks, also have newsletter layout capabilities.

Copying the Recipe

Now, let's look at reproducing your ready-to-print newsletter. A professional printer will give you a better quality product, but it'll cost a little more.

Photocopying is a viable option if you use a copier that gives a good, crisp copy. A good, quality photocopier at a quick printers usually costs around eight cents per piece. (Note: If you plan on photocopying, don't include photos as they don't reproduce very well on a copier.)

Remember, the newsletter is a reflection on your biz, so do it right. Always proofread for Errors and make sure the print quality is baked to perfection.

Serving Up Your Final Entree

You're ready to dish up your newsletter. Another crucial ingredient's the mailing list. You can use existing names that you have or purchase a list. It's cheaper and more targeted to build your own list using information you already have on file. Be sure to include the names of potential customers as well.

When it comes to mailing, you can save the cost of envelopes by making the newsletter a self-mailer. Simply leave a mailing panel on the back of the newsletter that's one-third the size of the page, so when you fold it, the panel is facing out.

For postage, you can use the usual first-class letter stamp, or you can use third-class bulk mail, now called Standard (A) mail. To qualify for bulk mail, however, you must have a minimum of 200 pieces to mail each time. You also need a special permit from the post office, which costs $85 a year. If you qualify, then you pay a reduced cost per piece.

Note that there are other distribution options, such as using your newsletters as statement stuffers or including with other mailings. However, you risk the newsletter getting "lost in the shuffle" and not getting read. After you put all that work into it, you want to be sure people read it!

Creating and producing a newsletter yourself may take a little time, but it'll definitely save you money and increase your visibility with your customers.

Hope you're ready to dig in, Jim. Bon Apetit!

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