BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE: FRONTIER - the resource for entrepreneurs  
By Dave Lindorff
FEBRUARY 18, 2000

Draw More Business With an Online Newsletter

Compared with a printed version, an e-letter saves money, hassle and trees


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Think publishing is the province of tree-killers and ink-stained wretches? Think again. Now, you can publish your own customer newsletter over the Internet -- and you don't have to dirty your hands in the process.

Electronic newsletters accomplish all the same things as their print counterparts -- they remind customers you're there, spark repeat business, and help attract new clients. But consider some of the extra advantages: no trips to the printer, no hassles with mailing labels, no lines at the post office. With no printing or postage costs, e-mail letters are also a lot cheaper.

If you're already doing business on the Web, an e-newsletter makes especially good sense. By embedding links in the text, you can take readers directly to your company's homepage or to other sources of useful information. Add a link to your e-mail address, and you can get instant customer feedback. By asking clients to fill out a subscription form, you can get valuable customer information, which can be used to refine your products and services. Add a counter, and you can determine exactly how many of your customers actually are reading the thing in the first place -- something that's virtually impossible with a print publication.

Bob Dron, an independent Harley-Davidson Motorcycles dealer in Oakland, Calif. has published a print newsletter, "The Open Road," since 1997. He recently started doing an e-mail version, as well. The e-newsletter has the same news, technical tips and customer profiles as the print version. But it also includes detailed maps with directions to the shop, as well as a link to the Harley-Davidson Web site, where readers can get the latest information on new bikes and equipment.

Of course, there are drawbacks to the electronic word. For one thing, despite the convenience of e-mail people seem to prefer hard copies, says Rebecca Evans-Milstein, director of commercial services for the Newsletter & Electronic Publishers Assn., a newsletter trade group. "People still have a sense that if it's paper -- something they can hold in their hand or put on their table -- it's worth more than something on the screen," she says. Many association members, Evans-Milstein says, added an e-mail newsletter after finding success with a print publication. But not one member has dropped the print version.

Fortunately, desktop publishing software programs like Pagemaker and Quark make it easy to construct both a print and an electronic newsletter, essentially at the same time. "I just take our print newsletter and convert it to HTML format for the electronic version," says Evans-Milstein. And if you're paying someone to professionally produce your newsletter, getting a package deal that includes an electronic version shouldn't add much to the cost.

Some pros will even do it for free. Jeff Rubin, owner of Put It In Writing Inc., a Pinole (Calif.)-based newsletter production outfit, offers to electronically format the completed pages of his customers' print newsletters. "Then, they just post it on their Web site," Rubin says.

Meanwhile, whether your newsletter is printed on paper or downloaded to the screen, the same rules apply. Stay away from hard-sells and blatant self-promotion. Instead provide useful information and tips to your readers. And remember: only send your newsletter to people who are likely to want it, like existing customers. No one likes junk mail -- physical or virtual.


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