Most businesses today have some form of newsletter that goes out to clients, staff, and associates.

But is your newsletter everything it can be?

With just a little effort, you can have your newsletter engaging a lot more people and fulfilling more goals than the basic objective most businesses seem to have which is “showing we have a newsletter”.

Opt in forms and mail services

How did most people get on your mailing list?

Do you have some sort of database or do you just send it out informally via Outlook or similar?

It doesn’t matter how great the content in your newsletter is if it’s only going to 5 people. If you’re not using an optin form on your website to capture leads and actively finding ways to add people, you’re really not making the most of your mailing list opportunities.

It’s relatively easy (and free!) to set up a Mailchimp account to use as a database for your newsletter list. Ditto with setting up an opt in form on your website, where visitors to your site enter their first name and email address to be added to your list automatically. The two work in tandem, so once they are set up you don’t have to lift a finger.

Try asking!

You should also take advantage of any opportunity to add people to the list manually.

Actively ask new clients and contacts: “Is it okay if I add you to our newsletter subscriber list? We try to keep our readers up to date with as much info as possible on changes to <insert industry or niche>.” People will rarely say no, and often the people with whom you have an existing connection will be the most likely to read and engage with the content you send out in future.

If you have a brick and mortar business where you come into contact with members of the public or customers, make sure you have a business card bowl which makes it clear it’s for your (value-packed, FREE) newsletter. People love disseminating their business card, so once they drop it in the bowl, it’s tacit permission to add them to the list manually. You can also have a sheet of paper where people can write their email addresses. Just be sure to spell out some benefits and good reasons why they should subscribe.

Use your email signature to grow your mailing list

Add an invitation to your email signature, something like “Click here to sign up for regular insider news from <company name>’s exclusive newsletter”, then link that to a dedicated page on your website where you have a brief spiel about what sort of content the reader can expect, and finishing with an opt in form where they enter their name and email address.

You can even add a link to your latest newsletter in the signature, so they know what to expect and can see what valuable content you are sending out. This is easy to do by getting the link from your mail service (the same link that’s found at the top of emails saying “having trouble viewing? see it online”), or by adding the newsletter to your blog as its own post (you can then exclude the post from the normal blog and just have it accessible via the link).

All this technology is at your fingertips – so use it!

Don’t talk about your business

It seems counterintuitive to not talk about your business in its own newsletter, right? But the cliche is true – people only listen to one radio station – WII-FM (What’s-In-It-For-Me!).

You might think that people want to hear all about your business and what you have achieved this month (because it really interests YOU), but in actual fact they are much more interested in what you can do for them. When they are reading your newsletter, that’s what is at the back of their minds – even if they aren’t conscious of it.

You can still blow your own trumpet, but make sure you find a way to bring it back to the reader somehow.

In many ways, writing is no different to personal interaction. If you’re at a party and you meet an acquaintance (or a stranger), what do you find more interesting – someone who just talks about themselves, or someone who engages you, asks questions about you, and talks about things that relate back to you and your interests?

In real life we have social cues to measure how someone is responding to us – they might look bored, or be looking like they want to get away when we’re talking about ourselves, which is a good cue to change the subject. But when we send out an email newsletter, we don’t have these signals to tell us when we’re on the right track, so we need to be extra vigilant with vetting our work and making sure we’re offering real value.

The Golden Ratio of “We” vs “You”

A simple way to make sure you’ve got the balance right is to look at how many times you say “we” (or “I” for solopreneurs) in your newsletter compared to how many times you say “you” or “your”. I recently read a great piece by legendary UK direct marketer Drayton Bird where he suggested the ideal ratio between “we” and “you” should be about 1 “we” for every 2 “you”s. This sounds like a pretty good balance, so when you’re looking over your newsletter, try to keep that in mind.

If you’re seeing a lot more mentions of your business than your clients or other helpful resources, it probably means you’re drifting into the danger zone of being too self-focused.

Adding Value

Following on from this last point, you should also keep an eye on the ratio of giving vs selling. Constantly trying to sell to your readers in every newsletter is a sure fire way to turn people off, so you need to find the right balance between providing genuinely valuable information and getting in the occasional offer of your own.

NYT best selling author and social media maven Chris Brogan talks about his ratio for using social media to promote others’ content vs his own as around 12-1. So for every 12 updates Chris posts, only 1 is about his own content or services. This is probably the most selfless end of the scale, and not everyone has time to round up all that great content enough to promote 92% of others’ content. But you should make sure it’s at least 3-1 in terms of promoting valuable information and resources, vs selling your own products and services.

Providing value selflessly creates emotional engagement, which in turn builds a relationship and makes someone more likely to be receptive when you actually have something to offer them that benefits you too.

Constantly trying to sell to someone will have them put up their defences and emotionally disengage from your content, even if they don’t actively unsubscribe from your newsletter.

Recycling the Content of Others

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. You can recycle and share other people’s content all you want, as long as you attribute it.

I have a friend who spends around 3 minutes a week on his company newsletter, because it’s basically just a collection of other people’s articles, complete with links to the original stuff and a short summary. It’s still really popular and gets tons of opens and clicks by his client base and contacts, who appreciate the valuable and relevant info inside.

Pro blogger Kristi Hines puts out a hugely popular weekly roundup of other people’s content called Fetching Friday. This usually contains around 40 links to the best content she’s found throughout the week on the topics her readers are most interested in. Getting a piece listed on Kristi’s Fetching Friday newsletter can launch a lowly blog post into the stratosphere because so many people await her curated list of weekly resources.

So you don’t have to spend hours creating your own content – especially if somebody else has already said the same thing (possibly better). Just provide value to your readers by saving them time to find this stuff for themselves and introducing them to interesting and useful articles they may not have known existed.

A caveat to this though – if you’re going to do this, make sure the content you are recommending is high quality or your readers will lose faith in your recommendations. At least make sure you’ve read what you’re recommending and that it actually provides some unique insights and a valuable take on the topic being presented.

How’s your newsletter going? Share your experiences in the comments section below.