DM News' Essential Guide to E-Mail Marketing: Newsletters Build Small Business Relationship Networks

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It's a challenge for small businesses with limited marketing resources and budgets to get the word out to a variety of audiences. Customers, prospects, vendors and potential partners are all important connections. How can you develop those connections and build relationships that pay off over time? Try an e-mail newsletter to build a dialogue.

Why e-mail? E-mail newsletters develop interest in your company while building brand and credibility. Suited to a range of businesses, newsletters are a particularly good tool for consultants and service businesses. They offer a low-cost alternative to printed brochures and direct mail fliers and are cheaper than ads in newspapers, yellow pages and other media outlets.

An e-mail newsletter can differentiate your products and services from your competitor's while building deeper, trusted relationships with clients and prospects.

Tips for success. Newsletters must do more than promote your company; they should offer value to the reader, illustrating your expertise and depth. The following tips will help you jump-start an e-mail marketing program:

· Craft a monthly newsletter that's rich in information with solutions for the business challenges your audience faces daily. This outward focus builds confidence and trust.

· Choose a popular or timely topic and give your opinion and advice.

· Valuable information increases the chance that your e-mail newsletter will be read and forwarded, building your network and reputation.

· Give actionable hints and tips that your audience can use immediately.

· Consider including content from outside contributors. Add links to useful material or ask authors whether you can excerpt their articles in your newsletter. Distribution through your network provides wider exposure, so most authors will say yes.

· Communicate your company's progress. Share customer success stories, additions to your team and growth news in sidebars.

· Keep it relatively short.

First steps. The first step is to organize your contact database. Get permission to add contacts and collect new contacts at every opportunity. Inform people when you're planning to add them to your newsletter list and let them know they can unsubscribe at any time.

Next, find an e-mail marketing service that fits your business. A reputable one will provide list management services (opt in, unsubscribe, de-dupe), templates (automatic HTML formatting, table of contents and more) and mailing, delivery and reporting functions. Outsourced e-mail services are inexpensive and provide all the tools to make your newsletter look professional.

The payoff. An e-mail newsletter lets a small business cultivate contacts and build a network of relationships. A good newsletter makes your business look more advanced and more professional. You'll build your brand and credibility and drive more traffic to your Web site.

E-mail newsletters keep your company top of mind with your audience and encourage two-way communication that will bring you closer to your network and support your efforts to build stronger, longer-lasting relationships.

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