3 reasons to test drive a newsletter before the new year

Maybe you’ve thought about publishing a newsletter, but haven’t followed through because of time, money or other reasons. Maybe it’s even on your new year’s resolution list, much like losing 10 pounds is usually on mine.

Although the content may be similar, three big differences may lead you to use an email newsletter instead of, or in addition to, a blog:
1. your desire to push content to and build relationships with a targeted, interested group of people
2. your need to publish less frequently, often monthly instead of every day or so, as many bloggers feel pressured to do
3. reports on who opened the newsletter and who clicked the links, valuable intelligence for your sales and marketing efforts.

What’s more, subscribers are more likely to become emotionally attached to a newsletter, as research has confirmed.

If you’re already blogging, you can recycle content and send it to people who would prefer to receive more meaningful information less often, or who are more comfortable with email than RSS feeds, social media and other ways you promote your posts.

Like a blog, a newsletter can help you build your business by regularly showing your colleagues and prospects what an expert you are.

But don’t take my word for it. If you have the time and are comfortable with writing and simple technology, try a free do-it-yourself trial with constantcontact, mailchimp, myemma, icontact, aweber, bettermail or one of the many other email newsletter services that use simple, inexpensive templates.

If you need planning, writing, design or tech services or support, you can take a free, no-obligation test drive with me.

All you need to invest is a few hours thinking about your objectives and what you’d like to say in your first issue, talking to me on the telephone, reviewing what I’ve written and enjoying the praise from the people on your list.

After your first issue, I can put together a plan and a price that suits your time, budget and comfort levels.

What’s more, I can help you leverage your newsletter content through blogs, article directories, public speaking and many other ways.

Although I’ll help with the writing or editing, the newsletter will be in your voice and reflect your expertise.

If you and your audience are so complex or specialized that you need a writer or editor with experience in your area, I can match you up through my talent pool.

We’ll base your copy on what you’ve said in a telephone interview, shortening it, sometimes livening it up and avoiding the grammar mistakes that can make you look unprofessional.

I also know how to write subject lines, heads and preview panes that will lead people to open your email as soon as they see it in their inbox.

With the new year approaching, it’s a great time to start planning.

With a free trial or a test drive, this could well be the easiest resolution on your list. Start now and you can be ready to roll before you pop the cork on the champagne.

If you want to think about how you could become a better known expert through newsletters, download my free book on planning.

If you’re ready to talk, give me a call at (416) 690-0968. Or send me an email with a good time to call you at barb@stickycommunication.ca.

The test drive will be fun, like trying out a fast, luxury car.

How to explain almost anything to almost anyone

Practical writing is often intended to provide information, instructions or advice. Whether you’re writing a report on your department’s sales, an instruction manual or a post on search engine optimization, you need to decide on the best framework before you begin.

This framework, which you’ll probably outline in the first paragraph, will kick start your writing. It will also make it easier for your readers or audience to understand and remember.

Although there is an infinite number of possible structures, here are some of the main ones to consider. The point is to have a framework.

Provide information
*by region
*by product or service
*from top to bottom or bottom to top
*under a memorable acronym, e.g. a CRAP month for sales (Cautious and Reactionary, Abysmal but Promising)

You can help your readers scan through your document, with subheads, bullet points and numbered points that reflect your framework.

You can reinforce these points visually through charts, graphics or photos.

You can provide context by
*comparing the new to the known
*explaining how the pieces fit into the puzzle
*emphasizing what the information means to or how it benefits your readers or audience

If your objective is to explain how to do something, as in manuals, recipes or processes
*Start with anything the reader needs to do in advance. For example, recipes list the ingredients and the oven preheat temperature first.
*Use numbered steps dished out in chronological order.
*Explain each step separately, clearly explaining and deleting any unnecessary or unhelpful wording, but repeating any vital points as needed.
*Add simple illustrations to help readers identify parts or check that they are correctly following your instructions.
*Remember that your readers will likely refer back to the instructions. So make them easy to review, with subheads, diagrams, indexes or helpful reminders.

For tips on how to succeed at almost anything, where priorities are more important than steps in a process
*Use numbered points, but limits them to no more than five points; three are even easier to understand and remember.
*Lead with your most important point and conclude with the second most important point.

Although a popular blogging technique, this approach has been around for a long time. Who hasn’t been intrigued by those covers of Cosmopolitan magazine promising 5 Ways to Tell if Your Man is Cheating?

Long numbered lists work for instructions because readers continue to refer back to them as they assemble their furniture or set up their computer. With advice, they think about what they remember, not the whole list, so keep your advice short and focused. If you have lots of points to cover, consider breaking them into separate posts.

People reading yet another post called 10 Tips for Blogging Success will likely recall only the one or two tips most relevant to them. The same goes for the people who read your emails, reports and proposals. So make it easy for them to understand and remember.

Do your commas help or hinder your readers?

This post has been updated and moved to http://www.stickycommunication.ca/2010/10/minimalist-punctuation-direction-without-clutter/.

Are you sponge-worthy?

Remember the Seinfeld episode when Elaine decides to save her contraceptive sponges, which are being pulled from the  shelves, for the best guys. She called them sponge-worthy. The humour came in part from the awkward, pretentious sound of sponge-worthy.

Now social media gurus are adopting the term shareworthy. Without the hyphen, which implies it’s been around a while, as in trustworthy.

I was recently annoyed by the repeated use of shareworthy in an otherwise excellent webinar by Silverpop on applying social media to email newsletters. I even visited their blog post on the subject.

But why could they not have simply said “worth sharing?” Do you think they were trying to be funny?

Three things to think about before you start writing

Step away from the computer. Hands off the keyboard. Now think.

Whether you’re preparing a blog, email or presentation, you need to think about three things before you start to write:
1. what you want to say
2. who your target readers are and how you want them to respond
3. how you’re going to make your case

For example, before I started writing this, I thought about
1. how my writing and revising go so smoothly when I’ve already thought things through
2. how I want to make writing easier, faster and more effective for other people
3. that I would offer three tips, a number that’s easy for readers to remember

Of course, I often make notes. Just kidding about ditching the computer. But I’m very serious about these three simple steps.

The first step requires you to think about your message so carefully that you’ll be able to summarize it in less than 30 words. It takes more thinking to write in fewer words, so take your time if you’re not clear. You’ll make up the time later and boost your effectiveness.

The second step means you need a precise idea of the results you want for your readers. This may include
*teaching them how to do something
*providing information they clearly understand
*persuading them to think, emote or or take action in a certain way
*inspiring them, a leap above persuading
*some or all of the above

The third step involves your organizational structure. Will you give your readers chronological steps to follow? Will you organize your information under a memorable acronym or logical subheads? Will you provide a list? Will you go by geographic region, top to bottom, most to least or whatever? Will you argue from specific examples to a general rule? Will you argue from a widely accepted rule to a specific case? Compare the unknown to the known? Tell a moving story?

The possibilities are endless. My point is to decide on the structure that best serves your objective. For example, if you’re teaching how to do something, chronological steps are the best, while inspiring may be realized through storytelling.

Writing without first thinking is like taking off on a road trip without consulting a map. It may be fun at first, but it will become a huge problem if you need to reach a specific destination by a certain time. So try it next time you go to write something important.

Write to bite

Sound bites have long been a staple of news coverage. Politicians know that a quick and catchy phrase can deliver a prime spot on the TV news or YouTube. As great leaders have discovered, the best sound bites live on in our memories and lexicon. Sometimes they even change the world.

Bloggers, tweeters and almost anyone who writes should go for word bites, to enliven their content and make it memorable.

Before you can create a word bite you need to clearly and concisely identify what you want people to understand and remember. Then brain storm, applying these time-tested techniques.

Repetition, with a twist
Constantly hammering the same words is annoying, though sometimes effective. But add a twist and you can write with bite. Remember these examples?
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.
I have a dream.
I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.

Similes and metaphors
All that glitters is not gold
Living next to you (the United States) is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant.

Compare and contrast
One step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

The paradox
What is the sound of one hand clapping?

So the next time you have an important point to make, ask yourself: What do I want people to remember? How can I make it more memorable and inspiring?

You may not end up on the evening news, let alone the history books. But if you create effective word bites, your message will live on in your audience’s minds. And maybe accomplish even more.

Write memory glues and cues

Whether it’s an email, presentation or blog, getting your audience to remember what you’ve communicated is like trying to place sticky notes on their brains. You want the notes to stay there long enough to leave a good impression, persuaded to buy your services or take another action. So where can you get the glue to keep your sticky notes from fluttering away in the next puff of freeze?

To help your message stick to busy multi-taskers who are continually bombarded by information, strong glue is vital. There isn’t one formula for this kind of glue. It varies with the reader or audience and the circumstances.

Here are some suggestions.

Deposit into the memory bank

  • Make sure your communication offers value and relevance to your readers or listeners. That’s how the brain prioritizes memory deposits. If you’re selling a service that will help people, demonstrate that you understand them and inspire confidence that you can help them.
  • Make sure your communication is easy to understand. Speak in your audience’s terms, not the jargon of your business or profession.
  • Give people a context in which to remember. Tell them, for example, they will want to remember this information the next time they go to write an important email or talk to a prospect.
  • Focus on what’s important and avoid the clutter.
  • Organize your information, guiding your audience with numbers, categories, acronyms, subheads or other devices.

Add grip to the glue

  • Use a strong visual to represent what you want them to remember.
  • Link what they already know to your new information.
  • Create a catchy slogan.
  • Persuade your audience to repeat your message out loud.
  • Give the audience a followup exercise to reinforce what they’ve learned.
  • Tell stories and anecdotes that play on emotions or connect different points.
  • Rhymes. Who can forget: In August 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue?
  • Sounds, as in the Windows chimes.

Retrieval cues

  • Followup communication that repeats the graphics and other cues you provided originally.
  • Emotional prompts. “I’m scared. Now what did Oprah tell me to do when that happens?”
  • Problem solving. When people encounter the problem you can solve, they will dip into the memory and retrieve your solution.

More suggestions to share?