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.

Five tips for coming up with ideas

I’m one of those lucky bloggers who always has more ideas than time. But from what I read, it’s obvious some people aren’t so fortunate.

Let me share my five top tips:
1. Express your opinions about what you read, hear and observe
2. Recycle current content
3. Update older content
4. Respond to observations and questions you receive in your comments and other forums
5. Draw inspiration from your work and personal life.

Express your opinion about what you read, hear and observe
I’m assuming you try to stay up to date on your area of expertise. I’m also assuming you have opinions. Of course, you’re not always at the computer when they strike, so carry around a notebook or someplace else to jot them down.

If you’re one of those people who does not have strong opinions or the confidence to share them, maybe blogging isn’t for you. You can’t be shy.

Recycle your current content
I also write a regular email newsletter, so I go back and forth, revising the content to better reflect what works best in each medium and the different target readers.

If you’re producing content in another format, whether it’s updates to your website or tweets, consider how you can recycle it.

Update older content
I’ve written on related topics for a number of publications and clients. If I need to do a quick post and I’m stuck, I review past material and update it, to reflect developments, as well as the needs of this medium and its audiences. I also find that after I’ve had some distance from some content, I can always think of ways to improve it.

So dust off that old filing cabinet or external drive and see what’s in there. You may rediscover all sorts of magic content in your vault.

Respond to others
This post was inspired by a blogger who quoted me on the importance of quality over quantity. The writer also expressed frustration with the need to keep coming up with ideas, a concern I have heard again and again.

Many of my recent and upcoming posts respond to feedback I received on What’s your biggest writing challenge?, in the comments as well as LinkedIn discussions, email and personal conversations.

What better way to start a conversation than to ask and answer questions.

Draw inspiration from your work and personal life
I often share what I have learned from working on a project. It’s very satisfying.

I also post about words that annoy me, making a mental or written note when I come across them, then drafting the post when I’m in one of those moods when venting is fun.

I will reference my personal life when it backs up the point I’m trying to make. But seeing as this isn’t a personal confessional blog, I spare you from reading about my future singing star daughter, what my son found on Youtube today, why my almost-blind father feels he’s safe to cycle, the cute way my dog is looking at me, which friend is going gray fastest, today’s garden delight, the mysterious squeak in my car… Enough? I thought so.

My point? If it’s something people who read my blog are interested in, then it’s an idea I can use.

I realize I’m not the only idea machine. So please share what works for you.

Blogging is becoming fun

It’s taken a while to make the time to write regular posts. I’m still struggling with building relationships with other bloggers and some of the technical challenges. But blogging is starting to get easier and produce results.

Much of the advice I read is about content, which was the easy part for me. I’ve been a business writer for 30 years and I have been reading blogs for some time.

Posting more often became possible when I realized I could recycle some of my email newsletters and other material, and draw inspiration from my everyday experiences. More importantly, I’m having fun writing about what interests me rather than what my clients tell me to write.

To build relationships, my colleague John Watkis, a talented writer and speaker who has used blogging to help grow his business, advised me to spend an hour a day reading and responding to blogs.

But how do I find that extra hour? I have clients to impress and deadlines to meet, food-machine teens, the call of the gym and the garden and a messy old house that I can’t ignore from my home office. Then there’s the time I spend writing my newsletters and blogs, running around for my aging parents, reading and hanging with my friends.

Many days I can’t carve out that hour, but I’m starting to respond to other bloggers more. The results are very encouraging. In response to my comments, I was interviewed about content marketing by Dr. Patsy Krakoff, co-founder of the respected Blog Squad. Then she invited me to write a guest post. These haven’t led to a stampede to this site, but traffic is growing.

As a result of blogging, I am also getting more comfortable with relatively new-to-me technologies, like RSS feeds, html coding and social media. Not bad for somebody whose only tool was a typewriter in the early days of my career.

I’m still a single parent who needs the income from clients to keep my family afloat. I haven’t made any money from my blogs yet and the rates I see people offering freelancers are often a joke. But that wise voice inside me says I’m on the right track.

I realize there’s so much more to do. On top of more posting and commenting, I should start tweeting, writing more guests posts and drafting more of my e-book on easy writing tips, inspired by bloggers and the thousands of people I’ve written and edited for over the years.

It is endless. But fun.

Now just let me finish paying those bills, find the dog’s leash and catch up on the latest barrage of client email so I can back to the blogs.

Online reading is rewiring our brains

It’s no secret that the web has changed the way we read.  Whether it’s a blog, email newsletter, web page or other type of online content, we quickly scan, then link to something else, consuming information at break-neck speed.

This has some people worried. According to an intriguing article I recently read Is Google making us stupid? our new reading behaviour is rewiring our brains, just as hand writing, clocks, assembly lines and other innovations have through history.

The author, Nicholas Carr, laments our declining ability to read long   tracts, grasp ambiguity and think deeply. Lighten up, Nicholas. Before  you rush to judgment, let’s wait for the scientific evidence. In the meantime, let’s consider how this growing reading behaviour may be enriching our minds.

Snack vs feast

Nicholas cites a study of the online reading habits of researchers who snacked on many tidbits of internet information rather than finishing the long feast of research papers. Yes, they were not plumbing the depths of the articles. But, assuming they expended an equivalent amount of energy online snacking and thinking, most were still nourishing their minds, just in a different way.

Of course, it’s up to the individual, perhaps with a prod from a teacher, boss or coach, to decide whether to connect those snacks through critical thinking. It’s also up to us to decide how we slice, splice and spice the snacks with knowledge we consume from books, television, personal conversations and other sources.

Exercise the brain

Like muscles, brains strengthen through exercise. The more the reader thinks about what she is reading, the more her brain will develop. Like exercise, more difficult or faster thinking should produce more growth.  What’s more, cross-training with different kinds of mental activities, from solving Sudoku puzzles to playing the violin, should build a better brain.

So let’s not be too quick to dismiss scanning and linking as part of a healthy brain workout.

Nicholas implies that the quick summaries we find on the Internet lack the depth of longer texts. But good online content succinctly captures the important points and perspectives. That makes it easier to link these golden nuggets to each other, to make sense or even gain insight from the rich range of sources the internet offers.

Well-written content summarized for online reading is not superficial. It spares readers from having to wade through unnecessarily long writing. It’s quite similar to the skill of newspaper writers and editors in summarizing the most important information in the first paragraph. Of the abstracts for academic papers. It’s not new.

Get to the point

The leap to scanning and linking has simply made clear, concise summaries more important than ever. People writing email newsletters, blogs, web sites or anything else that’s read on the screen need to make it easy to grasp the basic essence of their message. In this way, they also make it easier for  readers to mentally link their messages to the main ideas from other sources.

So yes, Nicholas, how we read is changing. But there’s no need to rush to judgment. The couch potatoes passively absorbing laugh-tracked sitcoms or cat photo web sites probably aren’t growing as many brain cells and synapses as the people who are learning Mandarin or analysing DNA sequences.

Get smarter

My answer to the question: Is Google making us stupid? is No.

Maybe Google may help us evolve into smarter beings, providing we don’t abandon other brain-stimulating activities.

In fact, I’ll bet neuroscientists will confirm that people who combine energetic snacking on internet tidbits and focused feasting on long, complex texts will develop bigger, better brains.

What do you think?

Email newsletter tips: free book on planning

Almost every time I start an email newsletter for clients, I wish they had a better understanding of what goes into creating an effective newsletter. So I wrote a free e-book to fill that gap.

It’s simple, practical and packed with information. It makes no assumptions about strategic planning or technical jargon.

From the decades I’ve been writing and editing newsletters, I know that most people start out with great enthusiasm that wanes with time and work. To stay on track, they need a detailed yet flexible plan. The book’s work sheets will help them complete one.

The book will continue to help, as they customize their template and write the kind of content their readers want.

The book is especially valuable for experts who want to build relationships with like-minded people through a knowledge-rich newsletter. Too often experts toil unknown and underappreciated because they don’t know how to make their ideas shine.

7 Steps to Shine Brighter through Electronic Newsletters is where they should start. If this sounds like somebody you know, please send them to http://www.stickycommunication.ca/newsletters-publications.html.

If you’re already an expert on newsletters, please share your opinions and let me know what you think I’ve missed.