At the recent AWAI B2B Copywriting Intensive, I had the opportunity to go in-depth with B2B email newsletter expert Michael Katz. Michael is the author of the AWAI program Creating Email Newsletters for Professional Service Firms — a Step-by-Step Guide.
I walked away convinced that not only are email newsletters a great service to offer clients, but also a powerful tool for freelance copywriters to use in their own client attraction strategy.
Q: What are the advantages of an email newsletter over a print newsletter?
A: There are many advantages. Obviously, cost is one. You’re not constrained by how many you can afford to print. It becomes “I want this in front of as many people as possible.” With print, you ask, “Is this person worthy of my newsletter?” That goes away with an email newsletter. You want as many people as possible to get it. And as a result, the randomness of the people you don’t know that might be interested increases.
Two, it’s easy to forward. If I sent you a print newsletter, you’d have to really go out of your way to get it to someone else. Now it’s totally social and social media has made sharing it even easier. With email, someone will usually forward it one at a time, but with social media, someone gets it and tweets about it, which tells many more people about it.
Three, it’s interactive. Prior to email, publishing a newsletter was a one-way communication. People couldn’t respond to an article easily. It’s more conversational now. Plus, you can have links in your newsletter, so it’s three-dimensional.
Four, it’s easily archived. Google sees them on your website. It sees you writing over and over again on a topic and you get search credibility. Your site is seen as a resource for that type of information.
The one disadvantage is that the email channel has gotten so full that snail mail is starting to make a comeback. And it’s not just for newsletters; I’ve seen a big result with postcards and hand-written notes. People just don’t get that much mail anymore so things stand out.
But you’d have to have a pretty compelling reason to start a print newsletter today because of the cost and effort.
Q: Is there a situation where you might use both?
A: I haven’t had that discussion with a potential client in the last 10 years. It’s ironic — when I first started out, companies weren’t sure about email newsletters because so few of their clients had email. And then there was the whole print/email back and forth. Today, they are so different. Now in fact, the question is, “Should I keep doing email given all the social media channels?”
There might be a valid concern that nobody reads email anymore. It’s surprising. In 2000, the concern was that not enough customers have email. Now we worry no one reads it because there is so much. The world has flipped in a short period of time.
Q: In your presentation, you talked about the seven secrets of an effective email newsletter. One of the secrets was to not worry about giving it all away. Why not?
A: Well, because, when working with a professional service provider such as an attorney, financial planner, or anyone selling themselves, your problem is that you look exactly like everyone else to a potential client. One attorney is the same as the other. Although that’s not true, a potential client can’t really tell the difference.
So the reason I hire you isn’t your skill. Because I have no way to determine that, even after I hire you. It comes down much more to your point of view and do I like your firm and all that. Maybe there was a day when the value of information was so high that you could hoard it, but today for nearly anything you want to know, you can Google and find it.
As that attorney, you don’t have special information that no one else has. There’s no secret sauce that only you have and you’re not going to show anybody. Besides, if you can give your business away in 12 newsletters a year, then you don’t have much of a business.
Plus, think about it. If you publish a book as that attorney, which would be probably 300 pages, then your fees would go up. That’s much more information than in a newsletter. So there’s really nothing to fear.
The problem getting hired is “Why should I call you instead of the other guy?” My background was corporate marketing. My instinct was that people need to measure you somehow but it’s just not true. You didn’t pick your doctor out of the Yellow Pages. Or your corporate lawyer. You called a friend or someone you felt comfortable with.
You need to get on that list. It’s much more about visibility and point of view. The way I look at it, you could sit down next to me while I talk to the client. There’s nothing I’m doing that you don’t know. But you’re not me. Ultimately that’s what people buy — the person.
You can give away too much in the sense you can give away a day without pay. That’s different. But that’s not going to happen in a newsletter.
Q: What are one or two things that make an e-newsletter more likely to be read?
A: That’s sort of the wrong question to ask. My thought is send your newsletter to people you already know. The thing that’s not in the discussion of open rates is how well do you know the people receiving the email?
It’s always assumed that we hold that variable constant. I deliberately game the system in the sense that my focus is who you know. You never think how long your subject line should be to get your mother to open your email. So yes, there is a ‘best practices’ about all that, but it’s really more staying in touch with the people you know. Your clients will read your stuff.
Q: So you’re saying you build the relationship prior to sending the e-newsletter; you don’t depend on it to establish the relationship.
A: Yes, some people will Google and find their way to you. But more growth comes from people forwarding your email and telling their friends and other people where they have a connection. I don’t worry too much about the basics of the open rate as much since I’m staying in touch with my fan base. It’s counterintuitive.
It’s funny, you’ll go to a networking meeting or even at the Intensive here. You’ll spend three days talking with people and interacting with them. Then, a month from now, you may be still in touch with one. I try to stay in touch with as many people as possible by getting them to subscribe to my newsletter. Then, three years from now, somebody calls and they are ready to hire me.
It’s the same with my clients. We publish stuff people want to read so we stay in touch with them and stay part of their lives.
Q: What have you seen that makes a newsletter sharable? What provides that spark that causes someone to send it on to someone else?
A: It’s two separate things. I make them as personal as my clients will let me. In my own newsletter, you could take over my identity if you read it because it’s all about my kids and my dog.
My clients have varying levels of interest in that from no disclosure of anything personal to tell them everything. It’s interesting because people share a newsletter when there’s something interesting in it.
For example, they will see an article and send it on with a note that says, “Hey, there’s an article here about how to make your website more findable by Google. You said you’re launching your website so I’m sending this to you.” But just as often it’s “Hey, this guy went white-water rafting.” So what’s funny is that people will share for different reasons.
So how do you make it so someone wants to read it? I find it’s a combination of useful information but it is best if it’s personal. Take a typical 40-person company where the CEO is the personality of the company. I try and bring her out so it seems like she’s talking. That’s the differentiator.
Q: Thanks for your time, Michael. You’ve given us some very helpful tips for writing email newsletters for our clients or our own businesses.
A: You are welcome and I hope more B2B copywriters can take advantage of this tool.