Keep top-of-mind with clients, without being self-promotional, by creating a strategic email newsletter program. These six steps will make it easy for any business.

AUTHOR NOTE (READ THIS FIRST): This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of Marketing the Law Firm (which has several other fantastic, in-depth articles about marketing strategy). Reprinted with permission. While this article was written for law firms, the principles are applicable to nearly any professional services firm that is time-strapped but needs to maintain good touchpoints with their client base. So put "your own business" in place of "attorneys" and "law firms" and see how this can help you!

Attorneys are at a disadvantage when it comes to marketing themselves and their firms. Restrictions to what you can share notwithstanding, your clients typically don't need you on a regular basis. You're in and out of their lives and businesses, yet continued interactions are what translate to referrals and new opportunities to work together.

So, how does a firm balance their need for client touchpoints without annoying a client who doesn't need their services at the moment?

The answer: a well-thought-out email newsletter.

Now, you're thinking "I don't have time for a newsletter, nor do I have time to write content for a newsletter." There is an easy, two-part solution to this problem, which we will learn more about below. But in the meantime, promise me you won't go out and hire a company that will sell you cookie-cutter email templates with off-topic garbage content like seasonal recipes and stress-reduction tips, just so you can have something to send. You're better than that.

STEP 1 - Understand your goals and purpose:

There is no reason to even start this process unless you have a goal (or goals) in mind for how your email newsletter will help your business. To map out these goals, interview yourself, your partners, even other staffers who handle day-to-day questions. Ask yourself the following questions about your firm:

  1. Who are your ideal clients?
  2. What pain points do you routinely solve?
  3. Why do clients come to you?
  4. What types of live events do you attend?

List the answers to those questions, along with a list of content that you do create online (blogs, social media, interviews, speaking, and even questions).

Related: Our step-by-step plan for a more complete email marketing strategy that applies to all types of emails and has 9 stats you can measure in your newsletters.

STEP 2 - Create an editorial calendar:

Each month, you should be able to pull from the answers above, practice area news, questions, discussions, and content you're creating to fill in 2-3 headlines for a newsletter. The links don't even have to be yours; in fact, the more that aren't, the better (so you won't appear as if you're constantly self-promoting). Introducing your subscribers to new sources of information that are valuable to their well-being is a tried-and-true way to build trust. Trust that results in referrals and repeat engagements.

STEP 3- Set up the newsletter:

Remember, the goal of your newsletter is mind share and trust, not sales. I would dedicate 1/3 of the content to firm news. For the rest, offer a tip relevant to one of your practice areas, highlight a challenge that you helped overcome, or write a short blurb about how a local (or national) issue could impact your practice areas, and what your clients should be thinking about.

If I got a newsletter like that, my reaction would be along the lines of, "wow, this firm has a lot of great stuff going on, and they're telling me about things that could impact me. In fact, that one point reminds me that I need to follow up with them about an item."

When you offer value, and put the emphasis on your subscribers, you build trust. When you build trust, opportunity finds its way to your door.

You will be able to pull together that kind of information more easily than you think, if you spend the time creating an editorial calendar and listing out all the places where you can get content.

As far as the actual appearance of the newsletter is concerned, keep in mind that over 50% of emails are opened on mobile devices, so keep it simple, short, single-column, and easy to read. Since you are only sending out one newsletter per month, it might be prudent to involve your webmaster, or an email marketing specialist, to ensure your template's design integrity is maintained (sometimes, copying and pasting into those web-based editors can royally mess up formatting).

STEP 4 - Tracking strategies:

You created an editorial calendar in Step 2, and established your business goals in Step 1. For each piece of content in Step 3, you should be able to use your email service provider (ESP) to assign tags or tracking to each of the different types of content you are linking to in your newsletter.

For example, if you include links to legislative updates, be sure to tag people who click on those links as being interested in legislative updates. If you include a link to an upcoming speaking engagement, be sure to tag the people who click on that as being interested in hearing you speak.

Once you establish a tagging strategy for your content, you will be able to easily go back to the people who are expressing interest in certain types of content, and send them targeted messages in addition to your newsletter.

Also, most ESP's use the IP address of the device opening your email to geo-target the subscriber. This is really useful when you are conducting local events, or even better, if you are flying to a city for an event, and want to send out a targeted email to anyone on your list who is in that area, to meet up for a drink.

Remember, email, advertising, social media, these are all vehicles to retain mind share with your audience. If you have an opportunity to meet up off-hours just to keep that top-of-mind awareness going, it will do wonders in moving people from subscriber to customer, from customer to brand evangelist (who will refer everybody they know to you).

Related: Personalizing your emails with copywriting formulas.

STEP 5 - Subscriber acquisition:

Now that you have the framework for an awesome and engaging email newsletter, you should start to encourage people to subscribe to it. List acquisition can be an article unto itself, but here are some best practices:

  1. Have a dedicated landing page for your email list, such as http://websighthangouts.com/subscribe. Here, you will offer the value proposition and explain why it's a great idea to join your email list.
  2. Brand all phases of the signup process. There are confirmation emails, welcome emails, thank-you pages, and unsubscribe pages, all of which come in plain vanilla (or worse, branded with your ESP's logo). Take the time to add your branding and professionalism.
  3. Add a link to that dedicated signup page within your email template, in case the email is forwarded to a colleague (so the colleague can click through to get their own copy).
  4. Encourage replies and interaction by asking questions, highlighting members of your community, or asking subscribers to tweet about your newsletter.

STEP 6 - Testing and refining:

Each of the above steps can be tested over time. You can adjust the location and text on various calls to action. You can rearrange the order of the topics in your newsletter to see if the same topics are being clicked, or if only the "first" topic is being clicked. Time of day, day of week, can both be tested over time to see if one is better than the other.

In the end, these six steps will help you build a cohesive, business-focused strategy for your email newsletter that gives your subscribers tremendous value, creates brand equity, and will lead to referrals and more business opportunities. All with minimal effort on your part, because you thought it through and have a plan!

Hey, do you have an awesome newsletter strategy that I can check out? Put the link to your subscribe page in the comments, yes that's right, you can link-drop but only if you tell me about your strategy first, okay?

Another author’s note: the articles I’ve been fortunate enough to write for Marketing the Law Firm seem to be among my best pieces, so I encourage you to read the others that I’ve republished here:

Stephan Hovnanian

Stephan Hovnanian runs the show here at Shovi, bringing over 15 years of email and web marketing experience to companies that need more from their digital marketing efforts.

Connect with Stephan here, on Twitter (@stephanhov), LinkedIn, or Google+.

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