Email has been around since the ‘70s but it’s still our favourite form of online communication. Because of that, email newsletters are a great marketing tool and offer some of the best returns on investment in the industry. So how do you do it well?
Email newsletters are loved by marketers
The first email was sent in 1971, which makes it ancient technology in the digital world. You might think messaging services and social media have supplanted it but, in business at least, email is still the preferred communication channel for up to 80 percent of people. As a result, marketers say it offers the best return on investment of all digital channels.
And yet we all have a lot of unopened email newsletters in our inbox. So how do you create an accounting newsletter that will get read? And can you do it without investing hours of your precious time creating content?
Why would you send a newsletter?
Before creating and distributing an accounting newsletter, you need to be clear about what it will and won’t achieve. You don’t want to go to the trouble if it’s not going to get the results you want.
Don’t think, for example, that it will go viral and get forwarded around town, bringing you a bunch of new leads. It’s not a lead generation tool. Quite the opposite. You need leads before you even get started on a newsletter. Newsletters are for nurture – helping you build relationships with prospects and clients over time.
Warming up prospects and reminding clients you’re there
As you know, accounting has a long sales cycle. You don’t win new clients overnight. It’s really hard for businesses to change accountant, so things move slowly. And new businesses often don’t hire an accountant until they have to, which may be around tax time. Either way, your leads will take months to mature into new business. That’s where newsletters come in. They’re a way of staying on someone’s radar until they’re ready to make a decision.
Additionally, an accounting newsletter will also help you reinforce your value to existing clients, to keep them happy and onboard.
Newsletters don’t have to be a big production
Perhaps you think an accounting newsletter would be a great idea, if you didn’t have to write it or design it. Well, you don’t. You can create plain-text newsletters using mostly borrowed (or curated) content that’s still valuable to your clients. Here are 11 tips to help you get good results on a budget.
1. Send it to the right people
It may be tempting to buy a list of email addresses to get started, but try to avoid it. Such lists are often of low quality, with many contacts who haven’t agreed to be on them. Most of them will be irrelevant to your line of business. There’s no point sending accounting newsletters to people who don’t need an accountant. If you go down this route you might also be penalised by your ISP for sending spam (unwanted) emails.
It will be slower, but you’re better off building your own database of contacts. Most accountants are good at collecting business cards, so send those people an email asking if they’d like to receive your newsletter. Add the ones who opt in to your database. You’ll be surprised how quickly your audience grows.
You can also invite people to opt in for your newsletter by including a link on your:
· email signatures
· social media profiles
· business cards and other marketing collateral
2. Segment your audience
As with all communication, people respond better if it’s personalised. That’s tricky when you’re sending mass communications but try to segment your audience and send tailored versions of your newsletter.
You don’t want to create too much work for yourself so keep it simple. Start by creating one list for leads and another for existing clients. You’ll communicate slightly different messages with each group, so create different versions of the newsletter.
After a while, you may get more sophisticated and split your list into industry categories for example. But again, don’t over complicate your life or it will become onerous maintaining different lists and creating many different versions of the newsletter.
3. What’s in it for them?
Why should people sign up to receive your accounting newsletter? Giving out their email address is a risk, so you’ll need to convince them that the reward is worth it.
You’ll probably provide accounting tips, tax updates, or maybe software advice. If your local laws allow it, you may even offer spot prizes. Whenever you invite people to subscribe, briefly explain what sort of content they’ll be getting. Don’t overhype it. Promotional talk will just come across as pushy.
4. How polished does it have to be?
Newsletters come in many forms. In the days of print, they ranged from photocopied letters all the way up to glossy, full-colour epics. You’ll find the same variation in digital form. Some companies produce big, well-designed publications that are full of images, charts and big feature stories, while others send plain-text emails.
There’s a reason why the plain-text approach hasn’t died, even in the digital age. They work. If the content’s relevant, well-written and easily readable, then the rest is mostly just window dressing. In fact a modestly produced text-only email may come across as genuine, less salesy and more personal. Plus it requires much less work to produce.
5. How do you create content?
The most effective newsletter is the one that people read. You have to make the content interesting and easy to digest, but you don’t want to spend hours crafting it. There are agencies that will supply accounting content for you to copy and paste into your newsletter, but it’s generic.
Your best bet is to curate content. Find online articles that are relevant to your clients and write a one-paragraph summary for your newsletter. Include a link to the original article. Besides a summary, you might like to include a few personal thoughts on the topic to add some extra value.
Tips for curating content
Bookmark 10 or 20 of your preferred online publications and check them during the week. As you find interesting articles, paste the links into your draft newsletter and write little summaries for each. Before you send it, go through the accumulated content and weed out the weaker articles, until you’re left with really strong content.
As a bonus, you can also post the articles – and your comments – to LinkedIn. That way you’re building a wider profile as a thought leader at the same time as creating a newsletter.
You can produce original material too
If you have the time, or there’s a good writer on staff, go ahead and include original content in your newsletter. The best approach in this instance is to publish the article on your blog and link to it from the email newsletter, rather than pasting the whole thing into your email.
6. Writing tips
When communicating by email, you have a few main priorities:
· Avoid sounding spammy: Use clear, descriptive subject lines that tell people what’s in the newsletter. Steer away from promotional language.
· Keep it short: People read more slowly off a screen than off a page. As a result, web writing has become more direct and concise. That’s what people expect, so don’t waffle.
· Be warm: Write the newsletter as though all recipients are old clients. It needs to be conversational and informal. If your tone is too professional, it’ll come across as sterile.
More tips on the subject line
Your subject line often determines whether or not someone opens the email. Savvy marketers often test different subject lines to see which ones resonate the most with an audience. You don’t have to be that scientific but it’s worth taking some time over your choice of words.
The subject line should be short and informative.
· Don’t waste your words on generic titles like “June newsletter”.
· Don’t feel like you have to give the newsletter a name. It’s there to build your brand – not to have a brand of its own.
· Choose plain language over clever phrases. People are in a literal frame of mind when looking at email, so jokes and puns can get lost or, even worse, may cause confusion.
· Keep your subject line short, so recipients can see the whole thing in their preview pane.
7. How long do I make my newsletters?
The question should really be how short? Try to keep your accounting newsletter to one or maybe two stories. For starters, it will be quicker for you to produce, which means you’re more likely to keep publishing. Even more importantly, it will make the newsletter easily digestible. Subscribers will be more likely to open the email and explore the content if they know they can do it quickly.
8. Don’t oversell
It might be tempting to try to add a call to action (CTA) to every newsletter entry, but don’t overdo it. Where newsletters are concerned, the hard sell gets old very fast. CTAs such as “Click here to find out how we can help!” are unlikely to work well. To avoid putting off your clients and prospects, limit the CTAs to rare occasions.
9. Proofread what you’ve written
It’s a truism that you spot the typo in your email just as you hit the ‘Send’ button. So be sure to proofread your newsletter before sending it – it’s easier to see errors if you read a printed copy. Send it to a colleague first and have them take a look too. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes will spot mistakes that you missed.
10. Have a sensible schedule
Sending newsletters every day is a good way to annoy people. Weekly or every two weeks is better. Monthly could work too, but recipients may lose interest if they come too infrequently.
Whatever pattern you choose, try to stick with it. People can be sensitive about email traffic so maintain a consistent tempo that subscribers get used to. You can always break the schedule if there’s fresh news that you have to share straight away.
When setting your schedule, it’s important not to be too ambitious. An accounting newsletter is a slowburn approach to signing new clients so you’ll have to keep publishing for a long time. Pick a sustainable tempo.
Sending weekly emails may seem like a great idea when it’s fresh and new but imagine how you’ll feel when the novelty’s worn off and you’re busy with other things. Start conservatively, by sending something less often. If you’re getting good feedback or finding it easy to do, you can always increase the frequency later.
11. Measure the results
One of the big reasons why marketers love email is that they can use tools to see:
· who opens it, and who doesn’t
· who clicks on the links, and who doesn’t
This sort of data will help you see if people are engaging with the content. If they’re not, you can try writing on different topics or using different subject lines to improve the results.
You can also drill down to individual contacts and see what content they’re opening and clicking on. That information will help you when it’s time to have one-to-one interactions.
Free email marketing tools will give you data on open rates and click-through rates.
Free email marketing tools for your accounting newsletter
You can use email marketing services to help manage lists, send emails, and track how people engage with your newsletter. There are a number of providers, such as MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, and Benchmark. Smaller businesses often get free use of these services, which means you could potentially send and monitor the performance of your accounting newsletter without spending anything.
Everything that used to be hard about creating an accounting newsletter is easy now. You can curate the content, forget about design, and send and monitor your emails for free. Plus email marketing services will give you a lot of free advice on how to write good emails. They’ll also tell you what sorts of open rates and clickthrough rates you can expect.
If you want to test it out this year, start by:
· researching email marketing services (and see what you can get for free)
· building a database of recipients
· thinking about how to segment those lists into sub-groups
· bookmarking good financial and business publications as sources for content
And if the results aren’t great initially, don’t give up. Use analytics tools to try and identify where you can make improvements.
An accounting newsletter is a good way to communicate with large numbers of prospects, with relatively little effort. It’s worth exploring.