How to create and distribute an electronic newsletter; here's a guide to an inexpensive way to market you practice - Marketing Your PracticeSandra Beckwith
Newsletters--done the right way--are proven marketing tools. They can help podiatry practices educate patients, introduce a new service, demonstrate expertise, generate referrals, increase patient loyalty--the list of reasons for a marketing newsletter goes on and on.
But a good, useful and successful marketing newsletter requires a commitment. It needs to be written and distributed on a regular schedule, at least four times a year. And it needs to provide content that is useful to its target audience in a format that is easy to read.
Electronic newsletters are increasingly preferred over print-only newsletters because they are easier and significantly less expensive to produce and distribute. Text-only electronic newsletters require almost no design and can be created using regular email message software or with simple Web-based templates. But whether electronic newsletters are text-only or include design elements such as multiple columns, photos and varying typefaces, they do not have to be printed, addressed, stamped and dropped off at the post office like printed newsletters do. In fact, all forms of electronic newsletters can be distributed quickly and easily to a list of e-mail addresses with just a few mouse clicks.
At the same time, practices serving senior citizens are cautious to maintain a traditional print newsletter format, too. "Don't abandon the printed version if your patient base includes the elderly," cautions Twila Fickel, DPM, of Chadron Foot Center in Chadron, NE. "We send ours electronically to everyone with an e-mail address but mail a printed version to those without e-mail."
Defining "Electronic Newsletter"
Just what is an e-mail or electronic newsletter? It's a news publication (not an advertisement or flyer) that focuses on a particular area of interest and resides on a Web site or is sent via e-mail to people interested in that topic. Lengths vary, but typically, an e-mail newsletter has around 700 words, which is only slightly less than the word count for a two-page printed newsletter.
They are typically created with one of these four approaches:
1) As text-only e-mail messages, sometimes with links to more information on Web sites but often without links to additional material.
2) As e-mail messages with design elements such as multiple columns and photos and often with links to additional information online.
3) As completely Web-based newsletters. Publishers of Web newsletters typically send subscribers an e-mail message that tells them the newest issue is online and includes a link--the URL--to the newsletter that readers must use to view and read the publication.
4) As nicely-designed publications sent as attachments to e-mail messages (these usually require the recipient to read them using word processing or Adobe Acrobat software).
Elaine Floyd, author of Marketing with Newsletters and Quick and Easy Newsletters, says the simplest approach--a text-only newsletter distributed as an e-mail message--is best. "You want to make it as easy as possible for patients to receive and read your newsletter," she asserts. Floyd adds that a text newsletter also prints quickly and easily, making it easier for patients to produce a copy to read away from the computer.
"Every extra step a patient has to take to read your newsletter--including clicking onto links or worse, pasting the link address into a browser--will make it less likely your newsletter will be read," Floyd explains. In addition, she notes, many patients use home computers without speedy Internet connections or the latest software to get and read their e-mail. Because of this, newsletters distributed as attachments or designs that take a long time to download might not be readable by many recipients. "You have to assume the lowest common denominator for technology," she says.
Creating a text-only newsletter requires no special skills, making it an easy entry point for podiatrists or staffers who aren't particularly techno-savvy. If you've decided on the text-only format, the simplest way to create a newsletter is to simply type your content into an e-mail message, using short paragraphs and subheads to add white space.
Another easy method is to use templates available online from newsletter distribution services (see more about these services below). Internet consultant and electronic newsletter publisher Wanda Loskin offers a free template at http://internetsuccesscoach.com/newsbuilder.html. With templates, you fill in your personalized information when prompted by the form and click a "create it" button. You then preview the finished product, which appears formatted with line and paragraph breaks, subheads, proper spacing, and so on.
Newsletter publishers preferring more design options can create an electronic newsletter that mimics the look of a printed publication using word processing, desktop publishing or Web site design software or by using design services offered online by the companies that also distribute electronic newsletters. These types of electronic newsletters can enhance your practice's marketing identity through a design that mirrors the Website. It's worth knowing, though, that when inserted into an e-mail message, they take longer to download, particularly when the recipient has a slower dial-up Internet connection. When distributed as a link to the practice's Website, as in "Click on the line below to read the current issue on our Website," you are forcing the busy reader to take an extra step to reach your newsletter. And when attached to the newsletter as a PDF file, you're assuming the recipient has the Adobe Acrobat software required to read that file.
Loskin advises people who want to distribute a fully designed newsletter with photos or graphics to "make sure the pictures are hosted on the Internet and not sent as part of the newsletter." This approach allows the newsletter to download much more quickly; it also means that to see the picture, readers have to be connected to the Internet. "People who want to print the newsletter to read elsewhere can do that before they disconnect from the Internet," Loskin adds.
Once you've selected the format that works best with the technology skills of the person producing the newsletter, you can begin thinking about content. If you already produce a printed newsletter, it can be as simple as copying and pasting your existing text into an e-mail message frame. But whether you're new to marketing newsletters or not, it's a good time to examine what type of material you can provide and whether it's of value to your practice ...or your reader.
Jack Burgin, practice administrator of A Step Ahead Foot & Ankle Center in Fort Collins, CO, believes that the content of his group's newsletter, Footprints, must be helpful to his practice's patients. "A good marketing newsletter needs to contain information that's useful to the reader, not information that promotes the practice," he says.
One of the biggest mistakes made by publishers of marketing newsletters is creating content that is overly self-serving, adds Loskin. "You want your newsletter to offer how-to or service information, not be sales-oriented," she says. "Otherwise you lose readers in a big hurry. Your newsletter must be reader-focused and bring solutions to their problems."
Burgin gets content for Footprints from handouts the office has created for patients and from medical specialty societies. Dr. Fickel gets content for her quarterly newsletter from the societies, journals, Websites and patients. "Sometimes I'll see a pattern in patient inquiries, so I'll write about those topics," she says. Dr. Fickel uses her time driving between three clinics to plan the content for her untitled publication.
Generating content, says Jessica Albon of The Write Exposure, a company that creates electronic newsletters for others, "is often just a matter of putting yourself in your reader's shoes and brainstorming." She recommends starting with easy-to-write articles such as interviews in a question and answer format. "Solicit articles from related businesses, such as your orthotics resource, too," she adds.
Floyd encourages publishers to "keep it short, sweet and upbeat." Floyd emphasizes the positive tone because, she says, "Bad news seems even worse when delivered via e-mail." (That's why she recommends writing the newsletter "only when you're in a good mood.") News items and articles should be short, she says, so that readers get what they need quickly. "You can always include links to more in-depth material online," she notes.
Distributing Your Newsletter
There are two ways to distribute your final product: Doing it yourself with your e-mail software, or using a free or low-cost service that does it for you. Dr. Fickel's office uses Outlook to send the newsletter to a distribution list of about 1,200.
There are many downsides to managing your own distribution list, however, including the time it takes to add new addresses and remove bad ones. In addition, many Internet service providers Interpret large mailings as spam (junk mail) and block distribution. For these and other reasons, many e-newsletter publishers use one of a handful of free distribution services that know how to overcome spam-blocking and other distribution obstacles. One of them, NotifyList.com at www.notifylist.com, also provides Websites with an easy to use, "subscribe to our newsletter here" form that can help expand your mailing list. NotifyList.com also offers a free newsletter design template for a text-only newsletter product. Loskin recommends Topica Exchange, a free distribution service at www.topica.com/create/index2.html. Yahoo also offers a free service at http://groups.yahoo.com. In addition, www.ezinemanager.com is free for publishers who send fewer than 500 e-mails per month.
Many practices make their newsletter available at their Websites, too. Burgin includes his as a PDF file at www.asafoot.com/Newsletters.htm; find Dr. Fickel's at www.chadrad.com/footcenter/NEWSLETTER.html.
How Will You Secure Subscribers?
With a product and a distribution plan in place, it's time to create your mailing list. It's easy to generate subscribers, but it's a slow-build process. Conventional wisdom says that you shouldn't send your newsletter to anyone who doesn't want it, so how do you find out who does? You ask them--on your Website and on your new patient information form. You can also include newsletter samples and a sign-up sheet when you exhibit at local health fairs or sponsor local events. Add newsletter subscription information to all of your organization's materials, including invoices, receipts and appointment cards, as one more way of telling people you have a free newsletter to share.
In addition, add referral sources to your subscriber list--other physicians, for example--so that your practice remains visible to them, as well.
Make it easy for existing subscribers to refer friends, too, by always including text in the newsletter that encourages people to forward the newsletter to friends. And don't forget to add "how to subscribe" information at the end of the newsletter--it's the easiest way to get new subscribers from referrals, but it's one that is often overlooked.
"A marketing newsletter is a good tool for us," says Burgin, who expects to be adding e-mail distribution to the practice's current printed and Web-based versions soon. Taking your printed marketing newsletter to the next step by distributing it electronically can save your practice time and money in production, printing and postage while providing patients with helpful information that generates loyalty.
"Our patients only come to us when they have a problem, so the newsletter helps us remind them of our services and products in between visits," Burgin points out.
BOOKS TO HELP YOU BEGIN
Learn more about the topics covered in this article by reading specialized books on the subject. Michael Katz has authored an excellent, short e-book called E-Newsletters that Work. It is available as an Internet download for $34.95 at www.enewsletterbook.com/. Another electronic book on the subject is E-zines: A Complete Guide to Publishing for Profit, by Shelley Lowery. It costs $27 at www.websource.net/ezines/and contains helpful information, but is slanted toward the entrepreneur looking to build a Web business. Elaine Floyd's Marketing with Newsletters ($29.99), now in its third edition, is a classic resource while her newer book, Quick and Easy Newsletters ($34.99), includes a CD with templates for electronic newsletters and other promotional tools. Both are available from Paper Direct at 800-272-7377 or www.paperdirect.com.
Sandra Beckwith writes and speaks on topics that improve people's lives and businesses. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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