Several years ago James Finneran, president of Finneran Senior Resource Group in Gig Harbor, Wash., began sending an e-newsletter to his computer-savvy clients. Today, he uses it to communicate regularly with more than 300 subscribers.

In addition to providing him with a vehicle for sharing information about a variety of subjects of interest to his senior clientele, the e-newsletter gives Finneran an efficient method of contacting specific segments of the list. “I give a lot of estate planning seminars,” he says, “and the e-newsletter gives me another way to communicate with my customers about the event. Prior to a seminar I always send a special, customized e-newsletter to everyone in the event’s ZIP code, letting them know that I’ll be speaking in their area and inviting them to attend.”

Much like a print newsletter, an e-newsletter gives advisors a way to keep in touch with current and prospective customers. The format allows an advisor to share news, present in-depth information and address a variety of related issues. Unlike with print newsletters, however, postage and printing expenses are nonexistent. An e-newsletter is also fast, allowing an advisor to quickly respond to breaking news or trends. Conservation-minded advisors appreciate the fact that e-newsletters don’t waste trees or end up in landfills.

E-mailed newsletters have their own set of challenges, however.

“People don’t want to be spammed,” Finneran says. “You have to build trust before most people are willing to give you their e-mail addresses.”

Even requested e-newsletters can sometimes be intercepted by spam filters, or an e-mail might not get the same attention from some readers that a mailed piece would simply due to its lack of physical presence. While more seniors are becoming computer savvy, some may, for one reason or another, just prefer to read a paper newsletter. Finally, vision problems could limit some seniors who are better served by printed materials.

Should an e-newsletter be part of your marketing plan? Here are some reasons why this promotional tool may be a good fit. An e-newsletter:

  • helps you keep in touch with your prospects.
  • can help develop interest in new products and services.
  • gives new prospects visiting your site a reason to provide their e-mail address.
  • allows you to respond quickly to related news and trends.
  • allows you to communicate efficiently with a large group of people.
  • keeps your name in front of your customers.
  • if done well, is perceived as an added value by your customers.

Before you start
Here are some of the decisions you’ll want to make as you’re planning your e-newsletter:

  • Niche: The best newsletters don’t try to be all things to all people. Specializing in a particular market niche will allow you to tailor the information to your audience, which in turn increases readership.
  • Frequency: Most experts agree that the newsletter should come out at least on a quarterly basis. Most commonly, a newsletter is monthly. Increasing frequency works for a shorter newsletter – a “tip of the week,” for instance – but if you e-mail too frequently, readers may get annoyed.
  • Audience: Will the newsletter be geared primarily to your existing customers, new clients or both? Consider the demographics of your list; is the readership primarily seniors? Baby boomers? Knowing who your audience is will help you tailor the editorial content to their needs and interests.

Content
The best newsletters offer rich content that includes ideas and information that people need. If your newsletter is all about your products, readers will quickly tire of it and see it as just a thinly veiled advertisement. Instead, offer great content and let the information be the star, creating an environment around which you can mention products and services when appropriate.

Where will you get this great content?

  • Write it yourself. If you’re a professional writer and you have the discipline to meet self-imposed deadlines, this option gives you full control over content and timing. It’s still a good idea to have your work professionally edited and proofread before sending it.
  • Hire a freelance writer. This option shifts the deadline pressure to a professional and may be best for busy advisors who still want to control the content of the message but let someone else do the actual writing. You can often find good contract writers by looking at the masthead of trade magazines and local business publications; freelancers are usually listed as contributing writers. You also can find qualified freelance writers on professional Web sites like the American Society of Journalists and Authors (asja.org).
  • Purchase the content. Fred Jurewicz, CSA, owner of Fred Jurewicz Financial (fjfinancial.com) in Eden Prairie, Minn., mails his clients a quarterly print newsletter that he gets from Integrated Concepts Group (icgnews.com). This company and others like it specialize in publishing marketing newsletters and brochures for clients and prospects of financial service providers. Jurewicz mails the print version, but ICG and others will also provide e-news content. Most pre-formatted newsletters also have a designated space for personalized content.

Compelling subject line
The most important element that determines whether your e-newsletter gets opened or deleted is its subject line. If your subject line is self-serving or sounds like spam, odds are the newsletter will never be viewed and all your work will be in vain. Accordingly, it pays to spend time developing a provocative subject line that includes a key benefit or creates curiosity.

Follow these tips for subject lines:

  • Write benefit-oriented subject lines.
  • Don’t use all capital letters in your subject line – this often triggers spam filters.
  • Watch the length, and don’t exceed 40 total characters or your copy may get cut off.

Text? HTML? PDF?
Your e-newsletter’s appearance can range from simple text to a complex HTML document that looks and acts like a Web page. Each offers its own set of advantages and disadvantages:

  • Plain text: Simple to write, text e-mails require no HTML skills, and anyone can read the document regardless of e-mail settings. Plain text is the safest bet in the sense that some people choose “text only” when they set up their e-mail options. The downside is that plain text is limited to a single font in black type that can look boring, thereby reducing readership.
  • HTML: HTML programming language allows you to use color, photography, charts and graphics, and has “click-through” capability that allows readers to click on a link that takes them directly to a page on your Web site. HTML documents are slower to load and may be more vulnerable to spam filters.
  • PDF: The PDF format allows you to send a newsletter that looks identical to a print version. The downside is that readers need to have Adobe Acrobat Reader (a free downloadable software) or another PDF reader installed on their computer in order to read the file. PDF files must be sent as attachments and usually take longer to download.
  • Combination of text and online information: Some advisors send a text newsletter with a clickable link that takes the reader to a Web page that contains the full text, graphics and interactive capabilities of the articles. While this system combines the advantages of both types of e-mail, it relies on a reader taking additional action, which sometimes decreases the number of page views.

Use e-mail marketing service?
If you’re going to be mailing any significant number of e-newsletters, you’ll probably want to use a professional program. The options range from simple software to all-inclusive design, mailing and marketing services; the right choice for you will depend on how complex your newsletter is and the number of subscribers you’re serving. There are two basic ways you can go: buy the software and do it yourself or pay a monthly fee and let someone else do it.

For computer-savvy advisors with a server that can handle the traffic, companies like E-Newsletter Pro (enewsletterpro.com) and Interspire’s SendStudio (interspire.com) sell you the software to let you handle the mechanics of developing and sending the newsletter in-house. The software allows you to create HTML- or text-formatted newsletters and enables you to create and maintain opt-in e-mail lists. Most include special features like auto responders that instantly e-mail subscribers on your behalf; for instance, a personal note is immediately sent when a prospect initially signs up for the newsletter. Once you have the software, it can usually support an unlimited number of mailing lists and newsletters. The price for a basic software package ranges from $250 to $400.

Designed for small businesses, services like Campaigner (campaigner.com), Constant Contact (constantcontact.com) and Bronto (bronto.com) provide organizations with online marketing software to manage your e-mail contact lists, create newsletters and handle the sending function. For those who aren’t HTML-savvy, the software has pre-formatted templates that are easy to customize.

Additional options may include features like tracking reports and programs that will scan your documents for words that potentially trigger spam filters. The monthly cost for basic service ranges from $15 to $100 per month.

Signing up subscribers
Once you’ve developed your e-newsletter, you’ll want to manage your subscriber list properly. The best system is called “double opt-in,” in which a subscriber must confirm his subscription by clicking on a link in an automatically generated e-mail sent after initial sign-up. The response mechanism prevents most common problems; believe it or not, there are hackers out there with nothing better to do than create programs that randomly sign up for subscriptions with phony e-mail addresses. Ask your subscribers to add the e-mail address you use for sending the newsletter to their “allowed” list so that it isn’t blocked by spam filters.

Richard Oring, CLTC, of Oring & Company in Princeton, N.J., whose company produces a quarterly newsletter about long term care, recommends providing plenty of options and respecting people’s choices when it comes to maintaining a newsletter mailing list.

“We always give our customers a choice of receiving communication by e-mail, regular mail or even fax if they prefer,” he says. “We even go so far as to ask if they have a second home or vacation residence where they’d prefer to receive mailings from us during part of the year.”

Promote your newsletter
Once your newsletter is established, you can add additional readers at very little expense, so you’ll want to maximize opportunities to promote it:

  • Include a link on your Web site for prospects to sign up for the newsletter.
  • Offer a free downloadable report that respondents can get immediately, and then offer the newsletter as an add-on benefit.
  • Submit your Web site’s newsletter link to the leading ezine directories and search engines. Some of these include Ezine Directory (ezine-dir.com), Ezine Listing (ezinelisting.com) and Ezine Search, (ezinesearch.com).
  • Write articles for other advisors to use in their newsletters, with a link to your newsletter sign-up page.
  • Pass out a sign-up card at seminars and speaking engagements.
  • Add a line on your e-mail signature promoting the newsletter.
  • Be sure to include “how to subscribe” information in every newsletter in case one of your readers forwards it to someone else.

A readable and informative e-newsletter can impress clients and prospects and make you the go-to person for financial information, even among the less tech-savvy senior population. But as new seniors enter the fold, coming in from corporate jobs that require computer use, an e-newsletter may become the primary method of communication, so be sure you’re ready.