In the current economy, many insurance professionals are focusing on building stronger relationships with clients and prospects. This makes sense for two reasons: It’s five times easier to make a sale to an existing client than it is to a new client, and consumers are looking for someone they can trust in a world full of corporate shenanigans.

Hundreds of agents and brokers are building relationships by investing in their customer newsletters. But if you don’t do it right, your newsletter could end up repelling clients rather than attracting them. Here are 12 tips to maximize the power of your newsletter:

1. It’s all about them. The No. 1 mistake insurance professionals make is focusing their newsletter on themselves, rather than the needs of their clients. So when writing a newsletter, ask yourself two questions: 1) What do my clients really want to know? and 2) How can I provide information that makes their lives better? Imagine the kinds of questions they ask when you speak with them, and answer those questions in your newsletter.

2. Service first, sales second. When trust is at a premium, as it is right now, it’s vital to invest in building that trust before you try to make the sale. Provide plenty of useful information – in your newsletter and on your Web site — that shows you can be trusted to provide expert advice that puts clients’ needs first.

3. Get permission to mail. It’s extremely tempting to harvest as many email or mailing addresses as you can. But it’s often counterproductive. Not only will you be wasting time and money by contacting people who don’t want to hear from you, but by appearing to spam people, you may damage your brand. You’ll get the most bang for your buck — and avoid legal issues — by communicating only with people who have expressed an interest in hearing from you.

4. Make it attractive for people to enter your circle. Frankly, there aren’t thousands of people hungry to hear from an insurance agent. But if you offer them material of value in return for giving up their contact details, you’ll encourage more people to sign up to receive your newsletters. Try putting together, for example, an insurance “buyer’s guide” that helps people make wise decisions about their insurance purchases. Offer this guide as an incentive to sign up to receive your newsletter, and tell them that your newsletter will be full of equally valuable information.

5. Keep at it. Relationships last for a lifetime, not just for a sale. So keep contacting your clients and prospects. If you work at it, they’ll come around eventually. If you stop contacting them, they’ll forget about you and go elsewhere.

6. Don’t forget your personality. There’s one huge advantage that insurance agents have over online shops — and that’s themselves. When people are fearful of getting taken advantage of or making a poor decision, the personal touch becomes essential. As one insurance agent said, “In a do-it-yourself world, something as important as protecting your hard-earned assets shouldn’t be left to the night shift operator.” So share some of your life, and allow your personality to shine through in your newsletter. It’s the best way to connect with people — one-on-one — from afar.

7. Don’t worry — this isn’t the New York Times. Sometimes, people spend hours dotting their I’s and crossing their T’s in their newsletter. While you don’t want it full of spelling errors, at the same time, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Here’s a secret: Some of the least professional-looking newsletters are some of the most effective because they slip under the radar by not looking like glossy brochures. So don’t stress out about it too much if you find an error later on or you don’t look like the big guys. What’s important is that you’re providing quality content that your prospects and clients can use.

8. Give them reasons to get in touch. Your newsletter shouldn’t be a one-way communication. As in all good relationships, the one you have with your clients should be a two-way thing. So include incentives in your newsletter for people to give you a call. Try adding quizzes and puzzles and asking readers to call you or visit your Web site for the solution. The more times they engage with you, the better. That’s how relationships are deepened.

9. Don’t make it all about insurance. The fact is, people aren’t as interested in insurance as you are. For many, insurance is just one of those things they need to buy. A bit like going to the dentist. So include plenty of other information that’s likely to appeal to your intended reader. What many of my insurance clients do is include local information – maybe a calendar of community events. Remember, you are trying to serve your readers, and by making your newsletter a kind of community service, you are transforming yourself into a pillar of that community.

10. Make the most of your newsletter articles. Don’t waste your newsletter content by using it only once. Use the same articles to attract links to your Web site by posting them on the Web, send out both email and print newsletters, and put the content on your blog. You can even use Twitter to publish tidbits from your articles. The more ways you can connect with your clients, the better.

11. Never leave home without it. While most insurance agents are giving out business cards, why not set yourself apart by making your newsletter your business card? When you meet people, give them your newsletter. You’ll make a much bigger impression.

12. Make it a passion, not a chore. If your newsletter becomes a chore to put together, something is wrong. The most successful client newsletters are about sharing your passion for your business with the world. Think of how much you are contributing, and suddenly your newsletter becomes a pleasure, not a pain.

Simon Payn is president of Ready to Go Newsletters. He can be reached at support@readytogonewsletters.com.