Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Newsletter or No Newsletter -- That is the Question

This morning finds me battling equipment issues, as seems to be the case at least one week out of every month. Ah, the perils of small business ownership... So, given that my time and attention is required today in areas other than writing, I'll keep today's blogging to a minimum. I do, however, wish to pose a question for my fellow small business owners about using newsletters to keep in touch with customers.

With the holidays fast approaching (much faster than I'd prefer, truthfully), and given that I'm a greeting card company, I've been seriously considering using a newsletter to help spread the word about the availability of my holiday designs, opportunities for custom ordering, and Mission Soldier Support, the EtsyGreetings project to get handmade cards into the hands of our troops overseas so they can send them to their friends and families in time for the holidays.

I do have an existing (relatively small) mailing list, and have done mailings in the past. But my business has grown to the point that I feel a more, shall we say, professional newsletter is in order. Price, however, is of course an issue, particularly with the astounding number of equipment expenditures that have been required in recent months.

Constant Contact seems to be the standard email marketing service for small businesses. However, as I understand it, there is a monthly fee. And, frankly, I can't see myself using the service more than a few times per year - more than that would feel spammy to me and I fear my customers would balk. I've heard of a few pay-per-use companies (MailChimp, I believe has been mentioned by some fellow Estyians?), but haven't a clue as to which is the best fit for my company.

Which brings me to my question(s), fellow business owners, should you care to weigh in: How do you use email to keep in touch with your customers? Are you happy with your service? How effective are your email campaigns at driving repeat business? How do you handle opting in? Via blog or direct customer interaction?

Your opinion is very much appreciated. Without you, how would I ever accomplish a thing? And with that, I'm off to the printer wars. Check ya tomorrow when, hopefully, I'll be up and running again.


Andrea Baker said...

I use bravenet for my newsletter. Its free. It can be customized some what. A little html knowledge is needed. You can add a sign up form on your blog.

Hope that helps.

ElegantSnobbery said...

I personally don't like the Bravenet templates. They aren't very pretty, and I like pretty... I heard MailChimp is good. I don't use anything but email right now.

I want to be on your mailing list, Kelly!!

The Pear Project said...

I am the laziest with email marketing. I haven't found it too effective, but I know I should do it more. I have so much going on that I have to pick and chose and I focus more on advertising through sites/blogs/project wonderful than the email version.

Andrea Baker said...

I'd love to know what everyone else thinks and what everyone else uses for this as well.

Aly said...

The company I work for makes me produce a weekly newsletter. It's a quick hit of about 5 new items within the past week. It's pretty simple since it's weekly.

For my personal business, I send out a monthly newsletter. In the past seven years, I've sent out weekly, then it went bi-weekly and now monthly. I'm getting no change in traffic for sending it monthly. I was surprised about that but my traffic does spike for several days after the newsletter send.

I have my own server so I installed a free CGI script called dadamail. Fully customizable, they'll install it if you don't know how and the newsletters look super professional. You create your own HTML template or you can send as plain text.

I would say this is for the intermediate to advanced web user, though. Or you can hire someone to create an HTML template for you that you can plug your own values in.

I know it seems complicated but with some patience, you can make the newsletter look just like your site.

For a really simple newsletter (also hosted on your own server), try Simple Mailing List. This one has a scheduler so you could create your newsletter during the week and have it send some time the next (or whatever day you choose). For my business, I also have a service that people subscribe to and they receive daily updates. I schedule these updates a week in advance and don't actually have to go in there every day to have them send. It does it automatically. Bliss!

As for opt in and out, both of the scripts I mentioned have forms that come with them so you just slap a subscription form on your site (the code is included in both scripts) and then customize your opt out message that gets sent with your newsletter.

Just wanted to throw some options out there. Hope they help!