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December 3rd, 2007

The Missing Piece in Your Newsletter

By Jessica Albon

I’ve never been one for jigsaw puzzles. I simply don’t enjoy them. But, there is a part of puzzle-putting-together that I do enjoy: putting the last piece into place.

That’s because no other piece in the whole puzzle makes such a difference–once that final piece is clicked into place, the puzzle is complete, and not one moment before.

I had a lot of time to think about my jigsaw puzzle skills (or lack thereof) over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend when I corralled some very lovely volunteers (thank you again!) to help me install a new floor in my kitchen and dining room. Unlike a jigsaw puzzle, those first few pieces did not go together very easily as we were learning how to get it all in place.

But, once we had a few rows finished, we were able to zip along (for the most part), only stopping to cut pieces. That is, we were able to zip along until the final few rows, when everything seemed to fall apart. We would install a row, only to have to pull it back out when the next row wouldn’t go on easily. We would get to the last piece, only to realize the gap was too big to be covered by the molding, but not big enough to install another piece.

In short, it was the sort of project that required constant adjustments, and a lot of re-doing work we’d already done.

Just like a newsletter, in fact.

As we were installing the flooring, something became really obvious–forcing the pieces together simply didn’t work. When they snapped together easily, it was a simple click into place and we were done. But, because my house is older, even after all the prep work, it wasn’t perfectly level. Which meant that sometimes, the installed pieces needed to be raised slightly in order to install the next row. Raise the previous row, and the new row snapped right into place. Keep trying to force it all together and, 20 minutes later, we’d be groaning about how hard it was.

When you get everything properly aligned with your newsletter, it’s easy. With a great, easy-to-use subscribe form, your list will grow easily. With an easy-to-write, reader-friendly format, each issue can take about an hour (or less) to write. With a wonderful distribution program, issues can be delivered on time, and with no extra effort on your part.

But, when any of these things is out of alignment, you’ll wind up huffing and puffing, trying to force it all to work, thinking I’m completely crazy for saying this can be easy!

So, where might your newsletter be out of alignment, causing you extra difficulty? Check out these key spots:

  1. Your delivery system.
    You wouldn’t believe how many people struggle with crummy distribution programs. I don’t care how much money you’ve invested in the one you’re using–if you struggle to use it every time you send your newsletter, you need to change systems.

    Most systems offer demos so you can try them out before you commit, so make some time to do exactly that. Also, know that to make a move, you’ll usually need to re-opt in your list. This isn’t a big deal, but will take some extra time (and lose you about 30-50% of your list–but you’ll have a much cleaner list as a result), so you’ll want to make sure you’ve done your research before you make your final decision.

  2. Your subscribe form.
    Make sure your subscribe form is prominent, easy to use, and works properly. Go through the system once every few months yourself (having an assistant check on it regularly is a great idea, but it’s really only by going through it yourself that you can see where you might make improvements). Make sure your privacy policy is clear, that you have a graphic of some sort associated with your newsletter (an ezine cover, a graphic for the bonus you offer, or your photo), that you offer some testimonials from readers, and that you include a link to at least one sample issue. Also, make sure your subscribe form doesn’t include a “reset” button.
  3. Your layout.
    When I first start a newsletter design for a client, I ask what sections they’d like to include in their newsletter. About 99.8% of the time, they start with too many sections. As much as I love working with people who are ambitious and have big plans and goals… There’s no reason to make your newsletter *that* big.

Rather, let your newsletter be bite-sized for readers. Don’t give them eight lengthy articles once a month–they won’t have time to read all that (and you won’t have time to write it, once your newsletter’s successful). Rather, keep things simple for both yourself and your readers. Feel free to copy my newsletter format (ahem, not the design though, ‘kay?)–it’s a super successful, super simple approach.

So, you’ve decided to take a look at these three key areas and see where your basic setup is making things more of a struggle than they need to be.

If you need help, you can hire a newsletter consultant (me, perhaps?), a web marketing guru, an assistant, or you can turn to your mastermind group or other professional contacts. Don’t let not knowing where to begin keep you from digging in and examining these three areas, though.

As long as there are glitches here, your newsletter will continue to be a struggle. By getting things straightened out, though, your newsletter will click into place just like that flooring did!

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