While newsletters are one means of customer retention, they must be read to be effective. I've mentioned the "letter" form of a newsletter and also the "newsletter in a box" that you can produce yourself. The third type of newsletter is the slick, glossy, professional version and the fourth type is the electronic newsletter.

Whether you elect to use a slick, glossy version or not depends upon your circumstances and the expectations of your customers. The larger your company is, the greater the expectation is that you would produce a newsletter along this design. The style of writing and the presentation changes with this newsletter. Here, a more formal style is in order. It should read like a newsmagazine.

Some very small companies opt for the glossy design because they're trying to convey an image of size, while some large companies avoid it so that they can appear more local and personal. It's up to you.

Economies of scale come into play with the slick, four color newsletters. If you've got a limited number of customers, your cost per piece may be prohibitive. Fortunately, there are options available. Third party companies exist that write and print generic industry newsletters in quantity, as shells. You send them your logo and personal message and they overprint this for you. By printing up a number of shells, they keep the costs low.

A variation on this theme are companies that print a large quantity of newsletters, then produce a cover wrapper, emphasizing your company. This may consist of little more than advertising. Or, it may include an article or two written by someone at your company. I'm not a fan of the latter approach. If you're going to write articles for a shell, you might as well just produce your own newsletter.

These companies will either send you the newsletters to mail or manage the whole process turnkey. Two companies I'm aware of that serve the HVAC industry are McKinley Communications and Warm Thoughts Communications. Every industry has a company like McKinley or Warm Thoughts.

The writing in generic newsletters is usually pretty good. The same holds for the layout, design, and graphics. The problem is that they've got to be all things to all people in an industry. You lose the local flavor.

If you want to appear bigger than you are, you might try to find a third party newsletter specialist. With their ability to manage the newsletter as a turnkey operation, they're good options for the business owner with more money than time.

Electronic Newsletters
Another type of newsletter worth mentioning is the e-mail newsletter.

An e-mail newsletter is just that. You collect e-mail addresses of your customers and send them a newsletter by e-mail. There are two main types of this newsletter. One is a simple e-mail. The other contains brief summaries with links to a website, readers can click for the full article.

If you're going to send a newsletter in e-mail format and want to cover a variety of topics, you should index it. Give your welcome. Then provide a numbered index of the topics covered with a one or two sentence description for each topic. The topics will follow, using the same numbering and titles. This helps your customers scroll quickly through the newsletter to find the information they want.

The summary newsletter with website links is gaining popularity. It offers several advantages. It's easy to write. It gets readers to your website. By directly linking to other websites, you can take advantage of information written by others without the need to rewrite it. Its condensed format is less taxing on the reader than a long e-mail.

When marketing via the Internet, it is important to respect the Internet's culture. Your newsletter should not be intrusive. You must gain your customer's permission to send it to them. In addition, you should always include unsubscribe instructions.

Though an electronic newsletter avoids postage and printing charges, doesn't it require expensive software and incur charges from the list host? Not necessarily. There are a growing number of free services available that do not require any software or charges. List bo is one. It's easier to use than you might think.

Whether you have a paper newsletter or not, you should consider an electronic newsletter. There is little downside and plenty of upside. The price is right and the implicit signal it sends to your customer base is that your company is current with new technology.

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.