Business owners offer numerous excuses for avoiding the publication of a newsletter. One of the most common is a lack of confidence in their ability to write well. I'm tempted to say that this is misguided. Tempted. Only tempted. There are some people who can't write well enough to produce their own newsletter. The good news is most can. Even those who cannot write well have options.

Ditch The Formalities
You don't need to write like a college professor to put out a newsletter. In fact, it may be a disadvantage if you write too well. Formal writing is boring writing. Boooorrring. While good grammar should be used in most cases, the objective of your writing style should be to make it fun, interesting, and easy to read. Sometimes this runs counter to the rules of grammar. You know the rules:

  • "Never start a sentence with 'and.'" And even though this is verboten, I frequently start a sentence with "and" if it makes it more readable.
  • "Always write in complete sentences." Right! Look, sometimes you need to violate this rule to make a point. Also, varying sentence length enhances readability.

I could go on. Don't worry about grammar. Worry about how it sounds. Make it conversational and you'll do fine. People read conversational writing more easily than formal writing. It's one of the reasons it takes less time to read fiction than non-fiction.

Of course, don't get carried away when I say it's a good idea to write like you talk. 'Cause, you know, if you, you know, talk like, you know, a professional, you know, athlete, you know, you might, you know, have a little, you know, trouble, you know.

Jock-speak aside, conversational writing has another advantage. It's more personal. It's friendlier. It sounds like something you might get in the mail from a friend or relative. At least, something you might have gotten before e-mail. ;-)

Before you give up on the prospect of writing a newsletter yourself, give it a try. You might be better than you think. Besides, today's word processors all have grammar check programs. If you flagrantly violate grammatical convention, the software will flag it and offer suggestions. Of course, the suggestions are sometimes worse than your original prose. The software doesn't relieve you of judgement.

Easy Alternatives
If you're still uncomfortable with the prospect of writing your own newsletter, don't despair. There are alternatives. First, one of your
employees might have latent writing skills. Ask them.

Second, you can contract the writing of the newsletter. Contact a journalism professor at the local college or junior college, or an English teacher at the local high school if there's a student who might be open to the idea of picking up a little extra money.

When you meet with your writer, explain to them what you want. Describe the newsletter, the purpose, and the writing style. Give them your file and explain what you want included about your own company. If you've got the ideas, they'll often make it work.

Ask them what they'll charge. It may be less than you're prepared to pay. If so, you can offer a little more.

Let me give you a related example. Once I needed an original music composition for a tape and seminar I was preparing on Comanche Marketing. A friend found a professional composer. Because of my friend, the composer offer me a heck of a deal. Still, it was more than I was prepared to pay at the time. I located a music student at the local university, described what I wanted, and got it. She nailed it. I paid her $50 and she was ecstatic.

I think it was the first time this student was ever paid for a composition. It probably became part of her portfolio. You see, it can
be surprisingly affordable.

Make Your Newsletter A Letter
One of the reasons small business owners don't produce newsletters is that they feel it must look as slick as a newsmagazine. Far from it. You can produce a very nice, glossy, professionally designed newsletter if you choose. But you don't have to.

One of the most popular newsletters of all time is the Kiplinger Washington Letter. Basically, Kiplinger looks like a letter. It's filled
with very short paragraphs, usually one to three sentences in length. A bold "grabber" is used to introduce each topic. Usually no more than one paragraph is required for each topic. Kiplinger does seem to group topics. Often there is a flow from one item to the next, though just as often, the newsletter jumps. It's single spaced with a blank line between each paragraph.

A newsletter in this style might read:

Company Letterhead

Date

Dear Friends:

Smallville keeps growing ... New statistics released by the chamber of
commerce show that construction permits are up 5% over the previous year.
At the present pace, our town will pass 100,000 in population by the year
2010.

Meanwhile infrastucture stuggles to keep up ... All of the new homes are
straining the city's ability to provide infrastructure. You may have
noticed the traffic congestion, especially on Broad Street and Miller
Avenue. What you might not know is we'll soon face a water crisis.
McKinley Reservoir will provide some relief when it comes on line in 2005,
but is not adequate to sate the increased demand current projections are
showing. They city will have to find additional water sources, curtail
development, or enforce mandatory water usage restrictions. None is
attractive.

You can help offset water requirements with a few simple modifications to
your home's plumbing system. If your home is more than five years old,
you might consider adding low flow showerheads. Not only will they reduce
your water requirements, but you'll save enough on utilities through
reduced hot water usage to pay for the showerheads over time.

Other steps include fixing all of those leaky faucets, pressure testing
your sprinkler system and repairing any leaks found, and installing water
conservation kits in your water closets. If you don't want to do it
yourself, call us at Smallville Plumbing and we'll take care of it for
you. Get a 10% discount by mentioning the newsletter.

Your Signature

Okay, you get the idea. By following this style, you can very easily write a two page newsletter. It provides information, while soft selling. To continue with the plumbing company analogy, you could include news items from an Internet search about a carbon monoxide poisoning. Then recommend a CO detector. You could offer data from the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA) about scalding with a recommendation for setting water heater thermostats lower and adding anti-scald valves for the tub.

There are no rules, but my recommendation is to make at least two thirds of the newsletter information oriented, with little or no attempt to sell anything. The idea is to get the customer to read the newsletter. You want to hook them. You want to drive your name into their mind so that you attain top-of-mind awareness. Do this and the sales will follow.

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.