I spent most of my professional career working for newsletter publishing companies. This was hardly the glamorous career I envisioned when I graduated college with a degree in Advertising. I figured a short stop at a newsletter factory was an unfortunate but necessary detour on the way to my fortune and fame on Madison Avenue.

Well, I never made it to Madison Avenue. But my career in newsletters laid the perfect foundation for pretty much everything I do now. That’s because once you learn how to research and write financial and business newsletters under tight deadlines, you can adapt to any type of writing — magazines, blogs, websites, direct mail, whitepapers … you name it.

And while I do write for all of these different types of media and more, I still find that the traditional, old-fashioned, non-sexy newsletter is one of the best marketing tools out there.

Staying in Touch

I was reminded of this last week as I was reading an e-newsletter published by freelancing guru Peter Bowerman, the author and creator of the Well-Fed Writer series of books, newsletters and seminars. Peter was talking about how important it is to stay in touch with your clients and prospects on a regular basis.

He told a story about how he has received periodic assignments from a client off and on over the past 10 years. “Just this past fall, they surfaced again. I did one small job and this time vowed to stay in touch. And I did. Called them a few months later (no reply), and then a few months after that, and then I recently got a call from them out of the blue. Now I’m back in the door, working on one small project, and according to them, they’ve got a ton more work coming up.”

Peter’s solution for staying in touch with this client was picking up the phone and giving them a call, and that’s certainly one way to stay in touch. But if you have a decent sized client and prospect database, phone calls may not be the most practical solution.

Three Newsletter Rules

In fact, creating “touch points” has become a marketing catch phrase over the past few years. I believe that a newsletter is the best way to stay in touch with your clients and prospects efficiently and cost-effectively, especially if you follow a few basic newsletter rules. Here are my top three:

1. Provide value-added content. I believe this is the most important, and also most violated, newsletter rule of all. Too often, marketers think they need to fill their newsletter with content that’s all about them: their outstanding products, their superior customer service, their 100 years in business, their blah, blah, blah.

I hate to break it to you, but most of your clients and prospects could really care less about all this. “Instead, they are selfishly focused on themselves,” says Michael Katz, chief penguin of Blue Penguin Development, a marketing firm that specializes in working with solo professionals. “They want information that will help them do their jobs easier and/or live their lives better, or that at least proves to be an entertaining distraction for a minute or two.”

Therefore, Michael recommends that newsletter publishers follow the 80/20 rule when it comes to content. “There’s nothing wrong with your newsletter being somewhat promotional. But the content needs to be overwhelmingly valuable. The further from this 80/20 ratio you move – whether in the name of ‘monetizing the newsletter’ or just out of sheer self-centeredness – the fewer engaged readers you will have.”

2. Publish consistently. If you’re not going to publish your newsletter on a consistent schedule, then don’t bother publishing it at all. It may actually do more harm than good, because it will demonstrate a lack of follow-through and consistency to your clients and prospects.

How often should you publish? The most important thing is to choose a publishing schedule that you can stick to. For e-newsletters, I recommend once or twice a month. Any more frequently is overkill, and if you publish any less frequently, your readers probably won’t notice you. Since print publishing is more expensive, monthly or quarterly is usually a good frequency.

3. Make sure the writing is of high quality. Simply put, your newsletter is a reflection of your business. If you send your clients and prospects a poorly written newsletter that’s full of typos, grammar errors and punctuation mistakes, what does this tell them about your company’s focus on quality and attention to detail?

If you’re not a good writer — or if you simply don’t have time to write and produce your newsletter on a consistent basis — hire a professional writer to do this for you. This is not the area where you want to take shortcuts.

A Drip Marketing Strategy

Newsletter publishing is kind of like dripping water on a stone. It may not result in direct leads or new business right away, but if you consistently publish month after month, year after year, there’s a good chance you’ll be the first company or service provider a prospect will think of when they have a need for your product or service. And then they’ll be reaching out to touch you.