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Have you ever heard the saying, “the cobbler’s kids have no shoes”? It refers to how sometimes people who are experts at something in their professional life neglect this very thing in their personal life. You know … like a cobbler’s children walking around barefoot or with shoes that have holes in them.

When I first launched my freelance writing business in 2009, I was kind of like that cobbler. I had spent more than two decades before going full-time freelance working for newsletter publishing companies. With my experience, I knew as much or more about newsletter publishing as anybody.

So one of the first things on my to-do list was to launch my own marketing newsletter. I mean, that’s a no-brainer, right? Well, a few months went by, and then a year, and then two years … and still no newsletter. I finally launched The Writer’s Block in November of 2011.

Procrastination … Then Consistency

The good news is that while it took longer than I care to admit to create my newsletter, once I finally stopped procrastinating, I’ve remained pretty consistent. I try to send my newsletter out once a month and usually end up sending 10 issues a year.

Why? Because I believe that publishing a newsletter is the best and most cost-effective way to market my freelance writing business. Last month I talked about what I consider to be the biggest benefits of newsletter publishing — click here to read the article if you missed it.

But there’s one big caveat to this: Newsletter publishing is only effective if it’s done right. So here are my top 5 tips for writing and publishing a great newsletter.

1. Make Sure the Writing is Top-Notch

This should go without saying, shouldn’t it? Unfortunately, no — because I’m always surprised at how many poorly written newsletters land in my inbox. And I don’t just mean bad grammar, typos and punctuation errors. I’m also talking about newsletters chocked full of confusing technical jargon and annoying business buzzwords nobody uses when actually talking to other people (like “synergies” and “core competencies”). Ugh!

Your objective in publishing a newsletter isn’t to show everybody how smart you are with fancy five-dollar words. It’s to educate and inform readers about things they’re interested in. If you’re not a good writer or don’t have one on your staff, hire a professional to write your newsletter for you.

2. Keep the Content Non-Promotional

If you think the main goal of a newsletter is to “sell” your products and services, think again. The goal of a newsletter should be to share interesting and useful information that helps people solve problems. Period … end of story.

Of course, you eventually want to sell something to your readers. But at the first whiff of a hard sell, many if not most of them will hit the unsubscribe button. So strive for a soft sell approach in which most of your content is educational and informative, with maybe a brief mention of your product or services. One common benchmark is an 80/20 split between value-added and sales-oriented content.

3. Stake Out a Position

This goes against the grain in today’s world where many people are afraid of saying something that’s going to offend somebody who believes differently. But at the risk of being politically incorrect, I think it’s important to take and defend a position in your newsletter.

I’m not talking about sensitive political or religious topics, unless that’s the focus of your organization. I’m talking about things that might be a little controversial in your industry and that people might have strong opinions on. For example, I HATE the oxford comma — and I’m not afraid to say it!

4. Publish on a Consistent Basis

If you can’t send your newsletter out consistently, then don’t bother sending it out at all. I believe that publishing a newsletter inconsistently can do more harm than good because it demonstrates a lack of follow-through on the part of your business. I know that’s my impression of businesses that send out a newsletter haphazardly.

So what’s the definition of “consistent”? This depends on things like your industry and your resources. Publishing weekly works in some industries, while in others this would be overkill. Decide the right frequency for your business and then stick to it. For me, like I said, I try to send this newsletter out monthly and usually stay pretty close to this.

5. Go Beyond “Just the Facts”

Those of a certain age will remember a popular TV show called Dragnet in which Detective Joe Friday had a memorable catch phrase: “Just the facts, ma’am.” In your newsletter, you need to go beyond “just the facts.”

If people want just facts, there’s this thing called the internet they can use to get any information they could possibly desire. Most of your readers aren’t looking to you to provide the latest, greatest info about a particular topic. Instead, they want to hear what you have to say about that subject (see #3 above).

Also, don’t be afraid to give readers a glimpse of the real person or people who are behind your business. You can do this by sharing brief stories and anecdotes that reveal a little bit about you and your team. This is often the thing that sets one business apart from another, especially in the world of professional service providers.