Question: I'm looking for a good way to send out special offers and regular updates about my business to my customers. Are newsletters a good option for me? What tools are out there?

Answer: Yes, newsletters — in print or electronic formats — are a good way to reach target audiences with announcements, answers to frequent questions, tips, special offers and friendly updates that help build sales, credibility and loyalty. The caveats are that you need to send information of genuine interest to recipients, you need to send information in a consistent format on a consistent schedule, and you need to format your newsletter so it’ll be received, opened and read.

Email newsletters are inexpensive to produce, free to deliver, great for A/B testing of promotional offers, and terrific for prompting people to buy, register, download, forward or share now.

Before sending email newsletters, though, keep these cautions in mind:

- You can send promotional email only to those who have opted in to your mail list. (And by all means, be sure to hide the names on your list so each recipient sees only his or her own address.)

- Your mailing must open and display well on all screens, including on mobile devices, where the majority of decision-makers receive their email. That means you need to prepare it with small graphics, short items and either plain text or both plain text and HTML, so recipients can choose the format they prefer.

- Your mailing must conform to CAN-SPAM regulations. Otherwise it’s illegal. Enough said.

For success, seriously consider using an email marketing provider instead of doing it yourself. Constant Contact, MailChimp, Emma and ExactTarget are among the many resources offering easy-to-customize newsletter templates and mailing services.

Printed newsletters involve higher production costs, but they can be sent with no opt-in requirements to any customers and prospects you choose to target. Microsoft Office features a library of free downloadable templates you can use when producing printed newsletters.

In either format, your newsletter needs to:

- Deliver useful information in a simple format readers can recognize issue after issue.

- Convey information and offers of genuine interest and value to recipients.

- Communicate in warm, casual language that matches the tone of your business and brand.

- Present short items rather than long articles few recipients will read.

- Give recipients time-specific reasons to visit your business or website.

- Maintain a consistent schedule that matches your customers’ interest in hearing from your business.

- Include promo codes, coupons or offers that allow you to track newsletter response rates.

Question to others: Does your business send newsletters? How often? Via email or surface mail? How do you measure and rate effectiveness? Please share your experiences in the comments area.

— Barbara Findlay Schenck

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