Email is dead, right?
With all the other fancy marketing channels to choose from — LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, pay-per-click ads, etc — email sounds old and washed up.
But according to a study by McKinsey & Company, email was nearly 40 times more effective at acquiring customers than Facebook and Twitter combined.
In the context of professional services, Hinge’s Online Marketing Study found that email marketing is one of the most widely used and most effective marketing strategies employed by firms.
Email is clearly still the Holy Grail for marketers. But despite its potential, many professional services firms make obvious mistakes when executing their email marketing strategy.
“Unfortunately, many professional services marketers aren’t making the most of email, treating it like a simple direct mail campaign that just happens to be digital. Some are even actively undermining themselves, using poorly conceived strategies that alienate their audiences with off-target messages. The rewards are real, and so are the risks.” — Hinge Email Marketing Guide
How can you build a winning email newsletter while avoiding the common mistakes many firms fall into?
1) Position your newsletter for success.
It’s not enough to say ‘let’s keep in touch’ or ‘stay up to date’ — no one wants to do those things anymore
Your newsletter needs to have a clear and simple value proposition. What are readers going to get out of it? What can they expect to learn from you? What impact is this going to have on their business?
Crafting the right value proposition will help get people on your list — but it’ll also help keep them there by making expectations clear.
If subscribers aren’t sure what they’re getting or the value proposition isn’t strong enough, they’ll either be confused or disappointed when they start receiving your emails. That’s a good way to lose subscribers.
Case Study: Hubspot’s Agency Post
HubSpot, the marketing automation firm, has a dedicated blog and newsletter just for marketing agencies. Their content helps agencies find clients, hire staff, and generally do the things most agencies find very difficult. As an agency founder myself, their newsletter is an invaluable resource to my practice.
2) Develop a two-way relationship.
Most email publishers treat email as an extension of direct mail. They worry exclusively about things like how many people are on the list, how many people opened the email, and how many people clicked on the links.
Email is powerful not only as a broadcast medium — but also as an engagement medium. Subscribers can engage with your emails in ways that were never possible with direct mail — by replying within seconds, for example.
An email that doesn’t get replies is like a LinkedIn post with no comments or likes.
Sure, people saw it, but it wasn’t compelling enough to inspire action and it’ll quickly be forgotten.
In the early days of your email newsletter, spend most of your time worrying about engagement. In the words of John Jantsch: do something that won’t scale. You can worry about scaling up when you know your content is resonating with readers.
Pro Tip: If people aren’t replying to your emails, send personal emails to subscribers asking for comments and feedback. People are often too busy to take initiative on their own — but if you ask, they’ll tell.
3) Write like you're talking to a client.
Imagine you’re on the phone with a client who’s explaining a problem that’s been on his mind. He tells you the whole story and seeks your advice on how to approach it.
At the end of the conversation he says: “Look, I have to run, can you send me an email with your thoughts on this?”
There’s your newsletter.
The fastest path to winning business is to act like you already have it. Take real problems — the ones you help your clients solve — and help readers solve them.
“Start with an understanding of the issues facing your audience on a day-to-day basis. If you are not clear what those issues are, you need to step back and do some research. Your goal should be to demonstrate that you understand their situation and to be genuinely helpful. This will build trust.” — Hinge Lead Nurturing Guide
This approach will position you as an expert problem solver in the minds of your subscribers. So when it finally comes time to hire a professional, who do you think will make it to the top of the list?
Case Study: Ian Brodie
There are very few newsletters as practical and useful as Ian Brodie’s. As soon as you subscribe to his list, Ian sends you his “soup to nuts” email sequence that walks you through the process of attracting and winning new clients. I’m constantly finding myself digging up old emails from Ian — sometimes months after the fact.
4) Make soft offers, sparingly.
Eventually, you do have to make an offer. And when you do, the timing and method make all the difference.
This is a delicate balance. Keep in mind how many times your prospect’s inbox has been violated by unscrupulous marketers. Continuously spamming your list with offers, even if you are sending valuable content, will undermine all the goodwill and trust you’ve worked hard to build.
A good rule of thumb is to keep your content 80% educational and 20% promotional.
That doesn’t mean you should make hard offers 20% of the time. It means you can slip in something about your firm’s latest accomplishment, a story about a client you recently helped, or a relevant and timely offer.
Case Study: Hinge Marketing
Google’s latest algorithm change, which punished sites that are not mobile-friendly, was a big opportunity for marketing agencies to bring in new business. Hinge’s approach to capitalizing on this opportunity is the perfect example of a well-timed soft offer. They sent an email to their list providing a few valuable pieces of content on the topic (here & here) and then pointed to an upcoming offer for a complimentary website planning review.
Ready to launch your email newsletter?
Remember, the inbox is a sacred space. It’s hard to get in and it’s even harder to stay in. But if your newsletter delivers consistently strong value and you take the time to nurture relationships with subscribers — no other marketing channel can compete.
To get started, download and read Hinge’s Email Marketing Guide for Professional Services. It’ll take you through the process, step by step, of planning and launching an email newsletter that drives new business.