Newsletters are meant to keep you name in the customer's mind - but not as merely a "sales piece."

Too many contractors serve customers, but don't ever follow up with them. You may service them once and just expect that they'll remember you because you did such a great job. I wish that was true. Studies show that 55 percent of the customers you lose leave you because you paid them no attention.

This means that you are asking these customers to either forget your name or go to the Yellow Pages to find it. Either option is a poor one. That's why newsletters exist.

Newsletters are to keep you name in the customer's mind - but not as merely a "sales piece." No one likes the person who is always trying to sell him or her something, but a newsletter builds a relationship with customers. This relationship builds loyalty, referrals and sales far better than screaming advertising messages do.

And since you spend $275 to $325 to get a customer, doesn't it make sense to stay in touch for just pennies? In fact, if you only service a customer once and they leave, you probably lost money on them! Staying in touch with a newsletter is one of the most effective, least expensive marketing tools you have. In fact, Jay Conrad Levinson - the creator of the "guerilla marketing" concept - says that customer newsletters are the No. 1 guerilla marketing weapon.

But creating a newsletter is where most contractors falter. Coming up with well-written articles, laid out in a visually appealing way and produced on time without bogging down your other business can be hard. For many contractors, it's impossible. Once you weigh the amount of time and money spent to create your own, a professional, syndicated newsletter may prove to be very attractive.

The syndication method

Syndicated newsletters are mass-produced, semi-custom newsletters with certain parts that a company will customize with their own material. The same newsletter is sold to other organizations in other areas of the country.

Many syndicated newsletter providers also make customization possible by leaving space on the front or back cover for clients to print their names or pictures. Some offer a copywriting service to help create content.

There are several advantages to using a syndicated newsletter service. First, you can produce a quality product without having any editorial or design experience. Second, it saves you the time you would have had to spend researching, writing, editing and producing a newsletter. The overall cost is usually lower, because syndicated newsletters benefit from the economy of larger print runs. They can also spread out editorial and production costs.

Do-it-yourself

Some contractors may want to create their own newsletter. You have complete control of the content and can better match the newsletter to your current marketing goals and your client profile. By self-publishing, you can also set your own schedule and change the size, length or graphic design to fit your needs.

An alternative is to combine the benefits of syndicated newsletters with those of self-publishing. You can use a syndicated newsletter but personalize it by enclosing a note. You might include an insert page of news unique to your organization and clients. When you do this, try to match the newsletter's visual style, so the publication appears to come from a single source.

As you get your newsletter under way, remember, you must offer free but valuable information. Those who use newsletters know the power of positioning yourself as a helpful expert. Your Web site can take this info and make it interactive, so customers can click, learn and understand why you are an expert and their best contracting choice. It's subtle, but terrifically effective.

For added sales, put an ad in your newsletter, or at least print a story about different services you offer. Educate your customers about the importance of tuneups, preventive maintenance, money-saving technologies and more. You can push maintenance agreement sales directly through your newsletter and openly ask for referrals. Why? Because they know and trust you. Your closing ratio with newsletter readers will always be higher.

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