Only The Shadow Knows For Sure

When I go running in the morning I’m sometimes accompanied by one of the neighborhood dogs; a midsize, pure black Labrador named Shadow. She’s very friendly (I’ve never even heard her bark), and she’ll often stay with me for a couple of miles.

I like having her there, however there is one problem: automobiles. I run on a fairly narrow country road, and the cars tend to come by at a pretty good clip. Shadow of course, isn’t on a leash, and she sometimes goes out into the middle of the road, forcing drivers to slow down, if not veer around her.

Whenever this occurs, the same thing always happens: The driver stops, looks at Shadow, and looks back at me. Then, the driver sends me what my brother David likes to call, “The Hairy Eyeball.” This refers to the gaze often employed by high school librarians that is one part disdain, one part anger and one part disbelief (if you were ever caught sneaking food into study hall, you know the one I’m talking about).

The “reasonable” assumption they’re all making of course, is that Shadow is my dog. After all, there’s nobody around but me and her, and my motoring-hairy-eyeball-sending neighbors are just doing what we all do every day: using a little bit of data to paint an overall picture.

Similarly (you knew I’d get to this), the readers of your newsletter use it to make assumptions about you and your business. Most of these readers (particularly the ones with whom you’ve not yet done business) see your newsletter a lot more frequently than they see either you or your office, and the newsletter serves as a kind of window into your business.

As we’ve said here in the past (The Power of a Free Sample), that tends to be a good thing, since giving prospective clients an anonymous means for checking you out reduces their perceived risk of hiring you. The flip side however, is that they may see things in your newsletter which lead them to make reasonable — if incorrect — assumptions about your company.

I offer you therefore, a few things to beware of:

• Typos, Misssspellings and Formatting WEIrdNESs. If you’ve ever read one of those, “How To Write A Resume” books, you’ may have noticed that they all agree on one thing: If your resume is badly formatted and filled with errors, potential employers will assume that you are a sloppy and careless worker. The same goes for your newsletter and the assumptions that will be made regarding the way you do business.Suggestion: If you don’t have a good eye for detail, hire somebody (like a professional editor) who does.

• An Inconsistent Publication Schedule. The New York Times doesn’t publish approximately once a day. It’s every day, rain or shine, like clockwork. If you have a wandering publication schedule for your newsletter, readers may assume that you’re not good with deadlines; you can’t prioritize your work or (worst of all), you only bother to send these out when business slows down and you need some new clients.Suggestion: Pick a regular publication day each month (e.g. first Tuesday) and treat it with the same respect you treat all your other deadlines.

• mE-Newsletters. If your newsletter is mostly about you and your company, or feels like a thinly disguised come on for your services, potential clients may assume that you’re not a good listener, or that you’re more interested in building your business than in helping them solve their problems.Suggestion: Sell less; give more. High value, no strings attached content is a magnet for attracting clients, and I assure you that you are helping your business in the long run by helping others in the short run.

Bottom Line: I know you may have perfectly good reasons for publishing a typo-riddled, weirdly formatted, self centered collection of occasional junk, and I believe you when you explain that your newsletter is not necessarily an accurate reflection of you or your company. But I also know that your readers are busy people, and they will make assumptions — right or wrong — about your business every time they open your newsletter.

When it comes to human nature, my philosophy is to work with it, not fight it. Doing otherwise is about as productive as chasing your tail (woof, woof).

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