Stray The Course

It was foggy early yesterday morning, as I stepped out the back door to go for a run. Not just a little bit foggy either. No, I’m talking pea soup, where did my house go, Hound of the Baskervilles, foggy.

It was very warm too, and strangely quiet, and I have to say that I found running through this dream-like stuff quite enjoyable. In fact, it was only after the second car nearly ran me down that I realized there was a problem: They couldn’t see me.

As someone on foot, and despite the heavy fog, it was easy to see the ground in front of me, thanks to a five foot bubble of clarity in all directions. But for a car going 40 miles per hour (that’s about 973 stones per hectare, for those of you on the metric system) it was a different story. They couldn’t see me until they were almost on top of me, which, I don’t mind telling you, made me a bit uneasy.

As I ran, I considered my options:

  1. Stop running, and wait for the fog to clear.
  1. Remove all of my clothes, in the hope that the reflection off my pasty, white, middle-aged body would serve as a warning beacon for approaching vehicles. (Sorry, take a minute to let that image pass.)
  1. Change my route, and turn off onto less heavily traveled side streets.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I chose option three. And, I’m happy to report, after some twists and turns, and only getting lost once… I got hit by a school bus. Ha ha!, I’m kidding. I arrived home safely.

Here’s the point. As a runner, you can cover the same route, in the same clothes, wearing the same shoes for months on end, and have great success. In a very short time however, and though no fault of your own, the environment can change drastically, making it hard to see your way and leaving you at risk.

By the same token, as a professional firm publishing an E-Newsletter (or for that matter, as a business providing a particular service), you may find that what once worked well, no longer does. Often – and again, through no fault of your own – it’s not because you’ve run off course but simply because the course itself has changed.

It’s for this reason that I recommend stepping back periodically, to take a look at your newsletter, and make sure that the world you’re writing to hasn’t evolved in some critical way. Two important questions to ask in this regard:

  1. Has your audience changed?

    When I began this newsletter in 1999 (yes, I date back to the previous millennium), I was writing for small business owners. Over time, I realized that my particular approach — one fundamentally based on useful content and strong relationships — was suited to a particular type of business (i.e. professional service providers), rather than businesses of a particular size. So step one is to see if the people you’re writing to are still the right people.

  1. Is your topic still relevant?

    Here as well, this newsletter has changed over time. While it used to focus primarily on “E-Newsletter mechanics” (e.g. Spam compliance, formatting, opt-in processes), today, I hardly talk about these kinds of things at all.

    As the e-mail world has evolved, the challenge for a professional service provider seeking to produce an effective E-Newsletter is no longer a technical one. The problem we all face in 2006 – in a world where nobody wants any more e-mail – is to write something that other people will be eager to read. So that’s what I focus on now.

    How about you? How might the interests of your audience have changed since you began publishing?

Bottom Line. In producing an E-Newsletter for your business, the place to start is always with you: Your voice, your expertise, your point of view, etc. Keep in mind however, that this is only half the equation. Who you’re audience is and what they consider important today, is equally vital.

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