What Steve Martin Knows About E-Newsletters

My wife Linda gave me Steve Martin’s new book, Born Standing Up, as a gift last week. I finished it the same day.

I’m fascinated by “behind the scenes” stories, particularly when it comes to hearing about the early years of people who went on to become famous or successful. The book doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

It’s peppered with old photos, and filled with stories of things like Steve bumping into Elvis backstage, or how he sat in a bar in 1968 as Glenn Frey shared his plan to name his new band “Eagles.”

But out of everything, here’s the one paragraph that really caught my eye:

“There was a belief that one appearance on The Tonight Show made you a star. But here are the facts. The first time you do the show, nothing. The second time you do the show, nothing. The sixth time you do the show, someone might come up to you and say, ‘Hi, I think we met at Harry’s Christmas party.’ The tenth time you do the show, you could conceivably be remembered as being seen somewhere on television. The twelfth time you do the show, you might hear, ‘Oh, I know you. You’re that guy.'”

Think about that. A couple of times chatting with Johnny Carson on network television gets you nothing, and it’s not until you’ve appeared several more times that people even recognize you as familiar, let alone know your name.

He might as well have been talking about E-Newsletters (cue scary music).

It’s January, and that means lots of E-Newsletters hitting the streets. New ones being born, dormant ones waking up, dead ones being… anyway, you get the picture. It’s a time when people tend to dust off the marketing plans and get things going again.

And that’s great. But Steve Martin’s observation is worth thinking about.

What I’m saying is that just because you launch or relaunch or whatever, it doesn’t mean the phone is going to ring off the hook immediately. In fact – and despite the aberrational experience of one of my clients, whose newsletter brought them a new piece of business just 20 minutes after its initial launch – chances are you and your new publication will remain anonymous for several issues to come.

Not to say that it’s not worth doing (not that I think you thought that). Jogging around the block a few times won’t get you in shape either, but do it regularly for a period of months, and you can’t help but notice the difference.

It’s the same here. And so with that in mind, I offer a few time-tested suggestions for E-Newsletter re/launch success in (the latter part of) 2008:

  • Publish monthly. Most of your prospective clients spend most of their time thinking about themselves, not you. I’m not one of those selfish people of course, but the fact is, if you want people to notice you, and (even more important) remember you, and (even most important) call you, you need to show up regularly. There’s a lot of competition for attention, and four times a year doesn’t cut it.
  • Don’t wait until you need the business. For many professionals, marketing is something they do when the client work dries up. To me, that’s like saying that showering is something you do when you notice all your friends are gone. At that point, it’s a little too late.

    So publish consistently, whether you need the work or not. (Don’t worry, you can always tell the people who call that you’re too busy right now to take on anything else.)

  • Celebrate progress. It’s hard to match the excitement that comes with picking up the phone and encountering a new, friendly, eager prospect on the other end of the line… and knowing it’s all attributable to your E-Newsletter.

    But that won’t happen every day. So take note of the small wins that your E-Newsletter brings along the way: Invitations to speak; praise from readers; requests to republish your articles; a fourth thing that I’m sure I could think of if I had more time; etc.

    The point is, if the only thing that “counts” in your mind is a new client with checkbook in hand, you may very well run out of E-Newsletter steam and inspiration before you get there. As someone once said, “Clients are volume controls, not on/off switches,” and all these little things are indications that you’re making progress and moving your audience in the right direction.

Bottom line: It takes a while to break through the clutter and get noticed. Once or twice – even on something as high profile as The Tonight Show – doesn’t make much difference; E-Newsletter success comes to those who publish regularly and commit to the long haul.

So happy January, and all the best in getting your E-Newsletter up and running, whether for the first time or once again. I look forward to the day when you and it are so famous, you need to wear dark sunglasses just to leave the house.

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