Return To Sender

You know what word I have trouble spelling? Oppossed.

See what I mean?

Same with curiculum, entreprenur and envionment, although I blame that last one on having lived in Boston for 25 years, a place where the letter “R” has never been welcome.

Happily, I’ve got a spell-checker in Word and a spell-checker associated with my e-mail. And with 98% of my written communications occurring between those two, for the most part, nobody knows about my spelling weakness (Shhh).

The truth is, it’s this kind of automation – online purchasing, cell phones, remote e-mail, PDF downloads, online backup, spell-check and others – which I find make the logistical aspects of running a small business so straightforward. I don’t have a great memory to begin with, and as I’ve pushed “Mr. Systematic” out of the way and let the right side of my brain take over these past several years, I’d be lost without a whole bunch of prearranged processes running in the background.

Which is why I’m so excited about the concept of automated e-mail messages – or “autoresponders,” as those who frequent trade shows sponsored by companies with oddly-spelled names filled with too many capital letters like to call them.

An autoresponder is simply a message sent – automatically – in response to an e-mail received or a web form filled in. The most common autoresponder is a vacation message: You write it before you leave, and while you’re gone, anyone who sends you an e-mail gets your prewritten message sent back to them.

Here in E-Newsletter Land, the most important autoresponder is your “Welcome Message,” a message sent immediately to anyone who signs up to receive your newsletter. Any e-mail marketing vendor worth its salt (and if you don’t have a salty e-mail marketing vendor, I suggest you get one) offers this feature. It’s an opportunity for you to welcome new readers as they take that first step onto your list.

Specifically, make sure your welcome e-mail includes:

  • An explicit thank you for subscribing
  • A reiteration of what your newsletter is all about and when they can expect to receive it
  • The name, title and, if you want to get fancy, handwritten signature of an actual human being within your organization
  • An invitation to send feedback

Simply put, the point of a welcome message is to offer a hearty, electronic handshake to your new friends.

Whatever you do, don’t simply send the uncustomized, default welcome letter that your e-mail marketing vendor provides. These tend to be as cool, bland and multipurpose as a brown paper bag, and will do nothing to enhance your brand or spread warm fuzzys across cyberspace. Give this all-important first message the same care in voice, content and design that you give the newsletter itself.

But wait, it gets better. Thanks to my friends at Constant Contact (Full Disclosure: I am a reseller of Constant Contact and by clicking this link, signing up for their service and paying your bill in a timely manner, I will become even richer.), you can now take autoresponders to the next level.

“Constant Contact?,” you’re probably thinking. “Aren’t they those good-looking folks who sell e-mail marketing services to solo professionals like me?”

Right you are. And now that you’ve brought it up, I too have noticed that as a group, they’re disarmingly attractive. A quick stroll through their Waltham, MA offices and you’d swear you’ve been magically transported to the Sundance Film Festival.

But they’re not just a bunch of white-teeth-filled pretty faces… they’re smart too. Because what they now offer (at no additional charge, thank you very much) is the ability for you and me to send a series of autoresponders to newly subscribed readers, at whatever predetermined intervals we like.

In my case, for example, I’ve now got it set up so that after the initial and immediate welcome letter, new readers receive:

  • On Day 2, an e-mail that points them to my newsletter archive
  • On Day 16, an e-mail that points them to my page of additional free resources
  • On Day 45, an e-mail that demands cash. Ha, ha! I’m kidding. It’s an e-mail that asks how I’m doing and what else they’d like to see in the newsletter.

Bottom Line: New newsletter subscribers are like new employees in an organization (except they don’t steal office supplies). Welcome them with open arms, show them around, and pay them special attention in that first month or two of the relationship. Whether you accomplish this in an automated fashion or in some other way, don’t miss the opportunity to start them off on the right foot as a (future) long time subscriber.

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