Kick Open Your Front Door

Well, it finally happened. A week ago Wednesday, at precisely 3pm EDT, my family officially entered… The College Zone (cue scary music).

I say “officially,” because it was at that very moment that my wife Linda, my son Evan and I took our first “campus tour” – a college-choosing ritual as old as the institutions of higher learning themselves.

Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine Aristotle accompanying his own son on a tour of the local university:

“Harken, Ari Jr., what ponders ye about said meal plan? Favor thou the freshman lodging? Moreover, plead-ith I that ye shall cease thine text-messaging during the tour, for crying out loudith.”

I may be paraphrasing. The point is, we were out in western Massachusetts for the day bike riding, and so we figured we’d have a look at UMass Amherst, a state school that’s been on Evan’s radar.

The turnout for the tour was impressive. Here it was mid-day, mid-week, mid-summer, and yet there were at least 15 kids plus family members waiting for things to get started. Our guide was a friendly, enthusiastic, UMass senior who proceeded to spend the next 75 minutes walking us through classrooms, dormitories, libraries and cafeterias.

She clearly had done this before and she clearly had a point of view – about the school, the food, the classes, everything. In fact, when the tour was over, it occurred to me that the opinion I had just formed of UMass Amherst was very much a function of her own personal filter.

For example, she was a theater major. So I heard a lot about that program and how much she loved it. On the other hand, she must not have cared for sports, because despite UMass having 23 Division I teams, she never once mentioned the school’s athletic program or facilities.

That’s big. I mean here you’ve got a $500 million business (25,000 students paying $20,000 a year each), and step one in the process of recruiting prospective “customers” appears to be driven by whatever a particular guide feels like talking about on a particular day.

Now of course, our guide may have just been having an off day, and for all I know, UMass does in fact have clearly defined standards regarding what the tours are supposed to cover and in what way.

But it did drive home one important thing: If you want to get the right people through the door of your business, you need to pay close attention to what the door looks like.

Your E-Newsletter’s front door is its sign-up page… the page where people go when they’re thinking about adding their name to the list. Your job, as head of the tour department, is to entice people to walk over the threshold.

If all you do is slap a sign-up box on your home page with the dry-as-dust invitation to “add your name to our mailing list,” you may as well just padlock the entrance and call it a day. Nobody in 2009 is looking for more stuff to subscribe to… you need to convince them.

And so as Aristotle would say (assuming he spoke like Ben Franklin): “Get yeeself a sales page.”

A sales page is a single page, somewhere on your web site, whose sole function is to convince people to take the plunge. (Here’s the one I use.)

On this sales page you should…

  1. Explain what your newsletter covers. You wouldn’t subscribe to a magazine just because the nice folks at TimeWarner invited you to “sign up!” – you’d first want to know what it’s all about. So don’t expect people to blindly add themselves to your list either.

    Give them a brief (one or two sentence) description of what to expect, including when and how often you publish.

  1. Link to your newsletter archive. Even better than a description is a sample. Make it easy for prospective subscribers to see what you’ve already published by linking to past editions.
  1. Include testimonials. There’s nothing more compelling than praise from other readers. So here’s what you do… anytime someone sends you a complimentary e-mail regarding your newsletter, immediately zing back a thank you with a request to “use your name and words on the testimonial page of our web site.” In my experience, 9 out of 10 of these people will say “yes.”
  1. Provide an alternative means of signing up. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the sign-up box doesn’t work. Your e-mail vendor could be temporarily down; the prospective reader could have a weird browser/operating system configuration that doesn’t work with the sign-up form.

    Whatever it is, you don’t want to lose these people. So include a little note below the sign-up box that says something to the effect of, “Problems? Just send us an email with your request to”

Bottom line: Like a university, an E-Newsletter needs to offer a quality experience if it’s going to prosper over the long term. But that alone is not enough. If you don’t get people through the front door in the first place, they’ll never know what they’re missing.

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