Got To Be There

As a resident of Hopkinton, Massachusetts – located a mere 25 miles west of Boston – it would be an exaggeration to say that I live in the middle of nowhere.

Yes, the weekly police report mentions escaped sheep on a regular basis. And yes, you have to drive to the next town to see a movie, visit a supermarket or get your car washed.

But middle of nowhere? Not really; I have plenty of neighbors who work downtown and drive there every day.

I, on the other hand, do not. My commute is just two miles long and, despite having lived downtown for about 10 years when I first moved to the area, I do my best to avoid trips to the big city.

Yesterday, however, was an exception. I went to an event in the morning and on the suggestion of a friend decided that instead of driving, I’d take the train (you guessed it, the train station is in the next town).

And what can I say … I’ve officially become a hick:

I wasn’t sure where to park at the station; I didn’t know where to buy a ticket; I seem to have completely lost my once well-honed ability to stand in a packed train, inches away from strangers of all shapes and sizes, and not stare at anyone.

But the biggest culture shock of all yesterday morning was remembering (in a sudden panic) that the train leaves on time, whether you’re ready or not.

Unlike in my normally self-directed day, where I wander out the door whenever, stop for a bagel if I feel like it, or go back to my car if I forget my wallet, I realized that if you want to take the train you need to be there on time.

The best newsletters are like trains (minus, maybe, the oddly-shaped strangers). Ready or not, they leave on schedule.

Here’s the thing. When it comes to maximizing the value of our e-mail newsletters, we’re all obsessed with “best practices.” How long should the subject line be? Should I include my photo in the introduction? How do we grow the list?

All important questions, certainly … but more or less beside the point if you never pull the trigger.

Just as “belonging to a health club” doesn’t get you in shape, “having a newsletter” doesn’t get you visibility. If you don’t show up in my in-box month after month after month as the informative, trustworthy expert that you are, I’m not going to remember you. Your train is sitting in the station.

Here are some ways to know if your newsletter is unnecessarily delayed:

  1. You’ve changed the main article topic more than a couple of times. For the first issue in particular, most people agonize over choosing the “right” topic. Don’t worry about it – your newsletter is a conversation and you’ll get another swing at it in 30 days.
  1. You’re waiting for a particular milestone to occur before you send the next one: The end of summer; the hiring of a new marketing person; more followers to your Twitter feed. Whatever.

    Because while it may be true that your newsletter would have more impact if these things were in place, waiting is like deciding not to attend any more networking meetings until your new business cards arrive. Better to show up empty-handed and have less impact than not go at all and have zero.

  1. You’ve given birth more than once since your last issue. Unless you’re a mouse, these gestation-cycle-length delays are too long and only serve to reset your “memorable expert clock” to zero. Publish something today.

Here’s the bottom line. I began writing today’s newsletter at 8:16 this morning; I know that if I gave it another day it might (might) be a little bit better. But I also know that the penalty for less than perfect content is reader indifference – not reader outrage. So I don’t worry too much about it.

Remember, the real risk to your business is not that a poor newsletter will cause people to laugh at you – it’s that an unpublished newsletter will cause people to forget you.

As Michael Jackson famously sang, you “Got To Be There.” (Click here now to listen to the original.)

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