Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ten tips on how to produce your email newsletter

At a recent event our speaker eloquently advocated that the small business owners in the audience consider an email newsletter as way to keep in touch with existing customers, and potentially recruit new ones.

And you could see that they were taken with the idea, until it came down to what  they would actually write about.  Hmm.  Not so easy for some.  But it doesn’t have to be complicated and a difficult item on your to-do list that you put off, rather than getting it done.

The underlying rule is that 80 percent of your content needs to be informative and helpful to the reader, and only 20 percent should be focused on promoting your product or service.  That means you need to find the bulk of your newsletter from elsewhere.

However, that doesn’t have to be the intimidating task that it first appears.  Here’s some tips to keep you on track and make your new “publication” easy to produce.

1.              Keep it simple.   The newsletter doesn’t have to be lengthy.  In fact it is more likely to be read if it is short and sweet.

2.              Think about what people want to know.  What information would be helpful to your clients but also fits with your business.  For example, if you are in real estate, articles about home décor, gardening, stain removal would fit the bill.

3.              Consider having 3-5 regular “columns  People like familiarity and once you set the sections up, they will come to look for them.  It also makes it easier for you to find material.  The columns don’t have to be big either. You could have “Thought of the Month” with an inspirational quote.

4.              Tips and How-to articles work well.  When I worked on a national magazine, we found that people read the sidebars first, before delving into the main article. People are busy, so sound bites work.

5.              Have a guest column. You can then get someone else to write the content. It could be an Advice column with typical questions answered by an expert.

If you team up with other professionals in complementary businesses, you could help each other out e.g. a landscaper, kitchen designer and interior decorator.  Several women at Company of Women did this and it worked well for them.

6.              Keep a file.  If your newsletter is monthly, you may want to start a file where you collect and clip material to use, so when it comes time to pull it all together, you are not scrambling to compile it.

7.              Visuals.  Use photos if you can but make sure you have permission or have paid for them.  The last thing you want is being sued for illegally using a photo.  Downloading from Google Images, for example, can be courting with danger.  There are several sites that offer free digital photos like

8.              Use a template.  Programs through Constant Contact, for example,  provide you with a template you can use.  They are pretty easy to manage (even I can do it) and give you a professional look.

The bonus in using an email marketing program is that they track the mailings, what was opened, number of click throughs and who wants to unsubscribe, so you just have to send it out.

9.              Keep your list clean.  However, you do have to make sure your mailing list is permission based.  What does that mean?  It means that you have asked the person (by email or in person) if you can send the newsletter and they have agreed. 

No longer can you meet someone at a networking event, get their business card and then automatically add them to your list.  With the introduction of the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL) you run the risk of hefty fines if you are accused of spamming people.

10.           Track the results.  As with any aspect of your business, you need to track the results – in this case, the response to your newsletter.  By keeping your business front and centre with your clients, has it generated new business?  Have you recruited new clients who like what they see?  Which sections are opened most frequently?  When do they open them? 

When you study all this, you can zero in on when is the best time to send it, and what type of material is of real interest to your readers, and fine tune it to make it even better.

It has been said before, but people do business with people they know and trust.  Sending out a newsletter is one way to build that trust.  When you give your clients an opportunity to get to know you better,  you become more than just another salesperson selling your wares.  Good luck.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

David learns from Goliath – Business lessons from the demise of Target in Canada

As Target finally closes its doors in Canada, it is a time to reflect and garner up the lessons to be learned by small business owners.

One size doesn’t fit all
What works in one location, may not necessarily transfer successfully to another
This is one of the most basic rules I learned in community development. While you can learn from what works in one location, taking a “cookie cut approach” is often not wise.

Tip your toe in the water first, before jumping in the deep end.
To open up so many stores in so many different locations seems like a recipe for disaster.  And it was.  Just from a cash flow perspective,  it is better to start small, see what works and then expand.

Do your homework
Clearly it never struck the powers that be at Target that maybe we don’t shop the same way as in the US. It pays to check the details before launching in a big way. 

Marks and Spensers (one of my favourite stores in the UK) made the same mistake when they tried to make a go of it in Canada, but at least they didn’t try to saturate the market.  They started in Toronto and built out to the suburbs.  But they too literally closed up shop and went home.

Supply and demand
One of the complaints I frequently heard was that the shelves were often empty which doesn’t create a) much credibility and b) a desire to come back.

No real deals
Many of us would shop in "Tarchét" as we would call it, in the States because we liked the prices and the quality available.  None of that happened in Canada.  It was like we were the poor relations, getting the cast offs from our sisters in the south.

Long term ripple effect
With over 17,000 people now out of work, you do wonder if this Canadian experience will sour their fortunes in the US.  Apart from the money they have lost in this endeavour, they’ve also lost much more – their fan base in Canada.

So as small business owners, we can truly learn from the demise of Target in Canada.  

We know, what we probably already knew, that it isn’t just a case of expanding and repeating the same strategies over and over.  Because while it is important to have a solid foundation of business practices to build on, you also have to be creative and receptive to the different nuances that each new location/venture will bring.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Doing well by doing good

Now I am no Pollyanna, but I do believe in the power of giving back.

Growing up my father had the philosophy that you always helped the under dog,  someone who needed a hand up.  He called it a sense of balance – in that you created a more balanced playing field for others and that when you were fortunate, it was your role to help those less fortunate.

He grew up in poverty, with an alcoholic, abusive father who he and his brothers turfed out when my father was a teenager.  He dropped out of school at 14 to help earn money  but through hard work, grit and determination, ended up a successful business man. 

He never forgot his humble beginnings and was generous to a fault, as I discovered at his funeral as people came forward telling me about the loans he’d given them.  You could say he was a dragon before there was a denJ

So with that backdrop, it is not all that surprising that I have tried to follow in his footsteps – giving my time, my expertise or donations to good causes.  While this has been gratifying, it is not all altruistic, and in fact many of my volunteer positions have actually led to paid jobs.

As a business owner, I have also found that there are benefits to giving back, particularly from a brand perspective.  Customers and staff all want to be part of an organization that cares, that supports others.  Take TOMS.  For each pair of shoes you buy, Blake MyCoskie donates a pair to a child in a developing country.  His shoes are comfortable, not that expensive and so it is easy to support his business.

Recently on my birthday I was given a “Me to We” card where a portion of the sales went to one of their causes.  They provided a link so you could check in and see just where the money was going.  All great marketing and a real feel-good moment all round,

When you give from your heart, you’re not doing it for the accolades or potential awards you could receive, yet that is what happened to me when I got involved with Opportunity International, a charity that gives microfinance loans to women in developing countries.

I helped write a book Faces of Opportunity which shared the stories of some of the women. It was a real eye-opener for me in terms of the poverty most of the women faced, and one of the women had died of AIDS by the time the book was published.  That book raised over $20,000 for the cause, and as a result I received the TIAW World of Difference Award, which in turn led me to be invited to speak in Turkey, all expenses paid.

See what I mean.  You have no idea how much your efforts will not only impact others, but your own life too.

I encourage you to step back and see what cause you can align your business with.  When it fits with your mission and vision, perhaps as in my case, it made sense to support = women in developing countries, because that is what I am doing here in Canada.   Or it be could that you want to have an impact on the future generation?  We’ve done that too.

And just to be clear,  it doesn’t have to be money.  It could be your time or expertise.  When you sit on a board, for example, you broaden your networks and learn new skills.   

Start small.  But start.   I’ve found  that when you focus on others, you live a more fulfilled life and there’s a real buzz when you realize that you are making a difference.

There is a quote I like “All that you give into the lives of others, comes back into your own.”  How true that is.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Farewell my friend...

Much has been written over the past few days about the sudden death of Donna Messer. On April 3rd, Canada lost a woman who was known across the country as the “Queen of Networking”  and there has been an outpouring of love as people share their stories of how she helped them. 

I only wish Donna could have witnessed how much of an impact she’d had on people’s lives.

I first met Donna over twenty years ago.  She had been speaking at a board of trade event, sharing her story of how she started Orange Crate, a company she successfully ran for ten years and I went to introduce myself after her talk.  We stayed connected, as you do with Donna, and over the years, our paths would frequently cross.

But it was when I was working for government, that I first saw the power of Donna’s networking in action.  At the time I was running a program called Words on Work, where successful women would come into the classroom to share their career paths with female high school students.  Naturally Donna was quick to sign up and when we were at a conference in Stratford, where she was speaking, she “planted” her introduction of me to the audience, helping me recruit more women to my program.

That’s what Donna did.  If she believed in you and what you were doing, she’d go out of her way to make sure you met who you needed to meet.  She was like a walking rolodex with all the people she knew, always making the introductions to help you get ahead.

One of the best connections she made for me was when she introduced me to Jean Price, one of her closest friends, who fast became one of mine.   It is those friendships in life that we hold dear, because no matter how far away you may live, you just know the other person will be there for you.

And Donna was there for so many people – she was always supporting the underdog whether it was the immigrant doctor who was driving a taxi or the new entrepreneur shakily starting her business.

She was outspoken and quick to put you right if, in her opinion, you did something wrong.  I remember being told off when I forgot to bring my business cards to an event she was hosting, you can imagine her horror.J

The last time I saw Donna was on International Women’s Day on March 8 when she was receiving an award.  How fitting.  I am so pleased that she was being honoured for all that she had done to help women get ahead in life. 

Just ten days later, she was given the devastating news of her cancer, news she wanted to keep private and so we respected her wishes.  Today I know people are reeling in shock. Even those of us who knew her dire prognosis, never believed she would be taken from us so soon.

For the past eight years, Donna has been a permanent fixture at my conference.  Always a popular speaker, she attracted many of her fans to come hear her speak.  She was scheduled to speak this year, so it will be strange for her not to be with us on May 26, but I know she will be there in spirit, encouraging us to reach out and support one another.