June 29, 2009

eNewsletters Part 2/4: Overcoming Your Three Biggest Objections

Last time, we looked at why you need an eNewsletter now. You'll agree that email newsletters improve contact with your clients, prospects and centres of influence. Yet you probably worry about the details. Here are the three biggest questions that advisors ask
  1. where do you get the content?
  2. where do you get readers?
  3. how do you find the time?
The answers to these objections are simpler than you think.

Getting The Content
Getting content is fairly easy. While original content sets you apart, you don't have to write every single word. Instead, link to quality free content that's available online. Create Google Alerts to track what matters to your target readers. Look for articles in publications you read online. Check out Twitter feeds like @mActuary and @riscario for ideas.

You simply write a short catchy summary and link to the source material. That can be your newsletter. Your approach will evolve over time as you find your voice.

Getting Readers
We're in a permission-based world. Add your current clients to your distribution list. You can add others who give you permission. Violate these rules and you risk termination by your Email Marketing provider. New readers can subscribe via links in your newsletter or through a signup form that your Email Marketing provides for insertion on your own website.

You probably want two lists
  1. clients and prospects
  2. centres of influence
with one email to each group each month. You can refine over time. You may eventually want clients and prospects in separate lists. Or a separate list for your top clients.

Finding The Time
You can send eNewsletters from Microsoft Outlook or other email applications. You can even get fancy and personalize each email with the recipient's name (e.g., Dear ). This chews up time and requires that you be at your computer at the right time. Your email provider may limit how many emails you can send in a day as protection against spammers and to prevent their service from slowing down. Many little things can go wrong, Your computer might freeze. Do you reboot or wait? How do you restart an interrupted mailing? Removing those who want to unsubscribe takes time. You can easily get frustrated and distracted.

Instead, copy the professionals: use an Email Marketing application.

Here are the key features I'm looking for:
  1. web-based: nothing to install or backup on your own computer
  2. segmentation: to send emails to a portion of your list (e.g., clients who already bought critical illness insurance)
  3. autoresponders: to send a preprogrammed sequence of emails (e.g., for new subscribers)
  4. adding addresses without requiring opt-in: for including existing clients who gave you permission earlier (use carefully or your service can be terminated)
  5. integration with Google Analytics: for tracking
  6. scheduling: to have emails go out at a specified future time
  7. attachments: to send files (when appropriate) rather than links to files (e.g., for a free special report to reward new subscribers)
  8. social networking plugins: so your articles can be spread via Twitter, Facebook, Digg, etc
  9. video: so you can embed more than just text (will become more important over time)
  10. surveys: to interact with your readers
  11. CAN-SPAM compliance: to follow the latest anti-spam laws
In Part 3, we'll at different Email Marketing providers and I'll pick one. Finally, in Part 4, I'll send out an actual eNewsletter and share the results with you. In the meantime, continue getting your email addresses ready for your own campaign.


June 21, 2009

eNewsletters Part 1/4: Why You Need an eNewsletter Now

Familiarity breeds business. But how do you maintain ongoing contact with your clients, prospects and centres of influences?

You can meet in person and talk over the phone (and should) but that contact requires your personal time and is not scalable.

You need to email a branded monthly newsletter (an eNewsletter) to
  • serve your current clients
  • attract new clients
  • establish your credibility with centres of influence
In short, you need an eNewsletter to grow your business.

You see the benefits but you're busy. You find the details daunting. In this four part series, we'll explore:
  1. why you need an eNewsletter (this post)
  2. the three big practical objections
  3. the experiment
  4. the results
To help you, I'll create a brand-new monthly eNewsletter for this blog. I'll describe the progress as we go along. I haven't run an email campaign in years. I don't know what will happen but am optimistic about the results.

Remember SaveTax?
From 2001-2005, I headed up the SaveTax project at National Life to help insurance advisors with online marketing. Advisors got a self-branded consumer-oriented website with extensive education about insurance products, the ability to run illustrations online (including universal life), and the option to buy online. This initiative was years ahead of its time and got scrapped. Such capabilities would help independent advisors now that banks can sell insurance online.

Email marketing was an essential part of SaveTax. Each week, thousands of brief WealthWorthy Minute emails were sent out on behalf of advisors. The addresses came from the advisors and the branding matched the advisor's website. Each Tuesday, website traffic peaked when the emails went out, a sign of effectiveness. Traffic grew week by week, month by month.

Although effortless for advisors, sending personalized, trackable emails was difficult in those days. We used dedicated email servers to send the messages out and tracking codes to monitor the results. You would have had difficulty doing this yourself.

Online Marketing in 2009
Online marketing is very accessible to you these days.
  • websites: easy to build without programmers or designers using wikis (e.g., look at riscario.com for education and sparkinsight.com for quotable quotes)
  • blogs: replacing the WealthWorthy Minute emails, which were also posted on the advisor's SaveTax website (e.g., look at blog.riscario.com for consumers and this site for you; both hosted for free on Google Blogger)
  • distribution: blog content gets sent out free by email and RSS with Google Feedburner
  • analysis: free with Google Analytics
You can do so much yourself or with your support staff. All you need are basic skills and the willingness to learn.

The Fundamental Change
Nowadays, you need permission to phone or email others. In the days of SaveTax, emails were sent out without requiring the consent of the recipient. Some advisors even rented lists of strangers. Recipients could easily unsubscribe.

That's gone. In today's permission-based world, you want to attract people to you. You want them to stay in contact.

Everything I do online requires a voluntary subscription. I can't even signup someone who asks: they must subscribe by themselves and then respond to an email confirming they want to opt in. That's a hassle that reduces readership.

If you asked your clients to opt-in to receive email or eNewsletters from you, how many would?

The eNewsletter Solution
You can "push" an eNewsletter to your clients because they previously gave you explicit or implicit permission to contact them. They could certainly opt-out but they would not be forced to opt-in.

With a suitable eNewsletter, you can set yourself apart from most advisors and look as professional as your larger competitors. The cost? A modest $20-$30 US, depending on how many subscribers you have and how often you email.

Next time, we'll look at the three big practical objections advisors have to email marketing. During this series, I'll create an eNewsletter that you can mimick. In the meantime, start getting your client email addresses ready.


June 9, 2009

BookCampTO: How the Plight of Publishers and Authors Affects You

First the "uncola" (7 Up). Now the unconference. An unconference is volunteer-run conference minus the boring bits. My first experience came at BookCamp Toronto, which took place on June 6, 2009 at the University of Toronto iSchool. Sessions were lead by moderators and designed for attendee participation. This event included an excellent boxed lunch --- all for free. Thankfully, there were no sales pitches, nothing to buy. The 300+ attendees included authors and publishers from as far away as Vancouver. What an opportunity to experience something different. 

The conventional book world is struggling with the same massive changes that affected the music and movie industries. Piracy. The $9.95 ebook (the equivalent of the $0.99 song). The Amazon Kindle ebook reader (analogous to the iPod, though only available in the US at present). The public's rebellion against copy protection (called "Digital Rights Management" or DRM). Inconsistent ebook formats (remember VHS vs Betamax or BluRay vs HD DVD?).

The sessions had lively discussions from passionate attendees. At the end of the afternoon, I felt energized, not zombified. There were many younger attendees (close to university age) and this added to the energy. 

The book world faces many tough challenges, much the way our clients do. The complicated issues include
  • cross border: we can see prices in different countries and get annoyed to see different ebook prices
  • subsidies: successful books subsidize the lesser known (the government also provides subsidies but this wasn't mentioned)
  • copyright: including a photo or poem may require permission that's only available for the printed first edition
  • content protection: annoys readers since printed books come fully "unlocked"
Publishing Schublishing
The role of the publisher is becoming less relevant since authors can self-publish and self-market. Publishing has a costly infrastructure, like the music business. This results in the creator getting pennies on the dollar. However, major publishers are the easiest way to get books on the shelves of major retailers. 

How involved is publishing? Let's look at a simple example: an Advisor Guide for a life insurance product. Here's the process
  1. write a draft
  2. send for review (readers in marketing, administration, IT and legal)
  3. revise a few times to finalize the content
  4. send for professional editing (which the author reviews)
  5. get French translation (for a simultaneous launch)
  6. design the booklet (graphics, layout)
  7. print samples and check for colour accuracy etc
  8. print and bind
  9. package with related content (e.g., brochures, circular letter, projection software)
  10. ship
The painstaking work involves many people. A print book would be even more complicated. 

Over time, we simplified the process by creating the original in Word, importing into the publishing program and printing directly. Eventually, we created PDF ebooks for readers to print on demand.

Nowadays, authors can eliminate the intermediaries. I'm blogging from my patio without a professional editor but with free, instant, worldwide distribution. There's some loss in quality but a huge spike in spontaneity.

Authors can't rely on publishers for marketing. Since books rarely sell well, authors may look like commodities with the publishers focusing on the winners. Overall, authors seem reluctant to promote themselves. Or they don't know how. Advisors often have similar issues. 

Books have about three months to succeed. Advance marketing helps build anticipation and the buzz helps kickstart the crucial early sales. A few weeks ago, I piloted How To Succeed With Entrepreneurs, a new series of three live presentations. During part one, Be The One They Want, advisors like the animated falling man borrowed from the cover of The Dip. They like the section on marketing, which builds on earlier posts. And they love the accompanying 36-page full colour booklet. Attractive handouts make a huge impression that outweighs the cost and effort. You'll probably get a similar outcome, even if no one asks for an autograph.

Two Examples
Here are two excellent examples of book marketing underway right now from first-time authors:
  • Kerry Taylor (Squawkfox): 397 Ways To Save Money 
  • Mitch Joel: Six Pixels of Separation
Kerry has been interviewed and mentioned numerous times in major media including CFRBThe Globe & Mail, and various blogs. She mentions this publicity via Twitter (@squawkfox) and in her blog (squawkfox.com). That creates more publicity in a virtuous spiral. Nicely done.

Mitch's book comes out in September in multiple languages and multiple formats (paper, ebook, Kindle, audio) simultaneously. You can pre-order from six retailers already. Reviewers can request advance copies. Some reviews are already online. This book already feels familiar. I spoke to Mitch at BookCamp. The multi-month pre-launch campaign has other phases to bring the book to the attention of the target audience.

We face marketing challenges too. Months can elapse between meeting a prospect and their decision to buy. In the case of life insurance, the client could be rejected by the insurer for medical or financial reasons. At least with a book, the retailer will gladly take your money and complete the transaction.