One of the single greatest customer retention tools is a consumer newsletter. It will keep your name in front of people who have already spent money with you. It will stimulate additional sales. Here’s how you can create one.

Select your style: The three newsletter styles are a letter format, magazine format and white paper format. The letter format might be the easiest to design and write. An example is the famed Kiplinger Letter. Essentially, it consists of news and facts with the important points underlined or otherwise highlighted. Write it in letter format. It can be used for business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C).

The magazine format is the most common newsletter. Typically, it features a multi-column layout with several articles and other features. Usually, it’s written in a journalistic style, like the newspaper or a news magazine. Typically, the magazine format is used for B2C.

A white paper format features a lengthy article on a single subject. These usually describe a particular technology, product, or method that can solve a business problem. White papers are usually business-to-business.

Select your software: If you are writing a letter or white paper style newsletter, you can get by with a standard word processor, like Microsoft Word. If you try to use a word processor for a magazine format, you will struggle. At a minimum, you should use a basic desktop publishing package like Microsoft Publisher. 

Write for the reader: Your customers do not care about you. They care about themselves. They are tuned into WII-FM, 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week. WII-FM stands for “What’s In It For Me?”

Write about things that interest them. For B2C, write about your community. Write about things to do with kids. Write about the season. Offer tips, which can include water conservation, bathroom mini-makeovers, tankless versus tank water heaters, and other plumbing topics, for homeowners. The key, in all cases, is to make it relevant to the customer.

Entertain: Include a few family-friendly corny jokes (e.g., “Autumn is a time of changing pools. We change from swimming pools to football pools.”). Include a crossword puzzle, word find or other game. 

Include a recipe: Business owners tend to look on recipes with disdain. They think they’re hokey. This is a mistake. Homeowners love them. Recipes get cut out and saved. Cook up an old family favorite, take a picture of it, and include the recipe. In time, people will look for the newsletter to get the recipe.

Include pictures of people: Plumbers like pictures of trucks. Regular people like pictures of people. Include pictures of people who look like your customers. Think of who calls for service? Is the caller male or female? How old? Find the pictures on iStock or another photo website or take your own.

Run promotions: Include coupons. Match the coupon to a product or service mentioned in the newsletter. Everyone likes to save money.

Watch the details: Create a name for the newsletter and masthead for the front. Continue lead articles to an inside page. Put a table of contents on the front (i.e., “What’s Inside…”).  Number the pages. Include contact information. Follow the rules of good graphic design. Limit yourself to one font for headlines and another for the body. Don’t go wild with color. Proofread and proofread again. Save space on the back page so you can fold and mail the newsletter without the need for an envelope.

Consider alternatives: In addition to the standard newsletter, you can save money by creating a post card newsletter. A post card newsletter is identical to a standard newsletter, except it fits on a 5x7 or 6x9 postcard. This saves printing and mailing costs.

Consider an e-mail newsletter. Use Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, or another e-mail service to mail for you. This will increase delivery rates and help you manage the subscriptions and unsubscribes. With an e-mail newsletter, the same content rules apply, but the design must be suitable for e-mail.

Get started: Your newsletter does not need to be a masterpiece. It just needs to be mailed.  Failure to start is the number one reason plumbers fail to offer a newsletter. Remember, if good is the enemy of great, great is the enemy of getting started. Don’t try for great on your first attempt. Try for good enough.

Outsource if necessary: If you don’t have the time or inclination to create your own newsletter, you can use one of the third party newsletters. The advantage of using a third party is simplification and professionalism. It’s easy to get started and the final product will be more than good enough, if not great.

Matt Michel is CEO of the Service Roundtable, which helps plumbers succeed with easily downloaded plumbing sales, marketing, and management templates, a contractor support community, and a free member buying group.  Get a new magazine style newsletter and post card newsletter, customized for the plumbing industry each quarter as part of your Service Roundtable $50 membership.  Call 877.262.3341 or visit ServiceRoundtable.com for more information.