Saturday, December 16, 2006

How do you stay in touch?

The question of what is the most effective way to stay in touch with clients and potential clients is one that has been on my mind a great deal. For two years, I’ve been using email almost exclusively. I currently have 2,857 names in my data base, and of those I keep in touch with 1,660 on a regular basis. The others have been weeded out as I learn new things about them – e.g., they only use local talent or talent with ISDN, or they don’t do broadcast, or they use another company for casting, or they don’t work in my areas of specialisation, or they just don’t want to be contacted.

My custom is to write to each of these 1,660 people 4 times a year. If I work 49 weeks of the year, that gives me 49 x 5 days/week for sending emails. I only send them during the week, because I don’t want my correspondence to arrive during non-business hours when it will get squeezed between spam emails and be deleted even faster than it already is. So that is 245 emailing days per year, divided by 4, so my quarter is 61 work days. That means that in order to get through my list I need to send out 27 emails each day. This is not a trivial investment of time, since I usually visit each contact’s website to make sure they’re still in business and to make sure their focus hasn’t changed and that their contact information is the same as before. If I’m effcient, I don’t have to use business hours for this activity; I can prepare the emails at night and save them, then send them out in the morning. Still, it takes time. I would absolutely love to be able to write a newsletter, click Send, and be done with it. That would certainly be easiest for me. And if I could do it every month instead of every three months, then none of those contacts would have a chance to forget me in between mailings.

The trouble with newsletters is that people have to sign up for them. If you send a newsletter that is unsolicited it could be annoying to the recipient, and you could end up losing them. A new client told me the other day that he has a list of 23,000 subscribers for his newsletter, and even some of those get annoyed at receiving this newsletter that they signed up for!

So what to do? For now, I continue to send out individual emails. Half of my 1660 have written back to me; the other half I’m still waiting to hear from. Sometimes the first time I hear from somebody, they are actually hiring me, sometimes it has been well over a year since I first contacted them. Silence does not mean lack of interest; usually it just means lack of work. The same client who sends out the 23,000 newsletters mentioned that he appreciated my regular emails and that I was the first person he thought of when he needed female voice talent. I had first written to him at the end of March 2006, and his first response was 6 December, with a work proposal.

I get quite a few newsletters. A few companies from whom I receive them send them out every week. The content is, I regret to say, not very interesting and I have to wonder what they expect to accomplish with these frequent mailings. Many with a less frequent appearance are full of news about the company, and again, the content is not all that compelling. One of my favorite newsletters is from Shawenon Communications. Its author is Susanna Opper, whom I met at the first Ad Club of Western Massachusetts luncheon that I attended back in October (the one at which I won the Arlo Guthrie tickets :) ). She gave me her card and when I visited her website I signed up for her newsletter. I read the first one “cover to cover”. It was relatively short, or seemed so, and the content was entirely articles of real benefit to me. Not only that, the newsletter began with a summary of the content, with the highlights in bold, so I knew instantly that this was something I wanted to read. I also forwarded the newsletter to several voice artist friends, including Bob Souer, who wrote about it in his blog. I was looking forward to the next issue of the newsletter from Shawenon, and was surprised to see that in it Susanna had written about the phenomenon of viral propagation of information, using Bob and me as an example. It was awfully nice to get a mention (with a link!) in a newsletter that goes out to 600 subscribers each month. Quite apart from the unexpected publicity, I like Susanna’s newsletter. It could serve as a model for anyone considering communicating in this way. Make it easy for the reader to see why they should read it. Summarise the content straight away. Include material that will benefit the reader, and of course, use an engaging style. If you need help with that, ask Susanna. She’s also available to write your content for you.

I’m no closer to deciding what to do about my own communication dilemma than I was at the top of the screen. In general, people seem to prefer the more personal touch of the email sent to them and only them. No, my 1,660 peeps don’t get completely different emails, but I can write what I want to each one and bring up matters of mutual interest. I would lose that in a newsletter. If I were to switch to newsletter communication, I would need to give a lot of thought to the content and make sure it was beneficial to the recipient. The notion that replacing email with a newsletter would make my life tons easier is not sufficient to push me to make the switch, but I’m still giving it a lot of thought. Perhaps I could work out some sort of compromise.

Your comments are welcomed and would be greatly appreciated.

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