Any business that is relying exclusively on someone else's platform to bring in customers is making a mistake. Certainly, services like Facebook and Instagram are extremely valuable for raising awareness of your business. However, using these services alone is akin to running your business out of the back of a rented van.

If you want relationships with people and the repeat business and referrals that come with it, then you need to meet people where they work and live, and in the digital age, that's their inboxes. A regular newsletter is still the best way to keep your business in the forefront of people's minds, and contests offered exclusively through your newsletter not only will get you new subscribers, but they will ensure people are always looking forward to hearing from you.

A newsletter contest doesn't have to cost you money, but even if it does require an expenditure, it may be worth the price if you compare it to the cost of other forms of advertising.

Email and Newsletters Aren't as Old Fashioned as You May Think

Over the past decade or so, a myth began to predominate marketing: With the rise of social media and instant messaging, email was a dying medium. Perhaps teenagers don't use email very much, but for anyone with a job (and the disposable income that comes with employment), this is far from the truth.

According to an Adobe consumer email survey in 2018, workers age 35 and older spend about five hours every day on email. The younger generation spends even more time reading and writing emails, with those between 25 and 34 averaging 6.4 hours each day. This younger group spends more time focused on their email than any other medium, including chat and text, and will open their messages wherever they are at almost any time of day.

Five Benefits of Email Newsletters for Marketing

Email is still one of the best ways to target new prospects and enhance your relationships with existing customers, suppliers and employees. It's fast, easy to manage and inexpensive. Consider these benefits:

  1. Personalized: With email, you can personalize messages not just to individuals but to groups. For example, you can have one version of your company newsletter for clients, another for prospects, another for employees and another for suppliers.

  2. Inexpensive: Compared to other marketing costs, email campaigns are extremely cost effective. For a small list, you can run effective email campaigns without any cost except the time you put into it.

  3. Easy to Design: How you design your emails and your newsletters is up to you. There are no rules or specific standards. You can write a newsletter in plain text in the body of the email, embed it as HTML or use a PDF or a link to your website.

  4. Timely but Unobtrusive: Because people generally check their inboxes several times each day, your messages will usually be seen nearly immediately. Of course, how quickly they open your emails will depend on you.

  5. Permission Based: Unlike ads, nobody who has subscribed to your email newsletter should ever be surprised to hear from you. Whether you have 10 subscribers or 10,000, you know that every single person has asked you to keep connecting with them.

Creating a Newsletter for Your Business

Your business newsletter should reflect both your business and your own business approach. A newsletter for a publicly owned oil and gas company, for example, should be much different than that of a clothing designer or a sole proprietor who makes chocolate. A good way to start is to look at your own website and integrate components of it into your newsletter. If your website is dry and professional or warm and personal, then your newsletter should have the same general attributes.

Undoubtedly, clients and prospects should be on your mailing list, but what about suppliers and staff? A larger company can use a newsletter to keep everyone in different departments or offices up to date on what is happening elsewhere as well as to maintain a sense of cohesion within the company. If you run a smaller company, you can send the same newsletter to your employees too or modify it to include information that may be important to staff but that customers wouldn't need to know.

Microsoft Word is a good tool for creating a newsletter because you can style it however you want and insert pictures and text blocks to make it visually attractive. A page or two is usually all that is needed; however, it's best to fill each page. When it's done, you can export it to a PDF to attach to email or create an HTML file.

Ideas for Your Newsletters

Sometimes, it may seem like a challenge to find new content to put in a newsletter, so whenever you think of a new idea, make sure you write it down. Consider these 10 ideas to help you start, although not every idea will be right for every business.

  1. Tips and Instructions: Give readers professional tips based on your business and expertise. A pet groomer could tell readers how to check a pet for ticks. A shoe retailer could explain how to protect shoes from water damage or too much sun.
  2. Upcoming Events: These can include sales at your store, community or charity events and trade shows.

  3. Infographics: Give readers insight on your industry or the history of your business using colorful graphics. If you don't have Adobe Illustrator, services like Canva are great for creating infographics.

  4. FAQs: Offer readers insight on the most common questions you get asked by customers along with the answers.

  5. Top Blog Posts: Offer a synopsis of your most popular articles with links to your blog posts for readers who want to know more.

  6. Featured Employee: Give readers some insight on the people behind your company with questions about their hobbies, favorite movies or favorite foods.

  7. Behind the Scenes Photos: Offer your readers insights on your business that they wouldn't normally see. You can also create videos and include the link with a screenshot in your newsletter.

  8. Life Outside of Work: Give readers a peek into your own personal life. In fact, this is a good way to break yourself from the mold if your business requires rigid professionalism, like a high-powered lawyer relaxing at the park with her kids.

  9. Weather Bulletins: Every season brings new challenges that may relate to your business. Spring newsletter ideas could include tips on preparing for the summer, planting gardens or planning a vacation.

  10. Holiday Greetings: Holidays are a great time to spice up your newsletter with a holiday theme and articles and tips for your clients. 

Newsletter Contest Ideas

Ideally, contests should give newsletter readers a way to interact with your business or your products and services. At the same time, they can usually give you content for upcoming newsletters. Contest ideas include:

  1. Polls and Surveys: Ask questions that will be of interest to readers. For example, if you run an advertising agency, ask clients if they are increasing their ad budgets or not. If you sell T-shirts, ask them how many T-shirts they own or how many they buy each year.

  2. Customer Success Stories: Ask your customers to share a success story related to your product or service.

  3. Selfies: Ask customers to take pictures of themselves using your product. You can also ask them to submit short videos, although that may require a bigger prize.

  4. Personal Interest Pictures: Not every contest needs to be tied to your business. You can use them to occasionally break the ice, like a contest to see which customer has the cutest pet.

  5. Name a New Product: Give readers an early look at what you are working on and ask them to suggest a name for it.

  6. Referral Contest: Ask customers to refer a friend so they can both win a prize.

  7. Best Tips from Clients: Ask customers to submit their own tips related to your business to be published on your website or in your newsletter.

  8. Where's Waldo? Grab a screenshot of a partial image from your website and ask readers if they can determine which page it is from.

  9. Trivia Contest: Ask readers specific questions, like if they can guess what date you started the business or from what country your family immigrated. If it isn't public knowledge, let them know that the closest guess will win.

  10. Best Recipe: Similar to holiday-themed newsletters, you don't have to be in the food industry for readers to enjoy this contest. 

Selecting Contest Prizes

Contest prize ideas are limited only to your imagination and your budget. Always keep in mind the perceived value of your prizes in your customers' eyes compared to the amount of effort for which you are asking.

If your bakery always gives away a free cookie to someone who buys a loaf of bread, then a free cookie wouldn't be perceived as a very generous contest gift. If you give away a $20 product for the best answer to a trivia contest, then the prize should be significantly more if you are asking readers to write a short story or record a 30-minute video.

If you sell an assortment of inexpensive items, then prizes may be a no-brainer. For other businesses, you may have to get more creative, particularly if you can't give away products or services. Ideas for prizes include:

  1. Free Consultation: This is particularly attractive if you normally charge a fee for consultations. If you're a hairstylist, a free haircut may be a good idea.

  2. Lunch With You: This depends on your esteem within your industry or community. In 2019, someone donated $4,567,888 to have lunch with Warren Buffet. A coffee with the neighborhood barber may not have fetched so much.

  3. Free Tickets: Local sports matches or tickets to an upcoming concert can be enticing prizes, particularly for a locally based business.

  4. Autographs: If you know a celebrity and can get an autograph, this could be an exciting prize especially if you're a local business.

  5. Gift Baskets: A basket with a theme connected to the season or your contest can be a great idea if you don't have products you can give away. If you do have small products, including them in a gift basket can make a fine grand prize for a contest.

Newsletter Ideas for Workplaces

Even a small business can benefit from a newsletter for employees, especially if your employees are in more than one location or if many of them work from home. A regular newsletter modified specifically for employees can help them remember they are part of a larger team even if they don't get to see each other very often. Ask your employees who would be interested in putting together a newsletter, designing it and contributing content for it. Ideas for content include:

  1. Workplace Events: Take a few photos of office parties, conferences you attend or any other event that not everyone is able to attend.

  2. Personal Events: Birthdays and births are great things to mention in a newsletter. If cake is involved, take some more pictures. If someone has a great vacation, ask him to share his story.

  3. Employee of the Month: Use this opportunity for everyone to learn more about co-workers, like their favorite hobbies.

  4. New Hires: If someone new joins your team, mention her in the newsletter and give everyone an opportunity to learn about her, like her previous jobs, where she went to school and why she joined your company.

  5. Customer Stories: Good news from customers, like a letter of thanks or a photo of them proudly displaying your product can really help morale, so share these stories in your workplace newsletter.