Looking for a new way to attract prospective clients and keep existing ones? Why not produce a client newsletter?

The most obvious benefit of a newsletter is its marketing power: You can gain exposure by using it to promote your training services, advertise special events and sales, lead clients to your Web site and sell products. A carefully crafted newsletter also plays a key role in building solid relationships with clients.

“Newsletters make clients feel connected to a business in a more intimate way,” says Thomas H. Bivins, PhD, author of Public Relations Writing: The Essentials of Style and Format and professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, Eugene. “This is especially important for businesses that already connect personally, such as personal training. A newsletter, at its best, can establish a sense of family between clients and businesses.”

For Lisa Hoffman, MA—founder of Solo Fitness, an in-home personal training company based in New York City—her newsletter, Solo Fitness Update, is especially important for building a sense of community. Her trainers meet with clients at their homes instead of common facilities, so the newsletter gives clients the impression that their trainers are part of a bigger company. “It puts us on the map as a professional and credible business with policies and pay-on-time procedures,” she explains.

Whether you train clients at home, in a fitness center or in a private studio, distributing a newsletter can boost your business and strengthen ties with your clients. However, if you’re serious about creating your own newsletter, you must first consider
several details concerning its format, cost and content.

Format

Electronic vs. Hardcopy

Your first step is to decide whether you want an electronic newsletter or a hardcopy newsletter. I produce both: a monthly “e-newsletter” for Active Voice, my freelance writing service, and a quarterly hardcopy newsletter for FitCity for Women, a chain of fitness clubs based in Vancouver, British Columbia, where I am vice president and director of operations.

The two newsletters serve different purposes. The cost-effective electronic newsletter works best for Active Voice because I communicate with most of my clients through e-mail and the newsletter’s purpose is to remind my clients of my services. In contrast, because the goal of FitCity News is to create a feeling of community and promote special events within the organization, a paper newsletter works best; it gives members something to grab at the reception desk, read in the club and discuss with other members.

If you do online coaching or training or you want a budget-friendly way to follow up with prospective clients or those whom you don’t see very often, an e-newsletter may be preferable. However, if you train out of a club or studio, you may choose to publish a hardcopy newsletter that you can hand to clients or use to attract leads. “The advantage of paper newsletters is that you can distribute them both through the local business community as point-of-purchase pieces and at your own establishment,” Bivins notes. Clients may also pass your hardcopy newsletter on to family, friends, coworkers or other club members, providing good word-of-mouth advertising for you. “You never know where [your newsletter] can show up,” Hoffman says.

In addition to cost considerations and your personal goals for producing a newsletter, time may determine whether you go electronic or hardcopy. With e-newsletters, you don’t have to devote time to fiddling with graphic design or organizing distribution; you can send one e-mail to hundreds of recipients instantaneously. “An e-mail can be written, sent and received within minutes, whereas traditional mail can take days,” say Susan Cantwell and Leslie Durand, who teach e-marketing courses for small-business owners in the health and wellness industries.

Of course, e-mail has its glitches as well. For example, according to Cantwell and Durand, it gives you less time to make an impact on recipients. “People receive hundreds of unsolicited e-mails every week, and the growing response is to delete them without even checking their content,” they say. To ensure that clients give your e-newsletter the attention that it deserves, identify it in the subject line and use a recognizable sender name. In addition, send your newsletter to clients who have opted in as subscribers and always include clear instructions on how they can unsubscribe. Otherwise, your newsletter becomes “spam,” electronic junk mail that violates e-mail etiquette.

Cantwell and Durand suggest three ways to garner e-newsletter subscribers:

  • Create a newsletter opt-in form on
    your Web site.
  • Purchase or rent a list of people who
    have opted in on other sites to receive
    general information on fitness.
  • Send clients an invitation to subscribe
    to your newsletter, including not only
    information about its content and
    frequency but also an assurance that they can cancel their subscriptions at any time.

Frequency

Whereas the amount of time at your disposal may be the primary determinant of how frequently you produce an e-newsletter, a limited budget may influence how frequently you produce a hardcopy newsletter. Nonetheless, don’t let it be the overriding factor.

“Frequency is important,” Bivins says. “Publish enough to keep yourself on your clients’ minds but not so much that you irritate them. One issue a month would be the most you’d want to do, but it takes a lot of information to produce something every month. On the other hand, one issue every quarter might not keep you on their minds enough. An issue every other month might be a good compromise.”

Length is also a consideration in determining frequency. A one- or two-pager may work every 2 months, but, if your sights are set on four to six pages, bimonthly issues may overwhelm you. Hoffman publishes her two-page newsletter three times a year to correspond logically to how her clients’ schedules change: January, when clients gear up for the new year; June, when they begin their summer vacations; and September, when they go back to work.

Cost

Writing and Design

Depending on your budget, you may decide to hire a professional writer and graphic designer or, better yet, trade your services for theirs. Such an arrangement not only saves you time (and, if you do a trade, money) but also produces a more professional-quality newsletter. “Put some effort and money into your design, and it will pay off with a professional look,” Bivins says.

This is not to say that you can’t write and design a decent newsletter yourself. Investing in a digital camera and the right computer programs, such as Microsoft Publisher or Adobe PageMaker, makes it convenient to put together something quite nice on your own. However, to prevent your newsletter from looking too do-it-yourself, Bivins suggests, “Avoid eclectic layouts and keep graphics simple and appealing. Don’t use cheap clip art or poor photographs.” You may decide to purchase professionally shot fitness images on the Internet. Web sites such as www.gettyimages.com, www.fotosearch.com and www.agpix.com offer some; you can search www.google.com for others.

Printing and Distribution

Printing and distribution costs vary with budget. You may decide to produce a small number of newsletters inexpensively with your computer’s printer, take a master copy to a local photocopy shop or invest in having a professional printing house do the job. Distribution is an expense only if you mail newsletters to clients.

Content

General Concerns

Even with an attractive design and eye-catching photos, clients may not care to read your newsletter if the written content is only so-so. “The cover design attracts attention and says that you’re professional,” Bivins observes. “However, if there’s nothing worthwhile to read, all of the good looks are for nothing. Information is the number-one reason people read newsletters. Keep the information worthwhile, and you keep your readers. Don’t be trite just to fill space.”

Knowing that your expertise lies not in professional writing or design but in personal fitness training won’t stop clients from perceiving a sloppily written or designed newsletter as amateurish, so do what you can to present a professional image overall. Hoffman keeps this in mind with every issue that she writes. “It goes through many edits and is thoroughly proofed by my family and friends,” she says. “Writing Tips for Client Newsletters” on page TK can help you write engaging articles.

Whether or not you know how to turn a phrase, packing pages with valuable information can be daunting if you don’t know what to write about. Bivins advises focusing on your readers. “Why would they read a newsletter from you?” he asks. “Obviously, they’re working with you because of their interest in staying fit. That has to be the connection you want to maintain in the newsletter. Anything that contributes, even tangentially, to their concern about health is fair game.” Dividing your newsletter into regular departments or sections, as Hoffman does, also helps make the entire project more manageable.

Client- or Business-Centered?

Should your newsletter be about you, your clients or both? Hoffman designs hers mainly to spotlight her business. “We don’t highlight our clients; they are private people,” she explains. Other personal trainers choose to include things such as client success stories.

“Your newsletter might have a mix of client-centered and business-centered information,” Bivins says. “Just keep in mind that, as much as possible, the content should never stray far from their interest in you and what you do. The focus should stay on your service to your clients.”

In FitCity News, we print educational health and fitness articles supporting the services at FitCity for Women and the benefits of working out there. For example, we once ran a story about American Council on Exercise (ACE)-sponsored research on the best and worst abdominal exercises, in which ACE recommended doing crunches on a stability ball. We then used that piece as a springboard to promote the stability ball classes on FitCity for Women’s group exercise schedule.

Collecting Ideas and Content

When Hoffman first launched Solo Fitness Update, she wondered what the heck she would write about in each issue. “Now,” she says, “I have an ‘ideas folder’ on my desk, and, when I read a magazine article or research study of interest, I cut it out and file it.” Hoffman uses these clips to pen her short, newsy cover articles.

Hoffman writes everything in her newsletter, but you may choose to lighten your load by including content from other sources. If you’re the owner of a personal training studio, you can ask your trainers for article contributions. As an IDEA member, you are free to reproduce the dozens of articles written for fitness consumers and posted at www.IDEAfit.com, as long as you first notify IDEA and then give appropriate credit to the association in print. Some ACE press releases also work well as newsletter content. Further-more, freelance health and fitness writers almost always have article reprints for sale; see “Where to Find Professionally Written Articles” on page TK for details.

Hot off the Presses!

Whether you produce a full-color multipage newsletter or a black-and-white one-sided bulletin, your goal is to enhance your relationship with your clients. As long as you keep this in mind while writing or combing the Internet for material, your clients are likely to become both loyal readers and loyal customers.