Newsletters are a wonderful forum for therapists to increase their client retention, obtain new clients and educate the public. They also serve as a way to keep colleagues, industry journalists and family members updated on your business. Newsletters are most useful when: you need to educate potential clients on the benefits of your services before they will become a client; you are in a profession (or location) that doesn't do much traditional advertising; people can tremendously benefit from your information; or one of your best clients says, "I didn't know you offered that."
All kinds of organizations and businesses publish newsletters as an informational and marketing tool. Newsletters can also provide an individual forum to communicate with your current and potential clients. Readers tend to pay more attention to a newsletter than an advertisement—and it's less likely to get tossed out as junk mail.
Good newsletters pique the interest of the reader. They also balance promotional content with specific information that benefits the reader. The language tends to be more conversational in tone than a typical advertising piece or technical publication.
Most massage therapists are multi-talented and oftentimes clients are unaware of the scope of services they may provide. A newsletter gives you an ideal opportunity to educate your clients about your other areas of expertise.
Newsletters don't need to be an elaborate production to be effective. You can even create one on your letterhead. Before you decide upon the appropriate length, style, format and content of your newsletter, you must first clarify your purpose and goals for your newsletter and then determine the ways in which to make it attractive to your target market(s).
Newsletters often serve many purposes: to attract new clients; encourage current clients to come in more often; bring back lost clients; inspire clients to try different services; promote products; provide information; improve client retention; build credibility; and demonstrate concern for your clients.
The most amazing thing is that I always read these newsletters as soon as I get them. Because they're short enough and I know that I can read them in less than 10 minutes, they don't get relegated to the ever-increasing pile of "to be read soon" publications.
This past November I received a great newsletter published by TC Dusenberry (a previous student from whom I also receive monthly massages). It was visually inviting—printed on mauve recycled 11-in x 17-in paper with two colors of ink and plenty of clip art graphics. The front page has a personal note to the readers and a section on aging and inflexibility. The left inside page consists of an article on stress and massage, as well as information about the National Headache Foundation. The right inside page contains seven blocks of material including a joke, information on where to buy peaceful music, a recipe, trivia, self-care suggestions and descriptions of her package deals and incentive programs. The top of the back page has a request for people to update their addresses and a reminder about gift certificates. The bottom of the back page is the mailing section. In general, it was easy to read, the information was useful and it kept my interest.
My major recommendation is to alter the left inside page either by breaking up the article with some artwork or reducing the amount of information. When I talked with TC, she told me that her printer had convinced her to do an extensive article. He was concerned that if she didn't, people would think the newsletter was a "piece of fluff." Yet the feedback she received from her clients was that the one article was a bit too much. Next time she plans to write another in-depth article, but keep its length to about two columns. She was pleased with the results of the newsletter: she sold many gift certificates; her current clients were impressed; and she heard from some clients she hadn't seen in a while. Her goal is to produce a quarterly newsletter with each issue highlighting a new service or special offer.
Several companies produce newsletters specifically for massage therapists to purchase and distribute to their clients. The advantages of buying a pre-made newsletter over designing your own are a lower overall cost and time savings. The disadvantages are that pre-made newsletters lack your personal touch (although most provide a space for you to put your name, address and telephone number), you have no control over the content or layout, it is done according to someone else's schedule rather than your own, and the company might not be reliable.
Two options for personalizing a ready-made newsletter to maximize the benefits are: write a column for a pre-existing newsletter; or purchase a pre-made newsletter and insert a note or personalized page. If you decide to insert a page, be sure that it matches graphically in terms of overall style and typeface.
An alternative to producing a newsletter by yourself is to make it a joint project with others. The steps involved in creating a newsletter can seem overwhelming or even financially prohibitive. You can ease those burdens by sharing the tasks and the costs. Consider teaming with other massage therapists or other people that provide products or services to the same target market that your newsletter reaches. Thoroughly analyze your target markets so you can determine who to include as a co-producer of your newsletter.
For example, let's say that one of your target markets is infants. Many other people service this market: pediatricians; baby food companies; specialty stores (clothing, toys); baby seat manufacturers; bookstores; and educational companies that publish information for the parents of infants.
Another market with a multitude of attending providers are those people who are actively involved in personal growth. People in this category often utilize the services of psychotherapists, counselors and other healing arts practitioners such as bodyworkers, nutritionists, holistic physicians and herbalists. They may attend workshops and 12-Step meetings. They read books on personal development and spirituality. They often shop at health food stores and natural clothing shops. And they are probably involved in some type of physical toning program such as exercise and yoga.
Don't limit yourself to the obvious. Sometimes the more unique the pairing, the more effective. For example, an on-site massage therapist and a "quick-print" copy shop might co-produce a newsletter. They could utilize a slogan such as, "For people who don't have an extra hour." Also, your co-sponsors can even be located in a different city. For example, a baby food company or a home exercise equipment manufacturer.
I think it would be fabulous if all the massage therapists in a city, or specific sections in a large city, joined together to produce a newsletter that targets the general public and educates them about the benefits of massage.
Newsletters often center on a theme, particularly when they are a cooperative venture. Several possibilities are: a "generic" well-being newsletter that appeals to a specific market such as athletes, pregnant women or stressed executives; or a newsletter that addresses specific health issues like arthritis, aging, fibromyalgia or carpal tunnel syndrome.
In terms of content, your newsletter can encompass new services, changes in hours, how-to's for stretches, relaxation exercises or specific tips on self-care, technical information regarding new research, survey results and product reviews, a detailed description of one of your services, toll-free numbers of interest, articles, new products, success stories about your clients (get written permission first!), book reviews, cartoons, advertisements, specialty sections such as a question and answer column, a section on different massage modalities and their specific benefits, a "what's new in. . ." column, poems, articles written by clients, puzzles, contests, quotes, interviews, anecdotes, letters to the editor and discount coupons.
Gather information for your newsletter from newspapers, magazines, books, radio and television programs, documentaries, workshops, other therapists and your clients. The United States government is a great source for free information. For a list of publications, write the Superintendent of Documents, Washington, DC 20402.
Another option for material is to purchase rights to syndicated columns. Every July, Editor and Publisher releases its annual syndicate directory. Check your library for a copy or contact the company at 11 W. 19th St., New York, NY 10011.
Oftentimes, it's fairly easy to obtain reprint rights of articles from existing publications. These are usually available at low or no cost, they provide variety for your readers and ease the load of material you personally have to generate. Call your main library or local university and inquire into accessing their database to search for a topic of interest. You can also do this at home if you have access to the Internet. Search for articles by subject, such as "massage" or "stress" or by your target market's concerns, (e.g., arthritis). Given the myriad of publications, most likely you will find ample material for your newsletter. After you have located appropriate articles, contact the editor of each publication to ascertain their reprint policies.
If your newsletter is targeted to a specific market, contact the public relations department of other organizations that cater to your target market. Those organizations might have articles of interest and most likely will gladly give them to you free of charge. If you are unable to get reprint rights for material that you want to include, you can always directly quote a sentence or two.
Another source of material is to get other professionals that serve your target markets to write a regular column for your newsletter.
The personal computer has allowed desktop publishing to flourish. Most people who use newsletters to promote their practices, create them on their own computer. But even if you do not own a computer, many graphic designers and even print shops can produce your newsletter for you. If you plan to self-publish a newsletter on a regular basis, I highly recommend that you invest in a quality page-layout program such as PageMaker [or InDesign] or QuarkXPress.
Sources for visuals include clip art (either computer-generated or cut-and-paste), original drawings and photographs. If you are producing the newsletter on your computer, you can purchase various clip art packages that allow you reproduction rights. If you have a picture or piece of artwork (that you created or own the rights to), you can scan it into your computer and incorporate it into your newsletter. If you do not own a scanner, a service bureau can scan in the art, clean it up and give it back to you on a disk. Also, a print shop can place the art (reducing the size if necessary) directly on the layout sheets.
Be certain the newsletter style and colors match your image as well as appeal to your target markets. To start off, you may want to consider keeping your newsletter to two pages. Either use your letterhead or some fun stationery. If you decide to publish a newsletter that is four or more pages long, I recommend you hire a professional graphic artist to create a template (a reusable design form) that you can use for each issue. Of course, if you are artistically inclined and possess the appropriate software and artwork packages, then you can do it yourself. If you're not certain about the look you want or the number of pages, you can purchase pre-designed laser-printer newsletter paper from companies such as Queblo  and Paper Direct. These sheets are usually on a high-quality 11" x 17" paper, printed on both sides with a pre-set layout for columns and announcements. Most are printed in two-color ink. The major drawback to using this paper is that you have to adjust your content to fit in their layout, but then again, that could also simplify things for you.
We produce a school newsletter totally in house. We hired a graphic artist to design the basic layout and we simply place the new information within the template. We usually add different clip art graphics with each issue (that reflects the subject matter). We change the color of the paper with each issue. At first we printed them on our own copier, but now that we produce more than 1,000 at a time, it is more cost-effective to take them to a printer. If you are reproducing 200 copies or less, it may be advantageous to print them on your laser printer or copier. Keep in mind that your newsletter will continue to evolve, so don't worry about it being perfect from the start.
As far as technical layout is concerned, include plenty of white space. Too much type is overwhelming and unattractive. Air out the copy by incorporating visuals such as photographs or graphics. Pictures really do convey a thousand words. Also, keep the style consistent. Simplicity is the key. Avoid using too many lines and boxes, and make certain that your graphic images don't detract from the content. Screens (a graduated shading of ink from clear to solid) are wonderful tools for newsletters: they provide visual depth and can make it appear that you've used an additional color of ink. You also want your newsletter to stand out visually and tactilely. You can accomplish this by printing it on colored paper, using textured stock, or folding it so it's a different size than most mail (e.g., magazines and #10 envelopes).
Entice potential readers to open it immediately by prominently displaying your company name and logo. If you are unsure that readers would recognize your name, highlight the newsletter's purpose or slogan. Then list the contents or use some type of teaser. Let your potential readers know why they should read your newsletter right now!
It's wise to keep your newsletter length to six pages or less. You want to provide enough information to inspire someone to read it, but you don't want it to be so filled with material that it requires a significant block of time to get through it. The idea is to create a newsletter that's grabs your potential readers' attention so they pick it up and read it IMMEDIATELY, and to furnish readers with just the right balance of graphically appealing and interesting material so they read it from cover to cover in one sitting.
Also, leave your readers anticipating your next issue by giving them a preview. For example, say "In the next issue we will describe six techniques for alleviating headaches," or "Next issue includes an interview with Sue Smith, a local track star who shared how she reduced her sprint time by 10 percent."
Newsletters can be published on a set schedule - monthly, quarterly, biannually - or you can simply produce them whenever it's appropriate. Oftentimes a business owner generates a newsletter when a change occurs in the company or something major happens within the industry.
Keep your newsletter straightforward and personal. Remember, it isn't a magazine or a newspaper - it's a personal communication to keep you in touch with your current clients, educate the public and promote your practice. Newsletters keep you and your clients connected.