It's a good bet that by now most of your customers have e-mail accounts and Internet access. So why not use an e-mail newsletter to reach them all at once? Unlike spam, electronic newsletters allow customers to "opt in" by contacting you or clicking a link on your Web site.
And with the right tools, e-mail newsletters are easy to produce and manage. You might be able to manage mailings through your e-mail service, but it's risky. If, for example, you forget to remove someone who wants off the mailing list, kiss that relationship goodbye.
A better strategy is to use automated mail management software or a mail management service. Both allow recipients to add and remove themselves from the mailing list. They also make sending messages easy, automatically breaking large address lists into smaller groups and ensuring that one bad address won't shut down your whole mailing.
Here are three options for creating a professional-quality electronic newsletter:
* Ask your current Web host about its services. The company might provide mailings management as part of your existing plan (or for a minimal charge) and might offer automated subscribe/ unsubscribe capabilities. You won't be able to customize each newsletter, but if your customer list is small, this might be all you need.
* FortuneFlow's "e-Blast" ($249, www.fortuneflow.com) integrates with ACT! and Outlook address books and helps you manage your newsletter like a pro. ACT! users can embed merge fields into their newsletters, allowing them to personalize each client's e-mail.
* Lyris ListManager ( www.lyris.com) offers both installed software and monthly hosted solutions, starting at around $500 and $200 a month, respectively. Popular with multinational corporations, ListManager's high-end system costs more but offers significant advantages, including an easy-to-use tool for adding subscribe/unsubscribe capabilities to your Web site; built-in message templates; and tracking and analysis tools to help you get more from your marketing campaigns. --Joe Stoddard is a technology consultant to the construction industry. For private help, contact him at email@example.com.