When clients and prospects ask me questions like this, my answer is a resounding “It depends.” I think of email automation software the same way I think of any tool, including the telephone. It’s only as good as your ability to use it correctly. Does the phone still work? It depends who you call and what you say when they answer! Email marketing is no different in that regard.

As a rule, I don’t read email newsletters. Not because “newsletters don’t work,” but because most newsletters that land in my inbox are pretty awful. They usually consist of irrelevant information that provide nothing useful for my immediate needs. More importantly, they’re usually boring. Tip of the week? Yawn. Self-serving puke about how great your company is? Delete. I won’t unsubscribe, but I will ignore your emails.

For this article, I interviewed Courtney Barbee, a local bookkeeper in Raleigh. I’ve been getting her newsletter for several months as of this post. Unlike most of the newsletters I’ve received, hers stands out to me because on many occasions, I’ve felt compelled to open and read it. The format was simple, and mainly consisted of curated articles on topics that, for the most part, had nothing to do with bookkeeping. For instance, she recently sent out a collection of articles about lessons learned from the debacle known as the Fyre Festival, where attendees paid over $10,000 for what was described as a highly disappointing experience. On another occasion, Courtney sent out a collection of articles about relationships between introverts and extraverts, a topic near and dear to my heart.

A question that many are bound to ask at this juncture: what is the point of sending out articles that don’t have anything to do with the product or service you sell? I often hear salespeople and business owners talk about “staying top of mind with prospects,” but they often forget that you can only stay in someone’s mind if they want you there. If someone isn’t in the market for what you are selling, they have no reason to pay attention to an ad for it. Email is only effective for driving immediate sales if the list consists of people who have recently expressed a desire to buy, or given some indication that they are in the market. Newsletters, on the other hand, usually go out to general contact lists.


In interviewed Courtney to get some insights from her about how she uses her email newsletter to grow her bookkeeping business here.


Dave Baldwin: In general, how has your newsletter helped you to grow your bookkeeping business?

Courtney Barbee: The newsletter was one of the first real bits of marketing that we attempted as a company, and we’ve found that it’s been beneficial for establishing ourselves as experts within our field. I’ve often been out networking, met someone in-person for the first time, and had them respond, “Oh, I love your newsletter!” So trust is established before we’ve even really talked one-on-one.


DB: Have you found that the people on your email list have expressed interest in any particular topics?

CB: Articles related to time management seem to get the highest click-through rates. I imagine it’s because that is one of the most commonly-shared aspects of entrepreneurial life; no matter how your business is doing, you are probably busy.


DB: Has anything surprised you about the responses that you have gotten to your newsletter?

CB: I’m still just surprised any time I hear that someone has read the newsletter. I know how many newsletters I receive, and how few of them I get to on a regular basis. So it’s always an honor to know that someone else made time to read what I’ve put together or written.


DB: How do you come up with topics or angles to cover when you curate your content?

CB: I frequently cover topics that have been recently relevant to my business or a client’s business. I also like to put a business view on the news of the day. For instance, I had a big newsletter about Amazon Prime Day, after that was such a disaster.


DB: What are some of your favorite blogs or online magazines?

CB: My favorite business magazines are Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Inc. (I also enjoy the old standbys of Harvard Business Review and Forbes.) For fun, I read Cracked every day.
You can learn more about Courtney Barbee and her business, The Bookkeeper, on her web site.