Staying in regular touch with your customers is a great way to ensure they remain customers – your customers, that is. Because if they’re not hearing from you, they’re probably hearing from somebody else. It’s not practical, of course, to get in front of every customer every week or month, so the next best thing is to send them something regular to read. That’s why blogs and newsletters are all the rage. Hardly a week goes by without a call from somebody asking me for advice on getting a blog or newsletter up and running. On the face of it, they seem the perfect choice: easy to get off the ground, cheap,┬átrackable and completely scalable. What could be simpler? But appearances can be deceptive. Blogs and newsletters are a great way to stay on the customer radar, but I think they should come with one of those warnings you see about puppies and kittens: they’re not just for Christmas, but for life. So here are my top tips for launching a successful blog or newsletter.

Plan ahead

Magazines have this down to a fine art. It’s September and you’re a freelance writer with a great idea for an article in the Christmas issue? Too late. Christmas planning was back in July. An Easter idea in January? Maybe next year. The Easter issue was put together in October. Magazines are never caught short – they usually know six months ahead of time what an issue will contain. You’ll need to take the same sort of approach – though in your case, six weeks should be more than enough.

Be realistic

It’s easy to think that you’ll never run out of material and that you’ll always have the time to write and publish your blog or newsletter. That’s rarely the case. You may well use all your best ideas in the first few issues, and then run out of steam.You may also find that you’ve committed yourself to a schedule that’s simply not sustainable. That’s why it’s always best to test before you launch. Collect material, develop ideas and write several issues. Going through the motions will make it seem real, and give you a feel for what’s doable.

Make it irresistible

In the past week alone, I’ve stopped reading one blog and unsubscribed from two newsletters. I lost interest. And that reason was simple: the writer had lost interest too. The guiding principle of blogs and newsletters is to make them informative and entertaining. Tell readers something they couldn’t find elsewhere, or something they couldn’t find as easily elsewhere. Give them facts, anecdotes, statistics. Spice it up with humour. Show them that behind your business are real people who make mistakes, feel frustrations and don’t take themselves too seriously. In other words, connect with them.

Do it because you want to

When your blog or newsletter becomes a chore, you know you’re in trouble. Remember, it’s all the things I said earlier: quick, easy, cheap, and very effective. Why would you not want to do it? If you find yourself turning up at the keyboard with a heavy heart, scratching your head for inspiration, you need to remember that done well, a blog or newsletter can be a goldmine. Done badly, it can damage your image and reputation.

Always be on the lookout

Freelance journalists are great at this sort of thing. Without ideas, they have nothing to write about. And with nothing to write about, they earn nothing. You see the problem. So they always carry a notebook around with them, and have their antennae extended for ideas, angles and interesting stories. And inspiration is everywhere. Just this week, I noticed this ad by Sainsbury’s (the UK supermarket chain). In a Lynn Truss moment, I saw a missing apostrophe in one and wondered about the effect on a brand of dodgy punctuation. If I spotted it, how many others would? And does it really matter? The idea is still on the drawing board. Together with lots of other ideas, some fully formed, some just twinkles in the eye of my blog.