Most folks frown on getting unsolicited commercial e-mail, mainly because it has become associated with pornographers, scam artists and clueless losers. While you must distance your business from e-mail “spam,” the real issue isn’t the tool; it’s what you do with it.
You can use e-mail newsletters and discussions groups to draw new customers to your business, strengthen your bond with existing clients and make customers voluntarily share tips and solve one another’s problems. All of this can be done for a fraction of the cost of sending out a piece of regular mail-1/2 cent to 20 cents a piece compared with 50 cents to $2. You may even be able to get advertisers to pay to reach your readers if your list has 5,000 or more names.
Technically, you could send an e-mail newsletter from your everyday mail program, simplifying the process by creating an alias-a single name representing all the recipients’ names and e-mail addresses. Most mail programs allow this, with possible limits on the number of recipients. So, putting “Dance Academy” in the “To:” line of the mailer will post the newsletter to all 37 students at your school.
You can host an e-mail list on your own using any of several software programs known as list servers (also called list serves; one of the brand-name programs is LISTSERV(r)), which automate the job of distributing the mail in each subscriber’s preferred format. You’ll want to let the person choose whether he or she receives plain text or an HTML-formatted newsletter, since many people can’t receive HTML e-mails. Also, most list servers have group-speak features for registered customers who want to exchange information.
There may already be basic list serve software included in your high-end e-mail package, such as Ipswitch’s Imail 6.0 for Windows 2000, available for free trial at www.ipswitch.com. Stand-alone list servers, such as LISTSERV, ListProc and Lyris, are more powerful.
LISTSERV (www.lsoft.com) from L-Soft is a very popular package for Windows, Unix, VMS and VM. The Lite version, for up to 500 subscribers, is $500. The Classic version offers a customizable Web interface, database integration and Web archiving. It varies in price ($625 or more a year) based on the operating system, number of lists, number of subscribers, mail processing (hosting) by L-Soft and other factors.
ListProc (www.listproc.net) was made for Unix, but may work on any system that lets you compile PERL scripts. ListProc can send group or individual messages, archive mail and provide subscription confirmation. ListProc is available for a free 90-day trial, but costs $2,500 for a license-less for nonprofits and companies that join the nonprofit CREN (Corporation for Research and Educational Networking).
Lyris (www.lyris.com) from Lyris Technologies is available for both Windows and Unix, and is free for an unlimited number of lists of up to 200 members each. It will cost you anywhere from $495 up to $7,495 for larger-size lists, private lists, a high-performance mail-sending engine (DNS cache, more simultaneous sends) and so forth.
Look at the type of functionality you want built into your