Expert Commentary

Writing Your Own Newsletter

This is the fourth column on the subject of personal lines risk management. The author believes that there are 16 additional commitments to be made by an insurance agency wishing to add fee-based risk management services to their personal lines customers. Writing a personally produced newsletter is one of those commitments.

Personal Risk Management
November 2004

Writing your own newsletter is essential, I believe, if you're going to provide value-added risk management for your personal lines clients. It is one of the 16 commitments I make to clients as part of my risk management framework of services. I see no other way to keep clients informed of new laws, new coverages, new coverage limitations, and most important, your expert risk management counsel on each than writing your own newsletter.

"Store-bought" newsletters (those generic newsletters written by others and printed with your logo) don't meet this objective. Their primary purpose is PR—to keep your name in front of clients. They provide little risk management value. I receive these generics from accountants, lawyers, financial people—even auto glass companies—all the time. At best, I glance at them before tossing them. But when the stock market changes or a unique investment opportunity presents itself, I receive a personally written letter from my financial adviser, along with his financial advice regarding what actions he recommends I take. I always read those letters cover-to-cover.

I just completed writing my 60th newsletter issue. I have written them three times a year for 20 years (starting in January of 1985). I constantly receive expressions of appreciation from clients. Many clients have newsletter folders in which they keep back issues for future reference.

My office staff receives several calls responding to my advice each time a new issue hits their doorstep. Here are some examples from my January 2004 newsletter to demonstrate the variety of topics you can cover in a newsletter as well as the process of informing, analyzing, and then advising.

January 2004

  • Advised clients of the new Health Savings Account program effective January 1, 2004.

  • Advised clients with Medical Savings Accounts how to convert to Health Savings Accounts and the advantages of doing so.

  • Passed on, from a police officer client, a risk management tip when selling your car—keep the plates—ensuring that the new buyer is forced to do a title transfer and reducing the risk to the seller of being involved in future accidents where the vehicle is still titled in their name with no insurance in force.

  • Introduced the new Medicare drug bill and advised clients what the bill covers, its shortcomings, and my advice.

  • Informed clients of the new 2004 contribution limits for retirement plans—IRA, simple, and 401(k).

  • Recommended to small-business owners considering retirement plans that they download a copy of an excellent IRS publication explaining the pros and cons of each choice.

  • Alerted clients to the new mold coverage restrictions or exclusions and included a grid showing each of the personal lines markets we use along with their new policy limits for property damage and liability claims. I included hypothetical stories for a property claim relating to mold as well as the liability claim, showing how a client could be harmed. Concluded with my specific risk management advice as to what steps the client can take to protect themselves and reduce the risks associated with mold claims.

  • Shared a story of a client and their children heading off for a winter vacation to the beaches of Costa Rica followed by my advice on three things to do when vacationing outside the United States.

With every January issue, I include an index of all past issues on topics that are still current, along with the specific newsletter issue or issues in which the topic was addressed. This resource certainly benefits clients, but it is also a huge benefit to myself and my staff in locating pertinent topics. I invite you to check out the most recent index. You have my permission to use the topics for suggestions in writing your own newsletter.

Writing Tips

If you're considering writing your own newsletter, here are a few suggestions that have worked well for me over the years.

  1. Keep it simple. I just use a piece of letterhead. I don't get fancy with color or graphics. I know that the easier I make it, the more likely I am to stay with it.

  2. Use a simple format. I have always liked the brief bullet-like format of the Kiplinger Letter. Makes it easy for busy people to skip over topics that don't pertain to them. Using short paragraphs and brevity makes it easier to write and easier to read.

  3. Create a newsletter idea folder and keep it handy. As I receive notices of changes or additions to federal or state statutes, coverage changes, or new restrictions or exclusions, I just drop the bulletin in the folder. If I'm discussing a particular problem with a client that I realize probably affects many of my clients, I immediately jot a note to myself, and drop it in the folder later. I have found if I do this faithfully, when it's time to write the next newsletter issue I have more than enough important topics that I can cover.

  4. Commit to a manageable number of newsletters per year. For me, that is three times a year. I doubt if I could have stayed with this for 20 years if I tried to do any more than three times a year.

  5. Send your newsletter in an envelope with first-class postage. That conveys the message that this is important and not junk mail.

The Educational Benefits to You

Clearly your client benefits a great deal by receiving a personally written newsletter from you. But as I look back on 20 years of newsletter writing, it occurs to me that a substantial amount of the personal lines expertise I have did not come from the CPCU or CIC designations I have earned. Rather, it came as a result of writing these newsletters. Every time there was a change in laws, coverages, or other pertinent areas, in order to write informatively to clients about the topic and then to be able to recommend strategies, I was forced to really study each of the changes in-depth, often getting copies of the pertinent laws or policies so I could understand and interpret them accurately for myself. I probably could not have written the book Insurance for Dummies without the expertise I gained writing these newsletters.

I have certainly experienced the wisdom of the principle, "If you really want to learn something, teach it to others." I hope you can too.

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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