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Brian Alt

Interview: Eldon Sarte, Part I.
By Brian Alt

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Eldon Sarte, publisher of the Dirtsmart Netpreneur, was one of the first friends and professional contacts I made when I first starting exploring this "Internet thing" several years ago. In that time, we've exchanged literally hundreds of email messages on just about every topic related to running a Net-centered business, many of which I consider critical to the development of my practices and opinions in the areas of business and email publishing. His ezine has for a long time been on my must-read list due to its honest advice and no-nonsense approach to its topic. If you're not already on his list, definitely check it out.

I recently asked Eldon to share some of his views on email publishing for this column. The results are this two-part interview that will run today and tomorrow. Today we primarily discuss the development of an ezine's audience, while Part II tomorrow will explore ezine promotion and revenue-generation. I hope you enjoy it :)

Brian Alt: Tell us a little bit about the Dirtsmart Netpreneur. You seem to have a really loyal following. To what do you attribute your ezine's success over the last couple of years?

Eldon Sarte: The Dirtsmart Netpreneur is a free weekly ezine for serious Internet entrepreneurs. I start off each issue with some NetBiz-oriented commentary, advice, tips, or whatever's planted in my noodle at that particular point in time; some (Dirtsmart's publisher) news; a personal recommendation and review of a neat and useful netpreneur resource (software, site, etc.); and a revolving gallery of additional features.

Loyal following? I guess you could call more than a few of my readers "loyal." Although I would think that all other successful "single personality" ezines have their share of loyalists as well.

As for its modest success, considering that I haven't put a heck of a lot of effort into promoting it all that much, I can't say that it's due to anything more than the fact that some people simply like it. Some don't, of course -- I've probably lost just as many subscribers as I've retained -- but the Net's so huge, that's not really a concern.

BA: What do you mean by "single personality" ezines? How important is that factor in cultivating a loyal following?

ES: Original content ezines are usually very personal publications. They're extensions of the writer's own personality, style, and "feel." So really, readers aren't loyal to an ezine or pub per se; they're loyal to the person behind it. It's pretty much vital to have that single or dominant personality to cultivate anything resembling a loyal following. Without it, all you've got is an information source. Nothing wrong with that. But info sources are very easily duplicated. Can't say the same for a "personality" that readers closely identify with... and loyally follow.

BA: Was there any confusion from your subscribers when you changed the name of your ezine? Did you learn anything from this process?

ES: Actually, no, I don't recall there being any confusion. Maybe I was just lucky, since I didn't announce the name change until after I did it. Of the feedback I got, only a tiny bit was even close to negative.

BA: You often mention the feedback of your readers within your ezine itself. What benefits do you derive from having an engaged audience?

ES: Communication without feedback is called "talking to yourself." :-)

Feedback in all its forms is pretty vital for any publishing operation, and even more so, I would say, for a small concern where there simply isn't anyone around to butt heads with. So, for the typical one-person ezine, trying to engage an audience should rank pretty high in that old TO DO list.

But frankly, I consider the amount of direct feedback I receive from Dirtsmart's audience quite unimpressive. It comes, sure, but not as much as I would want. I ask for it regularly, even do polls and stuff, but the percentage of the total readership that directly "engages" is disappointing.

However, the Net audience has this interesting and very quick way of showing you what it thinks of your work: They stay around as subscribers, tell others even, if they like what they see, but don't give a second thought to removing themselves from your list immediately when they don't. Learn to "read" and keep a close eye on your subscriber counts and activity and you may have all the feedback you really need.


(Tip-Within-A-Tip: The above interview was conducted completely via email, which I've found to be an excellent source of inexpensive but high-quality content for the ezine publisher. I've also done recent interviews via ICQ chat and the telephone, both of which offer a more "live" feel but don't let the interviewee reflect as much upon his or her responses. Try them out and see which method works best for you.)

Ezine-Tips for March 27, 2001

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