Personalizing Query Letters for Better Response, Part 2

In Issue #204 of The Golden Thread, we gave you Part 1 of how to use mail-merge to personalize your self-promo letters.

Why go through this extra work? Because it makes your potential client feel like you’re writing/talking directly to him.

Sound familiar? It should. Because a self-promotion letter is nothing more than a sales letter. You’re selling yourself and your skills to potential clients. And all successful sales letters speak personally to *one* prospect (in this case, a prospective client).

Let’s see how mail-merge lets you personalize your self-promo letter so it doesn’t feel like a form letter.

For our example, we’ll use the latest version of MS Word (Word 2003 for Windows or Word 2004 for Mac). If you have a different word processor, see its instructions on how to start a mail-merge letter and incorporate these database fields.

  1. MAKE YOUR DATABASE

    We described how to do this in Issue #204. Your potential client database fields should be similar to this: Company_Name, First_Name, Last_Name, Position, Address, City, St, ZIP, Phone, Email, Other1, Other2. Make sure your database is accurate and that you’ve saved it someplace where you can find it easily.

  2. CREATE A BLANK DOCUMENT

    Click Control-N (Windows), or Command-N (Mac). Save with a meaningful name (like January06 Self-Promo Master Letter) in the same place where you saved your database.

  3. OPEN THE DATA MERGE MANAGER

    Go to Tools>Data Merge Manager; a small palette or window opens.

  4. CLICK “CREATE” IN THE “MAIN DOCUMENT” TAB

    Have your blank document open and in front when you do this. Choose “Form Letter.” This automatically makes the front document a form letter.

  5. CLICK “GET DATA” IN THE DATA SOURCE TAB

    You have the option of starting a New Data Source (NO, DON’T), Open Data Source (YES, DO), using the MS Office Address Book (NO, DON’T – not until you’re more skilled in mail-merge), or opening a FileMaker Pro database (NO, DON’T). Navigate to where you saved your database and click to use it. The Data Merge Manager then opens a section with all the merge fields you created in the database.

  6. WRITE YOUR LETTER AND PUT MERGE FIELDS IN PLACE.

    In the latest versions of MS Word, you simply click on the field you want to use and drag it into your letter where you want it. In earlier versions, you put the cursor where you wanted it and clicked on a button in the Data Merge Manager. The field would appear there.

  7. PROOF YOUR LETTER, THEN MERGE TO NEW DOCUMENT

    When you’re finished writing the letter, inserting the merge fields, spell-checking, and proofing the merge letter (by reading a PRINT-OUT of it), you’re ready to merge your data to make personalized letters.

    Word gives you four options for Merge: Merge to Printer, Merge to New Document, Merge to E-Mail, and Query Options. For now, you want to Merge to New Document. If you Merge to Printer and have some mistakes you didn’t find earlier, you could wind up with 150 printed letters for scratch paper. And ignore Query Options until you’ve gained the basic skills.

    When you Merge to New Document, your computer creates one file containing all the personalized letters. Page through each one to make sure the formatting looks okay. (It usually does.) If there are problems, figure out what went wrong. Close the merged letter file without saving it. Make the necessary corrections on your master letter. Then merge again.

    When you have the letters looking perfect, print them on good quality paper.

  8. MAKE MAIL-MERGE ENVELOPES

    You can use the same database to make envelopes. We do not recommend using labels, since they are less personal. However, if you have problems printing envelopes, labels are an acceptable option.

  9. LEARN THE FINER POINTS OF MERGING

    Have a friend who’s skilled at mail-merge help you learn the finer points (like using the Word Field option). And pick up a good book on your word processor or on mail-merge (like the outstanding “Quickstart Visual Guide” series from Peachpit Press).

NOW … HERE’S A SAMPLE LETTER

Your word processor determines what your merge fields look like on the page when you put them in, but I’ve indicated them here by using double angle brackets like this: <<Company>>

January 9, 2006

<<First_Name>> <<Last_Name>>

<<Position>>

<<Company>>

<<Address>>

<<City>>, <<St>> <<Zip>>

Dear Mr. <<Last_Name>>:

(Alternatively – Dear <<First_Name>>:)

The body copy of your strong, benefit-oriented self-promo letter goes in this space. It should be about 4 or 5 paragraphs. At an appropriate point, you put <<Other1>> in the letter. This is anywhere from one sentence to a short paragraph that applies only to that particular company or marketing director.

Find a way to use the company’s name at least once in the body of the letter. For example: “I am eager to discuss with you how I can help <<Company>> increase direct-mail response. Please …”

Respectfully yours,

Joan Smith

There you have it: the fundamentals of using mail-merge to personalize any letter. Practice a few times before doing it for real. And once you master the skills, you’ll discover that mail-merge is a powerful tool to have in your self-promo arsenal.

[Editorial Note: Here’s Part 1 of this article in case you missed it.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: January 9, 2006

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