Marge Petkovsek is the one-person training department for Financial Information Management, Inc. (FIMI), a software development company for futures traders. Users of FIMI’s ProphetX software are scattered throughout the world—an added challenge for any software trainer or IT support staff.

Out of necessity as much as initiative, Petkovsek developed an online training newsletter, Tricks for the Trade. If you’ve thought about creating your own online training publication, her tips for content development, design, and promotion can help you build an effective new training tool.
We asked the three winners of our training newsletter contest to describe how they developed their publications and how the newsletters benefited their training programs. The first place winner, Linda Stephens, editor of the S.U.N. newsletter, explained how lunch can be a good time for training, while the second place winner, Shannon Stein, told how she developed the new Roadway newsletter. Petkovsek’s Tricks for the Trade was the third place finisher. Click here to read our article about the three winning newsletters.
Why create an online training newsletter?
Petkovsek created Tricks for the Trade as a support service for the users of her company’s futures-trading software. The newsletter’s “cookbook style” directions ease the burden on FIMI’s staff members, who provide on-the-spot troubleshooting for clients.

“We have a team of tech support people who have enough on their plate without having to answer training questions,” Petkovsek said. “I’m on the road quite a bit of the time, so with this page on the Web, they can direct users to it for quick information and not have to spend hours on the phone explaining something that the user could be following step by step.”

Availability is also a benefit. Regardless of their time zone or work schedule, ProphetX users have access to Tricks for the Trade 24 hours a day.

Originally, the newsletter’s focus was simply to answer frequently asked questions. But Petkovsek said it has also become a timesaving vehicle to inform users about software updates and new features.

“Changes always seem to get buried in documentation somewhere and users never know about it until someone physically shows them or tells them about it,” Petkovsek said. “We have clients all over the world and it’s physically impossible to visit each one.”

The online newsletter provides the added benefit of serving as good PR for the company. Petkovsek uses the site as a way to communicate concern and good will to clients.

“We want users to know that we listen to them,” Petkovsek said. “By implementing their suggestions, we’re telling them that we care about them as customers.”

Advice for the design wary
Designing a newsletter can be a daunting task for those without much experience, but Petkovsek said she would encourage other trainers to create their own publication despite any lack of design skills.

“The format isn’t as important as the content,” Petkovsek said. “You can make changes as you go, and you’ll find that you will get responses from it.”

Petkovsek uses Microsoft’s FrontPage software to create Tricks for the Trade.

“It’s quick and easy to use for this type of Web page,” she said.

Tricks for the Trade online newsletter

If you’re interested in learning more about FrontPage, click here for an online tutorial from The Digital Toolbox .

Content qualms: Ask, answer, and plan ahead
“If you don’t know what to include, just ask,” Petkovsek said. “People like to give their opinions. Also, it really doesn’t take that long. If you keep a list of possible topics, all you have to do is refer to the list, choose a topic and write a short document.

“Since I’m out of the office a lot of the time, I’ll do several [articles] in one sitting, having them available for the next publication when I need them. Sometimes, this isn’t always possible, especially if many changes are occurring, but it helps when you’re in a pinch.”

Many sources have contributed to Tricks for the Trade’s content. Software changes, reader feedback, and even industry changes have made their way into the online newsletter.

“The first year, there were many updates to the software,” Petkovsek said. “It was new and as users provided feedback we made many changes.

“Sometimes, it’s the industry itself that changes. For example, we are in the futures-trading industry. A few months ago, the Chicago Board of Trade began trading weather. Since this was a new commodity, users wanted to know about it. So that month, the topic was the weather and how to access it.

“In addition, as I train, I note topics that users find confusing or hard to use.”

For a great source of tips and tricks to add spice to your own online newsletter, check out TechRepublic’s downloads page.

If you sell it, they will come
Petkovsek advises that you must make users aware of your newsletter to make it a productive use of your time.

“You need to constantly remind people that it’s available,” she said. “Since they aren’t receiving a hard copy of a newsletter, they may forget the site is available. If they don’t know it’s there, they won’t use it.”

Petkovsek said she constantly reminds her internal users and support personnel about updates to the site via e-mail, and the tech support staff refers users to the site whenever possible. Apparently, her advertising has paid off.

“In the beginning, it was slow, as they [internal and external users] didn’t know there were resources available to them,” she said. “But now, if I miss my 15th of the month deadline, they’re on the phone letting me know they’re waiting for it!”
Are you about to launch your own online training publication? If so, what are your concerns? If you’ve already jumped in, what lifesaving advice do you have for those poised on the brink? E-mail us your comments—we want to hear your story—or post your two cents’ worth below.