Learning how to start a newsletter is a great way of building a relationship with readers and earning more money as a writer.
Deciding to create a quality newsletter is a lot of work. It is not as simple as writing a quick email and hitting send.
A good newsletter has a clear plan, content strategy and ideal audience. Each broadcast includes useful content and clear call-to-actions. Quality newsletters keep away from common spam triggers, so they doesn’t end up marked as spam. And readers love opening them.
Yes, email newsletters take some work, but they are worth it. Let's cover how to start a newsletter today.
Step 1: Decide On Email Newsletter Software
Substack is a good choice if you're new to newsletters as it's free (although they take a cut once you charge subscribers). It's also quick and easy to use.
If you want more control over your newsletter and audience, a dedicated email marketing tool like ConvertKit is a good choice, but you'll need to pay a monthly fee upfront.
Ghost is another popular alternative. It combines newsletter software with the content publishing capabilities of a traditional website CMS like WordPress.
Other popular options include Aweber, Tiny Letter, ActiveCampaign and Get Response.
If you have an email list, you can import it to any one of these tools.
Step 2: Set a Newsletter Goal
Like with any writing goal, your newsletter needs a purpose and a goal. As a newsletter creator, do you want to:
- Generate leads for a business
- Increase traffic to your website
- Sell products and services
- Create a paid newsletter business
- Share your writing with interested readers
It takes months if not years to build a thriving newsletter business, so it's also worth considering how much time you can dedicate to create content and sending it out.
Step 3. Identify Your Audience
Unless you're Elon Musk or Mr. Beast, a newsletter needs to cater for something people want… and not what you like writing about.
So, ask yourself, “Who is my ideal newsletter subscriber and how will my newsletter content help them?” Consider their:
- Income status
- Other demographics
Once you have a target audience in mind, ask yourself, “What problem will my newsletter solve for them?”
Alternatively, target your newsletter at a specific industry and cover emerging trends. Many current and former journalists on Substack follow this approach.
For example, I subscribe to the Flow State newsletter on Substack. It's aimed at people who want lyric-free music for working. Every day, they send out an album suggestion.
Tip: Browse the Substack ranking to see top-performing free and paid newsletters.
Step 4: Brainstorm content Ideas
With a purpose defined, brainstorm potential content ideas. For example, will you:
- Write long-form story-driven emails (good copywriting skills are important
- Round-up news from your industry
- Include videos, images and podcast embeds
- Interview other people
- Write about an emerging industry like cryptocurrency
- Use statistics and research (check out Statista)
If you're unsure, join similar newsletters in your niche or that your target audience subscribes to already. Use this research to gauge popular content formats for your audience. This step will also help determine the frequency of email broadcasts i.e. daily, weekly, monthly.
Spend some time on this step so you can plan out potential newsletter topics a few weeks or months in advance.
Tip: Create a swipe file in Evernote of newsletter content across industries that you like. Use these as content ideas.
Step 5: Design Your Newsletter
Figuring out your preferred space, style, and formatting is important. A good newsletter template should be easy to read so the person receiving can scan or read on a small screen easily.
Substack and ConvertKit take care of this step for you. With Ghost, you can install various themes and pick one that reflects your personal brand.
Also consider an ideal word-count for each broadcast. While you can write newsletters that are thousands of words long, Gmail and other email service providers will cut off text after a certain point.
Tip: If in doubt, use the default option in your preferred tool or opt for a plain text newsletter. Both will look good on any device.
Step 6. Create a Landing Page for Your Newsletter
Subscribers need a way of opting onto your list with their name and best email address. A dedicated landing page is the best way for them to do so. Use a dedicated tool like LeadPages. Alternatively, ConvertKit and Ghost include dedicated landing pages.
Again, I like Substack as it creates this landing page automatically without a free. Once you have a landing page, you can generate traffic to it via strategies like:
- Paid ads
- Content marketing and blogging
- A call-to-action to share the newsletter inside of each broadcast
- Lead magnets in books
Growing a newsletter is a guide (or a job!) in itself. However, in the interview at the bottom of this post, Terry Godier of Indiemailer explains how to grow an audience.
Tip: Create a freebie that encourages people to opt-in, like a free book, report or checklist.
Step 7: Write Directly to One Reader
If you're still unsure about what to write, go personal. Good writing addresses the reader directly. Think of it as like writing to a friend about a topic you're both interested in.
Again, it helps if you know your customers or readers. If they find your writing personal, they're more apt to open your broadcast, click on links and even share. If you don't know who's on your list, chat to one of them over Zoom or Skype. If you have a larger list, survey them first.
I'd usually recommend drafting a broadcast in a writing app like IA Writer or Google Docs. That way, you can write more without worrying too much about formatting. Once you've written a draft, check it for grammar errors using an app like Grammarly. Alternatively, send the draft to a friend or an editor.
I use a combination of all three approaches.
Step 8: Add Content To your First Newsletter
After editing your first broadcast, upload it to your newsletter software as choice. Add line breaks, sub-headings and so on, until the text should look cleans and easy to read.
Sentences in newsletters are usually short, as are paragraphs. This extra spacing encourages clickthroughs and simplifies reading on a phone or tablet.
Link out to attributable sources if applicable. If you're adding images, include ALT tags for people with disabilities. Including lots of rich media content isn't a great idea, as it will clog up people's mailboxes. If you can, link to this media instead.
Tip: Include a strong call-ta-action at the bottom of the newsletter for people to share with their followers or fans on social media. This will encourage growth.
Step 9: Write a Good Subject Line
Readers prefer opening emails from people, rather than from companies. If possible, send a newsletter in your own name. Along using your real name, choose a catchy subject line.
Keep it short and make it an actionable proposition. You want them to wonder what is coming next that will benefit them. ConvertKit allows users to write and test two subject lines.
Step 8: Ensure Compliance With Spam Laws
Include a footer included with the business email address along with a simple way that people can unsubscribe from the email if they decide they do not want them anymore. This is called CAN-SPAM.
GDPR is key piece of data protection legislation in Europe. This one says emails can only go to those who have opted in. Both legalities need to be adhered to if you have international customers on your list. Again, professional newsletter software will take care of these legal headaches.
It's also a good idea to avoid words like trigger spam filters like FREE, earn $, make money and so on. Hubspot has a full list here.
Tip: Keep a list of subject lines from newsletters you like. Mix and match with your content ideas.
Step 10: Test It
Send a test email to yourself and check it in tools like Gmail, Outlook and Hotmail and on various devices. This way, you can gauge what your content looks like for recipients.
If you have a budget and a larger list, Litmus will simplify this step. If you don't have a budget, send yourself a test broadcast first. You can also set up dummy email accounts for testing using Guerrillamail.
If you're using ConvertKit, Ghost or Substack, you can send a test email to yourself before a broadcast.
Tip: Don't let testing get in the way of hitting send if you've a small list. Readers will let you know quickly enough if there's an issue.
Step 10: Send Your First Broadcast
It's time to hit SEND. Subscribes may email back after a few hours with a response. If you have time, it's a good idea to respond to them as you can learn more about your audience.
If your list is small, don't expect too many replies at first. And if someone replies complaining about a typo or broken link, take heart. At least, they read it.
Tip: With a larger list, managing responses is a job in itself. Consider creating an FAQ and saving it as a canned or auto-response.
Step 11: Review Your Stats
Before sending your next broadcast, review how the last one performed. Check:
- The open rate
- Clickthrough rate
- Clicks on links
If you have a small list, these figures won't mean much. If you have a larger list, use this information to adjust content next time.
Tip: Write the next one!
How to Start a newsletter With Terry Godier of Indiemailer
When I started my new newsletter 100% Unfinished, I studied how the experts do it.
In this interview, we cover:
- Why every nonfiction writer should start a newsletter
- How writers earn a living from a newsletter
- Which newsletters are so popular this year
- What makes a good newsletter
- What newsletter promotion strategies he recommends
And lots more
Like the show? Leave a short review or rating wherever you're listening to it.
Bryan: If you've been writing for a while sooner or later, you're going to want somebody to read your work. Hi there, my name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast.
Bryan: Lately, I've been reflecting on newsletters. Why newsletters? Well, social media is great and all for posting your blog posts and your articles. But let's face it, people are overwhelmed with all of the information on social media. Whereas when something goes into your inbox, it can feel a little bit more personal.
Bryan: So a couple of months ago, I set up my own newsletter on a platform called SOSTAC. SOSTAC actually takes all the technical headache out of starting a newsletter. Basically, you set up an account, and then all you have to do is publish content, and it will send it straight to people's inbox or to their email account. And your job then is to simply create the content, and if you can, attract subscribers to your newsletter.
Bryan: There's a little bit more to it than that, of course, I mean, attracting subscribers texts a bit of work. So what I've been doing is writing articles on platforms like Medium. So I'll write articles about topics like creativity, or writing, or even parenting, or more colorful pieces, or entrepreneurship, or business. And I'll put a call to action at the bottom of those posts, and that call to action and will take people over to my SOSTAC newsletter. And they'll be prompted them to either read an article for free or to join the newsletter.
Bryan: And of course, a platform like SOSTAC also helps writers monetize their work. Because if you have a certain amount of subscribers, you can ask people to start paying. And I've been wondering lately about whether to ask people, to pay to support the newsletter, because there was a cost in terms of time and maybe some tools that you might use, but also whether you should ask people to pay because they want additional content. So for example, some insider articles or perhaps audio versions of those articles.
Bryan: So these were the types of questions that I had when I started my newsletter a couple of months ago, and I still had some of these questions. So I found a community that helps people, that helps creative professionals who have started a newsletter, and the community is called IndieMailer. And basically, you can go into IndieMailer, and you can ask all these questions and get answers from other people who've started and grown profitable newsletter businesses.
Bryan: And their founder is Terry Godier, and I recently had the chance to catch up with Terry. And that's what we talk about in this week's podcast interview. Terry explains how he got into setting up newsletters in the first place, and he also talks about one of his other newsletter ventures, Panoply.
Bryan: Terry also explains how often somebody should publish a newsletter, what goes into making a good name for your newsletter, and also when you should monetize and how much you should charge. In other words, all those questions that might be holding you back as a writer from earning a living from your work online. There's lots of other things we get into in the interview. But before we start, I do have an ask.
Bryan: If you've enjoyed the Become a Writer Today podcast to date, or if you're enjoying this episode, if you could leave a review on the iTunes store or wherever you're listening to the podcast, because when you leave a review or even when you rate the show, it will help more readers find it or more listeners in this case. So if more listeners will find the Become a Writer Today podcast, that will obviously help the show grow a lot faster and help more writers.
Bryan: So if you're enjoying the content, or if you enjoy this week's interview with Terry, you can take a moment to leave a review and rate the show that would really mean a lot.
Bryan: Now, let's get over to this week's interview where I catch up with Terry. And I started by asking him to give me a bit of background about how he set up the community for newsletter writers, IndieMailer, and I was surprised when he told me he's been doing this since 2002.
Terry: I started out doing Internet marketing in 2002. I was in high school. I was 15 years old, and I was doing something called SEO before I even knew that other people were doing it as well, trying to get things ranked in the various search engines. And I continued doing that until I stumbled across some communities of people that were doing that. And I realized there was a name for what I was doing, and there was a lot of first hand information that I could leverage and learn from other people's mistakes. So I became a part of that community. And in a large way, that community has kind of shaped how I think about the web and that early community has kind of shaped how I think about marketing in many ways. So that is all I've ever done. Never done anything else other than the marketing stuff.
Terry: And in 2013, I had an opportunity to come on board with one of the largest media companies in the world. It's CBS interactive at that time, which is now called Viacom CBS. And they have a roster of websites that are really unrivaled, and I think there are only maybe four or five other networks that are larger than them in terms of traffic. And those are all advertising networks as far as I'm aware.
Terry: So what I did there was SEO, which is help journalists get their content found in search in a large way. And what I sort of to see five or six years into that was, I started to see that many of these journalists were unhappy with what they were writing about. And this is not an indictment of that model, or most certainly an indictment of traditional publishing, at least in so far as the web is concerned.
Terry: What this is, is that I think many of those times, they're kind of incentivized to write towards things that audiences have a commercial slant to. These are things that are more in the interest of advertisers than they are in the interest of the people reading the content in many ways.
Terry: And so, what I saw happening was that these journalists were leaving their posts, many of them due to layoffs and furloughs and things like that, but leaving their posts. And then they were writing about the same topics for much smaller audiences, and their content was resonating much deeper, and they were able to create a business out of this. So these were things like, the first one that I ran across was Stratechery, which is Ben Thompson, which is fantastic. It's a startup resource. And he writes about basically E school analysis of tech, high-tech from a business standpoint and a product standpoint.
Terry: So then I ran across [Cynicism 00:06:11], which covers China, which seemed to be doing incredibly well. And then just kind of went from there. And I ran across Substack through that, and I started really kind of feeling out this ecosystem that I knew intuitively had to exist. But once I opened the door to that, it really existed in a way that I didn't know before.
Terry: So what I decided to do was to leave CBS and focus on doing this myself, because if I harken back to kind of where my career was launched and where I came from, it was being a member of communities, and it was talking about things in an open way and sharing what I had learned. And what I didn't see happening was I didn't see that happening within the paid newsletter or small newsletter space.
Terry: Really, the people that dominate that news cycle and the people that dominate the conversation there are service providers, and these are people that want to sell an email platform or want to sell a tool or something like that. And I didn't see the organic conversation happening, which has always been the most valuable conversation in my opinion.
Terry: So I decided to build it. And that's where we ended up with IndieMailer. And I arrived at that. I didn't want to start out doing that. I wanted to try to build my own newsletter first, which I did, which is called Conversion Gold. And that kind of just wrapped up all my thoughts and my ideas on marketing websites and trying to build websites that users love. And the obvious answer there is once you do that, you can make more sales, so that was what that was focused around.
Terry: And through doing that, I learned a lot. And through doing that, I tried to find the resources. So it also validated and confirmed the need for a community of like-minded people to where we could share the information, so that's how IndieMailer was born.
Bryan: That's a great story. I actually worked as a journalist years ago, and I can certainly empathize with having to write something that the newspaper or publication wants versus what you might want to write about. And I guess when I started my newsletter, it was only going a few months, my first thought was how to get traffic to the newsletter. Because although I'm familiar with SEO for a blog, it feels a little bit different for newsletters to how to find that audience. So what I've been doing is writing on publications like Medium, and then just having a call to action at the bottom of those posts and sending people towards the newsletter, which will be bryancollins.com. So your community is quite active, IndieMailer. How did you get so many people to join?
Terry: Well, I'm good at the marketing side. My entire thing, right? Like I don't claim to be really good at anything other than thinking clearly. That is what I focused on. I've learned that the biggest value that I've ever created for myself or for clients or for anyone, I don't do any client work anymore, but when I did, was thinking for myself and not doing things the way that they've always been done.
Terry: So the obvious answer is also the real answer. Like the simplest answer I can give you, and that is, I found people that wanted to do the same thing. And then I went out there, and I told them that I was building a place for them. And that's really what I did. And it just so happens that I know the devil's in the details. And in a large way, that community came from indiehackers.com, which is where people go to talk about the small products that they're building, or they're starting to build a product.
Terry: And it's a very similar community. It's just focused around web based businesses, like building software as a service, products, or apps, or things like that. And this ... I built something kind of similar to that, but it's specific to newsletters. Because the information and the actionable information is so esoteric, I felt like it needed its own place.
Bryan: So what would you say is the difference between somebody who has an email list versus a newsletter?
Terry: So an email list versus a newsletter ... I think that is a semantic difference and not one that I really would conform to. I don't really see the arbitrary line there that other people have drawn. I think that in my mind, my reaction to that question was kind of like, okay, so an email list is, makes me feel like that's built for the business. And that's the way for the business to generate sales. A newsletter makes me feel like there's an editorial ... like a curation aspect, or maybe a more authentic product and an authentic voice.
Terry: And to be very clear with you, those are the ones that I'm interested in. And I think that the former should probably just disappear, because I've never really seen them work that well for businesses. You have like 10% open rates, 5% open rates. It's absolutely ridiculous.
Terry: Whereas if you actually bring somebody in, like if you're a business, if you bring somebody in that has an interesting voice and an interesting take on things, it's going to be better for your business. That has always been my hypothesis as long as I've been able to think about these things. Stop building things for the business behind them. I always build things for users, and that's always been the most successful products that I've had, where I've been able to do that.
Bryan: Very good. And I guess what I think of when I use ConvertKit for my site, Become a Writer Today, and what I would do is I would send information about a podcast interview, like this one, to people on the email list. Whereas the difference in the way I'm using SOSTAC, is I just publish the article on SOSTAC, and it automatically sends the articles out into people's inboxes. So I guess I've noticed that if it's going directly into the inbox, more people are going to read it. Whereas if it's what would be a broadcast email in a tool like ConvertKit or MailChimp, it might have a lower open rate like you mentioned, or not everybody's going to click through and read the article.
Terry: Yeah. And I think it's also, if you think about it, and if you reason back to first principles on this, which I'm always known to do, the incentive is different. The deal that you've entered into with the person receiving the email is different. The emails where you send out to shows, that is a transactional relationship, largely is what that is.
Terry: The other side of it is more of a personal relationship. And I think that, that ... It's a choice that you make, and you make that for your business. You make that for yourself, depending on what your projects are. And I think there are pros and cons to both. But you always tie it back to, what do people expect? And that's how you know that you're going to build something that's going to be well received.
Terry: Email largely in my opinion, has always been a dominant medium, like a dominant channel for Internet marketing. In general, wen I say Internet marketing, that's associated with a lot of really weird kind of scam-y stuff and what have you, I just mean telling people about things on the Internet. That's largely what I'm talking about.
Terry: Email has been around forever and will continue to be around. Well, you have social media platforms that kind of ebb and flow, and then you also have the algorithm, the almighty algorithm that dictates whether your content is found and dictates whether or not the audience comes to you in the first place. And second of all, once you do earn the audience, it dictates whether or not you can reach them again.
Terry: Email, you can always reach them again, until they say that you can't. The power is in the inbox. The power is with the person receiving your email and not at the hands of an algorithm. And I think that leads to maybe even better outcomes for the person that subscribes.
Bryan: So you mentioned there that you consider marketing is one of your strengths and that you have a background in SEO. So SEO always helps me with my site, but I'm curious about a newsletter. Should you figure out your target audience first and try and publish content where they're already reading or engaged, or is there some other strategy you'd recommend?
Terry: Yeah. So discoverability is the number one problem with newsletters, and as far as I can tell, that's always been true. And the largest examples of newsletters that we have that have done really, really well have had help. And that often comes in the form ... Like the Motley fool, I think, is the largest newsletter that I've seen and probably the most successful from a revenue standpoint that I'm aware of anyway.
Terry: And you would be remiss though, by saying that, that is just a newsletter business. They are an entire publishing company. They are a media company that has a newsletter product. So they've had a lot of help in building that.
Terry: Discoverability is always the number one problem with newsletters. And I think platforms, that's one reason to choose Substack for example, is they have kind of tried to solve discoverability problems. But the way that I see independent creators doing it is they write about things for the newsletter, and then they have this other stuff that they write about that's public.
Terry: And like the traditional model that I've seen looking at like the Substack writers for example, is that they do three posts a week, and two are public, and one is private, or the inverse of that. That's often what you get.
Terry: I did that for a while, and I was really careful not to try to over commit myself because that's producing a lot of content, because you seem to be kind of in conflict with the goal. Because if you're producing two pieces of free content, then what's so special about the one-page piece of content? Other than it's good for my business to do it this way.
Terry: How can you actually make a compelling case that this other piece of content is the best thing that I've made this week, and I need to be rewarded for that, and these other things are kind of mediocre. Well, then why you're doing them?
Terry: So that's always been the thing that I struggled to understand. So in fact, platforms like Patreon and so on, I think have kind of impacted my thinking on this, where you have to kind of change the deal a little bit. You have to think about, "What am I actually being compensated remunerated for? Am I being compensated for access to this piece of content? Or am I being compensated for the work that I'm doing?"
Terry: And I think once you can kind of handle that conversation and once you get buy in that helps you run your operation. And I think Patreon has done a really good job of helping people establish milestones and things. At this level, we'll be able to do this, not that you're going to get this in addition, but at this level, you'll be able to do this. I think that's the right conversation to be having with your audience, and I think that makes sense.
Terry: And where I'm going with this, okay, I'm going towards the discovery thing. So then if we agree that most people are making a mistake of not putting out their best content, then what is the incentive for people to discover you and how can they know what to expect?
Terry: I'm a believer that you should put out your best content, and then you should ask for support for the rest of the stuff, or you should repurpose the content, in a different format. You should do something else.
Terry: When I was doing conversion goal, that was two newsletters a month. That's all that was. And the first newsletter was a 1500-word piece about a specific marketing principle or a web design or whatever. And the second was all the reader questions. People would write in and ask for clarification on things or ask for specific advice, and I would answer all those questions.
Terry: That's what I was doing. And still to this day, when I talk to people and they asked me about that experience that I had with that, because if they go on to be fairly successful at least by my standards, they were so surprised that I was able to write so infrequently. And the reason is that newsletter basically went out of the gate to a couple thousand subscribers. And that's because I had friends, I had help.
Terry: I didn't do that myself. I never gave my content the job of acquiring new readers for me. That was never a job that I gave any page on my website or any of the content, because that's a lot to ask of something. I really only want to ask my content to be good. I need to ask myself to produce something that's worth reading and that's helpful to people and actionable for people.
Terry: So I knew that I wasn't going to be able to create a bunch of marketing content for the discovery side of things. So I had to reach out to other people that were running newsletters and say, "Here's what I'm doing. Here's what it looks like. If you think it's good, would you mind sharing it?" In fact, many of those people did.
Bryan: Yeah. I like that, because sometimes when you're creating content on a blog and particularly for optimizing it for search, it might have a couple of different goals in mind from providing information, to getting organic traffic around the key search term.
Terry: Yeah. It's the incentive again. It's the incentive argument. I always think very clearly, and this is one of the things that perhaps that I'm known for, one of the reasons that people subscribe to Panoply or what have you, is because I think about things at a fundamental level, at least I try to, I work really hard to.
Terry: And it's my belief that if you are selling content, if you're in the business of content, your product needs to be the best product you can build. And that's the content. And I think that by building that content, if you're giving it that job, if you've given yourself that job to produce that, it's very difficult when you start stacking on incentives.
Terry: And that's the key point is, marketing content looks different than really good subscriber content. I truly believe that. I haven't seen a piece that would go both ways. And I'm sure there are examples, but it's just much easier to kind of bucket two things. So you just got to go on the expectation that, that's the way it's going to be.
Bryan: You've got a lot of experience in the area, Terry. But for somebody who's new or a creative and starting out, is SOSTAC the easiest space for them to create their first newsletter, or would you recommend another approach?
Terry: Yeah. The simplest way to do it, I think, is SOSTAC, for sure, or any platform like it, like any platform like it. And what I mean by that is, go somewhere that they take care of everything and all you have to do is write. There's a lot of value in removing all of the obstacles to putting something out, because writing is hard enough.
Terry: I am not traditionally a writer. I am not someone that was trained in that. I'm not even someone that thinks of themselves as a writer, but I do a lot of writing. And for me, it's very difficult. I've had to work 20 years on creating a process to be able to first of all, have clarity and to be able to put something out worth reading, which I still am working towards, I think, and then also to consistently sit down and do it every day. And that's the difference between ... and I've heard this said before, and I will say it again. The difference between an amateur and a professional is that they get in the chair every morning at 9:00 AM, or whatever it is, and they do the work. They don't let anything detract them from the goal. And I think, so far as I can tell, that's also true in the newsletter space.
Bryan: Yeah. There's a Medium writer that I follow who writes a lot about mental models and thinking clearly, but he said it was actually leaving Medium because it was putting constraints around his creativity, and he set up a newsletter on SOSTAC.
Bryan: I think the newsletter has done quite well since he launched it. But one of the ways he's providing additional content is he reads some of the articles out loud to subscribers as an audio post. But I've also noticed his writing on SOSTAC is a bit more in depth and evolved than what might work in Medium. Because for example, he doesn't have to worry about writing click bait or viral headlines.
Bryan: I guess, I'm also curious, can somebody run a newsletter as their full time job, or could it take potentially an entire working week?
Terry: Yeah. Well, it depends on the cadence. Okay. So if you accept that there's a baseline amount of work required to run a newsletter, you have to do all the administrative stuff that business consists of, that project consists of, which is maintain your hosting or Substack or whatever, answer emails that come in, deal with the billing stuff if you do have a pro level membership or something like that, and then also maintain the infrastructure, like the email infrastructure, all that stuff. You consider all that part of it.
Terry: There's a baseline level of work that's required. And then you start adding in actually doing the work. Depending on what you're writing about, I think it's really aggressive for a lot of people to say that they're going to write daily. I see those people ... and this is again the consistency argument. Those people don't ... maybe they do get in the chair every morning at 9:00 AM, but they don't do it for very long. Most people can't do that.
Terry: I just haven't seen most people have success with that. So that's the first stumbling block. And I think the biggest contributor to growth I've seen in newsletters is longevity, like how consistent are they over what period of time? And almost certainly that's one of the reason that people subscribe. People do look at that. If they're going to enter into an agreement with you to receive your newsletter, they expect to receive it at the intervals that you've said you were going to do it.
Bryan: I agree what you said about the 9:00 AM point. I'd always recommend to people to write a little every morning, but at least I've found, it's not possible to turn what you write every morning into something that you can publish every afternoon. And even though ...
Bryan: I have a writing routine in the morning, but I might only publish one or two articles a week based on that writing routine, because that's all I have time for, editing and for refining the piece of writing. But I certainly agree that consistency can help when it comes to growth. Because if you have more, you'll get better at your craft, and also, you could potentially attract more readers or subscribers to the newsletter. What does your writing routine look like at the moment?
Terry: Yeah. So for now, I get up in the morning, and I try to do things the same way every day. And that is just because I feel like a schedule helps me know what to count on and know what I'm responsible for, and something about it just allowing me to be in control of my days. And I have a couple of young children, and I don't always get to control my time. But when I do, I feel like I'm more productive.
Terry: So I wake up, I have breakfast, I meditate, and then I workout, and then I go straight into work. And for the first hour of my day, I write and that's it. And part of that writing is for myself, much of that is for myself. In fact, it's a lot of journaling. But that helps me build clarity, and that helps me get the things out of my mind so that I'm not reminding myself of it all day long.
Terry: So getting them out there onto paper is fundamental to the way that I think, and being able to have clarity and focus on other things, because my brain will keep reminding me of them.
Terry: So then I sit down and I just start writing, and I try to not use the ... I don't edit while I write. I think if I'm sitting down to write a newsletter, for example, for one of the projects, I never edit in that first session. And in fact, I basically have three different sessions. The first is I want to outline what I'm working on, because I think coming up with the idea and then writing it are two different things. Those are two different ... Like collecting information. I don't want to be doing research as I'm trying to write something, because to me, those are very different mental modes.
Terry: So I do all my research. I outline, I try to figure out what exactly I'm trying to say. And then I put down the outline. And then I'll come back, and I know what I'm going to write about. Now I just have to put it into words, and I have to try to explain it as clearly and as simply as possible.
Terry: So I do that. And then I do a quick edit myself, just because I'm trying to get better at editing. And then I send it to my editor. I do have a copy editor, and she reviews all my stuff for the ridiculous punctuation mistakes and things that I make.
Bryan: Where did you find your copy editor?
Terry: Actually, from someone that was helping with the IndieMailer community. So she was editing for sci-fi anthologies and things like that, and she was really approachable. So I don't really have a scientific process there. It was just a referral from a friend.
Bryan: Yeah, I know. I found my editor for my articles. She was a subscriber to my email list. She emailed me back to say there's some issues with one of my articles, and then she sent me a lot of suggestions. So now that we work with her for the past two years, so she's really helped.
Bryan: And what about your research process for ideas? I mean, how does that work? Are you looking at sites that you want to feature, or ideas you have about conversion ,or perhaps a topic for IndieMailer and saving it into a file on your computer? Or are you doing something else?
Terry: Yeah, I wish I had a better process other than moving from Conversion Gold, which was the first version of that newsletter. I moved it to something called Panoply, which kind of removed all the friction for me, because it was exactly what you're talking about. I'm having a difficult time answering, because I'm like sweating, because I'm like ... I don't have a process.
Terry: Even now, I don't know how to explain what I do, because I don't really understand it myself, and it was really hard for me. Even to choose one topic per month that I could speak about intelligently was really difficult to me because I had a lot of other things going on, and it wasn't my sole focus. While I was doing marketing, I was trying to sell the sawdust from the workshop as opposed to doing it for its own end, meaning the newsletter.
Terry: So really, now what I do is I've given myself the freedom to be able to create what I'm interested in. And that looks like a lot of different things. I write about the marketing stuff when I have ideas. There is no promise to the subscriber, to the member, to the reader that I'm going to keep up any particular cadence, but it does work out that I seem to have one thing worth saying once a week. And for me, a lot of those ...
Terry: When you're charging for a newsletter, I felt like I had to make it 1,500, 2,000, 3,000 words. I felt like I had to do that. I had to hit a certain word count, and that's friction to my process.
Terry: Now, since I'm not charging for all of my content, I've given myself the freedom to only write as much as necessary.
Terry: I have things on the site that are 300 words that I think are killer. I think they're great pieces, and I think they're great ideas and I think they're valuable. But the difference is that now I give away pretty much everything for free, and then I built like a course on space repetition, which is totally at first glance non-obvious and orthogonal to marketers. But I realized that what I was creating on the side and the things that you get when you become a member are not more information about marketing, but ways to generate an edge, things that are also useful to marketers. And that's the idea. I feel like that's aligned. Everything's aligned there. I get to create what I think is useful, and I get to show it to everybody. And then I got this other stuff if you want to support the project,
Bryan: There's a process for capturing notes and organizing ideas called the slip box. So if you Google the slip box afterwards, I think it helps me get a process for research. It mostly involves writing ideas on either index cards or in an app on your computer, but it's especially worth looking up.
Bryan: Just a couple of questions that beginners might get stuck on. So firstly, what's a good name these days for a newsletter, or how does somebody decide on the name for their newsletter? Or should they go with their own name, or something else?
Terry: I think something else. And that's only because I'm incredibly scared to be part of the conversation in a way that ties directly back to mine., So that's why I didn't call it terrygodier.com. I just think that there's some level of ... That's a little bit too much spotlight for me. So that is a subjective, personal opinion more than it is like, "This is what you should do."
Terry: Now. Of course, if you were Ellen DeGeneres or something, you should probably call it The Ellen DeGeneres newsletter. I think that's basic marketing.
Terry: A good name is something clever. It seems to me like, like Cynicism, for example, it covers China. I think that's really, really clever. And then Stratechery is really about the strategy behind tech. I think that's also clever. Cleaning the Glass, I think, is about the NBA, and that's another large newsletter. So I think that makes sense too. So really, title it like you might a book, perhaps.
Bryan: Yeah. Okay. And then in terms of monetizing the newsletter, when I joined IndieMailer, I know you had a good few pieces of advice about that, but it seems like between nine and $30 is the typical price or maybe even $50 for a year for the bigger newsletters. Has that been your experience, or have you seen otherwise?
Terry: Yeah, so this is something that I think should be tested. In fact, like my project, I've done this with newsletters. So the easiest example and the most obvious choice is to charge $10 a month. That's what the vast majority of people are doing. Or if they're clever about at $9, because what's the difference really? But it seems psychologically different.
Terry: So $9 a month, and then you intuit out from that. You give a little bit of a discount, and that's a hundred dollars per year. I think it starts to really feel like a bargain at $50 a year. And I see people doing that, and they're doing it with five issues a week or what have you.
Terry: So with Panoply, what I did ... I don't want to do a cadence, so I did $29 a year, which is just, in my opinion, absurd because I also ... and I wanted it to feel that way. I wanted it to be like, "That's kind of ridiculous.", $2.42 cents a month or something like that. It's kind of very low, because conversion goal was $10 a month is what it was, and all the content is there.
Terry: So for me, I think at this point, when you're early on and building the newsletter business, for example, I don't think you should worry about that as much. I think that what I'm literally looking to do is build a highly opted-in audience as opposed to build a highly profitable business. I can do that in the future, but this thing really only matters if people care about it. This thing really only is going to exist in the future if I have people reading it today. that's the way that I've often felt about it.
Terry: So for me, it was how do I get the most amount of people in the door and gain that highly opted-in audience? And I can figure out the money side later. But I think there does need to be a cost of admission. And I think there's something much more intimate in doing like the experiments with the paid content and the pro content. There's a different relationship that's kind of inferred by having people exchange a little bit of money for what you're doing. Much different. it keeps out all the gawkers. Right? It's better.
Bryan: Yeah. I would agree with that. And [inaudible 00:30:24] people get hung up on a publishing schedule. Is once a week enough to get started?
Terry: Yeah, I think twice a month is absolutely fine as well. That's what I did, and people are very happy with that. It just really depends.
Terry: I don't think that you should settle on that until you understand how you're going to be able to do it. So I would write like five, six issues before you even start, because it's also best to kind of begin once you've got a little bit of a voice and you've figured out your process a little bit. You might find that you can't write about that every day, and that's what you had chosen to do, but you can write about it once a week
Bryan: Any thoughts on turning a newsletter into audio content?
Terry: I think it's a great idea. I do think it's a great idea. I think it's also a good idea if you're going to do audio, I would also send a cadence to YouTube, and that's also ... A, it's a utility. I think there are certain people that don't want to read, and everybody's schedule is getting more and more cramped, and attention is more and more scarce. And it's much easier to put on a podcast, which is kind of what that would be. And while you're doing the dishes or working out or whatever, some people, that's the only way that they'll they'll experience your content. You open up a much larger audience.
Terry: But secondly, from a discovery standpoint, YouTube is the second biggest search engine after Google. And then podcasting is fairly big, like Spotify and so on. Your distribution is much larger and your chance of being found as much larger.
Bryan: Okay. Finally, there's still a little bit to it. So if somebody joined IndieMailer, if I remember correctly, there's a thread where you can start your story. So what should people do if they want to get the most out of a community like IndieMailer to start and take their newsletter to the next level? In tech
Terry: Yeah. So the number one thing to do is to start a journey thread, and that's what we call them there. And this is something that I took from various other forums I've been a member of over the years. Tell people what you're doing, share what you're doing as you're doing it, and ask for feedback along the way. That's the number one way that the community can help you. And in fact, when most people have done that, they end up with subscribers from the community, and then those people ... you're on a shared journey.
Terry: And that's the entire idea behind all of it, because they help you with your thinking, and secondly, sometimes they help you with your promotion, they'll help you get discovered. But another important aspect of it is the accountability.
Terry: We go back into the threads and say, "Well, I haven't heard from you in a little bit. How's this going?"
Terry: Or "I saw that you did this." Or what have you. That happens. And when you know that you have other people paying attention to what you're doing, I think you're more likely to follow through. And that is unbelievably important at the very, very beginning, because it's so easy when you're writing for an audience of zero or maybe yourself, it's so easy to feel like you're not doing something worth continuing. And I'm sure that even really big creators struggle with that sometimes too.
Terry: So having that accountability, just to circle back and follow up and say that I'm doing something, makes you want to do something worth writing about again in the forum.
Bryan: Yeah. I think [inaudible 00:33:10] also the book, The War of Art would help if anybody's struggling with that issue.
Bryan: So, Terry, where can people find out more information about you, Panoply, or IndieMailer?
Terry: Yeah. So you can go to indiemailer.com or you can go to Panoply, which has a weird Libyan domain, panop.ly.
Terry: And if you don't want to spell it, you can just go to, ican'tspellthat.com. And if you forget that, you can go to, whatisitagain.com and that will get you to panoply.
Bryan: That's very clever. I like that. Well, thank you for your time. It was great to talk to you today, Terry,
Terry: Yeah. Thank you very much for having me on.
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