Why writing newsletters is awesome (and hard)

Two months ago, I started a newsletter to get myself reading more and to give back to the community since I saw a gap for a weekly, easy to read roundup of technology/startups and other interesting posts from around the web.

My thought was that it would be great to have a way to cut through all the noise and clickbait online, so I started Charged, a weekly email newsletter that’s delivered in the weekend. I’ve learnt a lot since starting it and I wanted to share some quick thoughts on what I’ve discovered so far:

 Convincing people to hand over their email address

As it turns out, people are a little hesitant to hand over their email address, even if you promise that you’re going to deliver a super awesome amazing thing!

You really have to show value in a few different ways before people are willing to sign up. From what I’ve noticed, the easiest ways to do this are:

That second one seems to be key - if someone posts how much they love Charged on Twitter or Facebook, it’s much more compelling than me tweeting “sign up for my super awesome newsletter” because of course I think it’s awesome!

The awesome thing is that when people truly do love it, they will share it for you! I’ve had some of the awesome people who subscribe to Charged regularly tweet about editions and share it with their friends, which I appreciate more than they know. It’s awesome and helps confirm it’s worth writing.

 It’s actually hard to write consistently every week

I thought it would be easy to sit down every weekend and write out a newsletter since I really love doing it. It turns out, sometimes, you just don’t want to write… because you have to and because it takes a lot of time.

It’s an interesting phenomenon because you sit down to get it done and find yourself doing all sorts of nonsense on the computer (cleaning up your desktop, browsing Reddit) before doing the primary activity that you have to do… despite the fact that delaying it will not help the problem.

This isn’t because I don’t love doing it, but seems to be more because it seems like a huge mountain of work when I approach it. Writing Charged is hard work - I have to collate the best of news from the week (while sifting through the crap), then the best blogs, then I go back through my Twitter favorites to find interesting tweets, then I have to go and grab the details of all the interesting startups I found that week. It takes a lot of time and it’s hard to know where to start.

But what matters is getting started. As soon as you write the first word, you’re on a roll. Before that, it’s easy to do a million other things instead of actually writing. I found getting myself out of the house to somewhere unfamiliar helped with this a lot.

 Listen to feedback, but not everyone’s feedback

My list grew pretty quickly after starting to around 700 subscribers now. I didn’t expect that and I’ve encouraged people to reply directly (I use my personal email address to send the newsletter) with thoughts and feedback.

I actually get a surprising amount of replies with things ranging from praise, to comments about my bias(?!), to hate about the design, my writing style and the content.

Some of this feedback was legitimately useful and has helped refine the newsletter from the very early editions to a easier reading and more brief version that it is today.

But some of the feedback I’ve received would mean making huge changes to the newsletter. One reader suggested I remove all sense of opinion or comment from the newsletter, to just present the news. This, however, flies in the face of what I wanted to do.

I’m building a newsletter that’s fun, lightweight and easy to read. Not just regurgitating the news. Removing all personality would mean just rewriting whatever’s online from the week and that’s a little boring. The value is in perspective.

Feedback is good. But not all feedback. You have to choose who to listen to. You can’t please everyone.

 Newsletters are far more beneficial than I expected

I have always hated email. With a passion. I pretty much nuclear unsubscribed from everything automated in my inbox and I still get tons of email daily.

But I’ve found a new appreciation for newsletters written by actual people. Perhaps it’s come from the appreciation of how much hard work goes into these, but I’ve also learnt that they’re incredibly valuable because they offer a level of personality you can’t get on tech sites or even some people’s blogs.

When you’re writing a newsletter, it feels like you’re talking directly to a person. Not an audience. Not site visitors. You’re talking directly into someone’s inbox. It’s a level of personal that can’t be achieved on a blog and so when I write my content I don’t want waste anyone’s time and only include what matters to me, in the hope that those receiving it will think it matters too.

It turns out that because newsletters that are run by actual people are hand crafted, you can learn a lot from them and get some of the best content you might not have found online.

As a result of this new appreciation, I’ve signed up for some other newsletters that I really enjoyed:

I’m always looking for more, too, so if you have any you love please do let me know!

The other benefit? I read a bunch more now. Not just from The Verge, Engadget and other tech blogs, but from actual people. It’s great. I just wish there was more time to read it all :)

 Timing

This is a hard one. Everyone online says you shouldn’t send an email in the early morning, but as it turns out, that’s what works perfect for Charged.

Sending it at 8AM PT means that the newsletter ends up being read by around 70% of the list within 48 hours of sending. That seems pretty effective to me.

It took a lot of tinkering and sending at different times to get it right. I think it could be better (like delivering at 8am in the recipients timezone). But it works for now.

 Growing a newsletter is hard

I consider myself pretty lucky that I’ve grown Charged to 700 subscribers in 8 editions, but I want to do more. There’s only so many times I can tweet it. Advertising is a bit expensive.

The important thing, it seems to far, is to make it something that’s inherently useful to people. Something they love and appreciate receiving every week; once you reach that point they’re your advocates and will share it for you.

If you write something that matters, the people will come.

That’s what I’ve learnt so far about newsletters; I’ll write more here as I learn more. I’m no pro at it, but I think if you’re thoughtful, willing to take feedback and willing to put the effort into building an email people will value, it’s a great idea to run a newsletter.

Interestingly, email newsletters seem to be experiencing a renaissance right now. I wonder why that is?

If you’re interested in mine after reading this, you can sign up for Charged here… or read previous editions here.

 
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