My mistakes & learnings building two startups, case studies of successful founders, and exciting side projects. Delivered in your inbox each Wednesday.
I have finally got to more than 1000 subscribers to this newsletter! Thanks for all the support and as always, do reply back to me with any feedback you might have. Would really love to hear your thoughts :)
But as is the case usually, these kinds of wins also bring a few complexities with them. I saw that my mail didn't reach the inbox of many. Mailchimp (my mail service provider) informed me that with an increased audience, I need to send my mails out in small batches. Anyway, just in case you didn't receive my last week's mail, it was about explaining SEO as a story: Link.
This also got me thinking about how useful a newsletter is and that too across multiple use cases. For it to be successful though, I have learnt that there are various nuances that have to be got right. So, I thought of sharing my learnings of building two newsletters - Remote Weekly: ~4300 subscribers and, of course, Entrepreneur Musings: ~1100 subscribers (a newsletter talking about newsletters - getting a bit meta :P).
Firstly, a newsletter is the simplest way to connect with people whose attention you desire. No elaborate tech involved, or any other kind of set up. If you dislike the cumbersome nature of Mailchimp, offerings like Substack make it even simpler.
Now, you might desire their attention for varied reasons. I largely bucket them into the following:
1) Launching a new startup: Build an audience that considers you a genuine player in the industry. Typically involves writing about the problems faced and their best solutions.
2) Started up and looking for growth: Attract people by setting yourself up as a thought leader in the space. In-depth and interesting articles in contemporary topics are usually written.
3) Personal brand: Highly neglected use case. Carve a space for yourself where a larger group recognises your expertise. Even personal passions such as reading or music can be developed into a newsletter. The beauty is that you can also achieve 1 or 2 through this in the longer run.
Let's get this out of the way - it isn't wrong to look for some benefits through your newsletter. The problem starts when you start treating your audience as numbers rather than people. Seems pretty obvious, doesn't it? Yet, almost 80% of the newsletters seem to be written by robots for robots.
That's what I realised when I started my first newsletter. So, this is what I told myself - well, sort of guidelines, you can say:
❌ Don't be a dodo 🤦 : No one likes a bunch of links and random dry text put in mails to them. Write like a person would.
❌ Avoid sending a photo album 🖼 : If your newsletter contains too many images or is just a graphic, it is probably going to be considered spammy. Almost all spammy discount coupons, etc. come in such a format. So, very few will even hesitate to mark you as spam. To top that, mailboxes won't be friendly - most of your audience will not even find your mail in their inbox.
❌ Lose the fancy templates 🌠: When was the last time someone you know sent you a mail in an HTML template? Probably never. Plain-text mails always look more personalised. Don't try to make the mail look "beautiful". Make it seem real. I think the above image violates this too!
✅ Be warm 🤗 : I find it weird to have to write this. But somehow, while newsletters are sent by mail, hardly any follow basic mail etiquettes: addressing the recipient or enquiring about them. To break it down, definitely greet them in the first line and make sure you share some updates from your end and also enquire about them. Bonus points for their name in the subject line.
✅ Make conversation 🙌 : A newsletter should read like talking to a person. So write as you talk. Do you crack jokes? Go ahead and do that. Be passionate. Channel your personality into the mail.
✅ Be yourself. Be genuine 🤓 : Share things as they are. Don't try to be someone you are not.
For Remote weekly, our engagement in the newsletter increased from being disastrous (10% open rates) to among the very top in the industry: >40% open rates, <1% unsubscribes and growing to ~4400 subscribers in 8 months. So ya, basic things do work :)
In conclusion, I want to share my biggest learning. Don't just give advice. Share experiences. Tell stories. No one likes to be told what to do. Also, advice is very singular and rigid. Stories lend themselves to being experienced and also adapted to different contexts.
So, on the note of advice about not giving advice, I urge you to consider writing a newsletter or maybe improving yours in the above ways. Are there some things that you have learnt? Do tell! Just hit the reply button :)