What is the purpose of a newsletter? In this post I share newsletter importance, how to serve readers, plus some winning strategies (and pitfalls) to gaining subscribers!
I’ve completely retooled my newsletter several times over. The first major retooling happened in April 2016 because of a BinderCon panel about newsletter types/formats and a workshop from Bryan Harris.
The panel had a bunch of writing female newsletter heavy-weights on it (Note: The panelists were Jacqueline Boltik, Jade Chang, Ann Friedman, Liz Galvao, and Sulagna Misra. They all have worked with newsletters in different ways and started them for different reasons.). The panel put the seed in my head to examine what I should do with my newsletter and how I should do it. I was more open to trying things, so when Bryan Harris’ workshop came through my inbox (via a newsletter!), I decided to attend.
I’m not a fan of “white guy sales network” but I like what Bryan has to say because it makes logical sense and it took very little effort to implement IMMEDIATELY. So I did.
When I first wrote this blog post back in April, I had a 58.6% open rate and 21.2% click-through rate. This was a major change from before when I had something like an average 30% open and 10% click-through. I also more than tripled my subscribers.
Things have changed several times since then.
Why is this important?
Email lists are important for pretty much anything online. I’ve subscribed to hundreds for a variety of reasons (I subscribe and unsubscribe to lists on almost a weekly basis.). When I’m on a list, I see the new content of a site. I read about the newest products. When I’m not on a list, I have no idea what’s going on with a person (unless I’m close to them on social media). Email isn’t a guaranteed way to reach people, but it’s about as close as you can get without calling a person (or going to their house!).
Having a good reputation – something completely within your control – is crucial to maintaining a high open rate. The more opens, the more likely it is for readers to actually read your content. With good copy, you’re more likely to have readers click through your link to read your content. And the more often this happens, the better relationship you have with your subscribers. You build trust, and with trust, amazing things can happen.
What is that trust about? Well, primarily it’s trust that you – the content creator – are committed to serving your subscribers.
This was where I faltered.
Newsletters are not about the content creator – they’re about the subscribers.
If you’re writing about stuff to satisfy yourself, it’s not going to work out. You’re going to have a low open rate because you’re not serving your subscribers but yourself.
I’m a perfect example. I had no idea what my newsletter was supposed to contain. The BinderCon panel made me realize just how loosey goosey my newsletter was. I had a bad reputation. There was no trust because each letter could contain any number of things and every time I put something out it was all over the place. Sometimes I said one thing. Sometimes I said something else. What was the incentive to read it when it had nothing of value for my subscribers?
Okay, maybe it didn’t have NOTHING. I did put updates about my work in it, but that’s pretty much all the value. Sometimes I wrote a mini blog post.
There were so many calls-to-action, readers had no idea what they were supposed to do.
After taking Bryan’s workshop, I realized I needed to drill down.
I meditated on it. I consulted Spirit. I was given a resounding mission echoing my life’s purpose to spread active love and understanding.
The Compassion Letter was born!
From there, I followed Bryan’s suggestion to personally invite people in my network who would be interested. I made a goal of subscribers to reach, developed a spread sheet, and started asking.
Here was my ask:
Hey I’m starting a newsletter that’s going to have info about spreading compassion/empathy. Would you be interested in that?
My network has a lot of writers, so many people thought I was inviting them to contribute, which meant I had to clarify my ask. More than half the people I asked said yes. In fact, there was a lot of all caps used, and many “I can’t wait to read this!” comments. It seemed my network was eager for information about compassion. I hit a sweet spot.
While I was asking friends and acquaintances if they’d like to get my newsletter, I was also writing a list of 25 questions to answer/address in blog posts. I planned to write weekly newsletters introducing the blog posts with a call-to-action to read a post and comment (and or share). Bryan said this would set up basically 90 days worth of subscriber relationship, and establish credibility/reputation.
Once I reached my subscriber goal, I could send out a newsletter and write my blog post.
Here is my first retooled newsletter copy:
Last Saturday I attended a writing conference. While there, I went to a panel about steering narratives away from dysfunction and violence towards empathy and compassion.
I thought the panel was for me, but it turned out the authors were writers of literary fiction (speculative fiction and literary fiction barely speak to one another). I was still hopeful. They started speaking and it soon became clear they had no idea what compassion was or how to incorporate it into fiction.
I didn’t realize how little we as a society understand about empathy and compassion. I knew it was an issue, but I didn’t recognize how bad it had gotten. Then I was sitting in a huge room, listening to people talk about a topic close to my heart, who had no idea what they were talking about.
Why didn’t these writers know about compassion? Why are we as a society unsure about this word “compassion” and how to do it? The more I thought about it, the reasons became clear.
Read my thoughts here and please let me know your thoughts!
Thank you for your positive attention. It lights my heart.
What happened next blew me away!
I’m so glad I tried this out because I had multiple emails responding to my newsletter. I had tweets about it. I had comments on my blog – I think probably the first I’ve had on this particular website/blog. I even had posts to my Facebook fan page – something I’ve never had in response to my content.
And this was just the first one!
I gave my subscribers something they wanted. I filled a need for them, they responded to it, AND it fulfilled my purpose for writing!
I needed to be authentic to myself, but I also needed to serve my readers. If I wasn’t serving my readers, there was no reason for them to read my work.
Because I’ve seen most successful blogs pushing product after product, I felt like there was no place for me in this digital space. I wasn’t pushing products the same way so how could I be successful with this? I wasn’t a hooby-dooby blog. I wasn’t just an artist. I wasn’t an entrepreneur blog.
What was I supposed to communicate to readers? It took me a while to figure this whole thing out, but the reality is my blog content and newsletter are slightly different packages. This idea hadn’t occurred to me despite the fact that I’ve been enjoying Notes from the Universe for months. I hadn’t recognized the fact that a newsletter was its own “product,” even while it served as a relationship builder.
Fast forward to today…
I started out strong with my newsletter retooling and then I ran into a problem.
It’s okay to follow the “ask your friends and family” to subscribe and spread the word before you figure out your ideal audience (follow the steps in the core of this post).
Then get clear on who your audience is. Get as specific as possible.
Figure out what their pain points are.
Go back and tailor old posts to your target audience (add a single call-to-action at the bottom of posts).
Build a lead-magnet that addresses your target audience’s pain points while highlighting your message.
Share your lead-magnet on social platforms where your audience hangs out.
Connect with other creatives and entrepreneurs who speak to your ideal audience – guest post, host webinars together, offer genuine testimonials of their products and services.
When in doubt, connect with a community.
If you’re still struggling (or you just want the fast-track), get a coach. Honestly, an inspired coaching relationship will rocket you into the stratosphere.
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