Most people who struggle to launch and grow a newsletter have the same core problem:
The newsletter’s concept or format is flawed.
The other day on Twitter I offered to help someone overcome this challenge:
Will Stew took me up on the offer and over the course of about an hour we went back and forth in real-time on Twitter as I helped him figure out how to refine his newsletter concept, develop a format that would be easy to produce, find his first subscribers, and get his newsletter launched.
The thread of our conversation (which you can find here) is a bit tricky to follow, so I figured I’d share the story of what happened here in an easier to consume format.
Although Will hadn’t published an issue yet, he did have a signup form set up on his Twitter profile for a newsletter he was calling Horses Over Unicorns.
Here’s how he described what the newsletter was going to be:
“Your stable of horses is greater than a sliver of somebody else’s unicorn. Stories of Creators building on their own terms.”
As a guy who writes a newsletter that’s read by 18,000 creative entrepreneurs, I know the audience well and had a lot of thoughts about the opportunity for Will’s newsletter…and what was getting in the way of him reaching it.
Here’s my conversation with him…
Will — I see you’ve got a Revue newsletter (I assume) set up with a signup form on your Twitter profile.
It’s called Horses Over Unicorns.
But you haven’t done anything with it yet, right?
Has anyone subscribed?
What’s the goal for the newsletter?
Correct. Probably half a dozen people.
It’s sitting in the medium basket of priorities.
I want to share stories of people who left the rat race to build for themselves (either as content creators or solopreneurs).
Personal stories not how tos.
Why do you want to do it all?
Is there an end goal unrelated to the newsletter itself?
Is it about getting clients or business or some sort?
Is it just for fun?
Who’s the target audience and what value do you hope they get from it?
I believe sharing more stories of success and the various reasons people leave employment/jobs will help more people get comfortable with it.
It’s for fun and add value to this space.
Audience: people considering leaving employment or already early in that journey.
I think of newsletters as value delivery mechanisms. And value is transformation.
In this case it sounds like the transformation your newsletter will drive is it will help people go from scared/uncomfortable with going out on their own to comfortable doing so.
The ultimate goal is to inspire people and, over time, show there are many ways to achieve the same outcome.
Just like starting at the top of a ski hill, there are 50 ways to get to the bottom and you still end up at the bottom!
What has prevented you from publishing so far?
What’s holding you back?
Two biggest holdbacks are:
- Some personal resistance to pushing go and putting myself out there
- Reaching out to the ideal creators with some value exchange for them and their time
I recommend you start with a small, simple format.
Your goal is to share something in these emails that helps your target audience make that transformation.
It doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to be 100% created by you.
It can be curated.
That makes sense, curation is an excellent lower barrier to enter.
It only has to provide the value you promise.
This will also help with the personal resistance because it’s easier to put yourself out there at first when it’s not 100% on you to make everything.
For example, here’s a format you could use to start with…
Each week, you could publish a three item newsletter.
- A bit of advice or story from your own experience.
- A quote or quick story from someone else who has made the transition from employed to self-employed.
- A link to a relevant article/resource.
With that format, you can schedule issues way in advance because it’s not time sensitive.
Let’s say you started publishing twice a month.
In an hour I bet you could find eight articles/resources to share.
That’s four months’ worth of item 3 content.
You could email eight (or more) people and ask them a simple question to reply to by email that’s relevant.
Most will send back an answer because it’s a simple ask.
You cut and paste those answers and you have four months’ worth of item 2 content done.
And of course you can write up your own advice/stories to take care of the item 1 content.
Just like that you’ve got your content lined up for a while.
And as long as what you write/share is focused on helping people make that transformation, it will be valuable.
Plus, each of those people who do the mini-interview via email will likely share your newsletter once it’s published.
So that has the added bonus of built-in promotion to grow your newsletter.
And as your audience grows, you can invite people to share their own stories.
How is all this sounding to you so far?
This is great, things are ticking over… think I already have my first quote and piece to share from Justin Welsh:
It’s extra fitting because he recommended you as someone to follow during that same interview.
Great example — that opens up another HUGE possibility.
You can find people who shared their stories on social already and incorporate them into your newsletter either as article links or pull excerpts as quotes/stories.
And you can pick ones you know resonated with audiences.
Now you’ve got a simpler (and less scary) format you can use to launch — it can always expand/evolve later if you want.
Let’s talk about the name.
“Horses Over Unicorns” is clever, but no one in your target audience will get it without explanation.
Choose clear over clever.
I recommend coming up with a name that makes the audience/value clear to anyone who hears it — you want them to know it’s for them immediately so they’ll at least check it out based on title alone.
For example, maybe something like this…
Potential Newsletter Names:
“Making The Jump”
“Taking The Plunge”
“The Solopreneur Starter Kit”
“The Soon-To-Be Self Employed Newsletter”
“The Career Unbundler”
“The Career Shifter”
“Stop Working. Start Building.”
“Build YOUR Future”
Those aren’t perfect, but you get the idea.
By the way, let’s jump back to content for a second.
There’s a TON out there you can curate.
A quick Google news search for ‘quit to become creator’ led me to stuff like this:
- This 31-year-old quit her $150,000-a-year tech job to start an equal pay app: Here’s how she got started
- The Great Resignation and what it means for the creator economy
- How a Journalist Quit Her Job to Become a New York Times Bestselling Author
Ok, so now we’ve got a clear value proposition, a format, and a name (sort of).
Let’s come up with a description for your signup page/form.
The simplest way to do this is to follow this formula:
[NEWSLETTER NAME] helps [AUDIENCE] get [TRANSFORMATION].
So, for example:
BUILD YOUR FUTURE is a weekly newsletter that helps you go from scared to leave your job to confident you can make it on your own.
Each issue features resources and inspiration from people who have successfully made the jump from employed to empowered.
Notice how our original conversation/focus on the transformation comes full circle and becomes the core of the newsletter signup value prop and description?
It also becomes a filter/guide for what you share.
For each item ask, “Will this help people make that transformation?”
100% — keeping that for each item and element ensures you’re delivering what you promised & this is being done in a way (partial curation) that helps to hopefully grow the newsletter 2x a month!
You should be well on your way now, but I’ll wrap this up with a couple suggestions about how to get you some initial subscribers…
First, email people you know who you think may be interested.
Email/DM them individually, not in a mass email.
Tell them you’re launching a newsletter, share the description, and ask if they’d like to check out the first issue.
If they say yes, add them to list.
Also ask them and other people who may not be in your target audience if they know anyone else who may want to check it out.
Invite them to share a social post you make about it to help spread the word.
Also ask if they know anyone who would be good to feature in an issue.
Write a blog post something like this: “10 Must-Read Newsletters For People Considering Leaving Their Job To Go Out On Their Own.”
Include your newsletter as one of the recommendations.
Reach out/tag the other newsletters you mention.
Some will share it.
You can also do that same kind of a blog post with Must-Listen Podcasts and the same thing will happen.
Your newsletter won’t be part of that list, but you should mention your newsletter in the intro.
My blog post about newsletters for creators is an example of how I’ve done it.
Ok, one final suggestion.
Once you get up and running you can repurpose each of the individual content items in your newsletter as tweets, threads, or social posts on other platforms.
You’ve got a modular format that makes it easy to repurpose. Which means you not only will now have an awesome newsletter that provides specific value to a specific audience, but you’ve also got a newsletter that becomes an engine for your social content as well.
Hope you found this all helpful.
Now go make it happen!
Stay tuned, something coming shortly! Thanks for your time and for doing this in public for others to see and learn from! So awesome.
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