Salon #14 - Newsletter Insights
21 min read

Salon #14 - Newsletter Insights

Salon #14 - Newsletter Insights

The Salon is a weekly Zoom call (Wednesdays, 5pm UTC/London) where we increase our knowledge through conversation. See list of upcoming topics here

🎧 This recording is also available via the Knowledge Entrepreneurs podcast feed on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and various other podcast directories.

Achim: [00:00:00] Welcome to the knowledge entrepreneurs salon. I always like to say that this is a place where we create knowledge through conversation. it's all around the topic of knowledge entrepreneurs, which are experts who create for an audience while earning an income. We are learning here together. We are creating these insights together. Today's topic is newsletter insights. I sent out 12 issues so far and it's quite a rewarding activity. I use this opportunity to share some insights from that journey and then would love to hear your own insights, either from your newsletter, if you already have one. Or your own thoughts from reading newsletters or from planning to write one.

Weekly cadence as pulse for creation

My first and biggest takeaway of the newsletter is that I send out my newsletter once a week.  This weekly cadence gives me a kind of pulse. It gives me a rhythm for creation and it forces me to deliver once a week, this is a very healthy ,deadline or very healthy motivation.  I already can say that after 10 weeks I had ups and downs. In the beginning it was very easy. Then it got a little bit harder and now it gets easier, and easier again, to write the newsletter because I'm getting in a certain creator habit. What are your thoughts on that? Do you have also experience with the newsletter?  are you also publishing it weekly?  What do you think?

Who has a newsletter here ? Ziga, you self selected for chiming in with your thoughts on that.

Ziga: [00:02:00] I started writing in 2019. So actually in between I checked the number. In 2019, I started at the end of the year, published five. Then in 2020, I started weekly and then after three or four months stopped for a while because I burned out creatively. Then I switched after three months sabbatical, and I informed my readers in advance that I'll do this,  to a monthly format till the end of 2020. So that was at the end 23 newsletters. And then basically from start of 21, I'm doing it regularly. Each Monday after midnight depends how much I procrastinate.

What I learned ,when I switched to monthly content, I realized that it was for me not too often enough. Basically I wouldn't be in a habit. The content was better, but I also figured that if I do it monthly, I have way more than enough for actually four weeks of newsletter.

I basically decided to really do shorter pieces and make sure that through the whole week I really write, and then I just select the top parts that were in my journal  and it's working pretty nice.

Achim: [00:03:10] Just to clarify, are you back to publishing weekly or are you still publishing monthly?

Ziga: [00:03:15] I make them weekly. I started with the beginning of the year. Also, based on the reader's responses, I think it's better.

Achim: [00:03:23] Monthly is ,such a long period that it really doesn't matter if you publish monthly or let's say bi-weekly or even weekly because the workload is less but on the other hand, it's really hard to build up a habit with a monthly  creation that could be also blog post, or it could be anything that you do monthly. It's just harder to maintain.

Ziga: [00:03:49] I would say that,  If you have to force yourself for a while. And if you don't really have a really good point, now I have a really good direction, which I'm writing it.

Before I didn't have one, and then on Monday, I was I'm going to write up about now. But basically now I'm going to structure the newsletter letter, which means I just have to get enough content through the next week. And without this habit, it's an uphill battle. ,

Achim: [00:04:14] I see in the chat that Yina and Frazier also considering to start a newsletter. Maybe to that I can say, that not only from a knowledge entrepreneur perspective, not only from building an audience but also for yourself sending out a newsletter is a good thing. Because it actually encapsulates two things. First of all, you create, you write. You put something out there. It is not for you. You cannot say: "Oh, I put it on my blog, but nobody will read it. I don't care". Because you send it to somebody. So it includes this other perspective and it has this feature of a built-in an  audience. If you send it out to 50 people, you pretty much know that 50 people have the chance  to read it. They won't read every issue, but I'm personally very surprised by how many people are interacting with the newsletter.

Starting with friends and family

And maybe one idea, you could start with your friends and family.

One personal story, after university, I worked for five years and then another student of my university,  which wasn't a big friend, but I knew him. He sent me his newsletter that he clearly wrote to his friends and family. It was really infrequent, but whenever I got it, I was really engaged. I really read it and was interested in what happened to him. It was just one e-mail. It included sometimes pictures and just said, what happened on a broader scale. If you think about it, you often write those emails but you send it only to one person. You would be surprised how many people are generally interested in that. Not only your friends and family, definitely, but even maybe a little further. So it's a great exercise to create value, even personal value, at scale. And it doesn't have to be a huge scale but still more than sending it only to one person.

Ziga: [00:06:32] I have similar experiences but in a different words.  the funny thing, when I started my newsletter, nobody read it. And then my grandfather signed up to it. I didn't even tell him that I have a newsletter. the funny thing was again, the first family actually came in and then basically the circle of people that are reading it is expanding to people that I don't have a clue who they are. the point is, it was really nice to start with that because I felt less pressure of people judging me because they know me anyway.

Achim: [00:07:00] Does somebody want to comment or have a question regarding that?

Does your newsletter add to the noise?

Yina: [00:07:05] I don't know if it's a comment or a question. One thing I did notice was that I do tend to like following more indie newsletters now. I think there's that fine line between information overload, but also getting very refreshing respectives that fall outside of generic, or even like mainstream big newsletter publications that actually act as their own media syndicate.

I really appreciate all of the newsletters that I subscribed to and I enjoy reading. I need to better figure out my own cadence of processing the information, but when it comes to adding my own, one of the things I'm concerned about and I'd love to get, everyone's pulse on this is how do you manage the information overload? Are you ever worried about your own newsletters adding one voice to the information that's out there?

Indy: [00:07:50] I basically struggled with this quite a bit conceptually in the sense that I am definitely aware that I'm already subscribed to more newsletters than I can possibly read . And there will be one more when Yina starts hers. A long time ago, when I had a different business, I did blog like regularly, religiously once a week. And blogging was the thing then newsletters weren't such a big deal. My generic thought this year had been now, I'm going to start a newsletter and it will be weekly. I'm starting to wonder the sense of the reader's experience, if that is the right thing. I think I do buy into the notion that as a writer, like a once a week rhythm has certain definite benefits but I am wondering if there's a certain kind of value that comes with it, not coming so often.

Achim: [00:08:44] To close the bracket on these two questions, I think the newsletter is a mixture between social media and personal message. By design it usually goes out to a limited set of people, especially when you're starting out. And we should now focus on starting out because, Yina  and Indy you both are talking about that. You can actually reach more people with one message you crafted in a way that is valuable, but you should not think that people need to read it when they receive it. It's still a newsletter it's not an email that needs to be processed.

The same, I would say from the other side. If I subscribe to newsletter, I don't read every single one. Sometimes I read every single one of a series that I'm especially enthusiastic about, but I never feel bad. Actually. I'm using this hey.comemail client, which has a feed  where newsletters go to and I have to actively go there to read the newsletters. When I'm really busy, I forget to go there and I don't read them they're just gone like on a timeline.

I think that's a very crucial point that we have to all to distinguish, especially if it holds you from starting your own newsletter. Because I can atest other people are genuinely interested in what you have to say, not everyone. We're not talking about social media or advertising or you're shouting it out to everyone, but people that opt in into your newsletter, they want to receive your newsletter.

So there's no downside at all. We all have to get to know this medium newsletter. It's a little bit like podcast. We get more and more familiar with the medium podcast. Newsletters we're around all the time. I use them for more than a decade, but only now is the possibility to over-subscribe, to newsletters from people in your surrounding, and then you have to deal with it a certain way.

The most important point that I want to make: never feel that you are adding to the noise. Because that's more a topic on Twitter and Facebook, on social media, but less with a newsletter.

Content examples

Ziga: [00:11:05] What I noticed when I was reading other newsletters letters, and also what Indy basically said is link sharing. People start a new letter and start sharing links. Don't do it because you're basically just jamming people with stuff. Now, maybe you want to do it. That's fine, but that's not for me. And what I decided is that I basically started a newsletter with a short story from last week, which is a little bit personal, but not too much. And then basically continue to something useful, which I actually write and then something actionable and maybe one link external to expert reading.  I try to keep it a lot shorter than 1000 words. I think the readers appreciate that. They actually told me they don't care. They don't care about the links.

Achim: [00:11:50] That's a good bridge to go into content. Ziga already said that not so much links, but more a story, maybe personal content or an essay let's say, or an article that you're writing.

I have sections in my newsletter. I start with a story, something that is specific in the knowledge entrepreneur world. I would always remind you that it's ideal to be an expert with your newsletter to write your newsletter in a specific way. You can decide to write a very personal newsletter and that can be an expertise in itself. You can be the one that holds the family together by sending one newsletter with all the family updates to everyone, for example. That's a personal expertise.

But especially if you're a fascinating about topic, a newsletter is ideal to start an expertise and write about your expertise. My story is in the field of my expertise. Then I share a tool from the knowledge entrepreneurs stack. A tool that I'm also using. And a profile of another person, another knowledge entrepreneur,  that stood out to me. I include a prompt related to the story that invites you to do some action. And at the bottom, I also include links. It's not only a passion of mine to exchange links but also a very low hanging fruit to add value. It helps you to get into a value mindset when you curate . Curate is the first step. I totally agree that a personal story or article, or essay adds a different kind of value.

An important aspect is that shorter is usually better. We know it from writing. If you find a way to condense the information, you're actually adding value instead of just writing down everything that's raw on your mind.

Personal relationship with your audience

Who else has some examples of content that they specifically like in a newsletter?

Jacques: [00:13:53] One thing that I'm experimenting with my newsletter is cultivating a personal relationship with my audience. So I think people are going to come to our newsletters, not just for content, but because they like who we are and they relate with us. I write a newsletter about wellbeing and community building. And I'm known as the party scientists. One thing that I feature at the very bottom is I share a personal experience whether that's about my community building efforts or about my biohacking practices. It's revealing to my audience. It's a vulnerability. I think that personal relationship is something we really want to cultivate with our audience. I send them gifts and stuff as well.

Achim: [00:14:36] I want to point out what you just said. You introduced yourself as the party scientist and what a great hashtag, this is something that sticks. I would invite everyone of you to always think of these things that stick.

Jacques: [00:14:51] if I may just comment on that. I think that something like that is much more memorable than our names. If you can position yourself As the professor of this, or I'm the bio-hacker.  if we can create a name for ourselves, that's actually memorable. My name is hard to pronounce and not very memorable. I think that's something we can leverage in our personal brands.

Achim: [00:15:14] The personal relationship that you mentioned to your audience that's interesting. It's also a great opportunity because newsletters are still new in the mainstream. There are many ways to innovate . Recently I read an article. I also shared it in my newsletter where one newsletter combines experts from different fields for each issue and invites them to write about the same subject collaboratively . So they have a kind of master team of experts and they publish and then they send it out in this newsletter to a large audience. This format is very interesting and that's of course, something that is deliberately crafted.

I recently thought about how can a newsletter be more communicative. Maybe there are ways in the future that you can just reply to a newsletter and then you get an updated version of that newsletter the next day, that compiles all the replies. Then you can delete the first version and only keep the second version that has the best comments or all comments. This is just an example that there's space for innovation that you could also elaborate when you start a newsletter . Especially when you're starting out, you're in a good mode of experimenting.

Does somebody else has an example of interesting or especially good content from a newsletter they received.

Jared: [00:16:41] I use substack a lot and I have a substack viewer. And so I can see all of them on the left-hand side and then all the host as they come about through each newsletter. I see some people who are working on like indexable searching and I really think that the last year you really can really pair with your audience because you could know the questions they were asking. And then you're like, you're a one-to-one. Pairing your knowledge to them.

Newsletter as antilibrary and to surround yourself with experts

Cause right now I can see just my manual efforts. All of it's I view as signal. I don't view it as noise. Cause I'm like, I subscribe to these things. I want to see these things. Even if I don't have time, it's like an unused book. If I bought it and don't read it, I don't have it. It doesn't say, Oh, that doesn't have value. I bought it. I subscribed. So I still want it. I just didn't have time to read it. So it's a different way. Cause it's social media and you're like you were saying that it's just everything. I guess that could be seen as too much. But if you take an action, then you wanted that or you wanted to be a part of your life.

Achim: [00:17:41] That's a great take and, posted this word anti-library. Like the books that you didn't read, and this is spot on because I also see newsletters as a way to surround myself with certain people. I get always this prompt, this reminder to "talk" virtually to somebody to listen to somebody. It makes a huge difference for me, that newsletters don't arrive every day, like in social media or even faster. We should cherish that. I think I would unsubscribe from newsletters that come out daily or every second day. Once a week I think is a great cadence. You get to know somebody, you get this invitation you stay close, but you don't feel overwhelmed. As long as you have this posture that you don't need to read it. It's an invitation. This person passes you by with the newsletter and then either you have the time to read it or not. I think that's a great way to look at it

Ziga: [00:18:38] I agree with what you said on the frequency and all of this. I actually found it really interesting. There is one newsletter that I'm receiving daily on each weekday it's about  software development, but it's basically really short. It tells you how something works. Like it takes me three minutes to go through and it's really high quality. Of course everything is published online. What I noticed is that guy is really keeping it consistent. And I basically learned one computer language. But he really found the niche . I think there's space for that. If you do it right. he's writing an educational newsletter and he took a complicated topic and broke it down into something you can digest in five minutes. He has courses and products that are built on top of it. So it's the foundation for his marketing.

Making time for your audience

Yina: [00:19:23] I really liked what you were talking about with creating a relationship. This is nothing related to content. But this is something that I've seen a couple of newsletters do that I really appreciated was where they would actually offer a window of time where the audience can book a time to speak with you. I have noticed that the people that did this, it was like a positive feedback loop or a win-win for both sides where it adds more creative motivation for you as a newsletter writer because you literally see someone wants to spend time beyond just reading to actually engage with you. It also serves as a great way to collect feedback. I think for the readers, what I did this with, one of the people that I subscribed with, it just showed that it was much more personal and it wasn't just a priority of broadcasting. It was more about creating that relationship.

I heard a term for that. I don't know if it was office hours or like non office hours, something like that, where people say here I have a fixed time slot or multiple time slots of the week. You can just book it book a time. That's a great way to actually do it, to limit the time, but to still offer it to the people that want it.

The human advantage over brands

Jacques: [00:20:27] This is something that I'm just conscious of in running my larger business it's just, you can't really relate speaking from the eye and really relating with your audience versus speaking from a brand. But I'm not actually Jacques. I'm just thinking about the morning brew and I've seen a few of theirs and I don't know who writes it. I'm not developing a relationship with who writes it. There's no personal emotion in it. That's just a larger thing in terms of branding that I'm aware of is how much easier it is to relate with a human than it is to a brand.

Achim: [00:21:09] This is something that we discovered also in passed salon sessions, it's a specific advantage of knowledge entrepreneurs. A brand has only substitute for another human being. We treat it a little bit like a toy. You look at it and you say Oh yeah, I know this" Nike" person, but you are well aware that it's not a human being and you would prefer a human being any time. The more personal a brand is the better. And as a human, you have the ultimate advantage because it cannot get more personal. You shouldn't try to become a company or brand, you should try to be seen in a way that still works.

Personal branding is still useful. It points you to the right actions. You don't want friends all over the internet, millions of friends, that doesn't work. You want to stand for something. You want to have an expertise. You want that people come to you for a certain thing. These people shouldn't confuse you with their friend, because then you don't have the time to fulfill that niche. They should still see you as a human being and somebody that they can turn to.

You may know this feeling if you see a famous person or somebody who think if this person could be my friend, how cool would that be? I now changed my mindset to , I really don't want to be the friend of this person. This must be so hard to be the friend of a famous person, because they hardly have time, they have so many people around them. What I really want to be is the expert for this person. That would be fun.  Famous people would come to you from time to time, once a year, and they would say, Achim,  I have this problem, in my knowledge entrepreneur career can you help me with that? You have a nice interaction. You exchange value, everything's fine. You're sharing some stories and then you go again and that's a much better relationship, I think, than being friends with everybody.

Jacques: [00:23:07] I'm obsessed with the community and I believe that communities one of the most powerful medicines. There's a war happening on community right now due to variety of factors. I really loved what one of you said about events and like round tables or Q&As and using that a monthly discussion as a means to start to cultivate a community around your newsletter instead of just an audience. I think that's super powerful when it comes to developing a personal relationship with your audience. The second thing that I am currently experimenting with, so I just monetize my substack. I am making it super, super private. The people who pay me on sub stack for paid blogs. I actually send them emails, not through substack but through my actual email address and I use like hunter.io and it sends out emails from my actual email. It's just hyper personal. it's like from my real email address, I'm using their name. I'm sending them resources. That's something I'm experimenting with and hopefully I'll figure out how to just get them to pay me off substack, too.

Achim: [00:24:24] First of all, this app that you were mentioning, hunter.io that you can somehow mass send out larger volumes of emails through your private account.

Regarding monetization or earning how we like to call it. That's always a question. Just very quick of creating value first and then asking, asking for part of the value in return. You always have the option to sell. Then you would ask for the money first and would create the value later. That's more difficult that is harder, but you can also decide to earn. Earning means you create the value first by for example your newsletter and then asking for part of that value that you created in return. That's a nice mindset and area to investigate.

Jeanne: [00:25:10] I was just going to mention on the note of personalizing the newsletters. I haven't started mine yet. It's on my roadmap, but just some things that I love from other newsletters that are received.

For instance, I joined a community global virtual design sprint, and the organizer of it he actually used Bonjoro app.  To welcome me, he sent a video. As the recipient, I have an option to reply back with the video or just text just a regular email. I really love that. And it's definitely part of his style, might not work for everyone, but just to have it in your back pocket.

Also just basic things like the consent and opt in. Your email list is your most prized because you are able to connect with them on a different level than social media, where it's just so transient and maybe people that aren't opted in are really serious about your work as well, or asking questions. As much as you want to reach out to everyone, we just don't have that time. So you know that your people are your people once they are subscribed and have opted in and consented. A clear option to unsubscribe I've seen on so many newsletters, especially with bigger companies, it's so hard to unsubscribe and that's maybe by design, but it's never helpful.

And then Atulya Bingham Beinum. She has themudhome.com and she  got that real estate in 2010. She builds these mud homes. It's wonderful. She's a great writer and she's clear about what she will tell you about in the newsletter at the very top. I think ness labs does a really great job at that as well. Just a call out at the top of the newsletter, just so people know what they're going to receive.

Atulya Bingham , she's really built an ecosystem where everything on her website is feeding the other. She's also on Patreon, so she has her patrons and the way she weaves that in authentically in the newsletter is also wonderful. She's done email courses as well as free PDF courses and things like that, which I really love.  I think that's a cool thing to experiment with at the beginning as well, finding, testing out what content people like like an email series, for instance.

Achim: [00:27:17] This were three great insights. Those personalization that you can also add on with video, then the consent and opt in and clear un-subscribe. I cannot stress that enough when you grow your audience. You don't want people in your audience that don't want to be in your audience. That's toxic. it doesn't serve anybody. And so make it clear, give people the option to unsubscribe and you will see the people that stay are better for you and you are better for them. It also sends the right message. you're doing the right thing also to the people that wouldn't unsubscribe, but they just see that you are doing it the right way.

I will definitely check out Atulya Bingham  and the newsletter. That's an interesting thing to tell in the very top, what you're already saying. We can always learn how to be more clear in communication.

Yina: [00:28:05] I was going to adding onto what Jeanne was saying was actually really insightful was giving clear expectations around what you're going to be giving for content. They were always reinforced to do that with any writing that we have, whether it's through a persuasive essay or even like when we're using a thesis statement for any of our longer form content. That's always about managing the expectations of what the reader should expect you to have. I liked the idea of adding that in. There was something else that I noticed that certain news letters did, I think it is more time intensive, but I really appreciate it. They would actually put the time it takes to read both their actual newsletter as well as any additional links they had. This is the other person that I actually connected with over Calendly and I asked him about this question and he told me he  will actually go and divide out the number of words and the number of time it would take to manually do this. He was actually really happy that I asked him about it because a lot of people really realize the actual additional manual effort it takes, but I'm glad that it's useful.

I thought that was really interesting and I'm planning to apply that as well.

Ziga: [00:29:02] The reading duration, you can actually compute it pretty easily. Just find the lowest and highest reading speed and just divide them by number of words. It's two minutes of work. I have it on my blog and I think people like it. Tiny details like that make a huge difference.

Martin: [00:29:18] In my company we provide forms to people and then we made an experiment to add the time of how long the form will complete. You will, we'll text you for you to complete the form. We have so many forms for people to fill. So we have a huge amount of data are. And we, we realize that it really increase the amount of forms that are completed. If they see the time, how long it's going to complete, they are more likely to to engage in the form. So it's the same way, we've any any action or outcome.

Achim: [00:29:52] That's a great insight actually, Martin, because a form is really something annoying, right? People don't want to fill that in . It's a tool. If there showing the time that it takes to fill out this even increases the completion rate, then it should relieve you from all the pressure to put the time on your newsletter.  A newsletter is something even more interesting to read. Maybe it also has a good feedback loop because if you put a large number in there you might reconsider it, you might shorten your text. At the same time you manage the expectations of the audience. Maybe it's just a virtuous thing to do that can help you and your readers.

Outro

We reached the official end of the salon. I want to thank you.

This is really important because I noticed today that actually Wednesdays has become a highlight of my week. It's something that's easy and rewarding for me. It feels like a lot of fun and like a highlight of my weekend. It's only thanks to you. Thank you for turning up and contributing so much.

I want to experiment with one thing. If you want. I created a backstage area for the salon. I share now with you here in the chat a circle community that I created. I use it also for different purposes, but I thought I can install there a little backstage area for our salon.

If you have another question, if you want to add something, if you want to stay in conversation. I'll be there definitely, but maybe other people will also be there as well.

I found that I get a lot out of working on this material going forward. Transcribing it correcting it publishing it. Deepens the understanding of the topic. And I wanted to give you also an opportunity like that. I just give out the link here in the salon. So the people that join can come backstage, but I would ask you to not put this publicly anywhere.

Thank you for that. I will remain on the call as usual to answer questions or to have a lot of chit chat, but you're free to leave any time though. Thank you.