Toolkit: How to Build a Newsletter List
This toolkit is a growing library of wisdom that highlights the hurdles of owning your content and building your platform. We not only curate the wisdom from creative leaders and artists, but also from the community—a balance of both, like cheese and wine—so that you’re supported and empowered to build your home on the internet.
An important piece to owning your content is also having a direct connection to people who want to hear from you. Although it is the oldest publishing platform on the internet, email is unquestionably reliable, you can take your list with you, and it is decentralized and untainted by algorithms and companies with hidden agendas. A newsletter is the single greatest asset you can build for yourself that pushes you to commit to the long-haul.
Truth is, it’s harder to get popular on social media than it is to grow a newsletter list of humans that are eager to receive your messages. You’ll scream so much on social media you’ll end up losing your voice, whereas with newsletters, you have to be thoughtful, clear, and useful. Aren’t all of those skills worth nurturing?
Practical wisdom from like-minded creatives
Meet Paul Jarvis, a writer and designer who’s had his own company of one for the last two decades. His latest book, Company of One, explores why bigger isn’t always better in business.
His newsletter, Sunday Dispatches, is where he tells honest stories about creativity and business, sharing lessons learned and connecting with his readers on a basis of transparency and resourcefulness. For Paul, this is what turns readers into customers, and customers into creative allies. He said in our Season 2 interview:
“This is where your own blog and your own newsletter differ entirely and why I think they’re better than social media or any other platform you rent or use which isn’t your own. Companies who provide us with blog software and email marketing software charge us for it or make it open-source for everyone.
As Craig Mod wrote in WIRED in his epic The ‘Future Book’ Is Here, but It’s Not What We Expected:
“We simply cannot trust the social networks, or any centralized commercial platform. Email is definitely not ideal, but it is: decentralized, reliable, and not going anywhere—and more and more, those feel like quasi-magical properties.
“Mailing list data is owned by the sender and not governed by changing algorithms. No one company controls email. No single company can get between a sender and their recipient (even though Google tries with those damn tabs and their spam policies).
“Try exporting your “page likers” from Facebook or even your followers on Twitter… oh wait, you can’t do that?! That’s because those platforms own your data and own your social connections, not you. They own the connection you have with the people who connect with you there. There’s no portability and they can absolutely take and use those connections to further their own bottom line. They can also change the way you use their platforms, based on their whims. You want to reach your likers? It’s now $5 or more.
“Same goes for blogs that live on servers you pay for. You own that content, it’s yours. No single company controls hosting and servers, and if you want to leave and move hosts at any time, you can pack your data up and leave. Your ownership stays in tact. Same goes for content management systems that power blogs—if you want to switch from one to another, you can typically grab an export of the data (since it’s yours), and migrate to something else.”
ENCOURAGEMENT FOR NEXT STEPS
The key is to pick a platform that resonates with you and just start. We love Mailchimp. Consider this a learning experience—you’re gaining a new skill, growing a pillar in your business/work, and fostering a channel for connection with people that want to hear from you.
You don’t need a fancy template. People don’t connect with templates, they connect with voices and the people behind them; they connect with the purpose of the newsletter and how it adds value to their life.
Really Good Emails
An archive of… really good emails. So good.
This site helps you find the best-of-the-best newsletters curated by your interests.
The most defensible thing you can do for your career: Build An Audience
Sean Blanda makes a strong assertion that the smartest thing you can do as a creative is to build your platform and audience. Why? Because you then own it.
Craig Mod on what makes a good newsletter
Craig is a writer that believes in the long-game of publishing and building your platform. As mentioned earlier, Craig has experience growing and managing various newsletters that connect with people that want to hear from him.
Paul Jarvis on all things email
To dive deeper on Paul’s approach, check out his in depth essay on his approach to newsletters.
Coined by Seth Godin, the ethos of permission marketing is simple: “Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.” This is the heart of owning your content and growing your newsletter.
A 201 guide for taking your newsletters to the next level
“Since applying email newsletter best practices can be surprisingly cumbersome, the Shorenstein Center at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Lenfest Institute teamed up with Yellow Brim to produce a series of open source newsletter templates.”
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