December 5, 2023

Don’t write a newsletter if you want validation. Get a dog.

How to write newsletters properly

I’ve been writing email newsletters for 10 years or so and sending them to a small database of loyal fans.

I have a love/hate relationship with my newsletter. Producing a newsletter can be hugely satisfying and famously frustrating. 

What’s the point of a newsletter?

  • To add value to your subscribers and give them useful information on your subject speciality.
  • To build credibility and trust as an expert in your field.
  • To sell them your offering.

What does it take to produce a newsletter?

Hard work and time. You have to write the cornerstone essay. Find the right photo to portray the key message. Craft your secondary message with care. In my case, I look for two to four eccentric and interesting videos from YouTube to add in (you have to write a small explanation to ‘sell’ the video). And, then, because you need to pay the bills, you put your offer in, normally at the end of the newsletter. This is the place where sales go to die because based on my stats, my readers lose steam halfway through the newsletter, and never get to my offer. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. I wouldn’t want to believe that my marketing messages are as awkward as a teenager struggling to undo a bra strap: inefficient, painful, and embarrassing, resulting in disappointment and dissatisfaction for both parties.

What’s the reality?

The reality is that producing a newsletter is time-consuming (if you do it properly and with a modicum of pride) and it can be soul-sucking. Why? Because 3/4 of your database doesn’t open your newsletter. Hardly anyone bothers to respond. Sometimes, the only way I know that the newsletter went out is that I get a couple of ‘out of office’ responses. Every now and again, I get a one-liner, saying, “That was a good article, I needed that today.” And, because I have a sanguine temperament, and I need oodles of validation, I jump on that email like a drowning sailor on a life raft and profusely thank the person for sending me the compliment. It’s sad and an illness, I know.

You can imagine how I overdosed on dopamine when professional speaker, Billy Selekane said, “Jacques is the Charles Dickens of our age.” That kept me going for a while. But, when Deborah du Plooy said, “Your scribing is orgasmic kla. Errrr buddy, please work on my obituary,” I lost all my marbles as the dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin combined into the perfect-storm of validation.

Besides validation, the actual point of the newsletter is to build trust and credibility with your audience so that every so often, they’ll buy something. I can only live on compliments for so long before I have to eat.

And, let’s just put it out there. If you’re a business owner the only reason you write newsletters, build those excruciating and infuriating websites and hang out on the vacuous and vapid social media is to make sales, isn’t it? We’re all playing that game, aren’t we? If it were up to me, I’d rather be a trust fund baby, catching bass, drinking whiskey, playing chess and getting up to mischief in Italy. Is that just me, or would you also be doing something else if you had more money than you knew what to do with?

So, regarding ROT (Return on Time, and making money), is writing a newsletter worth it?

I’d have to say no, if that’s your primary motivation.

If I took the four hours a week spent producing a newsletter and posting and sharing it over a year, that’s 200+ hours. I promise you, if I spent 200 hours on the phone prospecting for business, I’d make a ton more money. But, because I like validation and not rejection, I take the chicken way out and write newsletters.

What’s Happening Here?

I contacted my friend Tobias at TouchBasePro, the system I use to send my newsletters. I showed him the statistics for my latest newsletter.

Horrifying I thought.

He said, not really. Most newsletters email stats are worse. Yay, misery loves company.

He sent me this.

If your email newsletter statistics are similar, you’re in good company.

Should You Quit Sending Out Newsletters?

Definitely not. Just change your focus.

Blog a book. Every cornerstone article I write is intentionally written with a book in mind. I’ve been sending out newsletters sporadically since my last book in 2019. 

Let’s do the maths.

  • My average article is 300 words long. 2019 to 2023 is a span of four years.
  • I generally put out one newsletter a week, which equals 52 weeks.
  • 300 x 52 x 4 = 62 400 words. Well, that’s enough for a book (my last one hit the 62 000 word mark).
  • Let’s take out 25% for exaggeration (because I need so much praise and validation), it’s still a handy 46 000 or so word book. If I’m lazy, I can live with that and produce a book. And, some people call themselves authors with 5000 words from their pen, so I’m sure I can get away with it. 

Your newsletter is your gym where you can test out your work.

Sometimes I get more than one compliment from an article I wrote. Then I know that article landed in the mind and heart of my reader.

I of course also send all my work out to LinkedIn and Facebook, and the articles that work get great response (likes and comments). When I publish my book, I front load it with all the ‘winners’ and the ones that haven’t made the grade go in the latter half of the book. Although, weirdly, the articles I think are winners, and the ones I’ve really loved writing, often don’t get a vote. 

Not everything I say is true

I actually do make money out of my newsletter in a roundabout way. Sometimes my writing is passable, and some people hire me because of it. I mostly write about philosophy, spirituality and sometimes mindset and marketing, but I sell writing services. This is a bit of a disconnect (as my good friend, branding authority, Dawn Klatzko says, “Brand confusion”). I remember when I tried to make my cat Gloria part of my brand, I called her. I can just imagine her rolling her eyes and shaking her head, saying “Oy vey.” 

Thankfully I scrapped that idea.

Ultimately, I’m not negative about producing newsletters. They keep me out of mischief. As you know, nature abhors a vacuum, and I’d probably be wasting the four hours a week on something else, like hanging about coffee shops with my mates. That’s a sure-fire way not to make money.

Goodbye. Before I go, I leave you with this:

  • Having a substantial subscriber base of 5000+ can make you money through newsletters. My piddly 600 is not going to cut it. Most of them are friends too, so that’s not a great money-making strategy.
  • Transform your newsletters into an incredibly effective tool for blogging your book. This is the smartest sentence in this entire article.
  • I’m going to go all Don Miguel Ruiz (The Four Agreements) on you, “Don’t take anything personally.” When it comes to newsletters and most things in life, you and I are a nanosecond of attention in most people’s lives. They have better things to do than worry about your and my newsletters, that’s for sure. 
  • But if you can add up the nanoseconds over time, maybe your words do make a difference. You may not always (or never) see it in your pay cheque, but know that you have touched someone’s heart, albeit for a short while, and that my friend, makes all the difference. 

One Comment on “Don’t write a newsletter if you want validation. Get a dog.

March 25, 2024 at 3:17 pm

I really needed to read this, thank you. At the giddy hight of my weekly newsletter, I hit the late 37s to 45s open rate. I wasn’t quite at the 5k mark, closer to about 3k, but the list is gone…don’t ask. It’s too painful. Anyway, yes to the book idea, however, having the attention span of a gnat, I cannot see how I would meld such a disparate group of ideas.


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