Thinking of writing a newsletter next year?

Learn from my mistakes: 20 top tips

In February I started a newsletter. I had no idea where it was going to take me, and I certainly wasn’t anticipating what 2020 dished up.

Here's what I learnt in 10 months of writing, in a year that blew expectation out of the water.

May it serve you well – whether you’re an experienced, newbie or aspiring newsletter author 😊

1. Don't compare yourself to others

But he does this, but she does that...

Great story. You're not them, so crack on with what you're doing and let them do the same. You're writing your newsletter, not theirs. So, hop to it.

2. Deadline = action

This newsletter was birthed out of a ridiculous deadline back in February. After sitting on my hands for almost three years, I decided I'd had enough.

'Right!' I cried, 'I'll write and send out my first newsletter this week!'

And I did.

Ask any creative – a deadline lights a fire under one's rump like nothing else. If you've been sitting on something you need to do, read this post and consider it the kindling. You're welcome.

3. Tell people about it

No, I'm not talking about marketing it, not yet anyway. Tell people whatever deadline you've set yourself, or whatever standard of delivery you've dreamed up.

Sharing creative ideas too early isn't always the right course of action, as I wrote about in “You ought to do something with that” – the curse of sharing a good idea. BUT! If you've got a good idea and the only thing stopping you is your own inaction, a bit of emotional pressure works a treat to get it done.

4. It doesn't have to be perfect

Nobody will know your intention and what the difference was anyway.

5. Tomorrow is another day. Next week is another newsletter

Or next fortnight, or next month, whatever your parameters. And if you've promised it, you gotta deliver it.

When the perfection monster starts to roar, silence it with the reminder that tomorrow you have another opportunity to create something wonderful. But for now, this deadline’s ticking towards me, so would you mind roaring somewhere else? Ta.

6. You like it rough, do ya?

Seriously. Some of the best feedback I've had in response to this newsletter has been for the posts that have been the most rough and ready. Who knew?!

7. The writing makes me feel good. Sharing is a bonus

Writing this newsletter has connected me not only to what I love to do (writing) but that other thing that I like to do - connecting with people.

8. People are nice

Really, really nice. Which is an abysmal word for a professional writer to use, but baubles to that. If you want to restore your faith in humanity, sign up to a few quality newsletters and – even better – start writing your own. The joy and love that you put in are directly proportionate to the joy and love that you get in return.

Which takes me to...

9. Connection is where it's at

...those newsletters you signed up for? Yeah, if you like something, write back and tell the person! A quality, well-thought-out newsletter will be hand-written (okay, okay, hand keyed) by an actual HUMAN BEING, not a corporate robot; I'd put money on the fact that your response will be read – and appreciated.

Why does that even matter?

Because if you're treating your newsletter like a community, which it is, then you're creating a two-way dialogue. And you gotta give to other people what you expect to receive yourself.

Plus, you'll put a spring in their step. I LOVE getting replies to my letters, it sends me off into the weekend with a smile on my face.

Hint hint.

10. 3 hours of deep work

Your newsletter might take you 3 hours, it might take you 30 minutes. But if you're not dedicating the time spent writing it as part of your 'deep work' segment of the day, you're doing yourself, the newsletter, and your readers a disservice.

Props to David, Mike and the Keyboard CEO team for sharing their thoughts on deep work. There's not enough time to go into it properly here – basically, set aside time to turn off your phone, mute emails, bar the door and do your best work. Each and every day.

Classical music makes a great audio backdrop to deep work. Here's a playlist that's just the right length.

11. You gotta work on your own shiz

Take that motto and apply it to life and you'll be doing alright.

But if, like me, you constantly neglect your own marketing because you're busy doing everyone else's, a newsletter will sort that out.

You've set a deadline, told people about it and contracted your sense of professional self-worth to other people's expectations that you're going to give them something amazing... now you've got no choice but to work on your own stuff.

Mwhahahaha. In the nicest-possible-scary-laugh-kind of way.

12. Writing a newsletter clarifies your thinking     

Taking the jumble of stuff in your head and putting it out into the world is what anyone who works with ideas does every day. Whether you're a marketer, a leader or a business owner, it's all the same. What's inside your noggin is most effective when shared with those around you.

A newsletter makes you get your thoughts straight in your own mind, before anyone else has a hope of getting them.

And when your thinking is clearer, your communication is better, your decision making more effective and your creativity flows that little bit easier.

14. It gives you confidence in what you do

Let's be honest, there are moments when you could do your day job with your eyes closed - am I right?

Not to say that you're lazy. Neither am I. Trouble is, we're so used to flexing our skills that they are second nature to us and we rarely have to think about them.

It's easy to move through the day job on autopilot, just doing your thing. Once you start sharing that with others, it reinforces (in your own mind, let alone anyone else's) why what you do is great and how valuable it is.

When you think about your skills and the best way to use them, instead of just mechanically performing the relevant actions, it's a tremendous confidence boost.

15. Chew gum

Look, I'm not a dentist. Or a doctor. When I was doing my GCSEs, someone told me that chewing gum was good for concentration. And so I chewed my way through endless revision and exam after exam. Yeah, I was swot, I revised before all my exams. Bet you didn't need to be told that though.

You don't have to chew as manically as Fergie in the Man United dugout did. But if it helps to get it done, let 'er rip.

16. There's a lot to be said for discipline

You know how you work. More than that, if you've spent any time conscious while at work (can be difficult, I know), I bet you know exactly what your Achilles heel is.

Mine is a long deadline. A lack of externally-applied urgency is my downfall. I needed to write regularly, it's how I decided in my frantic 'I'm going to write my newsletter THIS WEEK' moment that I settled upon a weekly interval.

And you know what? I don't think my newsletter has faltered once for the pressure. I've turned it out each and every week, apart from the very rare occasion I've had a day off on a Friday. And each week without fail someone has read it.

Choose the rhythm that suits you – but, once you've chosen, stick with it come hell or high water. And just observe... what happens in that disciplined space, in that self-imposed constraint? Does it bind you - or does it set you free?

17. Your newsletter is a reader-funded publication

So is mine.

'But Laura,' you cry, 'we don't pay you any money for it.'

I know. But if you don't got 1000 true fans, or even ten, you got nowt. Your readers will vote with their feet and you won't have anyone to write to. You gotta write for you, of course, but remember – if nobody wants to read it, you may as well be scrawling in a notebook in a dark and dusty corner of the attic.

Make it worth their time.

18. Write fast, write slow, write short, write long - it's all the same

Flying in the face of conventional wisdom here. Hear this and hear it good:

It doesn't matter one iota whether you write several pages or several sentences, whether you send it at a specific time, or on a particular day.

I have had lovely responses to letters I literally spent hours crafting, as well as those I knocked out in 10 minutes at 3 o'clock on Friday. Nobody but nobody is sitting glued to their inbox waiting for your newsletter. If it speaks to them, if it connects to them and they want to engage with it, they will. If they don’t, they won't. The idea that marketing, that copy, that words can 'make' anyone do anything is a fallacy.

This point reminds me of a wonderful article I read a couple of years ago. For the life of me I can't remember where I saw it – maybe The Drum?

The author recounted a weekend trip to see family in Yorkshire. Slipping away from the in-laws to watch the football at the pub, he got chatting to some of his fellow pub patrons. Being an advertising man, he asked them what they thought of the brands of lager they were drinking. Far away from the safe haven of London-ad-agency-land, oop North, he was met with blank stares and suspicion. Brand? They wanted to watch the footie, sink a few pints and take the mickey out their mates. Brand, tut.

If you make a thing that people want to enjoy, they will. Don't overcomplicate it.

19. Be a force for good

Your newsletter is your newsletter. You don't have to ask permission, so do with it what you will.

When the pandemic hit, my newsletter was barely a month old. I had no idea what to do. What could I offer to help the world? My gut was telling me to try and lift people's spirits: I had an idea to share daily positive quotes and a writing prompt, a practice that had just seen me through the long, wet, miserable winter.

I was full of doubt - was it the right move? Was it appropriate? Wouldn't it get annoying, wouldn't everyone unsubscribe in their droves?

In the end, I followed my nose and did what I believed to be good.

It was a hit. The positivity that came from those series of emails was like nothing I'd done before or since. Yes, it may be your space, but use it for good and you won't go far wrong.

20. Use your voice

"I can literally hear you saying that..." is one of the most frequent comments that I get in response to my newsletter. I'm not sure whether that's a compliment or if it's truthful enough to hurt. I'll let you decide that one!

The point is, you don't have to 'find' your voice - it's already there waiting to come out. What you do need to do, is trust it.

If you put on a front, it'll be obvious.

21. Ease your foot off the marketing gas pedal for a bit

Yes, you should know who you're writing to, your customer avatar should be dancing in your mind's eye.

Yes, you should have an objective in mind when you start your letter and for each edition you sit down to write.

Yes, you must make sure your headline is enticing but not clickbait-y and that your posts are nicely structured and...and...

Waaaaaaaaahhhhhh.

If you are going to write a newsletter, and I mean if YOU are going to write one, not delegate it to your VA or your social media assistant, or your son's girlfriend's mother's sister, then you had better knuckle down and start writing.

Of course those things are important. And if you've got commercial objectives to meet for an employer, a client, or a stakeholder then you should absolutely be mindful of those things and pay them the respect that they deserve.

But there comes a time when you need to stop finessing what hasn't happened yet, nail your colours to the mast and shout: ‘This is me, this is what I'm about, and this is what I'm doing here. Are you coming along for the ride, or not?

Honestly, some of the best responses I've had have come from the most meandering, off-the-wall, random newsletters I've written. The one's where I think, 'Oh god, I can't believe I'm going to have to publish this. I'm a writer. I'm an actual professional. People pay me for this, what are they going to think?! Too bad that deadline is ticking closer; close my eyes, cross my fingers, just press send...!'

22. Underpromise, overdeliver

I said I’d give you 20 tips. We’re on 22.

Give more than you get.

Think about what you can offer, not what you can take.

Most of all, enjoy it.


There we have it. Now you're all set to start your own newsletter in 2021!

And if you're wondering who I'm writing to with this edition? Honestly, it's probably myself. I think my worn-out, 2020-pummelled, in-need-of-a-holiday psyche is letting slip all the secrets I wish I'd known a year ago. But hey, without the experience I wouldn't have learnt anything, and I wouldn't have any content to share with you ;)

May the lessons serve you well and carry you to newsletter nirvana.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, a thousand times for allowing me into your inboxes and for reading as I share my mind-wanderings with you.

I hope you have the most fabulous Christmas and a wonderful, safe and happy New Year.

Your words matter,

Laura


The Weekly Writing Reflection

Welcome!

Each week I share an inspirational quote and a writing prompt. The idea is for you to spend a moment doing some active reflection through writing.

Here’s your quote for this week...

Health is the greatest possession, contentment the greatest treasure, confidence the greatest friend.’

- Lao Tzu

And your writing prompt, if you’d like to use one:

  • My greatest possession is… My greatest treasure brings me… and my greatest friend helps me see….

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See you next year!