So you want to start a newsletter?
But you aren't sure why and how.
Then, this is the guide for you.
Here, Janel Loi answers all the questions you've about starting, growing and making money off of a newsletter.
And she knows her stuff.
She's been writing BrainPint, her curation newsletter, for over a year now. More than 3k people love reading every week.
And on April 14, she did an ~1hr long meet-up with the HelloMeets Newsletter Creators Community where she explained her newsletter philosophy.
This blog post sums up her answer to the most asked newsletter questions.
But you can watch the original meet-up recording in all its glory on HelloMeets Rewind.
Here's everything we'll cover:
- Why Should You Start A Newsletter?
- What Should You Write About?
- How You Can Write an Interesting Newsletter?
- Where You Can Find Content and Inspiration for your Newsletter?
- What's the Secret to Newsletter Success?
- How to Get your First Subscribers Without Spending Money?
- How to Find a Cross-Promotion Partner?
- How to Write Twitter Threads to Promote your Newsletter?
- How Can You Building an Audience on Twitter?
- How to Make Sure your Emails Land in your Readers Inbox Perfectly?
- How to Make Money From Your Newsletter?
Q1: Why You Should Start A Newsletter?
Okay. You know this.
Starting a newsletter is a BIG time commitment.
Even if you send it weekly, it takes up 5-7 hours. And that's not even including the time it takes to set it up.
So why even bother to start one, right?
Janel thinks differently. (Of course!). In her own words:
"Starting a newsletter can be the highest leverage activity anyone can do."
Here are 5 reasons:
1. Stop being just a consumer.
You probably just spend all your day reading or watching or listening to stuff. Tweets. Facebook posts. TikToks. Audiobooks. Whatnot.
But most of it is mindless consumption. You read it and don't do anything about it or think about it and it slowly goes to waste.
When you start writing a newsletter, you shift to a creation mode.
Every time you consume something new, you keep looking for inspiration to create something of your own out of it. You keep trying to connect it with things you already know.
This has scientific benefits. You remember something better when you connect it with other things already in your memory.
2. Build a better information diet
Quick personal story.
Before I had a newsletter, I (like most of you) used to read anything my Twitter feed fed me or watched anything YouTube recommended me.
It was hours of time getting wasted every week.
But about a month ago, I started my own curation newsletter. And it totally changed my information diet.
So now every time I see a link, I ask myself "Can I include this on my newsletter?"
Anything that I cannot include on my newsletter is probably very low quality and I shouldn't be reading it.
If you want to read great things, stop reading mediocre ones.
3. Inspire others or help them or learn
One of the main reasons why Janel started BrainPint was to inspire and help others to learn.
She used to find a lot of great links all over the Internet. So she started sharing them in a weekly email to help everyone find amazing stuff to learn.
4. Build new friendships and find your type of people
Newsletters are a friend magnet.
When you start a newsletter, you meet some very interesting people.
Let's say you're interested in a topic very few people you meet in real life, know about. Something like Stoic Philosophy, for example. If you start a newsletter around it, you'll automatically attract people who are interested in this topic. This way, you'll make new like-minded friends.
5. Create your own luck
Writing a newsletter opens you up to a greater level of serendipity.
People reading your newsletter can be your next freelance client. Or even hire you.
Readers also reach out to you with interesting ideas and links they've found.
All in all, your "surface area" for luck grows exponentially.
Q2: What should you write about?
Answer these 4 questions and you'll know what you should start a newsletter about:
- Is there a new field you're keen to explore?
- What do your friends ask you about?
- What can you go on and on about for hours?
- What are you usually reading or researching about?
Q3: How to write an interesting newsletter?
You need only 2 things. In Janel's own words:
A solid content diet & an ability to connect seemingly disparate dots helps you write an interesting newsletter
Solid content diet means you should read great stuff. (More in the next question). And an ability to connect dots means connecting to very different things to each other.
Q4: Where to find content to include in your newsletter?
Okay. You now know that you've to write a newsletter and what it should be about.
But how do you find inspiration for each issue?
Here's what Janel says:
- Read a lot.
- Subscribe to other newsletters in your niche
- Build up a curation bank of sites you can visit
- Create your own daily digest (use Mailbrew) that you get fed interesting things from
- Follow other amazing thinkers on Twitter
- Have interesting conversations with friends
- Have a digital notebooks where you can jot down ideas
Q5: What's the secret to newsletter success?
Yep, that's all.
In Janel's own words:
Publishing consistently is like putting in the reps at the gym. Even if no one's reading, keep writing. You get a lot better with practice.
All you've to do is to consistently keep writing new emails. Don't care if anyone's reading.
Ohh and here's another secret:
You'll have to write for long before you see any signs of your hard work paying off.
Janel herself wrote for 13 weeks straight before she got any traction. That's over 3 months of writing despite seemingly discouraging results (only 25 subscribers).
But soon, her hard work paid off. Her newsletter started getting better results by each passing week.
Growth comes slow... and then fast.
Q6: How to get your first subscribers without spending any money?
Janel's very proud of the fact that she has spent exactly $0 till now to promote her newsletter.
She's got to over 3k subscribers organically, all by herself.
She answers this question in 3 parts:
How to get your first 100 subscribers?
This is the early stage. You don't know how you can make your newsletter valuable. So most people who'd subscribe, will subscribe because they personally know you.
So, talk about it everywhere. Ask your friends and family and colleagues to subscribe.
Share it on your WhatsApp or Telegram groups of friends.
How to get your first 500 subscribers?
At this stage, you know your newsletter is providing some value.
Then, it's time to start promoting it to people you don't know.
Start writing Twitter threads. Promote to people in your niche. Promote it on social media. List yourself on newsletter directories.
How to get your first 1k subscribers?
This is the stage where you're ready to utilise your existing audience to grow even more.
Tweet threads. Do cross-promotions with similar newsletters. Do great summaries of interesting things. Encourage people to share your newsletter with a click to tweet share button.
Janel's Favourite source of subscribers
- Other newsletters: Because people who subscribe from other newsletter are already regular newsletter readers. So they will read all of your emails.
- Twitter: A lot of very interesting people are on Twitter and you can get followers too.
- Communities she's active in.
Q7: How to find a cross-promotion partner?
Before we get to it, it's important that you ask newsletters of similar size for a cross promotion.
You can't ask a newsletter with 100k subscribers to cross-promote when you've only 10-20k.
Janel's rule of thumb is that your newsletter should have either 20% more subscribers than theirs or 20% less.
That means, if you want to cross-promote with newsletters with 100k subscriber, you need to have at least 80k subscribers.
The single best way to find cross-promotion partners is to email newsletter writers whose newsletter you enjoy. Because your subscribers will be more likely enjoy newsletter you enjoy yourself.
You can also:
- Join newsletter communities and ask if anyone's keen to do a cross-promotion.
- Search newsletter directories for similar newsletters and email the writers directly.
Q8: How to write Twitter Threads to promote your newsletter?
The trick is to condense what you share on your newsletter into a list of short and sweet tweets.
But it's also important to
- Tag the people whose content you've featured. That way, they'll probably like or even retweet it.
- Highlight popular, interesting Point of Views.
- Don't put the link to your newsletter in the first tweet. Twitter algorithm slows down the reach of those threads with links place in first few tweets.
- Use Typefully.app to draft threads neatly.
Q9: How Can You Building an Audience on Twitter?
More Twitter followers means more subscribers. So you should start focusing on Twitter.
Here some general tips:
- Be curious
- Be interested
- Reply to others' tweets
- Share interesting, insightful stuff
- Be encouraging and optimisitic
Janel actually has an entire thread on it:
Q10: How to make sure your emails land in your readers inbox perfectly?
If you're not using Substack, buy your own domain.
Because Gmail assigns a reputation to all domains based on whether they're used to send spam emails.
Buying a domain means you'll have a clean record. And your subscribers will perfectly find your emails.
After you've bought a domain:
- Set it up with DKIM and SPF
- Set it up with DMARC
- Make sure that you're testing every single mail before you send using mail-tester.com
Besides the domain, some other things matter too.
- Regularly remove people who don't open your emails in a long time. Because if you don't Gmail will think nobody opens your emails and so they're spam.
- Get people to move your emails into their primary tab. In your welcome email, ask people to move your newsletter to the primary tab. That way it will be easier for them to find the newsletter.
- Test all mails to make sure that there aren't any broken links. Broken links are links that are not working. For email deliverability, they're a big no-no.
- Make sure all emails have an unsubscribe button. This one is obvious but important. If you don't include an unsubscribe button, your readers will mark you as spam to get rid of you. That will hurt your domain's reputation.
Q11: How to make money from your newsletter?
Making money from a newsletter is not difficult. But you need to prove you're truly adding value to your audience
If you're at 500 or 1k subscribers, your emails are probably valuable enough.
So here's 3 ways to earn money from your newsletter:
(Janel calls it The Monetization Trifecta)
- Sell your own product, subscription, community
- Sell sponsorships and ads
- Do affiliate deals (Amazon, AppSumo)
We'll go deep on each of them.
How to sell your products, subscription or community to your newsletter subscribers?
- Build credibility first. Make sure people value your emails and trust you.
- Give value first, take later money later.
- Find either critical mass or a super engaged group of people. You can't launch a successful product if you don't have enough people who'd be interested. Normally people convert at about 5% for products.
- Don't sell something that you will not buy.
- Don't start a community if you're not willing to put in the hard work. Community is hard to maintain. You'd have to invest a minimum of 10hrs a week.
How to sell sponsorships and ads on your newsletter?
How much you'll earn depends on your numbers.
There are 3 metric that matter.
- Number of subscribers
- Open rates: How many people open your emails. (Industry standards are ~30%)
- Click Through Rates (CTR): How many people click at least one link from your newsletter
The higher these three numbers the more advertisers will pay you.
Good thing is you don't have to wait for long. People start selling sponsorships of newsletters with mere 300 subscribers too. But a recommended starting number would be at least 500 subscribers.
Here are thing you need to keep in mind:
- Find a good sponsor-audience fit. Don't sell to sponsors who are a bad fit for your audience.
- To find sponsors, you need reach out to people as well as mention on your emails that you're looking for sponsors.
- There are also websites where you can find your first sponsors. Swapstack.co and Hecto.io.
How to Sell Affiliate Products on your Newsletter?
Affiliate sales means you promote someone else's product and they give you a cut if someone buys.
As a rule, don't sell things you haven't tried yourself.
Second, always be upfront. And tell your subscribers you're using an affiliate link or that you'll earn a commission if they purchase from the link. You can also mention it won't increase their costs.
And third, recurring payments are great. No doubts. But one-offs can be nice too. It helps support other creators' work too.
That'd be it.
You can watch the original meet-up right here.
There's a lot of new meet-ups coming up on newsletters creators. Want to stay updated? Subscribe here.