Your Newsletter (A Pattern Language of Banana Stands)

OK so hopefully I’ve convinced you of the paramount importance of your mailing list. But where to start? (If you’re lost, see There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand for an intro to this series)

Pattern: Your Newsletter

When you need to care: Today

Where it fits: It’s where mailing lists come from. And useful conversations. And sometimes, where your product strategy becomes concrete.

Once upon a time, starting your mailing list was a bit of a head-scratcher. Sure, you could get people’s email address by selling them a product, but what if you didn’t have a product yet? Marketers recommended offering “free reports” and other such enticements in return for an email address, but it was all a little icky.

Then blog fatigue set in, followed by social media fatigue. And suddenly people rediscovered the art of the newsletter. It turns out it’s kind of nice to get updates from people whose voice you enjoy and/or whose opinions you respect. And you can smash “reply” and talk to them one-to-one about it without all that tedious posturing on social media.

The newsletter renaissance is great. And now there are all sorts of tools just for running your email newsletter, like Mad Mimi, Buttondown, Twitter’s Revue, and Substack. (Substack is the 800lb gorilla in this list, but please be aware they are hella sketchy in predictably funding-driven ways)

You can also use a traditional autoresponder/email marketing tools for your newsletter. And eventually you will move your newsletter over to one of these tools. But we’ll get to those in another article.

Here’s the thing about newsletters. Well, some things.

  1. They get people on your mailing list. Which you may recall is the lifeblood of your indie creative business.
  2. They facilitate one-to-one conversations. I have had some GREAT discussions as a result of my newsletter.
  3. They don’t have to be hyper-specific. An opt-in to your newsletter is better than an opt-in to a “free report” about green widgets, because it’s permission to talk to subscribers about a multitude of topics, not just green widgets.

But here’s a less-obvious thing about newsletters: they can be terrific ways to maintain the rhythm of your creative business. It’s Sunday and I’m my own boss when I’m in the banana stand; what am I doing this week? I dunno, lemme write a newsletter and find out…

Seriously, even as a grizzled banana salesmen, I still used this strategy as I was getting together. Writing news updates about the site helped me a) cement the site as A Real Thing in my head; b) put into perspective what all those dozens of fiddly tasks I did last week were actually making from a customer’s perspective; c) cement my product offering (because you can’t write about it without figuring out exactly what it looks like); and d) realize what I most cared about doing next.

Which is to say, you don’t have to have either an audience or a product or a set format to start writing your newsletters. Go ahead and start writing; you might just write your banana stand into existence.

OK but back to the nuts and bolts, slap that newsletter sign-up form on all your blog posts and on your Twitter pinned tweet and your LinkedIn bio and your fetlife page and… well maybe not your fetlife page unless that’s your audience.

You do not need to overthink this part. Chelsea Troy’s blog is a great example: all her pages have a “Can I write to you?” tab in the corner and if you click it, it expands into this delightfully concise pitch:

Chelsea's newsletter pop-up reads:
Can I write to you?
I'll send you convenient rollups each time I finish a blog series.

I'll also occasionally ask your thoughts on a topic before I write. 2 emails per month, max.

What’s great about this is not just that it’s short, straightforward, to-the-point, and works on any page. It’s that I know it probably took her like 5 minutes to throw this together on Drip. There are a lot of products out there to help you overthink this shit. Trust me, I’ve used half of them. Don’t.

Also, don’t agonize too hard about the format of your newsletter. It’s gonna change over time regardless. You’ll find out that you just don’t have the energy to post 15 links to new articles on monospaced font kerning every Sunday. It turns out most people are OK with following you through shifts in style and focus and structure.

Finally, stop apologizing for shilling for your own stuff in your newsletter. It’s fine. People signed up for this. Talk about your latest blog posts or videos or conference talks or podcast appearances or (especially) your new pre-order product or a workshop you’re hosting or your favorite challah recipe. Especially your challah recipe. Seriously, I need a good challah recipe.

So those are some things to know about newsletters. Next up: probably autoresponders. Or maybe The One About WordPress. See ya soon.

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