There’s a difference between I don’t have time for something and I won’t make time for something.
For instance, I like to imagine myself as being able to add a new habit to my life, like working out every morning. I know it’s good for me. But… lately I just haven’t made the time for it. At least not like I once did.
And it’s all on me. I could prioritize it (and I know I should), but it’s going to take some effort and motivation.
Let’s apply that to your newsletter open rate. It’s the percentage of people who actually make the time to do a thing they thought they wanted to do (unless you’re not letting people opt in and then we’ve got other things to discuss).
If it was easy to work out and I didn’t have a million things going on, I’d do it, right? Imagine you’re competing in the inbox with thousands of emails. What can you send that’s not “if I have time” and is more “oh, I make time for this” because it’s worth prioritizing?
Your challenge from the moment someone discovers your newsletter (word of mouth, advertisement, SEO, etc.) and subscribes is to become a part of their routine.
Ways to do that:
This week’s issue (hopefully a welcome part of your routine) rounds up some great advice and inspirational newsletters, including a list of really great Chrome extensions (several of which are free and brilliant brand relationship builders because they become part of their customers’ lives before they’re actually paying customers).
There’s also a very doable Opt In Challenge at the bottom (if you’re new to Opt In Weekly, I close the newsletter with a challenge). Be sure to check it out.
Let’s dive in.
“It’s not annoying if they’re the market.”
Margo Aaron said this during her Newsletter Fest session a few weeks ago when we talked email cadence and frequency.
She’s right, y’all.
Think about it.
When you start worrying your messaging might be pestering people who’ve opted in to receive email from you, maybe what you’re really concerned about is...
1) That they didn’t truly opt in and don’t really want what you’re sending (how did they end up on your list?)
2) That you aren’t actually sending what they hoped to get (is there a disconnect between what you promised and what you send?)
3) That they’ll unsubscribe because you overwhelm them (but they subscribed, right? And the people who unsubscribe when you send quality content were probably not worth your time anyway.)
Let’s get over the teenage anxiety of trying to be who we think our subscribers want us to be and just be the people/brands we are.
If they’re the market, they’ll eat it up. Those are the people you want to connect with and support anyway.
Margo explained it like this:
To someone who IS NOT THE MARKET, a room full of boy band posters all look the same.
To someone who IS THE MARKET, each is unique and important.
Write your email newsletters for your market and send as often as they’ll open and read them.
You might have noticed I held this newsletter until Friday this week. It was unintentional, but I’ll use it to experiment with this time going forward. I did use the extra time to add a few extra bits of newsletter advice and inspiration that would have been bumped until next week. Enjoy the bonus content and let me know what you think.
Are you using your newsletter to bring people along on a journey?
One of my favorite things about the newsletter genre is that it’s like a passenger train with a specific destination in mind—learn more about X; enjoy more Y; or become amazing at Z—and with each issue more passengers decide to board and travel with the conductor (creator).
Let’s extend this further.
Your open rate is the number of people who not only boarded the train, but who are actually paying attention to the announcements.
Your click rate represents the people who think your announcements are really interesting and worth exploring (maybe this train is making stops like a trolley tour and encouraging riders to visit relevant sites).
The 1:1 responses you get from people (we’re talking actual replies) represent the people who are A) getting the most out of the journey and want to personally let you know OR B) not sure why they’re on this ride and want you to know they could do it better (be careful how much weight you give these people).
And on and on, issue after issue, the growing crowd of people who’ve joined you for this ride experience an adventure of your creation—opening, clicking, responding, absorbing, and deciding with each send if the ride is worth the effort.
Are you connecting? Bringing people along? Building excitement?
Are you attracting an audience that finds it helpful and comforting—perhaps thrilling—to join you in this journey?
Today’s Opt In Challenge (last section of the newsletter for anyone new this week) involves learning how to whisper pitch, which essentially means to sell without being obnoxious. To me, that means emailing with the intention to be so valuable to your reader that when you tell them what you sell they have no doubt it will be good.
And for the editorial newsletter creators in the crowd, it could be that your whisper pitch is simply your next issue, aka the next leg of the journey.
Hoping you find today’s roundup of resources as exciting as I do.
This past weekend, we were visited by two critters:
The Easter Bunny: A loving and kind animal that leaves plastic eggs stuffed with candy in your yard
The Easter Raccoon (or Opossum?): An animal that pries open those candy-stuffed eggs and indulges on sweets until he gives up, goes home, and (we assume) suffers through the ensuing tummy ache
The girls are ok.
There was a five-minute window of “This is the worst Easter ever,” then the realization that the 10-15 eggs our Easter Raccoon ravaged (leaving a candy wrapper mess in the backyard) was a small percentage of the loot they divided in the end.
The newsletter lesson here?
Someone is going to be your Easter Raccoon and make you feel like you’re not going to be successful. They’ll try to defeat you with claws. But they usually don’t have the energy to destroy a good thing.
Don’t let them make you forget about all the goodies waiting for you.
Focus on serving the bunnies who love you (yes, they multiplied… because that’s what rabbits do, right?).
And by this I mean don’t get distracted by failures. Learn from them. Consider them tests that taught you a lesson and move on to the candy part.
Thank you for enduring my Easter tale.
This week’s issue has several treats, including some very wise people who preach persistence and tenacity.
So I was trying to teach a group of K-3rd graders about space science the other day and I had an idea.
Note: this is a Girl Scout volunteer thing. Not something I’m actually trained to do.
I just went with it.
“I’ll be Earth. I need volunteers for the moon and sun.”
I wanted to demonstrate two terms: orbit and rotate.
Looking back, I should have chosen to be the sun.
But there I was, all masked up and instructing one girl to slowly circle me while I spun in circles and orbited a stationary sun.
They loved it.
They got it.
And now they’re all charting the moon phases for a month, watching the gradual change in shadows and reflections.
Some people are jolted by change. They want a crisp vision of the future.
But I get a kick out of the evolution of ideas.
Trying things one way and then another and never really landing at perfect.
I like the imbalance of flux.
My CEO and I were chatting about this tweet storm the other day. It raises a (familiar) question of whether a bootstrapped underdog with a good product can compete with the VC funded SaaS companies of the world. It’s also a warning against entering an arena where you don’t decide on the rules.
Curated and the other Simple Focus Software brands are all bootstrapped solutions with inspiring founder stories and niche, sometimes cult-like user bases. We’re dedicated to those people and the unique ways we serve them, but not interested in getting caught up in category feature wars. We think a lot about how we adapt as the world changes.
How am I going to tie this back to your newsletter?
Don’t let anyone tell you there’s one way to write it, send it, monetize it, or let it evolve.
Create your own success metrics.
Know what winning is to you. Heck, design the game you want to play and play it.
There are so many ways to be successful in life as we spin and round the sun.
Figure out how to be content with each phase of your newsletter as you observe and reflect.
Your newsletter is yours. Own it. Use it to manifest what you want instead of getting caught up in someone else’s unicorn dust.
The links gathered in this issue are intended to help you look at it through a variety of perspectives and keep improving it.
PS It’s great to be back from Spring Break. Can you tell I took some time to stop spinning so fast? Huge thanks to Sarah Colley for stepping in last week.
PPS I hope I’ll see you all at Newsletter Fest April 12 -16. Vote for the top newsletters of 2021 here.
Hey editors, writers, copywriters, journalists, and content marketers, please take a few minutes to participate in this survey for Managing Editor Magazine.
Your participation helps us “content people” better navigate employment and negotiate salaries.
My daughter, Josie (8), spent the first few days of this week forcing her blistered thumb in people’s faces and proclaiming, “Look what I did!”
It was the size of an iPhone app button, if that button was a miniature cellophane balloon filled with whatever the stuff in a blister is. Pus?
This blister was the result of some serious labor.
When we arrived at the fair for her aerial gymnastics performance, we had a little time for rides before the show started. She was determined to spin herself dizzy on the teacups. From the moment she plopped into her teacup until the ride was over (two minutes?), she very aggressively achieved her goal.
But as she walked off the ride, pain spread across her face. She’d rubbed two blisters. One had popped in the process of spinning and now a splash of water, a bandage, and a little fanfare ensued as we treated the little gymnast who’d spun her teacup so hard she’d injured herself.
She made it through her performance—striking poses on a rope ladder with two other girls—and an afternoon at the fair without much more drama (aside from the very awkward moments when supervisors had to be called to convince ride workers that if her head touched the line on the height chart that meant she could ride).
The big blister popped a few days later at school and the healing has begun.
She’s now checking the progress and smiles as she remembers how fast she was able to spin. Maybe she’ll hold back next time. Or maybe she’ll wear gloves.
Her experience and the wound hasn’t slowed her down much. She had a speaking part at church Tuesday and nailed it. Today she has a practice standardized achievement test. And Friday… Spring Break begins.
That’s right. This family, which has been a collection of spinning teacups for the past several weeks as our pre-Covid schedule seems to be returning, is taking an actual break.
We’re headed to the Keys and I’m determined to let my mind heal itself.
I’m getting off my personal spinning teacup (which, boy do I love making go round and round faster and faster) and I’m going to intentionally relax, reflect, and envision our future.
As a newsletter creator, it’s important, I think, to carve out a moment to distance yourself from the process you’ve created and return fresh with ideas.
I’ve invited Sarah Colley, a talented freelance writer I’ve been engaging with on LinkedIn, to be your guest curator for Opt In Weekly next week.
You’ll notice a few references to her below in the Screen Share and Marketing sections. Please give her a warm welcome and enjoy her take on content and newsletters. I’m excited to see what she does.
Also, we’re taking nominations for 2021’s Top Newsletters of the Year. Nominate your favorite newsletters now, then vote March 26 - April 15. Winners will be announced Friday, April 16, at Newsletter Fest.
Note: Nominations created on all building/sending platforms are welcome.
Now, let’s spin along into this week’s roundup of newsletter advice.
Newsletter writers are cursed.
All writers are, really.
We face the daunting burden of knowing what we know.
Don’t get me wrong.
It’s a gift and a curse.
The gift is in the drive and ability to effectively communicate a thought your readers will value. We have the power to educate and empower—to change lives—with carefully crafted words and phrases.
The curse is our inability to experience our content the way our reader might, without knowing what we know.
Even the best writers are challenged when it comes to adopting the mindset of a reader: to imagine former, less informed versions of themselves encountering the words the present tense version has used to express an idea.
If you recall your grammar lessons, there was a word that meant “a thing or event that existed before or logically precedes another.” I associate it with figuring out who or what a pronoun is referring to in a complex sentence or paragraph. That word is “antecedent.”
Today, though, I urge you to think about it in terms of what you might be projecting unintentionally on your reader. What assumptions are you making that you really shouldn’t?
It’s fair to assume that if you serve a niche audience, they may have some basic understanding of a particular industry. And that you can safely use their vernacular or colloquialisms (aka “write in their language”).
But beyond writing for someone who is not you and therefore could get lost in your words because you’ve assumed too much of them, newsletter writers face an additional challenge: we have thoughtfully created and sent every issue of our newsletters to date and can too easily imagine our subscribers have read them all—and closely.
Reality check: 99% of your readers haven’t.
This could be their first issue.
Or they might have subscribed months ago, but they tend to skim.
Or they started to read one issue really closely, but then they got a text from their mom so they dropped off.
Your job is to write in a way that serves each of these people and their potentially limited attention spans.
Your job is also to not make them feel guilty that they have no clue what brilliant point you made in issue 5 that you’re now building on in issue 23.
Help them navigate back to that point if you want to reference it.
Give them the antecedents they need.
Read your copy and imagine this is the first issue of your newsletter you’ve ever seen.
Then ask someone else to give it fresh eyes.
Don’t trust that you can actually unknow what you know.
Revise until there is no unanswered question your words should have addressed to make the point as clear as possible.
And then, give yourself grace when someone responds and asks the question you thought you answered.
Now, onto this week’s issue. I’ve rounded up some content for both the advanced newsletter creators and those just starting the journey. My prologue was inspired by How and why writers should avoid ‘the curse of knowledge’ included in this week’s Writing section.
Last Sunday, we awoke to the familiar sound of an early morning pickleball match and a mountain of cases of Girl Scout cookies that had taken up residence in our living room.
This was intentional.
Out of sight would mean out of mind, and this is our family’s 4th year of selling cookies.
We know that it’s about 45% strategy (pick the right places to sell at the right time) and 55% hustle (commit the hours it takes to conquer that mountain).
This year the hustle was a little harder because we decided not to sell at a grocery store booth. The pandemic has impacted everyone, even the volunteer sales force that brings you Girl Scout cookies.
But the day promised opportunity.
The pickleball court is across the street from our house and the sun was out, which meant people would also be using the nearby pool.
So we set up shop in the driveway. One daughter managed to hoverboard with a large sign like a really coordinated panhandler and the other ran in and out the house to restock cookies as they sold.
It was a slow start, but as the game released and a large group of neighbors came out, they all smiled with delight at our efforts.
Most of them bought cookies. AND ALL OF THEM MESSAGED THEIR NEIGHBORS.
A steady stream of people began to stop by.
We had cars stopping in the middle of the street and reversing to buy cookies.
A good many of those people showed up because their neighbors called and texted them.
It was high-visibility meets word of mouth at its finest.
The girls managed to do something they’d only done at grocery stores before: they sold a total of $422 worth of cookies in roughly 5 hours.
Why? Because they targeted an audience that WANTED to help them.
The pickleball players were huge amplifiers.
We all need amplifiers.
If you’re trying to grow your newsletter subscription list, it helps immensely if someone with a larger reach than your own is so impressed by your work that they share it with their audience.
Sometimes that means strategically targeting those people. Find ways to get their attention and earn their amplification.
Go find your pickleball players and let them know you’ve got cookies.
This week’s issue includes some voices I think are worth amplifying. Read more about targeting people who will share your content in today’s Marketing section.
There are moments when you don’t have to question whether you should do a thing.
The idea comes. You know it’s wonderful. And you just go.
Call me insane.
But when something clicks, it clicks.
And the course topic, which I mentioned last week, was worth nerding out about: Narrative Design.
For all the lit majors and journalists in the crowd, who long to think narratively and flex that muscle we have that aches to create an amazing story—this is the good stuff.
Why? Because we all want to tell the story people remember, right?
We want to be epic.
Not a slightly different version of the same old same old.
Where am I going with this in terms of newsletter advice, though?
Your newsletter is one of thousands, millions even. It has to captivate readers to win subscriptions and opens. It has to battle for its spot in the inbox and be worth consuming. On repeat.
Employing Narrative Design—actually thinking about not only positioning but also how your readers can win whatever game you are helping them play—could be the thing that takes you from “just another newsletter” to “the newsletter I can’t live without.”
For me, a marketer of 8 SaaS tools, it was a dorky, fun way to spend a few hours of my weekend.
Besides, this coming weekend I will be hosting a Cupcake Wars birthday party for 11-year-olds, and that will also be EPIC.
Now, on to this week’s links.