Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The first year of my email newsletter: lessons for very very very small businesses and blogs

Recently, I sent out my 26th email newsletter. Since I send them out fortnightly, that makes one complete year! I'm pretty pleased with myself for starting and following through with the newsletter, and I wanted to talk about what I've learned in that time.

The thing is, it feels a bit weird to give advice when I have a very small business, a very small blog, and a very small number of newsletter subscribers.

Maybe, though, there is a need for that kind of honesty. If I listen to a podcast or read a blog post about email newsletters, they always say things like "even if you only have 1000 subscribers" and I think "Ok, what if I only have 10?"

I had 10 subscribers when I sent the first email. And actually, one of them was me. And two were family. But when I started this blog, three and a bit years ago, the only people reading were my mum, my sister, and one of my friends. Even my best friend couldn't be bothered reading it. I don't think my husband has ever read a post. But it grew, and so has the newsletter, and I hope it will continue to do so. Even so, it probably won't reach numbers in the thousands, and that's ok. (It's currently at 40, by the way.)

I'm no expert at newsletters, but I have experienced starting one from nothing, with a small audience, to accompany my very small blog and business. And maybe that is the kind of experience you expect to have to. If so, I hope I can help by being the kind of very small voice that isn't often heard.

Here are the points that were most important to me.

Get inspired

Small business and blogging experts really push that a newsletter is the most important way you can connect with your audience. Both because people usually check their email more reliably and regularly than any other channel, and because you will "own" the email list and control it, unlike your Facebook page and the people who like it.

The main reason I ignored that advice for so long, was that I hadn't seen what a good newsletter could be. In my mind, a newsletter was something a business sent me to tell me sales were on or new stock had arrived or other things I mostly deleted before even reading them. Once I found a couple of newsletters I actually enjoyed reading and looked forward to, I had ideas for what I could do myself.

If you don't have any newsletters like this in your inbox (just one will do but more is good) then go out and subscribe to heaps. You'll probably find most of them boring (or never even receive anything from them!) but you can just unsubscribe again. And you'll learn what you don't like. Subscribe to anything you like, but try to include businesses or blogs that have something in common with yours, whether it is the niche, or the type or scale of the business.

Have a plan

You need to work out what to actually include in your newsletter. Make sure you find a nice balance of content that is a real gift to your reader, and content that aims to benefit you, for example promoting your products. You want your newsletter to be a genuinely good read for your audience.

You need to be in this for the long haul, so make sure your plan is set for the long haul, so you don't run out of steam or time or ideas. Try to pick content types that you will be able to continue. For example, if you frequently post to Instagram, you will probably always have content for a "Social Media Round Up" or you can use those images for a "Behind the Scenes" section.

Have a range of options for content, even if you won't do them all at first, or all in each email. If something you plan turns out to be unsustainable or not successful, you want to have other ideas to turn to.

When I was starting, I struggled to find good advice on this topic that was suitable for me. Maybe I wasn't searching well enough online but everything was geared to bigger blogs, bigger businesses and different niches. So I wrote myself a worksheet and then answered it. It was a really useful tool for me, focused on analysing my own preferences and brainstorming a heap of ideas to consider. It's very simple, but you can get it yourself here if you like.

Don't wait

Once you are prepared and have a plan, don't let insecurities hold you back. You might worry that you don't have time or don't know what you are doing, or that no one will be interested. Did you let that stop you from starting your blog or business? Be realistic about the preparation you need to do, but don't make excuses beyond that.

Don't wait to get "more subscribers" so that your efforts will be more appreciated or worthwhile. If you can write a newsletter that is of value to your audience, it is still of value to an audience of 1, or 2, or 10, or 20.

Once I announced the newsletter, I planned a start date and determined to send the first email then, no matter what happened. With 10 subscribers (well, 9 real ones) I wrote the best content I could, and sent it out.

Be consistent

In writing this post, I keep thinking about newsletters I used to read that I can't remember receiving for ages. I don't remember unsubscribing. I guess they just stopped. Others I know for sure stopped, because it was only after one or two mails were sent. I'm sure there was a reason, and I'm not trying to be harsh here on those people, but you don't want your newsletter to be like that.

Decide how often you will send an email. Pick which day of the week, and probably even which time. Make it something that will work for you. (Abby Glassenberg has a good post on scheduling for sustainability.)

Then do it. As best you can. For the rest of the life of your business or blog.

Change rather than quit

The plan you start with will not be perfect. Perhaps your audience isn't that interested in something you included, or you find yourself bored with it, or it is too much work, or the nature of your business changes and makes different content more suitable. That is totally fine. Come up with some new ideas, or revisit some you thought of at the start, and try them out.

Changing the content or style or even the frequency of your newsletter is not a big deal, but stopping completely is.

One of my favourite parts of my newsletter (and even so it doesn't appear each fortnight) is Hat Style Inspiration, which I only added about six months in. I like having a flexible plan of content to suit what I have to write about. I might review a book occasionally when I happen to be reading something relevant, or include a behind-the-scenes when I happen to have some sketches or photos worth sharing, and then not worry about them at other times. I've experimented with newsletter-specific content, but often find it too much work. I'm happy to try things out and see how I feel about them. You might prefer a more regular structure, but don't be afraid to change it when it isn't working.

The benefits of small

There are really good things about having a small email newsletter, especially at the start. I actually know who my subscribers are, and who is clicking on the links. (I don't know everyone, of course, but I recognise some names from my friends, family and blogging friends.) There is a lot of talk about imagining your reader when you write, and it sure is easy when you don't need to make them up. When I am deciding whether to include a link, or an image, or some information, I have real people to think of. I think, "I know that Jill will appreciate this article, or that Judy isn't on Instagram so won't have seen this great image I shared."

It sounds a bit stalker-ish, right? Try to think of it as you helping me without any effort on your part. And if your name is Jill or Judy I'm not actually stalking you, I just picked a couple of names.

The big picture

For my business it is hard to say if there are financial benefits, since I'm not in a position to quote the numbers of people who bought my product right after seeing it in a newsletter (ok, I am, it's zero). I think there have been indirect sales, in that some people who have ordered from me are subscribers, so it is definitely a part of my communication to customers and potential cutsomers.

But there is also more. I feel like I've gained a lot from my newsletter. I've made connections, started collaborations, shared my own work in a different way, shared the work of others, had great ideas, experimented with content, and above all, the big one, I've committed to something and shown myself that I could do it. Always worthwhile.

For my current newsletter subscribers, thank you for being there, and opening my emails and hopefully reading them. You make me happy by this simple act! If you aren't a subscriber, I send fortnightly emails about hats and vintage style, and you can sign up here.


  1. Incredible post, Tanith. I love, and sincerely respect, that you were keen to speak so candidly about these points and to share some of the things that you've learned after a year of running an online newsletter. I adore (!!!) it and have lapped up every edition. I really appreciate that you feature members of our online community along with stories from your own work and life, links to various topics, and some really fantastic images to boot. I honestly wish more newsletters were structured like - and as enjoyable to read - as yours, my dear friend.

    So long as you publish it, you've got a loyal newsletter reader in me.

    Here's to the next exciting here of its life and continued growth + success on all of your blogging + business related fronts.

    xoxo ♥ Jessica

    1. Thank you Jessica! I wasn't sure whether to post this, but I do like reading about other people's experiences, so I hoped there would be value in sharing it. I'm so glad you enjoy the newsletter :)

  2. I always find at least one link that I'm interested enough to follow (and sometimes more!) in each newsletter. I don't tend to use it to keep up with the blog but I do love seeing the images and sources you find.

    1. Thank you! It's good to know what you like about it - I really appreciate the feedback!

  3. Your newsletter automatically gets shunted into a folder that I don't always remember to check, but I make a point to search for it pretty regularly. It's always an interesting read, and I love the chance to get a little more insight into your creative process.

    1. Thank you for going to that effort to find it! I really appreciate that and I'm so glad you enjoy it.

  4. I don't tend to enjoy reading newsletters enough to spend the time to do so, but yours actually sounds really interesting. I just signed up :)

    1. Well I hope it lives up to expectation and you do enjoy it! Thank you for signing up :)

  5. I'm so glad that you wrote this, it is fantastic to hear about your thoughts and experiences as a small business, it is just so much easier to relate to. You have given some really good tips and I ended up by thinking that this would maybe be something that I could do after all whereas before I thought I might not be able to make it good enough and no one would want to read it. Great work, I enjoy your newsletter loads.

    1. Thank you Kate-Em! That's what I was trying to achieve with the post so I really appreciate that.


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