Growth September 17, 2019

Ask IH: Any tips on making newsletter writing less exhausting?

Chris @blunicorn

I put out a monthly newsletter. I enjoy writing it, and I do have some processes and structure in place to remove some friction, but it still feels painful at times. I always finish it at close to midnight on the day it's due to go out, and I find myself proof reading it in a loop cause I'm tired and forever finding small things to fix.

Does anyone here have recommendations on how to streamline newsletter content writing and creation?

I know @SuchIndieHackMuchWow somehow manages to sent out a breathtaking newsletter literally every week...what's the secret Oli?!! 😍haha


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    Firstly, ta - you're my biggest supporter, your enthusiasm helps me plough through every week :D

    In terms of process, I try and make it as routine as possible. Mine is a little more regular than yours, but I collate material throughout the week - 10 mins here, 30 mins there, and by the time I need to write I have a lot of source material. I always write it the day before, and make sure I get it done as early as possible - I have a format that I follow, and most weeks it's more a case of filling out the template, dropping the pieces in. That makes it easier on weeks where I'm not in the zone (it happens!).

    Part of it is just practice - I've written weekly before, for a couple of years, and it forces you to get your ideas down fast - you figure out a process that works for you, and doesn't stress you out too much. Early on I was wrapping the newsletter up 30 mins before it went out, but now I finish editing the night before, so I don't have to worry so much about rushing it out on the day. Curating content also makes it easier I think - I don't have to come up with ideas from scratch, but can pull a theme out of whatever came up that week.

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      Thanks Oli :)

      Yeah perhaps I should move the deadline back to the night before, sort of an artificial one, I did get it out on time this time around at least, the one before was a day late!

      And indeed, starting a bit earlier and would be better - at the moment I bank random links, but I could easily be writing my notes alongside them at the same time.

      Honestly, I'm probably spinning too many plates at the moment too - I'm planning on finding some volunteers to help with the charity soon (I'm also a 'volunteer', as you know), there's plenty of people who could help share some of the broader workload I imagine 🤞

      p.s. loved your newsletter again today, great work as always!

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        Yeah, I find the artificial deadline really helps avoid the last-minute rush! I also tend to put in some quick notes alongside every article I store - enough to prompt my memory so I don't have to re-read.

        I don't know how you manage running Target 2030 and a day job, not to mention having some form of life outside those two! I imagine having a few more people to shoulder some of the load will make it less of burden.

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    Don't know if this will streamline the process but Kyle Galbraith's work semi-automating his newsletter with AWS Lambda and Mailchimp was a blast for me to read and test out. Still a node.js noob but opened my eyes to what is possible.

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      as a non-dev it's maybe a bit outside my expertise, but perhaps the same philosophy can be applied with a few no-code tools :)

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    I had the same issue when the IH newsletter was, basically, a blog post I sent out every Thursday. It was painful to write, and I was always putting it together at the last minute while stressed out. I didn't really find a solution back then, and eventually I automated it.

    Nowadays, I think my solution would be to align my newsletter with an easier writing task. Specifically, I find it easy to write forum posts and comments very quickly. I also seem to be able to bang out blog posts pretty quickly. But I'm slow at newsletters and tweets for whatever reason.

    So I'd just write a forum or a blog post every week, and let it do double duty by sending it out as my newsletter.

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      I unsubscribed from the newsletter long ago because it just didn't provide any value to me. Why would I want a list of links I've already seen?

      Of course that kind of email could be useful for infrequent visitors, but at least in my case, I'd never sign up unless I were a regular visitor. As a result, even the very first email was just annoying.

      One kind of content that would be both easier for you and more appealing—at least to those like myself—would be occasional educational self-contained emails in the 700-2000 word count range. Something worth reading, but still short enough to get through in a couple of minutes.

      Better still, let us chose a broader topic of what we want to hear about, e.g. "choosing a product to work on", "building a product", "building an audience", "reinvesting revenue to scale", "hiring and management", etc.

      It would be work but it would be highly leveraged and the emails could be reused for months to years. Maybe you'd even be able to "bang them out pretty quickly" like blog posts, too...

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        Makes sense, especially since you're so active on the forum. A large segment of subscribers basically never visit the site except in response to the links in the newsletter, however.

        Nevertheless, we do have some plans to change up how we do email, and we're in the middle of transitioning. The newsletter as it currently exists has too many links imo, and I think it'd be better served if we split things up and allowed people to choose what they were interested in. Specifically, we'll have:

        1. A "community digest" email that's customized per-person to send them posts on the forum from people they follow and groups they're subscribed to. It'll also include new comment notifications on posts they're subscribed to, once I implement a feature for subscribing to posts. This will probably be less useful to people like you, who are on the forum often.
        2. Notifications for meetups in your area, if you want them.
        3. Individual mailing lists for series we put out. So the text interviews will have their own list, as will the podcast. (Or perhaps I'll combine those two into one list, since they're both interviews, really.) If we were to do a series where I just blog about different topics, that would have its own list, too.

        I do like the idea of allow people to subscribe based on topic, which you suggested. Will have to give that some thought.

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          That sounds like a great idea. I'd opt out of #1 and into #3. Maybe multiple areas for #2 (being nomadic).

          One more idea would be surveys. I've heard you mention IH surveys but have never seen one, so I'm guessing they were connected to the newsletter.

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      Yeah, I definitely find writing blog posts for Target 2030 is quicker than newsletter - why is that? haha.

      Maybe it's also a confidence thing. Like when I'm writing an article I tend to have strong a sense of it being valuable to the people I'd like to share it with and feel comfortable just transferring things from my head to the page (similarly with forum posts etc). But when it comes to the newsletter then it's quite a new territory/discipline for me so I'm quite hesitate and not 100% happy with it ever. I never get into a real flow.

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    What type of content are you publishing within the email?

    In the past I've found curating content to be a great way of streamlining the process.

    By aggregating existing articles, you can easily add your thoughts as additional value. This helps deliver useful content to users and reduces your time spent writing.

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      Hey Lachlan :)

      Before I answer, here's a little more context: The newsletter is for the Target 2030 donor community only, so it's somewhat transactional in so far as there should be interesting and helpful content given that they are committed donors. Currently it's sequenced something like this:

      1. Any quick notes or thanks, based on the previously newsletter/last months progress.
      2. An update on how the charity is growing, projects are developing, any milestones that might have been achieved.
      3. Links to new articles on explaining who's written them and why. This is probably the most value-added thing to be honest - I'm putting a reasonable amount of energy into sourcing content and writing articles myself 😊
      4. A short list of things people might have missed relating to the climate crisis in the past month (cause I'm up to my eyeballs in that sort of content but I know not everyone has time to sift through all the noise)...basically the aggregation you're mentioning.

      I think part of the problem is that I'm a very fussy reader - like I'll rarely subscribe to a newsletter for long, or recommend it to others, if the content isn't thoughtful and relevant to me. I spend too long revising my newsletter, and making sure blog posts that go up are pretty polished (also very time consuming) - there by no means perfect, but perhaps I should try and worry less 🤷🏻‍♂️

      So far I'm happy with the structure and content of the newsletter, and I've received positive feedback in that regard. It's the time management and fine tuning I'm struggling with. I'm pretty good in my day job with the 'done is better than perfect' way of working, but I think maybe I'm finding it harder cause it's a personal project and I'm more invested in the outcome.

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        Thanks for sharing. I think you just answered your own question mate!

        The most important thing is that your users are finding the content valuable.