Everything we’ve learned about newsletters (so far) by writing our own

Guide

Sharon Tanton

Sharon is a writer, content marketer and co-author of Valuable Content Marketing. She is fascinated by the power of stories in making change. Lives in Bristol. Loves gardening.

The first issue of The Clec slipped into inboxes at the start of lockdown. In the big wide world of newsletters, we’re still newbies, but we’re learning fast. And in the spirit of charting our own content journey, here are the first few things we’ve noticed along the way.


How it started

A meeting in the office (remember them?) looking at examples of newsletters we liked and didn’t like. High on the inspiration pile was Hiut Denim’s Scrapbook Chronicles and Raise Architect’s Studio Notes. Both were visually strong, with great images and only a few words that tempted you to dive in and read more. 

There was a discussion of why we were going to do it that included a mix of the practical and the aspirational. 

On the practical side, there was the knowledge that being welcomed into potential clients and referrers inboxes was a savvy thing to do. Get it right and you have a way of staying top of mind with the people you want to connect with. 

On the aspirational side there was the opportunity to bring the brand to life, to experiment with content, to share things that we cared about, and of course, to tell wonderful stories. 

"Nobody said the words ‘let’s build a new communication platform for Cohesive’, but that’s essentially what we’ve done."

We decided on an image led newsletter – something that would feel like a drop of calm or a door to an interesting meander. And we plumped for a fortnightly schedule, figuring once a month wasn’t regular enough, and once a week would be too much work. 

And so we set off.

 

Anatomy of The Clec

Its name:  A clec is a chatterbox in Welsh. It seemed apt, for a group of Welsh storytellers. We also think of it as being shorthand for ‘eclectic’. When it comes to names, lots of approaches seem to work. Ours has a bit of intrigue and we like it that way. 

Its outlook: We want to reflect the world we share with you. We create and collect stories under these headings: people+profit+planet, humans & tech, (counter) cultures, David v. Goliath, How-to… and people stories. 

Its ownership: It’s not a ‘marketing project’ – it’s everyone’s.

Its format: …is quite flexible, within some basic guidelines. We like to be experimental.

Its sources: A mixture of ‘by us’ and ‘from us’. We’re averaging about 20% original content by us, and 80% carefully curated content from us.

Its purpose: Standing aside from the daily grind, it’s how we share the stories we love with you.

 

A turning point

Like everyone else on the planet, we felt the Black Lives Matter shock waves and wanted to do the right thing. The day of the editorial meeting for that week’s issue was the day that Instagram feeds turned into black squares. The discussions around whether we should or shouldn’t show support in some way were short. Of course we should, everyone wanted to do something. But what?

The discussions around how were more complex. The newly created Clec was an obvious vehicle, but how do you get the tone right? There was a fear that if we got it wrong we’d alienate a new readership. Not because our community wouldn’t share our support for Black Lives Matter, (our list is full of good people) but more because it might strike the wrong note. When brands get stuff like this wrong, it’s painful. 

The decisions we made look simple in retrospect. Of course, we did a special edition. Of course we gave the space over to sharing Black Lives Matter stories, and of course we shared resources that both us and our readers could use to educate ourselves and campaign for change.  

"It was a turning point because it was the first time that everyone felt ownership of The Clec. It wasn’t just a company newsletter, it was something that genuinely mattered. "

What we’ve learnt so far

Lots of lessons, and we’re still learning. Here are the ones that have hit home so far.

  1. Newsletters can bring a team together – everyone’s ideas are important.
  2. Newsletters can bring your message/brand to life – what you choose to share and amplify says a lot about you. They make you consider who you are and how you want people to see you.
  3. Choosing content for the newsletter is a good exercise – it helps you to keep on top of the news and also enlightens you on uplifting stories that you may have otherwise missed. Seeking out inspiring, interesting, positive, stories is good for you.
  4. The rhythm of a fortnightly newsletter makes you keep up the content production – we’ve created more original content over the last 18 weeks than in the 6 months before.
  5. The increase in content production increases visits to the website. And we know this because newsletters give you lots of useful stats.
  6. With newsletters come responsibility – the Black Lives Matter edition got everyone questioning what we could/should and wanted to say.
  7. Even a very simple format creates a lot of work. If it’s not a labour of love, you’re doing it wrong. We are looking at ways of streamlining the process, making it less reliant on a couple of people. Everyone should be able to put a copy out.
  8. Choose a date and time that you can own, and never miss that deadline. 
  9. Think of your newsletter as a way to build a community and start conversations. 

 

Newsletter newcomers advice

Often it’s helpful to get advice from people who are just a little way ahead of you, rather than people who are experts and might have forgotten the first baby steps in a journey. So our advice to you if you want to start your own newsletter is to think about:

  • Purpose – why are you doing it? Why are busy people going to welcome it in their crowded inbox? This is the biggie. If it doesn’t have a purpose that matters to you, and which matters to your audience then a) you’ll give up, because it’s a lot of work and you’re busy, and b) no one will open it.
  • Format – there are lots of formats you can choose. We use Mailchimp, where you’ll find templates you can pick up and use straight away. We created a bespoke one – it’s simple.
  • Frequency – be realistic about your time. Don’t commit to something you can’t keep up. Also be realistic about your community – how often will they want to receive this from you?
  • Content curation – think about the type of content you will include and how you will collect it. Unless you’re writing a straight text only newsletter without links to other people’s content, you’ll need a a process for collecting and storing content ideas and links. We use a shared Google Sheet.
  • Social media promotion to work alongside the newsletter. Think about how you’re going to promote the newsletter and encourage signups. Also consider making the most of all of this extra content you’re creating.

And lastly, why now’s a great time to start your newsletter? 

Remember GDPR? We thought it would bring the curtain down on email marketing. What it’s done, however, is give our email databases a feeling of exclusivity. Everyone on that list wants to be there. 

What we’ve found during the last few months is that there’s an appetite for our mix of thoughtful, campaigning and eclectic content. It appeals to the kind of people we like to associate with. Most likely you’d find the same. Amplify the best bits of your brand, and share stories that bring it alive with the people you care about.

Your database isn’t bunch of prospects, it’s a club, a tribe, a network. Chances are by signing up, they’re already on your wavelength. And there are no social media algorithms determining who sees the content you share. So be brave, be bold, be yourself, and start a conversation.

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If you’d like to learn from others, get inspired by stories of purpose in action and stay abreast of meaningful news and views, then put your name down for The Clec*. We aim to help you to help yourself. Informed, expert, sometimes a little off-beat, we publish twice a month - every second Friday.

*Clec (n) - in Welsh, a teller of tales, a gossip, a chatterbox

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