The definitive guide to personal newsletters

The email that people actually want in their inbox

Most of the newsletters we receive are rather annoying. That’s because they are not really newsletters, but promotions. They are not intended for reading, but to grab our attention and make us click to see some sort of a deal or announcement.

The personal newsletter is different. It’s like a little essay, sent by a real person, designed to be read right inside your inbox, and written in a much more intimate, less formal tone of voice.

That’s a big difference, which clearly shows in the open rates that are often in the 50–60% range compared to an average of below 20% for commercial emails.

As more and more people are getting interested in sending a personal newsletter, we thought it was time to provide a detailed guide.

At Revue, we provide a tool for authors of personal newsletters as well as a directory of the best personal newsletters for readers. We have almost 30.000 authors that send out some 3 million personal newsletters every month and wanted to share our learnings about what exactly is a personal newsletter, provide some great examples for inspiration and give advice on how to start yours!

What is a Personal Newsletter

Sent in the author’s name

A great case in point is new media company Axios. Launched only in the beginning of 2017, they have quickly become a household name by focusing on personal newsletters. Like many others, we cannot wait to see Dan Primack’s latest issue of “Axios Pro Rata” in our inbox. And we trust Dan to give us insights on the most important deals. He has done it many times in the past and is always available personally for questions or suggestions.

Focused on text

Take the Daily Skimm, for example, a highly popular personal newsletter delivering news to urban women. It’s layout is very simple, composed of only text, headings and links. While links are provided for further reading, you can read enough of it right in your email client and feel sufficiently informed.

Intimate tone of voice

The NYTimes recently caught onto this. While their newspaper and website are very factual, they dare to get more personal in their email newsletters. Several of their newsletters are sent personally by one of their journalists or correspondents. Below is an example of Nicholas Kristof’s newsletter who gets personal with a fun image and an accessible, colloquial style.

Who should write a Personal Newsletter

The great thing is, you don’t! The personal newsletter is ideally suited for small brands and even individuals with an expertise or opinion. It gives a voice to anyone who is willing to share their thoughts. Email as a delivery mechanism makes it okay to have a smaller audience and focus on a niche. And not only can a personal newsletter be written without an entire creative and editorial team. It actually often gets more personal and intimate if written directly by the author.

So while big consumer brands are often strong in social media, enterprises do well in blogging and e-commerce players enjoy success with promotional newsletters, there are many types of businesses and individuals that will benefit enormously from starting a personal newsletter such as:

  • Speakers, evangelists, and thought leaders
  • Entrepreneurs and founders
  • Small business owners and boutique agencies
  • Consultants, freelancers and other experts
  • Journalists and authors
  • Bloggers in fashion, lifestyle, travel, food and other topics
  • Artists, photographers and musicians
  • Celebrities in showbiz or sports
  • Designers and photographers

Why should you write a Personal Newsletter

Amazing open and reply rates

“In five years most respondents (76%) see email communication completely personalized and 74% sees it still being one of the channels with the highest return on investment.” — Jordie van Rijn on emailmonday.com

The recipients will take time to read

“The best newsletters are all like that: places online where one can talk -and listen-in private.” — Clive Thompson on wired.com

You will feel connected to your audience

“Likely because of the delivery mechanism, email newsletters tend to feel a lot more personal than a blog post.” — MG Siegler

You don’t need to worry about virality and can be original

You alone own your email list

“Having anyone and everyone on your list is not going to do you any favors.” — Neil Patel

You can develop your brand much deeper

“Take the simple newsletter. It is one of the best ways I know to build the community and culture of your brand.” — David Hieatt

How do I get started with my Personal Newsletter

Sign up for some personal newsletters for inspiration

For starters we have listed some great ones below from thought leaders, entrepreneurs, experts, journalists, bloggers, artists and celebrities.

To find additional ones in your area of business or expertise, we advise to head over to Discover, our searchable directory of the best personal newsletters on any topic and find your personal favorites.

Pick the right tool…

An even better option are specialized tools that make it quick and easy to get started while assuring you to get that coveted personal note.

So what are the requirements of a tool for authoring personal newsletters?

Productive authoring tool: You need an authoring environment that makes you want to write. It should give you focus to pen those personal stories. And it should help you pull in content that you or others have shared previously using drag and drop.

Beautiful, out-of-the-box template: Your personal newsletter should look great and have that intimate, text-focused style without you having to become a designer or programmer.

Integrations: The personal newsletter tool needs to integrate easily with contacts and content sources. There’s probably quite a long list of content sources, so flexibility is key here. Adding contacts from your personal address book, a promotional newsletter tool, or CRM system is also a must.

And while we realize we are biased, we did want to suggest you check out Revue, which was specifically designed for personal newsletters.

… then just start

Whether you are a blogger, small business owner or speaker. You likely already have an address book full of email addresses of people you have not spoken to in too long. Start by inviting them to your personal newsletter.

And pick 3 or 4 topics that will get you through the first month of personal newsletters. For each topic, start with a personal story or your opinion and then add relevant curated content that provides background.

You will be surprised by how quickly you will learn. You can expect frequent feedback from readers, and will get a feel for that personal style of yours.

Build your audience

Ask readers to forward or share: This is email, after all, and people are used to forwarding messages. So just ask them kindly with a sentence or two. You will be surprised to see how willing your audience will be to share if you are being funny, open or simply yourself.

Post on social: While the point of a personal newsletter is to be different from social media, there’s nothing wrong with sharing your posts on social media. We even wrote a detailed piece, specifically focusing on that, check it out!

Collect email address with pop-ups: The same goes for tying into your blog or website. Your personal newsletter should have a distinct style and original content, but it’s certainly fine to promote it on your blog or website. Also, if you happen to post on Medium, you can embed a signup form to get people to directly subscribe to your digest.

Find great topics

Chime in on current events: The topic is often something current like a hot news item or conference or other event. You will usually want to start with your personal take, and then build out the content by curating other perspectives, in depth background articles or other related content.

Re-purpose your own channels: Content can come from your own channels, i.e. you can send out a personal newsletter around a popular blog or Facebook post.

Follow other blogs and newsletters: Make sure to regularly visit blogs and publications you find interesting. The content you find there can be later used as basis for your thoughts in your issues.

Use Pocket or the Revue Chrome extension: Another way to collect content for your newsletter is to save interesting articles while browsing the Internet. During the day you are reading multiple articles and pieces that you can easily save using tools like Pocket or the Revue Chrome extension.

Ask for feedback

And email being private allows you to ask for feedback easily and will put your readers at ease to share any suggestions or even constructive criticism without being afraid to do so publicly.

What are good examples of personal newsletters for inspiration?

Tim Ferriss — author, speaker, and thought leader

Take Tim Ferris, whose “4 hour work week” made him famous and who appears frequently at events, podcasts and even on TV. He has added a very successful weekly newsletter called “5 Bullet Fridays”. It’s sent once per week and contains his most popular post of the week as well as other cool things he ponders upon each week, ranging from ancient works of philosophers, cool gadgets and other totally different things.

Jon Woodroof of Twotone Consulting — Entrepreneur and Founder

In case you’re interested in learning from someone who’s already doing that, take a look at the Amsterdam based sales & PR consultancy TwoTone. They send out a weekly personal newsletter that mixes business and fun. Next to useful tips about startups and sales, they talk a lot about their passion, which happens to be cycling.

James Hoffmann — owner Square Mile Coffee Roasters

James Hoffmann, owner of Square Mile Coffee Roasters, world barista champion, and author of the world atlas of coffee is very successful at this strategy. He sends out a bi-weekly newsletter on coffee, carefully curated and full of expertise.

Finimize — financial expert and consultant

Finimize, which explains financial matters in simple terms, is a great example. The authors take current events and provide commentary. They provide great insights into the personal consequences of financial news to their readers.

Dave Pell — journalist, author and self publisher

There’s even examples of journalists that exclusively publish via email these days. Dave Pell has turned his addiction to news into a one man email publishing house, scouring some 70 news sites every day so that his readers don’t have to, and updating them by email with everything they need to know once per day.

Bob Lefsetz — blogger

We personally love the story of Bob Lefsetz who analyzes the music industry with his “Leftsetz Letter”. While he never made it into the music industry the traditional way, he managed to do so via his personal newsletter. His personal newsletter has had so much success that it has slowly replaced his blog as his main outlet, and is read religiously by the entire industry. What a story.

Artists and musicians

Samuel Zeller is an example of a photographer who sends out a curated list of articles, videos and links related to photography to his audience. He also updates his readers on the latest projects he’s currently working on.

Celebrities

Actress Lena Dunham with her revolutionary Lenny Letter has been making history or a while now. Her digest aims to empower women and in general to discuss issues that are often not brought up so often. Every issue is like a thought piece on its own that will definitely leave you with some food for thought.

Source: Lenny Letter

Designers

A great example that may serve you as an inspiration here is the “Desk of Tobias van Schneider”. He regularly curates about design and other, more broad topics such as freelancing and travel. Inside you’ll find articles he hasn’t shared anywhere else, updates on his projects, insights, reading recommendations and everything in-between.

After reading this, you realized you want to start your own personal newsletter? Simply head over to Revue and start sending your thoughts into people’s inboxes today! You write and curate, we make sure it looks good.

Thanks for reading our definitive guide to personal newsletters! Did you enjoy the piece? If so, help us spread the love by hitting the orange button underneath ❤ Want to say or ask something? Feel free to ping us below in the comments :)

Editorial newsletters for writers and publishers. www.getrevue.co

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store