Insights from writing a newsletter for two years. Alone. For free.

Running and creating a newsletter and delivering something to the readers week in, week out takes some time and effort. And gives some insights.

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What is the newsletter about

I’ve been writing a newsletter about hip hop for almost two years. I’ve done it all alone. Around New Years 2019 I decided to evaluate my progress of this newsletter and where to go with it. Because it takes a lot of time and effort.

The newsletter is called “Franklins Weekly”. The purpose of the newsletter is to locate and select the best of hip hop and write about them. There’s a lot of hip hop being published every day. Franklins will attempt to collect the tracks of highest quality as often as possible.

The thought behind creating it was that like most people, I visit my “Discover Weekly”, “Release Radar” and “Recommended for you” in Spotify. I end up collecting a song or two each week. Most of it I don’t like, or it’s old.

With Franklins, I hope to bring some other songs, that might go by unnoticed by some people, to the spotlight. Note that not everything will be unknown, but some. It’s an attempt to curate a list of a more personal touch of music, like a sub genre in itself, by being selected by taste.

(The name ‘Franklins’ refers to the $100 bill with Benjamin Franklins face. ‘Franklins’, and even more so, ‘Benjamins’, is a common lingo in hip hop to refer to money. Well, time is money, and Franklins is here to save you time by locating the best of hip hop.)

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Evolvement of the newsletters design

Here’s my insights

1. It takes time

I started it off by promising a newsletter each Friday. Well, hip hop is my passion and I really thought I could spend the early Friday morning writing a chronicle about something hip hop related that also tied to the tracks that I featured. It actually went on for about a year, and looking back at it I should’ve cut back earlier. Nowadays, I write perhaps once a month, and put even more time and effort into each newsletter instead. I feel the quality went up, when the quantity went down. Reasonable and something I probably should’ve thought about earlier, but didn’t occur to me until I had a two week vacation and didn’t want to bring my computer on the trip, but got stressed that I wouldn’t be able to release newsletters for 14 days. Ridiculous.

I’ve counted the amount of words I’ve written (yes, I copied all the text to Pages and did a word count 🙇‍♂️). The result:

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13,243 words

Quality isn’t measured by amount of words. Feels like a throwback to University days when counting words, but I felt it was a decent metric to see how much has been written. Behind each paragraph is a thought, process, listening session and decision.

So it takes a lot of time to find music, select the best, add to the playlist, write a chronicle about them and put all art work and write something about each track into a newsletter.

Then there’s the marketing. It can grow organically, but using social media is definitely a boost to gain even more followers. This takes so much time, and there’s not much left of that after writing the newsletter itself.

2. It takes energy

If it takes time to do something (like writing a newsletter), it takes energy. To create a newsletter I have to find hip hop - a lot of it - and then select the best tracks. I want it to be somewhat diverse, reflect the genre as a whole by have a variety of sub genres and artists, as well as be good enough to be popular and please the readers. That’s some pressure, although pretty good since I personally have to be really picky about which tracks ends up on the playlist. But sitting stressed some Friday mornings while swigging coffee isn’t the best kind of way to start the day off.

When the product is created and I’ve sent it out I have no energy nor time to sell it. That has to be postponed to another day when I’ve more time. I’ve learned that producing a product is one full-time job — if not for time, then in energy. Selling the product is another. I’ll never start a company alone.

3. You’ll learn a lot

Prior to running this newsletter, I didn’t write often, and although I’m no perfect writer, I feel my english has improved and I find it stimulating to put thoughts to words nowadays. It has inspired me to write more in general which have benefited me personally since it’s like a meditation to put thoughts into words.

I’ve also had to start social media accounts for my “company”/the newsletter. Using Instagram personally is something completely different than running it as a business. Those likes and follows means even more as a business since it mean it can generate new followers or leads. Deciding the concept of how to communicate (“memes or quality content?”) with the audience is one problem in itself. Keeping up with new posts on a regular basis is another dilemma. But one quickly realizes what works and what doesn’t.

I also coded a website for the newsletter to have a landing page where people can browse the archive, or send the URL to a friend and spread the word. I’ve learned a lot of coding since the beginning of coding it. I wrote it all in code without and CMS like Wordpress, which is something I regret, since it would be easier to update if I had a CMS instead of having a static site that I have to update in the code editor each time I write a new newsletter.

You also have to learn to use a newsletter email provider. I went with MailerLite since reading good things about it, and haven’t look anywhere else since. Managing a newsletter account is a great learning experience: checking compatibility on different browsers, see how the users experience the end product, running A/B tests to see how it can be improved, and more.

Summary

It takes time, energy but all that time and energy gives you a lot of knowledge about running a company on your own and how to produce a digital brand.

My biggest takeaway from all of this is that I will never start a company alone. Producing the product is a full-time job, selling it another.

Product Designer at Tink in Stockholm. Previously Lead designer for proptech startup, Plentific. Hyper Island: Interactive Art director alumni. Football addict.

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