Start a Newsletter Now Because It Will Help You in the End
Why the other kind of “taking names” is especially important when you don’t have a plan yet
Name gathering, newslettering, sales, oh my! Everyone says you should do it but where do you start and more importantly, why?
It’s always compelling to follow the big guns online. We listen to them tell us how they’ve achieved success and reached financial freedom through their writing endeavors. We read about how hard they had to work and what they had to sell to realize their successes.
But the gap between you, as someone who’s just starting out, and them, who have been playing the game for years, is sizeable.
The big guns just seem so…well….big.
I’m a small gun and I’m here to break it down for you. I want to give you a real-life example of how and why starting a newsletter at the beginning of your journey will help you earn more money, even if you have zero strategy in mind yet.
Spoiler Alert: There’s no fast track or shortcut. You really do have to put in the time, but it’ll be well worth it in the end.
As a travel blogger back in the day, I had no idea why a blog owner would want a newsletter. I was already writing so much, I felt that a newsletter would just make me have to write more.
What could I possibly have to say in a newsletter to people who are already reading my blog? I had nothing to sell, I had no gimmicks, no merchandise, no nothing except stories.
But starting up a newsletter seemed to be the thing to do and all the other blogs I followed had “subscribe now” pop-ups so I thought it best for me to do the same. At the very least, I could send out regular letters with links back to blog posts and remind readers what they may have missed.
This is still a thing today. I used to think it was shameless self-promotion and felt guilty about sending spammy letters basically saying, “Hey, read this again.”
But I stopped feeling guilty recently when one of my readers, Kathryn Dillon, told me that she saw newsletters as a courtesy. In reality, she’s right. There’s no way all of our readers can stay on top of what we’re pumping out daily, so our newsletters are just that — a friendly reminder.
Back to my blog now. With very little insight as to what I’d do with a subscriber base, I began taking names even if I wasn’t kicking ass yet. During the ten years my blog was alive, I built a Mailchimp database of thousands of subscribers. All I ever sent out were refresher letters containing stories they may have missed on the blog.
Occasionally I sent out surveys I created on SurveyMonkey asking my readers what they’d like to see more of in the future. These were fun to do and the data those surveys returned was very valuable toward the future of the blog.
When I published an ebook in 2011, I was able to send out an announcement that included a discount purchase coupon as a thank you for being faithful followers.
Those were the little things. While they may sound trivial, readers like the little things and it keeps them engaged for when you have big things to offer.
Remember that spoiler alert above? There was no easy and quick route to building a subscriber base, but in the end, it was the most useful thing I ever did with the blog.
After a decade of blogging, I finally burnt out. I had no desire to maintain it anymore. I was at my personal finish line.
But I still had readers, I still had a subscriber database. I racked my brain to figure out what I could do for them that would also give me some personal gratification.
And that’s when it hit me. After all those years of having nothing but words to sell, I still had words to sell, and if I sold them aside from my blog, I could write whatever I wanted.
Due to business partnerships I had obtained through my blog, censorship was a bit of a thing. I never felt truly free to shoot from the hip and write completely unfiltered. I realized I still had so many stories to tell that could never be told in a public forum.
That’s when I found Substack. It’s a newsletter platform that operates sort of like a blog and it allows writers to import existing subscriber databases, or create brand new ones. But the golden ticket with Substack is that it allows you to lock your content behind a subscriber paywall.
Substack is like pay-per-view for writers. You can offer free teaser content for everyone, and subscription-based premium content for paying members only.
It was exactly what I needed to be able to monetize a decade’s worth of work to the same subscribers I already had.
After finding Substack, I imported my database over to it, sent out a fresh new email to all my subscribers announcing never-published-before content, put up a paywall, and that was a wrap.
I had a whole heap of subscribers now paying for content. They already knew me, knew my writing, they wanted more of it and were willing to pay for the privilege.
Now that you’ve read this, I hope you realize just how important name gathering is right now, even if you have no plans for what to do with subscribers yet.
Years before retiring my blog, I had no idea why I should collect names, but years after? That’s when I started kicking ass.
If you’re a writer in this game for the long haul, plan ahead now. You never know what opportunities could drop onto your doorstep in the future.
- Special shout out to Josh Spector, who specializes in newsletter and marketing content. He’s the reason I found Substack and Medium.*
If you enjoyed this story, here’s my non-intrusive way of ushering you toward my newsletter. When you subscribe, I’ll know you’re cool with hearing from me once in a while.