David Hieatt explains why the email newsletter is the lifeblood of a business — and how to build a community not a list.

The Do Book Company
Feb 8 · 5 min read
© Andrew Paynter

David Hieatt, recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal on the resurgence of email, remains certain that email newsletters will bring you more actual business than social media channels.

“If you ask me, would I want a mailing list with 1,000 people on it or 100,000 followers on Twitter? I’d take the 1,000 emails all day long, because the business you get from 1,000 emails will be much more than you get from 100,000 people on Twitter or Instagram”.

When we use social media to grow our business, we are all looking for the next new platform or app. We want to find that magic ‘multiplier’ that gets our story out to the world. But there is a danger that, by doing just that, we are ignoring a tried and trusted tool that, well, just works. Think about it this way. An app can suddenly close overnight. A platform can come and go. And all those millions of followers you have amassed go with it too.

But email isn’t going anywhere.

Everything, everyone, wants our attention. And the one constraint is that we have the same amount of time we’ve always had before all these distractions came along. So understand this: Your newsletter has to stand out in a busy world when it drops into my inbox. Because I am busy.


How to Respect people’s time? Be excellent.

If you respect people’s time — and I don’t just mean by saying you do, but you actually do — then you will think hard before you send them a newsletter. You will do your best to make it super-useful. To make it truly inspiring. To make it deeply relevant. To make it as simple as you can. As beautiful as you can.

The amount of sheer effort you put into it shows respect for your customers’ busy life by not adding to the dross they get sent each day. You won’t have to tell them how much work goes into it, because they will be able to sense it, to feel it, to see it for themselves.

They will, by your actions, be able to tell that you respect them by only sending something worthy of their most precious asset: time.


Build a Community Not a List

A community is actively engaged. A community will tell you when you get it wrong. And when you get it right. A community will make suggestions, will give you ideas, and will share with other people on your behalf.

How do you build a community? The best way is to make them feel something for what you do. Reply to their comments. Have a dialogue. Have a conversation. Show you care. And they will show that they do too.

This is not a difficult thing. This is not rocket science. But you will only make time to do this if you care about your community. You can’t fake it.


Unsubscribes Are Good

Think differently on unsubscribes. No, you don’t want to lose all your community. So yes, you will listen to unsubscribes. It will tell you information. It will tell you that you are becoming less relevant. You are emailing too often. You are not trying hard enough. But, because you have the greatest respect for your community’s time, you don’t want to waste their time with something they are no longer interested in; so you can change your mindset to celebrate when they leave.

And, of course, you will work even harder to keep the remaining community engaged by giving them value each and every time. If you can say you tried your hardest, cared the most, delivered more value than almost anyone else, then you can do no more than that.


Grow Engagement, Not Size

Many companies like to tell you how big their list is. The numbers can be impressive. But let’s not kid ourselves here. The key metric is engagement. It is the only number that counts. Engagement is the thing. The main thing. The only thing. Do I still open your newsletter? Because if I don’t open it, what exactly are you boasting about? The fact that I and a million other people don’t open your newsletter because it is no longer relevant to my life? That you have done such a great job of overselling to me? That if I could remember to unsubscribe to your newsletter I would in a heartbeat?

So yeah, the open rate tells you everything. It is the pulse. It is the vital signs. It tells you people are interested. Or not. It tells you everything you need to know. It tells you that you have done a great job. Or not. The size of the list doesn’t tell you the truth. Engagement does.


Everyone Starts From Zero

Everyone has to start here. So don’t be embarrassed. The important thing is to start. Start with your outcome in mind. If your desire is to inspire the hell out of your community, work hard on their behalf. Sweat it. Dig deeper. Show them how much you care. If you can do that, and be consistent with your inspiration and usefulness, you will not stay small for long.


David Hieatt is not a theorist. He has built brands from nothing with next to nothing just by understanding a few basic rules. The ‘Scrapbook Chronicles’ newsletter has become a cult offering from the Hiut Denim Co. Its open rate exceeds almost any industry standard. It is one of those rare newsletters that people actually look forward to receiving. And it has delivered results. It has grown the company by 25 per cent each year for the last three years. And each year for the last three years, the company has turned a profit. David has spoken at Apple, Google and Red Bull, amongst others. In 2010 he self-published The Path of a Doer. In 2014 he published Do Purpose: Why brands with a purpose do better and matter more, and in 2016 he published Do Open: How a simple newsletter can transform your business (and it can).


Adapted from Do Open by david hieatt. Copyright © 2017 David Hieatt. Published by The Do Book Co.

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Do Book Company

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Do Book Company

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