So You Want to Start a Newsletter?

Akiff Premjee
August 11, 2020

It's been about 1.5 months since I launched my newsletter and started writing online consistently. It's been a wonderful journey thus far. I've met great people, joined communities, and learned a lot about what it takes to build an audience.

I've also come across "resource overload."

If you're at all into apps and tools you know what this is. It's that need to want to look into every single tool that is posted on Twitter about how to start a newsletter and then going down the rabbit hole of YouTube videos and blog posts explaining why it's the best tool to do what you want and how you can set it up.

The obvious problem with this (that I know but yet still neglect) is that tools are a means to an end. The end, in this case, is taking ink to a page (metaphorically, lol) and writing to put my ideas out into the world. Your output should be your goal is what they say, and I agree with them.

However, I'm also someone who enjoys the process of learning about new tools and why specific people choose one tool over another. I mean let's be honest - I write a newsletter literally called Tools for Growth!

So in this week's issue, I'm going to take you through my journey of understanding the landscape of tools that are out there to start a newsletter in 2020.

Some caveats and notes up front:

Formalities out of the way - now let's get into it!

Newsletter Fatigue

I learned the above from a webinar hosted by Nathan Baschez and Li Jin of the Everything Bundle featuring Nathan Barry. I thought Nathan's response to the question around newsletter fatigue is so true.

Right now it seems like everyone and their grandma has a newsletter. I feel the same way. However, this is primarily because everyone I follow on Twitter is a part of "productivity Twitter" where newsletters are king. Sometimes I go over to #medstudenttwitter, another part of the birdy app I like to visit. And guess what? No one is talking about any kinds of newsletters there. It's just a bunch of students complaining about all the tests they have to take.

The moral of the story: newsletter fatigue isn't a real thing for most readers out there. It may feel like it to us but that's only because we are at the center of it. So if you're thinking about starting a newsletter - do it.

Newsletter vs Blog: What's the Diff?

Alright let's start with some (of my own) definitions.

Do you get it?

They are basically the same thing. It doesn't matter.

That was facetious but an important point to make. However, I will say that there are some structural differences with how people treat a blog vs a newsletter in terms of organization. Here are the two camps I've found:

  1. Creators who keep their blog and newsletter separate. They have a newsletter that goes out each week and is more or less an aggregation and curation of content they have read, learned from, or want to plug. On the other hand, they keep their long-form essays separate as individual posts on their website. Examples of creators who do this are Salman Ansari, Brandon Zhang, and Nat Eliason.
  2. Creators who write a newsletter each week (or whatever cadence) that is their sole post. This is essentially how the Everything Bundle operates with Dan Shipper and Nathan Baschez. Once you sign up for it, you get a detailed, New Yorker style article via their newsletter a few times a week. If you go to their site, it’s just an archive of all of their newsletters.

I don't think it matters which camp you’re in because you can build an audience both ways. I personally am in the second camp where my newsletter is my weekly blog post. I do this because right now I only have time to write one post a week (#medicalschool) but maybe in the future this will change.

My belief is that going the second route where you are at least sending a newsletter each week even without long form individual blog posts that live on their own is the way to start. The biggest thing is to start writing.

An email list is the Holy Grail

If you're thinking of getting into newsletters, then I'm sure you've heard that there is nothing greater than building an email list that you can keep with you for the long haul.

Why?

Because an email list is your personalized, self-selected, opt-in network. These are people who have trusted you with their email because they care about what you have to say and what you are dying. They are also the people most likely to support your work. So when you have a new course or e-book or even merch (!!), this is where you can go to market it.

An email list is your road to 1,000 True Fans (I had to).

Can we finally talk about the tools?

Okay, I know what you're here for. The tools for growth (see what I did there?) - so let's dive in.

Substack

I'm obviously a little biased here since my newsletter is hosted on Substack. But I really do think they've built something that lots of people can easily use.

Pros:

Cons:

Webflow

The new kid on the block offers some good options but at a price.

Pros:

Cons:

ConvertKit

This is the newsletter management system marketed for individual creators. The company has grown tremendously over the years and for good reason.

Pros:

Cons:

Mailchimp

We can't talk about ConvertKit without talking about the other big product in the field. This is the tried and true old school email newsletter platform that is still going strong today.

Pros:

Cons:

Wow that was a lot! There are a lot of tools, ideas, and frameworks out there when it comes to starting a newsletter in 2020. I've only touched on the aspects that have come across my journey so far. I know that there are many other options out there (Ghost, Squarespace, Wordpress, etc.) but I wanted to keep this as brief as possible for those starting out.

Twitter has also been a great source of inspiration for me so I'll leave you today with some Tweet threads I found helpful.

If you're interested in getting updates directly into your inbox, definitely subscribe to my newsletter!