Writing newsletters–is it worth it?
After writing a monthly newsletter for a year, I take stock: What are the advantages and disadvantages of a regular newsletter? What was the response? And above all, is it worth the effort?
In the past, my newsletter was a source of agony for me. I only wrote newsletters when I really had something very important to announce–a new book or a workshop. Sending an e-mail with clumsy self-promotion to a few hundred people? How stressful!
But I actually like writing. And because I wanted to make writing newsletters easier for myself, I decided at the beginning of 2022 that I would no longer send out my newsletter only once in a blue moon, but monthly.
Who still reads newsletters?
Email marketing is recommended to self-employed people because while social media are unpredictable, good old email can be relied on. Once an email in someone’s mailbox, it is–if not always read–at least noticed. With time and good content, you can build up trust and turn readers into customers.
So much for the idea of email marketing. However, I do not follow these recommendations. I rarely proceed strategically and the fact that I have a mailing list at all happened accidentally.
Accidentally starting a newsletter
Originally, my mailing list was a list of people who were interested in taking one of my workshops, and that list that grew over the years. One day, for a book announcement, I also added the e-mail addresses of friends and customers to the mailing list–before the EU General Data Protection Regulation, this was still okay-ish.
Today, I promote my newsletter on Instagram before each mailing. This way, I gain 10 to 20 new subscribers each time. Nevertheless, the mailing list has hardly grown since I regularly write newsletters, because I delete the addresses of deadbeats and after each mail some of the subscribers unsubscribe.
Reply mails are a good sign
Still, I know that most subscribers like to read my mails, because I get replies. Although the newsletter is obviously not an individual e-mail, some readers reply as if I had written to them personally. For me, that is the nicest compliment. The connection that is created this way motivates me to keep writing, each reply mail counts more than a thousand likes.
Sending an email to over a thousand people is still exciting. Fortunately, I don’t always have in mind who is on the mailing list.
My reasons for a regular newsletter
I had several reasons for deciding to write my newsletter regularly. Most of them are not the typical motivation for email marketing–like customer retention and increased sales–but they are rather personal.
➨ Writing with more ease Writing a newsletter was such a big hurdle for me that sometimes a whole year passed between two mails. I wanted this task to get easier, and I wanted it to get easier with practice.
➜ Sustainable writing For years, my Instagram captions were as long as blogposts. But in early 2022, I decided to invest less time and energy in Instagram and publish my texts in a more sustainable way. Now I write mostly for the newsletter, my blog, and my website.
I started the blog in the spring of 2022, 15 years after everyone else, but with a similar motivation: to have a place where I can write about everything that engages and interests me.
➨ An up-to-date website Maintaining my website was as much of a pain for me as writing newsletters. When I finally forced myself to it, I lost a lot of time because I didn’t remember how WordPress worked.
The regular newsletter has changed that, too. The mails link to my website, so I have to constantly update it. Putting new content on the site is much faster now, because I don’t have to think about how that works every time.
➽ Self-reflection For the newsletter, I put thoughts about myself and my work into words. A yearning for more–even more!–self-reflection wasn’t necessarily one of the reasons for the regular newsletter. But I quickly found that thinking about how to address things in a way that would be interesting to others contributed to my own clarity. After all, how am I supposed to know what I think before I read what I write.
➤ Self-expression Another motivation for sending out my newsletter monthly: I wanted to show myself. The writing creates access points for thos who commission me and those who attend my workshops. I would love for them to work with me because they like how I approach lettering and how I am in the world.
Newsletter writing workflow
Over the months, a structure has emerged in my newsletter. The mails now consist of a kind of cover letter, several blocks of topics and recurring sections like a book tip and a PS.
For the writing, I have developed a workflow.
➦ Ideas I collect topic ideas on the side and jot them down in a yearly overview.
➸ Rough draft When I start a new newsletter, the first thing I do is create the topic blocks and write a rough draft in the mail program. In the process, I see what’s still missing.
➤ Revision The next day, I revise the raw text and add images and links.
➽ Correction My friend and colleague Elke Hanisch proofreads the newsletter and I incorporate her suggestions. The arrangements with her help me to finish on time.
Elke also points out when a sentence doesn’t sound like me enough. But writing regularly makes it easier and easier for me to strike the right tone – relaxed, approachable and entertaining.
➨ Sending I usually send out the German version of the newsletter on Tuesday or Thursday afternoons.
➜ Translation For the English newsletter, I translate the texts with DeepL and correct the language a bit.
German, English, »Sie« or »du«?
A sidenote for those who are interested in the German language.
In the beginning, I divided my mailing list into »Sie« and »Du« addresses, the formal and informal way of saying »you« in German, and sent out several versions of each mail. Because that was too much work, I finally decided to use an informal »newsletter-du«, even for people I address formally outside the newsletter. Now I only send a German and an English version of the mail.
In my German newsletter, I am on a first-name basis with the readers, even though I use the formal »Sie« here on my website. I imagine: On my website we don’t know each other yet, but if someone subscribes to my newsletter and invites me to their mailbox, the informal »du« is okay.
The costs of a regular newsletter
Regularit practice makes writing my newsletter easier, but the monthly rhythm also has some disadvantages and costs.
I spent two or three days on each newsletter, usually not at a stretch, but spread over a week. If the mail refers to new blogposts or portfolio posts, it takes much longer. In any case, it gets tight and stressful the day before I send it out each time.
So in 2022, newsletter writing has almost completely taken me over for a week every three weeks. I don’t know yet if that’s feasible in the long run.
A newsletter not only costs time, but also money. The marketing platform alone for a distribution list of 1500 subscribers costs around 300 Euros a year. This virtually forces you to commercialize the content and offer products at least from time to time. Otherwise, the effort is hardly worth it, at least not financially.
My energy for writing is limited. After the first two to three hours of the day, I usually have to call it a day. If I use this time slot for newsletters and blogposts, I don’t manage to work on a book in parallel. That’s part of why I didn’t publish a book last year, but »only« my newsletter, some blogposts and several talks.
Is there money in writing newsletters?
In the meantime, a year has passed and I have sent out a newsletter every month. Writing these mails has not only become much easier for me, the regular work on the newsletter also has other benefits–and a few disadvantages.
Does the newsletter generate new orders? Hard to say. Because it’s not always possible to track the ways in which clients end up with me.
But in combination with the blog, the newsletter gives potential clients and workshop participants an idea of how I work and what is important to me. This makes it easier for them to decide to work with me–or not.
Regardless of the financial aspects, I will continue to write my newsletter monthly for the time being, because I am motivated by the personal benefits that writing has for me:
➽ reflecting on my work
➸ keeping my website up to date
➤ the nice feedback I get from readers
➦ the connections that arise through the mails
My Newsletter Archive
Writing newsletters–is it worth it? Read my previous newsletters and make up your own mind.
Review and Preview
Travelogue with Selfies
Experiments and Lifespans
Travelling, talking and drawing
Pride and Portfolio
ABC and FAQ
Onward + Online class
And if you aren’t on my list yet, please sign up!
In 2022, my newsletter was my magnum opus, so to speak. Because I spend so much time on it, I would love for everyone to read it.