In the past two weeks, I’ve had calls with two soulful creative friends who are business owners, and both conversations have led to chatting about my email community, Self-Made Society.
For those of you who aren’t in the SMS gang, every Monday for the past 72 weeks I’ve sent this community an e-mail newsletter detailing whatever challenge or insight I felt compelled to share that week. It’s my way of documenting my own personal journey to my brightest self and my way to connect with other humans out there who have a desire to do the same.
I can whole-heartedly say it is the single most satisfying thing (and the single most consistent thing) I’ve done in my business since I created Made Vibrant.
I truly believe that the growth in visibility I’m starting to see with my business can be attributed back to the strength of the Self-Made Society community, and, even more so, to the quality and consistency of that Monday newsletter. In my eyes, deciding to start the newsletter is the most impactful decision I made in the early early stages of my business.
As I shared with both of these two friends just how rich and fulfilling this community-building effort has been for me, I realized that I’ve actually never sat down to share my thoughts on why I believe email newsletters are so important and how to get started building one as a new business owner.
So… that’s what I’m hoping to share in today’s post!
Why I care so much about email as a medium
Back in January 2014 when I had just launched Made Vibrant, I remember feeling so unbelievably excited by the idea of finally sharing my perspective and thoughts with the world on what it meant to live as “your most vibrant self.” I was enamored with the idea -- it was a game changer for me -- and I wanted to introduce it to as many people as possible. But, just a few weeks in, I started to realize that posting my blog posts day after day on social media left me feeling… unsatisfied. I had no way of really knowing what resonated with people or connecting faces and names and stories with the numbers that started to appear as a slow drip of website traffic.
I want to get to know these people, I kept saying to myself!
That’s when I stumbled across the blog of my (now) friend, Nathan Barry. Nathan has made some pretty substantial revenue over the years selling products to his highly engaged email audience, and from that experience, he has written a ton of highly helpful, transparent content around the value he places on building a deeply connected audience using email.
As I started reading more and more about email marketing, it all just started to seem so simple. Of course I’d want a way to stay in touch with people who were interested in what I had to say. Of course I’d want to deliver content directly to them on a regular basis. Of course I’d want the opportunity to have conversations with them. And, if one day I did decide to start selling products (I was 100% client work in those early days) then of course I’d want to offer that to a group of people that already trusted the quality of my work rather than cold leads or strangers on social media.
The biggest draw for me in the beginning though was that connection I was missing when I’d share my writing online.
Trying to have conversations and build connections around my content on social media felt a bit like trying to form a soulful bond with someone in the middle of Times Square. It was noisy and crowded and it lacked the sense of intimacy and trust that I wanted to have with my readers.
Email on the other hand felt personal and practical. Not only did it provide a direct interaction that felt more like enlightened conversation over breakfast with a friend, but it was a way to keep track of those conversations and stay on the radar of the people who were resonating with my message.
The origins of Self-Made Society
In the beginning, I didn’t worry about writing a click-optimized subject line or keeping it short and sweet like many email marketing experts will tell you.
Instead, I wrote the Monday morning email that I would want to receive.
It was long. It was real. It was funny in places, contemplative in others. It had a depth of content that I wasn’t seeing anywhere else in my own inbox at the time.
That first email went out to a whopping… wait for it... four people! (Actually, scratch that, it was two people because the other two were Jason and myself from testing the sign up form!)
Humble beginnings, indeed, but I didn’t care. It felt like I had made my first two friends at a new school. From that point on my focus became trying to write a newsletter each week that was worthy of opening.
Before I knew it, I had 50 people who were raising their hands to hear what I had to say each week. 50 PEOPLE! It felt amazing. Like my voice was finally being heard and my mission wasn’t going to die in a deserted corner on the internet somewhere. That’s when I decided to brand the list itself not just as a “subscription,” but as a community called Self-Made Society. I wanted it to feel like a club you got to be a part of simply by owning the fact that you could achieve success on your terms, of your own making, regardless of what anyone else said.
The best part? I started to get emails BACK from people on Mondays. Whether it was a short “thank you” or “this hit home for me” or “this is exactly what I needed to hear this week” -- it all made me feel like I had a purpose.
People continue to share bits of their lives with me in these email replies. Their dreams, their struggles, their epiphanies. Things they wouldn’t dare shoot off in a tweet or a blog comment.
I respect the exchange that takes place between us, and I believe it’s that care and respect that people buy my products. They can feel the sincerity because over time I’ve been able to create a connection between us that they trust.
Which brings me to my next point...
The importance of consistency in building trust
I’ve been harping on the idea of consistency a lot lately, both in this post about building a profitable business and this one about what happens when you break consistency, but it’s only because more and more I’m starting to see just how vital consistency is to the strength and growth of an audience.
The beauty of a newsletter is that YOU determine the schedule at which you publish, and you can rest assured that your audience is going to actually have a chance to read that content. On Facebook, you could post every day and those that have liked your page might never even see your posts. On Twitter or Instagram, your followers have to come across your post at the right time to see it, or it’ll likely never enter their consciousness.
An email, on the other hand? An email patiently waits in someone’s inbox to be opened. They may or may not read your newsletter that week, but just by hitting send you’re subconsciously communicating to them that you’re reliable and that you continue to care about how you can provide valuable content to them.
If you are a new business owner (or heck, even if you’re a seasoned business owner but you’re starting to see your community size stagnate), I recommend at least experimenting with the idea of adding a newsletter to build your audience.
A few tips for making your newsletter high-quality & authentic
1. Come up with a format that feels suited to you.
Work with your strengths! I loooove to write and tell stories about my life so my emails tend to be longer and that feels right to me. If you don’t love writing but you love talking, try filming a short video and sending that out instead. Remember, going with something that feels natural to you will make it easier to keep up with consistently because you’ll enjoy the process!
2. Tailor your content to your list specifically.
You can include links to posts on your blog, but save some content that feels tailored and specific to just your subscribers. In other words, give them a reason to subscribe and not just to visit your blog. I write my newsletter specifically to Self-Made Society with them in mind, and then the following day I re-publish the newsletter as a post to my blog. This is honestly because I feel I pour so much time into the quality of the writing that I want it to be discoverable on the blog to new readers as well (and it provides a great preview for someone who might want to join the list.) The important part though is that my subscribers know I don’t just re-use a few blog links in my email and call it a newsletter; I sit down and I deliver custom, thoughtful content just for them.
3. Don’t write in anyone else’s voice but your own.
Finding your unique creative voice is hard. It’s tempting to simply go with what you see works for other people, or sometimes it’s just hard to get other people’s voices out of your head if you often consume more than you create. But, similar to the point above about finding a structure that works for you, you’re only going to want to stick to your newsletter consistently if you write in a way that is natural and unique to you. People will be able to tell when your personality comes through so do yourself a favor and let it shine!
4. Pick a frequency that you can stick with.
How often you send out your newsletter is totally up to you. I email my peeps once a week because I love it so much and writing comes naturally to me, but that doesn’t have to be the case for you. Maybe you want to start out trying once every other week or once a month. Whatever you do choose, 1) make sure that new subscribers know when to expect your emails (you can do this by sending a custom welcome email which I show you how to do below) and 2) make sure that you deliver consistently at that frequency.
If you know you want to start a newsletter, but still aren't quite sure how, next week on the blog I'll take you through the basics of setting up a newsletter using Mailchimp, so keep an eye out for that or subscribe to my posts using Bloglovin'.
Join Self-Made Society
This post first appeared in my Monday newsletter to Self-Made Society -- Made Vibrant's email community for soulful creatives. Sign up and you'll get instant access to my e-book, A Year Made Vibrant, with over 50 of my past weekly newsletters.