Have you ever considered starting your own newsletter - or wondered if you can make money from it? Jenny Stallard shares all you need to know about newsletters.
Newsletters are fast becoming the ‘new blog’, and it’s likely that you subscribe to a newsletter or two. Whether it’s a jobs round up, or a missive on life in a certain city, anyone who’s anyone is writing a newsletter - even podcaster Emma Gannon has started her own newsletter, The Hyphen.
They’re free to create and distribute, and many freelancers rely on them not just for information and updates in the industry, but also for camaraderie and insight into someone else’s world.
I started a newsletter in January 2020, and it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. There’s a power to writing a newsletter when you’re freelance – it’s something you own and control; much like a blog, you can choose the topic, the content and the images, and you don’t have to ask for an editor’s approval. (That said, my sister reads over mine for me, which is super helpful, so I wouldn’t rule out a gentle impartial edit when you start out).
Freelance Corner’s own Sian Meades-Williams runs the hugely popular Freelance Writing Jobs newsletter.
She believes newsletters are a great way to find your voice as a freelancer. “They're your own space for whatever you want to write and that's incredibly freeing. Especially at the moment when you might be feeling like no one wants your pitches or ideas. Being in control of publishing your own words is exciting, even more so when they find an audience. And with newsletters that audience is direct. They signed up, they didn't just stumble upon you in a Google search.”
How to get started
It really is ‘as simple’ as choosing a theme, name and platform to host. I use Substack, but MailChimp is also popular. You can upload as little or as often as you like, and the newsletter can be as long or short as you like.
Of course, it’s good to keep things consistent, both with tone and length – but you could, for example, have one long monthly newsletter and one shorter one mid-month, or a short and sweet weekly newsletter.
As for finding your theme, you might have one in mind, but a good way to consider what you’ll focus on is to look at other newsletters. Subscribe, and immerse yourself in the way they’re written, and how they are laid out.
Meades-Williams says: “You need a hook, you need something that keeps you writing even in weeks when you're exhausted. And it needs to be something that keeps people reading and subscribing - our inboxes are busy, you're up against a lot of competition. My favourite newsletters share something I won't find anywhere else. Be specific. Tell me something new.”
Right now, you might be tempted to go for a lockdown theme! I would personally suggest something with (hopefully) more longevity – and something that can grow with you rather than something in your ‘now’. So just because you’re into baking those banana breads, don’t necessarily start a baking newsletter. If you’re really into baking, though, it could be time to channel that…
A newsletter about your industry needs to inform as well as entertain, I would argue. There need to be interesting links to other sites and articles, or ways people can move their own professional day forward, too.
Can I make money from a newsletter?
It’s unrealistic to imagine this is going to pay all the bills, but there are ways to generate income if you’re careful about it. First things first, you need to get a decent amount of subscribers – using social media to promote your newsletter, getting people to forward it to others who then sign up. You need not only a good number of subscribers but also a strong ‘open rate’ (no good having a million subscribers if only 100 open it!).
Meades-Williams explains that she has a ‘Ko-fi’ donation button (you can ‘buy her a coffee’ via paypal when you click on the link) but generating income isn’t easy. “It’s not always direct income,” she says. “I've definitely got commissions from editors because they read my newsletters. I also know a brilliant writer who got a six-figure book deal off the back of her email, and my community of writers played a very large part in my own book deal. You might also find that you're doing more events, or more paid consultancy work in the field you're writing about.”
Another newsletter success story, Nicola Slawson up her newsletter, The Single Supplement, in autumn last year. “I had just gone freelance and part of the reason I set it up was because I wanted to have a project to work on. The other reason was because as a journalist I wanted to move away from solely being a news reporter and branch out a bit. The newsletter gives me the opportunity to write in a much more creative way and I have also enjoyed picking up new skills such as building a community on social media and how to grow my subscriber list. It has also helped me secure other freelance work as it's helped me make a bit of a name for myself. It has been one of the best decisions I've made as a freelancer. As well as everything I have mentioned, it has improved my confidence.”
Be prepared for the workload
So, you’re raring to go, but one word of warning from Meades-Williams. Be prepared for a big commitment to get those all-important rewards. “Each of mine is a day's work, and then I spend about half a day working on promotion and even more time working on the business side of things. One of the key elements to creating a newsletter is regularity – my subscribers know Freelance Writing Jobs gets sent every Thursday afternoon – you want your readers to anticipate you landing in their inbox. Start a newsletter because you want to start one and you think it will be beneficial to your business as a freelancer, not because it's something you think you should be doing. It looks easy, but it's a huge amount of work.”