How to improve your focus in 2021

Why you should start a newsletter today


12 January 2021

When I first started blogging years ago, every resource on the Internet said that the number one thing I needed to do was to start a newsletter. So, I dutifully added a "subscribe to my newsletter" form at the bottom of my blog, and then promptly forgot about it.

Needless to say, it didn't go very far. 😂

Today though, newsletters are becoming a money-making machine for people like you and me, with the rise of easy-to-use platforms like Substack.

Here are five reasons why you should start your own newsletter today.

Shameless plug: I've just started a free newsletter with case studies of cool things that tech platforms are building. It's perfect for software developers, product managers, founders, and those that want to know more about what makes a great (and terrible) tech product. If it sounds like something you're interested in, please consider subscribing here.

Grow your knowledge

I remember when my ex-boss's four year old son held up an Internet modem and asked me how the Internet worked.

It was at that moment that I realised this: nothing makes you understand something more than having to explain it to someone else. Especially when it's to a four year old boy, whose response to every answer I gave him was "but how?"

Writing encourages critical thinking. It makes your brain sift through information, discarding things that you now realise sound absurd when you read it in black and white on your screen, and forcing you to consider gaps where the logic doesn't quite flow.

As a software developer, writing helps me identify the things I don't know or where potential bugs, edge cases, and code smells lie. It also helps me actually remember what it is that I've done, solidifying my knowledge for the future.

Improve your writing

Similarly, nothing makes you a better writer than actually writing.

Now, you're probably going to tell me that you have a blog, or that you post here on Dev Community (in which case, great - keep doing that!). But having a newsletter gives you a sandbox for experimentation, and allows you to find a writing style that might be a bit more personal than your blog posts.

For example, I start off each of my newsletters with a personal anecdote or story about something that's happened to me that relates to tech. It's personal, often a bit funny (and sometimes bizarre), and probably not quite suited to a blog post (or am I wrong about this? Drop me a note in the comments if you'd rather read about the time someone stole my iPhone and used my public transport card to travel all around Sydney, and I could track where they were travelling online 😂😭).

Although it feels like 280 character tweets and 60 second TikTok videos are all the rage, there is - and always will be - a place for long-form content. If you're a developer, you can really stand out if you have strong written communication skills - and a newsletter is the perfect practice ground for developing your writing style.

Why you should start a newsletter today for growth Build your personal brand

Email marketing apparently has a whopping 4300% (yes that extra zero is correct) average return on investment (ROI) for businesses in the US.

While you might not be out to make money from your newsletter (more on that below 👇), it's a great way for building your personal brand, because open rates for emails are surprisingly high. This is because the emails are coming from you directly (as opposed to "oh yeah I think she was some writer who wrote some blog post I read on some blogging platform").

Emails feel personal, allowing you, the writer, to quickly and easily communicate with your audience. Even more importantly, it allows them to communicate back to you in a private forum, which lays the foundation for intimate connection - and potential opportunities in the future.

Having a mailing list also safeguards you in the future - few people change their email addresses these days, and it stops you from being reliant on a platform and its ever-changing algorithm that promotes some other content over yours. Almost all newsletter platforms allow you to easily export your mailing list and move to another distribution platform in case you ever want to switch.

Make side hustle money

This is what really blew my mind: Heather Cox Richardson, a professor of American History, is the highest paid newsletter writer on Substack, making hundreds of thousands of dollars every year through her writing.

And she does this in her spare time.

If you have 200 subscribers paying US$10/month for your newsletter, you could be up almost $20,000 (after Substack fees are taken out) a year. And while that's not quit-your-job money, it's a nice, tidy sum for a side hustle that is also making you a better thinker, better communicator, and building your personal brand.

Okay, how do I get started?

First, decide on what you want to use to distribute your newsletter.

No, you do not need to build your own newsletter distribution platform. I CAN SEE YOU BUYING A DOMAIN - STOP THAT THIS INSTANCE! 😂

Large scale platforms include Substack, TinyLetter, Mailerlite and Ghost. One that I was *really* interested in was Button Down, which is built and run single-handedly by a powerhouse dev called Justin (I went with Substack only because I felt like it might provide some organic audience growth - which is TBD, frankly).

After setting up your account and picking a name for your newsletter (mine is called "Fix My Printer" - see here for why), go promote it to the world. Tell your friends and family, tweet about it, post it on LinkedIn - the usual suspects. Make sure you have an intro post so that people know what they're getting themselves into when they sign up (and hopefully this will reduce the chance of unsubscribes later).

Then it's all about building your content. Think about the tone of voice you want to use, what topics your audience wants to hear about, and most importantly - what you find interesting. A newsletter is going to be quickly abandoned if you don't enjoy what you're writing about.

Don't forget that you can always email out posts that you've written on platforms like your blog/Dev Community/Medium etc - in fact, it's a nice way to cut through the noise and get your content on these platforms directly into the hands of your audience.

Have a newsletter? Post the sign up link in the comments below! Need some encouragement in setting one up? Tweet at me @carmenintech.

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