How I'm Thinking About Newsletter Growth

15 More Lessons From Writing 30 Newsletters

Hi friend!

You’ve started a newsletter but feeling stagnant?

I’m not an expert. But I’m continuing to learn from the experts and am experimenting to see what works.

These are the 15 lessons I’ve learned so far about newsletter growth, mindset, collaboration and measuring the right metrics that I hope can help you out too.

💡 Today at a glance

  • 15 more lessons from writing 30 issues of this newsletter.

  • 3 resources to help you do more of what you care about.

Self-reflection, is a powerful tool for growth.

It helps you figure out what’s working, what’s not and what you need help in.

Last week, I shared my 15 lessons and insights to help you get started or continue the momentum in the early days of writing a newsletter.

Reflecting and sharing those lessons after hitting publish on 30 issues of this newsletter was helpful to me. But it was so great to hear from several readers who also resonated with it too.

Newsletter growth, mindset, collaboration and measuring the right metrics

Once I was past the hump and mental struggle of publishing weekly, it was time to educate myself on how to grow a newsletter, understanding newsletter metrics and the metrics I should to metrics pay attention to.

That’s what these 15 lessons are focused on today

1. Give people a reason to subscribe

This sounds obvious.

Our inboxes are filled with more unread emails than we care to admit. So giving people a compelling and clear reason to enter their inbox is more important than ever.

I’m still humbled that 280+ people let me into their inbox. The Slow Digest open rate currently sits at a 4 week rolling average of 47.7% and a 12% click rate.

I’ve been told for small newsletters like mine, open rates and click rates tend to be on higher side compared the average.

Honing in on a clear compelling reason is still a work in progress.

(By the way, I would love to get to know you if you have 2 minutes)

2. Block off time in your calendar to write your newsletter

What gets scheduled gets done.

I’ve experimented with lots of way to carve out time to write the newsletter. Here’s what currently works for me:

  1. Capture ideas into my Writer’s Hub OS whenever something sparks

  2. Review ideas and draft the newsletter on Monday

  3. Edit and finalise the newsletter on Wednesday or Thursday

These distinct steps help writing the weekly newsletter easier as I’m working on bits throughout the week.

Separating the drafting and then finalising of the newsletter is a must.

The new day and fresh eyes helps me refine the writing and be more ruthless with my editing.

3. Give yourself intentional breaks

I know consistency is key to making something “easy” for myself. Once I stop a habit or an activity, the momentum dies off and it’s really hard for me to restart.

But I mentioned last week that this is an almost weekly newsletter

Why? Because I believe in scheduling intentional breaks when you need it or when it makes sense to.

When I was travelling for ~4 weeks, I told my readers that I was having a break from writing the newsletter. That made sure I wasn’t stressed out trying to write a weekly newsletter, while I should be focused on enjoying my travel experiences and spending quality time with family and friends.

Scheduling an intentional break also shifts your mindset from negative to positive:

“I’ve missed yet another issue” vs. “I’m stopping it for X number of weeks”

And the positive frame of mind is not only better for our mental health but it is what motivates us to keep going.

4. Encourage readers to reply

This is hard but so worth it.

When I do get a reply (or get on a call and someone tells me they read my newsletter), it truly makes my week, because it’s a reminder that spending all that time writing was worth while when it helped someone.

You also get to learn what your readers truly cared about. This helps your write better content that serves them in the future.

5. Ask for feedback, constantly

The fastest way to improve is to ask for feedback.

James Clear’s famous essay tells us how a consistent 1% improvements can lead to outsized results.

In the first few months of writing the newsletter, I was constantly on the hunt for feedback from anyone who would give it. X / Twitter, private online communities, peers on my 1:1 calls, mastermind discussion sessions etc.

Kevon Cheung always reminds us to get feedback!

Getting both positive and negative feedback was key to shaping this newsletter to what it is today.

These days, I’m still seeking feedback when the opportunity arises because improvement is a continuous process.

6. Collect ideas along the way

Before starting my newsletter, I already had a decent system for capturing ideas and taking it through to publish.

I can’t emphasise enough the important of having an quick capture system for your newsletter ideas, so you’re not facing a blank page when you sit to write your newsletter.

And it does not have to be complicated. It can be as simple as a physical notebook, Google Keep, Apple Note app etc.

Or if you already use a tool to store digital information (e.g. Notion, Obsidian, Tana, Bear), then start tracking your ideas in that.

I capture ideas into my library of content database in Notion. I do it in Notion because I can easily and quickly do that on my desktop, laptop or when I’m on the go on Mobile. And it seamlessly integrates with my other digital information in Notion.

7. Don’t forget to celebrate your wins

With every issue you publish and every new subscriber, it’s a win. When you’re feeling down about you slow growth, remember these 2 things:

  • It’s a long term project

  • It’s a privilege that someone has given you permission to be in their sacred inbox every week.

Measuring the right metrics is key to making the win meaningful.

Are you trying to optimise for getting clients? Sponsors? Selling your products? Know your goal is more important than an arbitrary subscriber number.

8. A newsletter is a long term (Slow Productivity) project

Start a newsletter if you’re willing to commit to a 6 to 12 month experiment or investment of your time.

You can stop any time.

But it would feel like wasted effort if you don’t at least feel like you want to commit for that amount of time, and enjoy the process.

I applied the Slow Productivity philosophy when I decided to start The Slow Digest. That means only starting it when I felt:

  • It was one of the few projects I knew I had time in my schedule and mental headspace to commit to it.

  • I could create a cadence that allowed me to work at a natural pace (e.g. weekly not daily, schedule intentional breaks from the newsletter) without overwhelm

  • I felt I had the time, expertise, experience and willingness to learn to create something to a high quality that helps others.

This is the mental framing I’ve used to write 30 issues and enjoy the experience along the way.

Writing this newsletter has become my favourite task for the week that I always look forward to!

9. Expand short form ideas into newsletters

Dickie and Cole of Ship 30 fame are constantly banging on about using the Lean Writing Method to test out tiny ideas on social media before expanding them into big writing pieces.

This is one way I find endless ideas that I could write about for the newsletter.

10. Breakdown newsletter content into short form ideas

On the flip side, Justin Welsh’s Hub and Spoke model for content creation has brought him a ton of success. Basically, write a long form piece like a newsletter and then break it down into short form content to share on social.

I use both methods (they work) and both have helped me create an endless list of long and short form ideas. The challenges is picking the ones I want to share!

11. Cut 20% of your newsletter content

Because I value my reader’s time and want to improve the value per minute readers get out of reading The Slow Digest.

This is a simple but hard to execute tip from expert newsletter creator Josh Spector.

It’s something I’m still working on. Most of the time I can cut ~10% when I edit. As a writer we think every word is great.

But the reality is that it’s not.

Having a goal to cut 20% of what we write will make our writing better (and save the reader’s time).

12. The email subject line is key to newsletter opens

Subject lines are a constant struggle for me. I’m still studying email newsletters I like to see what attracts me to open them. So far, I’ve noticed 2 factors:

  1. It’s from a writer I get a lot of value from and look forward to hearing from regularly

  2. I’m intrigued with a subject line that speaks to a problem I have right now.

13. See other newsletters as inspiration not competition

I get a ton of inspiration reading other newsletters. This can be inspiration for newsletter topics (with my own spin) or ideas for subject lines, format, imagery etc.

14. Collaborate with others

Related to # 13, collaborate don’t compete with others in your field.

I like to believe there is room for everyone and the key to all our growth is collaboration, inspiration and helping each other.

Simon Sinek talks about playing the infinite game where the goal is to “keep playing. To do this you need to have a sense of purpose, think long term, study others in your field and collaborate so we all make progress.

I’ve started to explore cross promotions with other newsletters to increase the value of what I can offer my readers and as a means to find more readers.

(By the way, if you’re interested in a newsletter collaboration, send me an email, don’t be shy!)

15. Newsletters are self-development tools

Writing is thinking and a critical communication skill that helps you in all aspects of life. Putting thoughts on (digital) paper is a powerful way to refine your thought leadership, identify knowledge gaps so you know where to focus your learning and get better at communicating.

30 lessons and insights later, I hope you found at least a few insights that either helps you in your personal or newsletter growth, or moves you one step closer to starting your newsletter.

As an expert coach or educator in your field, I have no doubt that you have something valuable to share.

(Btw, if you’re struggling to adopt it into your business (or life), I’ve got a 90 minute solution to what's holding you back in notion. You’ll walk away with a personalised Strategy Roadmap with actionable next steps so you can get unstuck and level up your Notion workspace right away.)

That’s it! Thanks for reading.

If you found any of these 15 lessons helpful to you, I would love to hear from you!

See you next week,

Janice CK

📌 Noteworthy

A roundup of noteworthy resources in the space of Slow Productivity, Notion and living an intentional life.

  1. Use Strategic Thinking to Create the Life You Want

    Productivity isn’t about doing more things. It’s about helping you design the life you want to live. And to do that, you need to do some strategic thinking. This 5 minute HBR video gives you a simple but powerful framework to start doing that today.

  2. How to Understand Your Personal Energy Levels and Why it is Important

    Energy management not time management is what helps to prevent burnout and achieve sustainable productivity. Martine is one of my favourite writers in the productivity space who focuses on well-being productivity. Do an Energy Audit and you might be surprised with what you find.

  3. Notion Upgrades Search Massively

    In case you didn’t know a Notion upgrade late last year gave us the ability to search through specific databases, not just your workspace! It’s one of many functional upgrades that Notion has been on a roll for making since late 2023!

Whenever you're ready, here are 3 ways I can help you:

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  2. Ultimate Guide: How to create your digital writing system in Notion under 1 hour (Free!): Ready to learn how to use Notion to create your own writing system so you can write consistently?

    Join 110+ people who have downloaded this guide to build their own Writer’s Hub OS in Notion with built-in slow productivity principles.

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    Join 780+ people who have already downloaded this system and upped their travel planning game.

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