Chiu-Ki and I have been running Technically Speaking for 6 months now. Neither of us had run a newsletter before, and we learned a number of things along the way! Here are the 7 I’ve found most important.
1. Shared Values
What the values are is going to get a post of it’s own, but the important thing process-wise is that we agreed them up front and refer back to them.
The simplest value with the largest effect is that we don’t do things that we personally find annoying – so we don’t do anything to make people subscribe, for example. You don’t have to be a subscriber to come to one of our webinars, and we don’t lock content away, it’s all there to refer back to.
2. Shared Folder
Everything for Technically Speaking lives in a shared folder in Google Drive. Old editions live in a “sent” folder, webinars etc get their own, but whatever we are working on lived in the top folder. The issues are numbered, so the lowest numbered issue there is the one that will be sent out next. Usually we have about two going – because we’re ahead on some aspect which has been pushed out to the next issue.
3. Rough Division of Labour
Typically I assemble the links and write the introduction, and Chiu-Ki curates the CfPs and writes the inspiration. This isn’t hard and fast, and started because we thought about what we did already and turned it into a newsletter.
I think this helps for two reasons – firstly it makes the workload feel balanced, and secondly it gives us a place to start when the next issue is empty. This is supposed to be fun! So mostly we both do what is most interesting to us – and thankfully it usually balances out.
4. No Ego
Everything comes from both of us regardless which of us actually does it. One of us takes the week off? Doesn’t matter, it’s still from Chiu-Ki and Cate. We split credit everywhere.
Each issue starts as a template, which we copy and fill in. The template is pretty empty, but it’s so much easier than starting with a blank page! And means that we don’t forget anything.
6. Realistic Goals
I think a lot of things fail – or never begin – because someone has a grandiose vision which they never manage to match up to. So we set the bar for ourselves low. Firstly we said “no more than weekly”, we’d originally planned bi-weekly but it was easier, and we had more content than we thought. We typically include 5 links, not because that is the minimum but because that is the maximum we defined – we’d ship with three. Likewise inspiration, we normally include a video but we’d include anything that inspired us, like a comic.
The other important goals are defining what you need to keep going. What makes a project worthwhile? What kind of impact do we need to be having for it to be worthwhile? I think it’s important to agree these things up front. One mistake that we made was that we started this conversation, but didn’t finish it because our subscriber numbers grew so quickly initially we were complacent.
This is probably the thing we struggled with most, and we still aren’t great at it. We had a low point where our subscription numbers weren’t moving and it looked like we would fall short of the goals we’d set to demonstrate Technically Speaking was worthwhile. But we were getting lovely emails and comments, so we knew that people were liking what we were doing… we just weren’t reaching them.
Two main things:
- We added the line at the top “if you like it… encourage your friends”.
- We sent personal emails to a number of people we know highlighting what we were doing and asking for feedback.
The personal emails were incredibly effective. Firstly, it was an opportunity to reach out to people that we really like (we actually had to negotiate who would email one woman we both know well). Secondly, we got valuable feedback and advice. Thirdly, some of that feedback was that they didn’t know about it – which encouraged us to be a bit more vocal about what we are doing! Now I try to tweet about Technically Speaking every week, aside from sharing the latest issue.
Maybe these things aren’t really just about how to run a newsletter, they are also about having a productive creative partnership. Working with Chiu-Ki on Technically Speaking is one of the funnest things I do. I feel like we’ve both developed as a result – pushing ourselves to be more self-promotional as an example, but still in a relaxed and supportive way, because afterall it’s a hobby, not a job!