How my newsletter journey started
Back in January 2019, I decided to start a new project to challenge my creativity. I wasn’t sure what this project actually is going to be, I just knew that it needs to be a challenge so I can learn something new and gain experience. During a conversation with my colleagues at university, I then had the idea. We were discussing a group project we were working on. I suggested using a specific tool, that will boost our productivity and that made it easy to collaborate on certain design tasks (unfortunately, I do not remember which tool I actually suggested to my colleagues).
My colleagues were mind-blown when I introduced them to bespoke tools for the first time. One of my colleagues asked me if I know of any other tools that are such a productivity-boost and time-safer. I said yes, and actually, I had a complete database full of creativity and productivity-boosting tools and resources I always came back to whenever I started a new project. This database grew every single week as I was browsing all kinds of sites in my free time to find new tools and resources, which I then added to my personal database. At this point, the idea for Creativerly was born. Since I was browsing different sites every single week, I thought I might could share my findings through a weekly newsletter as other designers and creative minds would definitely profit from it.
While starting out with my newsletter, my main goal was to create and build up a writing habit for myself. On top of that, I wanted to create an informational medium for fellow designers and creative minds. My passion for searching, finding, and testing out new creativity and productivity-boosting tools and resources went hand in hand with that. Couple days later after doing research I sent out my first newsletter using Mailchimp. Over the course of two years, I used Mailchimp, Mailerlite*, Substack, and Ghost (which I am still using to this day) for sending out my newsletter. If you want to get insights on why I decided to move my newsletter from Substack to Ghost, I documented my thoughts in a blog post.
So, I had a basic idea in my mind what my topic for my newsletter should be. Over the last two years, the format of my newsletter did not change that much, at the core it still looks very same as the first issue I have send out: an intro section with some general thoughts, ideas, and notes, four tools, one resource, four articles, an appendix section (consisting of a featured newsletter, an ICYMI, and quick links about news from the fields of design and tech), and a link to a thoughtful tweet.
To this day, starting a newsletter and a blog was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. If you want to know why then read on.
My number one takeaway from growing a newsletter to over 1000 subscribers
My most important takeaway from writing a newsletter for over two years and growing it to over 1000 subscribers, is the fact that you should never write for numbers. If you want to start writing online, no matter if in the form of a newsletter or blog, do not start writing because of gaining a lot of subscribers or earning a lot of money, in first place. Set yourself a personal goal. For example, I wanted to build up a writing habit, meaning I wanted to write every week and create content on a constant basis. Do not start a newsletter because of the recent boom and because there are creators earning a fortune by writing a newsletter.
When you want to start your own newsletter or blog, think about what you want to write about first. There is no need to search for a specific niche. Write about what interests you the most. Do not write for others, in the first place. Write for yourself, as writing is an incredibly creative process. Writing online and putting yourself out there is one of the best investments you can make, no matter from which background you come. Start writing online and new opportunities will arise.
Therefore, step 1 in your newsletter journey should always be to focus on your writing and content first, and actually putting yourself out there. Also, if you are writing a blog or a newsletter, think about ways how to distribute your content or repurpose it for other channels. Share your issue on Twitter and tag all the products and folks you have featured in your newsletter, create Instagram post or stories, be active in Reddit communities. Again, simply put yourself out there.
If you want to learn more about the distribution of your content (and also in general about content creation, writing, and building a newsletter, blog, or publication) there is one specific resource I recommend all the time, and that is Doing Content Right by Steph Smith*. If you ask yourself now why you should learn from Steph Smith, and why she is telling you how to do content right in 2021, let me give you a quick introduction: Steph Smith works for The Hustle, one of the biggest newsletters out there (they reached 1 million subscribers within 2 years and ultimately got acquired by HubSpot earlier this year) where she is creating and scaling their premium publication Trends to thousands of subscribers and millions in ARR. Also, her personal blog reached 400k+ page views and thousands of subscribers in its first year. Steph also led a 30-person publications team and operated 6 technical blogs, which reached 600k+ email subscribers and millions of monthly readers.
There is one person, that will learn you how to identify a niche and stand out in a sea of competition, how to distribute your content seamlessly across dozens of channels, and how to do SEO right, and that person is Steph Smith. I am incredibly thankful for the resource she has created, and it is incredible to see that what has initially been an ebook full of actionable advice turned into a full-fledged course consisting of the book itself, a community full of creators, 22 actionable exercises, 12 video sessions, and a bonus section on podcasting. If you want to grab Doing Content Right make sure to use the code „philipp20“ which will give you 20% off your purchase.
Consistency is (still) key
I am kind of having a déjà-vu right now, because back when Creativerly reached 500 subscribers, I already highlighted that consistency is one of the most important factors when it comes down to building a writing habit. If you want to put yourself out there, do it on a constant basis. Start creating a piece of content every single week, and stick to it. Writing and creating consistently is hard, but once you stick to it over a certain period of time, you will build up a habit and it will become easier the longer you stick to it. I am writing Creativerly consistently for over two years now. Every week I sit down and do a focus writing session where I draft, write, and edit the new newsletter issue. For me, writing and curating Creativerly became a part of my week, of my work, and ultimately of my life, it is a passion project which just sticks.
There is no shortcut or hack to build up a habit, it might sound obvious but in the end, it is all on you and focusing on writing and creating consistently. If you create consistently you will form habits. The habits you create will form the actions you take every day in your life. And all the actions you take will ultimately lead to new opportunities.
Be curious - learn from others who already achieved your goals
Always be curious - always ask questions. Do you want to know how to reach your first 100 subscribers? Ask folks who already have 100 subscribers and learn from them how they reached this goal. If you want to know how to reach 500 subscribers, same procedure, find folks who already achieved that and ask them what they did to reach that goal.
This not only implies for newsletter subscribers but in general for every aspect you want to get insights on. Learn how to ask the right questions. I have made great connections by asking questions and learn from people who already achieved the goals I was aiming for.
Do not just follow people who already achieved a lot, send them a DM and ask specific questions to learn from them. Asking questions does not only mean exchanging information, it goes far beyond that. Asking questions, and mastering asking the right questions is a uniquely powerful tool.
Share your wins
A lot of people underestimate how incredibly valuable your wins can be for others. Take this blog post as an example. I gathered all my insights, findings, and experiences I have gained on my journey to 1000 newsletter subscribers in one post. The whole process of writing this blog post was already a win for me, as it was a creative challenge. But think of the fact, that there are currently 7.9b people living on earth, so the probability that at least one person finds my blog post helpful and valuable is pretty high.
Most people who succeed at writing online and creating content did not reinvent the wheel, they simply shared what they have learned. By sharing their experiences and wins they helped others searching for exactly the same problems as others already have solved.
If you do not know what you should write about, start with documenting your experiences and findings while starting to write online. Therefore, while starting writing online or creating a newsletter, make sure to document the experiences you gain, the actions you take, the insights you get, the connections you make, the tools you use, and the challenges you come across. Suddenly, you will have a lot to write about.
Be active in communities
If you already know what you want to write about, try to be active in communities related to the field and topics you are writing about. This will not only spark new ideas, but you will also find folks who are already interested in the content you create. Therefore, being active in communities can lead to new subscribers or new readers and ultimately new connections.
The important thing here is the fact that you should never ever just straight plug your newsletter in communities. Try to create some value for others. Share your insights and experiences with them. Reply to tweets, take part in conversations in subreddits, or engage with other folks within Slack and Discord Communities.
Your very first subscribers can be your friends and family, or they could be folks you have engaged with on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, or somewhere else. Being active does not mean that you have to come up with polished Twitter threads every single day, being active means that you are present in different communities and on different social networks simply by replying to other people. Put yourself out there.
What do I have planned for the future of Creativery?
Well, in general, I do not plan far in advance for the future since there are always some spontaneous opportunities that come up and on which I want to focus. Nevertheless, there are still some action points I am planning to work on in the upcoming months.
First of all, I want to expand Creativerly’s database. As I still have to go through a lot of Creativerly issues and add all the featured tools, resources, and articles manually this will be a task that will take some additional time. But the feedback so far is pretty good, Creativerly readers seem to enjoy to browse conveniently through all the content I have shared so far within my newsletter.
Besides expanding Creativerly’s database, I also want to expand the interview and blog section of Creativerly. After publishing the very first interviews with Noemi Stauffer, Tobias Whetton, and Jim Raptis, people were quickly asking for more. My goal was to showcase and highlight creative minds, and get insights on how they stay creative and productive, which tools they use, which productivity techniques they follow, how they overcome creative blocks, and what advice they share for other creative folks.
Also, I want to write blog posts more frequently. My latest blog post highlighted privacy-friendly and ethical Google Analytics alternatives. It is a growing list of web analytic tools built by Indie Hackers, Makers, or Solopreneurs. As an addition to the blog post, I also created an Airtable database so people can browse conveniently through the list of privacy-friendly Google Analytics alternatives.
Additionally, I ran a quick survey within my newsletter to see if people would be interested in a private Creativerly community only available to Creativerly subscribers and it seems that the interest is definitely there. But before setting up a community like this, it needs some thoughtful thinking and planning how the community would actually look like. Nevertheless, this is something I will keep exploring and probably consider later that year.
As Creativerly is growing so are the running costs month to month and year to year. The Buymeacoffee page I have set up is a great way for readers to show their support and help me with covering my costs. On top of that, I am currently working on another way to support Creativerly. Over the course of July I will set up everything to offer sponsorship and classified ad spots within Creativerly. There will be one main sponsor spot (text + image and two links) and 3-4 Classified ad spots (text only, limited characters). Subscribers of Creativerly will get informed first when I launch those sponsor and ad packages.
Other than that, I will continue to try creating the best content for my subscribers and my audience.
Some of the links in my newsletter and my blog posts are affiliate links. Those links are marked by an asterisk "*". If you buy something through the link, the product will not cost you anything more, but I will receive a small commission which not only supports Creativerly and my work but also helps me to keep this publication a sustainable side-project.