Episode #1 - Newsletters

Rumours of emails demise have been greatly exaggerated.

How fitting, the first idea in this idea digest newsletter is about newsletters. In case you had not noticed, newsletters are getting BIG. Look on the homepage of Product Hunt and you’ll see a plethora of products intertwined with an increasingly growing list of newsletters.

We have been hearing for years that email is allegedly dead, that people are flocking to communication tools and aiming for zero-inbox and that could not be further from the truth.

Email is an irreplaceable form of communication. Just like phone calls will never go away even if people are using messenger apps and services like Zoom, people will always make some kind of audio or video call.

The beautiful thing about newsletters is they have a low barrier to entry, ongoing costs are low and they only require a time commitment. It takes time to build an audience, but that’s where finding a niche is important.


In a 2015 report, DMA National Client Email Report about email marketing, it found that email has an average ROI (return on investment) of $38 per $1 spent. That’s a 3800% return on investment, that’s absolutely mammoth.

In a 2019 Adobe Email Usage Study, it found that Americans check their email 5 hours per day. Work emails account for three-plus hours and personal emails account for two.

This Adobe report also reveals some interesting data about user preferences for the types of email they receive. Only 1/4 of offers from brands were interesting to open, with many reporting that personalisation was important.

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit of information in this study is that most of the participants in the study reported that checking email for 5+ hours per day feel their email frequency checking was “just right”.

The Radicati Group released an email statistics report 2018-22 which reported email users at 3.8 billion in 2018 which is expected to grow upwards of 4.2 billion by 2022. That’s a lot of email users.

In a 2019 Hubspot research survey, 78% of marketers saw an increase in email engagement over the last 12 months in 2019.

What does this all mean? Email is not dead. Despite people predicting email would die, it’s stronger than ever and growing year on year. People are spending a large chunk of their day reading both work and personal emails (over half of the average working day).

Find a niche.

Marketing newsletters are overdone, so are newsletters surrounding other overdone broad topics like sales and investing. But, there are millions of niches out there with audiences who are always looking to consume as much content as they can.

People in this day and age do not have loyalty to just one content creator, they continually ingest content from multiple sources.

I am not going to give you a mega list of niches you can use to create newsletters, but I am going to help you find a niche.

  • Write about what you know. Are you a painter? Write about painting. Are you an avid DIYer? Write about DIY. Maybe you possess knowledge on a specific breed of cat? Write about that.

  • Write about the problems you encounter. Not all newsletters have to be about sharing tips and tricks, maybe you can share problems that you have faced. The beautiful thing is you don’t have to present the solutions, problems in themselves can be a goldmine for idea opportunists.

  • Learn something new, share the journey. You don’t have to know about a specific topic to start a newsletter, people love reading about the journies of others. Are you learning to cook quality French food? Maybe you’re learning to code and want to share the good, bad and ugly of your journey.

In my instance, I am a developer who has a problem with ideas. I continually come up with ideas upon ideas, to the point where I frequently bounce between working on them.

I have a graveyard of ideas on my computer, in notebooks, random sheets of paper in my desk draw.

I took my penchant for coming up with ideas and spotting trends and turned it into a newsletter. Instead of hoarding ideas, I share them and hope that maybe someone can do what I seemingly can’t and launch something.

And here is the thing, I have launched products before (it’s rare, but it has happened). I launched my GitHub fork and star cleaner TidyFork a little while ago. But, my launches are far few and between.

This newsletter is one of only a handful of ideas of mine I have actually launched before starting something else.

Easy To Monetise

Once you have found your niche, monetising it is easy. If you’re writing content that readers are engaged with, your open rates are decent, you can take the next step and begin to profit.

It’s possible you might have to do some A/B testing and see what kind of content your users gel with more than others. Don’t be afraid to talk about money with your subscribers, be honest. Ask them what kind of content they would pay for and what they wouldn’t.

You would be surprised. People love feeling like they have a sense of ownership over something like they are important enough that you’re asking them for advice. Don’t underestimate the power of inclusion.

If you go sending newsletters ham-fistedly and attempt to profit off of unsuspecting subscribers, you might face an exodus of people who subscribed to a different kind of newsletter than you provide them.

Do you ever wonder how influencers on Instagram make a living? They have a niche following. Sure, a lot of the people on Instagram fall into a few distinct categories such as; beauty, food, fitness and clothing — but the followers they attract are very much interested in that.

I truly believe that monetising a newsletter is one of the easiest ideas to monetise. Using Substack (which I am using) you can create subscriber-only content, which is one avenue to explore. Another is sponsored content from relevant sponsors in your niche. Then you have referral links if you’re recommending specific products or services with a referral program.

The best thing of all? You don’t need a lot of followers to have an impact. Even a modest follower count of 1000 people in a highly-targeted niche is enough to start monetising. Of course, 10,000 people are even better and once you start ascending into the six digits, it’s possible you might be able to make this a full-time thing.

Be Original, But Take Inspiration

Don’t be afraid to lurk other newsletters, pay attention to their writing styles and how readers are engaging. The open nature of Substack in particular means that you can visibly see how well someone else’s newsletter is doing and use that as guidance for your own newsletter.

Your newsletter very much should be consistent, so don’t attempt to lift the writing style and tone from something else, your readers will know. People know when something is authentic and when it is forced, even if it is written style.

After Takeoff, Stay Grounded

Here is an observation I have made from my wife’s Instagram usage. She follows a lot of influencers on Instagram, she watches their stories and occasionally clicks their referral links. I have seen over the years how a couple of the people she follows have dramatically changed.

She follows a couple who have been renovating their house and documenting it on Instagram. They’ve been doing this for the last couple of years now and I have seen them go from a relatable young couple learning how to renovate their house and try/fail along the way to an account that feels like it is constantly selling you something.

Look, there is nothing wrong with growing and exploring avenues for growth, but in the case of this one Instagram account, they changed. Instead of being this relatable renovating couple, they now do sponsored posts often, a lot of the products they are using were given to them for free, even the tradespeople they get to do work for them are seemingly giving them a discount (or free work).

My wife who follows a lot of people who do sponsored content has even been put off them a little bit. It’s hard to know if they’re sharing helpful advice or if they are trying to sell something. The waters have been muddied.

It’s an important lesson to learn from. It’s okay to grow, but don’t forget where you came from. If you started out as a free newsletter sharing helpful tips and tricks, but then you turned into a newsletter full of referral links and promotional content, you’ve sold out and not the good kind of selling out.

Never abandon the early adopters and audience who helped build you up.