The anatomy of a personal newsletter

Why ?

Humans always treasure the social aspect of their lives. Known truth .. right ? Now imagine an age when there was no internet. How would people remain in touch with each other without physically meeting someone.

Hmm, you might think, there were telephones right. Courtesy Alexander Graham Bell, people could call each other up and talk about anything under the sun.

Let’s go back a little further. Handwritten letters were the norm back then. People used to send postcards to share what’s happening in their life.

Now though, in this century of social media, who would take the trouble of writing physical letters. Like who even knows the location of the nearest post office 🙃.

However I take social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, with a grain of salt. Typically I see that people share their happy memories (which is great and I don’t diss people who do that). My point is – Are they really safe spaces where one can be authentic. Can you recall the last time you shared something vulnerable on Facebook ? And what about privacy ? Let’s say you share something about your mental health, and voila you start getting targeted ads because you posted that info.

What’s a better solution ?? The answer, based on my nominal experience, lies in the modern avatar of the postcard aka personal email newsletter. Let me try to make a case for it using my own example.

  • The personal newsletter helped me to be accountable to people.
  • It helped me to connect with people at a deeper level
  • It worked as a journal that I can look back and remind myself of the small wins I have made in this journey.

How

When I started off, I used gmail contacts to record a list of people to whom I promised to share updates about my life. The focus was more on creating a habit of generating content. I send out the list in bcc so that people emails do not get shared with each other.


After 2 years*(yes you heard that right)* of using gmail, I decided to give mailchimp a try. The intention was to –

  1. Have beautiful emails. Just have a look at screenshots below.
  2. Add more structure to email format.
  3. Provide a link for new folks to signup, rather than manually handling the management of email list.
  4. Have analytics on the performance of the email.

👆Old email

👆New email


Now that I have sold you the benefits of using mailchimp, let’s take a crack at sending your first mailchimp email with minimum of fuss. It’s a little overwhelming but I am here to guide you through the important steps.

First step is to signup on mailchimp if you don’t have an account.

Second step is to create a list on mailchimp by going to the Lists tab. Then either enter the email_ids manually.



Or get the signup form link and share it with your folks.


Go to signup forms in options dropdown for required list



Select General Forms



Design the signup form and voila you have the link which you can share
Third step, once you have the list ready, is to create a campaign. On clicking the Campaigns tab, and clicking the Create Campaign button,


After choosing email option, a wizard will open up. There are many steps in the process. Be calm, we will go through all of them.



Give the campaign a cool name



Decide who should receive this campaign



Fill in the necessary fields



This is the template chooser. Scroll down ..



Choose 1 column template


Once you reach the design step, what you can choose to do, is to simply create your own design and choose the blocks based on your preference. An important thing to note is that you can even insert images inside the text block. So unless there is an image section (example – “most favourite photo of the week” section), which you plan in every email, it does not make sense to create an image section.

I would suggest starting off with the simplest template which has below sections.

{{Header}}
{{Main Body(Text block with some images. Do include some images, it really helps to pass the emotion)}}
{{Social Share}}
{{Footer}}


So rather than spending a lot of time trying to get the design right in the first attempt, keep it simple and improve with future iterations.

As you will play around, you will notice that there is a lot which can be done with templates. I am sure there is content on the internet which can help you to get the perfect layout.



And once you have filled in the content, it’s time to click the send button. Bravo, give yourself a pat you have sent your first email. Next time onwards, you can create a similar campaign and use the same template. The only thing that will change will be the content.

If you found all of the above to be paralyzing, I would nudge people to start off with Gmail. Once the habit is in place, you can move to Mailchimp.

The tool shouldn’t get in the way of the practice.


When ?

It totally depends on you. I am not a proficient writer. Plus when you have to write about yourself, you tend to be vulnerable.

I started off with the weekly newsletter but after a period of time, it became unsustainable to spawn these emails. I tried the monthly format, but that too did not help. Finally I settled down with sending 4 emails in a year. Less pressure and it complements the quarterly review system I have setup.


Conclusion

I have spoken to many friends about my newsletter project, and they get enthused about it. Hence I wrote this post. I know the discipline of writing regularly is difficult, but trust me, the effort will be worth it.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to shoot questions if any 🙂

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