I did a few unusual things this last Saturday. I killed my newsletter. I abandoned a marketing technique that I’ve been using for at least 4 years and that is the conventional practice of so many businesses. I told many thousands of people that I’d be putting them on a subscription that they really didn’t sign up for. And, perhaps the most unusual of all, I decided to let all of those thousands of people into the emotional side of the journey.
All before lunch.
It turns out that the message itself had more response than any other message I’ve sent over the last few years save for the encouragement I when I announced my book launch earlier this year. What was so fascinating to me, though, is that the responses fell into four different camps: 1) Awesome! , 2) Oh no! I liked getting emails from you!, 3) What’s with the drama, man?, and 4) I’d love to know about your results (because I’m in this industry).
Because this is our first unified conversation in which every reader is getting the same message, it’d be good to get everyone caught up to speed. If you were on my now dead newsletter, you’ve already read this, so feel free to skip to the next section.
Also, if you’re not into behind the scenes stuff, you’ll want to pass on this one.
The Obituary for My Newsletter
Subject: Why this *might* be the last newsletter I ever send you
Yes, you read that right. This may be the last newsletter I ever send you.
I’m done with looking at email stats.
I’m done with maintaining multiple nested editorial calendars and content maps.
I’m done with having different conversations and associations with readers of the newsletter and the blog.
I’m done with having a sales mention every time I’m in your Inbox – it skews the reality that 90% of the things I share are freely given just because I dig making it, sharing it with you, and seeing the difference it makes.
I’m done holding back on you. I have so much material that I’m sitting on that I want to share with you.
But I am so NOT done with providing content that helps you flourish. I’m excited to do more of that. And I can’t imagine that I won’t sneak in some stuff just for you every once in a while.
This newsletter thing, though? It’s got to go.
I’ve been thinking about this for a few months now. As I was drafting the last newsletter and talking about the fact that success often comes when you’re not searching for it, I thought “why the hell am I writing this to live in email when this is something more people need to explore?”
Here are my dual assumptions: if what I send you via email is worth your attention, it should be worth the attention on the blog. And if it’s worth your attention on the blog, it should also be worth your attention in your email.
Now, on to why this may be the last newsletter I ever send you. I could be wrong about those assumptions. I could be wrong that you’ll want even more content that helps you make a difference without losing yourself. I could be wrong that making great stuff and having it live on the web – without a email exchange blocking access to it – will be a better strategy for us and a better way for us to continue growing with each other. I could pay dearly for defying conventional marketing wisdom that you need to constantly create special content for people who give you their email addresses; I’m not recommending you try this (yet).
We’ll see. Hopefully you’ll continue to explore this changing world with me. If not, I appreciate the time we’ve spent together and hope you find fortune and flourishing.
From here on out – until it’s clear that my assumptions are wrong – I’ll only be putting content on Productive Flourishing. When I publish something, you’ll get it via email – no weird crash course in RSS required. I’ve set up multiple subscription frequencies, though, so you can determine whether you want to get updates as soon as I publish, every week, or every other week. The default will be immediate delivery and you’ll get some info on how to change it in a few days or you can look into that here.
How frequently will I be publishing? To be honest, I don’t know yet, precisely because it’s been a while since hitting “publish” on PF was the only thing I had to do as far as getting content to you goes.
In the next little bit, you’ll get a message to from Feedblitz letting you know that you’ve been added to the Productive Flourishing immediate delivery list. It’s an OPT OUT notice, meaning that you don’t have to do anything to get content as soon as I publish it. You may get multiple notices if you’re on our Monthly Momentum Calls or a client. In every case, you don’t have to do anything to keep getting new content. (I know, it’s not quite what you signed up for AND it will be much more; I figured it was easier on you to ask you to do nothing at up front rather than make you sign up all over again.)
Obviously, there’s a lot more backstory here, but it kind of defeats the point of saying “let’s talk about it on the blog” while continuing to talk about it here, no?
Thank you for sharing your time and attention with me. I’m looking forward to being more connected and of service to you going forward.
Charlie (and Team PF)
Let’s Take A Deeper Look at those Emotions
Honestly, I could have written something about like this:
You’ll be getting a notice that we’re moving your subscription to Feedblitz. You’ll start getting email updates from the blog now, which’ll mean more great content for you. You don’t have to do anything – this is just a notice about what’s going on.
Perhaps it would’ve been better to do that, but I’ve been practicing revealing more of the personal side of this public creative life I live. I could’ve written that snippet above and many wouldn’t have ever known what it felt like to make the transition, and, when it was time for them to make a major change, they’d feel less than because people they read and follow made it seem so easy.
It wasn’t easy – at all.
If it seems like my emotions were all over the board, it’s because they were. I was feeling exasperation, regret, disappointment, fear, excitement, and hope all at once.
Exasperation because of how much time over the last four or five years I’ve spent building email campaigns and autoresponders. Regret because I could’ve been serving you better. Disappointment because what seems so obvious now eluded me for so long – I normally see things like this. Fear because my emotional expectation is that there’ll be a massive amount of unsubscribes and distrust. Excitement and hope because it seems crystal clear that this is going to be what works best for all of us.
I start with the emotional content upfront in this post because as I continue to discuss the different elements, you’ll see where to place them. The decision to kill my newsletter was the culmination of many different things going on at once. But first, let’s talk about email marketing.
Email Marketing 101
I have to be careful about how much of my emotional journey I share because I can clearly transmit what I’m feeling, but I also lose my ability to be clear and precise on the mental front. It’s hard for me to switch back and forth, especially when I just want to be done with something. Luckily, the decision is done – on to the next mission.
Email marketing, as you might imagine, is marketing via email. The marketer uses one of many email marketing solutions that ask people to sign up or opt into getting information from the marketer. Once the person signs up, they’ll start getting messages that increases the subscribers know, like, and trust with the marketer and her business/venture/organization. The end result is to get you to take some action that benefits them or their cause – this is normally to buy something, but that action could also be to share, donate, or get involved.
The best email marketers use effective autoresponder sequences to move the subscriber along that journey of awareness to action. There’s a set schedule of messages each subscriber gets when they sign up. For instance, if a message was set to go out three days after signup, a new subscriber would get it three days after the signed up, regardless of when they signed up.
Email marketing is incredibly effective. I’ve been advising people on it for years and it’s an absolutely critical part of growing any business, venture, or cause because it cultivates real relationships with people; it’s not just something for online activities.
Obviously, I could write at length about this – and I may sometime in the future if you’re interested – but I mainly wanted to make sure everyone could understand what was going on in the conversation. One of the things that became really clear to me from the emails I got about the Obituary was that so many people didn’t understand what was going on with respect to the email marketing bit.
If Email Marketing Is So Effective, Why’d I Kill The Newsletter?
Ah, the devil is in the details. And it turns out that implementation is the domain of details, so the devil can wreck all sorts of havoc on you when you doing things in the world.
So, first, it’s not that I’m no longer email marketing. I’m done generating content that just lives in email. I’ll publish here and you’ll get it however you want via Feedblitz (referral link). This implements my dual assumptions for the obituary: if it’s worth writing about in email, it’s worth writing about here – and vice versa.
But behind the scenes were many different autoresponder series for different topics. I was starting to build out more. Then there were the challenges with getting people from one series to the other and keeping up with who knew what and how each thing lead to other things.
Think that’s complex? Keep in mind that there’s a lot I want to do here on the blog and I’ve got a few books queued up. This is the “multiple nested nested editorial calendars and the blog” that I reference in the Obituary.
Something had to go.
Also keep in mind that I’ve never liked the experience of getting all that content in the email marketing systems, regardless of which one it was. I’ve been paying people to do it because my primary job has been to create content, not get it loaded up in an email marketing system.
For even more context, over the last 4 years, I estimate that I’ve spent over 800 of my hours and around $20k in paying for the solutions themselves and the people to help manage them. Granted, a lot of this has to do with the particular ways I was using those services and I didn’t lose money, per se, but I could’ve used those resources in different ways.
That’s where the exasperation came from. I’ll write about the two hour rule within the next two weeks, but, needless to say, there’s a lot I could of done with those hours. That’s 400 posts, at least. At least 5 books.
That’s where the hope and excitement comes in. Finally! I get to do what I and you want me to do!
How do I know that’s what you want me to do? Well, it’s because …
We Interviewed Our Community in July
In June, I started a strategic audit of Productive Flourishing. After my SWOT analysis, I determined that our biggest weakness continued to be what it always was – our brand and marketing effectiveness.
So I started working through what I thought our brand was, who we serve, and what you want from us. That was Phase 1.
Phase 2 of this process was selecting people who represented those we wanted to serve and support and interviewing them. The feedback from those interviews was at times reassuring, at times challenging, but altogether invaluable. I regret that we waited so long to do it.
I was going to kick off Phase 3 – a metrics-based comparison to where we stand in our industry – but I don’t know that I still need to.
Back to the feedback. There are many themes that emerged, but the three (abridged) themes that stood out most to me were “we want more public creation,” “the blog is not representative of the depth and breadth of conversations we get from you in other mediums – I get frustrated when I read it because it’s missing the perspectives I love and value most,” and “we love the content in your newsletter.”
Interestingly, all three things correspond to what I’ve been feeling and struggling with. I’ve written about it many times.
Keep in mind that the people we interviewed were representatives of people we want to serve and support. They’re the ones who refer us, share our content, hire us, buy from us, are co-creating order out of the creative disruption we’re all in right now with, and who are the “canaries in the mine” that let me know if what we’re doing is on point or off.
Aside: one of my anti-values is exclusion and it’s going off right now because I recognize that you may have wanted to be included in this process. Sorry, we had limited resources and wanted to focus on qualitative interviews rather than quantitative surveys. I know you would’ve said yes in a heartbeat – thank you.
So, let’s summarize. “More public creation. The blog is losing relevance. We like the newsletter.”
Cutting the Gordian Knot
I had a bit of a Gordian Knot. The people I most wanted to serve wanted more in public. The people on my newsletter were missing out on most of what I do here, and I was loathe to send them more because they didn’t opt in to it AND the two competing reasons people unsubscribed were “too many emails” and “content irrelevant.” And maintaining the email marketing strategy we had was slowing down our broader goals.
So, the course of action was pretty clear to me: write on the blog as if it were the newsletter. Remove the additional effort require to maintain a separate content distribution strategy and method. Move the people on the newsletter to the blog subscription.
It was that last one that was the hardest to do. Most of them did not sign up to get the blog via email – but I hadn’t really made it clear that they could. I’d made signing up to the main newsletter the main call to action. Since switching the calls to action and signup forms, there have actually been more people signing up to get the blog updates.
I’m hoping that people would have signed up for the blog if it had been an easy and clear option. Please, please don’t do like I did for too long and push RSS subscription for your blog – it’s a waste of time. The 4% of people who know and use RSS know how to get your feed without you telling them about it.
And, fundamentally, if a reader doesn’t like what we do on the blog, we’re not for them. Promising something different in the newsletter is something we’re no longer going to do. I don’t want readers who only signup for even more free stuff than what we already do; I want readers who appreciate that we’re creating great stuff all the time and who don’t want to miss out.
The easiest way to cut the knot, for me, was to get rid of the email marketing strategy entirely. Yes, I could have just used Aweber (referral link) or Mailchimp (referral link) to start offering email subscriptions to the blog, but I know myself well enough to know that I would’ve fallen into old habits. And I still would have had to ask people who signed up for one list to join another, and I really, really don’t like doing that.
In a lot of ways, this pulls us full circle to where we were in 2008. For the longest time, I didn’t have a newsletter signup call to action on the blog. I focused on sharing stuff I created and leading rich conversations. It was fun. It made a difference. It was simple. The rest worked itself out.
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” – Albert Einstein
I know which end of the spectrum I want to be on. And, that, my dear friends, is why I killed the newsletter and was so spirited about all of it.