I did a few unusual things this last Saturday. I killed my newsletter. I abandoned a marketing technique that I have been using for at least four 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 didn’t really 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 got more responses than any other message I’ve sent over the last few years, save for the encouragement I received 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 subscribed to 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 might 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 readers of 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 them, sharing them with you, and seeing the difference they make.
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 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 in thinking 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 an 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 the conventional marketing wisdom that says that you need to constantly create special content for people who give you their email addresses; I’m not recommending that 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 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 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” if we continue 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 people 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 I’ve spent building email campaigns and autoresponders over the last four or five years. 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 distrust and unsubscribes. 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 for (opt into) getting information from the marketer. Once people sign up, they start getting messages that are intended to increase the subscribers’ “know, like, and trust” factor with the marketer and her business/venture/organization. The desired result is that subscribers take some action that benefits the marketer or her cause – this action 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 from 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 they 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 wreak all sorts of havoc on you when you do things in the world.
So, first, it’s not that I’m no longer doing email marketing. It’s that I’m done generating content that lives only in email. I’ll publish here and you’ll get the post however you want via Feedblitz. This system implements my dual assumptions for the obituary: if something is 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 of getting people from one series to the others and keeping up with who knew what and how each thing led 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 editorial calendars and the blog” that I mentioned in the Obituary.
Something had to go.
Also keep in mind that I’ve never liked the experience of getting all that content into the email marketing system, 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 four years, I estimate that I’ve spent more than 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 have done with those hours. That’s 400 posts, at least. At least five 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, whom 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. Many themes 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 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 that alarm bell is 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 the process of achieving 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 required 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 for the newsletter the main call to action. Since I switched the calls to action and the 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 your telling them about it.
And, fundamentally, if some readers don’t like what we do on the blog, we’re not the blog for them. Promising something different in the newsletter is something we’re no longer going to do. I don’t want readers who only sign up for even more free stuff than what we already provide; 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 or ConvertKit 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 decision 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.
Stephen Lahey says
Love the transparency, Charlie. I’ve had similar thoughts about my own email subscriber updates. I’m in camp #4 — looking forward to hearing what you learn.
Charlie Gilkey says
Thanks, Stephen! I intend on sharing it. I’m particularly interested in seeing the changes 3 – 6 months out once we get settled in a groove.
Megan Elizabeth Morris says
I honestly think hoping for someone else to do something, or trying to get them to do something, is the long way around. Why do we do that as businesses? Why do we even do that as people? (I often think I can answer my own questions, but it seems poetic to leave them hanging there.) It seems to me that this subtle tug-of-war sets us up for a world of anxiety and frustration, although that really may just be me… :}
I do think that simplifying to the extreme is (maybe? almost?) always the most sensible course of action, except when there is more meaningful art to be made. And I know for a fact that your brand of emotional resonance is some powerful stuff. <3
Charlie Gilkey says
We do this as businesses because we do this as people. People run businesses. It takes a lot of self-mastery to act in the social world without attachment to the outcome.
Interestingly, it becomes even harder when the tool and strategies you use are set up to make you anticipate said attachment. That’s again why I needed to cut the knot entirely.
I’ll talk about this soon. Maybe tomorrow. 🙂
Megan Elizabeth Morris says
I definitely have some differing opinions about acting in the social world without attachment to outcome and how that is related to self-mastery. It’s not just our tools and strategies — it’s many of our fundamental human systems, systems we built, that are set up to make us anticipate attachment. I do think there may be another more beneficial way of looking at all of this, and I’m exploring it for myself quite a bit these days.
Very curious about your simplification post! <3
Amiel Handelsman says
I want to ask you the “starting today” question. If you were to start building up your online community today – and if you were to start with 10% of the subscribers you now have – would you use the technology you’ve now begun to use, or would you still create a newsletter because it makes sense for growth? In short, does your large and well-earned following give you the freedom to make this choice now or would you do it with only a fraction of the following? I ask because I have a fraction of your following yet have big dreams…
Charlie Gilkey says
This is a wonderful question, Amiel. If I were me, knowing what I know now and with the current options available, I would do what I’m doing now. Hands down. Times and options were different then. I didn’t say it in the post, but part of my decision was coming down to looking at what I’d do if I were starting over.
Caveat: the real test will happen 3 months out. I’d bet on this route, though. In fact, I have.
However, generating content is not a problem for me and never has been. I could write daily but haven’t for fear of burning y’all out. The more I publish, the more I publish. I’m pretty sure that I would have an even larger audience that I would’ve had to work less to “earn.” We’ll never know because I didn’t do it.
It goes back to my dual assumptions, as well: what are you going to do different on your blog vs. email that warrants a separation?
Lastly, I started somewhere and still have a long way to go. Superstardom is relative. Big dreams + persistent action can take you far, my friend.
I hope this helps, and do let me know how things are going.
secret agent girl says
5) What took you so long?
Yeah, newsletters are great, incredibly effective, etc., etc. They also cause overwhelm and anxiety all around. They get ignored. They get deleted unread. They encourage guilt and self-criticism. They are big time sucks.
And too many are used in that bait and switch of I’ll give you this cool report if you put up with my constant emails.
I don’t subscribe to them, or unsubscribe as fast as possible. If the info on the site’s not good enough to keep me coming back, the newsletter’s not likely to be good enough for me either.
Charlie Gilkey says
I wouldn’t say this across the board. Some people love doing it. They don’t want to be public in the same way I do. And I’ve read some newsletters that are fantastic.
So let’s not compare the mediocre & neophyte use of newsletters with the tool itself – or that different people have different goals that drive how they create and share content.
Thanks for commenting!