Getting the Most Out of a Mailing List

WARNING – I’m not an expert at using mailing lists. But I am trying to get better. While the info in this post isn’t revolutionary or new, I’m capturing it here to remind myself of it.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended Release Notes. I caught up with friends and met a lot of new, interesting people. I learned a lot and came away with good ideas.

After returning home, I continued unfinished conversations with other developers over email. I really enjoy discussing others’ businesses as it often gets met to look at my own from a different angle. It removes my self-imposed blinders.

Coincidentally, two separate email threads ended up turning to newsletters and email lists. And this got me thinking.

I’ve mentioned Alice and I are not doing a great job utilizing our mailing list. It’s something we really want to change, but have been lacking motivation, ideas, and time.

Thinking about how others could concretely benefit from a mailing list brought my attention back to how we could also make use of my own advice.

Getting people to sign up

The first important challenge is getting people to sign up. There are probably two good ways of doing this:

  1. Give something for free for signing up[1]
  2. Promise to provide regular, useful tips or advice via the newsletter

Both of these options require that the content you are giving away greatly interests your target audience. I assume that approach #1 has a higher rate of signups.

Getting people to read the newsletter

The goal, though, is not to just get a ton of subscribers. Subscribers should actually read the newsletter. Otherwise, why have one?

This is the benefit to approach #2, in which people subscribe specifically to get the content of your newsletters as opposed to a one time free product.

Each time someone reads your newsletter, you get to educate and entertain them. When subscribers consistently read your newsletter, you also give them more chances to become customers.

I know from my own personal experience with podcast sponsorships, the more I’m exposed to a particular product, the more likely I’m going to try it out, if it fits my needs. However, if your newsletter content compliments your app, then it likely fits the needs of your subscribers.

Regular readership can be an important marketing tool.[2]

There is another benefit to putting out a regular newsletter. Over time, you start to amass a large collection of content that potential, future subscribers can use. Collect these tips into a document and offer it in exchange for newsletter signups a la approach #1. This could accelerate the rate of signups.

A hypothetical example

Around this time, I listened to an episode of Core Intuition[3], in which Manton said he felt that anyone making a blogging app should have a blog and anyone making a podcast app should have a podcast.

As indies, we tend to create products for our hobbies and our passions. This is a natural fit. We become experts in what we love to do.

So let’s take a newsletter for a well made blogging app as an example. Provided that Manton and I are correct, the creator behind the blogging app is an avid blogger. The extra value the developer can provide to their audience might be writing tips[4]:

  1. Cut filler words out of your sentences (i.e. that, basically, just, etc…)
  2. Writing the way you talk makes your blog more relatable.
  3. Avoid passive voice whenever possible.
  4. etc…

Each newsletter mailing dives into one piece of advice in depth. It includes good examples using the tips AND bad examples ignoring the tips. It helps the readers understand how to incorporate the advice into their own writing.

Some issues of the newsletter may take on alternate forms. An occasional one might focus on blog posts, where the developer loves the writing style and why. Others, perhaps, point out posts where there are problems with the writing.[5] People learn from both good and bad examples.

Ideally, the newsletter’s content appeals to the developer’s subscribers and a decent percentage read most issues. Over time, those who are not already customers realize that if this newsletter gives them so much value, maybe they should try the app that the newsletter accompanies.

Gus on the Go newsletter woes

After going through all of this in my correspondence with other developers and again while writing this blog post, I realized what I think might be the problem with our newsletter.

Our newsletters chiefly discuss:

  1. a new post on our Gus on the Go blog OR
  2. a product announcement[6]

The carrot we use to get people to sign up for our newsletter is super cute printables that parents can download and make with their kids and use as supplemental learning material.

The issue is that our newsletter content and the printables are not necessarily for the same audience. I mean this at a granular level.

People who sign up specifically for the crafts might be more interested in hearing about tools they can use to keep their children active with a new language. They may not be motivated to read our blog post, which generally consist of interviews with parents or educators.[7]

I think we need to better align the newsletters to the reason people sign up. It will make customers happier.

Also, we don’t send out nearly enough newsletters.

Anyway, I hope you get the idea.

Unfortunately, I still haven’t worked out how to best implement this system I’m touting for our language learning apps. I’ll keep thinking about it and working on it.

If you have any comments, I’d love to hear them. Find me on Twitter. I’m @yonomitt.

Have a nice day,

  1. What we currently do  ↩

  2. I dislike the phrase marketing tool, but can’t think of something better right now.  ↩

  3. At about 6min  ↩

  4. I did not research these, so they may not be the same tips a professional writer would give. Use at your own risk.  ↩

  5. Please don’t point to me!  ↩

  6. Just sent out one today  ↩

  7. Although they should be, as they can potentially learn a lot from others. Maybe we’re not emphasizing that point enough?  ↩