Nathan Baschez, Louis Nicholls
How to build a newsletter your target audience absolutely loves
[00:00:00] Rafael Gi: Today, we're really excited to chat with our experts about how to build a newsletter for your target audience that they absolutely love.
First off, Nathan is a co-founder of Every, a writer collective studying business and humans. There he writes a newsletter called Divinations. Did I say that right Nathan? He did about business strategy and before this, Nathan was the first employee at Substack, as well as the head of product at Gimlet Media. Louis is a co-founder of SparkLoop where he helps thousands of newsletters and media brands grow their audience faster.
He previously founded and exited several SaaS businesses and is spending 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal. I wish I was there with you too, Louis . Awesome.
Before was what's it called maybe to start the session. I'll ask a pretty high level question and love your perspective on this, but what is the value of an email subscriber?
[00:00:57] Louis Nicholls: Great question. I'll jump in with that one then, if that's okay. I think it's such an interesting question. I think the interesting question about the value of a newsletter is that it's something that nearly everybody gets wrong. So even people who have everyone has like a vague idea of what a subscriber is worth.
And unless you have literally just like a paid newsletter that is only paid where it's really easy to work out the value of a subscriber cause it's just how long do they stick around and how much they pay. I think everyone is just wildly off on how much a subscriber is actually worth and we've put together a calculator.
We've done some of these calculations for newsletter operators, small ones, big ones. People are just starting out brands who have a newsletter where the newsletter isn't even like the main business. And it's amazing to see them go through these calculations and be like, Yeah, I think probably a newsletter subscriber, maybe $2, $2.50, something like, that's probably what it's worth to us.
And then you go away and you do the math and $25 that should be right. That's too much. And we see that consistently, that everybody just really dramatically underestimates the actual value of their newsletter audience. And that has, like if we're talking about growth today or engagement or whatever, it has just huge ramifications for the entire conversation.
Because if you are under valuing your audience by 10x, then everything you do around growth, around engagements, around the time you invest into content, the amount you invest into like making the newsletter great gonna be wildly underspending and wildly often the amount of investment you should be putting in there.
I don't know what Nathan thinks. I'm sure they have a much better idea of it at Every.
[00:02:36] Nathan Baschez: Yeah. No, it's 15 bucks. That's it. No. Yeah, it's fascinating because I feel like I've seen time and time again like two companies. One, they're all in on product and that's all they focus on, and they don't create any content.
They don't focus on marketing. And their growth is okay, people seem to like it once they find out about it, but then some competitor comes on and they just seem, it's like, Wow, how much money and energy are they putting into, like content and marketing and all this stuff? And then it feels like they start to take off and you like they're like discounted at first.
It's ah, just solve marketing or whatever, but then it just keeps going and okay, like these things make a huge difference in really compound over the long run because an email subscriber that you acquire is not just a potential. Customer in the short run of whatever product you're already building, it's someone who knows who you are and to some extent, trust you enough to want to receive messages in their inbox from you.
And so the option value of that that's just what you can do with it, right? So like Every, we started out with certain thing and then we've parlayed that into a lot of other things, we started with just like really simple newsletters that weren't monetized, and then we launched a subscription newsletter business, and then we launched, we started putting ads in the newsletters for the free edition, and then now we started doing courses and like you know.
It's great cause it's all based on, there's some people who trust us about a certain topic area and whatever you can do with that relationship is the sky's the limit.
[00:04:07] Rafael Gi: Yeah. I love that guys. The idea that email subscribe isn't just an email better relationship that you can go and that's super valuable.
I'm sure you have a lot of conversations with people around this subject matter.
What are some of the misnomers that you stumble upon often that you wanted debunk?
[00:04:27] Nathan Baschez: One misnomer I think is like basically, I think a lot of times when people are just getting started, they have conflicting thoughts about how they could grow faster.
One is, should I change the way what my content is? If I somehow improved the content itself, would that help? And the other is maybe I just need better distribution and I shouldn't fiddle so much with my content. And the answer is of course, both. But I think in the early days, more often than not people are tempted to not blame the content because it's a painful and scary thought to be like, my content's just not that great.
But if you just approach the mindset of your content's never that great, and it can always be better, and you'll see a lot of gain from improving the content, then typically you do much better over the long run. And then you can layer in a whole bunch of the other stuff. And you can even do that in your early days too.
I think there's a misnomer about you shouldn't spend any time optimizing growth in the early days. You just only should focus on content. No, you can do both, there's enough time, I think, to go around for both, but I think people are it's extremely painful to entertain the thought that maybe my content's just not that great yet.
But that's the default that everyone starts out with not great content. I have content now that is still not great. I think every day we have a team meeting and it's like, how did our piece go? And I talk about all the ways that I think it could go better for me, for my piece. And I just think it's a better mindset to have is like your content can always be way better, and, but for some reason a lot of people just don't. It's hard to get wrapped their head around that, I think. Cause it's painful. Yeah.
[00:06:05] Rafael Gi: That's definitely humbling through you. Obviously creating content is a creative process, right? So you're putting a little piece of yourself out there all the time. Yeah. So that's great. Louis, any thoughts on your end?
[00:06:16] Louis Nicholls: I think maybe just to build on that, I think, the quality of content especially in a newsletter, it's not objective quality, it's subjective in the eyes of your readership and of your audience. And I think as you begin maybe you aren't quite sure who those people yet, maybe you aren't quite sure what they're hoping for from, maybe that changes over time.
Maybe it's the content is great just the way you're presenting it, the way you are creating it is maybe not quite right. The right format maybe. So I think there's a whole load of things that, that do improve. And that's one of the reasons that I think, especially if we're talking about people or businesses that are starting out with their newsletter.
One of the issues I see people making very often is they want the stuff that's in the newsletter itself, and they're like, I can't publish this thing else. I can't turn this into a thread, or I can't publish this to Medium or to LinkedIn as a blog article on my blog or anything like that.
Because if it's there for free, people won't sign up for the newsletter. So I would say in the beginning it's almost more worthwhile to take the content that you want to put into the newsletter, make it public. Take it to where your audience already is. Have conversations with them there.
Become more well known there. Interact with them and learn from them where they can comment. And it's really easy to get feedback and to see what they didn't understand and what they disagreed with, and to get content ideas. And then the reason they're gonna sign up for the newsletter is not because they wanted to read that piece again.
It's because they want to get the next piece from, they want to hear the next thing they're gonna say. So I would say that's a big issue that I see especially in the early days, is trying to keep everything gated inside of the newsletter and not going out to where your audience is and really interacting with them.
[00:08:02] Rafael Gi: That's a really good tip to get over that empty page syndrome, and get started. I think that's what I'm here. Nathan, do you have any other pointers from your perspective on how to get over that empty page syndrome and start engaging with your audience?
[00:08:18] Nathan Baschez: Yeah, definitely. I think the key thing is just to commit to a schedule. Because if you're like, Okay, Wednesday's my day, I have to publish on Wednesdays, and everybody knows it, then you'll come up with ideas, like maybe out of fear at first. And you might hit publish and be like, Oh, that wasn't very good.
I can guarantee it's so much better than not publishing. And I think that as soon as you get in the rhythm where you're like, Okay, I've got my schedule, then your brain is on the lookout, right? So when you're on Twitter, you're like, Oh, this could be interesting. And not only is my brain on the lookout, like my wife's brain is on the lookout, she DMs me like use your donations post about this.
And everybody around you can start to they start to think Okay, cool. What are you gonna write about? Once you get into a good rhythm I think that's like the most important thing. And then besides that, there's all sorts of stuff you can do, like just read a lot, like the higher quality input, the higher quality output read stuff that other people might not be reading right now, but apply it to stuff that people are currently thinking about.
So people are currently thinking about AI a lot right now. If you've read something that seems like it's totally unrelated but actually could explain a lot about that, like that's a great formula. So there, there's a whole bunch of different tips within that, but the most important one is just schedule, I think is probably my suggestion.
[00:09:41] Rafael Gi: That's a really good call up. I think just going back to one of the comments you made earlier around the importance of building a relationship. How do you nail down that audience that you want to invest in and build that relationship with and get that feedback from?
What's your process around that?
[00:10:00] Nathan Baschez: You mean defining who or what kinda audience you want?
[00:10:04] Rafael Gi: Yeah, exactly right. Cause I'm guessing that's probably a big pillar on how to narrow your focus a little bit and get started, right? Yeah. Cause you also want feedback from the right people as well, right?
[00:10:14] Nathan Baschez: Exactly. Yeah it's hard. Cause I feel like it depends on the type of newsletter, right? So if you're writing a newsletter that's gonna be a marketing channel for some piece of software you're building or some other type of business you're building, then the people who might use your product are like the natural.
People who you might wanna write for. But in the case of if you are a person with ideas and you just wanna express your ideas and you don't know exactly where it could lead there's this trade off where the more kind of legible and narrow you make what you're all about, the faster you grow, But it can feel uncomfortable to do cause you might have a bunch of different ideas. And I'm like wildly underoptimized on that. Like I think Divinations would grow a lot faster if I was a little bit more clear. Like I basically said it's about strategy, like principles of business strategy, that strategy that they teach you in business school and stuff like that.
Yeah. But I also write about tech and a whole bunch of other stuff and it doesn't really and honestly growth has suffered a little bit because of it. I think one of the reasons why, some of the people who started out as my peers and now have exceeded me, like Lenny, who writes Lenny's newsletter, that's a much bigger newsletter.
And the reason why is because I think one of the reasons why is because he's incredibly focused on just this is for product leaders, product managers, product directors, VP of product, whatever, if that's you. This is for you. And he just nails it. And it's so funny cause I talked to him recently, I'm like are you like tempted all the time to write about other stuff?
And he's Eh, not really. So some of it is , there's got to be like a personality market fit kind of thing to it. And you can't really you can't art too much arbitrarily, morph yourself into something that you're not, cause there's all sorts of ways to succeed.
There's other writers like Slate Star Codex. It's not like that has a really legible focus and his audience is also extremely large. There's examples of succeeding in a lot of different types of ways, but I think it's tough. I think it's something you discover over time.
I think it's something that evolves over time and I think it's the most sustainable way to do it, is just whatever you're really excited about. Cause if you're ultimately not excited about a thing, then you won't keep going. And it's better to keep going than not. Yeah. But if you, to the extent you can define a legible circle of people, then that does help
[00:12:34] Rafael Gi: So it's sounds like that focus is it's not a prerequisite for success, but it does help accelerate growth if you should, be able to get that. Awesome. Louis, any thoughts? I see you nodding along over there.
[00:12:48] Louis Nicholls: Oh, no I agree with everything they consider. I think the only thing I'd add in there, was just it's a difficult question to answer because you have so many different types of newsletter that are being created for so many different reasons.
So in some of them, your hand is forced with what your audience is because there's a strategic purpose behind or a marketing purpose. And then with others it's just, I wanna write a cool newsletter and I really like UFOs, so I'm gonna write about UFOs and I don't care if anyone else wants to hear about it.
And probably there'll be some weirdness out there who do probably like a hundred thousand of them if you can ever find so what I would say is if you're in the second camp, You have a whole different set of challenges, which is you need to discover these people and figure out a way to find these people and what they're searching for and how they're talking about this space.
But if you're in the first group, that's where you sometimes you don't have that inherent passion necessarily, right? It's not as obvious that you really wanna write about just this one thing that your audience really cares about, that you need to do strategically. And in that case, what I've found really helpful for myself and also for newsletter operators that I speak to is to invest a lot more time in talking to your audience and to having direct relationships with them rather than just pushing content out. Because if you can see the effect it's having on your audience, if you can understand how it's helping them, the questions they have the more invest you become that way, then the more you'll enjoy the process of creating and the more you'll be to do what's right for them.
[00:14:16] Rafael Gi: So I guess it gives sense of community and connectedness that way, right?
[00:14:21] Nathan Baschez: Huge plus one to that. For any type of writer, I think is really good. We launched a course and so I got to spend a lot more time with readers lately than I had before that in a very different kind of setting.
And it's like even if we didn't make any money off of it, it would be such a great idea to do because it's Live performance of a blog post, basically, with like lots of participation and exercises and stuff like that, that everyone does together. And going back to the thing about what's the supply chain of writing?
Like what are your inputs, It's your experiences you have in life, which is a combo of Media or information or reading that you do information you consume and like stuff you do or people you talk to. And you gotta invest in that if you wanna have a different kind of output. Yeah.
And so just talking to people is so important.
[00:15:13] Rafael Gi: Yeah. I love that the supply chain of writing. I want to dig into that a little bit more, cause I think it plays off your comment, Louis, around building direct relationships. Both of you have mentioned that building a relationship readers is super important.
What are some of the methods, tactics, frameworks that both of you used to create a rich supply chain of inputs?
[00:15:40] Louis Nicholls: I'll jump just really quickly on that point about the supply chain of the content. I think something, Nathan, you mentioned Lenny's newsletter and something he does incredibly well that I think is really underutilized is a lot of the content that's created and some of the most popular stuff.
He hasn't actually been the one to necessarily write that or to create all of it himself. He's co-creating with other prolific creators and other newsletter operators and just industry professionals. It's all high quality, obviously, in the same sort of consistent voice so that his audience appreciates it.
But that really makes it a lot easier to scale and a lot easier to function. And it gets him that sort of extra perspective and insight that he maybe would struggle to deliver, weekend, week out by himself. So I think that is something that I would heavily recommend, especially if you run more of like B2B newsletter, like if you're doing this for a marketing purpose.
Bring in the top 20 people in your space and give them the audience. Obviously help them to create something that's great for your audience. I think that is something that's fastly under underutilized, including we don't do that good enough job that ourselves. So that's something I'm gonna go and go think about.
[00:16:44] Nathan Baschez: Yeah. Oh, I was just gonna add to that really quickly. It also helps with growth too, because every new person who writes for your newsletter is probably gonna tell people about it, yeah,
[00:16:55] Louis Nicholls: definitely. That's I think the... oh, sorry.
[00:16:58] Rafael Gi: Oh no, go for it.
[00:16:59] Louis Nicholls: Yeah, I was just gonna go back to the original question, which was more around the how you create that thing.
I think there's a lot of stuff that happens, not so tactically that it's more on the strategic level, but on the tactical level, something I've noticed that's been really impactful is to remind your audience who you are and to put a photo of yourself or some sort of avatar of your to the newsletter each time, because that's something that you, One of the differences for me between a newsletter and a blog or a newsletter and an article is that it's written directly to someone and it's from someone.
And I bet if you think about the best newsletters, you want to read every week for most of them, you can almost imagine what that person sounds like look like. You'll know the name of the person who's writing it in almost all cases. And it's something, I don't think it's a coincidence that if you look at some of the most popular news that is out there, they will have a little photo of the person who's writing it.
They will have the name. It'll be very obvious, even if it's coming from a brand, who is the person who's actually writing out the, whose thoughts are they? And it will be written to a specific person. So it's a small thing, it's a tactical thing, but I do think it makes a big difference.
[00:18:03] Nathan Baschez: Yeah, that's a good idea. We should do that. Yeah.
[00:18:05] Rafael Gi: That's actually gonna be one of one of my questions Louis further down in our chat. But one of the trends, and again, feel free to check me if I'm incorrect, but one of the trends I've been seeing is newsletters almost becoming the new dailies, right?
Newspapers used to be something you woke up to and read and people followed. Writers, etc. In a corporate setting, cause a lot of people in our audience are startups at scale ups. In a corporate setting,how important it is it to have the content coming from the brand or the individual contributors to writer? How do you balance that core movement?
[00:18:40] Louis Nicholls: Yeah, that's a tricky question. Off the top of my head, and I'm sure Nathan's got a lot, he's probably something he thinks of about a lot more than I do. I think it was Adam Ryan and his Perpetual newsletter who had a really good take on this about like I'm gonna mess this up now.
It's the house of brands versus I forgot..
[00:18:58] Rafael Gi: The branded house.
[00:18:59] Louis Nicholls: What the other one was. Yeah, the branded house. Yes. So do you have the creators who are very much tied to a creator's newsletter and you're reading them and then they're being supported behind the scenes by a brand?
Or is it the branded content first and then you're bringing in creators? So being into that mold and I think you can see. For brands and different newsletters, trying to do that at the moment. And it's a thing from newsletter, right? That you would in some cases buy a newspaper just because they have one columnist who's column that you wanted to read each week.
So I think there's no clear like one is better than the other, but Nathan..
[00:19:39] Rafael Gi: Has built the business on back of that, right? Yeah. They picked up all the laid off writers, sports writers. But anyways, Yeah. Nathan.
[00:19:47] Nathan Baschez: Yeah. I think it depends on the type of business. So there are some newsletters I get like from like
there's this one brand Tecovas. It's like they make boots, right? And like other Western wear . And my family's all from Texas and stuff like that. I live in California now, and I just open that. I'm like not gonna buy anything from them on that regular of a basis, but sometimes I do and they have whatever.
And I like, whoever wrote that doesn't matter. It's just like cool photos basically. And so if you're like a DTC company with a aspirational type product that just gives people warm vibes, they honestly might want that in their inbox everyday or a couple times a week or whatever.
And it just doesn't matter. Just have really cool photos and like maybe some interesting stuff that they might wanna buy. It's like the email equivalent of going to the mall. You just, you're window shopping kind of fine . And then there's other things where you're more like consuming opinions and paradigms and worldviews and tactics and stories and
usually that's better when you know who's it's from, right? Because there's a degree of dependence on the person's prior experiences that you wanna understand. Like when you read Divinations, it's interesting to know, simultaneously say, Okay, here's the ideas that this guy is saying, but also like he was the first employee at Substack.
Like that's where it's coming from. And I think that kind of thing matters a lot more when it comes to like opinions or frameworks or analysis. And then there's some middle ground stuff where it's maybe it's a little bit more utilitarian tips and tricks type of a thing.
If you have a tool like..I'll just make something up. So I'm talking about writing. If you have a tool for writers, maybe you've got like a grammar related newsletter or something like that. Like it's a little bit less dependent upon who the person is and like what their background is.
So I, I think it's just there should probably be a fit between the job, the content does in someone's life and how important it is to understand where that person was coming from and how much it's like opinion or like speculative versus this is very concretely helpful, how to type stuff or there, there's just a lot of different ways of doing it.
But I think for certain use cases, it's essential to know who is writing it.
[00:22:04] Rafael Gi: Makes sense. I might pull us a little bit back from this conversation and touch on a high level question around that you brought up actually backstage, Nathan, that I'm really interested in getting your opinion on.
But what makes content work as a driver for growth? I think a lot of people I've been seeing in that chat would be interested in this conversation, but yeah. How do you leverage content not just for engagement, but maybe how to grow the organization. How do you think about that?
[00:22:33] Nathan Baschez: Yeah. I think that the main thing that content does is it tells people.
Like at the base level, obviously it's information, right? And like I was just saying there's like different types of information. One is here's a cool photo or cool product or whatever, that can work. I think the thing that most of us probably hear are more interested in is here's an idea, here's a perspective, here's a story, here's something useful maybe in your career, how you think about how the world works.
And that kind of level connection between a person is one that's based on really an immense amount of trust. If you're trusting someone to download their worldviews into your head, like that's gonna shape how you act in the future. I just got a message that my internet connection is unstable.
Can you all hear me okay? Yeah. Everything good? Yeah. Okay, good. Let me know if it messes up .
[00:23:28] Rafael Gi: No worries. We gotcha.
[00:23:29] Nathan Baschez: And there's the affinity created by that is just huge. And I think this goes back to what we started the conversation with that Lou was talking about is just it's so easy to underestimate the value.
Cause you look at, a number and it's a couple thousand or whatever, and you might think, Oh, that's not very big. That's a couple thousand people that to some extent trust you. And that's huge. Like you can imagine that those, there's a lot that can happen with that relationship if you respect it, and if you treat it well.
And so I think in the short run, there's all sorts of temptations to just do it as a number and a funnel in a game, of getting people to pay for a product or whatever. And people end up doing a lot of shocky stuff out of that. And it really, it works in the short run. You can kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, so to speak, and try to try and get them all at once or you can nurture it over time and play the long game and think.
Especially depending on your position, if you're like a marketer at a company and it's not really your your asset that you really owned, then yeah, maybe it makes it a little more incentive to hit your short term number. But if this is a company that you own or a personal newsletter that you're building, this is beyond one product.
It's beyond one thing. The people who, like on day one when I launched Divinations, there's like a thousand people that signed up, and that's not a huge amount of people, but it's like you're compounding something that can last your whole career, especially if it's like something where your name is on it and you're developing reputation for expertise in a certain area.
And yeah, I just think treating it not too precious where you're like, you don't publish anything. Again, have a schedule, hit the schedule, publish things you're uncomfortable with sometimes. Yeah. You feel like you're not sure if they're good or not. That's okay. But don't like, just try and
milk it and treat the people that are on the other end of that as like a number. I think that leads to short term gain, but long term it completely ruins the whole thing. And I see that happen to a lot of people or you end up with a weird kind of audience where it's you see the people on Twitter who have like hundreds of thousands of followers, but very unspecific, low quality followers. It's like maybe they're known for making good jokes or something, but it's like what trust are you actually creating there? So thinking about what people are coming to you for, what people are subscribing to you for, what type of trust relationship is created.
It's very easy just to try and reduce it to a number and measure one audience against another is like just bigger or smaller and bigger might seem like it's better, but there's a lot of nuance like how the relationships actually work and all that grows out of what kind of content you create and what kind of attitude you approach the relationship with.
[00:26:08] Rafael Gi: Yeah. I love what kind of trust relationship are you building? It's a good, interesting anchor. Yeah. Any thoughts on your end, Louis? ,
[00:26:19] Louis Nicholls: I think Nathan covered it pretty much. When they founded the BBC in the UK, which is like the public broadcast service basically.
One of the people who set this up had what he calls his re and values for the BBC which was to inform, educate, and to entertain. I think with newsletters also have the relationship note aspect as well for maybe like four. And what I would say is I think it's very useful to all bear in mind what your audience is expecting from you in terms of education, being informing, entertained, and if I were to take a look. What some of the best or the most newsletters tend to add those three, that others don't say the entertained aspect is that is underutilized. I would say if there were an opportunity on the content front to do better and to grow faster, it would be, in thinking maybe a little bit less about the informing. A little bit less about the educating and how can we just make this more fun? Basically, how can we make you like really excited to open this and enjoy it and laugh and, go on from there. I think that's especially in the more B2B context is a very interesting thing to look at.
[00:27:32] Nathan Baschez: I definitely agree with that. I think, especially in the B2B context, people you know it's like okay you have like maybe a CEO who's pretty like technical or product oriented, and then they wanna hire a marketer. And then, so the marketer is like, how what can I do that's gonna please the CEO?
Or whatever. And the CEO maybe has this serious demeanor or whatever and it all ends up being kind of bland usually. And even if it's really informative and good. And I think the key to humor is risk usually. And like that's just hard in, in a B2B context, but if you can pull it off and we're starting to see it more on Twitter, right?
With people, social media admins and maybe that's gone a little bit far, but I think it's underutilized with longer form writing in the newsletter format, even if it's kinda like overdone on Twitter.
[00:28:22] Louis Nicholls: Yeah, definitely. A great example of that is actually I think Katelyn Bourgoin, who is, I think speaking this week, I think on one topic, she has her Why we buy newsletter, which is has some really good long form educational stuff as well. But one of my favorite bits of that, and I think an example other should steal it, she has this this part where she does basically I think it's called Brainy Battles, I think is the name of it, where she takes brands that have both tried a marketing tactic, and she gives a quick explanation of what each has done, and then she does like a head to head on them and says, vote, click here to vote and see which one you think is better and which one's more effective.
And I think that kind of thing is, it's not done so much in that format, but there's a whole like, and be a lot more creative, I think, than most of us are at the moment. And I think if we were to look at five, 10 years in the future, I think there are gonna be some really interesting things that people are doing there.
Whether it's like Morning Brew has games in the newsletter, now's doing this sort of head thing. There's so much opportunity there to do some really exciting stuff that doesn't just have to be either a collection of links that we posted to the blog this week or here is a 10 minute long form piece that is just, a wall of text.
[00:29:31] Rafael Gi: Yeah. that's awesome. I love this track we're on. Just going back to maybe a comment that you had made Nathan as well, the idea of having the confidence to build these long term relationships.
Oftentimes a lot of our audiences working to your point in corporate environment, might be highly logical rational thinking, culture led organizations.
What are some techniques that the audience can use to help the rest of the organization come along? And then the second part of my question I was gonna say is tied to that is how do you create a culture of creativity and taking risks? So maybe we'll bucket that.
[00:30:11] Nathan Baschez: Yeah. I can say some stuff to your first question, but to be honest I have no idea because I have started companies and I've worked at companies and in my time working at companies, usually I'm like the annoying guy that has some strong belief and I'm not very good at bringing people along in a gentle way.
Like winning friends and influencing people which is why I've typically watched out and started my own thing a lot of times and like with other people. I don't even wanna pretend to have a lot of expertise on how to do that. But I'll say I think that just pointing to the long term value of it is like look an email is something that if the person wants to keep opening it, Then over the long run we'll be able to do a lot of market, a lot of things too.
And the opportunity of that is big. And so the opportunity cost of damaging that relationship is appropriately, it's large. I think that's very rational. I think it's very simple and hopefully it's persuasive. But in, Yeah. Any tactics beyond just saying that thing? I don't exactly know , how you could do that.
I dunno. Maybe have some ideas on that. I dunno. Maybe honestly, not so much .
[00:31:31] Rafael Gi: Maybe a more specific question to that would be, are there any metrics you track internally? Are you more intuition led? How, Like how do you what are the filters and the KPIs that you use internally to know whether you're going the right direction?
[00:31:47] Nathan Baschez: Yeah, we track a lot of metrics. The most important are at the bottom of every post that we publish. We have a little thing that says, what did you think of this post? Amazing, good, meant or bad. And most people, if they actually thought a post was meant or bad, they wouldn't have made it to the bottom and clicked a link.
So it's actually a positive signal when someone says bad. Sometimes it's like they're angry cause they disagree or whatever, but like they thought it was interesting and they wanted to let us know, yeah. But we don't get, you just don't get a lot of measure bads cause the true math is not actually even opening email in the first place, let alone making it to the bottom and bothering to click.
So just looking at the number of amazings and goods and the ratio of Amazing to Good tells us a ton. And we also let people leave a note so they could just click the button or when they land on that page, they have an opportunity to fill out some extra stuff. And we reply to like almost everyone who clicks that button.
We try and say, Thanks, glad you liked it or whatever. We both built like a quick way to do that. Not automated but a human can type it in on a page. Yeah. And that's great to hear.
[00:32:49] Rafael Gi: So you don't just use, look at mechanical metrics, like open rates or click through rates. You truly try to understand the value of the content.
[00:32:56] Nathan Baschez: Yeah, cause open rate, we do look at that, but all it measures is how good was that subject line. Yeah. And that's important, but it's not the whole story. Also, it's a much more, it's a sort of like very stable measure, like our open rate doesn't fluctuate that much, but piece to piece the number of amazings and the number of goods or the ratio between the two, that fluctuates a lot more.
So it's more sensitive to actually how good that article was. So that's why we use likes, basically, or the feedback ba more than we do open rate. But yeah, we look at open rate. We look at like link clicks and stuff like that. We have an advertising business so we for sure are looking at the link clicks on our ads and all that kind of stuff.
We have a whole dashboard of a bunch of stuff. And we have a weekly meeting where we go over all the numbers from the previous week. But I would say the most important is just the number of likes or for our paid subscription business, the number of new trials that article drove.
That kind of stuff. That's a stronger indicator than alike, cause you could really enjoy an article, but just not be the type of person that clicks feedback buttons, whereas if there's something that you see and it's, but is behind the pay wall, but you wanna read it and generally you're a fan of our stuff so far, so you become a subscriber, that's a really, that's the most costly, important signal.
Awesome. Lou, any thoughts on your end? Any builds that you have there, just in terms of the metrics and milestones you look at to feel comfortable in investing in the long term direction that you said?
[00:34:32] Louis Nicholls: Yeah. It depends completely on the business typewriter, like how you're monetizing the newsletter.
What's the newsletter there for? I think Nathan covered, obviously the lifetime value of a subscriber or the payback period that you have to pay. Obviously. Then you have the whole sort of what are you paying to get a new subscriber, What is their engagement like? You have various sort of KPIs that depending on how you monetize the business will be more or less important.
I think two that maybe Nathan didn't mention that I look at because it's part of when we have especially a larger media brand or an established newsletter that comes to work with us at SparkLoop. Part of what they really want to do at the beginning is they're asking as you you see all these other newsletters, Can you just tell us like, how are we doing, basically, Are we doing okay?
Cause they don't really talk about that very much and obviously we don't share specifics, but we can say, to other similar ones, You're here or here. So what we tend to look at a lot is I think even from like day one as a newsletter, like a small newsletter operator. I would be looking at replies like who taken the time to actively apply to that email?
Either saying, I don't like it, or I love, or I disagree with this, but who is it's important enough for them to take some time out of their day to respond in some way, even if just say it's great. So that's something I'd be looking for. If you've got a newsletter with maybe a thousand subscribers, I would be looking like my...
I want at least two or three replies each week. To think that I was like, really knocking it out of the park. I would want two or three good replies with Oh, this changed my life, or this, I don't agree with this. Or here's how you should have thought about this, or something like that.
But I aim for at least that many replies. And then the other thing that I think is really important and obviously I'm going to say this because I run SparkLoop, is the amount that the newsletter gets shared, right? So how many other like new subscribers is your existing audience referring?
And I think, especially if you want to get to a really large newsletter that is engaged, that is reading, that has that really good culture. You do need your existing audience to be sharing with other people and to be bringing new people into the fold doesn't have to be with a referral program if you don't need it.
It can be just completely organic. They're sharing just cause the content is so amazing doesn't need to be incentivized. But if people aren't sharing your news that are with their friends at all, outside of certain specific situations like job search related newsletters where nobody wants to share that they're looking for a job and things like that outside of those situations.
I think that should be something that's really worrying for you if you're not creating content, people want to share. . So I would definitely look at both of those.
[00:37:06] Rafael Gi: Yeah. Awesome. And maybe last question before we transition to Q&A just a reminder to the audience, if you have questions feel free to pop them into the Q&A.
But I love how you guys were talking about the importance of being creative, taking risks, right? Creating newsletters that don't just link to blog posts. How do you create a culture of creativity internally to inspire your team members to take some risks, make some mistakes?
[00:37:36] Louis Nicholls: I think Nathan's the one with much more, he should be .
[00:37:41] Nathan Baschez: Yeah, it's hard. I think the most important thing is for the people who are setting the culture who are founding the team to really be aware of their own emotions. Because the thing that kills creativity is when someone presents an idea.
And the person in charge is not aware of how they affect other people. So oftentimes what'll happen is someone will present something that's half baked, which is how everything starts. Yeah. And then the leader will be like, That doesn't sound good for these reasons. And they don't really realize what's happening.
But what they're doing is teaching that person not to do that thing again. . That was not a good contribution. So don't share that. Instead, if something doesn't feel right to you. And I'm not perfect at this at all. Yeah. . But if something doesn't feel right to you to like, be aware of that and be able to be like, Okay, it'll be fine.
We'll deal with that later. , but draw out more from the person. They're like, Oh, interesting. What were you going for? Explain more of where you came from. Often there's something really valuable in there. It's just incomplete, right? Or it's not perfect or there's something that's missing.
And I think the sort of patience. With people and really not assuming that you understand what they're going for from the first, two sentences outta their mouth, but, trying to be like there, default, there's probably something to this, right? Yeah. Everyone, when they bring something up, there's something that's valid inside it.
And so if you can understand what that is, Oftentimes it's something that you didn't even anticipate or you didn't understand from the way that they first put it cause it's not like a pitch meeting where they've done a lot of practice or whatever, this is this is a more of a rough thing.
And I think about that a lot with there's like the quote from Johnny, I've like when Steve Jobs fight about how creativity is so fragile and new ideas are so fragile, I think that's exactly what he's talking about is it's just really easy as someone who's running a team to.
Be afraid of making mistakes and shut down things like at first sight. And then I think the other big thing is usually different people have different problems, right? Some people, they just don't care enough about quality, right? And so maybe the, maybe for them it is better to tighten up a little bit, like care a little bit more.
But I think a lot of people they care a lot about quality. But they. They care so much that they don't know how to effectively translate it into actually increased quality. And so they're just very tight. And anything that kind of is outside the bounds of their preconception about what will work is just not allowed.
And even if they did the thing where they took the time to understand what someone else is saying, yeah, at the end you might still feel a little uncomfortable with it. Even you understand the good thing, you understand the missing thing. But it's much better to be like, look, let's just try it, and like I personally was a lot that way. I was very tight when my co-founder and I first started our company and I had my newsletter and it was my perfect vision and my perfect thing. And he had his, and when we started doing more stuff that was like together, Yeah. I was just very it all needs to be a very specific way.
And over time I learned there's a lot of stuff that works that's outside of my preconceptions of what will work and it's really valuable to just try it. Cause truly you never know. And so I think, yeah, just being loose in general is the key. And it's hard to, if you're not the type of person who's loose, you're probably not gonna hear me say this and magically be, become a loose person.
So I don't know like how to actually, Yeah. Like meditate or something or I dunno.
[00:41:23] Rafael Gi: I'm sure there's a plug for meditation app here. I dunno if it's exactly. There's an app for that. Yeah. But yeah, some, something around just looseness I think is key to creativity and rest.
And comfort with doing things that you might not predict will work. Cause it'll be fine. You're not walking on a tight rope if one post doesn't go so well, it's usually completely fine. And the way that, sorry, I'm rambling a little bit, but one last important thing to say on this is like no one remembers, like every single great like artist or creator of any sort or inventor has a bunch of early stuff that was horrible and no one remembers it.
No one remembers your early stuff. That sucks. Everyone remembers the good thing that you got to years later. That you became known for. And even then you can have some stuff that sucks after that how many things from like Paul McCartney wings are like hits, like it's, some of them are, but a lot, it's fine.
Like it's ultimately fine. And just I think people are way too uptight about everything that they do needing to be matched, some standard of perfection that's not actually real. Yeah, no, that's great.
Just wanted to say what's it called? Awesome insights. A couple for me, key themes that I've taken away from this is obviously with newsletters, just get started.
Beat that empty page. Make sure that you have a bit of focus but really rely on the feedback to continue to improve the content. I think I'm gonna quote you, Nathan in saying that what's it called? It's, yeah, it's better to get started and get that feedback than and not worry about how good or bad the content is.
Just improve it at every rep. The other key piece that I took away from this is looking at not just the vanity metrics, but metrics that help you understand where you're building a good long term relationship with your audience. And then tying this off as leader within the newsletter space have patience, curiosity, and the confidence to let people into the creative process, beat your own misconception. Yeah, really appreciate all the insight Nathan and Louis, I'm gonna transition over to a couple of Q&A's from our audience. Chanel Bahta asks how do you find the balance between thought leadership slash interesting content versus promoting your product in your newsletter?
[00:43:43] Nathan Baschez: For me, it's just a media business. Yeah.
[00:43:48] Rafael Gi: Louis, any thoughts on that one?
[00:43:50] Louis Nicholls: Yeah I think if you are approaching those two things as if they were opposite, as if there're antonyms then you have a problem. I think the way to think about this is the content I'm creating and the product that I'm pitching in effect is good and there are going to be lots of ways to build that in, into the content that I'm creating because someone who wants to buy my product should also be really interested in the content I'm creating.
There should be so much overlap that I think you should be able to, or what I would attempt to do in a newsletter is I would ask the question if I weren't going to make any money from pitching this product right now, would this, if it were just some random that I'm putting in there to a cool thing that someone else has made, would this still be interesting to the reader?
Would they still want to receive this? Would they want to, does it add value to the newsletter, to the content as a whole? And I would try and do it that way. So I think if you are going, here's a piece of interesting content and then here's a section for me, which is just me telling you to go and buy this thing.
I think that's guaranteed to not be particularly successful, but if you're building the product or the pitch or even some of the advertising that you're doing, if you're building that into the content and pitching that they would like, even if, and it would be valuable even if you weren't to make any money from it.
That's how I would be approach.
[00:45:12] Rafael Gi: Awesome. Thanks. Two more questions here from Ramil John, Subststack versus paying for a tool like ConvertKit. What's your preference?
[00:45:23] Nathan Baschez: Again? NA. I'm a Substack shareholder. .
[00:45:27] Rafael Gi: All right, Louis.
[00:45:29] Louis Nicholls: We have a very close relation with ConvertKit at SparkLoop. I've been using them since 2015.
What I'll say is... I think if you are just starting out, it doesn't really matter what tool you use. The advantage of Substack, I think is you probably are going to start it. If you're really at the beginning and you've never done your newsletter of stuff before, you probably are gonna start faster with Substack then really anything else out there, I think and it is incredibly easy to get started.
You could always move away when they want to, if there's something else you need. I think the only.. I mean there are other we won't get into the goods and bads of Substack versus other ESPs. I could talk about that for weeks on end. , the one thing I will say is that you do sometimes end up in a situation, regardless of the email platform that you use, where moving away becomes, once you get a little later, it becomes a hassle.
It becomes something you really don't want to do. So you end up in this position where the one little feature that your email platform doesn't have. It's never quite enough to justify spending a week and 20 hours moving to a different platform and setting everything else up from scratch. But the trouble is there will be over a year or over a year and a half, there'll be 30 of those little things that you don't have.
And each one of them will never quite be enough to make you want to move. But if all 30 of those had come up at once, you would've moved instantly. So you end up with this, like tactics of each little thing isn't quite enough to justify the move. Each thing would only be like a 5% difference and only a little bit helpful.
But if you add them all up, be like you, you end up, no problem. So I think bearing that in mind, and if you ever think. Want to take this more seriously, then you probably want to just bite the bullet and move sooner rather than later.
[00:47:16] Rafael Gi: Nice. Awesome. What's it called? I think Nathan, this one's teed up for you.
From Amanda Natividad, but when should a newsletter writer start thinking about monetization? Yeah, you got, That's a good one for you.
[00:47:31] Nathan Baschez: Whenever you need to make money. I think so. Okay. But if you're doing a newsletter that's it's a personal newsletter and you wanna do the Substack model or the paid solo writer model then I actually think it helps to charge early.
It's hard to charge really early, like you probably at least want maybe a thousand subscribers. But I find that the rhythm of writing paid posts if you're doing a paid subscription newsletter is it's a good one to get used to early. And it's good to test your actual. It's important to think of it as like a whole separate newsletter with a separate value proposition from your free stuff.
And so learning what kind of content to put behind the pay wall and whether anyone's willing to pay for that is worth doing kind of early to like de-risk a little bit if that's like your plan. Advertising is a lot more just plug and play. But it's also a tough, it's a relatively tough model to do standalone, to do early.
But definitely some people can do it and they do it really well. So I think it a little bit depends on it depends on like how you can make it sustainable for you if you're relying on wanting some money in order to be able to justify the time, like sooner than later. Like sure start sooner than later.
But yeah, probably regardless of your plans, you probably need to have at least a thousand subscribers before you start on subscriptions and then probably more than that before you start on ads as like a loan. Cause you don't wanna write for like three people, . And I think a really good conversion rate from free to pay if you're doing a paid subscription newsletter is 10%.
Some people get a little bit higher than that. A lot of people, once you get a bigger scaled list, tend to get lower than that like closer to five is still pretty good. If you have hundred thousands of subscribers. But yeah, I don't know if that exactly answers the question, but I hope it helps.
[00:49:29] Rafael Gi: Hey all valuable perspective. Awesome. Just wanted to take the last few minutes and say thank you for an awesome chat. I'd love to just wrap the session by turning the spotlight to you, Nathan and Louis, and let our audience know what you're working on and how they can get in touch.
[00:49:50] Nathan Baschez: Yeah Every, it's a writer collective focused on business. We write about business strategy and personal development kind of stuff. We have a new essay every day in your inbox, so every.to and we would love to hear what you think if you read it. Yeah.
[00:50:09] Louis Nicholls: Yeah. I'd work on SparkLoop.
Spark loop.app. We build tools, growth tools to help the the best newsletters and media brands out there grow their audiences faster. That's something you'd find interesting. Obviously, reach out if you have a newsletter question. I'm a boring guy. I just think about newsletters all day, every day.
So I would love to talk to you about it. Yeah, I think that's the best place to to go and find us. And yeah I'd love to hear from you.
[00:50:35] Rafael Gi: Awesome. So thanks again for your time, everybody. Appreciate the conversation.