How To Build A Successful Newsletter

I re-joined Chris Hutchings on his 10q podcast, this time around I talked about how to create a successful newsletter, I discuss my weekly Must Reads newsletter (number 261 being delivered on Friday) and my weekly leadership newsletter “leaders letters” (number 150 being delivered on Monday).

I also touch on some lessons I had from my two podcasts.

Watch The Full 10Q Creator Podcast

Or listen

I covered (with links to specific sections below):

  • Why curation (on must reads) and creation (on leaders letters) are very different (but with two newsletters they actually work hand in hand)
  • How Must Reads came out an internal email I used to send weekly
  • The tools I use and the stack I have designed since 2015
  • My processes making Must Reads and Leaders Letters effective
  • Email filtering (aka the email algorithmic filter people rarely discuss)
  • Monitisation and how to think about the value of newsletters etc (free is still a price when you need them to read, listen or consume your content)
  • Why feedback is essential – but you should prepare for trolls
  • Platforms: Beehiiv Vs Substack – why finding the right platform for you is essential
  • Why Ben Thompson (the sub first model) set the path for many other professional newsletter writers and created a modern day media company the others platforms are now trying to replicate at scale
  • How my EIE framework will help you – is Education – Inspiration – Entertainment
  • Why creator bundles make most economic sense to audiences — if done right
  • How to think about competition and why my newsletters compete with many different products and services (so I compete with Netflix shows, iMessages, WhatsApp messages etc)
  • How to leverage growth tactics and how others are leading the way
  • Why the format is key for you to win, so newsletters are hard as you have to write and write well, whereas you could creator on other platforms that suit you better

The 12 Tips To Success

  1. Be Unique: Create unique connections where possible (more than just a newsletter blast)
  2. Sharing Is Caring?: Be confident and comfortable when deciding to grow, you either build an audience or share one (open it up and build a community and everyone has access to everyone else)
  3. Free Isn’t Ever Free: Platforms make or break creators (think of how Google changes algorithms, Meta/Facebook changed their pages, how Twitter throttled reach, platforms are doing the same with email – it’s going to become pay-to-play)
  4. Limited Pool: Everyone is going after the same subscribers, you either become entertaining, opinionated, super niche or offer something no one else is going to. I know my must reads newsletter is too broad, this is why it struggles to grow like other niche or specialist newsletters
  5. Know Your Biases: mine is “bias towards better” — my bias is always looking for better and to be better, sounds hard but you need a “believe” statement or word to buy into (Newcastle’s is intensity is our identity), I also have biases I have to keep myself in check with
  6. Sponsorship
    1. Sponsorship Options Are Vast: Awareness based placements, affiliates, commissions, sign up bonus, gift and promote,
      1. Example: Heyday was a brilliant example of customised ad that will naturally connect to my audience, they also won a ProductHunt award and had a load of replies to say how good their ad was
      2. Renewal rate – low
    2. Years ago there used to be the 3P’s poker, pills and porn and you’d never work within those spaces, especially with advertising, right now these are powering tv ads, sponsoring football teams and turning over $1b in revenue (Onlyfans)
    3. We are now seeing the new version of this: 3B’s – bitcoin, booze, betting,
  7. Apply Growth Tactics
    1. consistency is key to growth – you will keep growing by being live, don’t let fancy tricks misdirect you from the best growth tactic, consistency
    2. Tested a drop of podcasts. Don’t do it unless you push out and drive new subscribers as the velocity of downloads and subscribers/followers matter most. Net new downloads matter for Apple
    3. Have attempted referrals loops, and secret links – you’ll need to be technical to make this work (or pay for tools)
    4. Newsletter send with podcast. Not usual at the time but for engagement and drove downloads – it’s worth considering if this can be done
    5. The best tactic was to update LinkedIn with podcast host in LinkedIn job update to push to my network
    6. Tried secret IM (telegram, hard to grow and move audience)
    7. Offered RSS links to declutter un-opens – removes subs but keeps users happy, this could have worked against me as they were always opening
    8. I know people who follow me on Twitter that open my links most weeks because they don’t want to receive emails (they’ve told me this)
  8. If you are going for a paid newsletter learn from the best
    1. Encourage a few forwards
    2. Offer a free newsletter with something unique in it (branding or tone of voice)
  9. Audiences vote with the subscribe button, the play button, the unsubscribe / unfollow button, for more that “follow” the more that unsubscribe happens
  10. Podcasts rarely make it over 8 podcasts – get past that and you’re onto something. Have milestones for 1, 3, 8 and 21 podcasts and market the hell out of it across short-form video
  11. Spotify suggests podcasts are stopped listened to at 16 minutes – so why do we create content for over that length? Because you are creating for superfans and engaged listeners
  12. Research your platform, the costs, the metrics – no platform is free and renting an audience can be costly

My Must Reads Newsletter Process

Must Read – it’s likely a 10 hour per week newsletter from consuming the articles, condensing to creating and sending

  • Daily checks of my stack
  • Curated Twitter feed and lists
  • Curated LinkedIn (be ruthless, I have 8k+ connections – use follow/unfollow wisely)
  • Read daily emails (I have signed up to 50 different newsletters)
  • RSS – yes I still use RSS with feedly
  • Apps like
    • Yahoo Finance app – the news section is underrated for quality
    • Artifact (the new AI-driven news app from Instagram founders) – so far so good and getting better
    • LinkedIn news and discussion can be a great resource base
    • I often will use WhatsApp, iMessage and DM’s for inspiration, especially from my girlfriend who sends me numerous links and TikToks that will make the cut
    • There’s a site called biztoc and its a feed of the best business sites and the important stories
  • Write in Beehiiv (with the help of grammarly and a few other extensions) from as early as Saturday, some weeks it is basically done by Wednesday if high quality of the stories and scheduled for delivery Friday’s at 0730 uk time

My Leaders Letters Process

  • I write out a long list of topics and review what should be written about
  • I have a list of problems
  • I often ask for problem areas or areas that many aren’t ever taught
  • I can write a newsletter in minutes or some take hours – from start to end the longest is 4 hours+
  • I often draft large chunks on the go and while sitting down with a coffee outside, I tend to be inspired outside on walks
  • Writing
    • I write in Apple notes on the go for quick top lines ideas and bullet points
    • At home, I write in Google docs
    • Post on WordPress blog & then
    • Use Substack to schedule and send
    • Usually a week to two ahead, some weeks I can be 4 ahead

Download my own leaders letter template for free

Sign Up To My Newsletters

Must ReadsThe Weekly Newsletter Informing You Of The Important Themes Impacting The Future In Under 5 Minutes. Must Reads Is Delivered Every Friday Morning

Leaders LettersThe Weekly Leadership Newsletter Helping You To Improve Your Leadership One Action At A Time – Delivered Every Monday Morning.


Join leaders from Amazon, Apple, Bain & Co, Cisco, EA Sports, Facebook, Google, Harvard, Henkel, LinkedIn, Natwest, Nissan, Penn State, PwC, State Farm The World Bank, Venture Capital & Walmart

Some Video Highlights

How Professional Creators Grow: The 7 Steps To Newsletter Growth Broken Down

The 3 Types Of Content To Create

  1. Timely (this is the world we live in now)
  2. Time-sensitive
  3. Timeless posts/updates
  4. Hint: You have to decide which you are applicable to and associating audience

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