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The newsletter I'd write if I was starting today
👉 4 practical steps you can follow
I’ve been talking in recent posts about how to decide on the right topics for your newsletter.
And I thought it might be a useful exercise to apply that logic to myself to give you a concrete example of picking a solid newsletter topic.
So as a thought experiment, let’s try to identify what kind of newsletter could I create if I was starting today and didn’t already have one.
The first thing to look at is the conversation already going on in your customers’ minds.
So who are my customers?
In my case, if I was starting today I’d recognise that I’m best positioned to serve four types of people because of the expertise and experience I have:
People who want to write emails and newsletters
People who work in consulting, coaching or training who want to get more clients
People who want to make the transition from live work to online courses
People who want to succeed as solopreneurs
In each of those cases it would be relatively easy and fast for me to either offer consulting or coaching services in those areas, or to rustle up some kind of product.
What are the hot topics for those sorts of people?
Now I want to stress here that you don’t need a hot topic for your newsletter. My own topic of talking about emails and newsletters is an important one that’s undergoing a renaissance of interest right now. But it’s hardly “buzzing”.
You can succeed with any topic that your clients care about.
But it’s much easier to get subscribers for a topic where a lot of them are actively discussing and looking to find out more. So let’s see what we can come up with.
Looking at my potential clients, I don’t think there’s anything specific to those groups that’s “hot”.
You might find it’s different for you. You might work in an industry or region or field where there are big technological, economic, social or political changes right now that everyone is focused on. If so, you might have a naturally hot topic to focus on.
But for most of us, the hot topics our clients talk about are probably going to be the same as the hot topics people in most businesses talk about.
And right now, that’s AI.
Now, of course, there are articles and newsletters and social posts galore about AI so it might seem to be a bit clichéd to do something on it in a newsletter.
But you’re always going to have that dilemma. The reality is that any important and urgent topic is always going to have other people creating content about it.
So that’s where the next step comes in that we discussed last time. You need to tackle the topic in a different way so that potential subscribers will feel they’ll get new insights and ideas into this topic they care about.
Let’s look at the 5 different ways of making your newsletter different:
Having a unique format. From my knowledge, there are lots of newsletters in lots of different formats covering AI. Daily AI news updates. In depth analyses. Personal experiences. So I think it would be difficult to do something new here.
Focusing on a specific sub-niche. This feels more fruitful. If I look at the potential clients I could serve, could I do something on the use of AI for newsletters or emails? Maybe. Could I do something on AI for consultants or coaches or trainers? I’m pretty sure a newsletter with different AI tools that consultants (in particular) could use to speed up and improve their work could be useful and interesting. Online courses? Not sure. Solopreneurs? Yes - again I’m sure there are lots of AI tools that could help solopreneurs do things they either would have had to have paid a fortune for in the past or they simply wouldn’t have been able to do themselves. Creating their website. Writing copy. Editing videos etc.
Share a specific type of information (that others aren’t). Now the reality is that although I’ve tried to keep up to date with AI, I’m far from an expert so I can’t share experience-based insights. But what I could do is share my journey learning about and applying AI to consulting problems, or to newsletters, or as a solopreneur etc. Or I could invest time to study specific applications and present in-depth analyses of the results.
Share a unique point of view on the topic. This is normally a route I like to go down but right now I don’t really have a unique point of view on AI. Perhaps after research and experimentation I might come up with one, but I wouldn’t be able to start a newsletter today with this approach.
Differentiate through personality and the way you write. This is probably doable, but I think that in the case of AI we’re in such an early stage of it development that people are looking for new information and ideas rather than hearing things presented in a fun and interesting way. It’s something to add to another approach to strengthen it - but I don’t think it can stand on its own as a way of differentiating right now.
So looking at those options it feels to me like I might be able to combine a focus in a specific sub-niche with specific information. And that might lead to a natural choice of format.
The two that initially stand out for me as having the most scope are AI tools for consultants and AI tools for solopreneurs. Both feel like there’s plenty to write about.
And I’m coming down on the side of AI tools for solopreneurs because consulting is such a big field and it’s been a while since I did “big consulting” type work so I’d probably be starting from scratch looking at tools for the kind of jobs consultants take on these days.
On the other hand I run a solopreneur business right now and I would immediately be able to tell whether an AI tool was helpful or not for a business like mine. And it opens up the option of writing about my progress applying the tools live to my own business.
At this point it’s useful to begin to think about how you might monetise your newsletter. Would it be something you charge a premium to subscribers for? Would you sell advertising? Would you use it to promote your products or services?
Gut feel tells me that with so much information out there on AI and with me not being an expert right now that I’d struggle to charge for a premium newsletter.
However, if I did a daily digest type newsletter with regular news and information on the latest AI tools a solopreneur could use to help run their business then I’m sure I could get advertisers if I could get enough subscribers.
Or I could do more in-depth analyses of the best AI tools or a “build in public” newsletter where I showed real examples of how I was applying AI tools to my business. Either of those could lead to short courses where I showed people the next steps of how to build a website with AI tools. Or write their sales pages. Or create outreach emails etc.
To take this further I’d need to do some research that’s out of the scope of this thought experiment. But I hope you can see already how you can decide on a solid newsletter topic by:
Starting with the things you know about and the clients you’re best positioned to serve
Identifying the big topics that they care about right now - the conversations going on in their minds
Figuring out how you could create a newsletter covering one of those topics that’s valuable and different to what they can currently get
Looking at how you might be able to monetise a newsletter done in that way and what format it would need to be
In the real world you’d spend more time, gather more data and bounce ideas off potential clients. Maybe I’d discover that AI wasn’t the right focus. Maybe it would trigger related ideas - like a newsletter about useful tools for solopreneurs generally rather than just AI ones.
But the key is that figuring out your newsletter topic doesn’t have to take forever.
One of the great things about a newsletter is that it doesn’t take a lot to get going on a platform like Substack. So you can test out your ideas pretty quickly - in days rather than months.
Since our major bottleneck is going to be getting subscribers and we’re aiming to hit a topic they’re already interested in we should be able to tell quite quickly whether we’re going to get traction. Simply joining existing conversations and pointing them at the first issue of your newsletter should be enough to get the ball rolling and a few subscribers coming in.
And if you see a new newsletter doing the rounds about AI for solopreneurs…it might just be mine :)