🦄 vol. 59
mo (this week's guest) chats about newsletters 💌
mo (this week’s feature) has a phd in informatics and has casually spent some time doing stand-up comedy. when he’s not figuring out which book to read next (or telling jokes), you’ll find him leading content marketing at mohammedshehu.com - helping businesses drive growth.
on newsletters 💌
$17.9 billion. That’s how much the email marketing industry is predicted to be worth by 2027. Top newsletters like Morningbrew, The Hustle, and The Marginalian reach millions of people each week, delivering news and content about business, lifestyle, culture, productivity, and literature.
These newsletters monetise by selling you access to private content, memberships, event passes, merchandise, and more. The better known newsletters like Stratechery (tech), The Ken (Indian startups, tech, and health), and the Everything Newsletter (productivity, strategy, business, and culture) monetise directly through subscriptions.
People want to start (and read) newsletters, and software companies have rushed in to serve that demand. Platforms like Substack, Ghost, and Beehiiv have sprung up over the past few years, each offering a different value prop for those wishing to launch their own publications.
Substack allows you to write for free and takes a cut of any subscriptions you charge. Ghost and Beehiiv charge you a flat monthly fee and let you keep all your subscription revenue. Revue is free and tied to your Twitter account, making it easy to grow a newsletter readership in sync with your social media following.
But what does all this mean within the South African context — especially for students, creators, and young professionals?
Why you should write a newsletter: 3 key benefits ✍🏽
We’ve all heard stories of people rising to 20k followers on Twitter or Instagram and getting suspended. This might even be your story.
Social media platforms can suspend you at any time, but you’ll always own your email list. A newsletter is ideal for anyone who wants to build an engaged, long-term relationship with their audience that can’t be taken away on a whim.
Your newsletters don’t need to be long, either. You can share short daily notes, weekly updates, or monthly roundups. Publishing a regular newsletter unlocks three key benefits:
Advance your career
Grow your business
Increase your luck
#1 Advance your career 💼
With unemployment in SA projected at 33.8% in 2023, jobs are notoriously scarce. A newsletter can advance your professional career faster than your peers.
For example, when a mid-career engineer launches a product and packaging newsletter, she attracts the attention of recruiters in her space. Her writing helps her stand out in a sea of sameness and prove to hiring managers she knows her stuff.
Being able to write your way into a new job is especially helpful to university graduates who may not have much experience.
A newsletter shows hiring managers you’ve built up useful, transferable skills at school: research, writing, editing, publishing, and marketing.
#2 Grow your business 💰
A newsletter isn’t just a vanity project — it can help you launch and grow a profitable business.
Retailers make money sending you shopping deals and Black Friday promotions via email. (Here’s a detailed look at just how much effort big brands put into email marketing.) 64% of small businesses currently use email marketing to reach customers, and over half (57%) of them plan to increase their investment in email marketing.
If you’re running your own startup or freelance practice, a newsletter is an excellent way to attract clients and boost your bottom line. This strategy works especially well for B2B businesses. By writing a newsletter around the main problem your business solves (e.g., corporate accounting, product management, or DevOps), you build credibility around your brand and offerings — and make people more likely to buy from you.
Sometimes the newsletter is the business — just ask Ben Thompson of Stratechery who banks north of $3 million a year from his subscription-based tech newsletter. And there are many other such ways to monetise your newsletter.
#3 Increase your luck ✨
No one is ‘self-made’ — we all caught a lucky break from the right person(s) at the right time and place.
Luck is defined as ‘a force that causes things, especially good things, to happen to you by chance and not as a result of your own efforts or abilities.’
The key words in bold imply that other people are responsible for bringing good things into your life. It follows, then, that to attract more luck into your life, you must increase the number of people who know you.
A newsletter helps immensely with that.
Such luck can translate to landing a new event co-host, a podcast or talk show guest, or a business partner for your next project.
How to start a newsletter in 5️⃣ easy steps
Launching a newsletter is deeply rewarding. Here’s how you can do that in 5 steps:
Pick a theme: Determine what you’re going to write about. Keep it narrow enough to be helpful, but broad enough to generate new content. For example, writing about cameras would be too broad, but writing about street photography in Johannesburg is a lot more helpful.
Nail your audience: The tighter you target your audience, the faster you’ll grow. Your content must be tied to solving their problems, too, else they’ll tune out your monologues.
Map out your first few issues: Think like Netflix — plan a series. If you enjoy football, write your first newsletter about your favourite teams, then another next week on your top 5 favourite stadiums, etc.
Write and publish your first issue: Writing is the easy part — you’ll actually spend more time on research. However, don’t overthink your first piece — it’s merely meant to awaken your editorial muscles. After editing your draft, pick a platform (like Substack) to set up and publish your first newsletter issue.
Promote your newsletter on social media: A great way to drive newsletter growth is through social media. A platform like Revue makes it easy to achieve this, as you can spotlight your newsletter directly on your profile. Grab snippets from each piece and post them to your feed, linking back to your newsletter.
Write your first issue today 🙌🏽
If you love writing, have weakly held strong opinions, and enjoy engaging online, writing a newsletter will come easily to you. Get started today.
mo thinks you should check out shortform, a collection of epic book summaries for avid readers