How smart newsletter operators think about email

Don’t ask people to sign up for your newsletter.

A decade ago, that was the advice.

The concept of a newsletter was old, outdated and boring. The fashion of the day was to deliver a free incentive and follow up with regular emails that feel as personal as possible.

Now, in 2023, newsletters are in and email marketing is out.

Or is that really the case? Have either ever been “out of style”?

Before we jump in, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about the difference.

What is a newsletter?

If you research just a little into this topic, you’ll find some very murky water.

Rather than diving in to that muddy soup, let’s use a definition that seems to be most broadly accepted.

A newsletter is a publication delivered on set schedule (typically weekly or daily) and distributed primarily through email.

In short, a newsletter is your consistent value machine.

Some creators decide to stop here and monetize the publication itself through offerings like sponsorships, ads, or access to gated content.

But others take a different approach…

What is email marketing?

Again we’ll need to get our waders on for this one because this terms has become a bit murky as well.

In short, email marketing is the distribution of emails with the purpose of persuading readers to purchase goods or services.

If newsletters are the show, marketing emails are the commercials.

Unlike commercials though, emails can be very personalized and contextual, offering something the reader actually wants to know more about.

If you have a product or service, email marketing is your opportunity to ask for a sale.

Now you know the secret

We’re still doing what was recommended a decade ago but it has a fresh coat of paint and more monetization options.

A well constructed email strategy is all about giving value and eventually cashing in on that free value to make an ask.

  • Make your newsletter a consistent value machine.
  • Monetize that with ads, or dive a level deeper by asking for a sale.

Neither approach is necessarily wrong, you just have to be honest with yourself about what you’re doing.

Any monetization option you choose – ads, sponsorships, gated content, products, services – are all cashing in on your subscriber’s desire to support you for all of the amazing free content they’ve been getting (also called reciprocity).

The more you make intentional decisions about when to pull those levers, the better off you’ll be!

Your next step

Take a look at what you’re doing with your newsletter right now. Are you happy cashing in on the good will of your subscribers through micro asks or would you rather built that good will up for a big ask?

As a general rule, I like to think of it this way:

  • Do you have a product or service?
  • Build up reciprocity for a bigger ask.
  • Consider little to no ads or sponsorships.
  • Is your newsletter itself the product?
  • Balance each issue with more free value than asks.
  • Consider ads, sponsorships, and premium content.

Be intentional about how often you’re asking your readers to pay for things and you’ll be far ahead of most newsletter operators.

Written by Kyle Adams

I work at ConvertKit helping top creators every day and bring what I know about growing your email list to Creator Glue every week.