Over the past year or so, I’ve made a concerted effort to grow my mailing list. After lots of conventional wisdom from podcast guests, blog posts, and online courses, I felt it wasn’t really an option to ignore the advice! But one of the hurdles for me was actually putting together the newsletter. It was time consuming and not all that fun…until I started using Zapier for the heavy-lifting.
Before we get into the automation parts, I do want to mention that I made several content adjustments over the past year. At first I was sharing a bunch of interesting stories I came across. They may or may not have been related. I just shared things I thought were interesting.
Sharing my own Content
When the pandemic first hit, my friend Justin Wise did a webinar and I asked him how I could drive more traffic to my own content; he told me to promote to my newsletter since I have a decent sized audience.
A lightbulb went off in my head. I figured my mailing list was already seeing the content I was putting out, but that may not be the case. Perhaps they signed up for my newsletter to get that content delivered to them! So that was the first adjustment.
Still, I liked the idea of sharing other stories. Some feedback I got from readers was to share one main stories instead of a bombardment of links. So I decided to pick one story per week to share to the list.
As the newsletter evolved, I decided that instead of just sharing the story, I’d attach some of my own thoughts to it. Just a few sentences with my takeaways, predictions, or what to do with the info from the link.
Build Something Weekly Emerges
The last piece of advice came from Matt Medieros when Liam and I had him on Start Local. He said to brand the newsletter – give it a name and make it clear what people would get from it.
So I renamed the newsletter Build Something Weekly and promised insights, links, and tools to help you build something. Along with that, I created a new section for the latest How I Built It episode where I mention the top takeaways and make that a prominent section in the newsletter.
So if you’re keeping score, my newsletter evolved from just a bunch of links to more curated insight and content. It shakes out like this:
- Top Story + Insights
- Latest How I Built It Episode + takeaways
- All of the content I put out rest of the week (usually 1 blog post, 1 YouTube videos, a live stream, and my other podcast, Start Local)
- A recommendation
You can check out a recent newsletter here. So how do I put it all together? I’m glad you asked.
Automating the Curation
I’ll start this section out by saying I don’t automate my entire newsletter. I automate the information gathering, then add my own thoughts before sending it. There are ways to automate the whole thing, but I like pressing the send (or really, “Schedule”) button.
Here are all of the tools I use for putting together my newsletter:
- Pocket for capturing stories. I chose Pocket because Instapaper is my actual read later app, and I didn’t want a lot of clutter.
- Evernote for storing link details. The link text gets put together here. I’ll talk about this more later, but I chose Evernote over Google Docs because Google annoyingly changes the link to their own redirect.
- Zapier is the glue that connects Pocket, Buffer, and Evernote
- ConvertKit is where my newsletter sends from.
My process for capturing stories into Evernote is two-fold. For stories I didn’t write, I use the app or a browser extension to save them in Pocket and tag them with “newsletter.”
For my own work, I have Zapier watching all of my RSS feeds. When a new story gets published, Zapier will add it to Pocket and tag it “newsletter.” I do it this way because that Zap also adds those stories to Buffer for sharing.
Whenever a story is added to Pocket and tagged “newsletter,” I have a separate Zap that takes it, grabs the URL, the Headline, and the description/excerpt, and created a linked article, then puts it in an Evernote note called “Newsletter.”
From Evernote, all I need to do is copy the list of stories and past them into the ConvertKit editor. This makes curation super easy because I don’t need to build those links or come up with descriptions myself.
That said, there are a few personal touches. The greeting always includes whatever I’m working on, comments on sports/weather/small talk.
For the top story, I add “my take,” which are my thoughts and takeaways. For the podcast episode, it’s mostly templated. But I will take the Evernote block, then add the main takeaways from the episode, along with a “Listen” button and a thank you to the sponsors.
The rest of the stories are copies right from Evernote. If there is a live stream that week, I’ll promote that too. The copy is whatever I wrote for YouTube.
The recommendation section is the least automated because I usually don’t have one ready. So I will pick something I’ve been using (I try not to repeat) and write some of my own thoughts about it.
The biggest improvement I want to make is around recommendations. What I should be doing is keeping a list of recommended tools with descriptions. Then I can have one added to Evernote each week for copying and pasting.
That section means a lot to me because it’s likely a tool that will help the read build something (hence the name!), so I want to make sure I include my own thoughts, how I’m using it, what I like, and what I dislike (if anything).
Overall, this process has saved my countless hours and I’m happy to be putting out regular, exclusive content for my newsletter. I want to make sure it adds value and points readers in the right direction.
Anecdotally, I’ve seen an increase in open rate and click rate, and a decrease in unsubscribes. I haven’t run the actual numbers. Perhaps I should!
PS – If you liked this, my friends Maddy, James, and I started a new virtual meetup all about automating with Zapier. Check it out!