Newsletters are possibly one of the most often talked about but still massively baffling parts of running your own business (I'm right there with you). By now, you've probably been told a million times you need one. That seems pretty undisputed, but then... There's a lot of angst about execution.
I recently saw that one of my new favorite podcasters (thanks for the intro Miriam Dema!) and Tweeters (Twitterers? There's a lot of telling it like it is on her feed) Abby Glassenberg wrote an ebook about her lessons from building and growing her own newsletter. She was so kind enough to share some of her learnings. I highly encourage you to subscribe to her newsletter which contains a roundup of maker-related topics.
Q: Introduce yourself!
A: I’m Abby Glassenberg and I design sewing patterns for stuffed animals and dolls. Those patterns form the core of my creative business. I’ve written two sewing books. The first was The Artful Bird which was published by Interweave in 2011. The second one, Stuffed Animals, was published by Lark in 2013. I have a third book of sewing patterns coming out in July.
I’ve been blogging at www.whileshenaps.com since May of 2005. For many years I wrote exclusively about designing and sewing stuffed animals, but in the spring of 2012 I started selling PDF sewing patterns for my designs and that really launched my creative business. For the first time I was making sales every day and was really turning a profit. I incorporated my business a few months later, started doing real bookkeeping, and figuring out what owning a business meant.
Learning to run a creative business has been fascinating. My background is in education so it was a natural fit for me to write about what I was learning on my blog. Over time While She Naps has become a place to not only learn about and discuss sewing softies, but also a place to learn about and discuss best practices for creative entrepreneurs. I’m also fascinated by the home sewing industry and the online culture of craft so those are both ongoing topics for discussion on my blog.
In addition to sewing patterns, I now have several business-to-business ebooks out including my newest one, How To Create Powerful Email Newsletter.
Q: You've recently written an ebook about newsletters, how have they helped your business?
A: For years I ignored the conventional business advice that says you should start a mailing list. I just didn’t see what the value would be for me. Finally I figured maybe I should give it a try so in January of 2013 I started an email newsletter without much of a plan. I played around with it for about six months, trying different formats and different types of content until I finally settled on something that really works.
Now I send my newsletter weekly to over 6,000 subscribers and it ‘s a pillar of my business. I love writing it and each week I hear from dozens of subscribers who write to me reacting to what’s in that week’s issue. My newsletter is several things, but at its core it is a round-up of the best in sewing, blogging, and small business from around the web that week. The internet is vast and quickly moving so curating a list of interesting links is valuable to people.
Through my newsletter I deepen my relationships with my readers and customers, I help to establish myself as someone who knows what’s going on in the online sewing community and as an expert in creative small business, and I drive sales to my shop. I consider my newsletter to be the single most valuable thing I do for my business each week.
Q: Why are newsletters a powerful marketing tool for makers?
A: Email is intimate. We open our email and read it on our own, unlike social media updates which are public messages that we receive in a flow of information coming from hundreds of other sources. When you get an email it goes to you directly and you can hit reply and respond to the writer directly.
Email is immediate. Most people open their email program first thing in the morning, and then multiple times throughout the day.
And email reaches everyone. My 10-year-old daughter has an email address, as does my 88-year-old father-in-law. The people on your email list signed up to hear from you. They want to know what you have to say and if you say something they adds to their week and gives them something to think about, they’re very apt to become even more loyal fans, and customers. And if for some reason they’re no longer interested, they can always unsubscribe in just a few seconds. So go for it! Send them something of value.
Q: A lot of people don't have newsletters or rarely send them out. Are you of the mindset that every maker serious about business should be using one regularly? It seems like the biggest obstacle for people to sending out a newsletter is the fear of "bugging" people. How do people get over this?
A: I’ve found that the biggest stumbling block for many small business owners is the concern that sending out an email newsletter will bother their subscribers. If your email is a hard-sell pitch for your product then you’re probably right! Advertising is annoying. But if you craft an email newsletter that’s interesting, it’s actually like receiving a gift. Think of your email newsletter as a value exchange between you and your subscribers. You’re sending them something valuable in exchange for their time and attention.
Lists go stale after a while. Often creative business owners are so afraid of annoying subscribers by inundating them with emails that they only send out their newsletter monthly, or even quarterly. I think that’s a big mistake. People forget who you are and why they signed up for your list. I think a weekly or bi-weekly email newsletter is reasonable for most creative businesses. The trick is to find a way to fit writing your newsletter into your workflow. Using email subscription software like MailChimp, Tiny Letter, or MadMimi is very helpful for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because you can create a template that you can use over and over again to make formatting your newsletter quick and easy.
Abby Glassenberg is a sewing pattern designer, craft book author, teacher, and writer. She creates unique patterns for stuffed animals from her home studio. On her blog, While She Naps she writes about the sewing industry, running a creative business, and the online culture of craft. Abby has an undergraduate degree in history from Johns Hopkins and a master’s degree in education from Harvard. She taught middle school social studies in Mississippi through Teach For America, and 6th grade in the Newton Public Schools. She’s the author of two sewing books, with a third due out in July. Abby now lives in Massachusetts with her husband and three daughters.
What's been your experience with newsletters? What has worked and what hasn't? What platform do you love? Please let us know in the comments!