Lessons From 500 Newsletters

(Listen to this post, here.)

You hold in your hands (sort of) the 500th edition of this newsletter. I published the first one in September of 1999.

Just to put into perspective how long ago 1999 was, in that same year, Lance Armstrong won his first Tour de France; Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” went to #1; and Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was just an annoying, self-important adolescent (okay, not everything has changed).

But I have learned quite a few things in the course of publishing 500 newsletters. So, I thought I might share a few with you today…

#1. Nobody cares that you’ve published 500 newsletters.

I have nothing against celebrating milestones – especially for those of us who work alone and can easily forget to acknowledge them.

But it’s important to keep in mind that these kinds of things – your latest book, your new web site, your company anniversary, the awards you’ve won, the people you’ve hired, etc. – are of minimal interest to readers.

Mention your accomplishments here and there, absolutely; they do add some credibility to who you are and what you do. But don’t make them, or yourself, the overall focus.

#2. Find the main idea.

Whenever I write a newsletter, whether for myself or for a client, I never start writing until I can answer this one simple question: What is this about?

That’s important. Because if you can’t answer this question – in a single, clear sentence – you either have too many themes floating around, or you are simply babbling away in order to fill a page.

Either way, you are not serving your readers who want clear insights and/or information that they can use to do their jobs or live their lives better. That’s what makes people pay attention and what keeps them coming back for more.

#3. Nothing happens until you push “send.”

We’ve all received those enthusiastic, “Welcome to our first newsletter!” emails, only to never hear from these people again.

That’s understandable. Whether it’s a new exercise program, a trendy new diet, or a promise to stop telling the same jokes over and over again to your immediate family (hey, I gave it a shot), new habits are hard to form.

But a habit is what you need.

My most successful, long-term newsletter clients are the ones who commit to and keep a regular publishing schedule. It’s hard, since publishing tomorrow is, frankly, just as good as publishing today.

The problem is that tomorrow becomes next week becomes next month becomes let’s just quietly put this thing out of its misery and hope nobody notices.

#4. Who you are matters more than what you know.

The challenge in differentiating yourself as a professional is that everyone you compete with (who’s worth worrying about) is equally experienced and credentialed.

Like you, they have been at it for decades, have clients who love them, have been quoted in brand name media, have published a book, and on and on. It’s even harder if your profession requires some sort of certification – doctor, attorney, financial planner, accountant, etc. – since rather than setting you apart, certification simply tosses you in the pile with everyone else who has been kissed with the exact same seal of approval.

So don’t focus there so much – readers already assume you are expert. What they are trying to figure out before picking up the phone and calling are the “soft” things. Do I like her? Can I trust him? Does her approach align with the way we do business?

The more you reveal about who you are – through stories, personal information, past experiences, even dumb jokes – the more comfortable I feel about writing you a check.

#5. You can’t give too much away.

Some people are reluctant to share their “best stuff” in a newsletter. After all, if readers can get it for free, why would they hire us?

Good point. I guess that why when professionals publish an entire book – a book that claims to explain all they know about a particular topic – nobody hires them ever again.

Or why all the auto mechanics, plumbers, management consultants, dieticians, personal trainers, doctors, guitar teachers, lawyers, cybersecurity experts, and a thousand other occupations, no longer exist. Since it’s all just a Google away.

Here’s the thing… reading 800 words of your one-size-fits-all advice once a month is not the same as having you sitting by my side, listening to my particular problem, and offering expert, in-the-moment guidance.

You don’t have any proprietary information – there’s little risk in sharing what you know in a newsletter. Your in-person input is your secret sauce. The more good stuff you give away for free in your newsletter, the more readers think, “If that’s what you get for free, imagine what we get if we hire him.”

Here’s the bottom line.

I didn’t start publishing a newsletter as a way to grow my business. I just happened to enjoy writing and it was a way to talk about things I was interested in.

Twenty-plus years later, it remains the most reliable (by far) professional services marketing tool I have ever found.

I hope you’ll stick around for the next 500 issues.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What have you done 500 times (or more)?
  2. Have you ever been kissed by a seal? Explain.
  3. How do you decide which newsletters you subscribe to?

Share your answers below…

If you liked this article you’ll love the next one (I’ve been holding back on the good ones until you subscribe). Click here to sign up for future posts.

22 thoughts on “Lessons From 500 Newsletters

  1. Carole

    Congratulations on your milestone newsletter!

    You’re right when you say you can’t give too much away. As well as my newsletter, I do Top Tips on a Tuesday on social media and I get lots of comments saying how generous I am with my information.

    I am with you when you make the point: “If that’s what you get for free, imagine what we get if we hire him.”

    Also, people may READ and DIGEST the information I impart, but it’s another thing being able to DO it themselves.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I agree. In some ways, the more you explain, the more people realize that it can be pretty complicated!

  2. Stacey Shipman

    500! Congrats! Today I published #93.

    1. Run that many miles (not all at once!)
    2. Never been kissed by a seal. But in Costa Rica a few years ago, a toucan ate a piece of food from my tongue (and I have video to prove it! And I have no idea what I fed him)
    3. Ones like yours – they are fun, personable, insightful. (Honestly, I don’t subscribe to many because most lack those qualities. And I strive to make mine that way!)

  3. Mark Heimberg

    Wowza! Congratulations on #500. That is a pretty big deal!

    To answer your questions:

    [1] I have completed 500 Body Beast weight lifting workouts. The first few were brutal, and I was so sore I could not walk or reach up high enough to get a plate from a cabinet. It got easier over time, and became a routine. Kind of like sending newsletters should.

    [2] I have never kissed a seal. I used to have a beagle who was very seal like both in facial appearance and girth. I did kiss her. Her name was Ruby Pastrami.

    [3] A newsletter has to be entertaining for me to want to read it. There’s a wealth of information just a Google away. But if you have a personality that resonates, and a sense of humor, I am all in. To quote Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction, “personality goes a long way.”

    Looking forward to issue #600. And all of those in between.


  4. Jim Schaffer

    Hi, Michael, Congrats on the 500th—–I think I’ve read each and every one of them! No, I’ve never even seen a seal much less have been kissed by one.
    By my estimation, I have meditated nearly 9,000 times.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      You’ve been around from the very beginning, Jim; thank you for that. And 9,000 meditations is quite the accomplishment. Now we will have to calculate how many years that adds up to!

  5. Chris

    1) Been sarcastic ; cooked dinner
    2) Nope.
    3) Like those above, newsletter need to have some major personality as well as be informative,,,,preferably in a unique way and not just regurgitate info.

    I enjoy your newsletters … and in fact, have printed several of them as I found the info *that imprortant* that I want a hard copy to read again and ponder, and make notes and highlight the parts that I need to work on.

    Congrats on 500 emails, here’s to the next 500!!!

  6. Charlotte Davis

    1. Kilometers – run/cycled/walked…and then some.
    2. Nope.
    3. Useful information and personality – like yours!

    Congrats on #500, Michael. That’s a great accomplishment!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thank you, Charlotte. I am looking forward to when you run the Boston Marathon again and revisit my little town of Hopkinton!

  7. Jonn Karsseboom

    Hi Michael!
    Congrats on the number of 500! We’re on opposite sides of the country but here’s a thought: You and I were both stepping out of our comfort zone (or rather, into our comfort zone) at the exact same month and year (September 1999.) Keep going.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Jonn! I did not know we shared that same business start date. I always knew we had a strong, cross-country connection!

  8. Mark Walker

    That’s great, Michael! That’s a lot of writing!
    1. Illustrations. Just completed my 160th for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
    2. Maybe sealed the deal with a kiss…
    3. Informative, insightful, different ways of approaching problems, fun, and engaging.

  9. Sue Horner

    Congratulations on your milestone, Michael!
    1. Walked 10,000 steps a day.
    2. Nope.
    3. Helpful advice from people who know what they’re talking about. Bonus if they make me laugh or at least smile. Also, ones that make me think, “Damn, I wish I wrote that!”

  10. Halina

    Congratulations! 500 Newsletters is quite an accomplishment indeed!
    1.I have completed more than 500 cryptograms. Likely more than several thousands. I buy books of them.
    2. YES! At a zoo in Singapore. There was a seal show and the trainer asked if anyone wanted to go up and be kissed by Carlos the Seal. I went, got a kiss, and I have a photo to prove it.
    3. I subscribe to anything that looks remotely interesting. And I unsubscribe to anything that proves not to be. Like someone else mentioned above, information you can find at the click of a button. But HOW that information is presented and the personality behind it is what keeps me reading.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Finally, someone who has actually kissed a seal. And yes, I would like to see that photo!!!

  11. Brad Dunsé

    500, nice! Kudos and congrats.

    I’ve strummed a Bm7 chord exactly 187,336 times on my Martin HD-28 acoustic. And there we have it, my 500th hyperbole.

    As for kissing a seal, not unless you count licking an envelope.

    Newsletters. Either entertaining, an informative red, or very quick top ten or similar bits of info I can quickly skim. If they are read right away, or hang in my inbox to read when I get a minute, they are winners.


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