April 15, 2021

Proven shortcuts for starting your newsletter in record time

Written by Claire Emerson

Shortcuts are about cutting out decisions. 

Not reducing the quality of your work. Or disrespecting the creative process. 

They’re about making it easier to execute. To ship the project. To get the work done. 

We all have issues with procrastination. But if you can skip the line for some of the early-stage decisions, it’s going to make it easier to get to the next level faster. 

And that next level, at least as a newsletter writer — is the point where you’re writing consistently, your readers love you, and they’re actively sharing your work. 

But getting past the beginner stage, where your doubt is at its strongest, can be a huge hurdle to jump. This is why today, I wanted to share with you ten shortcuts for starting a newsletter in record time. 

Using these shortcuts, you can start building your audience, polish your reputation, and crank up your visibility online.


"We all have issues with procrastination. But if you can skip the line for some of the early-stage decisions, it’s going to make it easier to get to the next level faster." - Claire Emerson

1. Determine who you’re talking to

As you likely already know, it pays to know who you’re talking to when you’re writing to an audience. 

In fact, being as specific as talking to ONLY one person and getting crystal clear on who they are, makes it easier to develop your messaging, positioning, and your writing voice.

Focusing on one person when you write makes the words easier to say. 

And by intentionally excluding everyone else and speaking only to that one reader, you end up writing words they gobble up. 


"We’re born alone. (Even twins can’t manage that one side-by-side.) And we all secretly think we have problems that no one else has. We want someone who really gets us. Someone who speaks to us, and just to us. Someone who listens to our problems and fears, and then makes those go away.” - Sonia Simone

This means digging past demographics and getting to the heart of your readers wants, wishes, and deepest fears. By using psychographics, you can crank up the clarity in your writing (and influence the rest of your marketing, too). 

To get clear on who you’re talking to, consider these questions:

Who are they?

  • Background (job / career path / family)
  • Demographics (gender / age / income / location)
  • Identifiers (demeanor / politics / communication preferences)

What do they want and need?

  • Goals (primary goal / secondary goal)
  • Challenges (primary challenge / secondary challenge)

What can I do? 

  • To help them achieve their goals and overcome their challenges

And if you’re wondering where to find these answers, the reality is simple — you determine your “who” by paying attention. 

Social listening is by far the easiest way to figure out who you’re talking to. So get in the mix in your favorite communities, search Twitter for topics of interest (and challenges faced), and join Facebook groups full of your ideal person. 

They’ll tell you exactly what they want to learn about.

2. Decide what kind of newsletter it will be

Before trying to churn out a first draft, having an idea of what your newsletter involves and what kind of content you’ll be sharing will make it 10x easier to turn that blank page into something worthy of reading. 

Consider whether you want to create a newsletter that’s: 

  • Original thoughts: this could be a mix of your previous work and new writing, structured in a way that makes it easy to digest via email. A great example of this kind of newsletter is Ed Gandia’s, High-Income Business Writing weekly digest. 
  • Curated: A collection of impactful, useful, or entertaining resources you personally curate and share. It’s not just about dropping links but sharing your insights and why you think the resources matter. Unemployable by Brian Clark is a wonderful example of this. 
  • Interviews: Perhaps you love interviewing people and can turn it into a series like Polina Marinova Pompliano does for The Profile, or Kaleigh Moore does for the Yeah Write Club.
  • Hybrid: Of course you can mix it up and add a touch of all of the above. For my own newsletter Flourish, I have a mix of curation and original thoughts in each edition.

3. Spend some time on formatting (but you don’t need a template)

You can do great things with plain text. And it can be a plus to appear more personable when you’re working within email.

But often a minimalist template (that your email service provider can likely help you with) can work well too. Here are some examples of newsletters with minimal templating that feel great to read:

You can do great things with plain text. And it can be a plus to appear more personable when you’re working within email. 

But often a minimalist template (that your email service provider can likely help you with) can work well too. Here are some examples of newsletters with minimal templating that feel great to read:

I also get wonderful feedback about my own newsletter formatting. Which is all plain text, with zero coding required! 

My best tip is to think about the emails and newsletters you enjoy reading, and use simple formatting (like adding line breaks, using headings, and creating white space) to mimic what makes them great.

4. Set up your website with something simple like Squarespace

I chose Squarespace as it was suitable for my needs and cost-effective. And then I created the necessary pages to get it all up and running. Which were:

  • Home page – used solely for my newsletter opt-in 
  • Sample page – used to showcase an example of the newsletter
  • About page – to let everyone know who I was and what it was about 
  • Contact page – to have an easy way to get in touch
  • Thank you page – to tell subscribers what to do next

Alternatively, you can just go ahead and host your opt-in right with something like ConvertKit — which brings me to my next shortcut...

5. Use ConvertKit to build the opt-in funnel and automate your sending

Any time you can take advantage of a no-code tool straight out of the box, it’s a huge advantage. 

And having used ConvertKit for 5+ years now, I earnestly recommend it to anyone trying to build their audience online. 

You can get a free account to begin with. Use it to set up your landing page and opt-in form. And as soon as you start getting subscribers, you can start sending them your content. 

Of course, a good welcome message is essential

But after that, there’s not much else you need to do other than show up and share your work.

6. Get yourself a professional email address

As humans, we crave consistency and also like the appearance of professionalism.

So when you’re permitted into someone's email inbox — focus on building trust, minimal confusion about who you are, and making sure your emails get delivered. 

Securing an email with your domain, and using that for your newsletter, sends a clear signal that you’re serious. 

Of course, this is not a make-or-break shortcut. But I’ve seen millionaires send me their email newsletter from three different email addresses (one of them was a random Gmail), and I immediately felt it eroding my trust. The inconsistency didn’t sit well with me (or my screener inside my Hey account). I even reached out to the founder and told him so.

Small things can make a big difference when it comes to developing your know, like and trust factor.

7. Have your first and second issues ready to go

Sending emails to no one can deflate your confidence. 

But the thing about starting out is that you have to be comfortable writing to a small (or even non-existent) list before you can grow to write for many more. 

The easiest way I found to stick to my writing schedule, and keep sending even when my list was little, was to have my first and second issues ready to go before I went live. And then schedule my writing each week after that. 

This kept me a week ahead and focused on my next issue, rather than worrying about no one reading my first few. Nowadays, I batch draft four issues of my newsletter every four weeks, and edit/schedule them out every Monday.

We all start somewhere. And it takes practice to write engaging content that people actually want to consume. So think of your first couple of issues as your experiments and iterate to great from there.

8. Set the expectation with a well-worded welcome email

I mentioned earlier that having a welcome email is an excellent (and easy) step to include in your opt-in. Mostly because it’s going to help new subscribers get the lay of the land, remind them why they signed up, and let them know what else you can help them with. 

A few things to consider for your welcome message:

  • Give an idea of what to expect, when, and how often
  • Offer up a helpful additional resource or other ways they can work with you
  • Ask for a reply and encourage engagement with a simple question.

Using a question starting with “what” or a prompt beginning with “tell me about…” is a great way to keep the conversation open-ended and inviting, e.g. “What are you struggling with right now?” or “Tell me about a project you’re currently working on…”.

9. Build the habit of writing consistently, before worrying about growth

But developing a consistent writing practice is one of the most powerful plays you can include in your business building framework. 

👉 Consistency builds credibility. 

👉 Credibility attracts attention. 

👉 Attention builds engagement.

👉 Engagement produces opportunity (to both make money and grow your audience!)

So build the system that supports your writing habit. And growth will be easier to come by later.

10. Make friends with other newsletter writers!

Marketing, monetization, and promotion are hard. 

But it gets easier when you can connect with other people doing what you’re doing. You can share ideas. Get feedback. And overcome challenges together. 

If you are starting a newsletter, consider using the communities you’re already a part of (and perhaps create your own channel). Or specifically search out places where your fellow writers hang out. 

Make a point of building some skin in the game and holding yourself accountable for showing up. And if you need to reach out to rally some confidence — I have no doubt there are other writers who need as much support as you do!

Getting to your first issue: What does it look like to launch a newsletter?

Before we wrap up, I wanted to share with you some real-world case studies to help you get a feel for what it really takes to launch.

I checked in with a few of my fellow newsletter creators to see what their one thing was — that made it easier to get started. 

Here’s what they had to say:

“Accountability. Creating a newsletter was my final assignment in Write of Passage. So it was a combo of following through on it and having my small list of friends who were expecting to see an email.” - Amanda Natividad | Newsletter: The Menu

“Setting a cadence that felt realistic (2x per month for me!)” - Kaleigh Moore | Newsletter: Cup of Copy

“I was planning on launching on Product Hunt and wanted to reap the benefits of all the traffic coming to the site, so finally kicked myself in the butt and got to writing!” - Corey Haines | Newsletter: Swipe Files

“For me it was the knowledge that getting someone onto an email list is the first step in developing a true one-to-one relationship with them. Then if I could just get them to reply to one of my emails, I could start a dialogue, and that connection could grow. Well, that and the fact that having an engaged email list is THE best way to monetize an audience.” - Jerod Morris | Newsletter: Primility


Press play on your newsletter, today

Now you know the shortcuts. And you’ve seen what it can take to get to issue #1.

It’s time to turn the dream and the desire to start your own newsletter into a reality.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Get clear on who it’s for and what it’s about 
  • Create your opt-in and set up the tech for easy sending
  • Write and schedule your first few issues to start putting in the reps
  • Build in some accountability so you feel empowered to hit publish!
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