One year ago this week, I decided to launch Notes for the Curious, my fortnightly communication with the people who chose to sign up for my mailing list and have me appear in their inboxes on a regular basis.
I've learned a lot in the past year, and it feels like a good time to share those learnings with other business owners who may be considering a similar route to build a relationship with their audience via email.
If you already receive the Notes then you will know that my mail provider of choice is ConvertKit. I am an all singing and dancing fan of Convertkit for my business. I am also an affiliate for them and I offer set-up guidance to help new users get the most out of it for their business. This is not an advertorial for Convertkit, that said, the Convertkit links are affiliate links and I want to disclose that up front. I only ever recommend what I use and love, and believe me, I love Convertkit.
What are the Notes for the Curious?
Notes for the Curious began as an experiment, to see if I could build and maintain genuine relationships with people through regular e-mails. I saw a lot of chatter on the internet about how you needed a mailing list if you wanted to get clients, and how you must have a mailing list in the thousands for it to be worthwhile and I thought, “Really? I don’t think that you do. Let’s test this theory.”
I don’t believe that vanity metrics are the metrics that you should be chasing. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter if you have ten thousand people on your mailing list or one hundred people on your mailing list, the only thing that matters is if they are reading what you are writing and actually engaging with it, otherwise, why would you bother putting time into creating it or asking them to give up their time to read it?
I truly believe that if I am going to take up space in someone’s inbox, knowing how hard it is to keep my own inbox under control and how many emails I am receiving on a daily basis then I have to show up with something that is more beneficial to my reader than it is to me as the creator. It’s the right thing to do.
Which is how Notes for the Curious was born.
Why Notes for the Curious?
Quite simply because I am eternally curious and believe in staying eternally curious. I didn’t know how Notes for the Curious was going to take shape and it made sense to me at the time to invite other curiosity seekers to join me so we could see how things evolved together. That way I would know who I was writing to, and who I was writing for.
I’m a bit of a patterns geek, I like to look for patterns in things and work out what they mean. From the very beginning I tracked various metrics for Notes for the Curious so that I could review how it was performing, I wanted to make sure that people were still enjoying it and also find out if it was still a worthwhile investment of my time for my business.
Over the last year, these are just a few of the fun facts that the data patterns have provided for me.
- There have been 28 editions of the Notes in the last year, 27 regular editions, and a bonus New Year edition on goal setting.
- My highest open rate was 73% in January 2017. My lowest open rate was 59% in October 2016. I have a semi-arbitrary guideline in my head that if open rates dip below 50% then I need to clean my list and if they continue to dip for more than three consecutive editions I then I need to review what I am sharing. It hasn’t happened yet, but by tracking the data I can catch problems sooner rather than later.
- Every edition of the Notes takes around an hour to compile (it used to take twice that time). The articles are selected as I come across them and plugged into the next available space within the relevant category. I will sometimes shuffle for better readability or to avoid more than one video or podcast per edition, but mostly they are written in exactly the format of the calendar. Which means that when I sit down to write each edition all I need to do is follow the pattern of the content calendar to stay on track.
- There’s not really one category that is more popular than the others, productivity always does well, as does social media and articles which help people with tricky business situations like cash flow or client negotiations. Just about every category has had a “most popular” article in it.
How I put Notes for the Curious together
Promising to show up with good, valuable content every two weeks in people’s inboxes is no small challenge. This is not something that you can just throw together at the last moment. Before I launched the Notes, I took the time to work out a framework which would make it as easy as possible for me to continue producing them week in and week out. Something that could become a system which I just needed to plug and play with.
I designed a Google Sheet as my Editorial Calendar. The first columns have the months and dates of the editions, then the edition number (in case I forget and use the same edition number again! It could happen...)
From the basic framework, I decided that I wanted to cover five topics in each issue. There’s no science behind that decision, five just felt like an achievable target number at the time. I wanted to give myself some flexibility when choosing articles to use, and a good amount of variety for my readers. Since the beginning I have used 10 content categories which repeat every two weeks.
The calendar looks like this:
Over the course of a normal month, this format means that readers will receive a minimum of 10 articles on 10 topics. Enough variety that they don’t get bored but not so much variety that it seems random and as if I’ve just thrown together the first things I’ve found from a Google search.
In the editorial calendar sheet, I have the title of each article hyperlinked so that I can quickly add them into the Notes when I sit down to write them. I don’t have to go hunting around for the link in my files.
Side note: Could we just take a moment to reflect on the brilliance that is Google Sheets? All I have to do is type in the title of the article click to add a hyperlink and Google Sheets finds the article for me. Just like that, all by itself. No need for me to go searching my files for it, Google Sheets finds it for me.
When I transfer the links to my mailing provider, Convertkit, I write “snippets” to go with them. I try to keep snippets to 1-3 sentences in length - I don't always succeed. I want the focus to be on the articles not on what I have to say about them, but I do want people to know why I found them important or interesting enough to share.
On the calendar, I will have also planned out if there is anything in particular that I want to say. For example, if I’ve published an article then that will get a mention or if there is an event coming up I'll link to it. I always let my readers know if I have a programme launching or 1:1 spaces available, but these things are never the focus of the Notes, in fact usually, I put them in as a p.s., and trust that my readers will keep reading until the end.
After I've sent the Notes and before sending the next one, I fill in the stats information cells in the calendar with the number of people I sent the Notes to, the percentage open rate and I highlight the most popular article in green which helps me see at a glance what the reader trends are.
And what do my readers say?
One of the nicest and most unexpected bonuses of Notes for the Curious has been the genuine conversations it has started with my readers. I frequently receive replies to the Notes from readers telling me what they enjoyed or what inspired them in that edition of the Notes or asking questions about the topics covered. This is something which I wholeheartedly encourage, after all, who wants to be shouting into the void and hoping that someone might hear them?
I have filled most of my Change Maker places based on the readership of the Notes. More importantly, readers who have become clients tell me that they got to know me even better through the Notes and it helped them confirm that I was the right person for them to work with at that point in their business.
What have I learned?
I always said to myself that if the Notes became a chore, I wouldn’t do them anymore. Loss of enthusiasm is definitely a worry with anything that you have to do over and over again. You can all too easily become fed-up of it, and stop putting your heart into it, something your readers will sense immediately. Fortunately, I haven’t felt that loss of motivation yet, I am still as enthusiastic about the Notes today as I was when I wrote edition one.
I’ve also learned how important it is to choose the right mail provider for your business. I love ConvertKit! It has made producing the Notes so easy and so straightforward. It’s not the right choice for every business, but if you just want something that keeps the focus on the content and gives you deep dive information into how people are consuming it so that you can give them more of what they want, then ConvertKit is fabulous. I’m not sure that the Notes would have been as successful in this format with another mail provider.
Most importantly, I’ve learned (and proved) that you can make anything a habit with the right motivation. We tell ourselves that habits are hard to create and hard to maintain but that’s not always the case. If the motivation to continue is greater than the incentive to stop then creating habits under the right circumstances can be almost effortless.
Here’s to the next year of Notes for the Curious. Long may it continue to bring you, and me, the joy that it does now.
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