If you don’t have the time to read, here’s the tl;dr. The free(mium) tools I used to achieve this are:
You can figure out the rest or read on to learn exactly how I did it.
Being that I’m a Curator for the Startup Digest in Toronto for the past few years, I’d know a thing or two of sending out curated digests. In the early days, it was fun to start something in Toronto that grows to this very day.
The easy part was choosing what fit into the Toronto tech event scene, but I soon learned quickly that it was pretty painful having to copy titles of events, event descriptions, the links and typing out the date and time of them was a bit of a mind numbing process. But dutifully, week after week I’d do it and have it sent over to the editors of the Startup Digest so they could send it out via Mailchimp themselves. But the times they have ‘a changed…
Now with the plethora of apps and Chrome extensions that make marketers lives easier and more effective, I want to share with you something that I picked up while learning to build my own subscriber list for the last few months. It’s actually pretty easy to do and uses a variety of free tools that you can pick up and easily have up and running in about half an hour if you follow my guide.
Mailchimp – This one is a no-brai ner and everyone knows about Mailchimp. They have a great product that seems to good to be true, while built on a freemium business model. They allow you up to 12,000 free subscribers before you have to upgrade to their paid plans, and even then, they’re priced quite competitively. While you could design and craft a newsletter in Mailchimp through HTML and CSS, it takes a lot of time and effort to be able to do repetitive tasks such as copying and pasting articles, as well as styling the to your liking on a regular basis as I mentioned above. Mailchimp should serve as the backbone of your newsletter.
Goodbits.io – I first discovered Goodbits.io when I signed up for a Growth related newsletter a while back. I noticed at the end of their newsletter, saying that it had a “Powered by Goodbits.io” link.
Goodbits.io allows you to curate articles or events through a handy Google Chrome extension by scraping the title of the page as well as a snippet and a photo. I don’t know about you, but it fits perfectly into my own workflow, so that if I’m reading something that’s pretty good and have an idea my audience might benefit from, I’ll simply click on the Chrome extension that they’ve built and it will automatically sync up with your next upcoming newsletter. Also, it’s perfectly integrated with Mailchimp as well since it’s the backbone that powers your newsletter.
SendWithUs – founded in Victoria, Canada by Matt Harris and also a Y-Combinator alum, they do A/B testing for transactional email. I’d consider their free product the “Bootstrap for email templates”. Remember the bit about having to design and craft HTML and CSS with your bare-hands to make it look good? You don’t have to when you’re starting out anymore because they have open source templates that you can pop into your own email design to get up and running.
SumoMe – the final piece of the puzzle is from Noah Kagan’s SumoMe team with their suite of free lead generation tools. They offer a free versions of their List Builder, Smart Bar, and Scrollbox to collect emails amongst many other useful tools. You can customize the copy to your liking and choose from a few free templates. When your list gets big enough, the $20 a month fee is more than worth it.
Now onto the hard part..
The easy part is getting it set up. However, there are other things to consider as well. The hardest part is doing it for the long haul and curating a newsletter that won’t be going away anytime soon.
This newsletter should add value to your subscribers lives by curating a laser focused newsletter for a segment or persona that you have in mind that solves a particular pain point they might be experiencing.
Then there’s crafting the copy of your emails. All of which will consume a bit of your most precious resource – your time.
I’ve already written a post on what The Best Tech Newsletters You Should Subscribe To a while back, which include some awesome curated newsletters. Some prime examples of building their list with a great curated newsletter because they established themselves as authorities over a long period of time are Benedict Evans of A16z, Hiten Shah’s SaaS Weekly and of course the Startup Digest 🙂
It takes discipline, patience and hustle to build your list. Thank goodness I’ve already ingrained the habit of staying on top of events and reading relevant content that resonates with my subscriber base so much so that they’d willingly give up their email address (Hi subscribers! : )
Other things to think about are what cadence you’ll be sending it out. For simplicity’s sake, I set it at once per week, but yours could be bi-weekly or even monthly.
Growing Your List
How you go about growing your list is really up to you, but I’ve found the most effective has been through content and passively getting more opt-ins over time. This is entirely dependent on the nature of your content and how good it is. But the key thing is, your content has to kick everyone else’s ass to rise to the top. I recall getting some awesome retweets from Hiten Shah and Aaron Ginn and that resulted in an avalanche of retweets as well .. and email opt-ins as a result. This was all because of pouring countless hours in my crafting my content.
Of course you can try other things like submitting to relevant sites such as Inbound, Growth Hackers or sub-Reddits on Reddit, but there’s no guarantees there. Other things you can try is getting paid distribution for your content through services like Outbrain, but that’s up to you if you’re willing to part with some cash to accelerate your list growth.
Wrapping it up
Hopefully this was useful enough for you to go out and start building your own list. If you’re getting value out of my content, please consider signing up for the Bootstrapper’s Digest through any of the Calls to Action throughout my blog. Thanks! 🙂
What’s helped you in building your list? What was the inflection point where you were regularly getting subscribers. Was it content? Share what’s worked for you in the comments!