"All freelancers should have an email newsletter for their business, 100%, without a doubt!"
My guest today is Eman Ismail, email strategist, email copywriter extraordinaire and host of the excellent Mistakes That Made Me podcast. If you've been thinking about starting a newsletter, this episode is packed with tips to help you get set up, grow your list, and use email marketing to attract clients.
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Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter at The Copy Prescription. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites. Find her on LinkedIn: Louise Shanahan.
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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-size guide to being your own boss and building a business that works for you. I'm your host, Louise Shanahan. I'm a freelance health copywriter and on this podcast I take you behind the scenes, so you can borrow from what's worked and what hasn't as you grow your own freelance business. We'll also have some practical tips and tactics from special guests along the way, so you can skip a few steps on your own freelancing journey. So without further ado, let's get started with today's episode. If you enjoy it, hit follow so you don't miss the next one.
Louise: Hello, everyone, today on 15 Minute Freelancer, my very special guest is Eman Ismail, email strategist and email copywriter extraordinaire and host of the new excellent Mistakes That Made Me podcast which I'm a huge fan of. As you might guess, we're going to talk about the magic of email, and specifically email newsletters for freelancers. So hi, Eman, thank you for joining me, I'm really excited to speak to you.
Eman: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I am really excited to be here.
L: Let's start there then, do freelancers need a newsletter? What's your recommendation for people who might be thinking about whether or not they should start one?
E: Oh, my gosh, absolutely yes, 100%, without a doubt.
L: I'm glad you said yes, if you said no this might be a short podcast.
E: It would have been very short. I think one of the things that people worry about is that their business isn't the type of business that email works well with. But actually, every business is an email business, every business could do with a newsletter. Whether you're a copywriter, whether you're a marketer, a yoga teacher, an accountant, whatever you are, or do, email is good for you.
L: What are some of the benefits that someone with a freelance business might see if they start a newsletter?
E: I think one of the biggest ones is creating a relationship with your subscribers. Business is just relationships. Email allows you to nurture those relationships to keep them alive, and it allows you to stay top of mind for the people who may potentially want to hire you. It literally is a case of out of sight, out of mind. If people are not seeing you in their inbox, and you know, someone could say the same for social media, if they’re not seeing you on social media. But if people are not seeing you in the inbox, then they kind of forget about you. So a newsletter is a really great way to make sure that you are top of mind, that you're nurturing relationships, you're creating new ones, and maintaining ones that already exist. And you're reminding people about what you do, how you can help them and that you are there ready and available to be hired when they're ready to hire you.
L: I think that's such a good point about the relationship building side of it. It's a personal thing, isn't it, someone has given you permission to come into their inbox and say something to them. And so you can be a bit more personal as well in what you're saying, it's not quite as public. It's still public, but it's not quite as public as social media.
E: Yeah, exactly. For me, I think email is almost as personal as having someone's phone number today, especially when someone gives you their good email address. Because we know, right, there’s that one just for like random newsletters that I never open or things that I sign up to. When it's actually you know, someone's best email address, it's a privilege to have someone's email address just like is to have their phone number. Especially because we carry our emails in our pockets today with us having access to them on our phones. So that person is giving you anytime access to them, and that is something that you really want to respect but also make the most of as well.
L: Another thing that I think is really important with this, I mean you mentioned social media there, social is kind of in flux at the moment, there's a lot happening on all the different platforms. And I think we're reminded of the importance of not building your business on rented land, on someone else's platform. So having an email list, although it's still on an email service provider, it's still your list. It's your collection of people who've said yes, we want to hear from you, that can't just be deleted on a billionaires whim or the algorithm changes or something like that. It's really valuable and you can do it on your own terms, can’t you?
E: Exactly, that's a huge factor in this, is that we don't control anything really, when it comes to the social media platforms. They could be here today gone tomorrow. Or it could be as simple as, and I've seen this happen, and it's absolutely devastating. Someone will have an amazing Instagram and then they get hacked overnight and lose access to that entire business. And they didn't have their followers details anywhere else. They didn't have an email list because they were so focused on growing their Instagram. Now it's gone, and they literally have nothing. It's really scary the idea of putting all your eggs in one basket. What email allows you to do is to create a place where you own the access to the subscribers. They have allowed you to take that email address and you get to keep that and it's not dependent on someone else or another platform giving you access to that. And I think the other thing, the other part of this is actually deliverability. So actually getting your message to the person that you want to get it to. With social media, we know that the algorithm plays a role, you can post all day and all night but that's not to say anyone's actually going to see your posts. Whereas with email, and I can't remember the exact stat, I wish I'd got it up, but it's in the 90% ish range that when you send an email it will be delivered to the person you intended it to be delivered to. And that's such a low baseline, I think that sometimes we don't even consider it. But that's what's so great about email, you're guaranteed that the person is actually going to get it.
L: If somebody is thinking, I like the idea of starting a newsletter but I'm not quite sure where to start, I don't know who I'm aiming it at, I don't know what exactly I should be writing about or often I should be writing. What are some of the things you think they should be thinking about when they're getting started?
E: The very first thing you want to think about is who you're writing for. So who's on the other side of this, I find it helpful to think of buyer personas in this case, or at least maybe think of your ideal client. Think of that one person, and then think about the type of content that they want from you, that they need to hear from you, and that also they would enjoy, that they would open, that would help them, that would provide value, and that would actually inspire them and persuade them to hire you. I think sometimes we make it really difficult on ourselves. Because we think about our subscribers as being this humongous group of people like whether it's 20 people, or 500 people, or 10,000, we think of them as just being all these people, and they all have different needs and wants and pains and struggles. But actually, if you try and think about it as being one type of person that you're speaking to, and you start to think of email as a one-to-one communication tool, instead of a one-to-many communication tool. I think that reframe really makes it easy for you to just get started. One thing I do want to add here is a lot of the pressures that people feel around having a newsletter is they feel like they constantly need to be sharing educational content. So 10 tips do this, and five ways to do this. And it can feel really taxing on you as a content creator trying to create this newsletter that's constantly sharing tips. But the truth is your newsletter doesn't have to be that, because while that is taxing on you as a content creator, it can actually be really taxing on the subscriber as well, who is constantly being given all this kind of educational value. Sometimes you don't always need education, sometimes it's enough for your newsletter to make your subscribers think or reflect or laugh or cry in some cases like I have. Or even just get them thinking about things in new ways. It doesn't always have to be 10 tips, 20 tips, you can get out of that box that has been created for us.
L: Yeah, and I think if you're aiming it at potential clients, you can just even give them a short update on what you've been up to. Maybe include a quick tip or an idea or a little story, it could be quite short, and then just an update on your availability. It could even be that simple couldn’t it.
L: Is there an ideal frequency? Or does it not really matter?
E: It does matter. I think the minimum should ideally be weekly. That feels like a lot to us, but think of the number of emails that you get in your inbox in one week. That is a good kind of frequency for someone to hear from you, but also not too much, right? So you know, they'll remember you, they'll think of you, but you're also not annoying them. I know that that's really difficult, I know that from experience, sometimes I get busy and I find it hard to write my weekly newsletter. I think the most important thing is consistency so if you're going to email once a month, which I do not recommend, but if you do have the type of newsletter where maybe you can get away with that, like a monthly roundup or something like that, then be consistent with it.
L: And how should we think about growing our email list? You mentioned audience there, and this is something that I see quite a lot I think, especially with copywriters they end up writing a newsletter that is intended for clients but ends up attracting other copywriters, and I wonder if this is the same with other freelancers, too. So how should people think about growing a list of the people they actually want on their email list?
E: I love that question because it's something I struggled with for so long. To the point where I gave up and started creating products and services for all the copywriters who are on my list.
L: It’s a good solution.
E: It is a good solution, because I might as well create something for them if they’re on my list. But it can be really frustrating when you're trying to attract one type of person and you're attracting another. I think that if you're doing a good job and you are a business owner that people in your industry are looking at and they're interested in what you're doing, then it's inevitable that they're gonna follow you. So instead of trying to get away from the situation, I would recommend you create in segments. So divide your list into people from your industry, and then the people not from your industry who are on your list because they potentially want to hire you. That way you can create content that is relevant to both those different audiences. For example, I have a bunch of copywriters, I think maybe a third of my list is copywriters, but then the other two thirds are non-copywriter business owners who potentially want to buy a course from me or hire me. And so while I'm not always writing two separate emails for the two different audiences, what I do is maybe I'll write the same email, but it will end differently for the copywriters than just for the non-copywriter. Or if for example I'm talking about Belinda Weaver, who is an a copywriter friend of mine. A lot of the copywriters on my list will know who Belinda Weaver is so she doesn't need an introduction, so I can send an email that mentions Belinda without an introduction. But if I'm writing to the non-copywriters on my list, they don't know Belinda, they need an introduction, they need a slightly different version of that same email I'm sending. Not a whole load of work, but it just means that the emails that are going out are relevant to those particular audiences.
Now, I don't think this answered your actual question, which is how can we attract the right type of people. I think the answer to that is to create the right lead magnets. So create an aligned lead magnet, something that your audience is actually interested in, that's going to benefit them, that's going to help them, that makes them want to sign up. I think the mistake that we often make is we create the thing that we think our audience wants, but actually, we have no way of verifying that or knowing that and we just kind of went with what we thought worked. So I would say go out and do surveys, speak to your ideal clients, ask them what they're struggling with and how you can help them, compile the data that you get from those surveys, those interviews, that mining that you're doing, and then create the thing that they have told you they need, rather than what you have maybe guessed that they need. And even survey them on how they want to consume the thing as well, because we all have different preferences when it comes to consuming content. I love a good podcast so if someone sends me an hour podcast episode, a private podcast episode, that is their lead magnet, I'm gonna sign up because I love podcasts. But if someone else doesn't love podcasts, then they're not going to sign up, maybe they prefer an ebook. So you need to figure out the content format as well for your audience, because it's not just about what you create, but it's also how you create it.
L: And you mentioned segmenting there, which might feel a little bit daunting to people who haven't done that kind of thing before. And again, it doesn't have to be too complicated and you don't have to do that, do you. But on some platforms, you might not be able to do that or not do anything too complicated. I wonder if you've got any recommendations for your favourite platform to use?
E: There is no such thing I think as the best email service provider. We all value and like different things. So I really don't enjoy using MailChimp, I find it very difficult to use, but I have friends who absolutely adore MailChimp. I chose Active Campaign and I'm thinking about moving to ConvertKit, so ConvertKit is the email service provider for creators. My ecommerce clients love Klaviyo. It really depends on what you're looking for, how you enjoy using email service providers, and also what your budget is.
L: Yeah, it depends what you want to do with it really, doesn't it? I mean, I use Substack for the newsletter for this podcast, 15minutefreelancer.substack.com, just to throw that in there. And I actually really like that platform. I've used some of the others before and they're brilliant if you want to have automations, and multiple different lead magnets and things like that, and you want to really look at all the data and segment your audience. But for something where I think I just want to send the same information to everybody, Substack has been quite nice for that so I'm a fan at the moment. Thank you so much, I mean, we could talk about this for hours there's so much to get into. But I hope that it's been really useful for people just to get an idea of some of the different ways that they can use newsletters to grow their freelance business. If people would like to get on your newsletter list and find out more about what you do, where can they find you?
E: You can first of all come listen to my podcast Mistakes That Made Me. It's the podcast that asks extraordinary business owners to share their biggest business mistake so you know what not to do on your road to success. Season one is out and I'm currently working on season two. So go listen to that you can find it wherever you listen to podcasts. And come join my newsletter, I will give you the link Louise.
L: We’ll put that in the show notes definitely. That's brilliant, thank you so much and thanks to everybody for listening. We will see you next time, happy freelancing.
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