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Sloane Davidson Weekly Digest

Work In Progress

What I've learned from 6 months of email newsletters


"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." - Benjamin Franklin

It's been 6 months since I started these more-or-less weekly essays and I wanted to open up the kimono and share how these essays came to be and what I've learned so far.

I'm not new to email newsletters or sharing content online. I started blogging in 2004 for LAist and was a writer and then also an editor for the site through 2008. In 2009, I started The Causemopolitan in part to share my volunteer stories while traveling. By 2010, I had landed in New Orleans and co-founded a fun newsletter project called NOLAlicious which documented the top 5 things to do, see, eat and explore around New Orleans. Along the way, I consulted dozens of nonprofits and brands on digital communications strategies. By 2011, I had slowed down drastically on my writing. I was 110% focused on my full-time job, my new life in NYC and my personal life.

I would post quick updates on social media, but quickly knew that since those aren't my deep thoughts it wasn't the kind of connection I craved. I posted to my blog but it's hard to keep traffic up on the site when I didn't have a regular posting schedule. I have always found email to be a great way to reach people. If the writing is good, email is not such a drag! I tell nonprofit clients that email is a really powerful fundraising and communication tool and I found myself at the beginning of this year realizing that I should take my own advice. Plus I missed writing and missed sharing what I wrote.

Another reason for starting this newsletter was to continue to learn best practices in email newsletters. I have learned firsthand about how to build a successful list and tested what content works and what doesn't. I have made subtle changes along the way that you might not have noticed - like what day and what time I send the newsletter, how many links I include, what I ask, what I share and how I convey the primary message.

I always want to learn something new. To be a student of life. To further my professional skills. I'm not expert in web design, development, photo or video editing (yet!) but each skill can be applied to projects I run on my own and that's a great way to learn something new.

A few highlights to share:
  • Average open rates are 40%+. This is double the industry standard which is usually low 20%. This can change for some lists over time, luckily as my list has grown open rates have stayed the same.
  • My list has grown 40% since January. I started with 7-10 weekly unsubscribes which is normal when you activate a list that has been dormant for awhile. The list has leveled off a bit, something I want to work on. I now usually receive less than 4 unsubscribes a week and about 10 new subscribers.
  • Best times to send are universally around 11AM EST and 4PM EST. Monday, Tuesday and Friday are strong days, Wednesday and Thursdays aren't great. I know some people send great newsletters on Sunday mornings and I tried that and you just don't open those emails at the same rate and I receive far less responses. I still don't have one time in which I send this out - if it were a business newsletter I would have done the A/B testing and made a decision. As a personal newsletter I have given myself a little more room to play and continue to test this out.
  • When I make a direct ask for you to share something with me, you usually don't! I don't know why that is. However, when I tell a personal story and leave it at that, I receive about 10-20 emails from you sharing your own stories.
  • Multiple people have written to say that they have unsubscribed from a lot of emails but keep receiving this one because of the thoughtful content. However only two people (total) wrote with why they unsubscribed. I emailed a few people asking for feedback, most didn't respond or if they did they said it was because of too much email. I respect that.
I started this newsletter thinking I was going to write about giving back - namely my thoughts on philanthropy and personal giving strategies. However, I haven't written exclusively about that at all! You've been patient as I've jumped around a bit. I write much deeper and personal stories than I thought I would. When I think about a topic for the week, usually a few days in advance, I really work it around in my head and then typically sit down and write in one sitting. I let it sit for a few hours or a day and revisit what I wrote. I tinker around with wording, sometimes making small changes and sometimes big changes. I have written huge paragraphs only to cut them and I have obsessed over verb tense or how to phrase something. In short, I have tried to be a critical editor.

I have surprised myself on multiple occasions at how honest I have been. How real and raw. And when I push "send" I have been moved by your emails back and also borderline OCD on the MailChimp stats that show opens, forwards, click-through and unsubscribes and bounces.

I could change what I write about to fit the splash page or I could write what I am moved to write about and change how I describe these letters. I'm going to do the latter. 

I have lots of idea and projects I'm working through to figure out what's next. For example keep writing like this, expand to write more focused essays on a certain set of topics, tie these essays to a paid download, etc. Some of those concepts are starting to come together.

In the meantime, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for reading and responding and giving me a little rope with which to play and feel comfortable sharing. I would argue I'm becoming a better writer because of it (and adding to my 10,000 hours) and learning good tech skills along the way. All valuable tools to have and add to my arsenal.

Until next week,
Sloane


Praise

The idea of Hand Me Downs really connected with a lot of you. It was beautiful to read the stories you shared; Mom's diamond rings, Dad's old passports, journals from relatives and photos from ancestors. Your feedback is incredibly important to me and I read all of your emails. I'd love to hear from you. You can hit 'reply' or email me at sloane@thecausemopolitan.com.

"You've got so much good to share with the world, I'm constantly inspired by you." - Heather Whaling

"I love these e-mails. They always get me thinking." - Tiffany Starnes

"Always enjoy hearing from you Sloane. This is great stuff." - Jeremy Cooker

"Keep on writing, people enjoy your words!" - Brent Ball
 

Musings

Just Like Old Times - My newsletter essay was adapted and is currently featured on The List collection on Medium

Recent blog posts include: The Perfect Baby Gift and If You Loved

New Yorkers: Must for July - Garry Winogrand at The Met (for bonus points visit the new rooftop installation), Jeff Koons Retrospective at The Whitney, Picnic at Central Park or Prospect Park during one of their concert series and kayaking from Socrates Sculpture Park on the East River

Reading: Five Reasons That Hobby Lobby Decision Is Bananas, The Journey Back To Life and The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love.
 

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I have been passionate about finding ways to give back since I was little kid with big glasses. I wrote The Giving Manifesto to help inspire others to create their own strategy around everyday giving. It's hanging in cubicles, on fridges and as desktop images for hundreds. Join them!

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