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The Problem with Newsletter Advice

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
1 min read

I started following a bunch of new newsletter publishers recently to see what advice they were giving out to young people. I don’t disagree with the things they say, but I usually disagree with the context.

Personal newsletters should have no rules. They are where you find your audience, voice, topics, cadence, products, etc.

Your business or “project” newsletters have universal rules going back decades. This is what is often confused in modern newsletter advice. Business advice is passed off as personal advice. This leads to burn out and lots of dead personal newsletters (and blogs, YouTube channels, etc.).

When I started in newsletter publishing (no joke: in the 1980s at 12-years old), there were no email newsletters. They were done on paper. Yet, there were 7-figure newsletters. To publish one, you had to deliver on that value.

Nothing has changed, but the means of delivery.

The good advice for business (and life) is boring and readily available.

  • Deliver value.
  • Save money automatically.
  • Diversify.
  • Strive for more agency in work and life.
  • Be kind.
  • Be generous.
  • Put family first.
  • Without your health, nothing else can happen.
  • And so on…

Young advice givers will lean on shortcuts that only work for <1%, then share those rare success stories over and over. It’s perceived value, which is only real enough to make short-term money from clickbait.

It’s far healthier to take your readers on your journey with a beginner’s mind. This is less lucrative at first, but builds trust, and it’s where you’re going to end up anyway if you’re any good. At some point, we all realize how little we know about anything.

I’ve been making newsletters now for 34 years. I still don’t know how to make a great personal newsletter, other than to just share what I find interesting.

I can boost the revenue from your business newsletter 20% overnight, but that’s an entirely different (and much easier) context.

I wish the advice givers would share a little bit more of that context, so new publishers won’t be so easily scared off by a list of rules that never really applied.

We’re living in a time when it’s never been easier to publish anything, anywhere. Let people play with this stuff in their own weird ways. That’s when the really cool stuff happens.