Don’t miss Part 1 of this series How a newsletter will transform your life. This post contains two affiliate links to products I wholeheartedly endorse (ConvertKit and Carrd.co)
I want you to check out the rad website called Cozy Cats. The design is crisp, it loads quickly and is fully responsive (web parlance for it looks great on mobile and desktop). And the site’s proud creator is my 5 year old.
I promise I’m not a Tiger Dad prepping my kid for the rigors of a digital-centric global economy. Nor am I using her as a conduit for all my personal should’ve-would’ve-could’ve. I’m just dang excited by the promise of No-Code tools for anyone looking to tinker with with digital ideas (or to document their love for Cozy Cats).
Last week’s post on how a newsletter can transform your life struck a nerve with the community. This week, we’ll examine TK No-Code tools to design, promote, and grow your newsletter.
No audience required. No coding required. And fit for a five year old.
The most important question
You could begin your newsletter as a large bcc’d Gmail, but that would quickly become untenable (primarily since there would be no way to manage unsubscribes). Thus you’ll quickly need to migrate your budding list to an email delivery service. These services will “professionalize” your emails, help you manage subscribers, provide templates, and ensure that you’re in compliance with SPAM standards.
Thankfully there’s a large list of these service providers that have free starter plans. And at this point in your newsletter journey it probably feels hard to anticipate your future needs, but here are some questions to consider:
- Have you ever set up an Internet domain?
- Will your newsletter always be a hobby?
- Or, is there a scenario where your newsletter could drive revenue?
- Would you ever want to pair a blog (or web presence) to your newsletter?
Depending on your answers to these questions, here’s a series of email provider recommendations.
Option 1: Start as quickly as possible with Substack.com
Substack is by far the easiest way to get started. You can create your account and send your first email in under 5 minutes. The design is clean and you’ll immediately have access to a branded landing page to collect new subscribers. And best of all, it’s free.
Substack is doing what Medium.com did for blogging. Limiting the feature set so that creators can focus on one thing: creating their content quickly and beautifully. Substack takes care of the rest.
(The platform also gives you the ability to charge your audience for additional newsletters. The tech is incredible, but as seasoned newsletter creator, my personal opinion is that it’s very difficult to monetize a newsletter in isolation.)
There are some drawbacks to consider. You can’t host your Substack newsletter on your own domain. So I could never run [email protected] (and the associated site radreads.co) on Substack. Instead, the email would come from [email protected] and the website would be radreads.substack.com
This is a punishing limitation if you ever have the desire to scale (and eventually monetize) your newsletter.
For starters, from a branding perspective you must absolutely own your own website. Next, you’ll want to control how your site appears in search results (i.e. SEO value). However, without a domain, you’ve effectively handed off your SEO value to Substack. Finally, as your newsletter needs get more specific, you’ll want to customize the way your newsletter interacts with the rest of the Internet. For instance, you may want to ask a few survey questions when a new user signs up. Or add a slider once people have read half of a blog post. Or create a sequence of emails beyond the standard welcome email. None of this is currently possible with Substack.
Alternatives to Substack include TinyLetter (owned by Mailchimp) and GetRevue.
Option 2: I want to own my domain (MailerLite)
If you’ve got a dash of tech savvy and/or the desire to possibly scale your newsletter efforts, you’ll need to own your domain. Don’t know what domain to pick? At this juncture, I highly, highly recommend you pick a version of your name. Yes, radreads has worked well for me BUT it also has its limitations. A RadReads podcast seems a bit odd. RadReads doesn’t really jive with some of my main topics (personal finance, solopreneurship, and productivity). So please, pretty please just buy a domain with your name (and look at extensions like .io .cc .co .net .org to expand your option set).
Once you’ve picked a domain, you’ll need to take the following steps:
- Buy the domain at either namecheap.com or domains.google.com (cost: $10-$20 per month)
- Set up a gSuite account to receive emails at this domain ($6 per month)
Depending on your level of tech savvy, the above can take 20 minutes to a few hours. And you’ll now have the components to pick your email provider and the options available will multiply.
My personal recommendation is another No-code tool called MailerLite. Mailerlite has some key features that will enable connectivity to your website and enable you to scale your newsletter, including:
- Templates (to customize your email)
- Landing pages (to collect new email addresses)
- Tagging and segmentation (to classify your subscribers)
- Automation (to create automated emails)
- Detailed reporting (click maps, surveys)
And most importantly, it integrates with other providers for blogging WordPress), e-commerce (Shopify), automations (Zapier), payments (Stripe) and much much more. At this point in your journey, you may not even recognize these names, but they are key components in the No-Code ecosystem.
Mailerlite has a free tier and you can access its premium features for $10 a month. Other alternatives with similar services include Mailchimp, SendGrid and Email Octopus.
Option 3: I want to specifically target groups of subscribers (ConvertKit)
I grew my mailing list from 36 subscribers to 17,000 over 5 years on Mailchimp. My needs were simple since all I was doing was a weekly blast and collecting addresses via a small number of landing pages.
But a subset of my audience had a request for me: they wanted to hear from me more frequently. But I didn’t know which subscribers those were. Leveling-up your email newsletter involves understanding how to segment your audience. You can segment them based on their behavior (i.e. which links they click), how they found you, and other rules. Personally, ConvertKit (affiliate link) has been a godsend and while these strategies are beyond the scope of this post, they’re summarized below:
Alternatives to ConvertKit with powerful automations and segmenting include ActiveCampaign, Aweber and Sendfox.
No-code tools to make it all look good
Having selected our email provider, a good chunk of the heavy lifting is done. But how can we use no-code tools to improve design and the experience of our subscribers?
Graphic design tools
Get a logo
All the email providers will give let you customize your newsletter with a logo. And even if you don’t have a creative bone in your body, there are tools easily make your newsletter more beautiful:
- The Noun Project or Flaticon enable you to purchase simple iconography for a couple of dollars.
- Looka will survey your personal design preferences and automatically generate a logo for a small one-time fee.
- Canva is a “lightweight” Photoshop with templates to create both banners and logos for your newsletter (with a free tier)
- Unsplash contains thousands of free stock photography (and I’m biased towards their one-color collections)
Personally, I’m old-school and put these various visual assets together in Keynote and then save them using a screenshot!
Web design tools
Which brings us back to the Cozy Cats website.
If you’re not using Substack, you’ll want (though it’s technically not required) a website to describe your newsletter. I couldn’t be more excited to recommend the incredible website builder carrd.co (affiliate link). To connect your domain, you’ll need Carrd’s $19/year (yes year, not month) pro plan and then you’re off to the races. Carrd lets you integrate with email providers (MailerLite, Mailchimp, Convertkit), Google Analytics, and just about any other payment and commerce service. I’ve launched countless projects on carrd.co and it’s one of the most powerful No-code tools out there. If you want an even richer feature set, consider the sitebuilder Webflow.
Yes, a newsletter can transform your life. You can get started in 5 minutes at no cost using Substack. And if you opt for the more customized route, you’re still looking at a setup time of under 4 hours and < $100 a year. And there’s a surfeit of cheap accessible tools to make your newsletter stand out. Because yes, you my friend are special. Which makes your newsletter special too.