How to Bring Yourself into Your Content Marketing with Ann Handley

| 42-min read

If you struggle with your own content marketing, aren’t sure what to write about or how to find your voice, or maybe you just keep resisting the idea of doing an email newsletter, you’re in for a treat.

In this new episode of the Marketing Mentor Podcast, my guest is my good friend, Ann Handley, author of the awesome (and best-selling) book, Everybody Writes, a "hands-on field guide to consistently creating page-turning content that your audience loves. (And that delivers real results.)"

(Time-sensitive: if you want to grab a copy at 30% off PLUS get a signed and "doodled" copy of Everybody Writes, order here by Dec 31, 2022)

In our conversation. (which -- WOW -- you can also watch as a video here), we covered so much content marketing ground, including:

  • how Ann went from 2000 to more than 50,000 subscribers to her newsletter (and whether it actually matters)
  • which metrics matter (and are you allowed to make up your own?)
  • how not to miss that magical marketing moment when someone agrees to receive your newsletter
  • LinkedIn Newsletters – should you or shouldn’t you?
  • and so much more!

I love how honest and real and humble Ann is in this conversation (and always – that’s just the way she is). She shares so much about her own process that you can apply to your own content marketing.

So listen here (or below) and learn…. 

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If you like what you hear, we’d love it if you write a review, subscribe here and sign up for Quick Tips from Marketing Mentor.

Transcript of #461 Ann Handley on Bringing Yourself into Your Content Marketing

(Watch the video here)

Intro

If you struggle with your own content marketing, aren’t sure what to write about or how to find your voice or just keep resisting the idea of doing an email newsletter, you’re in for a treat. In this new episode with my good friend, Ann Handley, author of the best-selling book, Everybody Writes, we covered everything from how her voice changed in the 8 years between the first and second editions of her book, to how not to miss that magical marketing moment when someone agrees to receive your newsletter. I also grilled her on LinkedIn Newsletters – should you or shouldn’t you? I love how honest and real and humble Ann is in this conversation (and always – that’s just the way she is). She shares so much about her own process that you can apply to your own content marketing. So listen and learn….

ilise benun

All right. Welcome, Ann, back to the podcast.

Ann Handley

Back to the podcast. When was the last time I was on?

ilise benun

It was at least a couple years ago, I think. Right? We talked about newsletters. It might have been right after the bootcamp, the AWAI Bootcamp where we reconnected. And then I got all excited about this idea that newsletters, email newsletters, are more letter than news. And I wished I had said that, but I love that you said it. And we're here, today. I'm going to ask you to introduce yourself, but first I'm going to show your book, right?

So here's the new edition of Everybody Writes—I'm so excited about it. Look how thick it is compared to the first edition, which I also have, which is, oh my God, look how thin that is. No. 

[Laughter]

It's thick enough. But this one … you know, my first question, I'm going to ask you to introduce yourself, but my first question then is going to be like everything is constantly changing, and what has changed in content marketing between first edition and second edition that it's this much thicker? So go.

Ann Handley

Oh boy. Do you want me to introduce myself or do you want me to answer that question? Okay. So hello everyone. Thank you, ilise, for having me today. 

I am Ann Handley, the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs. I am a writer, speaker, author of two books, I guess three books if you include the second edition of one book, which I absolutely would— which ilise is holding in her hands at this very moment. So yes, very, very proud of it because it represents a lot of blood, sweat, tears. Like literal tears, like actual crying. And yeah, I put my heart and soul into that book. So that's why it's so thick, because it has a lot of my whole heart inside of it, stuffed, stuffed in between those pages.
[Laughter]

ilise benun

And I can tell, actually, in reading it; it feels very you.

Ann Handley

Yes. And actually, you asked what's changed in content marketing, or in marketing really, between the first edition, which was eight years ago, and the second edition, which came out just about five, six weeks ago. October 25th was its release date.

So yeah, I mean, a whole lot has changed in marketing. We have new tactics, new channels, new techniques. Eight years ago, TikTok didn't exist. I didn't really even talk about video very much at all.

And then more broadly too, things like empathy and marketing … in a post-COVID world, thinking about showing up as people, as human beings, instead of showing up as brands and entities and edifices. I think all of that has really shifted and changed over the past couple of years, past eight years really, in marketing.

But more than that, my voice changed. My writing voice changed. And I think anybody who is a writer may relate to that. When you go back and read something that you wrote eight years ago, or five years ago, or even three years ago, it may sound different than it does now. And I definitely experienced that.

I went into the second edition thinking that, "Oh, this is going to be a piece of cake. It's going to be easy." 

This book, the first edition, sold 100,000 copies globally. It has 980 five-star reviews on Amazon. And I'm not saying that to flex. I'm saying that to indicate, I thought it was already a successful book. So what really needs updating? Maybe I just need to dust off some of the research. Maybe I need to metaphorically ‘run the vacuum,’ kind of freshen it up a little bit with some new examples. And I thought it would be a relatively easy lift.

But then I went into it—and this speaks directly to how much my voice had changed—I started reading it, looking for those moments that just needed a little bit of maybe a light Febreze to freshen it. And the more I read, I almost didn't recognize myself. 

And I share that with your audience of writers because I think that that's something that we've maybe all experienced as writers. You read something and go, "I wouldn't say it that way again." Or, "Gosh. Did I really write it that way?" And that's exactly how I felt. And I hadn't even realized how much my voice evolved in eight years, but wow, it really did.

And so I thought: You know what? Yeah, I want to make this book newly relevant for a marketing audience in 2022 and in 2023 and beyond. 

But more than that, I wanted to rework it in and honor the evolution of my own voice, essentially. I wanted it to feel much more like you were having a conversation with me than the first edition.

Now the first edition is me, of course. And maybe only I would pick up on this, but I felt my hesitancy. Or I felt how I was looking for validation externally at times when I didn't need to. So that manifested in ways of sometimes quoting Stephen King—an amazing writer; has his own book on writing. I don't need to quote him in mine. And so there's a lot of little things like that, that are actually pretty big things, that I changed quite a bit. And that's why, when you say “it feels like me,” it very much feels like me, the second edition does.

ilise benun

Yeah. It feels to me, and this is kind of my mantra for 2023 actually, that you're showing up more in this book and you're bringing more of yourself into this book, such that, as I was reading it—and I haven't finished it yet, but even the parts I read, especially the email newsletter chapter which I want to get to—I just felt like we are like-minded. We think the same way about newsletters. And I just feel you. And I don't know, have you ever heard the term ‘absence blindness’? It's one of those biases. And basically it means we are blind to the things that are not there. So I would never have noticed that you were more hesitant in the first edition, but I noticed that you are more ‘there’ in the second edition.

Ann Handley

That's really interesting. What's it called? Absent blindness?

ilise benun

Absence blindness, or blind to what's absent.

Ann Handley

Yeah, I love that. Yes, I think that is absolutely true. And I think I experienced absence blindness as well. I thought the book was already good. And it is.

ilise benun

It was.

Ann Handley

But it wasn't as good as it could have been. And I guess in my mantra, to borrow the subtitle of the book, it was good but it wasn't ridiculously good. And I really wanted to step into my own expertise and my own point of view much more fully in this new edition.

So all that to say, you know what I did? I did not do a refresh and spray some Febreze, and let the Roomba travel around the room and vacuum up. No, no. Instead, I tore it straight down to the studs, and I write about this in the introduction, I took it straight down to the studs and I rebuilt from the ground up. 

I left a lot of the plumbing and the two-by-fours in place because the structure is solid. But it really needed a complete renovation. And so that's what I did.

And to be totally honest with you, and I will only share this because we're all writers here, my editor was like: "You're crazy." 

[Laughter]

Because she didn't quite say it in these terms, but she kind of was saying, "Why are you bothering? What are you going to gain from it, really?" And she meant it with kindness, but she wasn't quite saying it in those terms, like I said. But I think that was the subtext of what she was saying. She was saying I didn't have to do that, I think is what she was saying.

And she was probably right, in some ways. From a business standpoint, will it be more successful? Will it get me, I don't know, all the things you get from a book that wouldn't have happened otherwise? I don't know. 

But what I do know is that I feel very proud of it and I feel really good about it. And that's enough. So looking for that kind of reward in my own work, from inside first, I think is the first rule of writing anyway. And I really felt like, well I don't have any other choice. I literally felt that way. I have to just do what I think is right by this book to honor the work. And that's what I've done.

ilise benun

And my sense is that comes out of just the fact that you care.

Ann Handley

Yes. Yes. Yeah. I guess that's a simpler way of saying it. Why am I doing this? Because I care. I care about delivering value to the audience. But I also care about how I feel about something. I can't let something go without knowing that I did the very best I could within the constraints that I had. The time constraints, or the current level of my expertise, all of that. I felt like as long as I'm pushing it to that limit, then I can feel good about what I've done.

ilise benun

And it comes through.

Ann Handley

And then I had to let it go. I also think that's the other piece of writing—is that I did the best I could within those constraints and now I let it go, and it's yours. It's yours, ilise. It's everybody else's. I almost feel like it's not quite like seeing a child grow up and move out of the house and live on their own, because they're still your child. In some ways, you still have a responsibility to them. It's a little different than that in this case because now this book is out in the world. And you know what? I'm done. I did what I could for you and you're out there. And other people own the work now, if you know what I mean.

ilise benun

Yeah. And I'm actually getting ready to travel. And I'm going to spend a week by myself thinking about my content for 2023. And damn it, I have to bring this heavy book with me. Thank you, Ann.
[Laughter]

Ann Handley

You're welcome. You know what, it doubles as an exercise solution. So think of it that way.
[Laughter]

ilise benun

A weight.

Ann Handley

Yeah, it's kind of like bringing hand weights in your carry-on. So you're welcome.

ilise benun

I'm so excited. I can't wait. 

So there are two things I want to talk about. One is where content ideas come from, because my designers, and my writers, and my coaches, and my consultants, they all really struggle. Not all of them. Many of them struggle with, "Well, what am I going to write about? What is my content going to be?" So I want to talk briefly about that. 

But then I want to talk about email newsletters, which is part of that, one of the ways it gets delivered. And then hopefully we have time to talk also about LinkedIn newsletters. That's my agenda.

Ann Handley

Cool. I love it. At the very beginning, by the way, when you were asking ... I don't mean to derail the conversation, but it just popped into my head. When you said, "Let's talk about what's changed over the past eight years." I literally thought that you were going to say, "Let's talk about what's changed since the book came out." 

[Laughter]

And actually, some things have changed. So we can get to that just based on some of the things that you talked about.

ilise benun

Okay, sounds good. So where do ideas come from? If you're advising, and maybe this is part of the baby step we can give at the end, if you're trying to figure out where your content should come from and what is your own content that you can bring your voice into, what would you say?

Ann Handley

Oh boy. I think content comes from everywhere and anywhere. Content comes from especially questions that your customers have, your prospects have. Depending on the nature of your organization, sometimes they will come through customer service. Or if you are a smaller organization, sometimes they'll come from conversations with your own friends, connections, colleagues, clients. I think that's the richest place where content ideas come from. 

And I know we're going to talk about the email newsletter. But for me, I get a lot of feedback from people who are in my community because I ask them; because I ask the question. 

So when people sign up for my email newsletter, for example, this is one way that I collect data about the questions that they have. I ask people outright: "Why did you sign up for this newsletter? What do you hope to learn here?"

And I get a lot of information from my subscribers about that because they answer that question and they tell me what are they interested in. It also tells me, by the way, how they view me. And so it helps me know what am I known for. 

And it also helps me know who's recommending my work, because very often they'll say, "Oh, ilise recommended. I saw you on her podcast." And so it's like, all right, that's good to know—that my audience comes through you. Which means a subset of my audience is a subset of your audience. It's good to know who are your influencers in that way.

ilise benun

And let me just add to that a little bit, because there's something about that moment when someone has just signed up for your newsletter, and then they get the message from you that's very personal, and you ask your questions. And they're perhaps the most ready they will ever be to answer those questions. And there's just always, in marketing, these little moments that most people just let go by. But you have to be able to capture them. So I'm curious how you think about that moment also.

Ann Handley

Yeah, that's exactly right. That's such a salient point. It's such a critical time because the subscriber, the would-be client, customer, prospect, will never be as engaged with your email newsletter as they are at that very moment. And I have the data to back this up.

So for example, when you sign up for my email newsletter and you get that first touch from me, around 78% of my subscribers open that message, my new subscribers open that message, which is pretty phenomenal. That's really high. Open rates, even though they're kind of screwy right now, they're never that high. They hover more around, at least for me, like 50 range, which makes sense.

So when they get that, so that told me, uyou know what? Maybe I should pay attention to that moment. If close to 80% of people are that excited that they're going to open an email, well how can I engage them? And so yes, you're right. It's capturing that moment where someone's attention is more likely to pay attention to you than they would otherwise, and figuring out a way to engage them immediately. 

And it has to be an easy lift. You can't ask them something hard like, "Tell me about a time when... ." They're not going to write you a story. 

It has to be a fast, easy ask. "What do you hope to learn here?” Or, “How did you find me?" Easy questions. They have to be able to hit ‘reply’ immediately. And I tell them: "Hit ‘reply’ and tell me," because you'd be surprised when people don't know what to do. Crazy but true.

And so “Hit ‘reply,’ tell me, answer these questions.” And about 38-ish percent, it hovers between 35 and 40 on any given month, will tell me. So about half of the people will tell me how they found me or what they hope to learn. I'm trying to get that up. I'm questioning, could I make it even more simple? Is there a way to engage them at that point?

Now, there are two reasons why I think that's important. One is for the reason why you just said: because it is this sort of magical moment where people are … they've literally just raised their hand to say, "Oh my God, I want to hear from you." So that's a moment where you want to capture that attention. 

And the second reason is just because of the way that email works, is that if someone will respond immediately, your email client, or their email client I should say, will route your messages into their primary folder as …

ilise benun

I didn't know that.

Ann Handley

Yeah. As opposed to their spam or their promotions folder. And so it's a signal to their email client that, oh, they're writing back to this person and this person's writing back to them, because I always respond. So it becomes a dialogue and you get routed into ... I should say, the likelihood that you will get routed is higher. So there's a technical aspect to that as well.

ilise benun

Interesting. Now, I read in your book that your list has grown 2400% since you started it from something around 2,000 to more than 50,000, and so maybe even since the book came out, it's more than 50,000.

But you talk about size being a byproduct, not a goal. And this relates to the way I think about goals: internal versus external. “Internal” meaning what you can control; “external” meaning what you can't control. And you can't control the size, but you can control what you do. So I'm curious what your thoughts are about growing the list and the engagement.

Ann Handley

Yeah. I say that size is a byproduct, not a goal. Because we in marketing, and I think as people, we tend to focus on the size. You started out saying, "You have a list of 50,000,"—which is true, but, so what? What if I had a list of 50,000 and nobody was opening me ever, which is the other option. Now, that probably wouldn't happen because a lot of people would just unsubscribe flat out. But I think it's much more valuable to focus on what is your goal. 

In my case, my email newsletter is opening a dialogue—having a connection with subscribers at an individual level. Which sounds completely unscalable, because it is. It is unscalable. So I do things that are both scalable and unscalable to get that connection to grow my list. And I do the unscalable stuff specifically by functioning on, very often, engagement and not on size.

But actually, that's not true. I do the scalable stuff in that way too. I never think about the size of the list. I look at it and I think: "That's fantastic." But I'm really more interested in how happy are people on the list. And so I've kind of invented my own metrics to go along with the size of the list, and to also partner with things like open rates and click-through rates. 

Well, open rates are really difficult right now because of some changes within the email marketing world, which we don't really need to get into. But they're less reliable overall. Let me just say that. 

And the click-through rates are not that interesting to me because while I do share things that people can click on and I want them to click through and register for someplace I'm speaking, or something like that, it's not the main driver. 

The main driver is building a relationship and nurturing that relationship with an audience. That's what I'm testing constantly there. That's what I'm playing with there. And so the decisions that I make are always around nurturing. The fact that it's grown shows me like, that's amazing. It's successful because people are recommending my work, for the most part, it’s how it's grown. But again, it's focusing on the nurturing and not on the size.

ilise benun

And this idea of engaging with 50,000-plus people or whatever the subset is that does respond to you … and I know sometimes I'm one of them, but sometimes I don't read them; I keep them all. They're in my inbox, but I don't read most of them. And I assume most people don't read most of them. And I'm curious how you think about that. Do you care? Do you care if someone deletes it? What's your mindset? Because I think a lot of this is really mindset oriented and you have to have the right mindset to do this well.

Ann Handley

Yeah. I think you have to have the right mindset to be a creator anywhere. I mean there …

ilise benun

Of anything, yes.

Ann Handley

Of anything. There is a certain amount of emotion that goes into creating anything. And that's because it's an act of vulnerability. You're putting yourself out there and you're saying, "Here's what I believe about something. And you are free to agree with me, or disagree with me, or unsubscribe, or talk about me on LinkedIn." I mean, there's any number of ways that it can manifest in kind of negative ways.

And so it is an act of bravery, I think, to be a creator of anything. But I think it's especially true of writers, and I probably say this because I am one. But as writers, what we are putting on the page is very often close to who we are. Or it should be close to who we are. And I think that's true whether you're a B2B content writer, or whether you’re writing a novel. There's a little bit of us in everything that we produce. And so yeah, there is a vulnerability in that.

In terms of how I think about it, I do have to disassociate a little bit. And like I said to you a minute ago about the book, once it's gone, it's not mine anymore, it belongs to others. And I adopt that same mindset with the newsletter as well. 

ilise benun

I love that.

Ann Handley

Because I've done the best I can within the constraints and with the resources that I have, and then I have to let it go.

And so that doesn't mean that I don't get, I don't know … I mean ‘offended’ is too strong a word … miffed a little bit, when I get notes back from people that say something negative to me. And it actually does happen, believe it or not. But I have to just remind myself that it's part of the process and that's just how it is.

Part of when I said that I kind of make up my own metrics, though, to go along with click-through rates and things like that … part of the reason why I make up those metrics, why I made them up—and they're totally anecdotal in a lot of ways is how I'm collecting the data for those metrics, but that doesn't mean they're not useful. They're very useful to me.

And so I focus on those. And one of those metrics is the open-to-write-back-rate, the OWBR as it's called. I made that word up. It's also called the response rate. Some email clients, some email providers, actually do offer the ability to track that legitimately. I use AWeber, which does not allow that, at least yet. But look for that reply rate. So I do look for people to write back to me. I invite them to write back to me.

And I just try to remember that I am serving these people. Those are the people who are engaging with my work and they're the ones I serve. I try not to think about people who are unsubscribing or whatever.

ilise benun

Do you check your unsubscribes?

Ann Handley

I mean, you can't help but see because it's on the dashboard when I open up the client or the platform. But yeah, I don't really think about it. And I know, by the way, that in some cases, my newsletter can feel like an investment. Like you just said, you don't always read it. And that's okay because I also hear from people who say that they save it. Saving it, it's a good metric to have. Or they say that they save it for Monday morning when they get to their desk as their first motivation of the week, almost to set the mantra for the week.

ilise benun

That’s nice. I love that.

Ann Handley

Yeah. There are different ways that people will let me know, that they signal that my work is important to them. And again, those are the people who I serve. So I try not to give as much consideration to the others because it is how it is.

ilise benun

Right. Yeah, that makes sense.

Ann Handley

Yeah. Yeah.

ilise benun

Alright, so let's talk about LinkedIn, then. I'm curious how much time you spend on LinkedIn. And then we'll talk about the new newsletter feature on LinkedIn. How do you use it?

Ann Handley

So, I would've answered that question really differently a few months ago in a pre-Elon Twitter world. I've definitely shifted away from Twitter more than I have in any time previously. Twitter has always been my number one. It's always been my favorite social channel from a professional standpoint.

I run @MarketingProfs, the Twitter handle on there. I also have my own Twitter handle on there with @AnnHandley on Twitter. And so it's been a place where I've just built a lot of relationships and made a lot of connections, but I have definitely shifted away from it because the tenor of the platform has changed. And whether you are an Elon Musk fan or not, it doesn't matter. To me, it feels different now. And I don't particularly enjoy being there as much as I used to.

And it's also shifted because the algorithm there has definitely shifted. It's tricky now. So I have been spending more time on LinkedIn—a platform which I've always enjoyed, but I have tended to participate in, in fits and starts. Sometimes I'll be on it for months and I'm just all in on it. And other times, I won't show up there for weeks. It's like, eh, I don't know, I just don't have time. It's that whole thing where you do have time if it's important to you, but I just feel like it's not that important to me.

Lately though, I have been enjoying LinkedIn a whole lot more. And I've noticed, and I write about this in the book, just the morphing, if you will, of social platforms who they're starting to twin—to use another psychological phenomenon where an old married couple tend to look alike and dress alike and act alike—and I feel like that's exactly what's going on with a lot of social channels these days. LinkedIn is looking a lot like Facebook. And Twitter is, I don't know, doing its own kind of weird thing. But if you look at Twitter threads for example, those look an awful lot like blog posts. So there's a lot of just kind of crossover and twinning and a lot of overlapping. So it's a very long answer, sorry about that. But I have been enjoying LinkedIn …

ilise benun

No, I learned a lot. That's awesome.

Ann Handley

… a whole lot more. I also like the tools on LinkedIn. I know you wanted to ask about newsletters, but I just think LinkedIn has made some really smart choices. And back in, God, I want to say 2005 or something, I remember writing a post. And I forget if I published it on MarketingProfs or on my own website at Ann Handley, but I remember saying that LinkedIn, it's the dark horse. And this was in a pre-TikTok world. Twitter was around. Facebook was around. But, I remember saying that I think they're going to be the winner. And I think it's actually happened, or it is happening, or it will continue to be so.

ilise benun

And I think part of that was just the effect of COVID when, from a professional point of view, people were staying home and that became the water cooler. And so a lot of people just started spending a lot more time there.

Ann Handley

Yeah. And I also love that they finally added a little ‘ha-ha’ reaction. Finally! Can we just acknowledge that so much in business is actually ridiculous, and funny, and worth laughing at? I mean, that was a real turning point for me. I'm kind of kidding, but not. Because I think it's indicative of the state of business. 

[Laughter]

We started at the top of this conversation talking about what's changed. I think in some ways, the ha-ha button on LinkedIn is a proxy for what's changed in marketing. It's more accessible, and open, and things are just ridiculous in good ways and in bad.

ilise benun

Awesome. All right. So you recently dedicated an entire issue of your newsletter to should I or shouldn’t I do a LinkedIn newsletter?" And so I'd love to just have you just give the top level of that, and then I have another approach, angle on it, that I want to run by you. So how do you think about: should I or shouldn't I?

Ann Handley

So my advice that I dedicated the newsletter to, and that I stand by, is that I think it makes sense to do a LinkedIn newsletter if you also have a plan for converting those LinkedIn subscribers over into your own database, your own list. Or if you are able to take existing evergreen content and have your own list and email newsletter program on your own domain already, and you want to figure out a way to repurpose some of that content, so some of the older stuff, for example.

The example I shared was Andy Crestodina—fellow marketer, brilliant guy. Andy is the marketer's marketer. He's such a great friend, but he's also just a really smart guy in terms of marketing and many other things.

But I like his approach a lot. And the way that Andy approaches this conundrum of LinkedIn newsletter: should I or shouldn't I, is that yes, he has his own new newsletter publishing program at Orbit Media, which is his own domain, his own plan. I mean his own ecosystem. He publishes a fortnightly newsletter every two weeks. He publishes an Orbit Media newsletter.

But then he also has digital marketing. What does he call it? Digital Marketing Trends or something like that on LinkedIn. And what he's doing there is very complementary to the program that he's running on his own site because he's surfacing some of the older stuff from Orbit Media that is still really relevant and really useful in offering it in an email newsletter format.

And so I like that approach. I think it's one example of making sure that you have a robust newsletter program that is your own, but also leveraging the opportunity that LinkedIn is offering us to connect with tons and tons of your connections on LinkedIn and to get your thought leadership in front of them.

ilise benun

Yeah. Let me just run by you my idea. Because so many of my listeners and people in my market and in my network have trouble getting their own newsletter started, and then there's this whole technology piece that some people have to really get over the hump of, I'm advising people to use their LinkedIn newsletter as a starter newsletter, as a way because it's so easy technology-wise to get it going and you have a built-in potential subscriber list right there. And actually, going back to your advice to have a plan to move them over to your own newsletter later—I'm curious what kind of plan you have in mind. So those are two separate questions.

Ann Handley

So yeah. I don't think it's a bad idea to think about what you're talking about is almost using the LinkedIn newsletter as training wheels before you do your own email newsletter. Yeah, I don't think it's a bad idea. And again, I just think it all comes down to making sure that you are using that opportunity to surface your own email newsletter on your own domain. The way that Andy does it is that he has ... so the evergreen pieces that he pulls over into the email newsletter and publishes there to his LinkedIn connections ... which is by the way, it's a massive list that he has. It's like 100,000 because he was early in and he really benefited from that early momentum at the very beginning.

So it's a massive list that he has and massive reach. But if you were to subscribe to his email newsletter, you see that he doesn't give it all to you there. He only gives you maybe half the content. And then, guess where you have to go to access the rest of the content? Over at his own website. So you click over to his own website to read the rest of that evergreen content. And guess what? Those pages are optimized to subscribe to his own email newsletter. That's the way that Andy does it.

So all that to say, if you were going to use the email newsletter on LinkedIn, the function as you describe as ‘training wheels,’ I think that's fine. But I'm not convinced that you really need it, first of all, I guess is what I would say. And the second thing is, but if you really want to try it, like if in some way it just feels better to you, if it feels more comfortable, if it gets you over that hump of communicating one-on-one, if it gets you writing a letter versus news, then yeah, 100%, give it a shot. But again, make sure that you have a plan for ultimately porting those subscribers over to your own list.

And by the way, the whole idea of building your house on, not building your house on rented land, I should say, versus building your house on land that you own—it's not a small thing. Because one of the things that changed in the second edition of the book, by the time that I submitted the manuscript to the publisher and by the time the book hit the bookshelves, one thing important has changed. And that's that Facebook, which had a very similar program to LinkedIn's newsletter program, used to be able to publish a newsletter via LinkedIn if you were an invited person. If they invited you to do so. They have since suspended that email newsletter program. So Facebook's was not open to the general public. It was by invitation only, so the fallout was less severe, but nonetheless, it's fallout.

Twitter just did the same thing when Elon bought Twitter. One of the things he did was disassociated the ability to publish an email newsletter through Twitter Review, which is a newsletter platform that Twitter acquired. It used to be that you could offer that opportunity for people to sign up for your email newsletter right on your Twitter feed and then publish it for free. And that's gone away. So I’m not saying that LinkedIn is going to do the same thing. But when you don't own it, you are at risk. So just be aware of that.

ilise benun

All right. I have so many other questions, but we're going to need to wrap up. So two more questions. One is, have you decided yet whether or not to do a LinkedIn newsletter?

Ann Handley

For me, it's a function of time. I really want to. My hesitancy in doing it is that I just don't have the support to do it well. So, yeah. If any of your listeners are like, "Ann, I can help you with that," reach out to me.

ilise benun

They just might.

Ann Handley

I would love to talk to you. But it's on my radar. I've thought about it. Right now, I don't have the bandwidth to do it. All I can manage is that email newsletter every other week. I'm pretty busy with my job at MarketingProfs. I have a full-time job there. And I also do a lot of speaking and writing and podcasts with ilise. 

ilise benun

Exactly.

Ann Handley

And so I have a lot going on. So right now, I can't manage it. I literally feel like I need somebody to manage that piece of it for me.

ilise benun

Well, I have a feeling you're going to get some inquiries about that.

Ann Handley

Hit me up at ann@annhandley.com.

ilise benun

I mean, I haven't done mine yet either. But the idea is kind of formulating in my mind and it might be something I map out before the first of the year.

Ann Handley

Yeah, that's interesting. Because the thing is—and I'm sure you think about it this way too—you have an email newsletter, which is fantastic. Right? What would you do on LinkedIn differently? You've got to articulate that. The way that Andy answered that, that was clear. But I don't know what I would do exactly there. So I think I would have to think a little. So when I say ‘it's a function of time,’ part of that time is just thinking through the strategy of it. What am I going to do there? So maybe I need to go away for a week like you are.

ilise benun

Yes, come join me, actually. I'll tell you later where I'll be.

[Laughter]

Ann Handley

Can you imagine? I show up, "Hello, I’m here to talk with you."

ilise benun

That would be awesome, Ann. All right. Last question, the one I always ask: Of all the things we're talking about, is there a baby step you think listeners who don't yet have a newsletter, or maybe the just can't get it off the ground, they've got some ideas … but what's a baby step people could take?

Ann Handley

Hmmm. A baby step they can take. You know, I started my email newsletter three years ago with, I say 2,000 subscribers, but they really weren't true subscribers. They were people that had somehow landed on my site and given me their email address so that they would get blog post alerts from me whenever I published something. 

So even though I started with that list of 2,000, a lot of those people were … either their addresses were bad or they were completely disengaged. They had no idea who I was anymore, all that stuff. So I think of it as starting from pretty close to zero, even though 2,000 seems like a big number. But again, it was not 2,000 good people. It was 2,000 randos who, again, probably had no idea who I was. And so I have a lot of empathy for this kind of question because you hear stories. And it's like, "50,000? I'm never going to get to that. That feels exhausting."

But the thing is, just start. I think the biggest thing is just thinking about what your niche is. What's the value that you offer? So you may be in an industry; maybe you're a consultant. And you service, I don't know, healthcare. But that can't be what your newsletter is about. You've got to narrow it down as much as you possibly can and focus on that niche, and then just do unscalable things one thing at a time. I talk about scalable versus unscalable in the book. But I think just focus on really providing value to just one or two subscribers to begin with. And if you resonate with them and they recommend your work, the growth is exponential.

ilise benun

And I find also one of the things that gets in people's way is the fantasy of having to be consistent—whether it's weekly or monthly or even quarterly—as opposed to as your saying, "Just start. Get something out there. Draft a prototype. Draft an outline. Just get the ball rolling.” And then take it, as I like to say, “one baby step at a time.”

Ann Handley

Yeah, I do think it's important to commit to a schedule. And I know there are different schools of thought on this. But I know, for me, so once you take that baby step, I would set up a schedule and stick to it, no matter what. Because if I adopt the idea that I will only publish when I have something to say, I will use that as an excuse to not publish. So I think it's important to adopt that mantra that Lorne Michaels used to have around “Saturday Night Live.” He probably still does. But he's famously been quoted as saying that “Saturday Night Live” doesn't happen because it's ready. It happens because it's 11:30 on a Saturday night.

ilise benun

I love that.

Ann Handley

It's a mindset that we need to adopt as writers, as creators, as people. And so yeah, that's what I mean by working within the constraints. Do the best you can by 11:30 on Saturday night with the resources you have and the knowledge that you have right now. And then, let it go, and forgive yourself, and look for the next time.

ilise benun

Exactly. All right Ann, author of the second edition of Everybody Writes. I can't wait to finish it and take it with me on my trip. And I really appreciate your time and sharing what you've learned. And we'll just have to talk again soon, that's all.

Ann Handley

Yeah, absolutely. I hope so. All right. Thanks for having me.

ilise benun

And tell people where they can find you in case they didn't get it.

Ann Handley

Oh my goodness, yes. You can find me at annhandley.com. If you want to find out what's up with this newsletter we've been talking about, it's annhandley.com/newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn at Ann Handley. Or I would say Twitter, but nah, connect with me on LinkedIn.

ilise benun

All right. Don't hang up. We're going to turn off the recording, and I will see y'all soon.

I think you might want to listen to that more than once – I know I have and I learn something new every time! 

As for the baby step, Ann suggested listening to your market–without actually using those words).

Simply listen for and answer questions from your network – that’s the richest place to mine. Ask and people will tell you what they’re struggling with. That’s your content right there!

So did you learn a little something? I hope because that's how this works. One baby step at a time. Before you know it, you'll not only eliminate feast or famine, you’ll also have better clients with bigger budgets. Speaking of better clients, they're probably not going to fall in your lap. That’s why I am so thrilled to share the new and totally revamped Simplest Marketing Plan which outlines the 3 most effective marketing tools. 

If you want to build a thriving business on your own terms, this lays out the path. All you have to do is follow. Plus you’ll be invited to my monthly Office Hours gathering where you can meet, network with and learn from like-minded self employed creatives who are practicing what I preach and taking control over their business and their life. Some are calling it my tribe – and you are welcome to join.

Find it all in the Marketing Mentor shop at Marketing-Mentor.com. I'll be back soon with more conversations with creative professionals who are doing what it takes to ditch the feast or famine syndrome. Until next time.

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