How to Start a Newsletter

A reader asks:

I am one of the many that consider AWOCS required reading. I’ve been a financial advisor for just over two years, and I would like to start a newsletter to go out to clients, prospects, peers, etc. I would love to hear about your process and any advice you may have for an aspiring newsletter-er.

I’ve been writing A Wealth of Common Sense for more than a decade.

When I started this website I wasn’t doing it for professional growth or my brand or building an audience or any of that stuff that is commonplace now. I was just looking for an outlet to share my thoughts.

But now that I’ve been doing this for so long and content is a huge part of our strategy at Ritholtz Wealth, I have some thoughts on how to approach a newsletter endeavor from the perspective of a wealth manager.

Here are some considerations if you want to start an online newsletter:

Write about the stuff that interests you. There are ways you can try to growth hack an audience using SEO, keywords, outrage bait and hot takes. But those strategies are fleeting.

Eventually, quality wins out. People have to care about your writing if you expect them to come back for more.

The best way I’ve figured out to do that is by writing about my own interests and the topics that are top of mind that I genuinely care about.

If you’re not interested in it, the audience won’t be either.

Worry more about building a library than building an audience. I applied for a job in my 20s that required periodic communication with clients. The firm asked me for a sample of my work during the interview process.

Here’s the rub — I didn’t have any examples because I hadn’t done the work!

One of the best parts about creating a newsletter is that it’s like building a resume of your principles, ideas and communication skills. I wish I realized this at a younger age.

As a financial advisor you know the general questions clients will ask depending on the environment or situation. Answer those questions in advance.

Then, when clients inevitably ask questions in the future, you can prove you’ve already thought deeply about their concerns by sending them what you’ve already written.

It helps prove you’re an expert on taxes, financial planning, insurance, portfolio management, market psychology, asset allocation, estate planning or whatever it is you’re writing about.

Building a library of expertise will help you for years to come.

Publish on a set schedule. The audience needs to know when you’ll be there, so pick a cadence you can stick to.

Every other day. Once a week. Once every other week. Whatever you’re comfortable with, the more predictable you can be for your audience the better.

Find your niche. There is far more content competition today than when I first started A Wealth of Common Sense.

On the one hand, there are more avenues you can use to publish your material — blogs, newsletters, podcasts, TikTok, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.

On the other hand, more competition for eyeballs and ears makes it much harder to stand out from the crowd.

Zeroing in on a specific area of expertise offers the best chance to do just that.

I stumbled into my niche on accident because I wasn’t trying to build an audience. I was more or less writing for friends and family at the outset because they were the only people reading it. So I made a concerted effort to speak in plain English, simplify my message, and provide context.

Be the tax person or the charts person or the data person or the credit cards person or the asset class person or the insurance person or whatever it is you’re good at.

You can always broaden out later but focus can help you stand out when you’re just getting started.

Get into their inbox. I built my website using WordPress back in the day. If I was starting over today I would probably just publish a newsletter on Substack or Beehiiv.

They not only help you set up and create a website, distribute it but also grow your subscriber list through cross-promotion to subs from similar newsletters.

People often forget to check websites but they always check their email.

You better enjoy it. I never realized how much I enjoyed writing until I started this website.

Writing helps me think, clarify my ideas and communicate them more effectively.

But I would have stopped six months into this experiment if I didn’t enjoy the writing process.

If you don’t enjoy writing, it’s going to feel like homework and the audience will sniff that out.

Write a little bit every day, even if it’s bad. I have 558 unpublished posts in my drafts folder right now. I’ll probably never hit the publish button on 99% of those drafts.

For whatever reason, they just didn’t work. I didn’t like the topic enough to finish, wasn’t feeling it, and moved on.

That may seem like time wasted but I truly believe writing is like a muscle that needs care and attention. If you don’t work on that muscle, it won’t grow.

Writing is a skill you can improve upon, but you have to practice to get better.

Have a worldview. No one has enough unique thoughts in their head to reinvent the wheel every time they write something.

Read the work of others. Use charts, research, data, analysis, opinions and quotes from people who are smarter than you. Stand on the shoulders of giants.

But you also have to put your own spin on it. Regurgitation won’t take you very far.

If you have an overarching philosophy that guides your thoughts about the world at large, you can impart that philosophy on current events or the work of others.

But it starts with developing a set of principles and values so you can stay consistent in your message.

Coming up with good ideas is great. Getting rid of ideas that don’t work can also be helpful.

Read the book Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield. I love this book because it offers cold hard truths like this:

Sometimes young writers acquire the idea from their years in school that the world is waiting to read what they’ve written. They get this idea because their teachers had to read their essays or term papers or dissertations. In the real world, no one is waiting to read what you’ve written. Sight unseen, they hate what you’ve written. Why? Because they might have to actually read it. Nobody wants to read anything.

What Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit means is that none of us wants to hear your self-centered, ego-driven, unrefined demands for attention. Why should we? It’s boring. There’s nothing in it for us.

Pressfield offers some solutions to this problem. Streamline your message. Make it clear, compelling and easy to understand.

I like this takeaway from the book as well:

When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer must give him something worthy of his gift to you.

You can’t just show up. You actually have to give people something they want.

Katie Gatti Tassin from Money with Katie joined me on Ask the Compound this week to discuss this question and how she got started producing content:

We also discussed questions about inequality, the number of credit cards one should have, the value of a low-rate mortgage, and how to pay for IVF.

Further Reading:
7 Benefits of Writing

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