Chris Osborne

How to create a curated newsletter (with lessons learned curating 300+ myself)

I update one of the largest newsletters in tech curating today’s best startup, tech and business news.

I started the newsletter 3+ years ago and it’s easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Not for spending 2-3 hours every day updating it or for the sponsorship money I receive. Nor for the exposure it generates me and my products.

Starting and continuing the newsletter has been an awesome ride because:

1. I’ve been able to meet and connect with so many amazing people within the tech industry via the newsletter. It’s a great ice-breaker and has allowed me to open doors I would have had difficulty opening otherwise.

2. You know the saying that you should make your bed every morning so you’ve accomplished something at the start of your day? The same is true with curating the newsletter – I feel amazing every time I schedule one to go out.

Having curated over 300 editions at this point, I want to share some thoughts and lessons that can hopefully help others curate their own newsletter.

I’ve also included tips below on how I grew my subscriber base to over 10,000 readers along with a list of curated newsletter’s I’d love to read myself that I’ve not discovered yet.

Curated Content

Every day there are hundreds of thousands of new articles published online. Sadly, most are really poorly written and/or are not worthy of anyone’s time.

If you drill that down into the category you work in or the category you are passionate about, you can be sure there’s just a few pieces of content that are worth reading and sharing versus the huge amount that’s been published that day.

This is a growing trend and it’s why I think there’s never been a more important time for someone to carefully hand curate the very best content.

To be it simply: there’s a highly valuable service in someone spending 2-3 hours per day or week reading through hundreds of articles and hand selecting the top 5-10 pieces that are really special and are worth sharing.

Getting setup

The first two things you’re going to need is a landing page to market your newsletter and to allow subscribers to opt in, and a tool for sending the newsletters out (I don’t recommend setting up your own email server unless you have solid reasons for doing so).

Landing pages

FoundersGrid started out as a blog before it was a newsletter so WordPress has always been hosted on the root domain (foundersgrid.com). If I was to start a new newsletter I’d defo use a simple html/css landing page on the root domain and if a blog was needed, I’d install WordPress on /blog or /editions etc.

This will mean faster load times with your html/css landing page and it’ll also be much easier to customize.

If you are just starting out I’d recommend purchasing a ready made template that you can customize easily and one that’s already integrated with the email software you plan to use.

This normally means you’ll just need to change the text, images and a one line piece of code to integrate the email software.

ThemeForest is a great place to start your search, along with a simple Google Search (“landing page + emailsoftwarename”).

You could alternatively hire a designer and a front-end developer to create a custom landing page for you. Some places worth checking out include researching and contacting individual designers on Dribbble or using a markeplace like UpWork, DesignInc or Crew.

One additional thing I will say about landing pages is to try and keep the page really simple and straight to the point. There’s nothing worse than someone landing on your site and not having a clear idea of what you’re offering. Jon Russell’s landing page is perfect: AsiaTechReview.

Other examples of great newsletter landing page designs I’ve come across include Mister Spoils, The Hustle, Sidebar and the Hacker Newsletter.

Email Software

I’ve always used MailChimp, who are strongly regarded as the biggest of the bunch (they have 15M customers!).

The good news with MailChimp is sending and managing both subscribers and campaigns (newsletter editions) is a breeze. It’s also super easy to export your subscribers if you wanted to switch provider in the future, and they have a generous free plan allowing you to send newsletter editions to your first 1,000 subscribers for free.

The only negative aspect about MailChimp is their support. I’ve experienced issues a few times over the past 3 years and each time I’ve ended up banging my head against the table in frustration. With that said, when everything is working as it should be, I’m one happy customer.

There are alternatives, including: TinyLetter (also owned by MailChimp), CampignMonitor, Emma and GetResponse.

There’s also a few services that have launched with the sole aim of helping people curate newsletters, including Revue and Curated.

And in the event you have some technical chops there’s also MailWhizz and Sendy which allow you to send newsletters via Amazon SES and other email delivery services.

Finding great content

Your first job is to build a list of sources you can go to for news and content. If you’ve been in the space for a while this list should be fairly easy to compile. If you’re new to the industry I would focus your time on building a list of at least 100 great sites and blogs you can track and read.

Other ideas for finding great content include checking (sub)Reddits, Google Alerts, Forums, Twitter users/lists and Facebook pages/groups.

In the tech space there’s sites that aggregate content such as Techmeme, Hacker News and Digg which I personally use along with my own lists. If you’re curating content outside of tech, look to see if there’s any aggregators like these you can use.

I personally use Feedly to track sites and blogs via RSS. It’s free and it’s a great app that allows you to segment sites and blogs into lists (i.e, I have personal blogs, news blogs, company blogs etc.).

Curating Content

When I’m ready to sit down to edit a newsletter I’ll open a new Chrome Window and open 12 sites I have saved in a Bookmarks folder at once.

As a few sites are news aggregators along with tracking hundreds of RSS feeds in Feedly, I could be checking (more scanning) up to a thousand different sources on any given day.

After going through all my different sources I’ll select 10-20 pieces of content I’m interested in reading myself. I’ve never tracked or tried to analyze/guess what content my readers are interested in simply due to the fact that updating the newsletter would become a chore if I was not interested in the content myself (which would probably mean I’d quit).

With the 10-20 pieces of content selected I’ll either read, skim or save the articles (especially longer form pieces) to Pocket to read throughout the day. From the 20 I’ll decide on 8 articles I find the most interesting and write a small summary of what each article is about.

Update: Since writing this article I now have help from someone who is much smarter at writing the summaries than I am. With that said, I still read and curate all the content.

Once the titles and descriptions are done, I’ll schedule the WordPress post to go out at 8pm Hong Kong time and go over to MailChimp to duplicate yesterday’s edition and start adding in today’s content, while making sure I change the issue number, image and date.

And that’s how I update my newsletter. From start to finish it takes around 2 to 3 hours.

It’s worth noting that if you’re new to curating content, the first edition will probably take you as long as 8 hours to get perfect. The good news is you’ll become a lot faster at reading articles, finding great content and editing your newsletters as time goes on.

Growing your subscribers

Now you have your landing page setup, software to collect and send your newsletters along with a system in place to find and share great content, it’s time to build your subscriber list.

If I look back at how we grew FoundersGrid to 10,000+ subscribers I can attribute this to 2 things:

1. We notify everyone (news outlets and writers) who we’ve featured to make sure they know they’ve been included in the newsletter (via Twitter). More often than not they’ll happily share the edition with their followers on social media, generating more exposure for everyone involved.

2. Content marketing. In the early days of FoundersGrid I was ruthless in creating great content. This included lists of companies and/or people. Again, we let everyone who was featured know they had been included which meant many would share the blog post with their followers.

Other ideas/notes:

Twitter ads. Twitter ads can get pretty expensive so I’d be cautious here. If you do try advertising your newsletter Twitter, don’t use a Twitter card. Pay for links to your landing page instead. I say this as I’ve tried to subscribe to newsletters via their “Cards” before and I’ve never received their emails.

Facebook ads. Facebook’s ad platform is often cheaper than Twitter’s ad platform. I plan to write a guide on marketing products on Facebook in the future so sign up to my newsletter if this is something you may be interested in.

Creating resources. Another guide I plan to write in the future but for now do check out Calm’s CEO Tew Demos’s video on growing audiences using viral marketing resources. It’s a great watch and I’m confident you’ll leave the video with heaps of ideas.

Newsletters I’d like to see

Let me end this guide by providing some topics I’d personally love to see curated into weekly newsletters:

1. How to be a better parent (studies, reviews of educational toys etc.)
2. Travel (targetted to Asia or Europe would be better for me).
3. News on what’s happening in the Airline industry
4. Deals from the world’s best Airlines and Hotels
5. The best new Poker videos of the week
6. Advanced paid advertising guides and resources
7. New minimal WordPress themes and/or HTML templates
8. Intrernationalization news and resources (banking, visa programs, residencies/passports etc.)

Any questions?

If you have any questions on the above please do not hesitate to ask me on Twitter. I’ll be happy to help.