When Your Online Presence is a Moving Target

April 2, 2012

I like how Penelope Trunk says you should learn something every time you write a blog post. That the process of writing a post should help you discover something you didn’t know before.

So I’m hoping that writing this post — and maybe the insight I glean from your comments — will help me figure out what to do with my newsletters.

Target

What's your online target?

Offering value via email is the newest piece of my online pie, so it makes sense that I’m still figuring out how the heck to do it. My blog went through several iterations before I figured out its direction (I started blogging in 2008), and now I feel like I’m going through that with my newsletters. So I’ve been studying up on email marketing, which, I have to say, is a totally different (albeit related) beast than social media marketing.

Right now I offer two newsletters:

The Traveling Writer Newsletter

What: A free newsletter that accompanies this blog and arrives in your inbox every week or two.

Subscriber count to date: 350 — not bad considering I started it just five months ago and its still in the morphing phase. Some of those subscribers are you, loyal readers of this blog, while others don’t read the blog religiously and simply look for the newsletter.

Content: I promise content that’s different from what you read on the blog, but it’s similar in terms of topic: many of my posts are about taking a leap in life, and you get some big ideas on Where Writing Meets Entrepreneurship when you sign up.

But the truth is, I’d like to give this newsletter more focus, either by honing in on the intersection of writing and entrepreneurship, or by pulling back a bit and making the theme more generally about figuring out how to create the life you want to live.

Purpose: To continue to grow this online community, to reach people in a different way — via their inbox — and to learn the ins and outs of email marketing. Hopefully some of those readers will also consider buying my products and books.

Solopreneur Secrets

What: A paid ($5/month) weekly newsletter about creating your own career and building a business doing what you love.

Subscriber count so far: 30 readers who either are looking to figure out how to work for themselves or enjoy my perspective enough that they want more than what’s available on the blog. It’s a pretty low count, partly because I haven’t put enough legwork into promoting this letter and partly because it’s a niche topic. I launched this product in November and make all 20 archived newsletters available to everyone who signs up.

Content: This letter focuses on how to find freedom in your work and life. I explain how I’m making the transition from working for an employer to working for myself — so you can do it, too.

Purpose: Aside from helping others figure out how to do what I’m doing, my intentions here are two-fold. The first, to experiment with a paid newsletter. If sometime down the road I pick a topic that has more general appeal, I think a paid newsletter could be a solid form of revenue. Second, to start building content about how to create your own career, which I’ll hopefully use later in a book.

So what’s the problem?

I’m re-thinking my strategy here for two reasons:

1. I’m constantly looking to streamline my efforts and prioritize. Whenever I look at my portfolio of work, I ask myself, is there anything here that’s NOT worth doing? Because if I cut even one not-necessary or not-worth-it task from my to-do list, I have more time to work on things that matter — like my next book. When you make a living by cobbling together various clients and projects, you’ll never make any real headway unless you prioritize.

From a revenue perspective, Solopreneur Secrets doesn’t bring in enough to make it worth my time. That’s OK, since this is an experiment. But even though I think experimenting is the best way to grow in your career, at some point you have to evaluate and decide whether it’s worth continuing. Just because you stop an experiment doesn’t mean it was a failure; in fact, if you learn ANYTHING from that experiment, you should consider it a success, because it’s helping you get where you want to be. (My thinking on this is being reinforced by my current read, The Start-Up of You.)

2. The newsletters I’ve been cranking out for Solopreneur Secrets are pretty awesome — but only a few dozen people read them. As a wise man pointed out to me this weekend, that means only a small number of people are reading my best content. If you’re trying to build an online community, that approach doesn’t make sense. You want LOTS of people to read your best content — the more eyes the better, even if those aren’t paying eyes.

And the truth is, a lot of those newsletters would appeal to a broader audience if I reframed them a bit. Solopreneur Secrets sounds niche, but figuring out how to make a living doing what you love is a topic most EVERYONE cares about.

What does this mean?

It means I’m thinking about ditching the paid newsletter and channeling that energy and those ideas into my free letter, whose focus would have to shift only slightly to accommodate the change. That doesn’t mean I won’t offer another paid newsletter in the future; in fact, I see this progress as laying the groundwork for that.

My only reservation is that I’m not sure whether this shift is in line with readers’ expectations for TTW Newsletter. Do they only want to read posts that focus on how to take leaps in life? Or where writing meets entrepreneurship? If I add in the angle of figuring out how to make a living doing what you love and creating the life you want to live, will some of those readers unsubscribe?

Even if they do, it’s probably a shift I need to make. (Boo-yah! Light bulb!) Because the only way any of us will move forward with our online goals is by having a clear focus and target. That target is bound to move a bit along the way, but at some point you’ve got to hold it steady and take your shot.

If you don’t, you’ll never hit the bull’s eye.

What do you think? Have you ever had problems choosing a focus for your newsletter or blog?

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11 Replies to “When Your Online Presence is a Moving Target”

  • Nancy Petralia says:

    Alexis, I feel your pain. I have loads of problems with focus. I’m not sure this will help you but here’s an idea.
    Since you have (a few) readers who value your entrepreneurial advice maybe you could choose one day a week to blog on this topic and/or one section of your newsletter dedicated to it. That way you might retain and even grow this readership and if you see it working you could develop some other kinds of products for this niche group.

  • Andrea James says:

    Great question!

    It seems that Alexis-Grant-generated content is available via three mediums now. The blog, the free monthly and the paid weekly.

    It also seems (to me, just opinion!) that the differences between the three aren’t substantial enough to justify the effort it takes to keep them separate.

    Perhaps a better idea would be to roll the paid content into the free e-mail, which could have multiple headlines within, allowing readers to pick which headlines interest them the most each month.

    Also, I think that the most valuable information should be reserved for your paid consulting and coaching services. Meaning, you would offer to work one-on-one with someone, via email or phone, for a reasonable hourly rate that would be more than $5 per month and would allow you to target advice to an even more niche audience (one person.)

    Those are my thoughts! Good luck and thanks for letting us be privvy to some of your process!

  • I’d just turn them into one, done. They are both sort of in the same area anyway.

    I’m thinking about doing a paid travel(ogue) letter soon actually. How come you chose $5 and not more or less? I’m considering going for somewhere btw $7 and $12…what do you think?

  • alisha says:

    Sounds like you’re on the right track! I think that all of the topics are kind of different sides of the same coin. Writing, entrepreneurship, making your own luck, etc. all require leaps. I keep coming back to your blog and reading your email (the free one anyway) because I’m interested in whatever you have to say — you’re always pursuing things that are exciting to me. Keep doing whatever you’re doing!

  • Dani says:

    I will speak as a paid subscriber who generally was drawn in to the Solopreneur concept via your tweets and do not follow your other writing. I really enjoy how you dig into details, like numbers, that you might not share in a more public forum. It’s a great newsletter. It’s worth paying for, and I don’t really pay for other media right now.

    But I do see your point that it is not carrying its weight — as someone who works at a startup, I would say this product hasn’t found its market fit. It’s an excellent fit for me personally, but ultimately for it to be worth your time, you should be able to do the amount of work you’re doing now for hundreds+ readers.

    Maybe it needs a broader audience, maybe a more focused audience. Maybe college students, who could learn more about potential career forms from you than any college course, would be interested and key potential buyers of your other products? Anyway, I will be sad to see this newsletter go but of course wish you the best and appreciate your guidance so far!

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Dani — Wow, thanks for such nice words and a really thoughtful comment. I like digging into the numbers, too, and yes, those are details I probably wouldn’t share in a more public place. I’ll certainly take that into consideration as I decide my next move.

      One thing I’ve learned from this is what you refer to as market fit. The topic’s gotta be broad enough that it attracts enough readers to be worth it, but niche enough that it’s interesting and helpful. Food for thought…

  • Laura Howard says:

    I’m new to your blog, but I can’t imagine why anyone would unsubscribe based on you merging those two topics! I want to learn all I can about the writers life… But the idea of living my dreams doesn’t sound too shabby either, you know?

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