One year ago I started a personal newsletter called “Friday Read” – yeah, I know, such a highly creative name I actually named it this way as a form to apply pressure on myself and turn it into a habit – I can’t really start a newsletter named Friday Read and not send it every Friday, now can I?
What you’ll find below are bits and pieces of my thoughts on why I started this newsletter, how it grew in the past year, together with a few stats and their context.
If you’re already subscribed, feel free to skip this article – these are just copy-pasted fragments of the emails sent recently.
Friday Read goals:
I built Friday Read with a few goals in mind, while others developed in time, as it grew and transformed:
1. This is going to sound very romantic and naive, but I truly believe this newsletter can inspire and change people. I’ve taken all the replies received so far as signs that prove me right.
This is happening in two main ways: through the stories of those people I personally learned from and consider to be my mentors – no matter if I ever met them or not (some of them aren’t even alive anymore) and, something that I realized later, through my own stories (by publicly and unashamedly exposing my mistakes and lessons, I’m hoping you can learn and grow as well).
So yeah, first and foremost, it’s about building a platform where I can communicate the messages of those folks I learned from.
This has always been my goal, no matter what form the empowering pillar took. I’ve always taken the abstract / hard to understand messages of creative people, no matter if they were rappers, rock musicians, entrepreneurs, freelancers, managers or writers, translated them into plain words that you can easily relate with, and amplified those messages, helping them reach their maximum potential and leave their marks on other people.
2. By putting ideas into a written form I’m able to cut through the clutter of my own thoughts. Explaining and trying to teach others about what I read is a great way to learn and master those ideas myself.
I know, at first glance it might seem like I’m an arrogant know-em-all bitch, until you read more of my weekly newsletters and start to realize that it’s quite the opposite. I’m trying to keep a beginner’s mindset, always eager to learn more, and not afraid to change my mind overnight if I discover new perspective-altering facts.
It’s also born out of a personal frustration. I started reading books really late in life, only after I was out of the traditional educational system, mainly because of my repulsion towards authority figures and the idea that reading is something mandatory (and, thus, I truly hated and rejected the activity). Only after graduating from university was I able to enjoy reading and learning – while also beginning to feel frustrated that I need to fill the knowledge gap and all the advantage that others gained in the meantime.
3. For my need to connect with more like minded people, who share common values. I defined the category as folks who are always eager to learn more – but with a clarified target and keeping an eye on the long term perspective, not just for general education or leisure. People who aren’t afraid to tell me when I’m full of bullshit, and they’re not afraid to admit when they’re wrong themselves. On the contrary, they’re actively looking for the counter arguments. People who prefer an unfiltered, raw approach, than one that’s ultra-artificial and bullshitty.
4. As a way to support learning through long form content – complementary to the superficial channels that are mostly used today. Sure, I’m a big fan of Twitter (I’ll always appreciate someone who can express an idea as simple and clear as possible, using few words) and you’ve heard me rant many times before about authors that take one great idea and explain it using all sorts of stories and situations throughout their book.
However, I came to believe that the best way to learn something is through long form.
I’m not saying I’m against all those apps that summarize books, articles filled with bullet-points or Instagram stories – those are fun ways to capture masses’ attention and develop an appetite to learn more. All I’m trying to say is they’re not enough. Those won’t stick to you or sediment into your brain over the long term. Especially now that we’re constantly being distracted.
5. To stop being addicted to social media’s overnight-changing algorithms. In my work with those mentioned at #1, I’ve always warned them about building a house on rented land. That means: don’t rely on social media channels. These come and go. They change overnight. Use them as extensions to bring people to channels that are under your control. Your own website is under your control. Directly communicating with people via email is under your control (and probably will be for decades from now on, according to Lindy effect).
In the past year, I’ve also became aware of the harms caused by being always connected on social media, which only added as extra argument to what I was saying above. After quitting Facebook, I realized I was now able to focus for long stretches of time – an issue I wasn’t even aware of before (I’ve run almost-day-long races before, I’m obviously above average when it comes to mental endurance). And yes, I’m still writing on the book dedicated to this subject.
Friday Read stats:
– I sent the first Friday Read on July 28th, 2017 to four people, encouraged by a dear old friend (who was also the first subscriber).
– Except for two Fridays in March, I sent an email every single Friday. That includes winter holidays, when I sent a special, longer than usual newsletter, with the best books I read in 2017. I decided to take the brief March break only because I traveled to the opposite side of the world and didn’t manage to write and schedule the newsletter in advance.
– I’m now sending this newsletter to 1,130 people, out of the 1,571 who subscribed in the past year.
– Because of my introverted nature, I’m the worst marketer, always afraid not to bother other people with my “look at what I’m doing!” requests for attention, so there was no pompous promotional plan or campaign for this newsletter. It had a slow and steady sustained growth, mostly via word of mouth (can’t thank you enough for your support – I’m clearly incapable of spreading the word about it, so I’m counting on you to do that).
– I only announced Friday Read through a blog post when I launched it, and a few shares on social media. Quitting Facebook on Christmas Eve clearly impacted the growth rate (I had 7k followers there, so a potential great source for promoting anything), but my mental health greatly improved, so I’m not going back there, at least not any time soon (I try to stay away from using the words “never” or “always” ).
– About the 441 people who aren’t subscribed anymore. Half of them unsubscribed on their own, while the rest were manually unsubscribed by me in three batches – so that explains the suddenly shrinking bars in the graphic above.
– Theoretically, I manually unsubscribed those who didn’t open all the emails I sent 5 weeks in a row (now you know all my secrets and you don’t have to be afraid I’ll unsubscribe you for not opening Friday Reads while on your summer holiday ). “Theoretically”. I might have accidentally unsubscribed the wrong people once, from a segment I misconfigured. Including my own mother and mother in law. No complains received though, I don’t think they even noticed, so maybe they weren’t reading those emails after all? Well, oops.
– The first batch of unsubscribes went unnanounced, while the next ones received an email from me, where I let them know I unsubscribed them and why (also, I don’t think people can subscribe back on their own using the same email address, so they need to tell me they want back).
– Because I keep culling the newsletter, open rates vary between 60-70%, and click rates are around 30%, which is a lot. The book recommendations get the least amount of clicks – judging within the context of the circumstances (aka people’s reading habits), I came to realize those numbers are normal. It’s far easier to commit to reading an article than a 500-pages book that you might enjoy or not (solution? treat books as you treat articles).
– At the beginning of March, I switched from writing this newsletter in Romanian language to English – after many sleepless nights, going back and forth on this decision, afraid that I’m going to loose every single reader and I’ll have to start building the newsletter from scratch. My fears never came true.
– I made the (right) bet that those who read me don’t have an issue with English, since all the articles and books that I recommended in the newsletter were in English anyways. Only two people unsubscribed then and sent me an email to let me know it’s because of the language barrier.
– After switching to English, I was overwhelmed by the reactions. Over the following weekend I received more than 100 replies from readers who supported my decision and were sharing their personal struggles with me. While the reactions to my decision were positive, reading their stories was the most depressing thing I ever did. Most of them were from Romanians who already moved out of the country, while others said they want to improve their English language skills anyways, since they’re considering leaving.
– The main reason I switched to English was because I wanted (and still want) to reach more people over the long term. I consider that I succeeded in my mission, I know that a few friends/entrepreneurs based in Australia, Canada, America, South Africa and Singapore are now reading this (hi, guys!!! hope to get to meet you in person one day ).
– One of my main rules has been keeping the newsletter ads-free, without any sponsored mentions or links, and I plan to keep it this way. When I do mention a person or a company, it’s only because I genuinely believe there’s something to be learned from them, or I’m a loyal buyer myself. I was impressed to find out from one of the brands I mentioned that I sent them more customers than when they were mentioned by the top two social media influencers in Romania. My ego was bursting with joy. It’s also infuriating to realize how much money is wasted by brands on “online influencers” that don’t actually impact anyone, but oh well, I can’t save everybody in this world.
– The downside of not turning this newsletter into an income stream? I need to be careful with how much of my time gets dedicated to it. Unfortunately, that also means that it’s impossible to answer all the email that I receive (I do read them all though). I’m really sorry and I feel awful about this, but they’re too many and too draining for the introverted individual that I am. I might disappoint a few people, but on a long enough time frame I’m hoping that more will benefit this way. I’m also curious to know how those with hundreds of thousands of subscribers are able to keep up with their incoming email, when I’m already drowning in my own inbox.
– The only initiative I had towards turning this newsletter into an income source, while also providing something that I feel is highly valuable and only wish I could have had access to something similar earlier in my life, is the workshop I’m organizing together with Andrei Roșca (the one I announced in last week’s email). It’s probably just the first in a long series of events. I’m trying to figure out how I can reach more people at once, with the same allotted time and resources.
– With three or four exceptions, I wrote all these emails Friday early morning, right before sending them. No planning in advance. I do my best work when I’m under pressure, and sometimes I need to invent deadlines to self-impose that pressure.
Got any questions? Please use the comments box below, so that everyone can see my replies.