How to set up a curated newsletter for creative people in half a day

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Curated newsletters are becoming more and more popular and they are a great way to share any great content you find with your audience, particularly if you’re regularly reading and sharing content anyway.

So I’d been sitting on the idea for Little Walden for some time. Little Walden is a newsletter curated especially for creatives. Five inspiring links sent on a Friday at 5pm each week — the Friday 5 at 5. A simple concept that stems from the love of my weekend morning ritual — waking early (ish), making a fresh pot of coffee and relaxing with stories and articles I know I’m going to enjoy. This is usually from a few carefully chosen newsletters I subscribe to and articles I’ve saved to read later in Pocket. (I have to admit that since we had twin girls 14 months ago these mornings are few and far between but they have become even more treasured.) I wanted to give this same experience to others.

Great examples of curated newsletters

I love condensed news and articles arriving in my inbox. I look forward to them arriving and they make a welcome break from the usual thoughtless mailshots that hit my gmail. The newsletters below actually get my main email address so I don’t miss them — sorry to all the services that get one of my ‘secondary’ emails.

Kindling from the Do Lectures
Delightful Times from Mel Carson
Brain Pickings by Maria Popova

For some other examples it’s well worth checking out Kevan Lee’s post on the Buffer Blog.

Finding the source of great content

Before even starting to look at how to set up the newsletter you need a good source of great content. I follow hundreds of blogs through my Feedly account. I categorise every new feed and I try and go through all new stories every week. I read short articles I’m interested in as I go and add these to my Buffer queue if they offer some value. Any longer articles I want to read later I save to Pocket. Often I’ll follow links in articles to other good sources which I’ll then add in to my Feedly account. One thing I don’t do enough of is removing feeds I rarely find interesting content in — this would certainly help me read through my Feedly account a little quicker.

This is an important part of the workflow and it’s what lead me to the final solution I decided on for our Little Walden newsletter.

Creating your own curated newsletter in less than a day

Although I’ve sat on the idea of Little Walden for a while, I just hadn’t made time to work out how it was actually going to work. Once I make my mind up to do something though I’m pretty good to hammer away until it’s done. So I set myself a challenge, get it set up and ready to launch in one afternoon. I had no idea if this was achievable but having a deadline really helps decisions flow quickly. The afternoon had a few interruptions and meetings so I picked it up again in the evening and by midnight I had a new newsletter. I had a workflow for my content, a new domain and hosting along with a new website for people to subscribe to Little Walden from. I didn’t have guides to work from so learnt as I went but thought this might be useful to others as some of the decisions, like which newsletter service to use, took a bit of researching.

Choosing a newsletter service

Before getting started my biggest worry was actually compiling the newsletter. I was hoping there was a solution to speed things up but I did think at one point I was going to have to code a newsletter every week, adding my carefully curated content, sourcing and resizing images. Luckily there are some great solutions out there that take the workload from you. I went with Goodbits after looking at what they offered. They not only offered a Chrome Extension for adding content but also linked up to my Buffer account. Anything I shared to my Buffer queue would automatically be available to me in Goodbits — awesome. But the clincher was the Mailchimp integration. I could use Mailchimp templates, which I’m more familiar with, and pull in my Mailchimp lists too. This meant I didn’t have to learn a new system or work out how to code or send through a new system and with a challenge like this that sort of time saving is critical.

The Goodbits set up is pretty straight forward so in no time I had content there I could drag and drop into my first issue, a connection to my Maillchimp list — all I needed was a newsletter template and a landing page.

Goodbits, meet Mailchimp

I already had a Mailchimp account for Slidecraft so I set up a new list for Little Walden. I borrowed the Slidecraft newsletter template that Leo had lovingly created and went to work in Photoshop and Coda. Another alternative if you’re not a developer is to buy a newsletter template from a marketplace like Themeforest.

At this point I need to point out I’m not a designer or a developer and if I shared my work with the team it would have been condemned. However, needs must, especially on a deadline like I’d set myself. I quickly pulled together a little logo for the newsletter and created some images to replace the Slidecraft ones on my template. I took to the code and replaced my images and added my new copy for the newsletter. I only had to include one line of code to pull in my content from Goodbits *|GOODBITS_CONTENT|* and that was it. There are other optional elements I could have brought into my template from Goodbits but I was happy to hardcode these into the template. Once done, I added the new code to my Mailchimp template and job done. A quick test in Goodbits showed the newsletter looking pretty much there.

Creating a Landing Page for newsletter subscriptions

The next step was to give people a place to sign up. I had a couple of ideas for this and had recently deployed a simple Typeform embed to a blank html page that worked a treat and looked OK. However, for Little Walden I wanted to have a little more control to add some additional information. I decided to go with a HTML template from Themeforest to save time. After a quick search I found Greened, which is actually a ‘coming soon’ template. I could see how I could adapt this and bought it — it was worth the gamble for $6.

The landing page shipped with a subscription form however it wrote all the subscribers to a txt file on the server. I wanted this to hook straight up to my mailing list on Mailchimp so I had to do some coding to get this to work. As I said, I’m no developer so this was messy and I needed to draft in some help on some of the responsive styles but worth the effort as it now all links in with Mailchimp.

Making this look like I wanted took a bit of time but only because I like to tweak and test things as I go. I drafted copy as I went through and tested it locally until I was happy.

Launching Little Walden

Earlier on I’d set up hosting for Little Walden — I have a reseller account so it’s really quick for me to deploy a new hosting space for projects. I registered the domain littlewalden.com and changed the nameservers to the new server. This allowed time for the changes to propagate on the web while I was setting up the newsletter. Using FileZilla I pushed the new website live and all worked fine — job done and completed at 14 minutes to midnight.

Finding & Growing a newsletter audience

So this is the next step. Little Walden exists — it will be going out every Friday at 5 — I just need to find my audience. I have a few things I’ll be doing to promote this so I’ll write a detailed post as a follow up once I’ve had a chance to get Little Walden out into the public.

About the author

James Qualtrough

I live on the small but beautiful Isle of Man with my wife, Donna and our twin girls Ella & Erin. I'm Head of Digital Media at Home Strategic and Co-Founder of Slidecraft.

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By James Qualtrough

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James Qualtrough

I live on the small but beautiful Isle of Man with my wife, Donna and our twin girls Ella & Erin. I'm Head of Digital Media at Home Strategic and Co-Founder of Slidecraft.

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