It's been a few weeks since my last letter. We covered side-hustle 101 on how to get started, build an audience, and write amazing offers.
Today's letter is about one side-hustle tactic that's free and easy to start. This tactic has an average Return on Investment (ROI) of 38x → 42x (for real).
Read that again. For every $1 we spend, the average return is $38+.
I'm talking about email marketing. It's simple and insanely underrated.
Email doesn't need to be that complicated or fancy. Sending regular emails can transform your brand and business.
This tactic helped me double my personal income. People got to know me, asked for advice, and agreed to a fair price. Granted, it's not millions of dollars, but it's a start.
I know many of you, and you're smarter than me. Surely this can work for you too. This letter will (hopefully) encourage you to start your own newsletter if you haven't already.
Now, let's get into email.
The side-hustle phenomena blew up with the advent of social media. It gave the average person access to millions of people via a "social network." The first major social network was Facebook. Instagram, Twitter, Snap, and Tiktok came later.
The thing is: online businesses were not new at the time. Social media's fast and cheap distribution was new (and it triggered this growth). Small e-commerce stores, personal brands, and freelance businesses flourished. It was too easy to get in front of so many new faces.
I talked about this in a previous letter as well. Remember: distribution is everything. When it was so easy to get good distribution, side-hustlers thrived.
The social networks starting giving side-hustlers the finger. Platforms wanted us to pay for that amazing distribution. Unless your account was connected to their revenues, the algorithm didn't love you anymore. In fact, the algorithm changed specifically to crush our distribution (and compel us to buy ads).
It was smart of the platforms. Truly. I applaud moves like this. Most did buy ads. It worked, and that's why platforms are doing so well (even now). It only sucked for folks like you and me (all back to square one).
Enter email marketing, the answer to the problem back then (and it still is today). Mailchimp, the first major email sending platform, was founded all the way back in 2001. Here's the kicker: Facebook was founded in 2004.
Fun fact: Mailchimp was sold recently for $12B. Billions. The point again: email is valuable.
Most people just didn't realize email's advantages until after suffering through algorithm hell. To be fair, social media is a great way to get new subscribers for your email newsletter too. They go hand-in-hand, but we now understand the better long-term tactic.
Today, smart side-hustlers know how stupid it is to build a business on top of changing algorithms. We don't own the audiences, the platforms do. We only rent them. That's the problem. No list = no long-term money. In software companies, this is often referred to as "platform risk."
You own the list.
You make all the decisions.
It's yours forever.
You can sell through emails whenever you want.
There is no algorithm.
Nobody can take your list from you.
Anybody looking to make side money should be sending emails.
Social works too, don’t get me wrong. But if you're renting an audience, do it to get them onto your own list. Don't rent forever (no equity), it's a bad investment.
Regardless of where your career takes you, your list will always be valuable. The best part is it's free. So start. For real.
Why wouldn't you? Well, the first challenge is always "what to write about?"
Let's get into it.
"I know email is great, but I don't know what to say. How do I figure this out?"
I have good news for you. There are groups of people interested in everything and anything. Check Reddit and you'll see. There's no "wrong choice" here when deciding what to write about. You can pick any topic and there will be a market for it. Some markets/communities are just bigger than others.
I know what you're going to say. Even if you can write about anything - that doesn't help you pick a topic, does it? How do we decide what to focus on?
Here are three (easy) examples:
Curate information and insight on what you care about.
Love gaming? Great. Collect all the great gaming content you find (and consume anyway) into a weekly newsletter. Your subs are fellow gamers who save time because you curate everything for them. When your list is bigger, sell ad slots to brands that want gamers to buy their stuff. Computer companies, gaming chairs, whatever, you get the idea.
You get paid by brands, gamers get their curated content, brands have a new advertising channel. Win-win-win. Call it "Gamer Weekly" and start with zero costs to you. Done.
Share the latest on your industry.
Work in social media marketing? Great. Track the latest insights on platforms, algorithm changes, and new tactics. Share them twice a week. It's called "industry news," it's common, and it works. Your subscribers are people in your industry. After the list gets big, sell access to private content (the best content), and advertising deals like in Gamer Weekly. Casuals get insights, pros get major tips, brands get a new channel, you get paid. Everyone's happy.
Call it the "Anti Boomer Marketing Club - modern marketing for modern marketers" and make it a bit more professional than Gamer Weekly. Done.
Create a community around your journey.
If you're not as business-minded, the best thing you can do is share your journey and invite others to come along with you. A journal describing the ups and downs and day-to-day. This is how I started. Only recently have I started writing on building side-hustles and sharing what I'm learning. I didn't even have plans to make money when I started this. The money came later, but having an existing list helped a lot (that's why I'm pushing you to start your own right now).
I call mine "Darwin's Letters" and you're reading it right now. I'm using the same model for a podcast as well. You can name yours whatever you feel like.
Here's the best part: you can change your mind later.
Nobody will care, and - if they do make a fuss - that means what you wrote in the first place was good! Not a big deal. It's your thing, do what you want.
If you wait for everything to be perfect, you'll be waiting forever. Pick a topic and start. It's so much better.
Lastly, people ask: how do I send emails? What tools should I use?
Let's get into it.
The thing about software products is that, no matter what people say, the best ones make you feel amazing. So amazing you'll actually use them every day. And if not that - as close to it as possible. That's it.
Now, what feels great for me may not feel the same for you. Below are some of my recommendations. Feel free to check them out.
First, you'll need an email sending platform. Most are free and provide their own tutorials (so I'll skip tutorials for now).
Second, if you want to get more serious, a professional domain and email are worth it. You can buy them from GoDaddy, Namecheap, or Google Domains. G-Suite professional email I recommend buying from Google. They total less than $100/year for both. They're optional. Feel free to skip if it's too much right now.
That's it. Very easy. Get email platform, get subscribers, send emails.
The platforms will show you how to create a form to get subscribers. If you don't have a website, don't worry, most platforms have forms you can share online. The email sending platform should have help docs or customer support to work out any issues.
Popular email sending platforms offer a free plan. You can use any of them.
I'll be upfront, buttondown.email is a partner of mine. I love Justin's product and worked with him on a couple of things. I approached him to partner for Ship 21 and he said yes.
No surprise, you should consider Buttondown. It was designed as a simple tool for sending emails (which I use for these emails). No fancy automation, just a solid product with great features. It's free for the first 1000 subs and he lets you send emails from your own domain. It helps you stay away from people's spam filters, and most others charge for this feature.
Next, another (more serious) option is Flodesk.
Flodesk is the best value of any advanced email platform I've ever used. It comes with unlimited emails and subscribers for one set price and has all the expected features of a paid-for email platform. That link is my affiliate link and it'll get you 50% off for life. It's a great deal. Don't worry if you don't use my link - they're already running a 50% off sale to make the end of their beta. Nbd.
Either way, if you don't mind spending the $19/month it's the best-value email platform you can buy right now.
If you want to keep it simple, go with Buttondown. If you want more advanced features, customization, and a more business-oriented option, take Flodesk. Both are great. If you like something else, God bless you, use that. It’s all good.
Now, I'm not sure if you're convinced.
It's hard to start something like this, mentally. It's not practically hard to start at all. The mental component is the challenge.
Maybe you're like me.
Start lots of content, don't finish.
Have plans for months, never start.
Research platforms for weeks, never open a trial.
Start a trial, have one setback and drop it.
Start a newsletter after a very motivating day, drop everything when life gets even a little busy.
Have a little something going, but ignore it for months (life, right?).
Look, I get it. I've been exactly there.
It's natural to think nobody will care. I thought that too. But hundreds of you read my last email (and over a thousand of you have subscribed). It's wild to me, and I'm grateful. Clearly, something's working. I'm truly not doing that much though. For real, anyone can do this.
My only advantage is I don't care what people think 99% of the time.
It can sometimes feel harder than it actually is.
Take my word for it: this stuff is worth more than any day job. Even in my case - because I love my day job - I still know there's more to life and money. The foundation of what comes next starts with these little side-projects that go on to become big parts of our lives.
Start simple. Build on it. And see where it takes you.
A word of caution:
Do not quit your day job unless you know for sure you're good for whatever money you need.
I did this once and failed miserably.
But maybe (just maybe), I should have worked a few extra hours on evenings and weekends. You can start this way (like I wish I did). Write something (doesn't have to be great), and start publishing.
Again: If you're waiting for perfect, you'll always be waiting.
I hope that convinces you to start your own newsletter.
If you have any questions on how to do it, reply to this and I'll get back to you.
Thanks for reading and all the best.
PS - I launched a new project under Ship 21 in 2021. It's an email newsletter called Power Games and it covers the games people play and how to beat them. It's business-focused and free. Check it out.