Starting a local newsletter
6 min read

Starting a local newsletter

You're starting another new project, James?

People often roll their eyes when they hear I'm starting a new project. I tend to start a lot, and not finish them. In the past week I've launched two new things, Indie Bites and Canterbury Digest. These are projects things I've been genuinely excited and inspired to work on. I know I start a lot of things, I know a lot of them tend to fade out, but I'm having a bunch of fun trying to figure out what I enjoy, what inspires me and what can help other people.

There is so much opportunity in the world and it would be a shame to waste. I don't rely on any of my projects for income, I'm lucky enough to have a fantastic full-time job at System1. This means my projects are exactly that; side-projects. Not businesses (yet). An opportunity for me to learn a new skill, explore a new industry, meet new people and, perhaps more importantly, solve a new problem.

So, yes, I understand your eye-rolls when you see I've started yet another project / business / podcast, but I'm having fun exploring new things and figuring out what will work and what won't.

Now that's out of the way, let's crack on.

Discovering the local community

As some of you may know, I moved back to my hometown, Canterbury. I'm still in a halfway house at my mum's while I wait for my flat purchase to go through (btw who knew how much of a painful process it was buying a flat?! Some has gotta make a business to speed up the process).

One of the benefits of living in a smaller town (Canterbury is about 60-70k) is that there is a much bigger sense of community. There is more opportunity to cross paths with the same people and for local businesses to thrive - it's just something that's not possible in London. So for the past few months of being back in Kent, I've made it a mission of mine to get to know as many of the local businesses as I can. Find out more about what events are going on and what initiatives are run by the council, charities and individuals.

It's been absolutely terrific to meet the founders of these small businesses who serve the community with their coffee shop, bakery, carpet cleaning company etc. These are people that have taken a huge risk to start their company, all to provide these services for locals.

What I then realised is how difficult it was to surface some of these businesses. I'd come across a lot of them by wandering down the high-street, browsing Facebook groups and Sub-Reddits trying to navigate who's doing the best stuff.

The idea

I've been a follower of Andrew Wilkinson for a while, and have been impressed with his work on Tiny Capital. Owning a bunch of cool, profitable businesses. Some big, some small. When listening to Sam Parr & Shaan Puri's podcast with Andrew Wilkinson I found out about the local newsletter he'd started for his hometown of Victoria, Canada. I thought it was a pretty cool idea but didn't think too much of it.

Then Charlie Ward tagged me in this tweet from Andrew, about how he'd built the Victoria local newsletter to 40k subscribers with a relatively simple model. Charlie suggested I should do a similar thing with Canterbury. Given my past few months in Canterbury, this piqued my interest, so I started to look into it.

As it turns out, there is barely anything in terms of local news in Canterbury. There is one amazing publication, Kent Online which has a department that covers Canterbury, but they do have to cover the news for the entire county. If you search for 'Canterbury News' into Google, you only get the results fo Kent Online.

This made the idea even more interesting to me. At first, it was just something that might have been quite fun for me to do to learn more about the local community. But as I discovered, this is something Canterbury needs.

How do you start a newsletter?

It was decided, pretty quickly, that I was going to give this a crack. If anything, it would just help me learn more about the city and find my own sources of what's going on. There were a bunch of things I needed to figure out before I started.

  • Where do I source all the news?
  • Do I write my own content?
  • Can I commit to writing this every week?
  • Is every week enough?
  • How do I get subscribers?
  • What email software do I use?!
  • Can it make money?

Sourcing the news is something I'm most concerned about, as we only really have one place (Kent Online). Right now I'm going down the direction of using this as my source of news and curating all that is important for Canterbury, with a little commentary. Then I'll look around Facebook groups, local websites and the subreddit to populate the rest of the newsletter, including events, sports and more. I'm hoping that over time, if I persist, the news will start coming to me as the newsletter grows.

I'm positioning the newsletter as a 'curation' to start, but I'd love to start adding my own written content. The trouble is, I am no journalist and I wonder if I can commit to the additional time it would take to write high-quality posts every week. I'd love to get local journalists and journalism students on board to write for the Digest, but I wouldn't want to step on the toes of other local press, and I can't actually pay them anything to start. The locals would have to believe in the idea of this newsletter and that it's something the city needs.

It is pretty much decided that I can't write a high-quality piece of journalism for the Digest every week, but do I have the time to even write the newsletter? I think so. I've written a test issue to see how long it would take me to source and write. As it happens I'm sourcing most of the news as I go throughout the week, so putting together the actual mailout only takes a couple of hours. If I can consistently source the news each week, throughout the week, then I think it will be manageable.

Then there is the biggest hurdle, how do I get people to subscribe to this thing? I think as with any new project, it will be a little tough and demotivating, to begin with, but with some perseverance, it will grow. I truly believe that there is a need for this sort of content for Canterbury residents, but only time (and the market) will tell if there actually is. I plan to, first of all, rely on my personal network to share the newsletter, then local businesses with white-glove outreach and it will hopefully snowball from there. In the issues, I'll have prompts to share with friends and colleagues which will hopefully drive some growth. I'll also bid on that 'Canterbury News' keyword to see if I get any bites.

Oh and for those interested, I made a landing page using Notion, put it behind a domain using Super.so and I'm collecting emails with Chilipepper.

Probably the least pressing decision, but equally as important, was how do I send the newsletter? What software should I use. Anyone that has tried email marketing knows the black hole that is email software. Mailchimp is the default for most people starting out, but I went with Mailerlite after some research and I'm pretty happy with the email I made with it, at a good price.

Finally, can I actually make some money out of this thing? You should never start a business to make money, it should be to solve a problem. However, I can't sustainably put time into the newsletter without it generating some income. Plus, if I want to create our own high-quality content, then I need to be able to pay journalists. So, I've thought about monetising right from the beginning and have added sponsor slots for the newsletter. It will be a completely self-service way of booking an ad into the email and it starts off super cheap. It's a little bit of a chicken/egg situation where I don't have many subscribers. But hopefully it will start to lift over time.

Let's see how it goes

So I have the newsletter setup, I've committed to making it work. The next few weeks and I'll start to see if it's going to be a success or not.

If you're interested in signing up to the newsletter, you can do at canterburydigest.com. Or if you just want to keep up with my progress on building it, subscribe to this blog and you'll get notifications when a new post goes live.

In other news

🚀 As mentioned in the article, I wanted a quick way to build quick sites for my projects. I already used Notion, so discovering Super is a really quick way to host your Notion page on a domain and make it look excellent. I found Chilipepper for my forms and that was easy to use too. I'd recommend them both.

📖 James Clear's Atomic Habits is one of my favourite books of all time. I usually only listen to audiobooks, but I bought a hard copy of this one this week.

☕ This DTC Coffee brand, Onyx, has an amazing aesthetic and design style. Would be cool to find more brands with a similar style.

🖥️ Talking of cool designs, this roadmapping software, On Road Map looks pretty stunning.

🌍 If there is anything you read this week, read this article titled; "At 31, I have just weeks to live. Here's what I want to pass on". It will give you perspective and an appreciation of the gift we have as healthy human beings. Make the most of the time you have on this planet - sometimes we take for granted how privileged we are and how short life is.

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