Decision Vision Episode 135: Should I Create an Email Newsletter? – An Interview with Michael Katz, Blue Penguin Development
Do you need an email newsletter? How long should it be? What should you write about? Although written off quite a few times, email is still not dead. Mike Blake’s guest Michael Katz, email newsletter authority with Blue Penguin Development, discusses the strategy of email newsletters, how to make them effective, how to make the most of the content, and much more. Decision Vision is presented by Brady Ware & Company.
Michael Katz, Chief Penguin, Blue Penguin Development
Blue Penguin Development Inc is a marketing and advertising company based out of Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
An award-winning humorist and former corporate marketer, Blue Penguin founder and Chief Penguin, Michael Katz, specializes in helping professional service firms and solos talk and write about their work in a way that is clear and compelling.
Since launching Blue Penguin in 2000, Michael has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Business Week Online, Bloomberg TV, Forbes.com, Inc.com, USA Today, and other national and local media.
He is the author of four books and over the past 20 years has published more than 500 issues of “The Likeable Expert Gazette,” a twice-monthly email newsletter and podcast with 6,000 passionate subscribers in over 40 countries around the world.
Michael has an MBA from Boston University and a BA in Psychology from McGill University in Montreal. He is a past winner of the New England Press Association award for “Best Humor Columnist.”
Mike Blake, Brady Ware & Company
Michael Blake is the host of the Decision Vision podcast series and a Director of Brady Ware & Company. Mike specializes in the valuation of intellectual property-driven firms, such as software firms, aerospace firms, and professional services firms, most frequently in the capacity as a transaction advisor, helping clients obtain great outcomes from complex transaction opportunities. He is also a specialist in the appraisal of intellectual properties as stand-alone assets, such as software, trade secrets, and patents.
Mike has been a full-time business appraiser for 13 years with public accounting firms, boutique business appraisal firms, and an owner of his own firm. Prior to that, he spent 8 years in venture capital and investment banking, including transactions in the U.S., Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Brady Ware & Company
Brady Ware & Company is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm which helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality. Brady Ware services clients nationally from its offices in Alpharetta, GA; Columbus and Dayton, OH; and Richmond, IN. The firm is growth-minded, committed to the regions in which they operate, and most importantly, they make significant investments in their people and service offerings to meet the changing financial needs of those they are privileged to serve. The firm is dedicated to providing results that make a difference for its clients.
Decision Vision Podcast Series
Decision Vision is a podcast covering topics and issues facing small business owners and connecting them with solutions from leading experts. This series is presented by Brady Ware & Company. If you are a decision-maker for a small business, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure to listen to every Thursday to the Decision Vision podcast.
Connect with Brady Ware & Company:
Intro: [00:00:02] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions. Brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality.
Mike Blake: [00:00:21] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision making on a different topic from the business owners’ or executives’ perspective. We aren’t necessarily telling you what to do, but we can put you in a position to make an informed decision on your own and understand when you might need help along the way.
Mike Blake: [00:00:42] My name is Mike Blake, and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m a director at Brady Ware & Company, a full-service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia. My practice specializes in providing fact-based, strategic, and risk management advice to clients that are buying, selling, or growing the value of companies and intellectual property. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast, which is being recorded in Atlanta per social distancing protocols.
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Mike Blake: [00:01:27] Our topic today is, Should I create an email newsletter? And in doing this topic, I almost think like what’s old is new again, back to the future, retro, however you want to call it. Email newsletters, I think, have been declared dead more times than your typical cat or Rasputin, take either one.
Mike Blake: [00:01:52] First, it was spam blockers. And the next was social media. Of course, social media was going to obviate the need for email newsletters. And then, of course, everybody told us, if we don’t send people things in the analogue world and handwrite them, then nobody’s ever going to read it. And the list goes on and on.
Mike Blake: [00:02:12] And to coin a phrase from, about, five years ago, “And yet they persist”. And I think they persist for very good reason, is that, they’ve taken all kind of all comers. And in spite of that, in spite of many attempts and ongoing attempts to disrupt that world, email newsletters continue to thrive. And perhaps the best indicator of that is the fact that Atlanta’s own homegrown startup Mailchimp was just bought by Intuit for $12 billion. Mailchimp basically exists to help people and companies publish email newsletters.
Mike Blake: [00:02:53] Now, why does a tax company want a newsletter company? I’m not sure. I was going to say I’m not in that business. But I guess working for a CPA firm, I technically am, but I’m not. And I don’t even do my own taxes although I’m a CPA. And I don’t understand the strategic rationale for that deal or the price that they paid. But, you know, good for Ben Chesnut and his team, they’ve worked hard on that company for a very long time. They certainly deserve to see the fruits of that labor. And that’s a big feather in the cap for those of us who believe in the Atlanta startup ecosystem as I do.
Mike Blake: [00:03:33] And so, you know, I think that this is a topic that requires and I think many of us will benefit from this discussion. And helping us with this is is Michael Katz, who’s an award-winning humorist and former corporate marketer and Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin. And he specializes in helping professional services firms and solos talk and write about their work in a way that is clear and compelling.
Mike Blake: [00:04:01] Since launching Blue Penguin in 2000, Michael has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, BusinessWeek Online, Bloomberg TV, Forbes.com, Inc.com, USA Today, and other national and local media. And you can tell that he had nothing to do with my introductory comments. He is the author of four books. And over the past 20 years has published more than 500 issues of The Likeable Expert Gazette, a twice monthly email newsletter and podcast with 6,000 passionate subscribers in over 40 countries around the world.
Mike Blake: [00:04:33] Michael has an MBA from Boston University – I grew up in Boston. A B.A. in Psychology from McGill University in Montreal – home of my favorite actor and yours, William Shatner, or at least birthplace. He is a past winner of the New England Press Association Award for Best Humor Columnists. Michael, welcome to the program.
Michael Katz: [00:04:52] Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Mike Blake: [00:04:55] So, you know, there’s so many ways to communicate in the written word now with our intended audiences. And I actually think it is helpful, it may sound like the most inane question in the world, but I do think that the definitions have been blurred and it is important. In your mind what makes a newsletter a newsletter? And what separates it from other forms of written – I’m going to say – mass communication. I probably cringe at saying that, but it is sort of a one-to-many kind of communication model. What makes a newsletter a newsletter?
Michael Katz: [00:05:31] Well, I think it is pretty blurry. I mean, I always think of it, it’s just a glorified email sent to more than one person. Maybe the email that Target sends to you telling you you’ve got 30 percent off and the email that your accounting firm sends with useful information, they’re both technically newsletters and people pretty much use them interchangeably. So, you know, the definition really hasn’t gotten any clearer over the years. It sort of depends what business you’re in, but I think it applies when you send it by email to a number of people and generally not personalized beyond, you know, dear name.
Mike Blake: [00:06:12] You know, it’s interesting, even I would not have thought of the Target virtual flyer being a newsletter. But I guess it is, right? And that definition between advertisement, newsletter, blog post, something else, I think, has been blurred. And I guess I’ll follow up with this question, is that distinction even meaningful?
Michael Katz: [00:06:41] I think the distinction is, is this a thing that lands in your inbox or is it somewhere else, social media, video, all that? So, you know, I think as you were saying, Mike, earlier, it’s written and it shows up in your email. And so, that then becomes the question. So, is that still valuable or not? But I think all those things, I suppose, are the same species, email and newsletter.
Mike Blake: [00:07:05] Okay. So, those of us who are listening to this podcast, they may well be hearing newsletter and wondering, “Oh, my gosh. Do I have to basically now become a professional writer? I didn’t like writing five page essays in school. And, now, I got to do something every week or maybe more than that.” Is there an ideal length in your mind for a newsletter? Can newsletters be short? Do they need to be long form? They need be very long form? What’s best practices in determining just how much content goes into a newsletter?
Michael Katz: [00:07:41] Yeah. I always say one word is perfect. However, you have to get over two bars at least, again, in the world that I live in. So, again, I’m not doing the Target 30 percent off. I work exclusively with small professional service firms, financial planners, consultants, recruiters, coaches. So, these are all people who are selling themselves or their small firm, essentially. And so, those kind of newsletters are information-based. They’re not about an event. They’re not click to buy kinds of things, like click here and buy it. They’re really about – and we’ll talk more about it – getting in front of a group of people. So, yes, shorter is better because I can get your stuff sooner.
Michael Katz: [00:08:26] However, two things. One is, you have to tell me something that I will read it and have learned something. So, I’m always saying, you’re looking for me to read it and go, “Oh, there’s something I just learned about accounting, legal, management, consulting, whatever.” The second thing is, I think you want your newsletter to be long enough that you include some of your personal voice story experience. Because if it’s just information, well, I can get information by Googling it.
Michael Katz: [00:08:56] So, if you can say something that includes something useful and enough story – which I know we’ll talk about – then I think that’s good. I would say that for most people then, you’re talking 500 to 800 words to get that in there. But even among my own clients, there’s variations there.
Mike Blake: [00:09:18] So, how do you decide what goes in? And I’ll preface this with kind of my experience with this podcast, and you’ve done a lot more of these things than I have, so God bless you, I don’t know how you do it. But the question I’m asked most frequently is, how do you decide on the topics and how do you kind of keep it fresh? And my answer to them is, “Well, for me, I just keep a running note in every note. And every time something pops in my head, I write it down. And then, if I’m really stuck, I’m not afraid to revisit something if I think somebody else can bring a different voice to the same topic.” How do you decide what goes into your newsletter?
Michael Katz: [00:10:06] So, my point of view is, I’m trying to help my readers not need to hire me, which sounds counterintuitive. But what I mean is that – and this is true for any profession that I’m working with – help them learn not to need you. So, if you took a very simple example, suppose you’re a carpenter. Your newsletter should be about how to use a hammer, how to buy wood, how to climb a ladder. It’s very simple stuff. And, yes, if I got and received and retained a thousand newsletters like that, I suppose I would know as much as my carpenter.
Michael Katz: [00:10:42] But the truth is, you’ll never give away your business with those 500 or 700 word tidbits. But it has to be useful so that I read it like everybody thinks about what do I say to promote my business. Which is fine, that’s why we’re doing it. But your readers don’t care about your business. They are only going to read it, and stay with you, and tell other people about it if they find it useful.
Michael Katz: [00:11:06] So, that’s the sort of basis of it always, you have to match up to the audience that presumably would hire you by giving them something that will make them live their lives better or do their jobs better instead of running out of information. I mean, I’ve written 500 newsletters. I have, like, 30 ideas. So, it’s funny, I mean, I don’t republish them. And, by the way, that’s where stories come in.
Michael Katz: [00:11:30] But I’ll address a similar topic with a slightly different angle or something. Nobody says, “Wait a second. Four years ago in April, you said the same thing.” It’s sort of like, you know, if you have a personal trainer at the gym, the guys told you a thousand times to keep your back straight when you do pushups. You don’t say, “Wait a second. You already told me that.” So, people need repetition anyway. That’s fine.
Michael Katz: [00:11:56] The other thing is, even your most loyal readers will probably read every other one, so it’s fine. You’re trying to be out in front of a particular population over and over again with useful information and some personality because, again, your goal is that they refer you or maybe they hire you. So, it’s sort of easier than you think. I always say, if you know enough to be in a profession, you’ll never run out of content. My longest running client, an attorney, we’ve been doing a newsletter for 18 years and still publishing.
Mike Blake: [00:12:29] You know, you bring up that topic of what’s the likelihood that somebody’s going to remember a topic? I guess that’s right. In fact, I would love it if somebody has actually listened to this podcast with enough intentionality and frequency that they could spot any kind of repetitive material. And, frankly, I think I might actually buy a steak dinner if you sort of organically did that. Because I don’t think I have the kind of following like somebody, a dragon con, who shows up and questions one of the actors like, “In episode 192, how do the physics work when the spaceship went from galaxy to galaxy?” I don’t think I have that kind of following.
Mike Blake: [00:13:09] So, it probably is okay to kind of recycle stuff. And if you put a slant on it, so much the better. But you’re right, the portion of the population that’s going to have encyclopedic recall of all of your newsletters is a pretty small one. And if they are, you’ve probably already got them hooked anyway.
Michael Katz: [00:13:27] Right. I agree.
Mike Blake: [00:13:29] So, I’m going to go off script a little bit because your narrative brings to mind what I think is a really innocent question. And that is, can you recall the most memorable newsletter you either received or published? Either one you’re really proud of, or one you helped somebody publish because I know that’s what you do, or one that you received that maybe you said, “I really got something great out of that newsletter that I still use. I got it ten years ago. I still use that today.”
Michael Katz: [00:14:01] That’s a good question. And my answer is no, but here’s why. Because the value of a newsletter is a cumulative event. It’s like if I said to you, “Can you remember the best work you ever had?” You’re like, “How do I know?” Like, “Oh, yeah. It was like a Tuesday five years ago.” It’s the same thing. And I often have to talk people down from this, even people who are thinking of hiring me to say, “Look. It’s not a Super Bowl ad. You’re not going to publish a newsletter and have your phone ringing off the hook.”
Michael Katz: [00:14:34] And I do always use the exercise metaphor, that, exercising five times, you may as well not do it at all. But without question, if you exercise regularly for six months, you’ll get results. The same thing, it’s an ongoing event where people start to know you. They start to remember what you’re writing about. And then, one day, somebody needs what you’re selling. So, one important thing about a newsletter in its regularity is, it takes timing out of the equation.
Michael Katz: [00:15:04] So, the problem with advertising is you have to keep doing it. Because if you see a car ad today and you just bought a car last week, you have zero interest. Or if you’re planning to buy it in a year, zero interest. So, the reason that car people, for example, have to advertise constantly is because there’s always a slice of the population that’s ready to buy a car. So, they waste a ton of money on everyone else who isn’t.
Michael Katz: [00:15:26] Well, the newsletter, and particularly if you’re a small professional service firm, you don’t have advertising money, this is putting you in front of people over and over again. And so, one day they’re tired of their financial planner, their accountant doesn’t return their phone calls, whatever. They say, “Do you know anybody who could help me with this?” The newsletter acts as that constant prompt in front of them. So, visibility is a big part of what’s going on.
Mike Blake: [00:15:53] I think that’s really smart. And I actually kind of want to pause a little bit on that, because I’ve talked to many people, for example, in the podcast – I don’t have a newsletter. I eventually have to come out with one, but I don’t have one yet. But I think with the podcast it’s the same – I’m frequently asked, “How much business have you gotten out of it?” And my answer is, “Frankly, I have no earthly idea.” Because nobody is going to listen to my podcast and then pick up the phone and say, “Hey, I need you to do an appraisal of my company.” It’s just not going to happen. And podcasts, in particular, really don’t work that way.
Mike Blake: [00:16:32] But it’s the cumulative reminding people that you’re out there, that you have this expertise, you have that service so that it’s much more likely that that need is going to meet availability. And so, it’s about impact. It’s not so much about it’s important and it’s urgent. But there’s a third dimension out there about impact. And when you do a newsletter consistently, I think there’s a very similar philosophical ingredient to it or foundation to it that it’s not about the newsletter that you published today. It’s the aggregate of newsletters that you have published and continue to publish over an extended length of time.
Michael Katz: [00:17:13] Right. In fact, I’d even say, the person who calls you because they heard one podcast is suspect. That’s not a good client. That’s like, “What can I say to a woman in a bar to get her to marry me?” Nothing. Anyone who would say yes is bad. You want someone who’s listened to your podcast for a year. Because, first of all, you’ve screened out all the people who would actually hate you if they hired you. Because they’re like, “I like this guy.” And the people who don’t, go away.
Michael Katz: [00:17:46] Because my entire business is based on my own newsletter. No one ever gets in touch with me who isn’t kind of pre-qualified. So, it’s very effective in that way. And the best clients are the ones who’ve been listening for a while and finally say, “Hey, we’re ready to hire you.” I mean, it’s the easiest sales call you’ll ever get, an inbound call like that.
Mike Blake: [00:18:08] So, as I said in my introduction, newsletters, they’ve been declared dead a lot. And they’re still here and you’re still here. You don’t look dead to me. You don’t sound dead. So, why have they survived? Why do they continue to thrive? And I think they thrive, see if you agree with me. Why do they continue to thrive where there’s so much competition now for our attention?
Michael Katz: [00:18:38] Yeah. Well, you’re right. I mean, it’s so interesting how much it’s changed. So, I started doing newsletters in 2001. And the biggest objection I received from potential clients was that not enough of their clients and customers had email. And, like, blogs came out. That was going to kill it. Then, it was the whole spam thing. I mean, it’s amazing to think that Congress got together and passed a CAN-SPAM Act. That spam was so bad that there was a law passed about it. And then, social media came.
Michael Katz: [00:19:14] And I have to say about, maybe, whatever it was, ten years ago when social media sort of started, I was concerned. Like, you know, I don’t want to be so selling this thing that’s like a dinosaur. And so, paying very close attention what’s the next thing, looking around. And I think a couple of things. One is, nobody is in charge of email.
Michael Katz: [00:19:37] So, the problem with social media – and there have even been some very high profile examples – they can kick you off if they want. They run the whole thing. Like, nobody knows what the algorithm on LinkedIn is or Facebook to get you in front of different people. It’s a secret. So, you could be very popular on LinkedIn, and tomorrow they change the algorithm, and now it drops.
Michael Katz: [00:19:59] So, you don’t own the real estate if you build a business on any of the social media platforms. There’s somebody in between you and the recipient. Email is a completely distributed system. Nobody is in charge of email. So, the only people who decide whether my newsletter is read and opened are the people on the list. So, that’s very powerful.
Michael Katz: [00:20:21] Secondly, it shows up in your inbox. So, it’s funny, sometimes if I’m talking to you a live group, I’ll say, “Okay. Raise your hand if you’ve checked LinkedIn today.” And you get, like, half the group. “Raise your hand if you’ve checked email.” Everybody. So, as much as email is dead, it’s sort of like the day you can sign up for a social media account without an email address, I believe it’s dead. It still is the default in our life. It’s not even do you have email anymore. There’s things you can’t do. I can’t make a doctor’s appointment anymore without an email address. So, even though I’ve been wondering will it die, it still continues to be very compelling.
Michael Katz: [00:21:05] And, again, because my newsletter will sit in your inbox until you delete it, I think that’s also more powerful than a post on LinkedIn, which in the time we’ve been talking, if somebody posted, it’s already gone. You know, it’s pushed down. So, it’s funny, it’s like skinny ties – for no good reason, but if you wait long enough, I guess – I don’t know if something will replace it. But I’ve never found anything that says effective in all the ways we’ve been talking about is email, so still a lot.
Mike Blake: [00:21:39] Yeah. That’s a really interesting description. I hadn’t thought of either of those things. But it’s right to me. Social media, we don’t own the real estate. We don’t control who sees our thing, who sees our content. And we try to read the tea leaves in terms of what’s going to to gather the most, first of all, visibility, and then engagement, which is entirely a different animal. But then, this notion that, in a way, email has become like broadcast television. The way that you described it, I think that’s so smart.
Mike Blake: [00:22:26] And I guess it resonates to me because several years ago we cut the cord. No cable T.V. But we still do subscribe to the Netflix, Hulu. I have no idea if we’re saving money. We’re probably not, if I’m totally honest about it. But one of the the reason we still do that is because you can’t just sort of turn on Netflix and a program appears. You have to be with the modern television model. You have to be intentional about what you want to watch. Unless you do cable and then you can do that. That’s what we want to do.
Mike Blake: [00:23:02] Email is kind of the same thing, right? It’s so ingrained. Like you said, you cannot make a doctor’s appointment, you can’t do almost anything you want to do in life. The phone book has been replaced by email in some regard. And so, if you’re a functional adult in the society, you are actively managing and looking at an email account. And that’s the way in to everybody is through that channel. And I had not thought about that until you raised that before. That’s really interesting and that’s really important.
Michael Katz: [00:23:33] I think it does somewhat depend on the population, too. So, you know, everyone I work with is – I don’t know – 40 or older. Whereas, you know, I have a 22 year old son, I have to text him to tell him to check his email, even though he has an email account. It is possible if you’re talking to that audience – and who knows the sort of next generation that it moves on – at least for now, you know, my people are the middle aged and older, we’re still very much tied to email.
Mike Blake: [00:24:06] Yeah. I’m with you. I’m on the older side of Gen X myself. So, email is going to be my primary conduit. And I have a teenager and I kind of do the same thing. But what he’s finding is that texting amongst themselves and his friends is fine. But for the really important stuff, he misses a lot if he doesn’t check email. For what it’s worth for now, you and I are still controlling the world. In 20 years, it maybe different, but we still rule the world with an iron fist.
Mike Blake: [00:24:39] So, let me switch gears here, and it’s a little bit more the how. So, there are services out there, as you know, where you can send out a newsletter that’s basically canned content. Somebody writes it for you and then you put your name on it, you say that it’s yours. What do you think of those? Is there any value to those in your mind? Is there a value case to a certain kind of customer? Are they really valuable? What’s your view there?
Michael Katz: [00:25:08] I think there’s value there. I mean, again, because the option of not doing that is you’re invisible. So, even if I never open your email, but you show up once a month or whenever, and I, for whatever reason, don’t unsubscribe, at least I know you’re alive. So, that’s better than nothing.
Michael Katz: [00:25:33] There’s a few things missing, though. The problem is, you know, back in the day when it was print emails, and the insurance industry was famous for this, where you could get your photo and your contact information onto something they mailed. Well, back then, it was valuable to have someone give you some information about buying insurance, for example. Today, I can get any piece of information I want on anything in a minute with Google. So, if all you’re sending me is canned information, number one, it’s not unusual in any way. And number two, it’s not even your point of view.
Michael Katz: [00:26:10] So, this sort of funny thing going on, people sign up for your newsletter because they want the information. But what I’m trying to do is get them to know who I am or who my clients are. Because if you’re selling a professional service, the problem is the people who are your prospects and even your clients cannot tell how good you are relative to the other options.
Michael Katz: [00:26:31] It’s like you don’t have the slightest idea how medically capable your own doctor is. You don’t even know where he or she went to medical school. You’re like, “I don’t know.” And if I said, “Do you like your doctor?” So, again, I often will say to an audience, “Raise your hand if you like your doctor.” You get a lot of hands going up. “Keep your hand up if you know where your doctor went to medical school.” Nobody. So, why do you like your doctor then, or your accountant, or your auto mechanic? “I like the way they talk to me. I like their point of view. I like their personality.”
Michael Katz: [00:26:59] It has nothing to do with their capability. Yes, you have to be capable. But everybody who’s worth worrying about is capable. In fact, if you’re in an industry like yours, Mike, that’s where certification is required, CPA, medical school, you know, whatever. It’s actually harder to distinguish yourself because I know as long as I hire a CPA, I got somebody who’s over the bar. So, the differentiator is not capability. Again, you have to be good enough. It’s all this soft, squishy, non-professional business stuff.
Michael Katz: [00:27:35] And so, to me, what a newsletter ought to be is story and personality wrapped around useful information. Because over time, people get to know you. What’s funny is when I write a newsletter, let’s say, for myself, I’ll write about my family just took a trip to Colorado. Nine out of ten of the comments I get relates to someone else who went to Colorado. It’s not about the business thing. If I only wrote a newsletter and just told you about a family trip, you don’t subscribe.
Michael Katz: [00:28:05] But when I wrap this around the useful information, the soft stuff is what they notice. And, ultimately, I think that’s why you hire me versus somebody else or don’t hire me because you don’t like me. But again, I’m happy about that. You’re better off if we wouldn’t get along to go elsewhere.
Michael Katz: [00:28:24] So, it’s a really weird thing, but it’s extremely powerful because that’s really how word of mouth works anyway. People just passing other people around. And the newsletter done this way is just a very scalable way to do this, you know, to network, essentially.
Mike Blake: [00:28:43] And, you know, that’s interesting how you bring the individual voice into that, and I agree with that. And you’re right, it is in the accounting industry very challenging for people to separate themselves. And you ought to be really careful and say I’m the best accountant in the world. That’s a hard position to sustain or quantify. But you can always make yourself different. But you can’t make yourself different unless you’re actually communicating with somebody that they can see how you’re different. And I don’t think it’s all that effective to just say, “Well, I’m different.” You have to lead people to their own conclusion that you’re different by acting differently.
Mike Blake: [00:29:30] So, I want to get to creating a content in a second, but I do want to cover another model for newsletters, which is not a canned service per se, but maybe a newsletter that’s based on curating somebody else’s content. Like, you’re a big reader and you’re doing a service for your readers who don’t have as much time to read and gather information as much as you do. So, you’re going to kind of aggregate information on behalf of somebody else. In your mind, how effective is that kind of newsletter content strategy?
Michael Katz: [00:30:05] So, I think of it as a long a continuum. So, all the way to one side is, I never publish anything. As far as you know, I’m dead. Next step is, here’s a newsletter where it’s got my picture on it and my contact information, but it’s totally candid and I had nothing to do with it. But way better than nothing. I mean, because, I think half the game is showing up.
Michael Katz: [00:30:25] The curated one is one step further because, now, at least you’ve had input into what you decided is important. The downside is, you’re hosting other experts, essentially. So, I don’t know anything about how you think. I don’t know anything about your voice, your story, your personality. I just know, “Okay. He or she said these things matter.” What I want to get to is one step beyond that, which is, this is my point of view.
Michael Katz: [00:30:48] Again, if you’ve been a CPA for 20 years, you know a lot of stuff. And the other thing is people will think, “Oh, so I have to write something that’s never been said before in the world of accounting? I mean, we all have one or two things, maybe, and that’s it.” You got to remember your audience. If I’m a reader of your newsletter, I don’t know anything about accounting. I don’t want to know a lot about accounting. I just want a little insight that goes, “Blah, blah, blah. Here’s what you need to do.” It’s accounting 101. It’s embarrassingly simple.
Michael Katz: [00:31:21] Again, in that carpentry example, how to buy wood. Another carpenter would be like, “Well, no kidding.” But to me, as a homeowner, I don’t know. So, super simple. A little nugget that makes me go, “Oh. Okay. I just learned something. I’ll come back next month.” And, again, if you include that with some personal story, which, by the way, the only unique thing you have in terms of information is your story. Like, nobody can tell the story I told about going to Colorado with my family. I’m the only one on Earth who can do it. Anyone could have told the insight – whatever it was, I don’t really remember – that came with it.
Michael Katz: [00:31:56] So, it’s the more custom, I think, the better. Because, again, you’re trying to not just be known as an accountant. You’re trying to be known as that guy, Mike, that I like. And maybe one day I will hire him because I’m kind of sick of our accounting for whatever reason.
Mike Blake: [00:32:12] So, when I think of newsletters – this probably reveals my age. Again, I’m a Gen Xer. That’s the way it is – I think of newsletters that have maybe three or four articles in them and they have sort of a professional publishing format and so forth. Is that best practices now? Does a newsletter have to talk about three or four different things to kind of be worthy of the name? Or can you send out a newsletter that, in effect, is one message?
Michael Katz: [00:32:46] So, now, we’re getting into stuff where it’s like I don’t think there’s a must be this way or must be that way. As long as you satisfy useful information wrapped inside personality, I think you’re there. Because the other question is, should I make them click to read it or should I put the whole thing in the email? Pluses and minuses on both sides. It’s funny how in the same breath people will say, “Nobody has time to read anything. Should I have five articles?”
Michael Katz: [00:33:15] I mean, I wasn’t kidding when I said one word is the best. Because although I don’t think length equals quality, there’s reality that if your newsletter is too long, I think people stockpile them, which kind of adds up to never read them.
Michael Katz: [00:33:30] I have a friend/client, the only person I’ve ever met who can satisfy the useful information and personality in 300 words. I don’t know how he does it. But his newsletter is so short that when it arrives, I read it right away because I know it’s going to be short.
Michael Katz: [00:33:47] So, I think it’s okay to have the several stories. But, again, my goal isn’t to be a publisher. It’s to generate business. So, I just want to make sure I tick the box of useful and story. And so, I’m inclined towards the main article. There’ll be some tidbits like, “Hey, you know, we just won this award.” Or, you know, again, with my clients, that might be another section. Or I have someone who does, like, a book of the month that she reads, she’s an attorney. But there’s that one main article, and I find that works pretty well and it gets read as a result.
Mike Blake: [00:34:27] So, you talked about – and I agree – that it’s important for a newsletter, if possible, to reveal as much of the voice of the creator of the newsletter as possible. What do you do if you’re not a particularly good writer? Some people are good at math, some people are good at writing, some people want to be good at writing, and others couldn’t care less. Are newsletter just sort of closed off to you? Or is it a massively hard slog if you just don’t fancy yourself as a writer?
Michael Katz: [00:35:04] Okay. So, I’m going to use another exercise analogy.
Mike Blake: [00:35:09] Please.
Michael Katz: [00:35:09] So, like, ten years ago, I had knee surgery. I had my ACL replaced. And afterwards the physical therapist said, “Okay. You’ve got to go to the gym and get on an elliptical machine because you can’t run for a while.” And I never used an elliptical machine but I did belong to a gym. So, I go in there and I looked, and there’s, like, four different kinds of elliptical machines.
Michael Katz: [00:35:31] And so, I go up to the front desk and there’s the guy, and it’s huge muscle guy with just tiny little T-shirt reading a muscle magazine. He doesn’t even look up at me. And I go, “Hey. Which of these elliptical machines is the best one?” And he said what I believe is, like, the most wisdom I’ve ever heard, without looking up, he goes, “Whichever one you’ll stay on the longest.” The reason we have multiple machines is because some people like this one and some people like that one. The point of exercise is more of it too.
Michael Katz: [00:36:05] It’s sort of the same thing that you’re trying to do something you don’t hate. So, I can talk all day about why newsletters are great. But if you’re going to do it yourself without help and you hate writing, you’re not going to do it. So, find something else. Maybe you’re a good talker and so podcasts is better for you. Maybe you’re good on camera and video or social media, whatever. You have to pick marketing tactics that you, at least, can tolerate – the same thing, some people hate running, some people like swimming – or you’ll never do it.
Michael Katz: [00:36:41] Because the rest is really sort of nuance. Is a podcast better than a newsletter? I don’t know. The point is, keep showing up. Keep doing it. I don’t think you have to be a great writer, though, as long as you’re willing to do it. It’s funny, I’ve had so many people over the years say, “I’m a terrible writer.” No one has ever said to me, “I can’t talk to other people. What do I do?” It’s sort of the same thing. This isn’t like you’ve got to be Stephen King here.
Michael Katz: [00:37:08] In fact, I spent a lot of time unteaching people to stop writing like they’re writing marketing. Like, they get into this mode of it’s either a super formal or it’s like, “Hey, dude. Let’s kill it,” and the guy is, like, 60. I think your newsletter – because, again, it is an email – it’s inherently informal. So, your newsletter, I think, should sound like you speaking, as close as that as you can get. And since most people can speak coherently, if you do that, you’re good. Now, you may need an editor because you don’t want it to look unprofessional with punctuation or misused words, but that’s okay.
Michael Katz: [00:37:52] Most of my clients, the arrangement is some people I interviewed them and they never touched a keyboard, that’s fine. But I have other people where after we’ve figured out all this voice and, you know, it’s the design and the Mailchimp set up and all that, every month we talk about, “Okay. What’s the topic going to be?” We’ve already identified a bunch of areas. We go back and forth on, “Well, yeah, I think that sounds like three topics. What if you did this one?”
Michael Katz: [00:38:19] They write the first draft badly. I always say, “I don’t need you to write it well. I just need the raw material. Give me enough information that I can do it.” I don’t do any research. And, by the way, neither do they. Because, again, you don’t need to do accounting research. You could talk forever. And then, I fix it. So, I’m essentially a writer.
Michael Katz: [00:38:40] But as long as they just give me the blah, I then take it and fix it. But, again, whereas there’s other professionals I know who do the whole thing themselves. So, you can do it. But you’ve got to do it. It’s like you can’t go to the gym twice. You’ve got to keep going.
Mike Blake: [00:38:57] Has the advent of mobile devices changed at all how you do, or how you create, or think about newsletters as a medium?
Michael Katz: [00:39:05] Yeah. I mean, you know, when it starts to become a thing – I don’t know – five or six years ago, we had to get rid of the newsletters with the side column, which was sort of the standard, because it has to look good on a phone. And then, there’s this term responsive, meaning your newsletter response to whatever device it’s on. So, the same newsletter will work on a computer or a tablet or a phone. And, you know, the Mailchimps of the world have made that automatic, so you don’t have to worry about it.
Michael Katz: [00:39:35] But half of the world, at least, is opening email on a phone. I don’t know what percent will actually read it there. But you have to make sure you know the font is big enough, that you don’t have graphics that don’t work on a phone, so you just test it. But it’s not a problem, but you certainly have to account for it.
Mike Blake: [00:39:56] So, I want to switch gears here. An important driver of success in a newsletter, I would imagine, is having an audience to send it to. And it seems to me that building an email list – well, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m sure there are listeners who are listening to this right now that think, “You know what? Newsletter sounds great. I don’t know who I’m going to send it to.” Is there a special order of operations? Or how do you come up with a mailing list? Or are there tips? Do you think about building a mailing list really quickly? And then, how you do that? Any content? I mean, is the newsletter only a game, I guess, for somebody that already has a big mailing list?
Michael Katz: [00:40:46] No. Because, again, I’m working with professional service providers. No. None of those people have mailing lists. But you’re mailing lists are the people you know. I define people you know as, if you call them up, you wouldn’t have to introduce yourself. So, it’s not everybody you went to college with. It’s not the membership list of your professional organization. That’s spam. But it’s the humans on Earth you know. I find like the average middle aged person knows, like, 400 or 500 people. They always say, “Oh, I only know 50”. But now we sit down, it’s your college roommate, it’s your brother-in- law, it’s former clients. We’ll talk about what’s the value of your brother-in-law here?
Michael Katz: [00:41:26] So, people make two mistakes. One is, they just get every email they can get and now they’re seen as a spammer. Don’t do that. The other is they think, “Who might hire me? They only have, like, 15 people.” It’s a word of mouth game. So, the way I get hired as a marketing consultant, yes, sometimes it’s a potential client. But more often than not, you know, four out of five, it’s somebody else. My brother-in-law who reads my newsletter and finally knows what I do for a living after how many years, and a friend.
Michael Katz: [00:41:58] If you think about how word of mouth works, it’s two people sitting in Starbucks and somebody goes, “I’m just so sick of my accountant. He never calls me back, blah, blah, blah.” And then, the other guy goes, “Look at this guy’s newsletter, call him.” What’s funny is when people refer professionals like that, they don’t even necessarily know how the professional works, what they charge, how good they are. If I said, “I need a guitar teacher,” your brain goes, “Who do I know? Call this guy.”
Michael Katz: [00:42:27] So, if you take those 500 people, your brother-in-law, your college roommate, colleagues, more business people, and you’re in front of them every month, talking, whatever it is you do, what happens is they refer you. So, when I start a newsletter with a new client, I’m like, “Give me those people. Again, only people you know.” The first time you publish, out of 500, 50 of those people are going to unsubscribe. And, yes, you’ll get one person maybe.
Michael Katz: [00:42:51] Although, it doesn’t even happen anymore, who’s angry that they’re on the list. It happened ten years ago and when everybody was like, “Spam. Don’t spam me.” Now, for whatever reason, like when was the last time you heard somebody complain about spam? It’s not even a thing anymore. But, now, you’re off and running with your 450 people. And, yes, it’s good to add people because it’s a leaky bucket. Every month, people move or whatever. But you don’t need to, like, aggressively grow your list. In fact, I don’t know a way to do that that isn’t spam.
Michael Katz: [00:43:19] But I practice what I call aggressive opt in. When I meet somebody, I go, “Hey, can I do my list?” And we connect. So, I’m adding onesies, twosies all the time. You will get some people who wandered over to your website and sign up. But not a lot if you’re the average professional person. So, you have to kind of work it intentionally. But what’s amazing is, you only need, like, 500 people you know. Yes, if you’re selling products, you need 50,000 people. If you’re selling professional services, I mean, if I get 20 new clients a year, it’s all I can handle.
Michael Katz: [00:43:54] So, the numbers are small. And, again, it works very well for this population, which is different than if your target needs to do all kinds of stuff like this. It’s really not a list size thing. It’s a quality thing. Quality of the list.
Mike Blake: [00:44:09] Is there an optimal frequency for publishing newsletters?
Michael Katz: [00:44:12] Everyday. I think, again, for a professional service newsletter – once again, just to say – it varies. If you owned a bar, it’s probably once a week on a Thursday afternoon. But in my world, almost everybody I work with, it’s once a month. So, it’s only 12 times a year. And I say only, because it has to be manageable. I publish my newsletter every two weeks, which I think is perfect in terms of effectiveness. But most people can’t sustain that because they have real jobs. Once a month is a nice rhythm to that. It gives you time to get it ready, publish it, and then get some breathing room for a couple of weeks and start again.
Michael Katz: [00:44:57] It’s funny, like, 18 years ago, I would say to people, “Once a month, and your troubles are over.” Now, I say, “The least you can do it, I think, is once a month because there’s so many other things out there that you’ll be invisible if you back up to the default, which is quarterly.” I don’t think that’s enough anymore. But it’s more than enough – well, it’s enough. I mean, again, all my clients do it that way, mostly. And they all regularly, because people share their success stories, like, “Hey, I just got a new client. They read some of my newsletter.” You know, it happens all the time. So, it’s a good pace.
Mike Blake: [00:45:30] So, we’ve talked a little bit about, in effect, a long tail of newsletters and how you measure performance. But it also seems to me that one of the benefits of newsletters is that, unlike podcasts, for example, there’s a lot of data out there that can give you insight in terms of who’s opening it and who’s reading it, that sort of thing. Are those metrics that you follow? Do they matter to you? And if so, what do you really pay attention to? What do you use? And maybe what’s overhyped too?
Michael Katz: [00:46:02] Well, I think newsletter data is overhyped, because the only thing you can measure is opens and clicks and bounces. So, because that’s the only thing you can measure, that’s what we measure. But the truth is, if I’m not selling sneakers or something, what’s the difference how many clicks there were? It doesn’t matter. What matters is, has anyone ever said, “I called you because of your newsletter”? And I’d say even there, yes, you get these direct connects, which are great. I love when a client tells me that or I get that. My favorite call is somebody goes, “Hi. We’ve been reading your newsletter for two years and want to talk to you.” That’s a client coming up right there.
Michael Katz: [00:47:21] So, although I do provide data to my clients, and people ask about it often or usually before they hire me, I’m not even sure they even look at it after they’re up and running. There’s a certain leap of faith, though, because it’s relationship building. It’s hard to connect A to B.
Michael Katz: [00:47:40] Part of the reason I work only with small firms now – I used to work with big companies – is because I got tired of having to defend it. Because if you’re the marketing guy in a big company – because I used to be – you got to defend everything you spent to the CFO. If you owned the business, I don’t need to explain to you the value of relationship building. So, I’d much rather work with someone who goes, “Yeah, I get it.”
Mike Blake: [00:48:03] So, we’re talking with Michael Katz. And the topic is, Should I create an email newsletter? Does the time of day that you send an email newsletter out matter?
Michael Katz: [00:48:19] Not anymore. I mean, back in the day when we all closed our computers at 5:00 on Friday and didn’t look at them until Monday morning, I think so. But it’s very much a 7 by 24 thing now. I try and avoid the times people are in heavy delete mode. So, even though it’s 7/24, people do sleep. So, you wouldn’t want to send a newsletter overnight.
Michael Katz: [00:48:40] Like, my wife wakes up, reaches for her phone, and starts deleting. She’s trying to clear the day so when she gets in front of her desk, she’s got less stuff. You don’t want to be in that pile because the bar is higher. I also avoid Mondays, because even though, yes, it’s 7/24, we do sort of slow down.
Michael Katz: [00:48:57] So, to me, a newsletter, any time between, like, 9:00 in the morning or 8:00 in the morning, I try to do in the morning rather than in the afternoon. But I have no data for that. And then, you know, Tuesday through Friday, again, for a business newsletter. But I have never found a difference in any measurable way that says, you know, middle of the week, middle of the day is better. But this kind of stuff, I don’t think matters.
Mike Blake: [00:49:26] One piece of advice you hear pretty frequently when engaging in digital marketing is to reuse that content if you can. If you’ve got a newsletter article, make it into a YouTube video, podcast, whatever, do you – no pun intended – subscribe to that theory? Or do you think that content needs to be more kind of siloed?
Michael Katz: [00:49:49] I totally agree. In fact, the best thing that happened to email newsletters is social media. I mean, when I first started doing a newsletter, you’d send the thing out and then it evaporated, it was email. So, if you subscribed to my newsletter 30 seconds after I sent it out, not only did you not get that one, you didn’t get any of the other ones because it was in the days before WordPress, where you could easily put the thing on your website. So, initially ,it was just email, send it, gone.
Michael Katz: [00:50:18] Then, the blog is invented. Now, you could send it, but also post it on your website, same content, though. But the nice thing is it now lives on your website, Google likes it, people can check it out after the fact. So, that was the state of the world for another five or six years.
Michael Katz: [00:50:34] Now, in social media, for example, with my newsletter. I put it on my website before I send it, now it’s a blog. Then, I send it, then I record it, now it’s a podcast. I don’t interview people like you’re doing, I just record it. But there’s a lot of sight impaired people, people who prefer to listen. What do I care? It adds 30 minutes to the process. So, now, I have a podcast. It’s on my website. It’s on iTunes. Then, I take it and I chop up little pieces of it.
Michael Katz: [00:50:59] And for the next year, I cycle it through my social media – which, for me, is almost entirely LinkedIn – with all my other newsletters. And then, it expires in a year. It’s just a little bit of a segment of it, an image, and I link it back to the thing on my website. So, I’m getting people who missed the first one. I mean, even your best readers, you know, if you’re open rate is north of 35 percent, you’re doing well. So, that means two out of three people don’t read each one at best. So, they see it on social media. I published a book, it was just 29 slightly changed newsletters.
Michael Katz: [00:51:38] So, it’s great. The hard part is writing it once. Then, how many different ways can you just spray this around over and over again? And, yes, I suppose – as I was joking earlier – there are some people who are like, “Hey, wait a second. I read this before.” But most people don’t. And this way you get way more mileage for your hard work of writing it once.
Mike Blake: [00:52:01] Michael, this has been a great conversation. We’re running out of time and I want to be respectful of yours. There are probably questions that we didn’t cover that somebody would have asked or didn’t go as deeply as somebody would have liked. If someone wants to contact you for more information about this topic, can they do so? And if so, what’s the best way to do that?
Michael Katz: [00:52:19] My website is just michaelkatz.com, and they can subscribe to my newsletter or contact me there.
Mike Blake: [00:52:27] Well, great. That’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. I’d like to thank Michael Katz so much for sharing his expertise with us.
Mike Blake: [00:52:35] We’ll be exploring a new topic each week, so please tune in so that when you’re faced with your next business decision, you have clear vision when making it. If you enjoy these podcasts, please consider leaving a review with your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us that we can help them. If you’d like to engage with me on social media, with my Chart of the Day and other content, I’m on, LinkedIn as myself and @unblakeable on Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, and Instagram. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor is Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision podcast.