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Juha-Matti Santala
Juha-Matti Santala

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5 key learnings from running a developer newsletter

For quite a while, I've been entertaining the idea of starting a developer newsletter. Personally I'm a big fan of newsletters and as I've been building communities for a while already, doing one of my own was a thing I wanted to try out. In August of last year, a great opportunity to do that arose and I took on the challenge.

I started building Dev Breakfast in July and released the first issue in August. It's a monthly email into which I curate interesting articles, blog posts, talks and tools that are interesting to software developers. Our company has 300 developers who love to discuss topics in company internal Slack and I wanted to bring up those interesting articles discussed also to others.

1. Have a focused topic

When I started building this newsletter with our team, the first question that needed an answer was the focus and topic. We decided to go with software development in general since we are interested in serving a larger audience.

Software development is a huge field and right now I feel like we should have been bit more bold to go for a more narrow niche. It's difficult to build an audience for any content if it's all over the place and it's easier also to curate and author content the smaller the topic is.

One way that we're tackling this moving forward is that starting from February, each month will have a theme based on interests of my colleagues who will start to curate the content.

2. Start with minimum viable newsletter

There's a lot to do and optimize in newsletter publishing. You'll learn that as you go so my suggestion is to start by doing something and regularly reflecting on how it's working. Pick up a platform (like Mailchimp or Hubspot, build a list and make a really simple signup page.

After that, do marketing: share it in social media, your blog, your talks or just ask your friends and colleagues to sign up. Once you have people, start publishing and learn on the way.

Our process of building the newsletter has evolved a lot during the first seven months. You'll learn what works, what's easy, what's hard and what pain points you encounter as you build your newsletter and grow your audience.

3. Focus on your readers

Whether you're running your newsletter for your business, your personal brand, a non-profit or any other reason, put your needs on the backseat. Put every bit of focus on the people reading the newsletter (or potential subscribers from your audience).

If your newsletter doesn't provide content that is interesting to people, you're wasting your time. Platforms like Mailchimp and Hubspot offer great analytics so you can see how many people open your emails, which links they click and if you're linking to your own content, using UTM tags allows you to analyze what your readers are doing after they reach your site.

The number of subscribers is not a valuable metric so don't look at that too much. Pay more attention on how many people actually read your emails and interact with it.

4. Make it easy for people to unsubscribe

Some marketing emails make this really difficult and it's just silly. Many platforms will charge you based on the amount of emails sent so having people not interested in your emails to unsubscribe serves you well. Also having subscribers on your list who never open your emails doesn't serve any purpose for anyone.

So don't try to hide the unsubscribe links. If you use existing services to run your list, they already have good setups for this.

5. Do things that you enjoy

While your readers should be the main focus, running a newsletter where creating the content is a chore that you hate to do will not last. So pick a theme that you're excited about, use a format that makes you happy. I do a link curation but you could also write original content or spark discussion.

When you enjoy the process and the content, it becomes visible to your users and the quality of your newsletter will improve. Don't be scared to experiment, change things around and see what works. Finding a good balance between things that excite you and things that are interesting to your audience is not an easy task but it's where we all should aim for.


If you're interested in learning about interesting new things in the software development industry, check out Dev Breakfast.

I'd love to hear your opinions on both the content of the newsletter as well as the ideas presented in this post.

Cover image credit: Photo by Yannik Mika on Unsplash

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🌚 Friends don't let friends browse without dark mode.

Sorry, it's true.