I recently subscribed to a new email newsletter that I love: The Wonky Press. It’s written by quilter and blogger Jessica Skultety and she just started writing it a few months ago. Already Jessica is seeing results from communicating with her most loyal fans via email and I thought it would be neat to talk to her about what it’s like to start a newsletter from scratch. Here’s my profile of Jessica and The Wonky Press.
“There aren’t that many newsletters by modern quilters. I’m not sure why,” says Jessica Skultety. “Maybe people feel it won’t be worthwhile or they’re daunted by the software or they just don’t know what’s possible.” Jessica is a modern quilter and blogger who recently started an email newsletter called The Wonky Press and has found a lot of early success with it. “Email could be tapped more,” she says.
Jessica has been an avid blogger for five years, writing new posts 3-4 times a week on her blog, Quilty Habit. A lover of improvisational patchwork and modern takes on traditional blocks, she enjoys chronicling her quilt making and her journey as a budding designer.
For the past two years Jessica has served as president of the Central Jersey Modern Quilt Guild. One of her tasks in that role was to create an email newsletter that would go out to guild members. To do so she figured out how to use Mailchimp, designed an email layout, and determined what kind of content to include. The experience was empowering and about six months in she realized she could put the same skills to work for her own business. “I thought, ‘I could do this for me and get my name out there,’” Jessica says. So in October of 2015 she set up her own Mailchimp account, began collecting email addresses from her blog readers, and sent out her first newsletter calling it ‘The Wonky Press.’
Every two weeks since then Jessica has written and sent The Wonky Press to a growing list of subscribers. She’s now on issue #7 and her list has grown to 340 subscribers in just a few months.
She recently installed a HelloBar slider on her site and has been amazed by how well it has worked in helping her to grow her list. “I gained 40 subscribers in a week once I set it up!” she says. For Jessica the slider isn’t an annoying popup. Instead she sees it as a helpful tool to enable her visitors to sign up for The Wonky Press quickly and easily. “Maybe there are more great newsletters out there that I’m not subscribed to because I just can’t find the subscribe button,” she muses. In fact, while we were on the phone for this article I recommended a quilter whose newsletter I enjoy. Jessica clicked over to the site, but became frustrated because she couldn’t find where to sign up.
Adding newsletter writing to her online business did mean increasing her workload. Jessica estimates it takes her six hours in total to put each issue together, although she spreads that time out over two weeks so the task doesn’t get overwhelming. “About a week before it goes out I start writing parts of it. Then I go back here and there and add more. The night before it goes out I probably spend an hour and half finishing it up,” she says.
The Wonky Press goes out at midnight. The morning after Jessica inevitably wakes up to 2-3 unsubscribe notifications. “Sometimes that’s all the immediate feedback I get,” she says. While at first she found this disheartening, she’s come to realize that getting positive feedback takes some patience. “Often throughout the day people will email me with positive comments,” she says. “And one of those good emails easily cancels out two unsubscribes!”
Because The Wonky Press is packed with information including links, images, and editorials, Jessica has found that people wait to open it until they know they have time to read it thoroughly. Sometimes that can take a few days. “Sometimes people save it for later and go back to it. People often open it repeatedly.”
As far as determining content for her newsletter, Jessica has developed an overarching goal that guides her choices. “I really make it my job to find unique things. I’ve always been an avid blog reader, but now I read with an investigative eye. I’m looking for unique articles related to modern quilting – different perspectives and techniques. My goal is to be down to earth and real about the craft and quilting world. That’s my general approach.” For Jessica, the newsletter is a way to help her readers to refine their own thinking, especially when it comes to debates about modern versus traditional quilting.
To stay organized Jessica uses One Note, a Microsoft Office application that she was familiar with from note taking in college. When she finds a link or comes up with an idea for an editorial piece for her newsletter she jots it down on a devoted One Note page. “It’s like organized chaos,” she remarks.
For Jessica creating a newsletter rich with written information isn’t daunting because she enjoys writing, but she wants to reassure crafters who might not love writing that they, too, can create an effective newsletter. “Make it look good. Include photos with short captions instead of articles,” she advises.
One of Jessica’s long term goals is to create PDF quilt patterns and she’s hoping to launch the first one this year. She feels confident that the groundwork she’s laying now in developing relationships with her newsletter readers will pay off when she’s ready to launch. Jessica says even after her shop opens she’ll remain committed to keeping the content of The Wonky Press interesting and useful to her subscribers. “I don’t want it to be all self-promotion. An image of the product and a short call to action, yes, but everything else will be the kind of content I’m including now.”
For Jessica The Wonky Press feels more personal than her blog. “I like the intimacy that the newsletter brings. It’s a community and it’s special. I did a Periscope recently and all these people were commenting, ‘I love The Wonky Press!’ That felt really good.”
Visit Jessica’s blog, Quilty Habit, and subscribe to The Wonky Press to see what it’s all about. And if you’re considering starting (or reviving) a newsletter of your own, my ebook, How to Create a Powerful Email Newsletter: A Comprehensive Guide for Creatives, might be helpful.