Will Lawrence Discusses Community, Writing from Personal Experience, and Growing his Product Life Newsletter

Competition is overrated. You can have dozens of newsletters focussing on the same topic. But people will gravitate to yours because yours may be the first they discover, they may really enjoy your style or they may personally resonate with your story. Theres room for multiple people discussing the same thing.

- Will Lawrence, Product Life

Will started Product Life after listening to the podcast series by Naval Ravikant on “How to Get Rich Without Getting Lucky”. 

The core idea was that to be really free to do what you want, you need wealth. Naval defines wealth as things that make money while you sleep.

One way to build wealth is to “productize yourself”. 

Will is a product manager now and his impact is limited to the teams he can directly influence. 

But through his newsletter, his ideas can be used to influence countless teams around the world. While this isn’t creating wealth for Will (yet), it is creating value for him while he sleeps. 

In the future, he plans to add in products, services and perhaps a community to monetize his newsletter newsletter.

Here’s Will’s advice for growing a newsletter by writing from personal experience and contributing to niche communities:

Question/Answers

What tools do you use to research and then write your newsletter?

I actually don’t research a ton. I tried this one week and tried to do a think piece (something you would see from a VC on Twitter) and it was not 1) fun to write, 2) well-received.

I now just write from my personal experiences. This saves me time, yes, but it also lets me deliver on my core value propositions: real advice from someone doing the job.

How do you actively try to grow your newsletter?

Here’s my process:

  1. Write decent articles
  2. Tailor the content of the article to a few different social channels. For me these are LinkedIn, Twitter, 2 Facebook Groups and sometimes Slack/Reddit communities. I also wrote about it in the distribution section of this article.
  3. Respond to every comment and share

Additionally:

  1. The success metric of a newsletter issue should organic shares. This helps determine how valuable the content you’re creating is.
  2. Invest in finding the communities that want to hear your message. Facebook groups have been great for me.
  3. It’s all about consistency. 

How has the newsletter changed from edition #1 to where you are now?

I've doubled down on the content that led to the most shares and repeat visitors. In my world, that was product management templates and processes.

Any advice for someone who is starting a newsletter from scratch with no preexisting audience or followers?

Find a community and start contributing to it. If your niche is the film industry, go into the relevant subreddit and comment on large posts. Then, start to share your content into those subreddits. This is what I did for product management.

What does your process look like for understanding the teams/people you are influencing?

I generally write to myself. I personally find this easier and it allows me to write about things that I think are interesting. This has the neat affect of attracting other people like myself(PM at tech company) rather than me trying to grow in an area that I don't resonate with.

Have you considered making your newsletter paid?

I think paid is not the right monetisation model for most people (myself included). It makes it harder for new people to find and latch on to your content and also limits the transaction to a monthly fee like $10.

I’m much more excited about using the newsletter as a free entry point. I think you can do higher value products — ex. Consulting, courses or software — and then launch them to your community afterwards.

It seems like your best performing articles are based off your personal experience. How do you decide which experiences are worth writing about?

It’s nothing scientific, but I just think ask myself, “What’s something cool I did at work recently?”

What three things are currently inspiring and motivating you the most creatively?

Podcasts on starting your own business(Indie Hackers and My First Million are the faves), exploring how communities are designed and crypto.

Over the course of your life, what three things have inspired or motivated you the most creatively?

Optimism about the future, belief in my abilities and a love of food.

What have been the most difficult parts of running your newsletter so far? Any surprises? What would you have done differently if you had started it today?

Most difficult part: Seeing weeks at a time where your subscriber growth is essentially flat. My experience is that growth is largely “hits driven” — one amazing article will propel growth more than five OK ones.

Surprising: people like things that are more personal to my life than professional. This is related to…

Do differently: not focussing on the things I think I should write about. I thought I had to talk about strategy and current events like all the content I saw on Twitter. This was boring for me and not nearly as fun as talking about my own stories, challenges or lessons from my own job hunt.

How do you think about differentiating your newsletter from others that write about product management/PM career growth?

Two ideas:

  1. Share my own personal stories. This is what Naval Ravikant calls “Escaping competition through authenticity”. No one can share the same story as me!
  2. Competition is overrated: you can have dozens of newsletters focussing on the same topic. But people will gravitate to yours because yours may be the first they discover, they may really enjoy your style or they may personally resonate with your story. Theres room for multiple people discussing the same thing!

I’m curious about the folks that read Product Life: are they mostly PMs at larger companies, SMBs, startups? Are they pretty experienced or looking to become a PM and wanting insights?

Its mostly PMs with 2-4 years of experience at both small and large tech companies. They skew towards pretty experienced and are looking for practical tools/stories to help them grow.

What are your thoughts on growing a medium blog vs. going the newsletter route?

Be careful: a following on medium is not nearly as valuable as a newsletter email base. 

I had 600 followers on Medium, published a story and got 50 something views in the first week. Creators should always aim to have a direct link to their followers (i.e. emails) to minimize being dependent on distribution algorithms!

How do you remain positive (or just avoid getting down on yourself) when a piece you worked hard on seems to fall flat with your audience?

There's no silver bullet - this is a really tough feeling that I have more often than I'd like to admit.

I aim to congratulate myself for just "showing up" and writing that week. Even if the piece falls flat, I continued to strengthen my writing habit and have likely learned something from the experience. No piece is ever truly a waste.