Several months ago, I made a decision that would profoundly change my business, and my life.

I decided to write a weekly newsletter.

I had heard lots of hype around why every business should do this sort of thing. Build a huge list, blah, blah. Create marketing funnels, blah, blah.

Oh, I admit, those things all sounded good to me at the time. But once I actually started writing, a funny thing happened. I realized the best thing about my newsletter was the one thing no one told me about:

It made me a better person.

Here's a story of how the simple habit of writing your audience once a week can transform the way you work and live.

A change in focus

About six years ago, I started a newsletter about emotional intelligence, the primary topic of my column here on Inc. Originally, the newsletter was just a collection of links to my most popular articles, a way to drive more traffic to my column, create a connection with readers--and, hopefully, sell stuff. 

Then, I stopped.

I didn't write a single newsletter for two and a half years. Between launching my first book, the column, and, well, you know, life, I just couldn't find time to keep up with it.

But early this year, I decided I wanted to try something new. I noticed when looking at the previous emails I had sent, the ones with the highest open rates were the ones in which I got personal. The more I revealed about my innermost thoughts and feelings, the more the emails resonated.

So, I decided to begin writing about how emotional intelligence has helped me personally--not just at work, but also at home. I also decided to write weekly, instead of monthly. I followed Laura Belgray's advice to use the "Email From a Bestie" (EFAB) technique: Write each email as if I were writing to a good friend, one who happens to have the needs of my target audience.

What came next was very unexpected:

People started to email me back. Lots of people.

Originally, my goal was to try and answer each message. Before long, I simply couldn't do it. I was receiving hundreds of emails a week. Some wrote short messages simply to say thank you, others wrote mini-novels sharing their life stories.

I continue to write back to as many as I can, and I try my best to read each email (although I currently have over 400 unread messages sitting in my inbox).

So, you may be asking yourself, why in the world would you want to do something like this?

For one thing, my audience sought out opportunities to support me, by buying my book (sometimes multiple times, as gifts) and in other ways.

But much more important was what my audience taught me. Reading their emails became an amazing exercise in empathy. 

As I pored over their messages, I got to know readers on a level I never had before. They came from every walk of life, from all over the globe, and with amazing stories--some joyful, some heartbreaking. 

They shared intimate details of their lives: 

What makes them happy. What makes them sad. 

Stories of love lost. Stories of love found.

They shared their strengths.

They shared their weaknesses. 

They shared their fears and challenges. 

In reading all of these messages, I've learned some important lessons.

Lessons like:

How much Covid has taken its toll over the past year and a half--on all of us.

How beautiful the world is. Readers often share stories or pictures of their cities, towns, and villages, all over the globe. (Sometimes, they're places I've never heard of and just had to Google--places like Mwanza, a port city in Tanzania that is known for its large, beautiful rock formations scattered across the city.)

I've received emails from:

  • Fellow entrepreneurs and business owners 
  • Doctors, psychologists, and mental health experts who are struggling as much as their patients
  • Educators who have poured their hearts and souls into their work
  • A funeral director, who shared some touching insights and a profound window into their life
  • A lawyer who has spent his life striving to practice law the "right" way
  • Persons on the autistic spectrum, who have taught me how they see the world
  • People who have lost loved ones to death, who have had loved ones walk out on them--or who have been tempted to walk out on their loved ones, but have refused to do so
  • People who have survived major accidents
  • Persons who are celebrating sobriety: some for decades, some for much less

All of these emails have been inspiring.

One young person sent me a long email in Turkish. I almost deleted it. But I decided to throw the text into Google translate and see what came out.

What emerged was a kind and touching message from a strong, compassionate, and amazing 16-year-old. It was one of the most beautiful emails I've ever read.

Countless readers have written to say thank you for making them feel there's a "real person behind it all," and to simply thank me for writing. (These emails mean the world to me.)

My audience also taught me why it's a great idea to give some of your best stuff away for free. Yes, because some could never afford to pay for it, but also because it helps the ideas to spread, providing an opportunity to reach a far greater audience than you would have otherwise.

Reader feedback has helped me to clarify my thinking, and my messaging. So that I can actually understand what I'm trying to say. And so that I say it in a way others understand, too.

Most important, my readers have taught me how to further develop empathy in my own work. By sharing their perspective, they've given me a window into their own thoughts and feelings.

They've shown me that the world isn't always the way I see it. 

And yet, at the same time they've reminded me that no matter where we're from, and who we are, we all basically yearn for the same things: 

Understanding. Connection. Compassion.

So, if you're contemplating writing your own newsletter, I recommend wholeheartedly that you do so.

But if you do, please remember:

Don't focus on selling. Just try your best to help others. 

In time, you'll discover how much they can help you, too.

(If you like the sound of my newsletter, you can sign up here. I look forward to learning from you, and hope to return the favor.)