When I first got in touch with Marissa Lovell over Zoom, she answered from her car, hastily admitting she was juggling managing the latest in a series of summer concerts that night in Boise, Idaho.
It was the perfect introduction to the voice behind one of Boise’s most popular local newsletters, From Boise. “I’m the kind of person that just likes to talk to people and do stuff,” she confesses the next morning after recovering from the music festival.
Whether she’s spreading the word about upcoming gigs or sharing stories of Boise’s past, her twice-weekly newsletter is a must-read for the nearly 2,300 locals who receive it.
But running a successful (and profitable) local newsletter doesn’t require a huge budget or a crack media team—just an email platform and some good old-fashioned grit. I sat down with Lovell to find out what it takes to start and grow a local newsletter from scratch, how she uses ConvertKit to grow her twice-weekly newsletter, and share some of those lessons learned with you.
A refreshing blend of history and current events
Lovell carves out time from her freelance work to send out new editions of From Boise twice a week—Tuesdays and Thursdays, at precisely 2:08pm.
Both editions contain different content. Thursday’s newsletter includes a round-up of events from across Boise, from local news, things to do, food to eat, and other “random, weird, wonderful things that make us fall in love with Boise over and over again.”
Given Lovell’s insider knowledge, much of the Thursday content centers around the local music scene. “People have told me the Thursday newsletter is the most comprehensive live music calendar out there right now,” she admits, “which is kind of sad because more people should be talking about it. Boise’s music scene doesn’t get the recognition it deserves—there are a lot of super-talented people here.”
But it’s the Tuesday email that many in Lovell’s audience enjoy the most. Tuesday’s email always includes a long-form story—often penned by Lovell, but frequently from a cadre of writers she works with. One week, she’ll share a summer guide to Boise’s best patios—the next, a profile of local Boise band The Afrosonics. Each new issue gets added to the From Boise signup page, letting new subscribers get a taste of her content before subscribing.
There’s always something new to explore—something Lovell is proud of. “Idaho has some really interesting history. It’s fun to mix it up—like I talk about local events, and then it’s like ‘Hey, here’s a story on how the Governor of Idaho was assassinated back in 1905.’”
After years spent freelancing—churning out bland copy for local corporations—the newsletter gives Lovell a chance to connect directly with her subscribers. “It just feels so good to not be talking into the void,” she shares. “There's just so much noise in the world that it's nice when you're just talking to a person. People respond to the email, or I meet them in the street and they’re like, ‘I love your newsletter.’ It still feels kind of surreal that people read it and use it.”
Boise’s music scene doesn’t get the recognition it deserves—there are a lot of super-talented people here.
— Marissa Lovell
Her advice to first-time creators on building out their newsletter content? Just be yourself, and don’t let unsubscribers get you down. “From Boise is very casual ‘cause it’s just me talking,” she explains. “People like the friendliness of it—it’s been nice for people, especially after a year of straight-up bad news. And if that isn’t some peoples’ jam, there are other newsletters in the world that would be a better fit.”
The key to growing a local newsletter? Consistency
Creating a regular biweekly schedule—and steadfastly sticking to it through thick and thin—has been key to From Boise’s rapid growth.
For Lovell, keeping up with her publishing plan ended up being more work than anticipated. “I pretty much work on it every day,” she explains. “The Thursday editions have a LOT of stuff in them, so I’m sourcing stuff all the time. I have other writers writing for me, so I’m editing their stuff and trying to find photos. Maybe I care a little TOO much about it, but I spend a lot of time on photos. They look good there!”
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, though. “There was a lot of learning about the flow of [running a newsletter],” Lovell recalls. “All my early stories revolved around an interview. So when someone reschedules their interview, it would totally mess up my schedule. Now I try to stay a week ahead with interviews, so it isn’t a problem.”
Lovell also leans on ConvertKit to automate whatever interactions she can. New subscribers receive a welcome email revealing details about the newsletter, explaining how potential sponsors can get involved, and asking subscribers to share with 1-2 of their friends.
Not sure what to write about? Just ask
Her top tactic for sourcing stories? Asking subscribers to reply at the bottom of each newsletter. “People can hit reply and it comes back to me. I also have something at the bottom that asks people if they’re going to any of the listed events, or simply asking what people are interested in reading.”
I don't have a beat on everything that's going on, but I'm genuinely interested in what's happening here and what people are doing.
— Marissa Lovell
That interest uncovered a recent story on a local Chicano woman launching a new salsa company from a family recipe passed down between generations. Lovell saw people talking about it on Twitter, reached out with an offer to talk about her and her company, and a week later found herself sitting down with the founder to get the full scoop—salsa pun fully intended.
Lovell also credits her bicycle for some of her stories. “I ride my bike everywhere,” she laughs. “You see a lot more stuff with a slower form of transportation. We got a new food truck park and I saw the sign go up as soon as they put it up, and I stopped and was like, ‘What is this?’”. She left her card and email, and asked them to keep her in the loop as things progressed—now she talks with the owner all the time.
If you’re looking to start a newsletter of your own, Lovell recommends a simple tactic: talk to everyone you can find. Join conversations on Twitter, contribute to local Facebook groups, and ask people you know if they know anyone doing something cool. “I don't have a beat on everything that's going on, but I'm genuinely interested in what's happening here and what people are doing.”
Trusting partnerships spur local newsletter growth
Attracting a local audience to your newsletter doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Lead magnets (like discounts to local restaurants and bars), referral programs, and (once you’re monetizing your newsletter) paid social advertising are all great ways to give your subscriber base a leg-up.
While Lovell admits the majority of growth has come from word of mouth—subscribers sharing the newsletter with friends, family, and other Boise locals—she’s also in talks with local influencers to find ways of partnering up and growing together. “Boise is a very collaborative city,” Lovell explains. “I went out to lunch with a gal [Natalie] who runs an Instagram page called Hello Meridian—she has thousands and thousands of followers on Instagram.” (Meridian, Idaho borders Boise to the west.)
Lovell soon learned she had valuable knowledge and connections on the local music scene that Natalie lacked—and that Natalie had a solid grasp on the local food scene, along with ready access to a massive pre-built audience on social media.
That collaboration has led to hundreds of new subscribers for From Boise—all without spending a cent, at least outside of lunch and a few coffees.
Since sending the first edition of From Boise to around 200 early subscribers, Lovell’s audience has ballooned to over 2,200 people, maintaining a steady open rate of +50% since the beginning.
— Marissa Lovell
The best part: Lovell’s measured approach to audience growth works for local newsletters across the globe. The fastest way to grow an audience is to tap into audiences others have already grown.
Look for opportunities to share knowledge with social media influencers, to share discounts at local businesses in exchange for them helping to spread the word, or to partner with popular local event organizers. And don’t forget to ask subscribers to share, as Lovell does at the end of every email.
Don’t let money get in the way of morals
There are dozens of ways to monetize a local newsletter, but two tactics stand out most often: sponsorships and memberships. While larger local media outlets like Capital Daily or Axios rely on monthly support from members, independent newsletters like From Boise often find more success selling sponsorships from local businesses and events.
It’s a tactic Lovell is experimenting with to turn From Boise into a sustainable business– although she’s quick to point out that sponsorships work best when they’re closely integrated into the newsletter content. Lovell sells one sponsorship slot in the Thursday newsletter for a flat $100 fee—usually for local events looking to sell more tickets. “I make the subject line about them, and then they get the top spot [in the events list]. But I never make them look like a sponsorship because that’s just not the vibe—it’s not what [subscribers] are looking for.”
Every cent Lovell earns from sponsorships funnels straight back into improving the newsletter. “It allows me to hire another writer or a photographer to come with me on a story. It lets us work with other people and put different voices in the newsletters.”
Lovell’s top piece of advice for budding local media entrepreneurs: don’t let money get in the way of morals. Quality always needs to come first—without content people want to read, it’s impossible to create a sustainable revenue stream. “I don't really have any goals around making money around it at this point,” she shares. “I’ve mostly just been trying to get the hang of it.
Expanding sponsorships could be cool, but I would want to do it in a way that’s meaningful for the person who is sponsoring it, too. Like, ‘Thank you for wanting to give us money, but also what are you hoping that this helps you with?’”
Putting the “local” back in local news
From Boise has grown slowly but steadily—and that’s just how Lovell likes it. “There's a lot of different communities that live here that do really cool things that are never covered in mainstream media because it's not newsworthy,” she shares.
For Lovell, it’s the people behind those communities that make Boise such a unique place to live. Sharing stories, making connections, and promoting local creatives have always been a part of her—From Boise simply gives her a larger platform.
I just want people to live a fun life in Boise. My life is so fun now that I live in Boise and I just want that for other people too.
— Marissa Lovell
Looking to launch a local newsletter for your community? ConvertKit makes sending email newsletters and connecting with your audience a snap, from creating a homepage to selling sponsorships. Grab your free ConvertKit account and start bringing your community together today.