Building a data viz newsletter that people actually want to open

Can you go from Ø to 1000 true fans by giving away valuable template files for free?

Josh Cottrell-Schloemer
3 min readApr 26, 2022

I’m posting this publicly as a way to hold myself accountable and set my goals. Feel free to skip this one if you want to, my next articles will be back to my regularly scheduled programming.
If you want to join the newsletter, here it is:

Past content from the newsletter:

Newsletters are trending hard. It seems like every other post I see is about the importance of collecting emails and getting into your audience’s inbox.

I knew I should be doing something similar but it felt like 99% of the emails I was receiving from these types of lists we’re email-for-the-sake-of-email.

In other words, it felt like they were just emailing me because some marketing person said they should. They weren’t giving me any value, they weren’t sending me anything I could use, they were really just asking for me to buy their products or read their content.

So I made a promise to myself: I would never send an email-for-the-sake-of-email

It took a long time until I felt like I had something of value to offer to my readers. For me, offering value meant building templates that I would normally charge >$150/hr to develop for enterprise clients.

It’s not the typical approach to newsletter growth and goes against a lot of the advice I’ve been given over the years.

The 1st rule I’m breaking: “never give away valuable work for free

I’ve been told this my entire life. People claim it sets a low expectation for the value of your professional services or that it somehow cheapens your work.

My experience has been totally different. Releasing free templates has actually helped to illustrate the value and quality of my work. I’ve gotten leads on new projects, employment offers, and have seen an uptick in sales of my data viz guides.

The 2nd rule I’m breaking: “don’t tell the competition your secrets

I’m being 100% open about what I’m doing because I want other people to do the same. We need more newsletters that people actually want to open. I want my inbox filled with valuable content every morning.

So in the spirit of openness here is the progress so far…

As of today: we have 950 subscribers

Open rates are always above 25%, the average is around 38% and our best performing newsletter hit 74%

Engagement (measured via link clicks) averages around 15% and has gone as high as 37%

The short term goal: have 1,000 true fans (that open 90+% of our emails). We’re a little over half way there. We’ll either need to improve our open rate which is very difficult or double our subscribers.

The long term goal: 10,000 true fans and cover all costs with a sponsored newsletter model and keeping the list free for everyone

Next month, I’ll do another update and share any learnings.

If you dig this content and want to come along for the ride then you can join the newsletter here:

I send out 1–3 free templates each month, no spam, no hard selling. Just cool templates and relevant info about how to build visually engaging data visualizations.



Josh Cottrell-Schloemer

Building data-focused products. Startups acquired=1. Hobby = making Google Data Studio & Excel beautiful.