I know what you’re thinking:

you need thousands upon thousands of subscribers to start earning money with your newsletter.

Having a stadium full of subscribers definitely helps. But it’s not a requirement for monetization.

Here’s a quick story about how I got a paid ad for my newsletter — with only about 650 subscribers and a free Substack account.

Could I Actually Make Money?

I started my Substack account in January 2021.

It wasn’t long before I saw fellow newsletters with “#Ad” or “Sponsored by…” sections in their newsletters. And not just the big ones like The Hustle or Morning Brew — but “smaller” newsletters too. It got me thinking maybe I could do the same. Only one problem: I only had around 650 subscribers.

“Who’d pay to advertise to a list that size?”

How I Found An Advertising Brand

So I did some digging and found Swapstack.co: a newsletter advertising marketplace that connects brands with newsletters.

Newsletter writers can pitch brands, and brands can reach out to newsletters.

“THIS is where I’ll start.”

A great feature of Swapstack: brands indicate the required minimum # of newsletter subscribers to advertise.

“Perfect — I won’t waste my time pitching to a brand looking for 10k subs.”

After only a week on the platform, I found my first newsletter advertiser: a sports news newsletter. Didn’t quite fit my demographic but more on that later.

I Got Paid

We exchanged some emails and the brand paid agreed to pay me the $25 advertising fee. Not quite enough to retire on. (Yet.)

They sent me their logo and ad copy and we were off!

FYI: Swapstack charges a small percentage to the brand, so I received the entire $25 (before Stripe took their cut).

The point is, I got paid— with only 650 subscribers. And of course the small amount of money didn’t matter.

The learnings were 10x more valuable.

Here’s What I Learned

Lesson #1: Finding advertisers is easier in a marketplace than solo — at least to begin with. Fish where the fish are, as the saying goes. And Swapstack is low/no risk. Who knows how long I might’ve tried finding an advertiser on my own.

Lesson #2: Ads should be relevant to your demographic. This particular ad generated a total of ZERO clicks. Why? Creators were reading my newsletter for creator economy content. Not sports. I now only run ads that make sense to a strong subset of Growth Currency readers.

Lesson #3: Getting your first ad is about the experience, not the money. I only charged $25 for my first ad. But you know what was 10x more valuable?

  1. The validation — just knowing a brand thought my small audience was worth paying to reach meant a lot. It gave me confidence to pursue future advertisers.
  2. The momentum — I was motivated to keep publishing and building a newsletter audience. Where might I be in 6 months or a year — or 5 years
  3. The experience — working with a brand was new to me in this capacity. I learned about what a brand wants and what they don’t want.

Bonus Tips

Swapstack doesn’t work in all countries. So try other marketplaces like Paved.com or Hecto.io— or better yet — try all three!

Another tactic: find brands that are advertising in newsletters similar to yours and pitch them. If a brand is willing to pay for an ad in another newsletter, they’re more likely to be open to advertising in yours as well.

Wrapping Up

Go get started even if your newsletter is “small”. You don’t know if you don’t try.