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Remember 2020? What words come to mind?
COVID. Global pandemic. Shutdown.
One of those, right?
I relate. And it was a tough year. But as tough as it was, 2020 was an inflection point in my online journey:
I worked in marketing and understood the importance of building an email list. A newsletter seemed like a good way to do it.
So I signed up for a Substack account in September 2020.
And I had nothing to sell. But after months of plan-crastination, I finally hit publish.
My first Substack newsletter included a few thoughts on leadership and cool things I was consuming online. Things like: tools, articles, courses, Twitter threads, communities, etc.
I had no “original” content, so I published a lot of curated links paired with my opinion. I enjoyed the process of creating a newsletter and sharing it.
But for all intents & purposes — my newsletter was an aimless pursuit.
I promised myself I would publish 100 editions before I quit.
I quit everything: blogs, jobs, routines, journaling, gluten. So I knew I had to commit. If I committed to publishing regularly, I’d figure out this “aimless” issue. Eventually.
I knew it would be impossible to publish 100 editions of a newsletter and not benefit from it.
→ It could create opportunities (relationships, collaborations, jobs)
→ I would own that distribution (ie. email list)
→ I could earn an income (eventually?)
So I published every week. But after ~30 editions, it became clearer that Substack was not the right fit for me.
There’s a long version and a short version. Here’s the longer version:
Substack makes money from writers charging newsletter subscriptions — not from ads & sponsorships. Their platform & analytics are not optimized for other forms of revenue or traditional email marketing functionality (just look at your click counts and you’ll know what I mean).
And I didn’t want to publish a paid newsletter.
I needed more features that ConvertKit offered and Substack didn’t. After 9 months on Substack, I made the switch to ConvertKit — and saw my open rates shoot up from 43% to 58% on the first send!
Honesty time: I had no idea “who” I was writing for when I published my first edition, but quickly realized I was creating & curating content for creators.
Everything I published revolved around the creator economy. It was a result of the “side hustle” & “creator” content I was consuming — along with the audience I was engaging with on Twitter.
So for a year, my newsletter audience was “anyone creating content online.”
That’s way too broad. And I knew it. But I was scared to niche down. I worried I’d:
Plus, I’d begun earning some ad & sponsorship revenue so I was hesitant to make any big changes.
I had a Hot Seat with Jay Clouse in The Lab community explaining my niche challenges — and promptly got a gentle “shove” to niche down to focus on newsletters.
I thought about it for a few hours — then went all in. It was the push I needed. Besides…
A niche isn’t like a birthday — you CAN change it.
Since changing my newsletter’s focus to *ahem* newsletters in March of 2022, I’ve experienced many unexpected benefits :
Since then, I’ve…
My advice: if you’re talking to “everyone”, you’re talking to no one. A niche audience will help you, not hinder you. Find yours. I wish I’d found mine sooner.
I didn’t start a newsletter with the intention of earning advertising revenue.
There was always the goal of eventually monetizing the newsletter — I just assumed it would be from product or course sales. Not advertising. I’ve never sold ads or sponsorships. I don’t even like sales — or so I thought (maybe I was just selling the wrong thing).
But when I saw ads popping up in newsletters I was reading, it dawned on me:
If they can sell ads, why can’t I?
After 8 months of weekly publishing, I landed my first paid ad with fewer than 700 subscribers (thanks to Swapstack.co). Didn’t even realize it at the time — but I had just started a media business.
I began to sell out my newsletter ad inventory. So, I increased my inventory by adding more ad spots per edition. And I increased ad rates. By May 2022, I began earning $1k in monthly ad revenue — only 8 months after selling my first ad.
This past summer, ConvertKit launched their Sponsor Network (CKSN). I applied — despite being well under the prerequesite of 10k subscribers. I was graciously accepted. Now my newsletter ads are sold & managed by the CKSN team, taking a LOAD off my plate. I couldn’t be more grateful.
In hindsight, I made 2 big mistakes managing ads.
I’ve created & launched two lead magnets over the last 2 years — and had success both times:
The mistake? Only making two.
Growth is hard enough. When you find something that works, double down on it. But I prioritized newsletter/article creation over exposure & attraction for the newsletter (ie. lead magnets).
In 2023, I’m going to increase focus on growth strategies like more mini courses and lead magnets to help grow the newsletter.
I’m convinced the only reason I’ve built a small media business is because I put ZERO pressure on myself to build a business. That paradox won’t work for everyone. But it worked for me.
And I believe this is just the beginning.
2 years ago, I hadn’t published a single edition. Now, 100 editions later:
I hope I can continue to help you build the newsletter of your dreams in 2023 and beyond.
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My open rates were suffering - until I made 2 changes.
Here’s how one newsletter is getting readers hooked.