Early Exit #25: Finding your first 1,200 subscribers
Here are the four different ways I tried to grow my newsletter this year (one is way better than the rest).
Last week: November Finance Update
Next week: Holiday Break ❄️
Today’s Sponsor: The Competitive Conquesting Playbook, by Me. A proven growth marketing playbook I’ve successfully ran with multiple clients this year to capture existing demand for your competitors.
25 editions of this newsletter and I’m just shy of 1,200 subscribers as of writing (what’s a little rounding among friends?)
I am super grateful for every single one of you so I wanted to take a step back and talk about my growth from 0 → 1,200.
The most surprising thing? Growing on Substack is best done by sharing your work outside of Substack. A shockingly small amount of you have found me from Substack directly.
The majority of you came from one of these four growth tactics I’m about to show you.
Finding your first 1,200 subscribers
Consistently post on social media
Buy ads in other newsletters, if you have budget
Do newsletter swaps
Co-author pieces with other writers
LinkedIn is my single best source of subscribers. No other channel or tactic I write about here comes close.
It all started when I quit my job and announced it on LinkedIn (which I recommend doing, people love a good post about quitting a job).
Make sure to include a nice graphic, wrap it around a compelling story, and use it to springboard into your next project. Maybe it’ll pop off like mind did.
55,000 impressions later and I had found my first 250 subscribers and boy was I excited when that happened.
My inbox was flooded with notification emails from Substack saying I got another new subscriber for the entire day.
That one post jumpstarted my newsletter journey faster than anything else I could’ve done and gave me a ton of confidence and momentum. I had a good idea, now I just needed to stick with it.
I also needed to keep posting on LinkedIn, so every week I try to share 3-4 posts about my solopreneur journey.
And every week I get more subscribers. The formula is simple: I post on Linkedin → I get more subscribers.
And even when I don’t post on LinkedIn I still see a trickle of subscribers as people who don’t login every day like complete a complete weirdo (👋) see my content over time.
But why is this? There’s a few reasons:
I have an established audience of ~7,000 people there made up of friends and former colleagues (Don’t let this discourage you from starting! I simply leveraged the work I’d been putting in for years.)
My friends and former colleagues like my posts which helps it get seen by strangers.
Content around quitting your job does really well on LinkedIn.
It helps me meet other solopreneurs which is super rewarding.
I wrote more about this here: How to grow your freelancing sales pipeline
Surprise! This is why I keep showing up on LinkedIn every week.
Because it’s working for me.
Advertise in other newsletters
I was approached with an offer to buy an entire email list, which transparently is a bad idea for anyone to do.
It’s a terrible practice that inbox providers like Gmail frown upon and it’ll quickly get your newsletter into the spam folder.
So I made a counter offer:
What if you put an ad in your newsletter and I paid you for every person that subscribed to me?
And that’s what we did. I offered to pay $9 for every subscriber they sent me, which in hindsight is really high, especially if you don’t know how much each new subscriber is worth to you.
The ad went live and then five days later I sent the person a list of everyone that subscribed to me in that period. He matched that against his subscriber list (there’s trust involved here!) and gave me a number of people that he referred.
I then rounded up a bit to account for people using different emails and because I wanted us both to be happy with this transaction.
In total I paid about $500 for about 55 new subs which is a lot of money that I justified as a growth experiment.
If I were to do this again I’d haggle the price down more and try to negotiate repeat sends (like an ad in subsequent newsletters to maximize exposure).
But what if you could get the subscribers for free?
This is an alternative to newsletter ads where you freely promote another newsletter in your own.
This can be a great way to get exposure to a new audience, but there’s also some trust involved.
Someone inevitably has to go first and give someone else free exposure. Then you hope the other person follows through.
I’ve done this twice and both times it worked out great.
I didn’t get as many subscribers, maybe 5-10 from each one, but it can add up over time.
Before saying yes, make sure their audience has overlapping interests with your target audience. If their subscribers aren’t in your target audience then feel free to say no!
I’ll continue saying yes to this if:
There’s an audience fit
I’m not fully booked out with sponsors (any takers? click here)
This is a more hands-on approach to newsletter swaps where you co-author a piece with someone else.
Doing this is pretty straight forward: find another newsletter who’s content you think is really good and then start a conversation.
I did that with Charlie Rogers who is a brilliant multi-potentiate (someone with many interests) and writes the excellent Master In Your 20s newsletter.
I started recommending his newsletter simply because I found the content so valuable and then he reached out on LinkedIn.
One Zoom call later we agreed to do a collab in his newsletter: he spent time outlining a few ideas and then sent me some questions.
I recorded Looms in response to his questions which was helpful for me because I could just talk to him as a friend instead of worrying about overly polishing my responses. He was able to pull insights from my videos via the Loom transcripts and then coalesce them into a final product.
He sent me the newsletter for review and I made some tiny tweaks, and off it went.
This was the final result and I’m still super happy with it.
This was a fun process to build a bond with a fellow newsletter writer and create something tangible that we could both be proud of.
It also netted me almost 40 new subscribers which was huge for me at the time.
I have one more of these planned for next year already and y’all are going to love the person I’m collaborating with.
My primary goal with this newsletter is always to write useful and interesting content for current and aspiring freelancers.
But writing content isn’t enough to grow. You need to get your content in front of people.
So I tried four ways to do that this year:
Posting on LinkedIn consistently (the #1 best channel)
Buying ads in other newsletters (worked ok but was expensive)
Doing newsletter swaps (worked ok)
Co-authoring with other writers (worked great and was personally fulfilling)
There are no true “growth hacks” but I’m stoked at my progress so far and excited to see how this grows in 2023.
Thank you all again for being here and see you all next year.
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