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How I hit 250 newsletter subscribers without a massive Twitter following

I've been seeing a ton of great newsletter growth stories, but noticed a lot hinge on either having a huge audience beforehand or having some highly-followed friends share your content or encourage their followers to sign up.

I even attended one webinar on "your first 1k subscribers" and the guy admitted he had 18,000 Twitter followers before he launched, which drove the bulk of his subscribers. Not exactly a scalable solution.

I'm not at that level yet anyway, but wanted to share the more scalable ways I've grown my newsletter Remotely Inclined to its first 250 subscribers without having a massive audience beforehand.

Full disclosure

  • When I launched my newsletter, I had ~2,200 followers on Twitter and I'm up to ~2,500 now. So I was not starting from total scratch, but most of the tactics below had nothing to do with my personal social media following.
  • I also run another small blog called PulseBlueprint, which helped me with the guest posting strategy below, but you can use this strategy without owning a blog (I explain how).

Quora

Everyone kept telling me to get on Reddit, but it just didn't quite feel right for me. I didn't know how to engage and I was not quippy enough to take down any trolls. Quora, on the other hand, felt like a better fit.

I started on Quora in late April / May 2020 (very fresh) and started answering questions, spending ~25 min a day. This has driven thousands of impressions to my Quora profile which translated to a few hundred views on my newsletter and a handful of subscribers.

Mix

For those who don't know, Mix (mix.com) is the evolution of StumbleUpon. It's still a content discovery platform, but not the biggest or most successful one out there. It has some niche followers, though, and I got some discovery from it.

My Twitter

Even with my relatively small audience, I promo'ed HARD. Here's what I did:

  • One post the day before a newsletter edition went live. I'd tweet a nugget about what the next issue would be about, encouraging people to subscribe with a link to my subscribe page.

  • On the day it went live, tweet about it 2-3x depending. Tag different kinds of people, hoping for retweets.

  • In the next 3-5 days after, tweet a further 1-3 times depending on the topic / how relevant it is to what's going on in the world.

Substack analytics

I looked into where my traffic was coming from to see if I could optimize. I suddenly noticed that one source - Redef - showed up and had driven a couple subscribers. I'd never heard of Redef, so I checked it out, signed up, and am now submitting more articles to it. We'll see how this one goes!

Same goes for my LinkedIn, which I hadn't been using much but I realized was driving a bit of traffic for me. So I started sharing on my LinkedIn more.

Guest posting / Guest linking

Like I mentioned above, I run a blog called PulseBlueprint. I self-syndicate to that blog, occasionally re-posting articles in their entirety. This helps me with linkbacks and some SEO boost for the blogs themselves.

If you don't have access to a blog already, these blogs accept contributions / offer free contributor accounts:

Manual labor

I asked every friend I felt I could to share my newsletter out the gate.

I then share each issue directly with a couple specific people I feel would really like the content. I don't ask for the share, but many end up sharing.

I also offer free advice / feedback on anything relating to remote work. I sometimes link to the newsletter (if I've written something about it), but many times don't. I just try to be helpful.

Interviews

I interview people for the newsletter, which gives me a legitimate opportunity to ask them to share their article, which most folks do happily. It's helped me reach their audiences, which has driven some traffic.

Consistency

I publish twice a week and have been doing so since March. It's given me a lot of content to share (and re-share) plus it becomes a credibility thing -- whenever I talk about remote work, the ~25+ articles I've written for myself on Remotely Inclined show me as more than just a random on the internet with an opinion.

The consistency also allows you have a couple posts that flop (we all do) but have enough fresh content that one might really catch on.

That's about it. I've just added my newsletter to Google's Publisher Center, but that's brand new so I have no idea how it will go.

I'm always paying attention to strategies from other folks as well, and may update this post if I find one that really works. But these are the strategies I used to generate my first 250 subscribers on Remotely Inclined without having a huge audience beforehand.

  1. 3

    Now I don't feel so bad with my 50 mail list subscribers, with only 270 followers 😅

    1. 1

      Hahaha - you shouldn't!

      Twitter conversions are such a weird thing. Sometimes it's super easy, other times it's hard. It depends on topic. A lot of my Twitter followers became my followers because I used to tweet a lot about diversity and inclusion. I tweet about it a bit less now, and Remotely Inclined is about remote work. So if you only followed me for D&I content, then Remotely Inclined wouldn't necessarily be a fit

  2. 2

    Great advice Stefan! Thank you for sharing. Will definitely use some of the tips!

    1. 1

      I hope they work for you! Would love to hear how things go

  3. 2

    Thanks for sharing the details here. I've started a number of newsletters, but I feel like I never "Get it Right." How do you decide what goes in a newsletter vs a blog post? What about newsletter vs social media post?

    1. 1

      I feel you on that. I've started a few different things that ended.. badly.

      In terms of Remotely Inclined, I started it purely to write about what I cared about and felt needed to be said.

      At the time (a few months ago just before covid), remote work advocates were obsessed with the benefits of remote work and the general vibe was "if you think offices are useful then you're dumb". I didn't agree with that (even though I personally never want an office job again), and felt like I had an opinion and voice to share on the matter.

      For picking newsletter topics, I try to pick things that I have an opinion or perspective on versus something I can simply explain. If it's only educational in nature, I think a blog post can help more because you can own the SEO on it.

      The way I've framed my newsletter is that you're joining for my perspectives on remote work and the latest news about the concept. So it makes it easier to not feel selfish when I only write about things I want to.

      In terms of social media, I put everything there. That's where I share my content. And have conversations. I'll talk about everything.

      1. 1

        Thanks for that explanation. I got a lot of value out of it, particularly the point of "education" vs "my perspective." Much to think about!

        1. 1

          Of course. I hope it was helpful.

          If you have more questions, ask away (either here or DM me on Twitter -- https://twitter.com/stefanpalios)

  4. 2

    Thanks for sharing @StefanAllDay. Some great tips and reminders in here!

    1. 2

      You're quite welcome! I'll update as I go, too. I know hitting 250 is not a crazy sexy milestone, but you can't hit 1,000 without first hitting 250! haha

      1. 1

        It is great. And I'm sure you'll be at 1000 in no time!

        1. 2

          That is absolutely the goal (and higher)! I'm trying a bunch of new things, so I'll report back if any of them work. But I feel like it's going to be a mix of everything -- a bit here, a bit there... avalanche at some point haha

          1. 2

            Yes absolutely. I think there is always that element of doing a bit of everything in the beginning stages. You'll soon reach a stage where you'll have some wind in your sails and the snowball effect. Keep up the great work!

  5. 2

    Great insights Stefan. Really appreciate you sharing it. I’ve been thinking about starting something for a long time and ended up choosing a newsletter. Just decided on a topic and had my introductory post yesterday. Your post inspired me to share how things are going. Will do in a few weeks.

    1. 1

      Congratulations!! What's it about?

      1. 2

        Thanks. I am excited to have started.

        My goal is to help founders to create companies that are more humane, fulfilling and equitable.

        I plan to share curated content from companies leading the way on those areas, practices, examples, case studies.

        Stay tuned.

  6. 2

    Stefan's newsletters (and other writings too) are great! Highly recommend. He writes them thoughtfully just like this one. Now that many indie makers are remote his content is relevant.

    Just heard of Redef and Mix too, will have to dig in.

    1. 1

      Thank you so much for the kind words! I really appreciate that.

      If you ever have suggestions / ideas on what you'd like to see, please let me know (either here or DM me on Twitter -- https://twitter.com/stefanpalios)

      1. 1

        We're already connected on Twitter hehe ;)

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