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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.