How to build a successful newsletter without a massive audience.
These are the 6 elements most successful newsletters have — here’s how to do it.
Why do some newsletters have tens of thousands of subscribers — while others can’t seem to gain more than a few each week?
What makes these newsletters so successful?
And does the size of a newsletter list determine its level of “success”?
Well, some of the biggest newsletters are media businesses operating as newsletters (The Hustle, Morning Brew, TheSkimm). Others are content marketing plays from authors, podcasters, and digital celebrities leveraging their large audiences to build a massive subscriber list (James Clear, Tim Ferriss, Ann Handley, Justin Welsh, Polina Marinova Pompliano, etc.)
These newsletters are huge. And they make the publishers a lot of money. A lot.
So if a “successful” newsletter is one that makes lots of money, then many of the aforementioned are great examples.
But not everyone has the same definition of success. “Success” to you might mean:
100k subscribers (or some other subscriber milestone)
a +50% open rate
a high click rate (maybe it means a high response rate, like
And maybe it just means consistency: you’ve written, published and grown a weekly newsletter for 5 years straight. I’d classify that as success, too.
Now I hate making assumptions.
But I’m going to for the sake of this article. Let’s assume *most people* are publishing a newsletter with the goal of earning revenue — either directly or indirectly.
And therefore, a successful newsletter as defined in this article will be one that a creative entrepreneur relies on for some (or all) of their income.
With that — let’s dive in.
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6 Elements of a Successful Newsletter
This isn’t an exhaustive list. But I believe these are the key elements that will lead a newsletter to the “success” you — the publisher — are aiming for.
1- Consistent rhythm.
It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating: consistency is necessary for success. It’s not everything, but it’s important. The most successful newsletters publish on a cadence, and they stick to it religiously — whether it’s daily, weekly, or otherwise.
The Hustle will be in your inbox every weekday. So will TheSkimm. Dan Oshinsky’s Not A Newsletter will be in your inbox every month. You get the idea.
How you can do it: consistency is tough as much as it is necessary. So set an achievable goal of publishing XX number of editions and hit it. Don’t quit until you’ve reached that goal. Yes your content can change and you don’t have to stick to a specific format or platform, but hit that goal. Mine was 100 editions. I’m at #88. If I can do it, so can you. You don’t have to set a daily publishing goal. Start with weekly or fortnightly. Whatever feels achievable for you, then go and do it!
2 - Persistence & resilience.
Yes, this ties in with consistency. But all newsletters persist through slow growth, doubt, and burn out. While you should allot time for breaks and rejuvenation, you can’t let a slow day, week, or month crush you.
How you can do it: Here are a few other ways you can be resilient.
Hint: focus on a longer time horizon. This is NOT a get-rich-quick scheme.
3 - Promotion.
People can’t subscribe to something they don’t know about. Which means you need to tell people about your newsletter.
Justin Welshdoes this well. He teases every edition of his Saturday Solopreneur newsletter a few days before it’s published. I’ve seen it written: “if you feel like you’re promoting too much — you’re still probably not promoting enough.”
Promote. Your. Newsletter.
How can you do it: Find ONE channel to share, distribute, promote your work…
→ Who is your ideal audience and where do they hang out (Twitter? IG? LinkedIn?)
→ Commit to posting & sharing your work DAILY in that one space.
→ Engage, follow, and befriend like-minded creators; these relationships can help create future opportunities
PROMOTION TIP: don’t just ask people to subscribe to your newsletter. Give them a REASON to subscribe. Share what they’ll learn (the feature), why they need to learn it (the benefit), and how they’ll learn it.
(And don’t worry about spamming newsfeeds by “over-promoting” your product. The sliver of folks who see it initially are unlikely to act on it. You need repetition. You need to become top-of-mind and build awareness.)
4 - A Unique Frame or Perspective.
The most successful newsletters often offer a unique perspective or frame of thinking. There is a sea of content out there, the *best* ones are often different.
And maybe it’s how the content is delivered that’s unique. Amanda Natividad has published “DM Interviews” in her newsletter. She gets her guests to answer questions in Twitter DMs and publishes them (with permission, of course). It’s a neat spin on the traditional printed interview.
Lenny Rachitsky’s worked at Airbnb. Prior to that he co-founded a company that Airbnb acquired. He has a wealth of knowledge & experience in product management. His Lenny’s Newsletter offers readers his unique insights and learnings from his years successfully growing digital products.
How you can do it: blend your personality, experience, opinion, and your research. Three out of four are unique to you (all four might be unique if you run your own experiments & research studies). And it doesn’t always have to be *your* perspective. Interview people with unique backgrounds and experiences relevant to your industry or niche. Maybe they’ve shared their thoughts on other platforms before, but you can ask different questions and unearth new responses and insights.
5 - High value.
Goes without saying, but I’m going to say it. Successful newsletters offer the reader a lot of value. But “value” comes in various forms:
timely information (daily news, industry updates, etc)
education (how-to’s, self-help, professional, etc)
entertainment (humor, art, music, design, etc)
research (experiments, case studies, population studies, biographies, etc)
Give readers a strong reason to open and read.
People religiously open Morning Brew because they know they’re going to get timely news with personality. Readers know when they open Aleyda Solis’s #SEOFOMO newsletter, they’re going to get the best & latest SEO news, tools, jobs, and events. I open every edition of Harry Dry’s Marketing Examples newsletter for easy-to-digest examples of successful marketing campaigns, and why they worked.
How you can do it: lean on your strengths and leverage your unique perspective, opinion, or research. Aim to offer at least ONE nugget (or more) that your reader can take away with every edition. It doesn’t have to be your own, either: curate something interesting, helpful, or entertaining.
Make your newsletter appointment viewing.
6 - Virality and/or Sharing Incentive.
Morning Brew is well-known for how they grew their newsletter to +1M subscribers with a referral system. They incentivized sharing their newsletter by offering subscribers mugs and stickers to every reader who referred X amount of new subscribers. Smart. But expensive.
The Tilt grew their newsletter quickly to over 10,000 subscribers by offering subscribers $5 USD in their own $TILT coin. Even more, Tilt subscribers received another $5 USD for every subscriber they referred.
How you can do it:
First: there are a number of programs that offer built-in referral systems, for relatively low cost. SparkLoop is the industry leader for now, thanks in large part to their growing network of ESP’s they integrate with:
The new beehiiv newsletter platform has a built-in referral system as well.
Second: listen to this episode of the Send & Grow podcast where Louis from SparkLoop advises Arvid Kahl about his referral rewards program. Tons of takeaways here for what works and what doesn’t for referral programs.
Wrapping it up…
TL;DR… Here are the 6 elements:
Persistence & resilience.
Unique Frame or Perspective.
Virality and/or Sharing Incentive.
Like I said at the onset, this isn’t an exhaustive list. What did I miss, I’d love more perspectives! Tweet at me or send me an email at dylan [at] growthcurrency[dot]net
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