The Guide To Non-Linear Newsletter Growth
Writing a newsletter is simple — but growing it? That shit is HARD.
Writing and publishing a newsletter is simple — some might even say “easy”.
The real trick is getting people to subscribe. Unless you already have a large online audience or 1000 True Fans elsewhere, this shit is HARD.
So it’s no surprise that when I solicited feedback from my readers, the most common reply was Tell me how to grow my newsletter.
And I’ve hesitated on sharing my own experience in this regard because, well… it’s messy, non-linear, and unremarkable. Meaning, it’s not a sexy hockey-stick curve where I just hit publish long enough that things went “up and to the right” in perpetuity.
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My Own Newsletter’s Growth Trajectory
My newsletter has over 2k subscribers since starting on Substack in January 2021. It’s been a slow build with many plateaus and droughts.
To get meta:
I’m proud of my publishing efforts (87 editions through 89 weeks) and satisfied where I’m at. I even created a FREE course called 1KS Roadmap: it helps you with 5 tactics over 5 days to get your first 1,000 newsletter subscribers. (No, you won’t get 1,000 subscribers in 5 days — but you’ll learn how over a 5-day span.)
But as they say, comparison is the death of joy.
So when I see other newsletters with rapid growth 2x, 5x, and 10x of where I’m at, I feel very much like an imposter when discussing “growth tactics”.
All in all, I don’t feel qualified to talk about hyper newsletter growth.
I simply haven’t done it. Growth is tough. It’s tedious and plodding.
What I do know is there are a few things I’ve done that have helped with newsletter growth, and I’m going to break them down for you.
The Unofficial Guide to Non-Linear Newsletter Growth
Caveat: I loathe unproven statements and Twitter guru stats, hence the “unofficial” title above. There’s nothing “official” about this. It’s just my experience. I certainly do not claim this will work for everyone.
Non-Linear Growth Tactic #1: Twitter (or any social platform)
Pick a platform — ideally, one where your ideal readers hang out — and be active there. Notice I didn’t say “promote there”. Yes, you need to promote (more on that shortly) but nobody likes the person constantly promoting their stuff and only their stuff.
Twitter has been my focused social platform for newsletter promotion over the past 20 months. It’s where my website links are, where my free course sign-ups are and where I share anything and everything to do with my newsletter, other newsletters, and about newsletters in general.
A rising tide lifts all boats:
Engage in conversations
Respond to tweets/DMs
Share your experience (it could help someone!)
Share other people’s great content
Newsletter success is NOT a zero-sum game — it’s the opposite.
And lo-and-behold, I estimate 80–90% of my subscribers have come from Twitter.
A word of caution: be careful with the algorithm. When I don’t focus on engaging, posting, promoting on Twitter, the algorithm forgets I exist and my content gets crickets. I’m not saying don’t take a break, but understand the implications.
Non-Linear Growth Tactic #2: Lead Magnets
Like 'em or not, lead magnets work.
I believe these lead magnets were successful because:
They solved a problem. People who got the lead magnets wanted to know how to start and grow a newsletter. Both lead magnets offered to solve one of those problems up front.
They had perceived value. A lead magnet is a value exchange: give me your email address and get the resource for free. Most people are willing to make the trade-off if the value is apparent.
They were relevant to my newsletter content. If my lead magnets were irrelevant or misaligned with my newsletter’s content, most subscribers would have bounced after my first newsletter edition hit their inbox. Since I write a meta newsletter about newsletters, my lead magnets are all in line with that content and subscribers stuck around for more.
I learned from Jay Clouse in his The Lab community (affiliate) that lead magnets should:
☑️ attract your core reader
☑️ provide a QUICK win
☑️ provide a sense of completion/success
☑️ align with your [eventual] paid offer(s)
☑️ have a name that makes the outcome clear
☑ ️BONUS: be shareable
For more on lead magnets:
Non-Linear Growth Tactic #3: Cross-promotions
Get your newsletter mentioned in other newsletters. In return, you promote the collaborator in your newsletter.
It’s a win-win for both parties.
My biggest challenge when starting out was not having a large audience to offer the cross-promoter. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try — you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take — but don’t expect everyone to say yes.
I got turned down. But I also was able to get some leads from a few newsletters bigger than mine.
Non-Linear Growth Tactic #4: Republishing on Medium & Substack
I joked about making $0.08 on Medium in October 2021.
But then it clicked: why aren’t I leveraging the massive audience on Medium?
Here’s the crazy part:
I didn’t have a website or “home” for my articles at the time. They were in my newsletter. That’s it.
So without over-thinking it, I started posting on Medium. I started gaining Medium readers, and indirectly, new subscribers.
The biggest mistake I made when I left Substack a year ago was ignoring the platform as a place for republishing and growth opportunity. I just didn’t post there at all. They even launched their Recommendations feature in April, and I still didn’t bite.
Now, I take the same article from my newsletter, my website, my Medium page, and republish it on Substack. I don’t send an email broadcast on Substack, but instead use it as an article/blogging platform to benefit from their Network Effects.
And I’ve earned over 40 new subscribers through Substack in the past 30 days alone:
Non-Linear Growth Tactic #5: Other People’s Audiences (OPAs)
I’ve been on a dozen podcasts over the past 18 months as I’ve been growing my newsletter. Some bring in more new subscribers than others. But on top of that, every appearance adds credibility, increases my online presence, and helps with backlink SEO for my website.
I can’t quantify exactly how many new subscribers have come from OPAs but I know that it’s all been helpful and I’ll continue to pursue this strategy.
And if podcasts aren’t your thing, get your words in front of other people’s audiences.
When I write a new article that I think would be useful to someone else’s audience — and maybe worth inserting into their newsletter — I’ll share it with them via email or DM.
I’ve had my articles or newsletter featured in Josh Spector’s For The Interested newsletter, The Side Hustle Nation newsletter, and Dan O’Shinsky’s Not A Newsletter, to name a few. And not because “I’m special”. I just sent them a message asking.
And it doesn’t just have to be podcasts or newsletters. Maybe it’s a blog. Maybe it’s a tweet. Maybe it’s a YouTube video.
If you have content other people’s audiences could benefit from, reach out and ask. Take the shot.
A few other newsletter growth tactics…
This post could easily turn into a 5,000 word article, but I’ll spare you.
So in brief, here are a few other newsletter growth tactics that have worked for me:
Paid ads. I haven’t done this much, but Josh Spector’s newsletter ad got me new subscribers at a cost of $2/subscriber. Pretty damn good.
Total spent: $300; new subscribers: ~150
Joining communities & courses. Don’t join a community or a cohort-based course just to grow your newsletter. This has been an indirect benefit to the things I’ve learned and people I’ve met and gotten to know.
What about others’ strategies?
There are plenty of newsletter growth strategies I haven’t discussed here because this was about what’s worked for me.
Stay tuned for next week when I dive deeper on growth strategies have worked for other newsletter publishers.
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