How to Grow Your Newsletter

🌲 Expert tips on organic growth

Read Time: 11 mins (or listen to this issue)

This past Friday, myself and 400 others traveled from all over the world. We converged in Manhattan’s iconic NY Times building to talk about… newsletters.

How sexy. How cutting edge. Oooh, just say it out loud: NEWSLETTERS. 🔥🔥🔥

Weird, right? Even weirder… I went to an entire conference dedicated to talking about newsletters. Duly named: “The Newsletter Conference.” Naturally.

(left to right) Dan Oshinsky of Inbox Collective, Stephanie Talmadge of Boardroom, Louis Nicholls of SparkLoop, and Chenell Basilio of Growth in Reverse

But in all seriousness, individuals are building legit media empires on the backs of their newsletter.

These success stories were the evidence and signal I used to prioritize my newsletter as the foundation of my business. But just because you start a newsletter doesn’t mean you’re 7-figure bound. Hardly.

Anyone can launch a newsletter. And these days, it seems like anyone is an accurate description — given the massive surge of newsletters launched every week. But growing a successful newsletter? Much harder.

Growing a newsletter into a product you monetize requires you to create something uniquely valuable. Content your readers await and engage with, week after week. As they do, word of mouth spreads. You turn a corner. You’re able to begin monetizing. But first, you need to crack that growth code.

Luckily, I took notes from Friday’s newsletter conference on how to do just that... Pro tips from renowned newsletter growth experts.

My notes covered, both organic and paid strategies. In today’s issue, I’m covering organic. In a future issue, we’ll look at paid.

Let’s get into them.

Organic growth levers

Organic growth is growth you don’t pay for. It’s the growth lever most scrappy entrepreneurs start with — before profits.

In your early days, you’re iterating your way to content-market fit. Once customers begin paying, it’s a good signal you’re ready to turn on paid acquisition. By delaying, you de-risk funding a newsletter that’s missing the mark; as well as running out of cash too soon.

There were lots of organic growth strategies shared during the conference. Below, I summarized ones I know work or am keen to try. I separated them by 4 sub-categories:

  1. Social organic

  2. LinkedIn newsletters

  3. Newsletter swaps

  4. Creative scrappiness (I loved these surprising, fun tactics)

1) Social organic

While building an audience on social media can be soul-crushing, it’s still the highest-ROI organic growth channel at our disposal. They act like discovery platforms — where network effects help your 2nd and 3rd degree connections find you and your content.

Matt McGarry of Newsletter Operator shared some of the big mistakes he sees newsletter operators making on social, and tips to improve:

  • Trying all the channels. Trying to be everywhere will spread you thin and jeopardize your ability to show up consistently. Focus on 1 or 2 channels, max. Each one takes time & dedication to build up a following.

  • Drifting from your core topic. You try a few posts and don’t get much traction. So you resort to irrelevant memes and selfies. Stick to your topic and niche for months so you can learn, experiment, and iterate long enough to figure out the right mix that attracts your tribe.

  • Not promoting your newsletter (nearly) enough. Most people stop at sharing a dedicated teaser post about their latest newsletter issue on the day it publishes. Remember that it typically takes 8+ touchpoints for your audience to notice. Add a dedicated post beforehand. Link to your newsletter in your post “footers.” Add a link in your bio. On LinkedIn, add your newsletter to your featured content. DM people who engage with your content to let them know about your newsletter.

Jack Appleby of Future Social shared one dead-simple content repurposing tactic. Once he finishes writing his weekly newsletter, he copies and pastes it into a social post. He schedules the post 4 weeks into the future, stating something to the effect of: “Hey, I published these ideas in my newsletter. Subscribe to read more stuff like this.”

Nothing novel, and yet this tip was a real wakeup call for me. As someone who overthinks everything... sometimes growth is a lot simpler than we make it out to be.

2. LinkedIn newsletters

If you didn’t realize, LinkedIn has a newsletter feature. Anyone with creator mode can leverage it.

While LinkedIn is a social organic channel, there’s enough to cover within LinkedIn newsletters, that I broke it out into it’s own sub-category.

If you follow me on LinkedIn, you’ll know I’m a big fan of this organic growth lever. Not only do I have a LinkedIn newsletter and use it to grow my email newsletter, but I teach others how to do the same.

It was validating to hear that Bloomberg Media also uses a LinkedIn newsletter to grow their email newsletter.

Lucy Keller, Product Manager from Bloomberg Media, shared her top tips for their LinkedIn newsletter:

  • Repurpose your email content. When Lucy first brought the idea of a LinkedIn newsletter to her superiors, they were reluctant. “Why would we build a second newsletter?” But she pushed for an approach that would capitalize on existing efforts and content. She and her team use sections, quotes, and lists from their previously published email newsletters. They include up to one third of the original content, and encourage readers to subscribe to the email newsletter for the rest.

  • Find a balance. Building off the point above, Lucy is careful not to over-index on only using their LinkedIn newsletter as a wedge that pushes readers to their email newsletter. She makes sure the LinkedIn subscribers feel like they’re getting value there, too.

  • Consider your LinkedIn audience. Lucy and the Bloomberg Media team don’t just post any old content in their LinkedIn newsletter. They curate topics that work best for a LinkedIn audience: economy, careers, AI, etc.

  • Experiment with ads. A good crossover between organic and paid, Lucy has also created ad campaigns that drive LinkedIn newsletter signups. If you don’t yet have an ad budget like Bloomberg does, tread lightly.

Join me on May 9 to dive deeper on building a LinkedIn newsletter.

3. Newsletter swaps

If you’ve signed up for a newsletter that’s run on beehiiv, ConvertKit, Substack, or Ghost, you’ve likely seen newsletter swaps (AKA newsletter referrals) in action. It happens when two newsletters agree to recommend each other’s newsletter during subscriber signup.

When you signed up for Passive Profits, you were shown this pop-up with our newsletter swap partners.

Passive Profits newsletter swaps

The top two are sponsored, which means I get paid when my subscribers sign up for those newsletters. The last is an organic swap with Newsletter Circle.

I previously provided a detailed breakdown of how I’m using swaps to grow my list and monetize. What I’ve captured below are additional tips I picked up during the conference — specifically about finding swap partners:

  • Find interesting crossovers. You need to really explore your niche to find interesting and effective newsletters that have your audience’s attention. For example, a good portion of my readers are experts currently working 9-to-5 jobs but considering starting a side hustle. As a result, I’ve had good success partnering with newsletters focused on careers and corporate leadership.

  • Partnering with direct competitors. Sometimes, the best place to find new subscribers is from a newsletter covering the same topics, with the same audience. It’s natural to worry that you’ll cannibalize your subscribers by sending them to the competition. Instead, use it as a rallying cry to make your content better and more valuable so that you come out net positive.

  • Negotiating for parity. It’s best practice to partner with newsletters that have similar audience sizes, open rates, and click rates. That way, referrals are balanced between the two publications. But sometimes you’ll find a great potential partner that’s much larger or successful. In those cases, consider offering to pay for a portion of subscribers they send your way. For example, if you send them 10 subs per week and they send you 100, you might pay for the difference (90 subs) or some portion of it.

4. Creative scrappiness

When you look at the potential virality of social organic growth, the upside of LinkedIn newsletters, and the effortlessness of swaps, it’s easy to rule out other methods — especially ones that don’t scale. But in your early days, you’ve gotta be willing to experiment.

I loved the two scrappy and fun growth tactics Aine Stapleton of International Intrigue shared:

  • Scrappy: Knowing that a good portion of their readers were college kids, when they first launched, Aine baked cookies and stood outside of college dorms asking students to subscribe. This really made me ask myself: “Am I doing everything I can to gain subscribers?”

  • Fun (and scrappy): As newsletter ad budgets continue to be slashed, Aine had the thought to cut costs by meeting subscribers where they’re at. When it comes to the internet, there’s no shortage of GIFs and memes. And since all humans love to laugh, Aine began sprinkling in relevant memes to their Instagram posts… “Did you find this funny? Subscribe.” Simple and effective.

Love the diplomat memes from International Intrigue

Wrapping up

If you’re on the outside looking in, it may seem like everyone building a newsletter is living large. And I can confirm, that’s 100% true. I started this newsletter in October and I’m typing this issue from my yacht in May.

Jokes are fun. 😅 

In reality, growing an email list of regularly engaged readers who stick around long enough to trust you and buy from you is a multi-year investment.

At the core of any successful newsletter is content that’s valuable. Content that makes your readers look good.

If the only growth tactic you deploy is writing a newsletter people adore, you’ll be successful. Eventually. To grow faster, use the organic growth channels we covered today:

  1. Social organic

  2. LinkedIn newsletters

  3. Newsletter swaps

  4. Creative scrappiness

And here’s one final bit of good news. When you figure out how to use these levers to grow your newsletter, you can turn around and use them to grow the rest of your business.

✌🏼 See you next week!

Jay Melone
Founder-Creator
Passive Profits
Connect on LinkedIn

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