Most writers start their newsletter because they want to share their thoughts and writing with others. There are over 50,000 individual newsletters on Substack and over 30,000 on Revue alone. Of these, only 12,000 are active monthly. Of the active monthly newsletters, only about 1,100 are paid email newsletters.
That means 85% of newsletters are abandoned within a month of getting started and less than 10% of active newsletters are getting paid subscribers.
This compares to 60-80% of blogs being abandoned within a month of getting started. After discussions with 20 people who abandoned their Substack newsletter withing a month of starting one, there are 5 main reasons that came up:
a) lack of subscriber growth,
b) lack of time to manage newsletter,
c) lost interest in the newsletter / topic,
d) other priorities came up,
e) day job takes up too much time.
Most writers plunge right in and start a newsletter since it is free and easy to do so. They go to Substack, sign up and send their first “newsletter”. Then they may post it on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, reddit and one or two industry specific websites and expect a flood of subscribers. When that does not happen, nearly 60% of people give up.
After a week or a month passes, they realize the amount of time required to manage their newsletter is upwards of 4-8 hours a week they are forced to prioritize. Since over 80% of newsletter writers start their newsletter as a side hustle, their time become valuable and the trade off becomes more important. Send an update to a “small and not growing very fast” list? Or focus on their day job? Most end up focusing on their day job.
In drilling deeper, one thing that stands out is how many people don’t have a goal that they start with to work on.
“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” –Zig Ziglar
In this post I want to share an alternative way that I learned at Amazon on the best way to setup a goal, a plan to achieve your goal and metrics to track progress.
First set a goal. A SMART goal.
Here are 7 examples of real goals we have helped creators put together.
- Create a newsletter that inspires 1000 people to take climate change seriously in 6 months
- Build a community of 500 enthusiastic Node.JS developers who want to learn about growing from 0 to hired in 12 months
- Educate 2000 people about pet adoption and get 50 paying subscribers in 3 months for our newsletter
- Grow my millennial finance management newsletter to over 10K subscribers in 12 months
- Become an expert in all things DeFi with a focus on developers by growing my newsletter subscribers to 12,000 in 6 months
- Generate over $10K ARR from my newsletter in the first year from subscriptions with a focus on stock analysis research
- Build thought leadership in Indian business community by writing about deep dive case studies and gaining over 7500 subscribers within 6 months
As SMART goals state, they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound.
There are 3 important elements we help writers understand:
- Put a number, what ever number to your goal. That makes is easy for you to work towards. One metric (or number) is better than 2 or 3 (don’t try to work on # of subscribers, open rate and subscription revenue all at the same time)
- Be realistic – even if your target audience is 50,000, you need to start small with a realistic goal in 3-6-12 months.
- More specific is better. Notice we do not have goals that are broad – Be the best DeFi, newsletter or Be a thought leader. Those are nebulous and don not motivate you to work towards something measurable.
Second, work backwards to create a plan
Now that you have a goal, build 3 plans:
- Editorial calendar – what you are going to write about – it need not be specific about each post, but you need to have a calendar of items for 5-10 newsletters (depending on your newsletter’s frequency).
- Marketing plan – how and where are you going to promote your newsletter. What incentives are you going to provide users to forward your newsletter to others. If you want to gain 2,500 subscribers in 3 months, you need to get to add about 80 new subscribers weekly on average. That’s after people that unsubscribe. Here is a roughly weekly growth chart for one email newsletter. As you can see some weeks were great, some went backwards, but there was long term growth.
- Time and Calendar: Plan out your day or week when you will take time from your calendar to do the research, form your thoughts, write the outline, and edit your final newsletter post.
Third, focus on executing your plan every day and week
This is easier said than done, but you need to spend time doing the hard work of executing to the plan. Along your journey you will learn new ways to promote your blog and grow readers. You will learn new areas of content that you did not think about when you get feedback from your subscribers.
The best way to execute the plan is to review metrics every week. At Amazon there is a mechanism called WBR (Weekly Business Review) where you look at your goal, what your planned to do for the week and how you are progressing towards your goal. Or how you are executing to the plan.