Having done this for about 6 months now, I want to share some of the things that I learned that might help someone who is starting out.
Before we get started, I’m at 1500+ subscribers all of whom were acquired organically using social media, SEO & forum listings.
As far as demographics go, most of them are from the USA, Canada, UK & Australia.
You can check out the newsletter here: remotists.substack.com
I started the newsletter by first validating if there was a need for it. I did this by sharing the idea of the newsletter with a few LinkedIn connections and asking them if they would pay for a service that shares remote job listings every week.
Even if it is a free newsletter, it is important that you do your validation by asking for money or at least the promise of it. People often vote honestly with their wallets & most people try not be rude by calling your venture a bad idea to your face.
Plus, you do not even have to get actual money from these people, just the promise of it is often good enough to validate a free product.
After I was validated by 2 out of every 10 people I prospected, I decided to go for it and bought the domain name remotists.com.
My early subscribers were people in my LinkedIn contacts who were either already working remotely or were freelancers. This was by design because I wanted to get traction with the core audience first and not a general sample.
Businesses that go out and sign up everyone they can find initially are making a mistake in my opinion. Building something for everyone at the very beginning will make for a mediocre product that doesn’t excite anyone.
It is important that you get it right for your core audience first.
I got about 100-150 subscribers during this stage. I also did a bit of Twitter and since I was not using any URL parameters for analytics at this point because I was reaching a very exclusive group of people, hence I do not have an exact measure of the audience split. Looking back, I should have added some basic GA at least.
Things grew from 150 - 500 mostly because I started identifying more and more freelancers on sites like LinkedIn & Twitter and shared my newsletter with them. And since I started sending out cold invites to people I didn’t know, the acceptance/sign up rate came down drastically.
If I had to estimate, it would be around 15-20% now as opposed to 60-70% when I sent it to people I knew or was connected to on a platform for a while. Looking back I think I should have formed a connection or have some rapport with these people before sending them a cold invite to a newsletter no one has heard of.
And the subscriber growth during this time convinced me to move from MailChimp to Substack.
I did it for 2 reasons:
Mailchimp had a 2000 subscriber limit on its free plan.
Substack just raised money so they were going to advertise.
Substack’s design was optimal for email collection.
Substack displayed a history of your posts
Substack was free.
One fine day I saw someone on IndieHackers' site post about their newsletter getting lots of traffic through Reddit. And at this point, I didn’t really have any idea on how to market newsletters on Reddit because I always assumed it was a platform for useless banter.
I was wrong about that.
But since I had a history of my posts, I decided to give it a try.
My first post on r/digitalnomads got me 2000 site visitors and I was hooked.
For the next few days I shared my posts on any job related subreddits I could find. I would share 30+ posts everyday and treated it like it was a gold rush.
Looking back I should have been much slower in my approach.
Within 2 weeks I had a thousand subscribers and over the next month, I would slow down and my numbers would go up to 1650.
Doing repetitive tasks like posting links and doing the same old research got me bored so I stopped working on the newsletter in April. And needless to say, the new subscriber count dropped and the total has remained more or less the same since then. Plus, I also removed 100+ inactive subscribers a couple of days back.
At this moment, I have no passion for the newsletter. I am interested in doing something beyond that for the digital nomad community.
I have outlined a few future ideas in this post: Remotists Updates
I was so not interested in pursuing this that I was willing to sell the newsletter for less than $1000 if I found a good buyer. I wanted to give it to someone who would take care of the subscribers and grow the newsletter but after conversations with over 5 prospects, none seemed like a fit.
So I have decided to push through for another year unless I get a good buyer during this period.
Validate before you start working on something, it will save a lot of time and money.
Build in public, you’ll be motivated to do better.
Set up analytics from the get-go so that you do not miss on useful insights.
Avoid posting repeatedly on forums
Change & test your marketing copy often.
Be consistent with your posting frequency, do not go on long hiatuses.
Collaborate with those with your target audience.
Add other media properties like YT channel or IG page.
Publish interviews with industry folks who bring in relevant audience.
Use social media to promote your content consistently.
Do things that do not scale in the beginning.
Build for a specific audience, do not try to please everyone.
I hope this helped. If you’ve got questions share them in the comments and I’ll answer them.
You can follow me on Twitter.
Illustration by Ivan Haidutski