🌱 Building a loyal fanbase

Happy Sunday everyone! Grab a drink and dive into this week's roundup which is packed full of newsletter growth stories and tips β˜•οΈ

πŸ’¬ In this week's issue:

  • From 0 to 1k β€” How one publisher hit the 1,000-subscriber milestone without a pre-existing audience.
  • Content formatting is important, but it's not a silver bullet. Use these three steps to create a replicable format that meets the needs of your readers.
  • Top takeaways about growing a profitable media business from the team behind a newsletter with 2m+ readers and $millions in revenue.

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Behind the scenes: Getting 1,000 true fans with The Lorem Ipsum

β€ŒWe caught up with Daniel Herndon, publisher of The Lorem Ipsum, to find out what the journey to 1k subscribers looks like for an independent publisher who is growing an audience from the ground up.

On style: β€Œβ€Œ
There are many publications about current events in the world, so you could say Daniel's niche is crowded, but What sets The Lorem Ipsum apart is the personality-driven writing that "makes you laugh while making you think". By creating a unique brand and tone of voice, Daniel has attracted more than 1,000 true fans.

Daniel illustrates the publication's images on an iPad to build a distinctive brand style.

Daniel also mixes in personal stories and humorous, quirky articles that generate organic SEO traffic, like this one about how to make the perfect Old Fashioned and another about whether you should wash your jeans πŸ‘–.

On subscriber growth:β€Œβ€Œ
The simple strategy of "just start writing" is what Daniel used to get The Lorem Ipsum off the ground.

I just started writing articles and eventually complete strangers started signing up, and a handful started paying. β€” Daniel Herndon

Besides focusing on getting published work out into the world, Daniel leaned on his experience as a marketing professional to get the wheels in motion.

Growth is hard when you don't have a pre-existing platform – I've never written for the New York Times (but I'm willing to consider it, if they ask).β€” Daniel Herndon

To get the first few hundred subscribers, Daniel used a simple marketing strategy that leveraged word of mouth (via personal outreach) and implemented some lead magnets to encourage visitors to sign up. This, along with publishing high-quality content in Daniel's unique style was enough to grow an audience over time.

On growing a paid audience:β€Œβ€Œ
At the moment, growing an engaged free audience is the primary focus for The Lorem Ipsum, but Daniel has already added paid subscriptions to the mix.

I had to ask myself "would I rather more people read this or rather someone paid for this?" I save select posts for my paid subscribers and publish most of my writing for free. β€” Daniel Herndon

Despite paid subscriptions not being the main focus right now, Daniel has attracted several paid members with minimal effort, which speaks to the benefits of monetizing a newsletter sooner, rather than later. Getting early validation that people are willing to pay for your work provides insight and motivation to keep the momentum going.

When you love what you do, you can be patient, and smell the roses along the way. β€” Daniel Herndon

Interesting stories & ideas πŸ“š

How to format your newsletter to meet your audience's expectations

Deciding how to format your newsletter is an important consideration! The way your content is structured helps deliver stories in a way that meets your audience's expectations, and many successful publishers also use formats to differentiate their brand, for example:

  • Stratechery: Deep analysis of technology and the media using a long-form article format.
  • Axios Media Trends: A roundup of the latest media trends with summaries that always include headings like "Why it matters" and "How it works", allowing readers to quickly gain knowledge without needing to leave their inbox.
  • The Browser: A daily curation of five outstanding articles each with a summary to help readers decide what they're interested in reading more of.
  • For The Interested: Extremely short posts sharing the latest ideas about career growth for creators, with each post focused on directing the reader to an article, video, or podcast episode.

In a recent issue of The Rebooting, Brian Morrissey writes about the importance and limitations of formats. Brian argues that ultimately, your format needs to start with what your audience needs.

The best formats start by solving for an audience need. That has to be first. β€” Brian Morrissey

A unique format should never come at the expense of meeting this need, and you don't necessarily need to reinvent the wheel with something new. As Brian puts it, your format is often about "putting new packaging on the same stuff".

Perhaps this is the maker in me, but ultimately the product is going to live or die on the basis of its substance, not some amazing new format that outside of those who came up with it is not considered that amazing or new. β€” Brian Morrissey

With this in mind, here's a sensible 3-step approach for figuring out how to format your content:

  1. Dive deep into the needs of your audience. Spend most of your time on this step. For example, is your audience looking for quick summaries of the latest news, and deep dives on specific topics, or are they looking for entertainment?
  2. Look at reference materials. Take a look at different formats used by other publishers, including your competitors and publications outside of your niche. This is a useful exercise to create a list of ideas of what your format should (and shouldn't) look like!
  3. Create a unique format that promotes consistency. Once armed with information from the previous two steps, spend some time creating a format template that you can use consistently. A replicable format helps build familiarity and improves reader engagement.
Use content snippets to create a template of your format that you can quickly insert into each new issue of your newsletter.

How to build a profitable media business

It's pretty straightforward to launch a newsletter with the tools available to creators today, but the real challenge comes into play when considering growing an audience or scaling a profitable business.

In a recent Trends article, Ethan Brooks dives deep into the mechanics of growing a newsletter based on their experience of growing to 2 million subscribers with millions of dollars in annual revenue.

Want to know a secret? You don’t need a big audience to build a big newsletter business… And having a big audience won’t guarantee success either. Instead, you NEED to know how the business model works; How all the pieces fit together. β€” Ethan Brooks

The first step towards a successful marketing strategy is optimizing your marketing funnel (πŸ₯ƒ) by differentiating between qualified and unqualified leads. In other words, make sure you are targeting the right people. If your marketing is unclear or misaligned with your brand, you'll end up with subscribers who are far less likely to remain engaged or convert to paid subscribers.

Here's a summary of the three levers Ethan recommends to build a successful newsletter marketing strategy:

#1 Time πŸ•œ β€Œβ€Œ
As a new creator with a small audience, the thing you need to focus on the most is generating attention, and to do this you need to invest your time.

Early on, when you have no growth budget, time is your biggest asset, and you should use it to experiment with free tactics like content marketing, social media, or PR. β€” Ethan Brooks

Free marketing relies heavily on your time, starting with getting high-quality content out into the world. At this stage, you should be focusing your marketing efforts on SEO, social media, and PR activities like guest appearances.

#2 Money πŸ’Έβ€Œβ€Œ
As you grow both audience and revenue, the second lever you can use is paid acquisition. Most growing newsletters tend to start with social media ads on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Before you get started, pick the platform that is most aligned with your target audience, and be sure to spend some time crunching numbers to figure out your target CPA.

Simply put, your target CPA is the price you can pay for each reader without going broke. To calculate it, you need to first understand: β€Œβ€Œ
1. The revenue an individual reader brings your newsletter (known as customer lifetime value, or CLTV). β€Œβ€Œ
2. Your desired payback period β€” how soon will you break even on your investment? β€Œβ€Œ
β€” Ethan Brooks

#3 Audience πŸ“£
β€Œβ€ŒAs your audience grows it turns into a growth lever itself, where your existing readers can help spread the word. There are two primary ways to leverage your audience for growth:

  1. Encourage word of mouth
  2. Launch a referral program

Encouraging word of mouth can be as simple as reminding your audience how to share your work with their friends regularly. The best part is, it costs absolutely nothing to start asking your most dedicated readers to forward emails, share tweets, or write reviews.

Referral programs can be effective too, but they are more complicated to get up and running, and since only a small percentage of your audience will have enough reach to refer lots of people, they're typically recommended for publishers with a larger audience size.

Curator's pick

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