Email

How to grow an email newsletter

In: Email, Audience Building

If there's one hill I will die on, it's that all creators should include email as part of their creative platform. And I'm not alone on that hill – it's actually pretty crowded.

But I know starting an email newsletter can be hard and discouraging – if not downright painful.

As I shared in a recent article on lessons I've learned in writing my own email newsletter, subscriber growth and engagement will often go through periods of decline if you don't take time to focus on improving them – great content isn't always enough.

This came up inside the Creative Companion Club during one of our Hot Seats (1:1 coaching conversations with members) and so I thought I'd expand on it here.

If we're putting effort into email at all, of course, we want to see that effort rewarded with growth...but what drives growth in email?

Build an Inviting Front Door

You need to make it really easy for someone to find and subscribe to your newsletter. I know that sounds obvious, but a lot of writers are actually putting themselves at a disadvantage by not focusing on this first.

What is the shortest path to getting on your list?

...and how short is it, really?

This is the go-to path for YOU to advocate for your own writing. If you guest on a podcast, you should have an easy front door to direct people to. Hell, if you meet someone in line for coffee, you should have an easy front door to direct people to!

But not only that, it's the go-to path for people to advocate on your behalf too.

If I search for your name, you want the first result should take me to a page where it's clear where to subscribe.

If I search for your newsletter name, you want the first result should take me to a page where it's clear where to subscribe.

This is important for both existing subscribers and prospective subscribers. If I'm already a subscriber – it should be easy for me to advocate for your writing! I should be able to quickly find an easy link to share with my friends.

And if I've just heard of your email newsletter, I should be able to find it with a quick google.

But the best front doors aren't just easy to find...but they're also very inviting to walk through.

If I'm standing on your digital doorstep, what makes me want to enter?

Simply saying "subscribe to my newsletter" isn't very compelling anymore – especially if they don't know YOU or what that newsletter will do for them.

"Tips & tricks" has become a meaningless phrase.

I'm as guilty of this as the next guy – but you need to be very clear about the compelling result walking into your front door will provide for that reader.

My #Tweet100 landing page is my highest converting page at 46.96%. Almost half of every visitor to that doorstep decides to walk inside.

If you're looking for ways to make your front door more appealing, here are six types of lead magnets that are still effective today.

Lead magnets that actually work
If you’ve ever tried to build up an email list, you’ve probably heard advice around creating a “lead magnet” to get people to sign up. If you haven’t or if you need a refresher, a lead magnet is basically the offer you make that incentivizes someone to hand over their

Never Stop Adding Side Doors

Your front door is the pathway that most people will enter the digital home that is your creative platform...but it doesn't need to be the ONLY door people enter through.

In fact, the majority of my subscriber growth today doesn't come through my front door, it comes from the dozens of side doors that I've created.

Think of any piece of content you create as a potential side door to your creative platform. Every newsletter, article, video, podcast, or social media post you publish can be a new door for someone to enter.

Some of these side doors are more straightforward than others – every article you write can include a form to opt-in within it. But for videos on YouTube, you may need to link in the description. For podcasts, you may need to call out a link in the show notes.

But they can each be a door. In fact, if you're not thinking about your content as potential side doors, you're shooting yourself in the foot.

Side doors create the magic of compounding for your list growth...this is how one new subscriber per day becomes five and then 10 and then 20 and more.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

A lot of writers don't enjoy the hustle of self-promotion. First of all, you need to get over that – if you don't advocate for your work, why would someone else?

But there are ways to compensate. In fact, a lot of the biggest list growth doesn't come from the creator hustling or their audience sharing – it comes from organic search.

People are searching for information all day every day. And search engines (Google) are doing the legwork of finding the best sources of that information.

If your website is Google's preferred source for any given query, then Google is doing the work of advocating for your work. And if you have a side door built into that article or page...you have a lot of opportunities for new readers to enter.

This is the historical traffic for my Freelancing School website. I started focusing on SEO in March of 2020...can you tell?

Each day, nearly 2,000 visitors land on that website, mostly on an article. In those articles, I have opt-in forms embedded. This is my most consistent source of new subscribers – it's a combination of organic search and having plenty of side doors.

SEO is not difficult to learn. It does require some study and then understanding how to do the research and preparation. But I learned everything I know from these three videos from Miles Beckler:

Keyword Research

Competitive Research

Outlines and writing

Reach the High Bar of Shareability

Whatever traffic isn't coming from organic search is probably coming from the sharing of existing readers.

A lot of newsletters are relying solely on sharing. That's fine, but the bar for shareable content is getting higher ALL the time.

We consume so much information, if we shared every piece of content we took in, our feeds would just be a constant stream of other peoples' work.

So we pick and choose what we share...it has to be really good, articulate something we feel, or hit on some core emotion.

I really like Shaan Puri's framework for viral writing – he orients everything he writes around one of these eight emotions (even tweets!):

  • NSFW: that’s crazy!
  • LOL: that’s so funny
  • OHHH: now I get it!
  • WOW: that’s amazing!
  • AWW: that’s sooo cute
  • YAY: that’s great news!
  • WTF: that pisses me off
  • FINALLY: someone said it!

He covers this in-depth with Dickie Bush and Nicolas Cole of Ship 30 for 30:

You can of course try to further incentivize sharing through a referral or affiliate program. I'm a fan of SparkLoop and have used it myself.

But these programs really require you to be thoughtful about what the incentive(s) are for sharing. It needs to be something we really WANT in order for us to shill your writing to our friends.

Don't Rule Out Paid Acquisition

Finally, we have paid acquisition. This is something that few talk about – but those who use it talk about it loudly, and those who don't talk about the organic nature of their growth equally loudly.

I'm constantly surprised by how proudly people will say, "My growth has been 100% organic – we don't spend any money on ads."

That's amazing – organic growth is something we all want!

But paid acquisition doesn't mean it comes at the expense of organic growth...it's just another lever that you can pull.

When people hear "paid acquisition" they often think of Facebook. They think about the skeevy 60s videos that lead to a funnel to sell a course.

That worked great for a lot of people for a long time. But, today, the economics of Facebook ads are harder than ever.

So you either a.) need to know what you're doing, b.) be willing to lose a lot of money while learning, or c.) hire someone else with a track record.

And even if you get that working...are your ideal customers the type of person who sees and is swayed by a Facebook ad?

I think there are many other routes to paid acquisition than Facebook ads.

This year I'm going to experiment with several, and I'll share the results here in my writing and inside the Creative Companion Club! But first and foremost, I'm starting with advertising in other newsletters that my target audience is likely to read.

Oh, and by the way, "paid" acquisition doesn't have to mean cash. You could pay by cross-promoting someone else's newsletter. Because if their audience is likely to enjoy YOUR writing...chances are, your audience would enjoy theirs.

Conclusion

No matter your creative platform, I cannot recommend more highly that you be building an email list (and do it in ConvertKit)!

This diversifies your platforms and gives you a reliable means of communicating directly to your audience.

And once you start to understand the power of email, you're going to want to grow your list too.

So focus on creating an easy-to-find and inviting front door. Never stop adding side doors. I recommend you learn enough SEO to add that tool to your toolbox. Focus your writing on making truly shareable content, and don't rule out paid acquisition as a viable path forward.

Written by
Jay Clouse
I'm the lead Creator Scientist writing this newsletter. I also host Creative Elements, a narrative-interview podcast talking with today's top creators with more than one million downloads.

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