Getting Your First 100 Subscribers — Easier Said Than Done

I stumbled upon this article from Substack recently: “Getting Your First 100 Signups.” The title picked up my curiosity because, if I am right, I have three different newsletters. They are built differently. The most “successful” one has still under 100 subscribers, after more than a year of existence. Am I doing something wrong? Is my content even relevant?

The Substack article is divided in three sections: tell everyone, be consistent, tap into other’s people audience. For each of these sections, the article suggests things that I could do to get more people to subscribe. Let’s find out.

Tell everyone

Of course, I should let everyone I know that I write a monthly newsletter for free!

Tell your friends, coworkers, and acquaintances

Here are the most challenging things for me to do in this area.

  • I’m shy to talk about my online endeavours. I have this feeling that nobody is really interested. Except maybe in this occasion: “Friday Notes #40 — The Unexpected Birthday Gift.” I want people to subscribe because they really like the content, not because they are doing me a favour.
  • On my LinkedIn profile, it’s tricky. If I make a faux pas, there can be consequences. I’m not certain that I want my employer to know that I’m spending so much time outside my job on things that aren’t… job-related. I know, it’s not their business. Yet…
  • Some of my old work colleagues are following me on Facebook. Do I want them to know this side of my personality? I don’t really know why am I so hesitant with that, and I should be more out spoken about it.
  • One reason that I’m shy is the language I use to publish. As you probably know, my first language is French, but I write in English. I’m afraid that friends will ask or challenge my choice of writing in English.

And now, the easiest part of self-promotion.

  • My Twitter bio refers to my Linktr.ee page. There, people can find all my websites. The next thing I could do is to add a signature to my personal email. I don’t write many emails, though. I don’t think it would do a big difference.
  • One post on one platform will contain references to my previously published posts on other platforms. Someone who is stumbling on one blog can learn the existence of the other. Easy.
  • When I was active on Substack, I used to participate in Substack authors shootouts. I didn’t get the attention I thought it would, nobody ever signed up following those virtual events. Is Substack reserved for an elite of writers who doesn’t pay attention? I don’t know.

Post on Twitter (or Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc)

Finally, the obvious ones are about cross-posting to other platforms.

  • From WordPress or Micro.blog, as exposed in my blogger workflow, I do cross-post to my main Twitter account, on my Facebook page, on Tumblr, and finally on Reddit. It helps to get some traffic for sure but rarely new signups.

Be consistent

Beat the drum, slow or fast, keep beating the drum. I think I’m good at this one considering the following tips.

Pick a regular writing schedule and stick to it

  • It’s the thing I’m doing best: be consistent. I do post each Fridays and then at the end of each month. Moreover, I may post in my photo legend series from time to time as a bonus. One cannot be more consistent than this!

Let your personality shine through.

  • This, I do, a lot. I mean, it’s all personal thoughts and observations or the result of my personal experience. The place where I expose the most personal side of me.

Keep all your content free

  • Everything is free since the beginning and I cannot see the day when it will change. There is little engagement for my readers. Opting out is easy too. What could go wrong?

Tap into other people’s audiences

Another tricky one: asking for permissions to become famous.

Ask your friends with big audiences to share your newsletter

  • I know a few guys on Twitter who are probably much more popular than me. I respect what they do, but the thing is that I’m shy to ask them. I want to avoid being perceived as desperate.

If you don’t know anyone with a big following, try cold emailing or DMing someone you admire

  • I could send a DM to John Gruber… would he care? I highly doubt it! Same for other authors that I know. I do exchange with some of them over Twitter DMs.

Tell people when you write about them

  • I did that a few times, especially for products or applications (Craft is one such example) where I can reach people behind them on Twitter. Usually, I get feedback, and they are pleased with what I’m doing. I did that too with @MattBirchler or @BasicAppleGuy, sometimes I get feedback, other times, nope.

Go to events, meetups, conferences, dinner parties attended by your target audience

  • Nope, not going to happen. My personal interests don’t align with my professional life.

Try to get a few big hits.

  • I got picked up by a few well-known writers. An example of this is Michael Tsai’s blog. Search for JFMartin on his website. I did submit many articles on Medium’s popular publications like Mac’O Clock and The Startup. They generate some measurable traffic but rarely new signups. Typically, I get new followers either on Twitter or on Medium. Subscribing to a newsletter seems to be too engaging, I guess (having to triage the already crowded Inbox).

There are other articles like Substack’s about growing your audience, like this one from Ghost.org. The first part of the article is about discoverability. That, I think I’m fine. Next up, is building trust. At this stage, things get a bit fuzzy. It’s about showing my audience that I can offer them useful content that they care about. My newsletter revolves mainly around Apple, photography, privacy protection and climate change. Still in Ghost’s article, the next steps focus on charging for content, this is where I get off the train. My content is free and will stay free. Simple. And yet, albeit all these efforts, my newsletter is still under 100 subscribers.

So, what can I conclude from all this? I mean, I consider myself well-prepared and organized and meet most of the advices that I can find to grow my subscribers base. The conclusion is a bit scary to me: is it because my content isn’t worth people’s time? Very few really cares? I have to think about it.🧐

Speaking of subscribers, please, consider becoming one to one of my newsletters (all free) 🙏🏻

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5 thoughts on “Getting Your First 100 Subscribers — Easier Said Than Done

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  1. @numericcitizen Take heart. Newsletters are a tough gig….because they take a while to build. Interestinhly MKBHD has less than 100 subcribers for the first 100 videos he made. Getting the first 100 is tough. Making and writing 100 newsletters is tougher. Keep at it.

  2. @jean That would be amazing if you could, since English is the official language in 60 countries around the world, with probably 60 variants, excluding international English. Wikipedia claims that there are 375 million native speakers and 1.3 billion speakers in total. Being able to spot them all would be miraculous, though not impossible.

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