The business of newsletters
How much are they making? How can you monetize yours?

Newsletters, once a way for marketers to prove to their bosses that yes, we're "engaging" our audience, has become a business unto itself.

Stacked Marketer, a daily newsletter that curates actionable marketing news, pulled in $153,100 in revenue for 2019 with a 9061 subscriber list (source: Nathan Latka's Deal or Bust series). In 2019, they charged $1000 for a sponsorship spot and in 2020, they bumped that up to $1,333 for one.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff’s newsletter on productivity and brain hacks, Maker Mind, hit $2032.50 MRR in July 2020. Paid subscriptions to Maker Mind are $5/month and $50/year.

Also, as the hard hit news industry furloughs and lay offs more journalists during the COVID-19 recession, some have taken their writing to newsletters to continue plying their craft, directly connect with their audience and have complete editorial freedom.

Emily Atkin left the New Republic to start Heated, a four-times-a-week newsletter about the climate crisis. As of July 2020, she has 28,000 subscribers and 10% of them pay between $50 and $75 a year for premium content.

Bullish Daily newsletter, stock market performance insights. Revenue
$79.84 (July 2020)
Flow State Weekday newsletter, two hours of music perfect for working. Revenue
$3625.06 (July 2020)
SolidGigs Weekly newsletter, curated freelance jobs. Revenue
$9007.31 (July 2020)
Stacked Marketer Weekday newsletter, actionable marketing news. Revenue
$153,100 (2019)
Maker Mind Weekday newsletter, productivity and brain hackers. Revenue
$2032.50 (July 2020)
Morning Brew Daily newsletter, bite-sized recaps of business news. Revenue
$13 million (2019)

Newsletters are nothing new but in the recent years, more and more people have been able to monetize content they’ve been creating around their personal interests and expertise through sponsorships, subscriptions and fan donations.

Where once there was skepticism you could get people to even pay a few dollars for online content, platforms like Twitch and Patreon have made it possible to directly connect with indie creators - it's the experience of enjoying a local talent jamming out in the town square gone digital and we're happy to toss coins and bills in their tip jar to support their work.

How to start a newsletter you can make money from

Step 1:  Choosing a topic for your newsletter that's marketable and sustainable

While creating newsletters tend to be easier than creating videos or streaming, in order to reach a level where you can monetize it, you need to get through the ‘trough of sorrow’ where you're grinding to produce content for a small, slowly growing audience.

That’s why it’s important to ask yourself:

  • What’s a topic I’m knowledgeable about?
  • What’s a topic that I’m passionate about?

Passion is important here. When you see those revenue numbers, dollar signs may start flashing before your eyes. But it takes a lot of consistency and motivation to come up with the content for newsletters on a regular basis. If you don’t have a passion for the topic you’re writing about, you may not make it past the ‘friends and family readership’ stage or keep going when growth feels anemic.

When you’re starting out, the more niche your topic is, the less competition you’ll face and the easier it’ll be for you to grow your audience by resonating with the goals, pain points and curiosities of a specific group of people. For example, instead of covering the broad topic of skincare, you can niche down to:

  • Skincare for aging skin
  • Skincare for sensitive skin
  • Skincare reviews from a biochemist perspective

As your audience and recognition grows, you can always expand what you cover.

Also ask yourself “what unique take can I offer on this topic?” It could be (a combination of):

  • Your expertise
  • Curation of the most valuable or actionable insights
  • Your writing style
  • Service delivered via email - examples:
    • Flight deals
    • Coding interview questions
    • New job openings from a specific sector

Starting a newsletter for your business to stay on prospects and customers’ radar? Here are some engaging types of content you can create:

  • Behind-the-scenes look at what your team is doing - this puts a human face on your business and creates an emotional connection between you and your audience
  • Actionable insights related to your industry
    • How to achieve a highly desired result without this common challenge
      • Example: How to get consistently high open rates, without having to nail your subject line every time
  • Interesting industry news
  • Product updates
  • Customer stories
Step 2:  The best tools to set up and send newsletters

Starting a newsletter is fairly simple as far as tools go. The two main ones you need are a doc editor and an email platform that ideally has the following features:

  • Landing page builder (to create a page where can people sign up for your newsletter)
  • Drag and drop email editor (to easily design your newsletter)
  • Automations (example: if someone signs up to your newsletter, this triggers a welcome email)

If you want to test the waters, you can start off with an affordable platform like Mailerlite. They support 1000 subscribers on their free plan, which also lets you use their drag and drop editor, landing pages and automations.

Mailchimp offers 2000 subscribers on their free plan but counts each contact toward the total whether or not they're subscribed (you have to archive subscribers for them not to count).

Here's how the popular email marketing platforms compare in terms of price for 5000 subscribers (prices checked in August 2020).

  • Mailerlite: $30/month
  • GetResponse: $45/month (Basic plan)
  • Aweber: $49/month
  • Mailchimp: $50/month (Essentials plan)
  • ConvertKit: $79/month
  • Active Campaign: $120/month (Lite plan)

You get what you pay for doesn't necessarily apply to email marketing platforms but one very important, often overlooked quality is their deliverability rate. What percentage of emails send through the platform actually makes it to the recipient’s inbox (in any folder or tab)? You could have a subject line that covers the entire Buzzfeed lol/omg/wtf emotional spectrum and still have a mediocre open rate because your email didn't even make it to your subscriber's inbox!

Based on EmailToolTester's tests, here are the deliverability rates of popular platforms. They do fluctuate but two of the top performers over time are Active Campaign and Mailerlite.

If you prefer paid subscriptions to be your main source of revenue, you can choose a platform that has built-in payment options such as:

Or you can set up payment processing on your own website or landing page with Stripe and/or PayPal and add paying subscribers to your email platform with their API or with Zapier.

Step 3:  How to monetize your newsletter

So you’re not just writing in your diary to read it back to yourself in your golden years, how can you make some money from this?

There are three primary ways you can earn money from your newsletter.

Paid subscriptions

You can split your newsletter into free and premium content and charge a monthly or yearly membership fee to receive the premium content. Your free content gives your audience a taste of what they can expect from you and you can add calls to action to each free email encouraging them to subscribe for premium content and perks.

Donations

You can ask your audience to donate via Buy Me a Coffee or PayPal. Since this does depend on people to be in a giving mood when they see your donation button, it’s not the most reliable source of income.

Which brings us to sponsorships, arguably one of the most lucrative streams of revenue for newsletters. Hence it deserves its own section. :)

Step 4:  How to land sponsorships to monetize your newsletters

Peter Codes landed a $70 sponsor for his No CS Degree newsletter before he hit 440 subscribers.

If you are just starting out with a hundred to a few hundred subscribers, you can also reach out to people that run newsletters with similar audiences to cross-promote. This lets you experiment with how to talk about other people's work and gives you a feel for what the clickthrough rates are like when you're promoting a third party.

How much should you charge for your sponsorships?

This varies a lot depending on the size of your subscriber list, your open rate, clickthrough rate, how often you send your newsletters, your brand recognition and your audience demographics.

When you’re just starting out with a few hundred subscribers, you can start off testing the waters by charging between $10-$100 for your first sponsorship.

As you grow your list, slowly raise your rates every time you’re able to fill most or all of your sponsorship spots at the current price.

You can also offer a package of sponsorship spots to lock down a longer-term partnership and revenue stream.

How can you land your first sponsorships?

You can proactively reach out to businesses who have a product or service that your audience would benefit from. For example, if your newsletter is about productivity, you could reach out to businesses that offer mind mapping products, noise-cancelling headphones, habit tracking apps and more.

Here’s how Rich Clominson reached out to GrowandConvert about sponsoring Startup Cemetery:

GrowAndConvert and the Startup Cemetery
Rich  <rich@email.com>
to Benji

Hey Benji,

I'm Rich, maker of Failory. I'm reaching you because I am about to launch a project I've been working on during the last 6 months and I think GrowAndConvert could be a great fit as a sponsor.

The project is called Startup Cemetery (here is the link if you want to check it out!) and is a side-project inside Failory in which I've analyzed and collected data about why +100 startups have failed. My mission is to help startup founders avoid mistakes made by other businesses and (hopefully) reduce the big percentage of startups that fail in today's world.

So why contact you? Well, I'm offering limited sponsorship opportunities to some hand-picked companies who have a similar audience to the one Startup Cemetery will have (24-35 consumer, but more importantly, founders and C-level of companies who want to grow their businesses and avoid being a failed startup).

For $500, Startup Cemetery's sponsorship includes:

  • A promotion on our highly engaged .1,200 followers social networks.
  • A mention on our active +4,100 email subscriber newsletter.
  • GrowAndConvert's logo, name and description on the landing page and each of the 100 business pages. This can be seen without even scrolling and it will be LIVE on the site from February 25 to April 1. It would look similar to this:

I'd love to chat more if you're interested, and I'd love to have GrowAndConvert featured on my site! Thank you for your time and let me know if you have any questions.

Btw, I love everything you are posting on GrowandConvert. Also, keep it up with the newsletter is always nice to receive one of your emails as I know you have published a new article ;)

Cheers,
Rich

Where and how can you mention a sponsor in your newsletter?

In the header of your newsletter

In a middle section of your newsletter

At the bottom of your newsletter

Based on the information that a sponsor provides you, it’s better if you introduce them in your own words so the mention sounds more organic for your audience.

Step 5:  How to get your first 100 subscribers

Getting your first 100 subscribers is probably going to be the hardest part. Let’s assume that you’re starting from scratch and you don’t have a pre-existing audience to work with.

What should you do? First, let all of your email contacts know about it!

If you use Gmail, you can use a Chrome extension like Email Address Extractor to extract all of the addresses you’ve sent emails to or received emails from to a Google Sheet.

1. Review the email addresses to remove any contacts you may not want to announce your newsletter to.

2. Use a Chrome extension for Gmail like Yet Another Mail Merge or Gmass to mass send the email to the list of email addresses without having to use BCC (here’s a guide on how).

Here’s an example of something you can send to all of your email contacts, that would still make sense for those who may not have heard from you in a while.

How to get your first 100 subscribers by emailing all of your contacts

Subject: I started something new

Introduce yourself to email contacts to remind those who may not remember who you are. Open with a lightly self-deprecating or humorous remark to make them more receptive to an email that’s mostly about you and your work.

Poke fun at the fact that you’re jumping on the bandwagon by starting a newsletter.

Describe the topic of your newsletter and why this topic is interesting or important right now.

Lay out your unique take on the topic, such as your expertise or writing style - don’t be shy about hyping yourself up!

Give them a sneak preview of a few interesting points or insights you’ll be sharing.

Ask them to subscribe to your newsletter and get the first issue. (It helps have the first email ready to go so some people also subscribe to get the instant gratification of seeing what it's all about.)

Mention the emotion or value they’d get out of your newsletter and reassure them that they can unsubscribe anytime if they don't end up liking it.

Lightheartedly joke that you won’t guilt trip them into staying.

Ask them to subscribe again.

Edit template Reset Copy
Step 6:  Testing your emails to make sure they look good

How an email looks in your editor and how it ends up looking in someone’s inbox can be quite different, as every email client has its own rendering quirks.

I recommend installing the most popular email clients on your computer and phone and sending test emails to yourself with PutsMail.

The most popular email clients are:

  • Gmail
  • Outlook
  • Yahoo

There are email testing services like Litmus and Email on Acid that show you screenshots of how your email looks on different clients and devices but from my experience, the screenshots do not completely match how they actually look on the email client and device.

Out of the different email clients, Outlook (one of Microsoft’s gifts to the world) supports the least HTML formatting and no CSS styling so it always helps to install it, create a test Outlook account and see how your emails look on there. Prepare to cringe the first few times. :)

Step 7:  Inspiration for newsletters

There will be days when you feel struck by lightning and other days when you'll find yourself rewriting the same sentence five times. That's why it always helps to subscribe to other newsletters for inspiration and to see how they've structured their content, how they write and where they place their sponsors.

Protip: Create a separate email address to sign up for these newsletters so they don’t clutter your main inbox. This also lets you keep all of your inspiration in one place.

Here are a few popular newsletters on different topics:

For design specific inspiration, you can check out Really Good Emails. Something to note though is that even though an email may look pretty, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it engages or converts well.

Last updated:
"How do I get new clients?" No you don't have to create content, get active on social media or complete on job boards. Yes all of these help, but you're forced to play the waiting game. While your bills stack up... Instead you can proactively reach out to clients you want to work with. Here's how (and no, talking about your benefits is not enough). Yes, let's get proactive
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