Failing at growing an audience on Substack

Failing at growing an audience on Substack
Photo by π“΄π“˜π“‘π“š 𝕝𝔸𝕀 / Unsplash

For every side project you launch, there's always that phrase you keep repeating to yourself: "if I continue, it could work". When comes the time to stop, whatever the reasons are, a little doubt remains. As I write this, that's what I tell myself. I'm convinced that sharing career growth advices could be helpful for many, especially for those starting their working life.

Let's cover the aim of this side project, the tests I ran and what I learned as well.

Launching a newsletter on Substack: build in public series


How Substack works

As I learned and shared on the part two of this build in public series, launching a Substack newsletter; you can either count on an existing audience (subscribers on another platform / website) / large personal audience (large number of followers on your social media with lots of engagement) or literaly build from scratch. The latter is not impossible but by far the most difficult as it will take both your time and commitment on the long run before seeing your audience start growing.

Writing an issue for Weekly 1to1 took lots of time: I was prepared for it but quickly get bored to spend that much time to gain only a few subscribers after each publication.

Network effects

This is the reason why I chose to rely on interviews to grow the audience of the newsletter. I published one "fake interview" to test the idea first but couldn't properly promote it as interviewees weren't in the know (covered in Part Two). I then ran two real interviews including one with Aleyda Solis that has a very important audience on social media (eg. +140K followers on Twitter). First of all, the topic covered with Aleyda have been asked by subscribers so I knew it was relevant to the audience. I was also expecting shares and comments for this interview. Then, I set an objective of getting 10 new subscribers on the day I published the interview. This is the objective I had in mind to decide to continue or not this side project. I promoted it on Twitter and Linkedin. Aleyda retweeted it and commented on it as well. I also promoted it on a Slack community which is interested by the topics covered in the newsletter. Still, only one person subscribe to the newsletter. A fail then.

Opportunities

I've read lots of articles, interviews and Twitter threads to get tips from successful Substack' authors. I know for a fact that the recommendation feature skyrocketed the audience of the most successful newsletters to this day. Something I couldn't thrive for as my newsletter was too recent; meaning not enough content yet, audience base too low to be interesting for a reco, etc.).

I then came accross a call for guest posts from Lenny Rachitsky. I quickly filled the form to propose to write about intrapreneurship (an underrated topic I already covered here). I didn't hear back from him; meaning the topic wasn't a fit. It was my last idea to grow my audience before stopping this side project in case of failing.

So, yes maybe the audience could start growing in a few months from now but I don't have the energy neither the will to continue. I have other ideas for new side projects that I would like to test and I don't want to get stuck with this newsletter; especially because it's too similar to Merci Larry in terms of time taken for content writing / sharing.

Learnings from writing a newsletter on Substack

Above all, I was super happy to be able to give a shot at this side project while at the beginning of my maternity leave (that's why time was an important factor πŸ˜†). I learned a lot even if didn't work at growing my audience. I had the occasion to test Substack as a platform as I wished; closely following the features being launched by the company. The latest to this date is Notes; which is especially interesting as it look like Twitter. I'm super curious to see how it will evolve in the months to come; considering that Twitter is in a bad shape currently (spam, engagement, impact of layoffs, Musk escapades, etc.).

From now on, expect me to share new Looker Studio / Google sheets templates for SEO, thoughts & learnings on the ads landscape & growth.