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Chapter
1

Determine your goals for your newsletter

Adding a newsletter hosted on Substack to your repertoire of tools is a huge milestone in your freelancing journey. Whether you decide to use it as an income stream or you’re just looking for a non-algorithmic outlet for your content, Substack has many benefits for writers. Feel proud that you’re at this point — I’m excited to help walk you through it.

In this playbook, you’ll:

  • Define your newsletter’s goals.

  • Set up your Substack.

  • Personalize your Substack to your audience.

  • Create your newsletter schedule.

  • Write your first post.

  • Learn about how payments work on Substack.

  • Use Substack’s community-building features.

  • Track your Substack metrics.

  • Promote your Substack.

Let’s dive in.

Let’s talk about your newsletter goals

Ready to get started? Your first exercise is simple, but it requires some introspection. Before you set up a newsletter on Substack, decide on goals or an outcome for yourself. Goal-setting will help you define what your newsletter will contain. The goals you set will define the choices you make throughout this playbook.

Here are some questions to get the wheels turning as you define your goals:

Find clarity in your drive to create this:

  • Why do you want to start a newsletter? Is it to gain a bigger following? To hone your craft? To identify a new monetization channel for your business?

Identify your audience, niche and purpose:

  • Answer questions like: What niche am I providing content for? Who does my writing bring together? Why will my audience rally around my writing? Is my intended niche conducive to writing newsletter posts, which my audience will receive on a regular cadence? 

  • Describe your intended audience in 1 or 2 sentences. What backgrounds, interests, or experiences do they have in common? What do I want my readers to feel after reading my newsletter? 

If it helps, here’s what my goals looked like at the start of my Substack career in 2019:

In the next year, I want to create a community for my readers who currently span disparate, different platforms, using Substack to consolidate them into one place so I have a vehicle for sharing my work and communicating with my audience moving forward. I will create content for them on a monthly cadence. I want to eventually double my following, with the opportunity to monetize my content on Substack if I so choose.

This is just an exercise — you aren’t conscripted to the goals you write down. My goals changed over time as my priorities changed. As freelancers, a lot can change for us quickly, and having goals for your Substack is intended to help you figure out your purpose in adding a new tool to your freelance repertoire.

What is Substack?

For the uninitiated, Substack is an email newsletter platform designed for small publishers hoping to turn their subscribers into paying customers. Here are what I view as some of Substack’s unique selling points:

  • Readers and writers can like and comment, allowing you to create a community and engagement around any of your newsletters. Think of it as a discussion forum for all your Substack posts. With the new Substack Reader app, the community only grows more lively.

  • Anyone can view your entire archive on your Substack page. Past newsletter issues are no longer buried in someone’s inbox.

  • With the flip of a switch, writers on Substack can turn on paid settings to charge a subscription fee. Instead of channeling your creativity towards copywriting, writing a Substack newsletter is one way to express your opinion in a voice that is authentically yours.

Many of my favorite Substack writers possess strong personalities that compel people to want more. In other words, being unabashedly you in writing could‌ get you more subscribers than focusing on a narrow niche. One newsletter I love that’s done a great job of identifying its audience, niche, and purpose is Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day.

The rich, complicated history of the internet can get somewhat flattened in the day-to-day coverage of its now-mainstream culture. Ryan is laser-focused on the “weird internet” beat, highlighting the highs and lows and speaking to his audience in a knowledgeable way that doesn’t come across as too simplistic or condescending to an audience of people who spend their time online but don’t delve into its most obscure depths.

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