A lot of you have asked me about my own growth, and I’m finally ready to share.
No, I haven’t reached 50k subscribers yet, but enough of you have asked me to share some of this so I figured it was a good a time as any.
This is the story of how I grew my own newsletter to 24k subscribers in 10.5 months (11 if we’re rounding up).
How Growth In Reverse Started
In November 2022, I was playing around on the internet and came across this guy named Mario Gabriele.
Mario writes a newsletter called The Generalist, where he shares deep dives into tech companies and startups with a little twist of his VC background built-in.
He had shared a recap of his first 12 months writing the newsletter.
He shared how he had reached 40k subscribers, made some money, and was able to live out his wildest dreams of making money as a writer.
But then I came across this section, and my mind was blown:
Did you see it?
Let me zoom in for you a little bit:
$308,000 in revenue….from a newsletter….in its first 12 months!
I couldn’t believe it. I had barely even understood that the newsletter space was a thing, let alone able to bring in life-changing money for writers.
From that point, I was hooked. I had to know exactly how he did it.
So, I spent over 50 hours figuring out how he did it. No one person at the time had combined all of this information into one place. It came from a podcast over here, an article over there, or find it using an advanced Twitter search.
But along the way, I realized that while I was learning a LOT, I didn’t even have a newsletter to use these ideas to grow it.
And then it hit me. If I’m this interested in how he grew this, other people might want to see this also.
And so, I created a newsletter….about newsletters!
On December 4th, 2022, Growth In Reverse was born and I published my first deep dive.
I sent the first email out to 4 subscribers….and if we’re being honest, one of those email addresses was my own.
But hey, a 100% open rate – you can’t beat that! 🙂
Fast forward, 11 months and we’re sitting at 24,000 subscribers.
What started as a little side project that would be fun to do, has turned into a complete obsession that has really passed all of my wildest expectations.
Fun fact, my big, hairy, audacious goal with the newsletter was to hit 10,000 subscribers in the first year. It’s still insane to me that I could potentially triple that goal.
Okay, so how did we get here? Where did all of this growth come from?
The Growth Timeline
Side note: writing this whole thing about my own story in the format I write about other people is very strange for me. But here goes!
The growth has been pretty consistent, even though you can see exactly where I started burning myself out on the Twitter hamster wheel.
I have posted on LinkedIn here and there but it hasn’t been a major piece of growth, so I left it out of the timeline.
The Growth Levers
Here are some of the growth levers I’ve used to grow my own email list. The first two are the most impactful, but also the most “boring” or subjective.
- Unique, valuable content. I would be nowhere near this growth if the content wasn’t different from what’s out there and so valuable that people keep telling me to charge for it.
- Creator connections and relationships. No matter how much you might want to go this path alone, it’s not realistic for most people. Building relationships along the way is the path to growing much faster than you would otherwise.
- Social media and Twitter. Yes, you can grow without social, but it’s hard. Here are the ways I get 80% of the output with less input.
- Communities and courses. Take your favorite creator’s courses and be an active member.
- The Passive Growth Trifecta. These three tactics can help you consistently grow without much additional work.
1. Unique, Valuable Content
Before you tune out, if you get this wrong you’re going to have an extremely hard time growing your newsletter.
This might sound a little boring and overplayed, but no one is going to share your content if it’s not “good”, no matter how much they like you as a person.
Here are some reasons why I think my content is easily shareable:
- They take 20-30 hours to put together.
- My deep dives are super in-depth – no one else wants to do this work.
- Readers get free growth strategies every week
- People feel compelled to share it because I’ve
Do the work no one else wants to do
That’s it, that’s the tweet. People are increasingly more avoidant of work that is actual work.
But this is great for us content creators who don’t mind it. If you can find something that people are interested in, you are interested in, and provides a ton of value for people, you’re going to have few problems with growth.
If you’re ever in doubt, try to create the most in-depth piece on the topic that people can’t get anywhere else.
The Introverts Guide to Growth
All my introverts out there – I see you.
This is the only growth hack you need. Are you ready?
I could end this article right here because this is the most important thing. If you spend 80% of your time creating something so insanely valuable, you only have to spend 20% of your effort promoting it.
Heck, the ratio might even be 90% creation, 10% promotion.
You get to spend more of your time building the thing you enjoy, without as much time talking about yourself.
People are willing to share your content if you save them time and provide them with something they literally can’t get elsewhere.
How do you know if it’s valuable enough? Here are some examples of what people have said about Growth In Reverse that just remind me how much people are enjoying the content.
Here is one of my favorite examples of how I knew I had hit on something.
Nathan Barry, founder of ConvertKit, shared my article on Mario a few weeks after I had posted it.
It hit my inbox and to say I had a minor panic attack would be an understatement.
But then I looked a little closer:
It was such an in-depth piece, that Nathan thought Mario had written the article! 🤣
This is still one of my favorite examples of how I realized I had found my “thing.”
5 Ways to Make Your Content More Unique
I know “unique, valuable content” can be super subjective, but here are a few ways you can spice up your content.
- Turn data into charts and visuals. The growth timelines I create? I’m pulling together data from multiple sources.
- Explain it better than anyone else. There is a reason that “explain it to me like I’m five” is a thing.
- Get “exclusives.” This is a journalism term for a story no one else has. This can be original research, surveys, interviews, podcasts, etc.
- Combine unique ideas. Miss Excel does this really well by mixing Excel tips with dancing on TikTok, which no one had done at the time.
- Be an expert curator. My friend, Justin Moore does this with his newsletter Creator Wizard. Each week, he sends out potential brand partnerships for free! Creators are always looking for sponsors and partnerships, he just gives them to you.
2. Building Relationships
If you’ve read this newsletter for any stretch of time, this one will be something you’ve heard again and again.
While I think that you can get shared by creating great content, you can’t skimp out on building relationships.
Reply to newsletters
People reply to emails all the time. But for some reason with newsletters, we forget that this is an option.
But creators love getting replies to their newsletters (as long as it’s more than “this was great!”).
So why does no one do this?
I do this all the time and make sure it’s relevant to what they’ve sent. Is it their 100th issue of the newsletter? Send them a big old “Congrats!”
Or even just reply about the piece they shared and why you liked it. Creators love getting feedback and hearing if their content is resonating, so you’ll be doing them a favor.
The point here isn’t to expect that you’ll become fast friends and talk all the time. But it takes time for relationships to grow, and adding a touchpoint in this way is much better than cold DMing them in my opinion. Although DM’s have their place!
Pro-tip: include your image in your email signature along with a blurb about your newsletter.
No, they’re not going to sign up for it, but they will become more familiar with who you are and might recognize you the next time you comment on their social post.
Here is mine:
Share other creators’ work
Another way you can build relationships is by sharing other people’s work. It seems simple, but a lot of people walk around expecting someone to promote them when they haven’t shared the other person’s work either.
Let’s break this cycle. Share the work of creators you enjoy.
3. Twitter & Social Media
Before we dive headfirst into this one, let’s answer the age-old question:
But Chenell, I hate social media. Can you grow a newsletter without it?
Of course, you can.
But your growth is going to be a lot slower than if you did use social media.
The good news is that there is an 80/20 to this as well. In the beginning of my newsletter, I was trying to be on social media all the time, posting daily, etc.
And it definitely helped growth.
But I was quickly on a path to burnout, so I figured out what was actually helping me grow and stuck to those things.
A. Newsletter Teasers
This is something I learned from Justin Welsh, and is by far the most impactful way I use social media to build my newsletter.
Every week (or most weeks!), I post a teaser on social media of the deep dive I’m sending the following day. Since my newsletter goes out on Sundays, I post these on Saturdays.
While I get a lot out of them now, I was terrible at creating these in the beginning. Here is some proof:
This first one got a whopping 9 likes. But I kept at it:
It looks like I’m getting worse at these. But I kept going:
Woohoo, finally! 121 likes on a post. It only took me 3 months! 🙂
It was at this point that I started seeing a meaningful number of subscribers from these.
Since then, I consistently get between 75 to 250 subscribers every time I post a newsletter teaser.
The beauty of these tweets is that they don’t just new subscribers, they also build suspense and get people talking to each other about who this might be. On top that, current subscribers excited for the upcoming issue of the newsletter.
Here’s when I realized how impactful these were:
These provide more than just a way to grow the newsletter, they’re building retention among current subscribers.
Another way I’ve used Twitter to build my newsletter is by writing threads about a deep dive.
If you’re not a Twitter person, a thread is essentially a story broken up into multiple tweets.
Here is an example you can click through:
How I write them is essentially taking the hook from the “teaser tweet” for that person and reworking it into something new.
The goal of these is to get people to read the next tweet in the sequence, and hopefully comment or share the post.
At first, I won’t include a link to sign up for the newsletter. Since Twitter hates when you post links, this helps the post get some traction before you add a link.
But I do eventually include a link so people can sign up. I use TweetHunter to automate this once the post gets 50 or more likes.
Engage with Others on Twitter
Here’s a quick story of how I got my first 3 subscribers and why I think engaging on social is a missing link for most people.
While I was doing my research on Mario for that very first deep dive, I kept seeing people say “Engaging on social is a great way to grow.” I thought they were just making it up, but I decided to give it a try.
At the time, my Twitter profile was completely different, but I went ahead and rebranded my whole Twitter profile to be about Growth In Reverse:
Your Twitter profile is your landing page. It tells people who you are and what kind of content you create.
I also set up this basic landing page to give people a place to sign up:
It’s a little cringey, but I had to start somewhere! 🙂
Now that I had my Twitter profile set up and a place for people to sign up, I started engaging.
I saw this tweet by Codie Sanchez and commented on it:
This tweet only got 7 likes, but guess what?
Remember how I mentioned I sent my first newsletter to 4 subscribers (3 others plus my own email)?
Well, I got those first 3 subscribers from this tweet alone.
And one of those was Jay Clouse himself 🙂 Pretty cool if you ask me!
This was when I realized that engaging on social media works.
Nowadays, I try and engage when I can, and this is the most open-ended piece of my strategy. If I have more time, I’ll engage more, if not, then I don’t.
Twitter has led to 5,600 subscribers for me to date. LinkedIn has driven around 1,000 subscribers, but I haven’t spent a ton of time on it (although that number makes me think I should!)
4. Communities & Courses
This growth lever has been big for building relationships.
Essentially, it goes like this:
- Join a course or community run by one of your favorite creators.
- Go through all the lessons
- Engage with other students
- Send the creator your results and give them a testimonial
Creators who run courses have spent countless hours building them, and sharing with them how much it’s helped you is a great way to get on their radar.
Here’s an example where I wasn’t trying to do this but it ended up working out well.
The Creator Science Lab
Jay Clouse put together a membership community in early 2022.
In May, he mentioned that the price was going to go up and so I joined The Lab. Growth In Reverse wasn’t even a blip on my radar at that point. But I loved what Jay was about, so I took the leap and joined.
Fast forward to my creating this newsletter, and Jay became one of my first subscribers. But being the introvert I am, my wife was the only one who knew about this. No friends knew, and I didn’t even tell my business friends in this Lab community.
But Jay saw it on Twitter, and was immediately a fan of it.
He ended up sharing Growth In Reverse in his newsletter later in December:
Subscribers number 50 to 120 came from him sharing it, which was a huge boost for me (and a great Christmas present!)
In May 2023, I was lucky enough to be on his podcast as well, a show I’d been listening to for over a year.
But this all happened because I was willing to take a chance on a creator I really enjoyed and bought his membership.
The main thing to keep in mind here is not to expect anything in return. This may or may not work out for you, and you shouldn’t go into it with the mindset that it will.
But at the very least, you’re learning from and supporting a creator you enjoy.
5. The Passive Growth Trifecta
This is the most tactical part of the whole thing, and I call it the Passive Growth Trifecta because these are ways you can build your audience without much ongoing work.
I realized the power of the Recommendations platform when I did my research into Lenny Rachitsky. Here is his growth timeline and you can see the immense impact it’s had on his growth:
Oftentimes, it’s a challenge to figure out exactly what caused a growth spike like this. But I think it’s safe to say that it was Substack’s recommendations that they rolled out at that time.
Substack, Beehiiv and ConvertKit all have their own version of this:
I joined the ConvertKit Creator Network in May of this year, and it’s been one of the biggest growth drivers for me.
It’s not a huge bump, but there’s definitely an increase in growth there. This is also around the time I burned out on social, so the Creator Network has been picking up some slack 🙂
I’ve gotten around 9,000 subscribers from the CK Creator Network so far.
Here’s a thread I wrote with tips on how to improve your growth:
There are some cons to this network though:
- The quality of subscribers is lower so you want to clean out people who don’t engage or open your emails
- It can be hard to get this working for a newer newsletter
This network relies on the first 2 growth levers: great content and building relationships.
In the beginning, it might be harder to find people to swap recommendations with as you haven’t established your newsletter yet.
That’s okay. I’d still set it up so people can refer you as they become fans.
II. Referral Program
You’ve probably seen the referral program Mroning Brew has set up with their free stickers and T-shirts.
But this isn’t the only way to run a referral program. You can also give away digital products, workshops, and more.
My favorite use of this program is something I “stole” from Ali Abouelatta of the First 1000 newsletter.
If you refer people to the newsletter, he shared a link to your stuff in his newsletter.
I did the exact same thing:
In the beginning, I asked for 5 referrals, but as time went on that seemed a little too easy. Especially since those links often get 50-150 clicks each.
I used SparkLoop to set up this referral program, and so far it’s driven around 1500 subscribers to the newsletter.
This also includes my “unofficial referral program” where I’ll still add people even if they share without using their referral link. This isn’t perfect because I can’t see everywhere someone shares it, but if I do I’ll email them to say thanks, and then add them in there.
III. Cross Promotions
The last part of the “Trifecta” is cross promotions.
A cross promotion (or “swap”) is essentially when you and another creator share each other’s work in your newsletter.
Here is an example Alex Llull and I ran earlier this year:
These can be quite hit or miss, which is why I just try and run them pretty regularly. This piece of the trifecta is a little less passive because you have to set them up each week.
You can use something like lettergrowth.com or the Newsletter Blueprint community to find others to connect with.
The best part of cross promotions is that you’re building relationships at the same time. So these growth levers are feeding one another, which can help speed things up.
How You Can Replicate Success
I think I’ve explained these pretty well throughout the whole post, so I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already said. But in short:
- Focus on building relationships
- Without great content, you will struggle
- Try the 80/20 of social media
- Setup a referral program
- Sign up for the recommendations feature your newsletter company uses
- Try out cross promotions
But at the end of the day, content and relationships will take you further than any “growth hack” will.
Enjoyed this and want more?
I’m in the process of building a course going a lot deeper into these and many more tips I’ve found through my research. I’m also sharing tools and resources to make these easier to implement.
If that sounds interesting, you can join the waitlist for the course here.