7 Strategies to Scale Your Email Newsletter to a Million Subscribers
Bells and whistles only get you so far. If you remove the smoke and mirrors and don’t have any good content, then your newsletter might not be worth reading.
If you have the best email subject line, preview text, newsletter template design, customer segment list, send frequency, website design, and full-force CRM, but your content sucks, then your newsletter is never going to make it.
I’ve used a lot of newsletter software over the years – Mailchimp, Hubspot, Constant Contact, Keap, Substack, Revue, Ghost, and recently beehiiv. If you're reading this, odds are you’re a newsletter creator or media brand who’s also familiar with one or more of these tools.
And if you are, then you’ve likely spent endless hours designing the perfect template, writing meticulous copy, iterating headers, subject lines, preview text, and banner images, learning or hiring consultants who know how to use the software, and CTAs to find that perfect sweet spot in your industry. You know the spot I’m talking about - The one where people are actually opening your email. The one where people are clicking embedded links and engaging with your content. The one where you’re getting more subscribers without even asking, where every time you open your newsletter dashboard everything is going up and to the right, and life is good.
And if you’ve experienced this euphoric newsletter growth that I’m referring to, then you know there is a method to the madness. No one wakes up one day to 100,000 newsletter subscribers without a long and treacherous journey, and battle scars to show for it.
That is, until now. Introducing beehiiv.
With beehiiv, those long design hours building complex systems of tech stacks as long as CVS receipts are a thing of the past.
I've been doing a deep dive on beehiiv the last couple of weeks, and I’m wildly impressed with all they have to offer. (Disclaimer: I’ve been using beehiiv for almost a year for several different newsletters. The recent deep dive showed me even more functions that I didn’t even know were available). The beehiiv team continues to impress me with feature updates and new growth tools.
Context: I’m a massive Morning Brew fan, so in late 2021, when I heard that the same employees who built the newsletter software for Morning Brew — which took them from 0 - 3,000,000 newsletter subscribers — were building a newsletter software called beehiiv, I started paying close attention.
In the years prior to beehiiv, I learned how to build a Morning Brew replica for companies and creators. Using a long list of different software working interchangeably, I could mimic the Morning Brew automation pipeline (painfully and at great cost), give subscribers the ability to refer their friends, track the number of referrals, incentivize their referrals with cool swag (shirt, mug, backpack, etc.), show the subscriber a dashboard that tracks how many referrals they have left until some milestone is reached, and then auto-fulfill their award when a milestone is reached (e.g. five people referred).
The user experience of the system worked. However, the creation of the system and regular maintenance were very costly and fragile. If any of the independent pieces in the system broke - and they did, frequently - the entire pipeline broke. Surprisingly, an out-of-the-box system like this simply didn’t exist.
First, let me show you how I built the Morning Brew system without beehiiv.
Woo Smart Coupon
Can you imagine a clunkier system?
Now, with beehiiv, you can harness all the same growth features of the system above in one single tool.
In fact, The Milk Road, went from 0 - 225,000+ subscribers using beehiiv’s platform in conjunction with beehiiv’s native referral program.
That's why beehiiv was built - so you can focus on providing the best content possible while beehiiv handles the spider web of infrastructure.
In the last ten years, I’ve created and consumed countless newsletters. I’ve seen them do well, and I’ve seen others fail miserably. From what I’ve learned, I want to share my seven habits of a successful email newsletter:
Find Your Niche
Partner with Similar Creators
Build a Writing Habit
Repurpose Your Content
Create Win/Win Environments
Pay to Play
If you want to scale your newsletter to 1M subscribers, this is how you do it.
1. Find Your Niche
Everyone wants to be an expert at something. But the truth is, most people who say they’re experts aren’t experts. When defining your newsletter strategy, you want to be sure that you are actually skilled enough at the topic you’re writing about for people to spend time in their day reading what you send them.
The Milk Road serves as a great example of someone who speaks very well to their defined niche. The Milk Road is “Morning Brew for crypto believers.” I read The Milk Road because I believe that they will tell me about the crypto ecosystem quickly – daily – in ways that I would otherwise have to spend extraordinary amounts of time learning about on my own. Reading their newsletter saves me time and keeps me well-informed.
Define your niche, and stay in your lane. Do what others aren’t doing, and do it extremely well. Give readers a reason to open your email, and make the reason so good that they get FOMO if they don’t open it.
The best way to escape competition is via authenticity. Focus on one niche and be as authentic as possible by sharing your unique experience that no one else can mimic.
2. Leverage Incentives
When someone loves your content, it helps to be able to track how they’re sharing your newsletter with others. With beehiiv’s native referral program, every new subscriber receives their own unique link to refer others to your newsletter. On your newsletter dashboard, you can track how many people a subscriber has referred and then reward them after certain milestones.
As you build out your referral program, you can dynamically place cards within your newsletter so subscribers see how many people they have referred, and how many referrals they have left, before reaching some specific milestone. Continuing with The Milk Road example, they do a tremendous job with incentives. You’ll notice they set a reward with just one referral. This creates momentum and makes it easier for a subscriber to share and unlock the free gift.
Using beehiiv’s referral program can be the difference between a stagnant, no-growth newsletter and a highly engaged list of subscribers.
Want to 10x your subscriber count? Use a referral program.
3. Partner With Similar Creators
When you first start writing your newsletter to a few people (your mom, spouse, and dog), it might feel daunting to imagine your newsletter exceeding ten subscribers, not to mention 1 million. This is where the power of partnerships comes into play. This step is similar to the Power of Incentives, but it’s backward. Alongside creating super-loyal followers of your own content, you need to become a super-loyal follower of someone else’s content. What does that look like?
Toby Howell, who grew the Morning Brew Twitter to over 300k followers, calls this hijacking a super-powered timeline. Ever wonder how to get on the radar of people who have social media followings in the hundreds of thousands, or millions? Turn on notifications for their account, whether it’s Twitter, LinkedIn, or elsewhere, and be the first person to reply. Do this over and over and over again.
Example: Justin Welsh tweeted, and I quickly replied with my thoughts, and a slight variation of his thinking. Earlier in the week he posted on LinkedIn and I replied there, too – although this time I replied with a thought for his post, and tied it into my own post (which has a subscribe link to my newsletter).
This does two things.
You start getting noticed by big players in the game
The people who follow those people start to notice you, realize you are adding valuable content, and then follow you as well.
Turning your reply-guy prowess into a partnership takes this a step further. With beehiiv’s “recommendation” feature, you can begin recommending other newsletters within your content and driving traffic to them. Successfully recommend someone’s newsletter enough times, and they will eventually wonder who you are and why you are reading their content so much.
Be curious, patient, and persistent, and relationships will begin to materialize from just showing up and being yourself. Partnerships are a long-term play. Eventually, you will be able to take these encounters to a deeper level and become a guest speaker on a podcast, write a blurb in their newsletter, or get a special shoutout from their social accounts about your own replies or newsletter content.
This will allow you to bring value and tap into their audience.
The key here is making sure it’s easy for people to subscribe to your newsletter once they discover your social account, regardless of where or how. As you add genuine value to other people’s content, you want the funnel to easily end with a subscribe link to your own newsletter.
So focus on building relationships with anyone who isn’t a direct competitor and has a similar audience to your own. Start with interacting with these partners via comments and move up the “ask” ladder by then doing guest posts, training, webinars, etc. When this is multiplied across many dream partners it can be a potent compounding strategy.
4. Build a Writing Habit
If you don’t know what to write about, read. Consume content. See what others are doing that piques your interest, then start writing about it. The more you write, the better you will become at writing.
If you want to become a better writer, start writing.
Writing is a hobby of mine, but it's also much more than that.
I used to wake up in the morning and journal for an hour. I have two entire boxes full of notebooks filled cover to cover with written thoughts, meditation, and everything in between (~50 notebooks, legal pads, and binders).
I've written hundreds of blogs, published one book, written two unpublished books, and have thousands of pages of notes, thoughts, and ideas written (most of which no one will ever see).
I jot notes on my phone whenever I think of anything I don't want to forget, or if I have an idea to expound upon later, or if there's some question I don't know how to answer that I want to research.
If you want to be a writer, start writing. You will get better and better. Inevitably, you’ll also discover trends in your writing, and topics you enjoy writing about more than others. Boom, there’s your niche. Capitalize on it, narrow in, and start to become the expert.
Matt Gray, who runs a fast-growing beehiiv newsletter called FounderOS, preaches writing consistency. Every day he writes, creates, and shares his newsletter across all his social media channels. This has been a huge reason he has seen a 61% month-over-month growth with his newsletter since joining beehiiv.
5. Repurpose Your Content
Someone who does this well is Abhishek Shah. What he writes about in his Psychology of Marketing newsletter is what he tweets about, what he repurposes for LinkedIn, and what he is an expert in. His niche is science-based marketing, and he has successfully scaled businesses and newsletters using his marketing techniques.
The more you write and release to the world, the more opportunities there will be for people to resonate with what you say. Consume, produce, recycle. Consume content from your favorite channels, produce content about that topic, rinse, repeat.
6. Create Win/Win Environments
Newsletters are, by nature, a broadcast. You write something, your subscribers read it. To be different, encourage feedback from your readers. You can do this in a number of ways.
Ask them to reply to the emails, and then actually respond to what they say
Ask your readers to engage on your socials (Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) and recognize participation (like their comments, replies, RT, etc.) This can be done by adding super simple and easy share buttons on all your newsletters like this:
3. Use beehiiv’s 1-click polling to gauge sentiment
The Drop uses beehiiv polling really well in their newsletter. In a single click, readers can give you feedback on your newsletter. This is by far the easiest way to ask your readers if your content sucks. With a single click, your poll dashboard will be generated behind the curtain, and you’ll be able to cater your content more and more effectively.
While The Drop’s example is basic, you can make polling as specific as you want to mass-survey your audience for content recommendations and to find out what is and isn’t sticking.
7. Pay to Play
Finally, when you’ve made a name for yourself (big or small), you can start considering ad placement. This is where the big money is for 1) monetizing your newsletter and 2) accelerating and expanding your newsletter reach. beehiiv’s Ad Network makes this extremely easy. Morning Brew popularized this type of newsletter monetization approach, and now beehiiv makes it accessible to any newsletter with over 1,000 subscribers.
With its Ad Network, beehiiv takes the guesswork out of pairing your content with the right advertisers. Advertisers approach beehiiv with a budget and copy that is already written and edited for newsletter placement. You, the newsletter creator, will be notified when an advertisement comes into the funnel that aligns with your audience or content, and in one click can accept or decline the ad placement in your newsletter.
Yes, I mean literally one click.
If you choose to accept the ad, beehiiv automatically places the advertiser’s copy in your newsletter with a seamless design that matches your newsletter template, and then you get paid directly by beehiiv. You don’t have to do anything else.
Once your newsletter gets to this point, the growth opportunity is exponential. As you monetize your newsletter with other people’s ads, you can also take the profits received from ad placement and place your own ads on other newsletters.
Of course, you can place your own ads as early as you want, but step three becomes a really valuable addition to effective advertising for your newsletter. When you are recognizable across platforms, both for your newsletter and your social media content, your ads will be more recognizable too - especially when placed on larger newsletters with tens or hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
Commit to a Process
There are so many different ways to grow your newsletter. What every successful newsletter creator has in common is their consistency and patience with the process. Unless you want to pay for a bunch of robot subscribers, you aren’t going to reach 1 million subscribers overnight (unless you’re Taylor Swift. I think she could probably launch a newsletter on beehiiv and exceed a million without a single piece of content. But you’re not Taylor Swift. Unless you are Taylor Swift… in which case… Hi, Taylor. It’s your boy Daniel. Thanks for reading my content).
Commit to a process, keep showing up, and watch as your newsletter begins to scale and grow before your eyes.
To recap, the seven habits of a successful email newsletter are:
Find Your Niche
Partner with Similar Creators
Build a Writing Habit
Repurpose Your Content
Create Win/Win Environments
Pay to Play
My favorite platform for doing all I’ve described above is beehiiv.
Bonus: 8 Ways to leverage beehiiv today:
You know how Morning Brew says "Like our newsletter? Refer 5 friends and we'll send you a free mug!" With beehiiv, you can do *exactly* this, all native to beehiiv, and track how subscribers are referring others. It’s an extremely valuable growth tool and a phenomenal way to track your most loyal readers and reward them.
Want to paywall your newsletter? Offer a premium newsletter for people who pay a subscription. Whatever you want to do, you can set your own cost and keep all your revenue (beehiiv won't take any).
beehiiv is building a network of advertisers so beehiiv users can get paired with like-newsletters and insert ads in a single click. Literally one click and an ad designed in the same style as your newsletter, with copy already written, titles, etc., magically appears in your newsletter. You make money from the advertiser, all handled by beehiiv. The beehiiv ad network is built by the same team that built Morning Brew’s internal ad tools, which have sourced millions of dollars of ads. You can rest assured that beehiiv’s process is as seamless as it comes, with routine payouts that help you build scale and focus on what matters.
Most platforms can't do this, and it's extremely annoying. Poll your readers, learn more about their interests, and analyze the data, all directly in the beehiiv dashboard.
Easily cross-promote with other beehiiv newsletters. You share their stuff, they share your stuff. It's a win-win, and it's extremely easy to do.
Seamlessly Publish to Both Newsletter and Blog
With my prior system, I would have to manually parse every newsletter into their matching blog posts. An email would go out on Mailchimp, and I would copy and paste each snippet from Mailchimp into WordPress to schedule corresponding blog posts at the same time. So cumbersome, and literally twice as much work. Now, with beehiiv, sending a newsletter automatically posts a corresponding blog post on an SEO-optimized website, hosted by beehiiv, for a seamless publishing experience.
Premium Newsletter With a Paywall
Premium subscribers will have access to premium content that free subscribers won’t be able to see. The best part is, you keep 100% of the proceeds of the premium subscription. beehiiv doesn’t take a cut. So let’s say you have 2,000 subscribers paying $8 a month. You’ll get $179,232 per year from that premium newsletter ($18,643 more than Substack!)
If you’re into data analysis and analytics, you’re going to love beehiiv’s 3D analysis tools. There’s advanced segmentation so you can drill down and derive valuable insight about your audience based on dozens of available metrics, attributes, and events. There are 1-click polls, which are amazing, and they live totally native under the beehiiv umbrella. Not sure what your readers like most? Ask them! Let your subscribers interact with you and drive what type of content you write about. Usually, emails are one-sided, but with beehiiv polls you can learn about your readers and their interests like never before. Beyond that, you can sort subscribers by channel and understand subscriber growth broken down by logging site, campaign, device, browser, and more.
I have built newsletters for ten years using Mailchimp, Substack, Hubspot, Constant Contact, Keap, Mailerlite, and more.
Nothing in all my years comes even close to beehiiv's user experience and onboarding simplicity.
These eight features only scratch the surface of what is possible on beehiiv - and the team continues to invent and launch new features at breakneck pace.
If you have a newsletter elsewhere and want to access all the amazing growth and monetization features beehiiv offers, migrating your subscribers is easy, and there are plans for everyone (even companies with tens of millions of subscribers). Make your life easier, and switch to beehiiv.