3 Ways To Monetize and How To Build a Value Ladder

Here's how to go beyond sponsorships and scale your newsletter business

Welcome to The Newsletter Operator!

In today’s email:

  • How to build your value ladder and product funnel

  • The 3 best ways to monetize your newsletter

  • How Miss Excel makes money

  • New Beehiiv features

  • And more…

Deep Dive

The 3 Ways To Monetize and How To Build Your Newsletter Value Ladder

There are 3 ways to monetize your newsletter:

  1. Affiliate marketing - Promote someone else's product and paid when someone buys or signs up for that product

  2. Sponsorships - Promote someone else's product and get paid for that promotion

  3. Owned Products - Promote and sell your own content, product, or service

All of these can be great.

But some are better than others depending on your newsletter and audience.

These 3 also vary in the amount of work, financial reward, and risk involved:

Affiliate marketing

  • Low Work - Join an affiliate network or program. Then promote affiliate offers in your newsletter. Only a small audience is needed.

  • Low Reward - Only get paid when people buy or sign up. The company you're promoting gets most of the value.

  • High Risk - Affiliate terms and payouts can change. Even if you get recurring commissions, the affiliate program can shut down.


  • Medium Work - You need to sell advertisers and get advertisers' results (if you want repeat business). A mid or large audience is required to sell sponsorships - usually over 5-10k newsletter subscribers.

  • Medium Reward - Get paid based on your audience size and engagement. You make money regardless if the ad works for the advertiser or not. If it works well, they’re more likely to buy ads again.

  • Medium Risk - If advertising budgets are cut, your sales will go down. If you write something advertisers don’t like they may not work with you. There are things outside of your control that can cause you to lose sponsorships.

Owned products

  • High Work - You need to develop, build, and sell a product. Plus keep customers happy and handle customer support.

  • High Reward - You keep all of the revenue. You also build alignment with your readers and a deeper relationship with readers who buy. Plus, people who buy one product from you are more likely to buy again and become promoters of your content.

  • Low Risk - The risk is on your execution. Not anyone else. No need to worry about the opinion of advertisers. Or changes to affiliate terms.

Now, this doesn’t mean affiliates and sponsors are always a bad business model.

There are $100M+ businesses that just make money with Affiliate marketing and/or sponsorships

And there are expectations to the model I laid out above.

However, for most niche, indie, or B2B newsletters - selling your own products is the best way to monetize and build a large sustainable business in the long run.

When To Use Affiliate Marketing and Sponsors

You should use affiliate marketing and sponsors as you start and grow your newsletter business.

For example:

  • Newsletters with 0 - 10k subscribers - Start monetizing with affiliate marketing. (I've found the Sparkloop partner program and Swapstack to be the best affiliate platforms for newsletters.)

  • Newsletters with 10k-20k+ subscribers - Monetize with sponsorships

  • Newsletters with 20k-50k+ subscribers - Monetize with owned products.

This doesn’t mean you can’t sell ads before you reach 10k subscribers.

Or you shouldn't start creating and selling your own product(s) before 20k subscribers.

Or you can’t continue to use affiliate marketing or sponsorships when you have over 10-20k subscribers.

This is a generalization. But as you grow the majority of your revenue should probably shift from affiliate marketing, to sponsorships, to owned products.

What Product(s) Should You Create and Sell?

These 10 product types are best for newsletters, media companies, and creators.

They are:

  • Paid newsletter

  • Paid community

  • Job Board

  • Courses (On-demand or Cohort based)

  • Memberships

  • Live and online events

  • Coaching and/or consulting

  • Mastermind

  • Agency and/or productized services

  • Investment funds

Often one product will include multiple of these products. Like a membership that includes a course, community, and coaching.

Or many times these are sold separately.

Let’s dive into some examples…

Examples Of Owned Products

Paid newsletters

  • Bankless

  • Trends.co

  • StarterStory

  • Lenny's Newsletter

  • The Pragmatic Engineer

Paid community

  • Real Talk

  • The Lab by Jay Clouse

  • Hospitalogy Board Room

Job Boards

  • Lenny's Job Board

  • Pomp's Crypto Jobs

  • Newsletters Jobs(dot)io

Courses - On-demand

  • Justin Welsh

  • Authority Hacker

  • Smart Passive Income

Courses - Cohort based

  • Reforge

  • On Deck

  • Ship 30 for 30

  • Building A Second Brain

  • Power writing by Shaan Puri

  • Part-Time YouTuber Academy

  • Ideation Bootcamp from Sam Parr


  • StackedMarketer Pro

  • Genius By Jay Shetty

Coaching / consulting

  • Thought-Leader

  • Justin Moore's Wizard's Guild

(Many creators offer 1on1 calls from $500-$2000 per hour)


  • Chief

  • Hampton

  • Unconventional Acquisitions Mastermind

Agency / productized services

  • Growletter

  • Design Joy

  • Scribe Media

  • Design Pickle

  • One Day Design

Live and online events

  • Hustlecon

  • Growth Summit by Demand Curve

Investment funds

  • Seed Checks

  • SRB Ventures

  • Contrarian Thinking Capital

Plus, many more I don’t have time to cover.

Quick side note: I plan to do a deep dive into some of these products / businesses. If you have interesting info to share or more examples, reply to this email and let me know!

Value Ladders and Funnels

In a few past newsletters, I’ve talked about value ladders.

On each step of the value ladder is one of your product or service offers — and those offers increase in value and cost as customers go up from left to right.

The most successful newsletters use value ladders to help their customers in more impactful ways and increase CLTV.

Here are some examples:

Codie Sanchez

Ladder step 1 - Weekly Newsletter

Codie has a weekly newsletter about “tactics and tools to achieve financial freedom”. It has over 250k subscribers

  • Cost: Free

  • Members: 250k+

  • Revenue: ?

Ladder step 2 - Playbooks

On-demand courses on topics like “How to Become a 7-Figure Franchise Owner”, “How to Acquire or Invest in RV Parks”, and more

  • Cost: ~$249 each

  • Customers: 10,000+

  • Revenue: ~$2,490,000

(Customer and revenue numbers are based on Codie's website which says “over 10,000 students").

Ladder step 3 - Unconventional Acquisitions Mastermind

A mastermind, course, and coaching on how to buy, sell, and build businesses.

  • Cost: $8800 per year

  • Customers ~600

  • Revenue: ~$5,280,000

(Customer and revenue numbers are based on the UA mastermind FB group which has 613 members).

Ladder step 4 - Contrarian Capital Rolling Fund

Codie has a rolling fund on Angel list that invests in “startups that will power the evolution of small businesses and investing”. According to the Angel list page, “The fund will raise approximately $5M.”

More Examples

Here are some simpler and less in-depth examples:

The Hustle

  1. The Hustle - free daily newsletter monetized with sponsorships

  2. Trends - $299 per year paid newsletter and community

  3. HustleCon - In-person event. Tickets sold for ~$1000-$2500

  4. Guides - $2000 online courses on topics like newsletters, ecom, and SaaS (these were in progress but never released)

Motley Fool

  1. Free report - 5 Stocks Under $49

  2. Stock Advisor - $99 per year - Stock recommendations services

  3. Epic Bundle - $499 per year - Bundle of 4 front-end products

  4. Backstage - $1,999 / year - premier membership tier with 20+ portfolio-building services

Template Example

Most newsletter operators should consider a value ladder like this:

  1. Free: Weekly newsletter or lead magnets

  2. Front-end product: $49-$99 - On-demand course / Paid community / Paid newsletter

  3. Backend product: $500-$5000 - Cohort-based course / Coaching program / Mastermind

Frontend and Backend offers

On front-end offers:

Having a front-end product that cost $99 or less is key to getting your foot in the door with potential high-value customers.

Here’s why:

At $49-$99 the cost is low enough to impulse buy.

Then if you deliver value from that product those customers are much more likely to buy again and buy your much higher-priced back-end products.

Also, you can up-sell and cross-sell other products right after customers buy your front-end offer.

On backend offers:

Newsletter publishing giant Agora says their $2000/year backend newsletter subscriptions account for 90% of their revenue.

The backend is your real money maker.

How The Media Funnel Works

The free newsletter is your distribution. It's used to build trust and drive front-end sales.

Your front end offer should be priced low to get as many customers as possible.

Commitment and consistency are on your side after a customer buy's your front end. If they're happy with your product they'll keep buying.

Your front-end offer is a mechanism to drive sales for your back-end offer.

And your backend should priced high to maximize the value you can get from and give to your best customers.

Fill In The Gaps

It’s okay to build in reverse or fill in the gaps.

Not everyone starts with a free product, then a front-end, then a back-end.

Some do this in reverse. Some have a free newsletter and a back end. Then add a front end later.

Some businesses thrive with just one offer.

There’s no perfect way to build your value ladder. You need to take this information and use it in how it best applies to your business and customers.

The Best Links

📈 Growth

How Miss Excel makes over $2 million a year from simple software tutorials (link)

Using Twitter DMs to boost newsletter subs (link)

💰 Monetization

Sticker Mule's plain text sales emails (link)

📬 Engagement

Tool to check dark-mode compatibility before hitting send (link)

How to win back inactive email subscribers (link)

3 worst kinds of newsletter subscribers (link)

📰 Newsletter News

BuzzFeed News to shut down (link)

Where the creator economy is going in 2023 (link)

There are now 213 million subscriptions to newsletters on Linkedin, up 4X from January 2022 to 2023 (link)

New Beehiiv features: Collaborative editing, recommended reading, automation triggers, and more (link)


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