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4 Simple, Scalable, and Automated Growth Strategies That Generated 5M+ Subscribers

These tactics drove 5,000,000+ engaged newsletter subscribers

DEEP DIVE

4 Simple, Scalable, and Automated Newsletter Growth Strategies That Generated 5,000,000+ Subscribers

“I attended one of the most actionable webinars I've ever been to yesterday on how to scale your newsletter.” — Tara Knight

I did a live webinar series on newsletter growth for 2,000+ attendees this month.

Now, I'm finally sharing the recording with everyone.

And for those who prefer a reading, here’s a summary:

Growth Strategy #1: The 1-Reward Referral Program

You've probably seen referral programs like this from companies like Morning Brew and the Hustle.

They’re called a milestone-based referral program.

Users refer a certain number of friends to the newsletter, and they receive a reward after they reach a milestone.

  • After 5 referrals, you get stickers.

  • After 10 referrals, you get access to a community.

  • And so on…

Don’t do this!

These types of milestone referral programs don't work anymore. The novelty has worn off.

Very few people will share your newsletter with more than 5 people.

When I worked at The Hustle, about one person per year would reach 75 referrals.

However, referral programs still work.

Here's what you should do instead…

Give away a digital product in exchange for one referral.

For example, the referral program below drove over 26,000 subscribers in 6 months for Milk Road.

…and it's 100% automated!

Now, let’s talk about what type of digital product you should use.

If you're not giving away the right type of product, people will not share your newsletter.

Here’s what I’ve found to work best: A lead magnet-style product.

If you already have a lead magnet or multiple lead magnets working in your business, you can start using one in your referral program.

If you don’t have one yet, that’s okay.

Here’s what makes a good digital referral reward:

  • Short, easy to consume (< 10-minute read/watch time)

  • Gives immediate value and concrete benefits

Examples: Cheat sheet, checklist, database, 1-page report, swipe file, tool, resource list, or template.

These rewards should share “the answers to the test.” NOT the textbook, not even the study guide.

Let me explain with a few examples…

Milk Road — What Crypto Whales Are Betting On

Milk Road created a free report on what crypto whales are buying and selling.

They did this by asking 10 friends with high net worth in the crypto industry 3 questions:

  • What are you buying right now?

  • What are you selling right now?

  • What is your opinion on the current state of the market?

After getting answers, they put this together in a 2-3-page PDF report and promoted it as a referral reward.

Ben’s Bites — Link Database

Another example is Ben’s Bites — a newsletter about AI.

Ben shares many links to products, news, and AI tools in his newsletter.

So, he created an airtable database that organizes all the links he mentioned in the newsletter in one place.

His referral program promoting the database drove 30,000+ subscribers on autopilot.

Failory — PitchDeck Database

Failory is a newsletter for startup founders.

Nico, the founder of Failory, created a pitch deck database in Airtable.

He found the top 50 pitch decks from famous startups like Airbnb, Uber, etc — then gave the database away in exchange for 1 referral.

Referral Program Pro Tips

  • Use beehiiv or SparkLoop’s referral program tool to set this up.

With beehiiv, this takes <5 minutes to set up after you have a digital reward.

  • Change the copy and image you use to promote your referral program every 1-2 months.

This reduces banner blindness. If you use the same image and copy in your newsletter for weeks and months, people will ignore it.

Every time you test something new, more people will read it, and you’ll see a boost in referrals.

  • Change the referral reward every 3-4 months

Mix up your rewards. You’ll get more referrals from people who didn't share before or people who want access to the new reward you added.

  • Shout-outs also work great as rewards.

Newsletters like Naptown Scoop and Growth In Reverse have seen success by offering a shout-out in exchange for 3-10 referrals.

  • Set up a poll trigger email

Readers are more likely to share after they click on a poll saying they love your newsletter.

Send readers who click a positive poll response an automated email asking them to refer a friend and get a reward.

Here’s an example (see item #3).

Growth Strategy #2: Giveaways

There are a ton of misconceptions about giveaways.

People feel like:

  • “They’re not on-brand.”

  • “People will think I’m sleazy.”

  • “I’ll get low-quality subscribers.”

  • “They take a ton of work to manage.”

  • “I need a big audience to make them work.”

I get it.

There are right and wrong ways to use giveaways.

But you don’t need to be afraid of them!

If you’re not doing giveaways, you’re missing out on one of the most powerful audience growth strategies.

Here’s what I mean…

MrBeast has built one of the largest audiences ever… and nearly every piece of content he creates involves some giveaway.

Giveaways grow audiences.

Here’s how to do giveaways the right way for your newsletter:

First off, there are 4 types of giveaways you can use…

  • Referral giveaways

  • New subscriber giveaways

  • Partner giveaways

  • Milestone giveaways

I used referral giveaways to drive 100k+ subscribers when I worked at The Hustle.

Here’s how they work:

  • Give away a product or service for free

  • Subscribers enter to win by sharing their referral link

  • 1 successful referral = 1 entry to win the giveaway

The more subscribers share, the better their shot at winning.

Yet subscribers still get a chance to win with 1 referral.

This incentive structure is key because:

  • You want subscribers to share as much as possible.

  • But you don’t want subscribers without a large network or following to feel left out.

Also, the subscribers you get from a referral giveaway will be high-quality.

This is because the people being referred did not sign up because of the giveaway incentive.

Instead, they learned about your newsletter from a friend, co-worker, or social share.

You’re incentivizing sharing, not signing up.

Giveaway type #2 is…

New Subscriber Giveaways

Here’s how it works:

For a limited time (usually 30 days), people who sign up for your newsletter are entered to win a prize. Winners are selected randomly based on their number of entries.

I recommend using kickoff labs, upviral, or Viral Loops to set this up.

With this type of giveaway, you are incentivizing people to join your newsletter and get more entries by doing things like:

  • Sharing the giveaway

  • Following your social accounts

  • Subscribing to your podcast

You can track and incentivize these additional actions with a tool like upviral.

Also, you can get sponsors involved in these giveaways to:

  • Provide the prizes for free

  • Sponsor the giveaway and provide the prizes for free

For example, The Dink (pictured above) holds giveaways like this monthly to grow its audience and generate sponsor revenue.

If you want to grow even faster, use any sponsored giveaway money to buy Meta ads to promote the giveaway.

You can then get newsletter subscribers for $0.25-$1.00.

Meta ad from The Rundown

This giveaway ad campaign drove 10k+ subscribers for ~$0.30 for The Rundown.

Giveaway type #3 is…

Milestone Giveaways

This is the same as “new subscriber giveaways,” but instead of a deadline, the prize(s) are not given away until you hit a growth milestone.

The milestone could be:

  • 10k, 100K, or 1M newsletter subscribers

  • 10,000 podcast downloads

  • 10,000 LinkedIn followers

  • Etc, etc

Most likely, the milestone you pick will be newsletter subscribers.

For example:

“After we hit 10,000 subscribers, we’ll randomly give a MacBook Pro to 1 reader!”

Promote this type of giveaway by:

  • Posting about it on social to convert followers into subscribers

  • Promoting it on your website and landing pages to convert traffic into subscribers

  • Promoting it in your newsletter to get readers to share your newsletter using your referral program

And the final giveaway type I recommend is…

Partner Giveaways

A Partner Giveaway is the same as a “new subscriber giveaway,” but instead of doing it yourself, partner with 2-5 other newsletters.

Here’s how it works:

  • Partner with 2-5 other newsletters who have similar audiences to you

  • Set up a landing page where people can enter their email to be entered to win

  • Each person who enters is subscribed to all newsletters (make sure this is clear to users on the landing page)

  • All newsletters promote the giveaway to their audiences

You can create a page for this using kickoff labs, upviral, or Viral Loops. Or you can build the landing page yourself using the tool of your choice.

The easiest way to share the emails across all partners is Google Sheets:

  • Set up a Zapier automation to send sign-up emails into 1 sheet

  • All partners get access to that sheet

  • Partners can set up their own Zapier automation to add emails from that sheet to their ESP

  • Or partners can import emails from that sheet manually into their ESP

Finally, one last point about giveaways:

The prize you giveaway needs to be aligned with your content!

I don’t recommend giving away cash or gift cards. Instead, pick a prize that only your ideal reader would use.

Here are a few examples:

  • The Dink (newsletter about pickleball) gives away pickleball equipment.

  • The GIST (newsletter about women’s sports) gave away tickets to the women's college basketball finals.

  • The Rundown (newsletter about AI) gave away a ChatGPT+ and MidJourney subscription.

  • Alex & Books (newsletter about reading) gave away his 10 favorite books.

Growth Strategy #3: Other Newsletters!

The highest quality and highest LTV subscribers are sign-ups from other newsletters.

Nothing else comes close.

When I get subscribers from other newsletters, I see:

  • 60-70%+ open rates

  • 20%+ CTRs

  • 2-3X higher LTV than other channels

That’s amazing engagement compared to my average subscriber, who has a ~50% open rate and a ~10% CTR.

There are 2 ways to grow using other newsletters:

  1. Cross-promotions

  2. Newsletter ads

Here’s how to grow with cross promotions:

A cross-promotion is when you trade an ad spot in your newsletter with another newsletter.

Both newsletters must agree to match the unique clicks they send each other to make the trade fair.

Don’t do cross-promos based on list size or number of promotions!

Unique clicks are the only fair way to trade.

  • Find partners to cross-promo with using Lettergrowth.com or by contacting newsletters in your network.

  • Ideally, partner with newsletters nicher than you (It’s easier to grow when you’re the broader newsletter)

  • Look for partners with great engagement (40%-50%+ open rate)

Pro Tips

  • Use SparkLoop or beehiiv magic links so users can sign up for newsletters in 1-click.

This will double the amount of subscribers both newsletters get because you don’t need to send traffic to a landing page.

  • Ask the partner to provide copy, but rewrite it in your own voice (and ask your partner to do the same)

Don’t just copy and paste the copy and ad creative your partner gives you.

You know what your audience is most interested in, partners do not.

How to buy ads in other newsletters

Buying ads in other newsletters can be expensive.

However, thousands of newsletters with 10k-50k subscribers are now open to selling CPA ads.

CPA means cost-per-action.

With CPA ads, you only pay for conversions the publisher drives.

I recommend making a list of 50+ newsletters with similar audiences to yours.

Then reach out with a CPA offer like this…

Subject line: Sponsoring your newsletter

Hey <name> 

I'd love to sponsor your newsletter to promote <newsletter>.

Would you be open to a sponsorship promotion like this?

- We pay $5.00 per valid subscriber in the US.

- Tracking and payment is done with a trusted 3rd party: SparkLoop

Here's an example of what you could earn from one sponsorship:

- You drive 250 clicks from one ad in your newsletter.

- People who click are automatically subscribed to <newsletter> using SparkLoop’s magic link feature.

- Assuming all clicks are valid subscribers in the U.S. that open and click at least 1 of our emails…

- That's $1,250 in revenue for you

Plus, the ad platment only needs to be 50-75 words and we’ll write copy for you, so this takes <5 minutes to add to your newsletter.

Let me know what you think!

<sign off>

P.S. Your earnings could be higher. This is an example of just one ad with 250 clicks. If you drove 500 clicks you would earn $2500.

To do a CPA ad buy like this, you’ll need to use a 3rd party tracking and payment tool.

I recommend SparkLoop’s partner program. It’s built for this use case.

To do this, set up your partner program to only accept sign-ups from direct or magic links.

Pick a CPA for your partner program based on your LTV. For most newsletters, you should be willing to pay $3-$6 per subscriber from another newsletter.

Growth Strategy #4: Meta Ads

Meta is the best paid growth channel for newsletters.

At GrowLetter we drove 5M+ subscribers for clients in 2023 at $1-$3 CPAs.

If you want to learn exactly how I set up Meta ads for success and the 3 creative types that work best for newsletters, watch the webinar here.

To win on Meta, you need great ad creative.

Unfortunately, I can’t share any more images in this email. It will get clipped by Gmail.

The webinar reveals 9 ad creatives that have driven 200k+ subscribers for clients at $0.50-$1.50 CPAs.

The Growth System that drove 5,000,000+ subscribers

These are just 4 of the 10+ growth tactics and strategies I teach inside Growth System.

In the program, you’ll get:

  • Plug and play templates for your meta ads, landing pages, thank you page, marketing emails, social CTAs, referral program, and more

  • 8 live curriculum sessions with full recordings, slides, and notes

  • Personalized feedback and coaching from me and my team

  • And much, MUCH more…

Growth System is not just a course.

It’s a small, live, cohort-based training and coaching program where you’ll work with me and my team to rapidly grow your newsletter in 30 days.

  • There are <170 spots left in this cohort.

  • Enrollment ends on Monday, May 27th, at midnight.

Watch the webinar for a full overview of the program and enroll here:

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