Lessons from 6 months on Substack

In this post, I’ll share the lessons and surprises of the past six months and how the reality of being on Substack compares to my aims and hopes when I started out.

Even if you don’t have a Substack newsletter, I’ll be sharing ideas that you can use for any kind of newsletter. And, if you’re anything like me, it will satisfy your curiosity by giving you a look behind the scenes of someone else’s business.

What’s working for me

Scheduling: for years, my newsletter has been such a key part of my marketing because I’m able to schedule it—it’s truly slow and gentle in the way that I aspire it to be. I used to be a fair bit more rigid about when I would write my newsletter, but over the past year have thoroughly embraced my philosophy of unplanning

While I still have a rough idea of when I want to send out my newsletters, this structure is more of a scaffolding that I can fill in whatever way feels good to me. Sometimes I write a newsletter a week in advance, sometimes a day in advance. I move topics around and postpone posts when I need to. 

I need this space. I hate the fast-paced, ephemeral nature of much social media. I need space to do business on my own terms, respecting my own needs, my humanness and quite frankly, my fluctuating mental health. Scheduling my newsletters allows me to do that.

Boundaries: I try to be fairly strict when it comes to boundaries around work and free time. I don’t mind so much to do some work—like writing—on a weekend if I feel like it, but I do try my best to protect myself from notifications and emails. I enjoy reading the newsletters I subscribe to through the Substack app, and consider doing that as part of my free time. But that also means that I can see notifications to my own posts during the weekends or in the evenings as well. I love every single time someone reaches out to comment on a post, but sometimes I just don’t want to turn my thinking- or business-brain on. I’m learning to recognise those moments better, and either just not check the notifications tab (even though it’s tempting), or delete the entire app off my tablet or phone for a weekend. Works like a charm.

Asking questions: one of the main reasons why I decided to move my newsletter to Substack was because I wanted to foster more community. I want Female Owned, my newsletter, to really be an online place where you can experience business done differently and connect with other people who also crave a slower, gentler and more profitable business. There are various ways in which I try to foster this community, but one way is by asking questions. I’m genuinely curious about what you’re up to, what you’re enjoying, thinking about or struggling with in your business. Asking questions satisfies my own curiosity and encourages people to reply to my posts and to other people’s comments.

Personality: having more of a sense of community has made it feel more like I’m in conversation with you—even if you never reply to or comment on a single one of my emails. Somehow I get the feeling like you’re there. I’ve always enjoyed adding more of myself to my newsletters through my monthly favourites, but I find myself exploring more personal topics too. Sharing little snippets about my thinking process, about the emotional side of running a business—primarily in the paid posts, but also in these free posts. Adding those bits of myself makes me feel joyful and I think also fosters a more authentic relationship.

Outreach: if you’ve been around for longer than a week or two, you’ll know that I run my business without social media. I’ve been off social media for almost two years now and I love it. There’s not been a single moment along the way where I felt the need to go back. What works for me instead, is doing outreach, especially through podcasts. Many of you found me through a podcast (if you did, do tell me which one!) and I love the intimate, conversational feel that podcast interviews give me. I think they give you a really good idea of what I’m all about and I love that they’re resonating with you. I wrote a longer post on how and why I pitch to podcasts—you can check out the preview and become a paid subscriber to read the entire post.

What’s surprised me?

Joy and creativity: when I joined Substack I was very excited and almost high about this new platform 😅 I got such a sense of joy and creativity from it, especially from being surrounded by other people who also love writing as a way of sharing about their lives and their work. What’s surprised me is that I feel the same today. While any platform has its drawbacks, I still feel so much more joyful and creative hanging out on Substack and writing on it.

Always launching: one of the only things that I didn’t see coming when I moved my business newsletter to Substack was that once I turned on paid subscriptions I would essentially always be launching. When you launch a new product or service, it’s customary to have a launch period in which you get your audience excited about the new thing, in which you offer an early bird price or other bonus, and then launch the thing with lots of attention around it for a week or two. This approach has never worked for me. In fact, typing this sequence out makes me exhausted. I’ve experienced in the past with launching differently, and will write more in coming months about how I launched my recent evergreen product (the mini course Substack for small business owners, freelancers and artists).

By making paid subscriptions a part of my business model, I’m basically required to keep reminding people of them. The way in which I remind you of the option to become a paid subscriber is up to me, of course—I try to do so in a gentle, value-led way—but still: in a way, I’ll always need to be launching.

Once this dawned on me it made me smile because it’s so ironic. But at the same time I feel pretty good about how I’m navigating this: paid subscriptions are an organic part of my business and of this newsletter, and I try to be organic about telling people about them. For instance, I mention the benefits of a paid subscription on my about page and in my welcome email and add calls to action to every free newsletter.

How I stick to my own voice. I was excited about writing this post and about celebrating a small milestone. But I also worried that all of you who are not on Substack and have no plans to join it, would not be interested. I wavered and wondered. I looked at my list of ideas for future posts. I looked at my previous posts (I like to have a nice balance between practical and mindset topics). 

But in the end it came down to my own inspiration, to what I felt drawn to write about. This is a topic that feels exciting to me right now. The words flow right now. So it’s the right topic for me. While I write this newsletter for other people—for you—I know that it is most effective and most powerful when it comes from within me.

I like to keep this quote by the garden designer Sarah Eberle in mind:

“Every time you make a decision based on other people’s thinking, or how you think they’ll think, you go the wrong way”.

Has moving to Substack been the right thing for my business?

My two aims when I moved to Substack were fostering community and making paid subscriptions—and therefore, my writing—an income stream in my business. 6 months in (and about 4 of them with paid subscriptions) I’d say I’m happy with this.I love the sense of community I get from your interactions—I love hearing your stories and ideas and questions. I certainly think that moving my newsletter to Substack has made commenting and engaging easier and more inviting.

The number of paid subscribers is slowly and steadily growing. I love the support I get from this group of people, both financially and otherwise. As I break down in this post on my goals, I definitely want to grow the number of paid subscribers in order for them to make up a bigger chunk of my business income.

What’s next?

What’s next for me on Substack is more of the same really. I’m looking forward to experimenting with audio for my paid subscriber-only quarterly guide in June—Substack makes audio and podcasts easy so I’m excited to try that out. I now publish two free newsletters a month and for paid subscribers one discussion thread, a monthly-ish behind-the-scenes or bonus post and a quarterly guide. I’m pleased with this schedule and it’s also what I have the capacity for.

In particular, I’m looking forward to many more conversations, to discovering other people’s Substacks, to hearing your stories and questions in the comments.

If my newsletters and free resources resonate with you, I might just be the right mentor for you. I don’t believe in 10-step-plans, or get rich quick schemes. I do believe that it is possible to create and run a business that fits you and your life: your values and rhythms, your strengths and passions. I strongly believe that you don’t need to do all the things, or be on all the channels to make your business work. 

I’m here to help you feel more supported in your business. I’m here to give you the confidence to run your business from that place of deep inner knowing inside of you, offering my signature blend of mindset shifts and practical steps.

An experiment 

Take a moment to think or journal about these questions:

  1. Think of a step you took over the past couple of months, whether in your business or privately. How does it feel looking back?
  2. Which lessons can you draw from the step you took? What surprised you and what challenged you?
  3. How will you continue in the coming months? Are you ready to try something else, or do you want to settle into your new routine or step you have taken?

I’d love to know which of these strategies to feel more supported in your business you’ve tried, and which you’re going to try out. I’d love to know!

Please feel free to share it with business friends, in your newsletter or on social media. 💛

I’d love to support you in all phases of your business. Providing clarity, focus and next steps is something that my clients tell me I’m really good at. If you’re curious about how we can work together through 1:1 mentoring, check out what I offer or send me an email–no strings attached. I have payment plans available, and flexible options for mentoring calls (30 or 60 minutes).

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