should you move your newsletter to Substack?

If you’ve been reading my newsletter recently, you know how much I love Substack. And you’ll know that I’m in the process of moving my newsletter to Substack too. It seems lately loads of people are talking about Substack—one friend even admitted to having Substack FOMO. So, the question is, as a small business owner, should you move your newsletter to Substack?

If you’re new to Substack and wondering how to read and enjoy Substack publications, check out my Substack 101 post.

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Understanding Substack

I often describe Substack as the lovechild between a newsletter and an old-fashioned blog. Substack is not an alternative to Mailchimp, Flodesk or whatever you use to send your newsletter. It is not a newsletter client.

You, can, however, send newsletters through Substack—though essentially, you’re not so much sending newsletters as you’re sending blog posts: the posts live on your Substack page, and both subscribers and non-subscribers can browse and read your archive.

Substack is also not a social media platform like Instagram and Facebook. It does not have an algorithm. One of the things I love about Substack is that the rules of engagement are very clear.

Because Substack is not a newsletter provider, it doesn’t offer workflows or sequences as Mailchimp, Flodesk and others do. When someone subscribes to your Substack, they’ll get a welcome-message which you can edit yourself. But there’s no way of setting up a sequence in which someone gets a welcome message on the day they subscribe, and then another message a few days later, etc.

An example: if you sign up for my newsletter through my free social media email series-page, Flodesk tags you automatically so that you receive not only my welcome-sequence (two emails you receive on varying days), but also the emails belonging to the social media series, once every four weeks.

Substack does not offer pages for lead magnets, or the option to segment your audience based on lead magnets which subsequently determines what info a subscriber gets. Again, it doesn’t offer those because it’s not a newsletter client.

There are more options for audience management rolled out at Substack all the time though. Using the Substack subscriber dashboard, you can see some subscriber behaviour—much as you can in Mailchimp and Flodesk (though, I’m happy to say, unlike those two, Substack does not show the IP-address of all subscribers…). Using the filter-options on the dashboard, you can, for instance, see who is most engaged or not, and email a specific subset of your subscribers. You might email the 50 most engaged subscribers when you’re launching a paid option, for instance (more on this below).

Substack currently also only offers a quite basic sign-up form, which does the job but is nothing compared to the design offered by Flodesk especially.

Substack features: getting paid and community

Substack was originally founded to allow writers—mainly journalists—to write the kind of articles they wanted to write without being dependent on more traditional media. Key to the Substack model is the option to go paid. In that scenario, you’d have subscribers pay to read your posts, which ranges from one two paid posts a week or month, to having all posts paid. This allows authors to have their newsletter as a source of income, and for some of them this is their primary source of income (see, for instance, Anne Helen Petersen and Virginia Sole-Smith).

You needn’t go paid ever, though. There are plenty of publications that continue to be free forever. And that’s fine. I write a free Substack on houseplants, and I’m not barred from using any Substack features just because I’m not charging people.

Substack earns their money by taking a small cut of the subscription fees. They charge 10% on each subscription, and you can set the subscription fee yourself (currently the lowest is £5 a month/£50 a year).

Community is an integral part of Substack.

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Many authors that have set up paid subscriptions use these to create community around their Substack. This is one of the things that I love about Substack—and which I often miss in sending newsletters through Flodesk. Once people are subscribed to your Substack, they can leave a comment on your posts, whether they have a Substack account themselves or not.

You can also set up specific discussion posts, Q&A’s, ask-me-anythings and more.

Community is an integral part of Substack’s strategy—as it is a value of mine. One of the key ways in which writers grow their audience is through recommendations. If you set up a Substack publication, you can recommend other Substacks. This means that if someone subscribes to yours, they get a little pop-up showing a list of your recommendations.

This feature is huge. I have done next to no marketing for A Houseplant Journal (my side-project Substack), and looking at my stats I see that nearly 100% of my subscribers come through the Substack network and the recommendations feature.

For small business owners who like to write and create content, both the option of offering paid posts and creating more community around their newsletter can be really valuable.

The most important question to answer is whether Substack fits in with your content ecosystem and your values.

Should you move your newsletter to Substack as a small business owner?

The answer to this is: it depends.

My own answer, for my own business right now, is yes.

BUT: my website stays my hub and always will. I’ll always be publishing blog posts here. I’ll always be pinning to my blog, just as I do now.

So, am I doing twice the work then?

No. In fact: I’m working once (writing a post), and putting it in two places like I do now, in my newsletter and on my blog. They won’t be completely the same: I run an interview series on my blog, which for the foreseeable future, will stay on my blog. Not all newsletter posts make it on to my blog. And if I create paid posts for Substack in the future, those will only be available there.

reasons to move your newsletter to Substack

  • you want to use the community features;
  • you want to be able to narrate (part of) your posts;
  • you want to be able to add a podcast to your newsletter (like Emma and Andrew at Miscellaneous Adventures);
  • it fits in with your content ecosystem.

reasons not to move your newsletter to Substack

  • the community features don’t have much of a priority for you (which is totally fine!);
  • you’re attached to the current layout of your newsletter (Substack has fairly limited layout features at the moment);
  • you use a lot of sequences for your newsletter and want to keep that;
  • you don’t like the idea of your newsletter becoming/being a post that can be read by non-subscribers too;
  • it doesn’t fit in with your content ecosystem.

All of these are completely valid reasons. The most important thing you need to do decide whether Substack has a place in your content ecosystem, and whether it fits in with your values.

My newsletter is important to me. I love writing and want to do more of it. I’d love to make money with my writing. I’d love to add lower cost ways in which people can support me and work with me. And community is one of my key values, and I’m eager to do more with it.

I also genuinely love hanging out on Substack, and I love how I get all of my newsletters in one app (you can also get them in your inbox, or in both the app and your inbox). It’s a perfectly curated space, just for me.

Substack (much like Medium) isn’t just a new fad. It’s not a new social media network we all need to be on.

Instead, like with any marketing channel, you need to figure out what this contributes to your marketing ecosystem—in which your website is probably the hub.

how hard is it to set up Substack?

Setting up Substack is relatively straigthforward. You pick a name, spend as long as you want tweaking settings (colours, welcome message etc.), and start writing. I’ll write more about in the future, and there are tonnes of resources on Substack to help you get started.

In the meantime, if you want to tag along on my Substack adventure, subscribe to my newsletter. I’d love to have you there.

I’d love to know whether you are thinking of moving your newsletter to Substack. Feel free to reach out.

Please feel free to share it with business friends, in your newsletter or on social media. 💛 Curious about making Substack work for your business? Check out my mini-course Substack for small business owners, freelancers and artists to get started.

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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