How I Hustled My Way From 0 to 1,000 Email Subscribers

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Pat Walls

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A few days ago I reached 1,000 email subscribers for my side project Starter Story. 🎉

Although it's relatively small, it feels like one of my biggest accomplishments.

So I figured I'd write about my strategies, what worked, what did not, and some advice I have for others.

What worked:

Posting Case Studies on Reddit:

Posting case studies on Reddit was the most consistent tactic to grow my list.

For example, here's one of my most successful case studies: $30k/mo selling prank greeting cards.

This Reddit post has over 20,000 views! Although seemingly huge, it probably translates to about 50 subscribers (it's hard to tell the exact number).

Now, that might sound like a pretty lousy rate of return, but I was able to do this nearly every week with how frequently I put out this content.

It's not too complicated, it's just one of my own blog posts converted into a Reddit self-post.

Redditors are hyper-aware of spam, so you must tread lightly, and be aware of subreddit rules. Also, you must understand that Reddit attracts all corners of the Internet. With every post that I've done, I've received a ton of praise, and (what feels like) a ton of backlash. I learned to live with it 😌.

Leaving Reddit comments:

The comments section of a Reddit post is vastly underutilized.

I have received over 1,000 site visits from one single comment! Here it is:

Screen Shot 2018-02-27 at 7.28.36 PM

What this means, is that Reddit has a ton of lurkers.

My strategy:

After browsing the subreddit a lot, I started to notice a trend. The same questions would get asked over and over, just in different ways. Since these questions are popular, they usually make the front page and also facilitate a lot of discussion (i.e., a high amount of comments).

Since the content I produce adds value to those questions, I would simply write up a comment with a link to my site.

It didn't work every time, but there were a few comments that actually moved the needle on my list.

Two things that are important (1) you need to catch the thread early, and (2) you need to add value to the discussion (don't just drop your link).

Product Hunt:

You must launch on Product Hunt, but don't spend too much time on it, like I did.

I reached #7 for the day, but it only brought in ~100 subscribers to date.

But a lot of great things came out of the PH launch, like some great personal connections, new interviews, and all of the fantastic support I received from the WIP.chat community.

NOTE: Keep in mind that my website isn't really for the PH audience, so your mileage may vary here.

Hacker News:

This should probably be at the top, but I feel like it's cheating under the "hustle" category.

A few days ago, I reached #1 on Hacker News for over 12 hours.

Traffic was massive.

Although the conversion rate was low, it still brought in over 500 email subscribers 😅. Before this post, my list was at about 750 subscribers.

It happened really unexpectedly, but that's a post for another day.

Twitter:

Twitter is surprisingly good for growing your email list.

My tip for Twitter: Don't just post a bunch or put it on a scheduler. Get in there and communicate with users and your audience. Twitter is an amazing place to connect with people, and businesses.

I can see it being a big driver for traffic in the future as I (slowly) grow a following.

What Didn't Work

Quora:

I can actually see Quora as a great way to drive traffic and grow your list. You will just have to put in a lot of work to get there and answer a ton of questions. Check out some of the stuff I was trying on Quora.

Pinterest:

A lot of bloggers swear by Pinterest, I actually put a lot of work into trying the platform. Not one subscriber.

I came to realize that my content is not optimized for the Pinterest audience, which is more interested in visual and traditional blog posts. Check out some of the stuff I was trying on Pinterest.

Facebook:

My god, Facebook Pages organic reach is horrid. Don't build an audience there, ever. I have about 60 followers now, but my posts reach about five of them, and maybe one of them clicks through. Check out my FB page.

Instagram:

People do not leave the Instagram app. I have had 88 people visit my site from Instagram, since inception.

I do believe Instagram is a good platform for communicating with followers and finding new people to interview, but it's not great for driving growth. Here's my Instagram for reference.

Advice to others.

Do things that don't scale:

I did a lot of manual work to get to 1,000, such as trolling around subreddits, commenting on forums, failing on Pinterest, learning new social media tools, reading way too many guides, the list goes on...

For those out there starting an email list, I suggest you do the same. You will learn so much through the process, and I promise you will get to 1,000, just keep pushing.

Try things:

I can't count the number of times I've googled "How to increase your email list". But, that gave me a lot of ideas. Some might be a complete waste of time, and some of them might double your email list (Hacker News post).

And when something works like that - you can't beat that feeling.

Start with great content, optimize your opt-in later:

Gain subscribers through the great content you produce, not the opt-in offer you have.

I don't have any popups, modals, ebook offers, or other grand claims so I can get your email address.

This will make things harder, but your subscribers will be much higher quality, which I think is important when starting out.

Having a great opt-in is important, but you can always optimize it later. And it's fun to tweak your opt-in over time and A/B test different things.

Find your audience, don't compromise:

1,000 subscribers in a specific niche is more valuable than 10,000 subscribers that are all over the place.

Where to go next

Now that I've reached 1,000, I think I'm more confident that network effects will help to grow the list more, and I can focus on less time-consuming strategies such as commenting on Reddit posts.

See you at 10,000! 😜

For more blog posts or to check out my monthly updates, check out the blog, and be sure to subscribe!


Oh, also for the sake of consistency, here are my monthly stats & goals:

February 2018 Results

Goals Vs Results:

  • Visitors: 15,000 ➡️ 53,590
  • New Subscribers: +700 ➡️ +735
  • New Interviews: +12 ➡️ +8

Revenue:

  • Shopify Affiliate: $30
  • Amazon Affiliate: $16

March 2018 Goals

This month, I'm not setting a traffic goal. It really doesn't mean much.

  • New Subscribers: +600
  • New Interviews: +10

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business.

By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.

If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.

- pat-walls Pat Walls, Founder of Starter Story

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