I did a masterclass in newsletter growth this week (want to get mine to 10k members this year).
An overview of the top six channels you’ll need to use from Sparkloop – their tools, of course – Upscribe recommendations and their Partner Network. Louis shared some helpful growth tips too (he’s working on newsletter growth all day, every day so knows his stuff!) You can watch it here.
Interesting to hear him say the old tools and techniques for email marketing don’t work anymore – what are these?
Masterclass #2: Roadmap to 1M+ Subscribers is on Weds 25 Jan – you can register here.
Overall, a productive hour (great questions, love this community). I’m excited to try some new things this year.
My goals for ‘23 – getting to 10k subscribers (+ £10k monthly income overall) and I want to develop my paid product and promote it better – haven’t pushed it. I’ve struggled with time (client work) and differentiation. Nobody wants more of the same, so it needs to be an entirely different product, not apaid newsletter.
Names and positioning are important in terms of perceived value.
Josh Spector sent me some helpful tips, and I’ve bought his newsletter course. Questions coming over for your podcast – thanks, Josh!
So I’ve called the paid product Do One Thing – a behind-the-scenes look at how I do something specific to grow my newsletter and business. A deep dive into my creative process and my first solopreneur six-figure year.
It’s about doing one thing well and doing less – newsletters are a huge time commitment, and if you bring in something new, you need to let something go, so part of my strategy is saying no to things. Focus and consistency.
If you’re writing a newsletter, send me the link so I can check it out and share it. Substack’s new Recommendations tool is awesome – I’m getting daily subscribers.
I’d also love your recommended reads on creativity, culture and tech – making a list.
The other thing that’s really helped me is having an accountability buddy – thank you, Marianne Lehnis for reaching out. We’re at a similar stage with our businesses and she’s local so we can co-work and go for walks (Wealth Walks are something else I want to get going!)
Writing a newsletter can be a lonely venture, and our little chats have kept me sane. It’s worth reaching out to someone in a similar niche to see how you can help each other.
The House of Beautiful Business – a global platform that connects over 25k members who want to get more out of business and out of life. You can now join for FREE! Next Open House is tomorrow, Mon 23 Jan – Dispatch from Davos | WEF.
Playlist of the week
Best film I’ve seen lately and very of the moment. Imagine being told you’re officially old at 40 and it’s all downhill from here.
Feedback, questions, ideas? Hit reply or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
School’s out – but not for summer. Over 375,000 kids in the UK were sent home this week. 96% aren’t confirmed cases but only isolating as a precaution. We have a two-week shutdown here, so it’s back to homeschooling until 12 July.
My reality is at odds with what I’m seeing online about ‘business as usual’ and getting back to the office – it makes a mockery of it all. This is big stuff – exams cancelled, sports day and end of year events off – all a rite of passage for kids. There’s been a massive disruption to their education this year, and it’s time to call an end to the self-isolation madness.
Kids are struggling too – their lives have been turned upside down. There’s been a 40% increase in anti-depressants prescribed to under 17-year-olds. One of Julieta’s classmates jumped onto the train tracks on the way home and said he didn’t want to live anymore. They had to stop the train and call the police, and the school is organising therapy for the kids there. A friend’s 21-year-old son killed himself last month, and I’ve heard similar stories from others.
The summer holidays are coming up, and many working parents rely on grandparents to help out with childcare. If the current vaccines are less able to protect against the Delta variant, that puts older people at risk. Grandparents aren’t a stress-free, low-cost solution for expensive childcare.
Grazia has launched a campaign with the charity Pregnant Then Screwed, calling for an independent review of childcare in the UK. UK childcare is the 2nd most expensive in the world, over 35% of the average family income.
The lack of accessible, affordable, well-funded childcare is perhaps the single biggest barrier to women’s career progress – and the Covid-19 pandemic, when women have had to shoulder the bulk of the extra care, has accelerated the problem into a mounting crisis.
We have a massive brain drain – 50% of the working population. We’re not reinventing the wheel here – Scandinavian countries have good models we can work from.
Childcare isn’t just a women’s issue.
You can sign their petition, calling for an independent review of childcare funding and affordability, here. And tweet your MP using the link in this post.
Let’s keep the pressure on.
The five-hour workday
I’m fortunate to work remotely and don’t need childcare anymore (a butler, yes), but I had years of it and support my sisters who do. I’m doing a double shift again – cooking, cleaning, making lunch. There’s a lot of context switching during the day, making it harder to focus and do deep work. I have a full-time project for the next two weeks, so I need to get my head down and minimise distractions. I have a plan!
Notifications Off! The Distraction-free Benefits of Five-Hour Work Days. Digital Enabler is the first company in Germany to implement a five-hour workday and say it’s been a resounding success. Taking this approach has led to a new company mission and revenue – they now do workplace strategy. ‘I still believe motivated employees will do the best job. Instead of counting work hours, we now count good work.’ This could be a good solution for working parents over the summer.
Let me know how you’re managing the juggle and if you’re working from anywhere interesting. My friend Rebecca is converting her shed into a ceramic studio for her side hustle.
Big shoutout to all the winners, shortlisted, highly commended and nominated at the UK Freelance Writing Awards. Nicola Slawson judged two categories and said the breadth of talent was phenomenal. Many said they’d never been shortlisted before – just goes to show there’s something wrong with the industry, not the talent – we need opportunities and to celebrate good work more often. Check out the winners and their fab projects here 👏 🎉
Tools for thought
👨🏽💻Anywhere Jobs: Reshaping the Geography of Work. A new report finds roughly one in five jobs in the UK, or 6 million jobs, can now be classified as ‘Anywhere Jobs’, with characteristics that mean they can be done remotely as efficiently or more efficiently than in normal office working. A big change that requires the government to develop a strategy. On average, companies took just 11 days to implement digital technologyfor remote work and collaboration (43x faster than predicted). Post-pandemic, larger firms are more likely to make labour a variable cost using additional freelancers and contractors.
🤹🏻♂️Mental health for creators. There are 50 million content creators across social media platforms. The creator economy is changing how people earn and creating financial independence, but the rough side of the experience is burnout. It’s a unique job – you have to be authentic, open and posting regularly, and for most, it’s solo work. LinkedIn spoke to two creators to find out how they make it work. I told Julieta I’m going to try TikTok, and she gave me a withering look. ‘Just no. I’ll delete your account. It’s for teenagers, not middle-aged women.’ Cheeky bint. You know me. I like a challenge 🤗
🏠The Work-from-Anywhere Index. A new study highlights the most attractive destinations for digital nomads in search of a new home, according to legislation and livability factors such as the weather, cost of living, and equality. Digital nomad and freelancer visas. I’m surprised to see London at number five – it’s great for work and socialising but too expensive to rent a property. Nomadlist has similar criteria and networking on the road.
✍️Notes on Quentin Tarantino’s writing routine. Joe Rogan asked QT about his writing habits. Pre-2009 (his best work?), he described himself as ‘an amateur mad little writer’ who would work late at night in restaurants: ‘order some shit, drink a lot of coffee, and be there for four hours with all my shit laid out.’ He decided he wanted a more professional routine, so he now writes during the day – writes then floats – and says it’s become a really nice, enjoyable way to work. I agree – I write then run.
QT is the ultimate digital minimalist – he writes scripts by hand, hates smartphones and bans them on set, and he doesn’t use email – you have to call him on the landline and leave a message on the answerphone.
🎧Susan David: The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage. On the tyranny of positivity and wellness, and how emotional suppression doesn’t work. How we deal with emotions shapes everything – our career, relationships, happiness, health. Brilliant talk and podcast. I did an exercise on letting go of stuff that’s not working and had a little cry. I broke up with my therapist this week, not easy to do but very empowering.
To offset the carbon emissions of this newsletter and my online work, I plant 12 trees every month via Ecologi. I encourage you to do the same in your country – here’s a list of climate action groups. There’s no time to waste 🌍
Weekly curated tools + resources for writers – thinkers, makers and builders ✍️
Interesting read from Ben Smith in The New York Times on the Substack debate. Media company vs tech platform, their editorial role (or not), the advances paid out by Substack Pro, and their biggest challenge: competitors like Ghost and Twitter/Revue.
The quote from John O’Nolan, Ghost CEO sums it up: Subscription newsletter publishing was ‘destined to be commoditized.’
The news is that Substack has signed up two high profile transgender writers – Danny and Grace Laverty so we have a household with two Substack incomes. A smart move, as it helps counter the backlash they’ve had from some writers who don’t want to share the platform with people who they said were anti-trans. It shows they want to be a platform for all – even those who criticise the company.
There’s been a media storm around Substack over the past year – about money, mostly (they are VC funded and valued at $650 million (Axios), the compatibility of VC funding and journalism, and the ethics of paying writers to join the platform. Why not? Authors get book advances, and we don’t bat an eyelid. And subscriptions are a much better deal for writers.
As Casey Newton said, Substack is taking up a lot of mindspace and has become a target for ‘a lot of people to project their anxieties.’
Substack has captivated an anxious industry because it embodies larger forces and contradictions. For one, the new media economy promises both to make some writers rich and to turn others into the content-creation equivalent of Uber drivers, even as journalists increasingly turn to labour unions to level out pay scales. – Ben Smith.
Some writers (a minority) are making big money on Substack – good for them. It’s inspiring to check the leaderboard and see what’s possible – it introduces a bit of friendly competition. They’ve built a following over time and bought their audiences with them.
But most (like me) are making money via support from readers, not paid advances. It’s a side hustle alongside their main job or freelance projects. It’s fun. I’m learning as I go, and it’s an opportunity to have a product and a platform. There’s no obligation to stay – I can take my work and publish it elsewhere.
Power to the creator
The power shift has been happening for a while – Patreon CEO Jack Conte talks about it here. Substack isn’t creating it, but it’s part of it and riding the wave. There’s a cultural shift towards the creator economy, valuing good content and being willing to pay for it. David Lat calls it the ‘great reset’ of charging for content (we all need to get used to paying more for content!). And the fear is that it’s helping writers to discover their market value.
The genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no going back!
And it’s not legacy media vs Substack either – we have broad tastes, and there’s room for all types of media. I’m not paying for news on Substack; I’m getting opinion, analysis, and diverse views from people who may not fit the traditional media mould/niche, which is refreshing. Journalism is still largely a white, middle-class profession.
I am excited about Substack – it’s the biggest tech challenge in a while, and captures the spirit of early blogging with diverse views and a dose of reality. Columnist Heather Havrilesky is taking ‘Ask Polly’ from The New Yorker Magazine to Substack to ‘regain some of the indie spirit and sense of freedom that drew me to want to write online in the first place.’
As long as they keep adding value, supporting writers, and building community, I’ll stick around. It feels good to be part of a bigger mission.
As a writer on the platform, the pain points are SEO – very important!! I’m giving away my Google juice. So I publish on my site first, tell Google I own the content and then share it to other platforms – Substack, Medium, and social media. And for those writers earning a living here, the 10% commission is a killer and needs to come down.
As a consumer, it’s expensive to subscribe to lots of newsletters – see this thread from Laura Hazard Owen. I can claim expenses if they are work-related, but I’d love to see more ‘bundling up’ newsletters in similar industries to offer value to readers. I’ve seen posts on Reddit asking if people are interested in joint subscriptions to split the cost.
Companies need to get in on the act, too – newsletter bundles would be a great perk for employees – fresh ideas and perspectives enhance workplace culture.
What are publishers doing to solve the ‘Substack problem’?
The New York Times has bought columnist Paul Krugman’s free Substack to their platform.
@Choire is stepping down from the NYT Style desk and ‘taking on a new and exciting challenge, as a senior editor charged with a project to help expand our newsletter portfolio alongside Sam Dolnick and Adam Pasick.’
Vanity Fair meets Substack – former VF editor Jon Kelly is launching a new, private equity-backed publication. ‘Writers have been offered equity and a percentage of the subscription revenue they would generate.’
As Ben points out, the biggest threat to Substack isn’t politics amongst writers but another tech stack with a different (cheaper) model, e.g. Ghost, Twitter/Revue. Ghost is open-source and non-profit, which will appeal to many publishers.
They are aware of this and working hard on ‘brand Substack’. Good to see they’ve announced a $1 million initiative to support a new group of local news writers on the platform (non-famous writers ;-).
This is not a grants program, nor is it inspired by philanthropic intent. Our goal is to foster an effective business model for independent local news that provides ample room for growth.
There’s more to come. ‘We will make a large investment in a support program that includes initiatives related to healthcare, personal finance, editing, distribution, design, and coworking spaces.’ Which gives them the edge.
And writers will find creative solutions for siloed working and isolation. 💪
Today, eight writers with paid newsletters on tech and culture, including Casey Newton, Anne Helen Petersen, and Delia Cai, are launching Sidechannel –
‘A shared Discord server where our paid subscribers can meet, hang out, and participate in a vibrant daily conversation about tech, culture, and society.’
They have big plans – shared channels, jobs, networking, and Clubhouse-style chats where you can ask questions. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is their first guest tomorrow.
Let’s celebrate Substack’s success. Indie media is super important, as is diversity – we need more voices. Please support your favourite writers, artists, and musicians via Substack, Patreon, Podia, Soundcloud, and Stack Magazines – leave a tip or comment, share and like a post – a little goes a long way to help.
Self-publishing is a hard, lonely job 🎻
From the NYT comments:
In a media ecosystem where six companies own systems that deliver 90% of the news, indie platforms can only be a good thing.
Substack is filled with cancelled, edgy writers. It’s where Ernie Pyle, Hunter Thompson and Martha Gellhorn would be if they were alive and writing today.
Go deeper 🛠
✍️ Sovereign Writers and Substack (Stratechery) – Ben Thompson on ‘the fundamental issues about the Substack model specifically, and the shift to sovereign writers generally, that are being misunderstood.’
📬 Newsletters: The market is booming! (Marie Dollé). Mapping the newsletter ecosystem. ‘Creating content for and with your audience is exciting and crucial, especially when you realize that the community builder is the creator too!’ Brands, take note!
📣 You’ve Got Mail (Anna Wiener, The New Yorker) on the history of newsletters and embracing change: ‘Carving out new ways for writers to make money from their work is surely a good thing: the US lost 16,000 newsrooms jobs this year. I ❤️ Hayley Hahman’s comments on how writing her newsletter ‘Maybe Baby’ has made her reflect on how she measures success.
👩🎨 Li Jin on the Passion Economy and the Future of Work (andreessen horowitz). ‘Gig work isn’t going anywhere—but there are now more ways to capitalize on creativity. This has huge implications for entrepreneurship and what we’ll think of as a ‘job’ in the future.’
You can’t move on Clubhouse for people talking about NFTs, the latest crypto craze set to disrupt the art world. So WTF are NFTs, and why should you care about them?
Last week, Sotherby’s CEO Charles Stewart was part of a 90-minute chat with CEOs, founders, crypto lovers and artists talking excitedly about NFTs (non-fungible tokens) — unique digital content represented as tokens — that are bringing cryptocurrency to the masses. There’s lots of speculation about how they might revolutionise the art world and how creators can use them to make money from their digital work. The general vibe is critical of the elite art world, and hopeful the crypto art revolution might change things.
NFTs first came onto the scene in 2017 when Dapper Labs’ game CryptoKitties dominated the Ethereum network, with people spending over $1 million buying virtual cats. A cool way for people to get started on the platform.
Lately, the NFT market has exploded, with the estimated value of crypto art at $182 million according to cryptoart.io/data, and this is just a fraction of the NFT ecosystem. The NFT Report 2020 shows $250 million worth of sales (art, collectables, metaverses, utility, sports, gaming). Metaverses have the lion’s share — collective virtual reality spaces. If we can’t get out, we’ll build a parallel universe to live in and find community! Nifty Gateway, SuperRare, Zora, and Foundation are leading platforms for creatives to monetise their digital artwork. Most of the press coverage focuses on the commercial side and big money exchanging hands, but many smaller transactions are happening — it’s a growing movement.
Last month net artist Beeple sold a piece of NFT artwork, CROSSROADS, for $6.6 million via Nifty Gateway ahead of the Christie’s auction of Everydays: The First 5000 Days — a monumental collage and the first purely digital artwork to come to auction. Current bid: USD $3 million with 10 days left to go.
Chris Torres created a rainbow-streaming animation of Nyan Cat based on his cat, which sold for 300 ETH, $454,974,00 on Foundation.
According to its creator Dapper Labs, the NBA Top Shot collectable crypto product has generated over $230 in gross sales. A Le Bron Jones clip from 2019 sold for $208,000.I’ve been down the crypto rabbit hole this week to try and get my head around NFTs to see what I can do with them.
NFTs (Non-fungible tokens) are unique digital items that can be owned and traded online. They make it possible for creators to keep ownership of their content without limiting the sharing of files across the net — giving creators an alternative to social media platform-driven monetisation. While most cryptocurrency is fungible — one bitcoin is worth the same as another, NFTs are non-fungible — like humans and unique on the blockchain so collectable (digital scarcity). You can own a piece of digital art and sell it like traditional art, and it’s trackable on the blockchain.
What’s cool is that if you sell a piece of work, the artist gets a cut of future transactions — no intermediary is taking an amount — it’s a direct relationship between artist and buyer — a shift towards the ownership economy, which empowers the creator.
Are NFTs the future of art or a fad? I don’t know, but it feels like we’re on the verge of something big — the money exchanging hands is mind-boggling, and the art world is ripe for disruption. As books have gone digital with Kindle & Audible and music and film with Netflix & Spotify, it makes sense that artwork and physical collectables will follow the same trajectory. We know the case use today for NFTs but not tomorrow. What future transactions will come? The launch of the iPhone in 2007 has led to Uber, ride-sharing, and the gig economy.
Beeple sells NFTs that represent his EVERYDAYS with a digital frame as a physical representation of the NFT and will give collectors a spot on his site to post a message.
Crypto trends over the next 3–5 years
Mobile payments will be huge — Celo.org is a mobile-first Defi open-source platform built on blockchain. You can transfer money on your mobile, and you don’t need a bank account
Content creators — Rally.io Creator Coin (one of Andreessen Horowitz’ products) Create your own branded cryptocurrency, sell your work and provide community benefits and incentives for your followers
Countries creating cryptocurrencies — China has made a payment system known as Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP), a digital version of China’s official currency, the yuan, which crypto pioneer Chandler Guo believes will become the dominant global currency
How Creators can use Crypto — Rally’s Creator Coin
Last week, I was in a room with @Mvellank, the co-founder of Rally.io, talking about their new Creator Coin and how NFTs are a viable path for creators to sell work and build community. They aim to give you the tools to create a virtual economy to extend your brand while providing community benefits & incentives for your fans — a tokenised economy. They’ve built a business model that “transcends the big tech platforms” to support the creator.
Someone in the room mentioned ArtCoins as another example of e-commerce innovation — a new digital cryptocurrency based on smart contracts and used for art trading, exhibition fees, curation rewards, art dividends, art profits & more.
Blockchain is hugely exciting, and it’s great to see it used to help artists and creators monetise digital work and reach a new audience globally. What excites me, though, is how we can use it as a force for change — as with Celo’s mobile wallet — to empower children and adults in developing countries to create work and sell it online as a means to pay for education rather than doing manual labour. CryptoWendy is keeping it real and has lots to say on this subject. She has put her daughter’s savings into Bitcoin and got into it as a peaceful protest against inequality.
Bitcoin was created by the people for the people and born out of the 2008 economic crash as a new kind of money. I expect we’ll see something similar with NFTs post-pandemic. They have made crypto more accessible for people and given power back to the creatives. As Jessie Walden says:
NFTs will become the port of entry to all internet media because everyone involved can make more money from the markets they enable.
Mark Cuban says digital assets are the future of business, and Chandler Guo, the crypto pioneer, believes digital currencies represent the future of money.
The downsides of NFTs are the network fees or ‘gas’, which can fluctuate and make it expensive to trade, and most NFTs live on the Ethereum blockchain, which has a huge carbon footprint. Companies are working on it and we’ll see solutions. We might have to have energy inefficiencies now to push the boundaries, build a new art world, and solve real-world problems if we can.
As remote work becomes the norm, we’re going to be looking for virtual spaces and experiences offering richer, intense and diverse social interactions — places to learn and grow together with people who have similar interests. NFTs are a gateway…
Everydays: The First 5000 Days — what a project! Beeple has created a piece of digital artwork every day for the last 13 ½ years. Imagine the level of detail! I need to psychologically prepare myself for that — it feels a bit like Hieronymus Bosch for the digital world. Great to see the evolution of his career — recurrent themes include our obsession with and fear of technology, the desire for and resentment of wealth, and America’s recent political turbulence.
Isn’t it amazing that we can create something at home, sell it online and get paid instantly — all without leaving the house. 🙏
The advice 🤔
Sacred Economics traces the history of money from ancient gift economies to modern capitalism, revealing how the money system has contributed to alienation, competition, and scarcity, destroyed community, and necessitated endless growth.
If there’s no gift, there’s no community. Charles Eisenstein.
🎞 One to watch tonight: Ready Player One — the world is a wasteland where people find salvation within virtual reality.
Welcome to my bookshop! 📚
I’ll be sharing books in my bag and recommended reads on Bookshop.org. They pay a 10% commission on every sale and give a matching 10% to local bookstores, an integral part of our culture and communities. Check it out here.
Work with me 🙋🏻♀️
Leopard print, always. Worry less and rock a red lip. Remote work evangelist, problem solver, internet person.
💡 Something you want me to write about? Leave a comment or email email@example.com