“Housty, how can we boost the audience of our newsletter?”

Each month we pose a question to the amazing Peter Houston, co-host of the Media Voices podcast, and magazine consultant extraordinaire, who will answer in his fabulously inimitable way. This month’s question came from Joanna Cummings, editor of Your Crochet & Knitting and a supporting editor of Knit Now.

Housty, we have a problem

Peter Houston

“Housty, how can we boost the audience of our newsletter, when we have zero budget?”

Everybody wants something for nothing! Luckily, with a newsletter, the odds of getting what you want are half decent so long as you’re up for the challenge. And, at the risk of repeating myself, your challenge starts with doing excellent work.

First things first, growing your audience will be much easier if you have a clear understanding of exactly what it is your readers value about your newsletter. You absolutely must have this self knowledge to frame your reader acquisition efforts properly.

If you have an established audience, ask them who they are and what they love about your newsletter. Armed with that information, you can go looking for people like them and spread the word about the value you’re already delivering to their counterparts.

If you’re just starting out, it’s OK to imagine what your ideal subscriber loves about you.

Claude the mythical Belgian was the audience archetype for a magazine I edited decades ago. Whenever we were commissioning a story we’d think, ‘What does Claude care about?’. Conjure up your own Claude or Claudette, work out what they care about most and amplify that throughout your promotional work.

Tried-and-tested tactics

Once your crystal clear on the value of your newsletter, there are several tried-and-tested tactics you can use to help secure email sign ups for free.

If you have a website, retrofit it with a pop-up that, well, pops up a simple sign-up form and asks visitors to subscribe to your newsletter. Put a newsletter banner or button on your home page, actually on every page, to give people the best chance to get themselves on to your list.

* If you don’t have a website, you really should get one. SEO can be your newsletter’s friend.

For Media Voices’ Media Roundup newsletter, we get most of our subscribers from social media. Our service provider (we use Revue) automatically tweets each day’s newsletter headline and we also send regular tweets out asking our followers to sign up.

We’re biggest on Twitter – that’s where most of our audience is. But obviously, if your readers are on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or wherever, prioritise there. That said, there’s no harm in broadening your reach across platforms. 

And get involved. Join social media conversations around your topic. Comment on relevant posts and share them with your audience. Just remember to keep your messaging consistent. 

And whatever social platform you are on, make life easier on yourself by having a number of ready-made promotional posts that you can schedule. This is a double win, giving you time to make sure the messaging always communicates your value proposition and letting you schedule posts so that they go out regularly. Did I mention consistency is a big part of being excellent.

Sharing is caring

The other big – and free – opportunity you have to get new readers is to get your already-readers to share your newsletter. Make them your ambassadors. Use the share buttons and links built into your newsletter template to make sharing a no brainer.

And don’t be shy – put your sharing call-to-action up near the top of your emails, if not every issue, then regularly. It also helps to make it easy for readers to let their friends or family or colleagues know why they are sharing your newsletter. Write their sharing script for them, and remember to amp up that value.

If you run interviews or have guest editors then ask them to share their appearance in your newsletter with their fans. Chances are if they are the right people to feature, their followers will be in your recruitment sweet spot. 

You don’t have the budget to advertise in adjacent media – newsletters, blogs, podcasts covering similar subjects – but you can ask to do a promo swap. Exchange promotional space in return for promotional space. And if you’re not sure who to approach, ask your audience who else they read or listen to.

Table stakes

He was talking more generally about subscriptions, but digital media legend Rafat Ali said recently on Twitter, “It is all about quality of stories, nothing more, nothing less either.” The table stakes for a great newsletter are regularity and great content.

It’s not as easy as ‘build it and they will come’, but with consistently great content, a clear value proposition and focused web and social media promotions, you can grow your newsletter audience.

Without a significant marketing budget, you need to manage your expectations; it takes time to build a base unless you get very lucky. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And be sure to celebrate every small win. Those will give you the energy to keep building.


Peter Houston is one third of the Media Voices podcast, a magazine publishing consultant and trainer, and a freelance writer.

Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.