How To Start a Newsletter on Substack
A guide for those starting from scratch or transferring from a different service
I remember the day I decided to start my email list. The thought had swirled around my mind for years; I never really thought I needed one.
Eventually, I realized I was wrong. When I did, I turned to MailChimp. I’ve mentioned before how I find it extremely complex for a beginner. If I could go back, I would’ve started with Substack.
According to Crunchbase, Substack has been around since 2017 but has only has started gaining momentum recently. There are many reasons why Substack is slowly becoming the go-to service for solopreneurs across the world.
You just need a few minutes to set it up and start growing an email list. When you do, Substack gives you a subdomain where your newsletter is stored online as if it was a blog.
Ever thought of monetizing your newsletter? Substack gives you that option, too. And to make things even simpler, it’s all handled via Stripe.
Step 1: Create an Account
As I mentioned, the process is quite simple, even if it seems unnecessarily complex.
When you first access Substack, you’ll see a list of top posts and newsletters — which are called Publications in the platform.
Clicking on Publish on Substack will direct you to a new page, where you’ll need to click on either Get Started button.
You can now register using your existing Twitter account, or click Skip to use your email instead. Whichever you choose, you’ll end up on the same Create your account screen.
You’ll now have to go through three other pages to conclude the process: Set up your profile, Create your publication, and Import your mailing list.
All fields are mandatory — even adding a photo, as it will be used for your newsletter.
At this stage, Substack doesn’t make it very clear what the real purpose of each field is. Not to worry, as other than Your Name and Bio, all the other fields can be changed later on.
If you already have an email list, you’re given the option to import your existing contacts. If you don’t want to bother at this point, you can skip it and add them later.
Once you’re done, you’ll be taken to your new subdomain, where a post like the one below will show up. You can now see how the information you enter during account creation is used.
What you write on the What’s it about? field will be used as the headline for the post, while the Bio will be incorporated in the text.
Step 2: Import Your Content and Contacts
While I find Substack easy to use compared to other services, the setting up process can be tricky at times. When I started, I had to poke around to find exactly what I needed.
As mentioned above, you have the option to import your email list during the initial setup. If you’re using an email marketing service, you can easily export all your contacts to a CSV file.
If you’re not sure what that means, or you can’t find the option in whatever service you’re using, Substack allows you to add your subscribers manually.
Going to your Dashboard, you can either click on Subscribers or Settings to import your list.
Going back to settings, you’re given the option to import your archives from platforms like Medium, Wordpress, or even your own website— and the process couldn’t be simpler.
When you click on Import, enter the URL where your posts are. In my case, I entered http://medium.com/@maurosacramento. You must include http or www. Otherwise, it won’t recognize it as a web address.
Once it connects to your website, you’ll have to confirm ownership of the content. When you do, Substack will import as many posts as it can — I’m not entirely sure what are the limitations here, but it never managed to import my entire archive.
All posts are automatically posted in your subdomain, and they keep the original published date.
Don’t worry, you can easily delete any unwanted post. Just click edit on any post to be taken to the post editor. Then, click on Settings and Delete Post, as seen below.
In Post Settings, you’re given additional options, such as changing the date, send a test email to yourself, or moving it behind the paywall so only paying subscribers can see it.
Step 3: Sending Your First Email
Now that you’re all set up, it’s time to reach out to your subscribers. This is also the easiest step if you’re used to blogging. If you’re unsure of what to share with your subscribers, you may want to take a look at this article first.
If You’re a Solopreneur, Here’s How To Start Your Email List Today
Which platform, what to send, and how to find your frequency
Once you’re ready, head to your dashboard, click on Posts, select New post, and then you’re ready to start writing.
Once you’re done, you can either Publish & Send Email or just Publish on Website. This is Substack’s biggest flaw, in my opinion. We should be given the option to send an email without publishing it.
Currently, the only way to make your content private in the platform is to publish it to paying subscribers only. Otherwise, anyone who comes across your Substack domain online can read everything you send to your email list.
If you’re feeling on a roll and you write several emails at once, you can schedule their publishing dates. You can then see how much time is left until your subscribers receive your email.
This is also where you choose which emails are sent exclusively to your paying subscribers, and which are made available for everyone. When you’re done, click send.
Congratulations, you’ve started your newsletter!
While these three steps help you get started, there are a few other features worth mentioning.
Setting up a paid subscription
Just navigate to Settings and connect your Stripe account. Once done, you can enable payments and set monthly and yearly subscription fees, as well as create promotional offers.
From here, you can see a graph displaying the number of visitors your subdomain got on each day. Below the graph, you can find the traffic source, and whether or not it led to a free or paid signup.
From the posts page, you can also see individual stats for each post. If you sent via email, it shows you how many people it was sent to, what percentage opened it, and how many signups it generated.
All you have to do now is share the subdomain of your newsletter with your followers to start growing your email list. Unlike other services, Substack doesn’t give you the option to embed a form in our posts.
When accessing your subdomain, your audience will be met with a similar screen to the one above. All they have to do is enter their email and they’ll be subscribed.
If you need ideas on what to say to convince your audience to join, here are 3 suggestions you can use.