The power of a niche: How Monica Lent built a thriving paid community for developers

Case study Monetize Your List Newsletters
16 min read
In this Article

“Niche down. Get super specific with your audience.”

In your quest to become a successful creator, you’ve probably come across this popular tip—and you’re far from alone in this.

Sure, the suggestion to focus on a niche audience is a great one, but it often doesn’t help you take that from theory to practice. You’re left wondering:

  • How specific is specific enough?
  • Is there a way to test my niche audience idea?
  • How can I create the right content for my niche audience?

To inspire you and help you on this journey, we spoke with Monica Lent, an American software engineer living and working in Berlin, Germany.

Monica Lent
Monica Lent uses ConvertKit to build Blogging for Devs, a thriving online community. Image via Monica Lent.

She built Blogging for Devs—a niche newsletter and a thriving paid online community. To get there, she had to work through these questions, too. She now has over 5,000 email subscribers and a four-figure monthly recurring revenue, but it took hard work over eight months to get there.

Blogging for Devs subscriber growth trajectory
The Blogging for Devs subscriber growth trajectory.

Let’s dive into her story.

The road to niching down

Before launching Blogging for Devs, Monica already ran Affilimate, an affiliate dashboard and analytics tool for professional bloggers and affiliate marketers. Monica also has her own travel blog, Not a Nomad Blog, and has successfully attracted fellow travel bloggers as her Affilimate customers.

Business was going really well. And then… The pandemic happened.

Her travel blog’s income crashed to zero. Same happened to Affilimate’s customers—and to Affilimate.

Monica needed an alternative solution. No matter what she tried, she couldn’t pivot quickly and reach new customers for Affilimate in a repeatable way. “I started wondering,” she explains, “how can I build something that’s not necessarily profitable, but has momentum, with the resources I already have?”

The resource she already had was an audience of 9,000 developers who followed her on Twitter. She built this following over the years, mainly from conference speaking and blogging on tech topics.

This became relevant when many of her developer friends started blogs and turned to her for advice. “Things they asked me were second nature to me, but a completely new world to them, and I became their go-to person for blogging advice,” Monica adds.

So many developers start a blog and abandon it after three posts. I wanted to see if there was something I could create that would make these people care enough. Would they take action, or is it just aspirational?

Monica also knew there was another challenge developers face when it comes to blogging: they think they needed a massive Twitter following to see success.

This cemented her niche and positioning: teaching developers to grow their blog without an existing audience. She was ready to get started.

Build a loyal community with newsletters

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Testing the waters before doubling down on an audience

Monica brainstormed a way to invest a minimum amount of time and effort to test her niche and landed on a free 7-day email course.

She knew she wanted to focus on building an email list right away, but there’s a reason she didn’t go for the usual lead magnet type like a downloadable PDF.

I wanted to drive genuine interaction. PDF freebies would have been a lot more transactional; you give me your email address and I’ll give you a PDF in return. That’s where interaction ends, and I wanted to get subscribers involved and engaged for longer.

The bonus advantage of an email course over, say, an ebook was that there was nothing Monica had to figure out to make it happen. She didn’t have to learn how to design and format an ebook to make it look good. All she needed was an easy-to-use interface to build her email course. ConvertKit Sequences was exactly that.

She launched the email course in mid-May 2020 with a one-page website, a couple of paragraphs, a screenshot of her Google Analytics, an opt-in form, and a short bio.

Blogging for Devs launch tweet
The tweet that launched Monica’s free email course. Image via Monica Lent on Twitter.

In just two weeks, she attracted more than 1,000 subscribers and confirmed she was on the right track with her niche.

Her idea resonated with her target audience, and a new journey began.

The engagement benefit of the email course format

Monica’s effort to attract engaged subscribers worked. In her email sequence, the first few emails have an open rate of over 70%. Even by the end of the free email course—10 emails and 12 days later—almost 60% of her subscribers open these emails.

Open rates
Open rates for Blogging for Devs free email course.

To top that off, she crafted her welcome email with the goal to learn more about her new subscribers…

Welcome email
The welcome email after joining the free email course.

…and many of her subscribers replied (in the first few weeks, the response rate was around 25%!), often in great detail:

Welcome email
Replies to the Blogging for Devs’ welcome email.

When subscribers are at peak excitement—right after they sign up and confirm their subscription—Monica’s thank you page nudges them to share about the course with their friends and followers on Twitter.

List building on repeat
Blogging for Devs thank you page. Image via Blogging for Devs.

Spoiler alert: it works.

The journey to building a revenue stream
Frequent shares of the free email course on Twitter.

As subscribers progress through the email course, they keep replying, completing the homework for the day, and sharing on social media.

Key engagement boosters for an email course

What makes Monica’s email course such a powerful, engaging lead magnet? Here are some key engagement boosters she uses in every email:

  1. Clear title, topic, and number: subscribers can easily gauge where they are in the course and what they’ll focus on that day.
  2. Hints for what’s coming tomorrow: some emails tease tomorrow’s topic and keep subscribers excited.
  3. Homework: each email ends with a task for the day for instant implementation of tips from that day.
  4. A P.S. section with a question: below her signoff, Monica adds a P.S., asks a relevant question, and prompts subscribers to reply.

This free email course gets so much traction and subscriber involvement because it outlines a clear achievement and output (a published blog post) in exchange for a limited time commitment (following Monica’s lessons for seven days).

In short, it promises a win—and shows subscribers exactly how to get that win.

Monica then continues to deliver value and build trust with her subscribers with a weekly newsletter. In it, she teaches about topics that didn’t fit into the email course and answers questions her subscribers send her.

The journey to building a revenue stream

Blogging for Devs continued to grow as an email list after its initial launch in May 2020. However, Monica’s income from her travel blog and her software company didn’t even begin to recover, and she needed to build a revenue stream for Blogging for Devs.

Instead of taking the popular route of creating an online course, Monica wanted to explore creating a community. Her decision came from her personal experience because everything she learned about blogging, she learned over a long time from Facebook groups for bloggers.

Joining conversations, asking questions, absorbing and internalizing all the things people tell you, and putting them into practice was what brought her results over the years. She adds:

There’s no one course that makes you an expert blogger by the time you complete it. That’s not how it works. It takes years of applying what you learned, asking for feedback, incorporating it, and repeating this cycle. But there were no developer-specific communities for bloggers, and typical blogger groups wouldn’t help developers hone in on a technical audience.

Cue: Blogging for Devs Pro.

Blogging for Devs landing page
Blogging for Devs Pro landing page. Image via Blogging for Devs.

Before Blogging for Devs Pro became a paid community, Monica ran a free beta launch. She invited around 100 most engaged, interesting, friendly people on her email list to the initial version of the community; those that asked questions, applied her tips, and continued to follow her advice.

Eventually, though, Monica knew she had to start charging. “I had to justify the time I was investing creating more stuff for the community, like workshops, screencasts, and event series with well-known tech bloggers,” she explains.

Before launching to the public, she ran a private launch to the newsletter. It was by application, so subscribers who were interested had to invest some effort. Monica wanted to make sure they were the right fit for the community.

Finally, Monica announced her launch on Twitter and decided to build in public through a Twitter thread she updated almost-daily during October 2020.

The journey to building a revenue stream
The tweet that publicly launched the paid community. Image via Monica Lent on Twitter.

Monica started inviting people from her waitlist at the end of October, and launched publicly in early November.

The aftermath? Blogging for Devs Pro made around $5,000 in the first week and around $10,000 in its first six weeks. These figures also include customers that purchased a lifetime option. Monthly recurring revenue (MRR) is at $1,300.

How ConvertKit helped Monica hit huge milestones

Monica’s free 7-day email course and her newsletter are powered by ConvertKit’s email marketing tools for creators. Here’s how ConvertKit helped her hit massive milestones with Blogging for Devs.

1. List building on repeat

Monica’s landing page for her free 7-day email course has a simple design and a ConvertKit opt-in form embedded at the top:

List building on repeat
Blogging for Devs opt-in form. Image via Blogging for Devs.

When you sign up, subscribers receive an email to confirm their subscription (double opt-in). It’s laid-back and delightful:

Double opt-in email example
The double opt-in email from Blogging for Devs.

Finally, the thank you page encourages excited new subscribers to pass the message on:

List building on repeat
The sharing loop on Blogging for Devs’ thank you page.

Word of mouth is a powerful way to grow your reach, and Monica makes the most of it.

In the first two weeks from launching, Monica attracted more than 2,300 people to her landing page, and 1,048 have subscribed. That’s a 44% conversion rate!

The journey to building a revenue stream
Conversion rate from visitors to free email course subscribers in the first two weeks.

2. Automated email sequences

Monica used ConvertKit to build her email sequences and automate the delivery of her welcome email, her email course, and the pitch for joining her paid community.

Automated email sequences in ConvertKit
Email sequences that Monica set up for Blogging for Devs.

The ease of building and editing reliable automated sequences was the most important benefit Monica looked for when choosing an email marketing software. She tried most email marketing solutions, including some more robust ones made for SaaS businesses, and tested their automation features.

They all made it difficult or impossible to tweak sequences, add more emails to a sequence, or edit emails. These tools trap you inside your own email sequence and it becomes a mess. ConvertKit is different, and sequences work exactly the way you want them to.

All of Monica’s sequences run on autopilot thanks to ConvertKit’s visual automations feature. She uses automations to:

  • Run the 7-day free email challenge, from welcome email to wrap up and paid community pitch
  • Welcome new members to her community
  • Let her subscribers pause their subscription for 30 days
Automated email sequences in ConvertKit
Email automations that Blogging for Devs newsletter and free email course run on.

Let’s dig into the 7-day challenge automation. This is what it looks like:

Automated email sequences in ConvertKit
The free 7-day email course automation setup.

(Monica was also kind enough to share the entire sequence with you. Click here to copy her sequence into your own ConvertKit account!)

The sequence is made up of five building blocks:

  1. Subscribers can join through one of two landing pages.
  2. They receive a welcome email.
  3. The challenge kicks off with a total of 10 emails, each a day or two apart (seven days of teaching plus emails that introduce and close the challenge).
  4. After three days, subscribers receive an email about the paid community, and an FAQ email another two days later.

    This is where I tell them most blogs are abandoned in the first year. That’s not because the person isn’t good at it, but because this takes time, and it’s hard to know if you’re going in the right direction. It’s like you’re screaming into the void, and there’s no one to tell you you’re doing the right things. The premise of the community is that you can make progress faster when you’re not going it alone.

    Automated email sequences in ConvertKit
    The sequence that pitches an upgrade to the paid community to subscribers.
  5. After that, subscribers start receiving regular Blogging for Devs newsletters.

These sequences allow Monica to regularly serve new subscribers, bring them exceptional value, and pitch them the opportunity to join the paid community.

Because her subscribers constantly share the challenge with their Twitter followers, this becomes an automated cycle that constantly brings new eyes to Blogging for Devs.

3. Regular newsletter

Once the challenge is over, Monica continues to send a value-packed newsletter. It’s always original content about blogging, SEO, going viral, attracting an audience, and a splash of motivational moments. She says it takes her an entire day to write.

Her efforts are definitely paying off.

As much as 72.5% of new paid community members already subscribe to the newsletter.

Some people join the community right after finishing the free 7-day email course. But there’s also plenty of people who have been on the list for quite a while, and they’re thinking about it. They sometimes join months after the free course!

This makes the Blogging for Devs newsletter a significant revenue driver and a smart investment of time and energy for Monica.

How you can use ConvertKit to build a successful newsletter (and revenue stream)

Feeling inspired? Here are some final tips to take away from Monica’s experience and success.

1. Get specific about your niche

Monica could have settled for “blogging for developers” as her niche, but she took it a step further. She knows this audience well, and knows their biggest challenge: thinking they need a large Twitter following to run a successful blog.

“Blogging for developers without an existing audience” as a niche instantly addresses this audience’s main hurdle. Monica built this into her messaging on her landing page and throughout her emails.

How to define your niche

Define your niche audience by answering these questions:

  • What are your audience’s dreams and goals?
  • What pain points, both surface-level and deeper ones, are standing in their way to those dreams and goals?
  • What have they tried to solve those pain points?
  • What do they spend their time, money, and energy on?

Then, use ConvertKit to start building a list full of people that belong in this audience for free.

2. Add engagement boosters to your emails

The best way to build and deepen your knowledge of your audience is to get them to share their experience with you. Getting them to engage with your emails is the ultimate way to get there.

In your emails, add these elements to spark engagement:

  • Ask questions your subscribers will want to answer
  • Encourage subscribers to share what they learned on social media (and tag you!)
  • Tease your upcoming emails and other content to keep subscribers excited
  • Assign homework so they can feel an (almost) instant win
Add engagement boosters to your emails
An example of questions at the end of Blogging for Devs’ emails.

3. Automations are your superpower

Use ConvertKit to automate all the evergreen resources you want to send to your subscribers.

Some ideas to get your wheels turning:

  • Welcome email, or a welcome email sequence
  • Free email course
  • Onboarding emails
  • Evergreen product launch emails
  • Follow-up with customers who bought your product
  • Follow-up with customers who didn’t buy your product
  • Webinar registration and follow-up

When you automate all this, you’ll free yourself up to engage with subscribers in real-time and create new content as you get to know them better.

4. Build strong social proof

Social proof helped Monica get the word about Blogging for Devs out faster and with more impact.

Some of it came from the nudge on her thank you page to share the free email course on Twitter, and some shares happened completely organically.

Luckily, you can spark this with a simple strategy. As soon as you have even a few people on your email list, you can start sending them valuable resources you don’t share anywhere else.

After you do this a few times, you can ask them for a one-sentence review—ask them to post it on Twitter and to send you the link to the tweet.

Here are the benefits to this approach:

  • You can embed these tweets to your landing page
  • You get to engage with people that spread the word about your newsletter
  • It’s easy to automate this process, so that you only write your email once and it automatically goes out to subscribers after a number of days/weeks they’ve been subscribed
Build strong social proof
Kind words from readers of Monica’s newsletter. Image via Blogging for Devs.

Ready to launch your niche newsletter?

You have the inspiration and guidance you need. Now you need the tools. You can grab your free ConvertKit account and start growing your niche newsletter today.

Build a loyal community with newsletters

With a ConvertKit Free account you can share what you love on a consistent basis with your newsletter to connect with your followers and grow your business.

Create your free newsletter

Marijana Kay

Marijana Kay is a freelance writer for leading B2B SaaS companies. She uses data-backed, actionable content to help them hit and exceed their growth goals. In her spare time, she collects books and logs running miles.

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