The secret to faster newsletter growth? It’s already in your list

Newsletters Build Your Audience
9 min read
In this Article

You’re doing everything you know to grow your email list and make your business more profitable.

And it’s working! But it’s beginning to feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to put in more work to gain subscribers.

The problem is there’s only one of you. You can advocate all you want for your content, but your reach might be limited. That is, unless you had a group of people recruiting for you. And luckily for you, you already have an audience that knows and enjoys your work. Now, you’ve just gotta ask for help.

Setting up a newsletter referral program multiplies the impact of your work to gain subscribers and make more sales.

Let us show you how.

What is a newsletter referral program?

newsletter referral program

A newsletter referral program is a system to incentivize subscribers to share your newsletter with their network.

Newsletter creators set up prizes that subscribers can earn depending on how many people they refer to the newsletter. For example, if one of your subscriber’s shares their referral link and three friends sign up, you send them a copy of your new ebook.

(ConvertKit creators can now use the newsletter referral app SparkLoop to set up a referral program quickly, but more on that later.)

Newsletter referral programs take a little time to strategize and set up, but the potential for growth is huge. Here’s what you stand to gain from adding a referral program to your newsletter:

  • Increase your subscriber countManuel Frigerio, co-founder of SparkLoop, shared that one creator gained 1,100 subscribers thanks to referrals. He also noted that newsletters grow, on average, 35% faster when creators use SparkLoop. Since you’ve already taken the time to build relationships with your subscribers, they’re more likely to share your work and convince friends to join.
  • Find more people in your niche – Your subscribers likely know people like them, and offering an incentive to share your newsletter with like-minded friends helps you grow within a niche. SparkLoop has tracked at least one referral from every country on Earth, proving that you can reach a global audience when you give subscribers a way to help.
  • Increase engagement with content – Using content as an incentive for referring your newsletter is a cost-effective way to grow your list and drive traffic to your work. You can keep engagement high on evergreen content by using it as a reward or build anticipation by offering exclusive or early access to new ebooks, courses, or resources.
  • Lower your cost of acquisitionLouis Nicholls, co-founder of SparkLoop, notes that newsletter referrals cost an average of $0.17 per subscriber versus $1-$3 from other acquisition channels. The combination of affordable incentives (like existing content) and an average referral conversion rate of 32% give this strategy its advantage.
  • Build anticipation for new content – Getting ready for a big launch? You can offer early access to new content for referring a few friends. The allure of exclusive access paired with the ease of sharing a newsletter referral code makes this strategy an enticing offer for subscribers.
  • Boost sponsorship and co-marketing campaigns – Newsletter referral programs can also benefit your co-marketing or promotional partners. Sponsored giveaways give your program a fresh reward while increasing exposure for the company on a growing email list.

Four referral programs to inspire your newsletter

Newsletter referral programs aren’t just good in theory—they’re working for creators day in and day out. We’ve rounded up examples of how ConvertKit creators have leveraged referrals to grow their newsletter to inspire your program.

1 – Brennan Dunn of Create & Sell

Brennan Dunn uses his newsletter, Create & Sell, to teach creators how to build and sell to an audience. And he uses ConvertKit + SparkLoop to accelerate newsletter growth. Brennan used the ConvertKit integration to set up his referral program in a few minutes and has since boosted list growth by 9.9%.

newsletter referral program
Tiered referral incentives give subscribers something to work towards. Image via Brennan Dunn.

Brennan uses tiered incentives so that subscribers of all levels of engagement have something to work towards. An automatic referral progress bar at the bottom of every newsletter gamifies the process and lets subscribers review what’s up for grabs.

2 – Sahil Bloom and Greg Isenberg of The Room Where It Happens

Newsletter referral programs usually help creators grow an existing business. But Sahil Bloom and Greg Isenberg used one to launch a new project. In conjunction with Pen Name Consulting, the two used a newsletter to promote their new podcast, The Room Where it Happens.

newsletter referral program
Referral introduction emails need to describe the incentive and what subscribers need to do. Image via The Room Where It Happens.

The newsletter gained 500 referred subscribers in just four days thanks to the chance to gain access to an exclusive community. The email list has 2,500 subscribers and shows no signs of slowing down.

3 – Jerrod Morris of Assembly Call

Jerrod Morris of Assembly Call is successfully using a newsletter referral program to grow faster than he was before. A little over half of all his new subscribers come from referrals, which means his newsletter has grown 2X since implementing the strategy.

newsletter referral program
A combination of digital access and physical swag help Assembly Call grow their list. Image via Assembly Call.

Since Assembly Call is an online community for Indiana University basketball fans, it makes sense that they offer some sporty gear as referral incentives. Not every reward is physical, however. The referral CTA in each email makes sharing easy by automatically incorporating each subscriber's unique share code into links to social sites.

4 – James Clear of The 3-2-1 Newsletter

James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits and creator of The 3-2-1 Newsletter, uses ConvertKit and SparkLoop to expand his reach. He uses a progress bar at the bottom of each newsletter to let subscribers track their progress alongside a description of the next incentive.

newsletter referral program
James Clear describes the upcoming incentive in-depth to keep people focused on what’s next. Image via James Clear.

There’s something special about this seemingly standard referral program. Louis from SparkLoop shared on Nathan Barry’s podcast that James has a secret monthly newsletter only available after making three referrals.

What your newsletter referral program needs to succeed

If you want to set up a newsletter referral program there are a few decisions you need to make. Here are the five elements you need to get started.

1. A newsletter with measurable subscriber value. No rule says you can’t set up a referral program for a brand new email list, but you may not see the growth you expect. Louis from SparkLoop says that a list with a few hundred subscribers can benefit from a referral program if you sell courses. If you monetize your newsletter with sponsorships, it makes more sense to wait until you have 1,000+ subscribers.

If you’re curious what kind of impact a referral program could have on your list, check out the SparkLoop growth calculator.

2. A strategy to tell subscribers about the program. Even the best-designed referral program could fall flat without promotion. To start, you’ll need an automated message to introduce the referral program a week after someone joins your email list. It’s also helpful to have a call to action (CTA) at the bottom of every newsletter. It should be obvious to people what they need to share, to who, and why they should care.

3. An incentive (or set of incentives). The prize you hand out for referring people needs to be affordable but worthwhile. Exclusive content, access to ebooks, private communities, Q&A webinars, and swag are all possible incentives. The perfect incentive is one you can easily offer that your subscribers also find valuable. If you're short on ideas, check out SparkLoop’s rewards library for inspiration.

4. A way to track referrals. If all goes to plan, your referral program will bring in so many new subscribers that you can’t keep them straight. An automatic referral program like SparkLoop paired with email automation means you don’t have to manually track who referred who and what rewards are earned.

5. A way to deliver incentives. The final step you need to automate is your incentive delivery. You can’t deliver swag instantaneously (even Bezos can’t do that). Still, you can set up triggers to automatically send an email with access to digital products once subscribers hit a certain number of referrals. This step is a breeze when using an integrated tool like ConvertKit Commerce to manage your digital products and email marketing.

Create your referral program with ConvertKit Creator Pro and SparkLoop

If you want to increase your subscriber count and engagement, setting up a newsletter referral program could be a great next move. To get started, you need a ConvertKit Creator Pro account (SparkLoop is built-in for free).

After that, you need to set up a SparkLoop onboarding call, where the team will walk you through integration and setting up the program to meet your goals. After creating rewards from within your SparkLoop account, your ConvertKit account will automatically update with custom fields to use in emails.

For example, you can use the custom field {{subscriber.rh_reflink}} to include each subscriber’s unique sharing code in every edition of your newsletter. Coding the custom fields into your ConvertKit templates and automated emails lets the referral program work on autopilot to grow your list while you work on other tasks.

If you want to see the setup process in action, check out the walkthrough below.

Ready to use a newsletter referral program to grow your list faster? Start your 14-day ConvertKit Creator Pro trial today.

Take the next step on your creator journey

Enter your email to get the free I Am A Creator printable pack, featuring inspiring digital wallpapers for your desktop and phone and a printable journal sheet to help you get started or unstuck on your creative dreams. Your story could be next. And it’s what you do next that makes all the difference.

Steph Knapp

Steph Knapp is a freelance B2B + SaaS content marketer that loves educating and empowering curious humans. When she's not typing away, you'll find her volunteering at the animal shelter and obsessing over a new hobby every week. She shares marketing, freelance, and cat content on Twitter @ hellostephknapp.

The future belongs to creators

ConvertKit helps creators like you take their projects from idea to reality. It's never been easier to build an audience and grow a business. And you can do it all for free.

Launch your next project