Being a creator is an emotional roller coaster.
Sometimes it’s a kiddie coaster with small lulls and turns. Other times, it’s a Kingda Ka that sends you soaring into the pits of despair and the peaks of delight. Ideally, this all evens out over time into a general upward trend—but it’s hard to tell where you’re at when you’re busy holding onto your seat.
So how do you know if this latest existential crisis is a harbinger of bad news—or simply a sign you need to try a new strategy?
While the decision to start (and end) a newsletter is ultimately up to you, you don’t need to rely on a feeling to tell when it’s time to shut down a newsletter. In fact, there are some concrete metrics you can use to gauge your progress.
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Signs your newsletter is struggling to get off the ground
Chances are, you wouldn’t be reading this post if everything was hunky-dory with your newsletter or other creative projects. It’s natural to have occasional concerns, and it’s a sentiment shared by many creators (even if they don’t post about it).
Jared Newman left a decade-long career as a freelance journalist to launch a paid newsletters in 2018. He said that “even with steady growth, you will sometimes lose subscribers or hit inexplicable signup lulls.”
Try your best to avoid taking it personally and getting discouraged; the flip side is that every new subscriber feels like a triumph, validating the entire endeavor.
How do you separate emotional fiction from fact and tell if your newsletter really is struggling to survive? It helps to look at benchmarks across a few key categories.
Growth is sluggish
You shouldn’t expect to get thousands of roaring fans overnight, but there are a few benchmarks to look for when you’re new to newsletters. In the beginning, percentages are more useful indicators than raw numbers.
For example, 100 subscribers isn’t a lot, but if you grew it from 50 people a month ago, that’s a 100% increase. For this reason, Steph Smith suggests shutting down a newsletter if you aren’t seeing exponential growth in the beginning.
Here are signs your newsletter isn’t really growing:
- If your percentage growth isn’t large in the first months
- If it takes more than a few months to get the first 100 subs
- Your conversion rate from site visitor to subscriber is under 2%
- If growth is consistently declining
Another milestone you should aim to hit within the first few months is 100 subscribers. Your opt-in forms give people a place to sign up for your newsletter, though you may also be doing some one-on-one outreach to find your earliest subscribers.
What if you aren’t new to the newsletter game? Even if your rate of growth slows, you still want to see an upward trend. If growth stalls, or worse, declines consistently over at least a few months, the market may have moved on.
Your content is met with crickets
A small but engaged email list can still be lucrative. What you want to look out for is a list that doesn’t show much interest. Your subscribers may be struggling to connect with your content if:
- If your open rate is below 30%
- If your CTR has never gone above 2%
- If your unsubscribe rate is above 3%
Your click-through rate will probably vary based on what type of email you’re sending, but 2% is the average. If your content and CTA are compelling, at least some people should be clicking through to see more.
Finally, take a look at your unsubscribe rate. Some people are going to leave, and that’s okay. In fact, keeping only the most interested folks around could lead to higher open and engagement rates. But if your unsubscribe rate is consistently above the benchmark of 3%, then something you’re doing is missing the mark.
The opportunity cost is high
Having benchmarks to compare your progress helps give you an unbiased look at how your newsletter is performing. You shouldn’t completely remove the human element from your decision to shut down your newsletter, though.
After five years, do I want to continue with my newsletter experiment? Or do I want to devote more time to writing work that actually paid and had potential? Or even just have more time to drink my coffee and read a book on a Sunday morning without worrying about crafting an email?
Even if your newsletter is making money, you deserve to do work that resonates with you.
Why you shouldn’t throw in the towel too quickly
Life is rarely cut and dry, and the decision to shut down your newsletter has some nuance. While you can use the benchmarks above to assess your growth, you need to consider the context.
- Terry launched a paid newsletter, Conversion Gold, to positive reception
- Eventually, he got bored and felt pigeonholed on a single topic. He shut down Conversion Gold and launched Panopoly.
- At first, Panopoly failed to bring in the previous Conversion Gold audience. Terry reworked the value prop, about page, and pricing and began to see growth.
- He then set up Marketing Patterns, with paywall content that fueled an agency
- But he got to the point where he had no time to create free content
- Now, all his previous content is on a personal domain, and he only creates free content with plans to grow his email list
When Terry was towards the end of his newsletter adventure, he found himself feeling more anxious. “Slowly, over the course of a few months, that peculiar dread came back. Every paid newsletter creator that I’ve met has mentioned it.”
The prospect of keeping the newsletter going started to become overwhelming, with Terry noting:
It’s the low-level anxiety of selling your future time and having to deliver value in perpetuity, never knowing if you’re doing enough.
Here are scenarios that impact whether or not you should take the indicators in the previous section as a sign to move on:
- How long have you been working on the newsletter? If it’s only been a few months in your spare time, it might be too soon to tell. Growth is going to take time.
- Where are you sharing the newsletter? “Build it, and they will come” isn’t a reliable strategy for most of us. You may not be sharing your work in the right place and would benefit from trying different communities or channels.
- What’s the reception from early subscribers? Reach out to early subscribers or ask them to reply to your newsletter. What do they think about the content? Are the posts you're sharing across channels getting engagement and feedback?
How to turn your newsletter around
So your newsletter hasn’t grown as you wanted it to. That doesn’t mean it never will. It’s possible you just haven’t found the right product market fit yet.
Product market fit for your newsletter means you’ve found the right value prop, with the right audience, at the right time. When you’ve nailed product-market fit, you’ll see subscribers sticking around, exponential organic growth, and excitement among your community.
And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? The most successful newsletters put the audience at the heart of every decision, and create content with their dreams and challenges in mind. You’re a creator, not a mind reader, so it’ll take some time to learn about your audience and how you can help them.
If you haven’t found your newsletter sweet spot just yet, don’t sweat it. Even large newsletters have to assess their progress and make changes every now and then.
You need to give somebody something unique, something that they might not get on the site. You have to give people a reason to subscribe to your email. We weren’t doing any of these things.
So they made some changes. They surveyed readers about what type of content they wanted, changed their core newsletter frequency, and started adding more personality into the commentary.
If you’re hungry for change and want to try and turn your project around, here’s what we recommend. Just keep in mind that the benchmarks we set are averages, and there’s no one “right” path to success. Always consider your own audience and newsletter to set up goals that work for you.
If your growth is slow
You need to get people on your email list before you can start providing value and engaging with them, so growth is a worthy initiative.
Your goal: grow your email list by 50% in the next three months
What to try:
- Add a newsletter signup to your home page, and link it in your socials
- Revamp your landing page
- Create a lead magnet to entice people onto your list
- Go all-in on your best acquisition channel, or try a few new channels or niches if you haven’t found the right spot
- Make sure your branding creates exclusivity and has a clear benefit to subscribing
If your engagement is lacking
An active and engaged community of subscribers leads to fulfilling conversations and sales made. Luckily, there are plenty of engagement levers you can pull to see what works.
Your goal: Reach an average open rate of at least 30% and a click rate of at least 2% in the next three months
What to try:
- Clean your email list to find your most engaged subscribers, and then learn from them
- A/B test subject lines to find a style that resonates
- Try new CTAs in your email
- Segment your subscribers to send the most relevant content
- Use short paragraphs and headers to make content more skimmable
- Experiment with when you send your newsletter
- Make sure your preview text is enticing
If the newsletter isn’t paying off
Running a newsletter can be fun, but you likely want to see at least some payoff for your efforts. No matter how engaged your list is, revenue is a critical final piece of the puzzle for many creators if they’re going to continue putting in the work.
Your goal: Increase conversion rates to 10% in the six months
What to try:
- Ask your audience what type of content or resources would help them and what challenges they’re facing now
- Consider what type of product or project you’d like to sell
- Pre-sell ebooks and products to test interest before committing a lot of time
- Create a paid newsletter to leverage your writing
Reinvigorate your newsletter with ConvertKit
If all the signs (or your gut instinct) say that your current project isn’t going to get off the ground, there’s no shame in moving on. You can always try something else, whether it be a new niche or product altogether. When you’re ready to start fresh, you can start with a clean slate with any new tools you’ve been eyeing.
Of course, upgrading your tools can help you revitalize projects, too. ConvertKit helps you easily create landing pages and forms to grow your email list, tap into the ConvertKit Community for advice, and sell products and subscriptions.
If you’re ready to start reaching more fans with your writing, sign up for a free ConvertKit account today.