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Gillian Knows Best
Hello! Who are you and what newsletter did you start?
Salve! I’m Gillian, an American living in Rome. My newsletter is Gillian Knows Best. I write about wonderful things to see and do and eat, mostly in Rome but I also spend a lot of time in Venice so I write about that too.
I occasionally throw in another Italian city like Naples or Florence and one of my first paid newsletters was a guide to Paris.
My aim is to share practical and personal advice for the traveler and the dreamer.
How did you launch it and what did you do to get the first 100 subscribers?
I had a blog that had been neglected since the world stopped traveling. I registered my Substack in November 2021, but it took me another couple of months to finally launch it into the world.
I have a dedicated social media following who trusted me and followed me over to Substack. A few mentions from some superstar pals also helped.
What does your process for creating the content look like?
The city of Rome is endlessly inspiring. I go on long walks every day and am always taking photographs and that is usually where my post ideas come from. I type quick thoughts in my Notes app and I have a messy Pages document on my laptop where I also have a rough content calendar and outline for posts in progress. Sometimes works the other way around and then I have to go find the place and take the pictures that go with my words.
I post three times a month; One free guide, one paid guide with an annotated Google map, and a paid monthly Q & A post where I recommend a museum and 5 substacks based around a theme and I talk about non-Italian things that I am reading and watching.
What tools are you using to create, send, and grow the newsletter?
My primary tool is my phone. My photographs are usually the genesis of an idea. I just ordered the newest iPhone and can’t wait for the camera upgrade. I edit images in the Apple photo app.
I can always use an editor. The Grammarly browser extension is the next best thing.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain subscribers?
I hope the answer to this question is that I produce quality content. I work hard to research each post and give people lots of instructive information so that they can spend less time googling and more time enjoying their trip.
I love creating a community so one thing I do is comment on most of the substacks I subscribe to. Since I really all kinds of content this has expanded my audience beyond people who are already looking for Italy content.
How are you doing today and what are your plans for the future?
My growth is slow but mostly steady. I did see a dip in paid subscribers at the end of August when people were finished with their summer travel plans. I expect that to pick back up again in mid-winter.
I reached my first big goal of more than 100 paid subscribers earlier in the summer.
Now I am aiming for 5,000 subscribers by my one-year mark. That’s probably a stretch, but isn’t that what goals are for?
I do personalized itinerary planning and I write guides for other outlets. I would like to do more of both of these things. Eventually, my plan is to create short 4 or 5 days in-person experiences in Rome and Venice for and with my readers.
What’s one piece of advice you’d like to share with someone who wants to get started or is just starting out?
The most cliche advice ever. Just do it! I was hesitant to start because I knew that once I did I had to keep going. Once I started writing and posting and the readers came it got (a little) easier. Knowing that I have paid subscribers who I promised something is very motivating.
Where can we go to learn more?
You can subscribe to my newsletter here:
I post almost every day on Instagram. There is usually a detailed story of where I walked or what museum or church or cafe I visited that day. My grid posts can be anything from a fleeting moment or a comprehensive guide.
On Twitter, I am less active and more varied. It is still mostly Italy/Rome/Venice focused but there are some politics and Dolly Parton and jokes in my feed too.