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How John Bardos grew a newsletter of curated links to 2100 subscribers
John Bardos publishes the amazing Idea Economy newsletter.
In this interview, he’s sharing why he started it, the tools he’s using, and how he managed to grow it to more than 2000 subscribers.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea for the newsletter?
My wife and I owned an English school and online learning platform in Japan for about 10 years. In 2010, we decided to sell everything and live a nomadic travel lifestyle.
Prior to covid, my family rotated through Japan, Canada, Thailand, and Hungary. We are looking forward to start traveling again this winter.
For work, I published a digital nomad blog for many years, did marketing consulting, owned a marketing agency, and now primarily sell online courses in special promotions.
I first started curating business links over 20 years ago. This was before blogs and newsletters so I used a customized discussion forum script to organize the links by categories. I didn’t really get much traction so I gave up after a year or so.
I tried again in 2009 under IdeaEconomy.net, but I gave up again shortly after.
I started this current version of the newsletter in 2020.
I always loved the art of business so I really enjoy keeping up with startup and marketing content. I believe that we can all become better entrepreneurs by studying what works for others.
That’s the fundamental premise of IdeaEconomy. “Good ideas make better entrepreneurs.”
How did you launch it and what did you do to get the first 100 subscribers?
I didn’t do a big launch, I just started publishing. In hindsight, it wasn’t a great idea, but that’s what I did. It was daily at first, but I shifted to weekly after about a month or so.
My first 50 or so subscribers all came from direct outreach. I emailed friends and acquaintances and asked them to signup and provide feedback.
I posted most of the links I curated in my newsletter on Twitter as well. This was the main source of the next 50 subscribers.
It took about 10 weeks to get my first 100 subscribers.
What does your process for creating the content look like?
I subscribe to every business, startup, marketing, and creator economy newsletter and podcast that looks interesting. I don’t know the exact number, but it must be more than 200 sources of content now.
Throughout the week I save all the interesting content I find specifically related to creators and solopreneurs. Usually, that is about 25 links. Then I cull that down to about 10 main links for the newsletter each week.
What tools are you using to create, send, and grow the newsletter?
I host my own email with MailWizz software using AWS. I have many email lists and tens of thousands of subscribers over all the projects I’m working on so hosting my own email server saves me more than $250 per month.
My main tool for curating is elink.io. This allows me to save links, adjust the order, automatically get images, and creates the html for the newsletter. It’s not perfect, but it definitely saves time over manually editing html.
Since the launch, what has worked to attract and retain subscribers?
The most effective way of getting new subscribers has been through writing original articles and promoting them widely. I’ve written about 6 long-form articles so far that have generated about a third of my subscribers.
It’s very difficult to get shares or mentions from a newsletter of curated links. Original content gets shared, generates search engine traffic, and encourages backlinks from other sites.
I publish new articles on my website, Medium, and IndieHackers. Then I reach out to all the relevant newsletters I know to ask them to share it. I usually get 6 to 8 different newsletters sharing my content from this outreach. The backlinks will also help with SEO over time.
I’ve also spent over $1500 in paid newsletter ads to get about 500 new subscribers. I’m happy spending about $3 to acquire a customer.
The next best source of new subscribers is cross-promotions with other newsletters. I estimate I’ve gotten over 400 subscribers by getting promoted in other newsletters.
How are you doing today and what are your plans for the future?
I’ve just crossed 2100 subscribers and have started to sell my first sponsored ads. I plan to start interviews with content creators in the near future as well.
I really enjoy curating the content for my newsletter each week so I’m happy with the process and progress of the newsletter so far.
As long as I continue to learn and connect with interesting people online, I’ll keep publishing the newsletter.
What’s one piece of advice you’d like to share with someone who wants to get started or is just starting out?
If I were starting today, I think I would launch several side projects or lead magnets first to build a base of subscribers. Publishing to almost no one in the early days can be demotivating.
If you really love creating, treat it like a business and invest the time and money to do it right. That’s the cost of entry now.
Where can we go to learn more?
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