Give & Take
Friday’s my birthday and I’m excited to celebrate. I figured I’d start early with this newsletter. Inspired by my writer pal, who wished her American readers a happy “Thanksgiving-and-taking” last week for their turkey-fueled holiday south of the (Canadian) border, I realized my forthcoming 34th birthday was the perfect occasion to ask something of readers of my own.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve shared some big changes I’ve made on the career front—namely, making the transition from self-employed to employed—and how I plan to continue writing my newsletter, albeit with a slightly different focus (since I won’t be writing about solopreneurship as much).
But given I’m in this reflective state, I’ve decided to heed my friend (and often unofficial coach)’s advice on serving my readers. Michael is a serial entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience in startups. He’s highly analytical and I can always count on him to get me to dig deeper into feedback. For instance, in our most recent chat, I was excited to share that several people have told me they’ve been reading my newsletter religiously because “it’s relatable.”
But then Michael hit me with what now seems like an obvious follow-up question: “How is it relatable?” And since then I’ve been wishing I’d had the presence of mind to ask. I’m often so elated when someone unexpectedly says “By the way, I love your newsletter,” that I don’t even think to prompt them further. But note to self: I could. As for today, I’m hoping you’ll indulge me with an early birthday present in that regard.
Please Share Your Feedback on My Newsletter
Your feedback would be super valuable to me. So here’s my ask. Please reply to this email specifying why you read my newsletter. If you could take even just two minutes to jot down some quick thoughts, you’d be helping me out tremendously. Don’t overthink it, just go with your first instincts. My goal is to capture qualitative feedback that I can cluster into buckets.
And (this is my inner teacher coming forth), if you’re truly stumped on how to explain why you read my newsletter, consider things like what you find unique about it, what you would like to see more or less of, what you typically think or feel after reading it, etc. Again, don’t overthink it. Just do me a favour and hit ‘reply’ with a few words or sentences (no need for formalities).
I’ll refrain from outright begging since I’m turning thirty-four and not four. But I’d be as ecstatic as a four-year-old on their birthday (well, almost) if you would kindly indulge me with this gift.
Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I appreciate you.
3 Cool & Inspiring Things I Want to Share (About My Newsletter)
On the topic of celebrations, here are three cool and interesting updates on my newsletter.
1. My Worldwide Reach
Some fascinating information I discovered on Substack last week is you can see where your subscribers are based plotted on a map. Here’s what mine looks like:
I wasn't surprised by four of my top five countries because I've lived in three (Canada, the UK, and Australia) and I’ve worked and studied alongside a lot of Americans. But I was mindblown to see I have 84 subscribers in India—a place I would love to visit but have yet to go.
It was a similar surprise to hover over other locations and learn how many subscribers I had there. For example: 22 in Nigeria, 5 in Vietnam, 3 in Saudi Arabia, and so on. The breakdown is really cool to see—especially when I discover my words have reached places where I have yet to set foot. Wild, right?
And with Substack being an American company, I can see a breakdown of my US readers by state:
Again, I'm not surprised by my top three locations since (even though I've only visited the top two states) most of the Americans I’ve worked and studied alongside have been based across all three. Washington and Massachusetts are more of a surprise.
In any case, it's cool to see this information and think about the people receiving my newsletter far and wide. Writing is largely a solitary act and when I don't get engagement in the form of likes, comments, or replies to a post, I tend to forget other people are reading it and hell, enjoying it. This is a cool reminder that more people are interested in my writing than I give myself credit for. I hope this feature sparks a similar realization in you.
Also, now that I have this information, I’ve been wondering what I can do with it. I figure when I travel to places, I can organize local meet-ups for anyone interested. But other than that, any ideas on how to make the most of these insights?
2. A Shoutout From a Mentor
About a month ago, I was delighted to wake up to my first Substack Writers Shoutout fromalongside a bunch of other people I respect:
I’ve admired Wes’ work tremendously for nearly three years now since I first stumbled across her content on Twitter. And working with her company, Maven, was one of my top freelance experiences largely because of her brilliance in shaping the course accelerator I got to be a part of.
So waking up to Wes’ endorsement of my writing and work was quite an honour. It’s a milestone I’ll remember in its own right. At the time, I had less than 1,000 subscribers and it reaffirmed that I was in alignment with my goal to prioritize quality over quantity.
3. Crossing 1,000 Subscribers
I hit another newsletter milestone a couple of weeks later. I finally crossed 1,000 subscribers after a whopping 107 weeks of publishing. It felt pretty anticlimactic, to be honest. I learned within the first few weeks of launching my newsletter that I could either embrace slow growth or get discouraged by it.
I chose the former and focused my energy on improving my writing week by week. And I realized what I value most are the thoughtful responses I get and the wonderful people I've met. That’s what’s kept me going, not the prospect of hitting a specific number (as advantageous as that would be).
But I still made the effort to share this milestone on LinkedIn and Twitter because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my creator and solopreneur journeys, it’s this: you have to be your own biggest fan. That means celebrating every milestone as a win. This is important in paving a road to success because whenever you feel your motivation dipping, you have a clear route to look back on and smile. So make sure you’re stacking up those wins.
Here’s an overview of my subscriber growth from 0 to 1,000 (from October 2021 to November 2023):
When I shared this chart on Substack Notes a few weeks ago, my writer friend and readerresponded with a great question. Here’s a summary of our exchange:
Chris: Congratulations, Alexandra! It looks like you really grew your subscribers between August 2022 and February 2023. What changed during that time?
Me: Yes! I think it was Twitter. I used to get more impressions and engagement, and thus I was more motivated to post content there. But I feel like the links are heavily buried now and I don’t post much other than my weekly links.
Chris: I had the same experience on Twitter. There was a definite downturn in engagement (we both know when, haha) which demotivated me to post there. And it seems posting links to Substack is almost pointless as the algo actively punishes you for it.
Note: The change in Twitter engagement that Chris and I are referring to is in reference to Elon Musk rolling out changes to the platform.
I often get asked for advice on growing subscribers but ironically, I’m still looking for that formula myself. Aside from sharing links to my weekly posts on LinkedIn and Twitter, I haven’t thought too much about distribution. Because as I mentioned earlier, my biggest priority has been improving my writing. But now that my writing has markedly improved, I have more time and energy to tackle distribution. That’s my top goal for my newsletter in 2024—so feel free to hit me with any tips you have.
Pledge Your Support
If you consider yourself a dedicated reader and find value or enjoyment in what I share, and you’re in a position to make a pledge, I’d be grateful if you would do so. You can use the button below to purchase a monthly or annual subscription:
I haven’t started gating any of my content for paid subscribers yet so for the time being, pledges are mainly a gesture of encouragement, as well as a way for me to validate my target audience. Thank you in advance for any pledge you make.
For the longest time, I thought the concept of asking readers to pledge their support seemed tasteless and unwarranted in my case. Who was I, just starting out, to ask for something in return? But as I’ve watched my peers gain the confidence to assert their worth and set up pledge systems of their own, I’ve realized there’s no reason I can’t do the same. And it feels really good to celebrate the progress I’ve made over the past two years from “amateur writer nervously publishing mediocre content” to “more experienced writer confidently publishing valuable content.” So if there’s one thing you take from this, I hope it’s to assert your worth in whatever you pursue.
Thanks for reading and have a wonder-full week,
P.S. I’ve always loved that December 1st is simultaneously my special day and the official kickoff for the countdown to Christmas. I’m heavily biased but it’s a magical month. (Lucky for me, it’s beginning to look (a bit) like Christmas in Montreal.)
💛 If you want to help me promote my newsletter, share this one with friends.
☕️ If you want to grab tea or coffee in Montreal, let me know when you’re in town.