Growing a Paid Newsletter: From Zero to $1,300 a Month


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danielle-desir

This week, we’re diving into a really cool business model that scales and has really low overhead: paid newsletters.

Danielle Desir-Corbett started the Grants For Creators newsletter earlier this year and has already built it up to around $1,300 a month in recurring revenue.

Danielle also hosts The Thought Card Podcast, which is all about affordable, luxury travel and personal finance.

Tune in to The Side Hustle Show interview to hear how:

  • Danielle came up with her newsletter idea
  • she found her first subscribers
  • she sold the premium version of her newsletter

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What Inspired You to Start Your Newsletter?

Prior to starting her newsletter, Danielle worked nine-to-five as a grant administrator at a leading medical school, helping physicians and researchers find and apply for grants.

Although she wasn’t a grant writer herself, she helped with the project management aspects of pulling grant applications together.

But she never really thought about winning grants until she won four in 2020. This made her realize that there was funding out there to help launch and grow her podcast.

At the time, Danielle had also been sharing grant opportunities with her friends who had already won grants as creators.

She wondered if she could do the same for other creators. And that’s where the idea for Grants For Creators came around.

Could you do the same for a hobby you care about, like gardening or weight loss?

How Do Grants Work?

Grants are financial rewards given by entities (e.g., governments and nonprofit organizations) to individuals or companies to facilitate goals and incentivize performance.

They are essentially gifts that, under most conditions, don’t have to be paid back. Unlike loans, grants also don’t earn interest. But they’re not exactly “free money,” as Danielle explains.

Grants are highly competitive, so they typically come with stringent requirements in terms of how recipients can use the funds.

For example, recipients typically can’t use grants for advertising or rely on them financially the way you would a salary.

Grants also have strings attached to them in terms of what the grantor is looking for. Grantors typically look for something very specific, i.e., a specific type of project, person, or program.

How Do You Find Grants?

One way Danielle finds grants is by scrolling through hashtags on social media.

Oftentimes, funding organizations get the word out about their grants by posting on platforms like Twitter with hashtags like #grantopportunity.

Danielle finds this to be a much more efficient way to find grants than simply searching for them on Google, which she says has a lot of potholes.

For example, some grants still show up on the results page despite already being expired.

Grants that show up on Google sometimes have location requirements as well. But to figure that out, you’d have to read through the entire application.

Another way that Danielle finds really helpful when it comes to finding grants is joining newsletters of funding organizations.

This allows her to be the first to know when new applications come out.

She actually has a folder in her inbox solely for grants and opportunities, and all newsletters pertaining to those get filed there. She checks that folder once a week.

Both of these strategies allow Danielle to find grants without having to do time-consuming research.

Why Substack?

Danielle said she initially struggled with how she was going to launch her newsletter.

If she were to do it on a website like WordPress, she would have had to spend several weeks, if not months putting everything together.

She looked for other options, eventually settling on Substack.

Substack allows writers to send email newsletters directly to their subscribers and possibly even monetize their work by putting it behind a paywall.

It also has great options in terms of offering sales.

For example, writers can offer group subscriptions to large organizations that want to purchase a newsletter for their members.

Substack also allows writers to offer promos, like half-off subscription sales.

Plus, Substack has an interesting recommendation feature that allows users to recommend a newsletter. The recommended newsletter then shows up on their profile for others to see.

Danielle said some of her subscribers found her through that feature.

“I think Substack does a really incredible job with just creating a network of newsletters that all help each other to get discovered and found.”

How Did You Get Your First Subscribers?

Danielle used a handful of strategies to get people to sign up for her newsletter.

First, she marketed her newsletter on Twitter, where she had a diverse following because of her travel and personal finance podcast.

She tweeted:

So I just did a scary thing, I launched a new project called ‘Grants for Creators’ where I’m sharing funding opportunities to bloggers, podcasters, writers, authors, influencers, and YouTubers every other Monday. Would love for you to join me.

Everyone knows what it feels like to start something new, Danielle said, so she leaned into that vulnerability.

She took that further by doing a series of tweets about the power of grants, her experience with grants, and how grants can benefit creators who are also small business owners.

She also found word-of-mouth marketing to be extremely helpful. She texted friends who were creators about her newsletter and asked them to share it with other creators.

Newsletter mentions have been huge for her as well. Danielle knew creators who had their own newsletters and who would add a link to her newsletter in their emails.

“I never asked them to do it for me. It was just organic, and it was so kind of them,” she said.

Some of the newsletters Danielle was subscribed to also asked for submissions. She took advantage of those and submitted her newsletter for consideration.

How Did You Get Grants For Creators off the Ground?

Danielle didn’t have an existing audience who were interested in grants, so she didn’t want to make a lot of promises in terms of how often she was going to put out content.

She also didn’t want to bite off more than she could chew, knowing that she eventually wanted to put the newsletter behind a paywall.

Initially, she decided to do a bi-weekly newsletter, believing that this release schedule would give her enough time to find and collect funding opportunities.

Then came the question of when she was going to activate the paywall.

She knew the newsletter was going to be a valuable service because it would take her six to eight hours of research a week.

But putting up a paywall too early would be a detriment. “If it’s 100% paid and this is a new offer, no one will really kind of see the value in it,” she explained.

So, she started off with free newsletters to showcase the value add. After the first two or three free ones, she decided to do a 20/80 split, meaning 20% of her newsletter would be free.

The good thing about this model is it leads subscribers in, Danielle explains.

So, subscribers might have free access to five or seven grant opportunities. But if the newsletter promised a total of 30, they might get curious enough to pay to access the rest.

“I’m helping people get some quick wins but also attracting people to consider joining as a paid subscriber.”

How Much Do You Charge?

Danielle planned to monetize her newsletter from the get-go, and she made sure to do it as soon as possible.

She charges $5 a month or $60 a year. She believes this is a good deal because subscribers could access funding opportunities worth thousands of dollars for a pretty low price.

“It’s easier to say yes to [$5 a month] because of the upside of them making so much from the grant winnings,” she said.

Danielle now has over 1,900 total subscribers, almost 300 of whom are paying. She now makes around $1,300 MRR.

A sizable chunk of her paid subscribers are on the $5/month plan, but she also has subscribers who opted for the annual plan so they don’t have to worry about monthly payments.

And while nearly 300 paid subscribers might not seem like a lot, Danielle chooses to focus on the positive changes she’s making through her newsletter.

“I want to capture everyone, but I’m just so happy that I can continue to do this good project and do this good work and feel supported as I am continuing to put this content out there.”

How Do You Convince Free Subscribers to Upgrade?

Danielle said she didn’t get any pushback from subscribers who initially signed up for her newsletter when it was still 100% free.

And that’s because of how she presented it. Specifically, she made sure to emphasize that the money would help her support her family.

When she eventually hired two team members to help with research, she told subscribers that their support would help her hire another researcher so she could find even more grants.

Danielle was also careful to refer to her newsletter as a project because she had a vision to see more creators get funding, and support from subscribers would help see that vision come true.

“I think people really resonated with that,” she said.

Currently, Danielle is trending above the 10-15% conversion rate, so her newsletter is doing pretty well.

But less than 30% of her audience is bringing in her $1,300 MRR, so she’s hoping to encourage more of her subscribers to get off the fence and upgrade to the paid level.

To that end, Danielle does the following:

  • Make “playlists” – Playlists are essentially curated lists of grants that are marketed to a particular type of creator. So, for example, Danielle would have a playlist for podcasters, a playlist for journalists, and a playlist for photographers. Currently, she has around seven playlists.
  • Host live events – Danielle hosts live events to make the process of applying for grants feel less isolating for creators. Last year, she held a co-working session where creators could work on their applications together. The session was available for paid subscribers only, so it was a great way to encourage subscribers to upgrade.
  • Hold “AMA” sessions – Danielle also holds Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions where she opens the floor to any questions from creators about grants and the process of applying for grants. The AMA sessions themselves are free, but only paid subscribers can access the replays.

What Would You Do Differently if You Had to Start Over?

Danielle is now a year deep into her newsletter, and her subscriber count is steadily climbing up toward the 2,000-mark.

But if there’s anything she would’ve done differently to accelerate things in the beginning, she says she would’ve consistently shared content on TikTok.

When she first started her newsletter, she told subscribers that she was on TikTok. Some of them came over to the platform, helping to grow her audience there. But she dropped the ball.

Danielle is now thinking of getting back on the platform given its explosive viral potential now that her newsletter is off the ground.

What’s Next for You?

Danielle is aiming to hit the 2,000-mark on her total subscriber count over the next 12 months. She’s hoping to get 300 paid subscribers as well.

Danielle is also planning to make more grant playlists, hoping that they will help establish her further as a resource for creators.

She’s also excited about the possibilities that tech could open up for her when it comes to searching for grants and other funding opportunities for creators.

Danielle’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation

Leverage your skills. Leverage your resources. Leverage your interest.

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Links and Resources

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2 thoughts on “Growing a Paid Newsletter: From Zero to $1,300 a Month”

  1. Great episode, Danielle is amazing! I have been thinking of starting a newsletter, but could not nail down the value/logistics of a subscription model (What value could it provide that would be worth a paid subscription). This particular episode has been super helpful – so many excellent ideas. Thank you!

    Reply

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