Substack Review: What To Keep In Mind With Email Newsletters

Let’s dissect the buzz.



So You Want To Start A Paid Subscription Newsletter

And you keep hearing about Substack left and right. Trust me, I get it – I’m hearing a lot about it too.

It seems like everywhere I go (virtually) these days, all I hear is people saying email newsletters are the hot new thing – especially paid newsletters.

“Join my Substack newsletter!”

Substack is where the magic happens.”

“That one history professor is making a million dollars a year on Substack, which feels like a fit for me, so I’ve decided I’m going to do the same.”

“Substack, Substack, Substack!” 

I feel like I’m Jan in an episode of The Brady Bunch, except instead of long, gorgeous blonde hair I’m taming my cowlick with a quart of pomade every morning.


For many people, Substack has turned them on to the idea that publishing content via email is cool – even though email marketing and both paid and free newsletters are well over 20 years old.

From that perspective, I suppose I’m grateful for Substack: The platform proposes that pared-down design and well-written content are all you need to bring your dreams to fruition.

➡️ Boston College professor Heather Cox Richardson writes about the intersection of history and politics to hundreds of thousands of readers via Substack;

➡️ Food and beverage writer Alicia Kennedy accidentally enabled the paid newsletter button on Substack last year and soon had 400 paying readers according to an interview with Digiday; and

➡️ An article from Axios noted that Substack has over 250,000 paying subscribers. The top ten earners combined make over $10 million annually.

If you want to get paid to create exclusive content and make money from a newsletter platform, you have many options. Let’s break down the pros and cons of Substack newsletters.

What To Keep In Mind About Substack

#1: Substack Has No Traffic








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#2: Substack Has No Personalization Tag Features

Yes, this is a little more detailed. But you do detailed things all the time: You tie your shoes, you drive a car or book a flight, and you can cook a mean fettucine alfredo. Resist the urge to feel overwhelmed and give up. Details like these are what make email marketing and newsletters so powerful.


Substack doesn’t allow you to take any information other than email address. Whatever you write has to go to everyone and look the same way, whether it’s the first newsletter someone has ever received or the 100th newsletter they’ve read from you.

If you’re going to take this much time to write and send email newsletters, let’s use a tool that will give you flexibility down the line. 📈

#3: Substack Has No Automations



Example: My automated superhuman dog email

I had a newsletter I sent months ago asking for advice about our dog. His name is Hefty, and apparently he has a not-so-hidden talent: He can jump over a 7-foot fence.



This newsletter was engaging content got a terrific response. It was fun and relatable, and it gave subscribers permission to turn the tables and offer me advice, which builds rapport.


So I put this email into an automation, and now every Friday some new-ish readers on my list who’ve never seen it before are sent this newsletter.






#4: Substack Will Probably Become a SaaS Soon Anyway







How To Set Up A Paid Newsletter In 10 Minutes

Step 1: Choose An Email Service Provider

I’m an ActiveCampaign stan myself because the interface is visually appealing, but if you want an option that is free to start with, ConvertKit and Mailchimp both do the job.


Step 2: Set Up A PayPal Business Account




On the completion screen, the default was a website embed tab. but there was also an “email tab”, which gave me a URL.


Here’s how that link looked when I opened it in a new window. Looks good enough to me! If you want your links to look a bit more pretty, use Bitly to make them shorter and cleaner.


Step 3: Connect PayPal To Your Email List With Zapier



In my example, I connected to ActiveCampaign since that’s my email service provider. I couldn’t directly connect to a list in this integration, but I could drop a subscriber into an automation that then adds contacts to my “paid subscribers” list.


Once you’re set up, give your PayPal link a test drive with an email of your own to make sure everything works. From there, you’re all set and can launch your own paid newsletter product.

Final Takeaways

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Nick Wolny is a media and marketing strategist for entrepreneurs. Named a “40 Under 40” by the Houston Business Journal, he’s a contributor for Entrepreneur and Fast Company and a technology commentator for NBC and FOX with over 60 live TV appearances.