How to start, grow and monetize your engineering newsletter
I should have started my newsletter way earlier!
Starting a newsletter has been one of the greatest decisions I have made. The only regret I have is that I didn’t start it earlier!
I have learned so many different things and cemented my knowledge on various of different topics. And also most importantly, others get to learn and grow from my writings!
Why should you start a newsletter?
As mentioned above, you are not only helping others, but you also learn as you write. Writing the newsletter has helped me to articulate things a lot better and also I can now reference back to the articles whenever I need to.
One thing that really stands out in the “why” category for me is that I get a big sense of personal satisfaction whenever I get a message like: “Your articles have helped me to secure a new job or a promotion”.
For me, this feeling outweighs any monetary benefits. It truly motivates me to get better every day.
What should you write about?
I decided on the topic pretty easily. When I was growing as an engineer and later as an engineering leader, I didn't have a lot of resources and mentors that I could learn from.
So that's what I'm trying to do with the newsletter. I try to provide the necessary resources and share my experience with everyone reading. I try to write my articles in a way that my past self would benefit a lot from.
I have 2 recommendations for you:
Write about something that you are experienced in and you wish to share your knowledge.
Write about things that you are learning right now. You can also include challenges you faced and how you overcame them.
You can also do a combination of both like I do. Sometimes I intentionally pick a topic I wish to learn more about and write an article about it. If I am interested in learning it, there is a good chance that someone else would as well.
Overcoming the fear of writing online
If you are feeling uncomfortable with sharing your writings online, you are not alone in this.
It took some time for me to start feeling comfortable with sending out the newsletter regularly. The feeling of "it's not good enough" is real. And I felt it heavily.
But then I published it anyway and nothing bad happened. To tell you a secret, I still feel it from time to time even after more than 1 year of writing. But the value I am getting from it outweighs it!
How to start?
First, it’s important to pick the right platform.
I recommend picking Substack (I am not sponsored by them). It works for me so well and makes it easy for me to focus on the important thing - on my writing.
I used to have a blog which I built myself with React + Gatsby and have it hosted on Netlify. I needed to make sure I was compliant with all necessary regulations (cookies), write my own .md files and I needed to deploy every time. It’s not a significant effort, but it adds up over time. And it takes the focus from writing.
That’s why I suggest to already pick and use a proven platform. There are of course other similar platforms than Substack, but I am pretty happy here and wouldn’t change at this time.
Pick the cadence that you are comfortable with.
Pick the cadence that you are fine with and that you can commit to. It can be once a week, twice a week, once a month, twice a month, etc.
As long as you are consistent, that's the way to go (build up that consistency). You can adjust later.
Once you build up your consistency, it will be much easier for you to make it more frequent! I send out an article every Sunday. That works well for me at this time. I may adjust it to be more frequent in the future!
Write, write, write and write!
Consistency is a lot more important than perfection.
There have been times when I wasn't too happy with the article that I sent out. I did it anyway and nothing bad happened. Therefore it's a lot more important to just do it, than striving to make it perfect and not do it.
Especially in the beginning, I suggest just publishing it, getting feedback and adjusting based on it. You will improve much more if you write more and adjust based on what you see what is working or not.
I always love to look back at my articles when I started and how I am writing right now!
If you are a paid subscriber you can read one of my earliest here: How to make decisions and resolve conflicts between engineers
And one of my recent: Keep a brag list of the wins you achieved, thank me later
How to grow your newsletter?
You can write the best articles in the world, but if nobody would see them, they won’t be perceived that way.
That’s why it’s important to share your articles with others. Besides, how can you help others if you don’t share with them?
So, here is my recommendation:
Post your articles on social media
What I do is:
On Saturday, I send out a post that contains a preview of what I am going to send out and a link to my newsletter.
On Sunday, when I send out the newsletter I post an overview of what the article is all about and add a link to the article.
I post a similar post on all 3 platforms (LinkedIn, Substack Notes and Twitter/X).
It helps if you are active on social media (I especially recommend LinkedIn)
I post daily insights about engineering/engineering leadership topics on all 3 platforms.
Share your articles on other platforms
I recommend sharing your article on HackerNews and Reddit (r/programming).
I had an article go viral once on HackerNews and a lot of times on Reddit. Just be aware that the audience on Reddit is pretty direct and don’t get discouraged if you receive a negative comment. It’s quite common on Reddit!
If you wish, you can also repurpose your articles and post them on sites like Medium, dev.to, Hashnode, etc. Just make sure that the canonical link is set to the original article. So Google doesn’t treat it as duplicate content and it knows exactly which is the ultimate source of content.
Also, I would suggest to do this only if you wish to keep your articles free. If you will make them paid in the future, I wouldn’t recommend to repurpose the content.
Last but not least. Networking with others and building a community of like-minded people is very important.
I have been lucky to have found such great people who are on quite similar paths than I am. We have all started to write online at quite a similar time. It's been truly great to exchange ideas and collaborate! Here are some of them:
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There are more, sorry to those who are not here, but you know who you are and I appreciate you. My progress wouldn’t be as it is, without you all!
We did mutual recommendations of our newsletters and it really helps with the growth. That’s also a big reason why I advocate for choosing Substack as your newsletter platform.
My recommendation is to find people who are on a similar path than you are and work together and collaborate. I like to say:
Don’t compete with others, collaborate instead. Your progress is going to be much faster, more exciting and more fulfilling.
Don’t just believe my word. I’ve made this mistake in my first 6 months writing this newsletter. I was a lone wolf - I just sent out an article and did a post on LinkedIn and that’s it. It didn’t work so well.
I started to see big changes when I emerged myself in the community, being more active on LinkedIn, posting regularly and started to work together with others and collaborate.
I like to say that Software Development is a team sport and I like to also believe that writing a newsletter is much better when you have a great group of people around you.
How to monetize your newsletter?
Develop consistency first before starting a paid subscription.
I spent more than 10 months developing consistency of writing weekly newsletter articles before starting a paid option. Make sure to develop that first, it's going to be easier when you start a paid option.
You don’t need to wait 10 months though, you can start earlier than that. Just make sure that you are going to be providing value consistently to your audience.
Starting a paid option may be daunting, but it's all in our minds
I was overthinking before starting with the paid option. Are my articles and templates good enough for people to actually pay for them.
But I learned that you don't need to have everything perfect to help others. Focus on being helpful and share as much value as possible. People are going to appreciate that.
Limiting your full archive of posts just to your paid subscribers is a good start
I recommend starting simple. Go for 2 weeks or 1 month archive restriction for paid subscribers and see how that goes. You can make adjustments later.
I am happy with the 1 month archive restriction for now in combination with other things. I am also very happy to hear any of your feedback!
If you are not a paid subscriber yet, here is what you are missing out:
Paid subscribers get
🎁 Templates and resources for becoming a great engineering leader
🗓 10% discount when booking a call with me (contact me on LinkedIn before booking)
If you are not a paid subscriber yet, you can become one here:
Starting a newsletter may be daunting, but after you get over the initial hump, it becomes much easier!
Are you going to start a newsletter? Make sure to let me know in the comments or you can also DM me on LinkedIn.
Do you have any additional tips to share, please share them in the comments!
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You are more than welcome to find whatever interests you here and try it out in your particular case. Let me know how it went! Topics are normally about leadership, management, all things engineering related, developing scalable products, building teams etc.