Starting a newsletter is exciting. I remember my first newsletter about remote work back in 2015. It was so cool having an actual audience of people to write to every week. It was like I had my own TV show or magazine or something. I later on realized that you could actually make money from this by finding people who would pay you for sponsoring or having an ad in your newsletter. Now, I'll share that with you how.
My story (short version)
Since then I've progressed to running Pixels, a newsletter with curated designs and I'm sending it to more than 4000 people every week making money through sponsors.
Here's what I've learned.
What's the difference between a sponsor and an ad?
Good question. As I see it, a sponsor is paying you money because they like what you're doing and they want to be related to you, in some way. You can see it as a mutual agreement, which both parties enjoy, possibly for a longer period of time.
Ads are more like a transactional thing. X pay money to Y to be have something displayed in front of people.
When should you consider sponsors?
Everyone doesn't want to monetize their newsletter and that's cool. I've started a few myself just for fun and because I like writing and curating interesting content. But if you do want to earn money I think sponsors are the way to go. Read on!
How many subscribers do you need to get a sponsor?
There's really no number on how many subscribers you need to be able to land your first sponsor. Personally I got my first sponsor for Pixels at about a thousand subscribers but I could probably have reached out way sooner than that. If I was starting fresh today, I'd probably start to reach out when I'm around 100 subscribers. It's good to build relationships early, and companies are not stupid so they won't pay if they don't like what's in it for them anyway. Worst thing you can get is a no.
Define your audience
One of the most important things when reaching out to potential sponsors is that you've defined your audience. Who's reading your newsletter? Are they developers? designers? photographers? yoga instructors? This will be key, so better figure this one out.
Find relevant companies
When you go out looking for potential sponsors you shouldn't just "find any company". If your sponsor is not aligned with your readers it will probably come out in a weird spammy way as those old banner ads in the 90's. This will lead to poor ad performance and unhappy subscribers and sponsors. Everybody lose.
If you however manage to find a relevant sponsors, for example a new database system as a sponsor for your newsletter about open source, your readers will probably find it interesting, and your sponsor will get great ad performance. Win-win!
Who should you email?
This depends a little bit. I've found that it's a lot easier to get a referral down rather than up. So start with the CEO if it's a relatively small company and otherwise, try the marketing manager.
If you can't find an email address to anyone, try the general info email and ask who you should contact about email sponsorships. There are services like Hunter.io that you can use to find email addresses to people given a domain name.
Found a bunch of relevant companies to reach out to? Great! Now it's time to send a few emails.
Since you've already defined your audience this will be easy. In the subject, state what the company will get out of your offering and explain this further in your email.
This is an example of a first outreach email to sponsors for a newsletter about mobile cameras:
Keep it short, personal and mention your audience. If they're interested they will probably get back to you for more information.
Follow-up, Follow-up, Follow-up
Most of the time you'll probably not get a reply on the first email and that's why you have to follow-up. You might have heard this before but I can't stress this enough. It has happened so many times that I've closed a deal on the 7th or 8th email 3 months or so after I sent the first one.
Keep track of everything in a spreadsheet, one column for the email, one for the next follow-up. I usually do something like this:
- First email
- After 3 days: Second email
- Another 4 days: Third email
- Another 5 days: Fourth email
- ... At least make it here. Bonus points for continuing...
One you start doing this at scale you might want to consider a CRM system to not get completely overwhelmed by all your follow-ups. This is also the reason I started Wobaka, to make automating follow-ups and keeping track of contacts super smooth.
Make it easy for them
Once you do get a reply from someone you should make it super easy for them. Sponsoring you is probably a very small piece of their marketing budget so it's essential that the process is smooth, otherwise they could just increase their Twitter or Facebook ad budget instead, right?
Have a payment link ready that they can use, propose a date and state what you need from them. Don't bother with calendars and booking apps. Keep it simple. You can use a tool like Stripe or Paypal for the payments.
This is an example for our photographer newsletter:
How much should you charge?
I strongly advice not getting into CPM and the likes. This is because I really don't think it's the same to appear in a generic Google or Facebook ad compared to backing a newsletter their potential customers actually enjoy reading. I would stick to fixed prices per newsletter.
About the price, I actually advice you to shoot from the hip. Try something, if it works, maybe raise it, if not, maybe lower it. Keep experimenting!
Don't listen to the negative folks
Most people will be happy that you've got sponsors. That just means that you'll be able to spend more time writing the newsletter they love. Some people may however don't like it. It has never happened to me but I've heard about it. If it happens to you, just don't bother, instead focus on all the people you can spend more time writing to!
Enjoy the process!
Writing a newsletter is super rewarding. I love reading comments on how people enjoy reading mine. I hope you'll be able to keep writing and maybe even make a living on your newsletter.
Best of luck!