From 0 to 2,000 subscribers in 4 months

Growing The Flatlander newsletter was a journey of discovery

I never anticipated having this many newsletter subscribers four months into launching The Flatlander. At best, I would have guessed 100 subscribers by now — maybe 150 if I was lucky. I pride myself on being a realist.

Turns out, I was way off. Much to my surprise, The Flatlander now exceeds 2,000 newsletter subscribers since its November debut. How did this happen?

Listen, don’t assume
Before founding the publication, I had an idea to start a regional newsletter covering Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Maybe I would write quirky stories from the Prairies. Maybe I could create some highbrow publication, like The New Yorker, for my area. But what did my potential audience actually want?

I lurked around local Reddit groups to see what they were saying about the region’s media. It wasn’t good. They wanted and deserved better. I also asked Redditors to refer me to any independent news publications in our shared region. There wasn’t much.

From there, I created a formal survey. It wasn’t easy getting people to take a survey on a hypothetical product that doesn’t yet exist. After a week of arm-twisting and begging, I received over 30 responses.

It turned out my potential readers, at least the ones who took the survey, don’t want quirky stories or The Prairies’ version of The New Yorker. They wanted in-depth reporting of the issues affecting our region, and a better understanding of arguments on all sides of any debate. Even city-based residents, believe it or not, wanted to better understand what was happening in the rural areas.

Connect to your audience
Now that survey respondents had mentioned it, I realized I was interested in these same issues. That’s when the realization hit: Perhaps I could go on a journey with readers to better understand the issues facing The Prairies. So I launched The Flatlander last November to do just that. 

As I advance in this journey, I continue to listen to readers and write about the issues they flag. People even respond to my newsletters. If someone pokes holes in my coverage, I address it in a subsequent newsletter. If they have a viewpoint about a topic recently reported, I share it with my audience. My newsletter has turned into a conversation with the community it serves.

Invest in your growth
Partnering with Indiegraf — first through the Indie News Challenge and then as part of the Indie Growth Program — also afforded me the opportunity to conduct two successful email growth campaigns. My first lead ads during the Indie News Challenge saw a cost per lead of only $1.07, and lead costs never exceeded $2. 

These lead generation campaigns were successful, in part, because of the front-loaded work I did to learn what my target audience wanted from local media. And once they signed on, if the newsletter wasn’t for them, they hit the unsubscribe button.

Fortunately, most early adopters remain engaged subscribers. The Flatlander has maintained a 50 percent open rate amid the growth, and readers continue to click on links tucked away at the bottom of my emails.

Growing a relatively large and engaged audience so quickly has been about listening to my audience, caring about what they say, and being willing to go on a journey of discovery with them.

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