Lessons, surprises and what's next: reflecting on 6 months on Substack
What's worked for me, some surprises + a bumper crop of favourites
This month, it’s been six months since I moved my small business newsletter to Substack 🎉
In this post, I’ll share the lessons and surprises of the past six months and how the reality of being on Substack compares to my aims and hopes when I started out.
Even if you don’t have a Substack newsletter, I’ll be sharing ideas that you can use for any kind of newsletter. And, if you’re anything like me, it will satisfy your curiosity by giving you a look behind the scenes of someone else’s business.
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New to Substack and want to become a paid subscriber? Click the button and you’ll be prompted to enter your email address and then directed to the payment page (more info here).
What’s working for me
Scheduling: for years, my newsletter has been such a key part of my marketing because I’m able to schedule it—it’s truly slow and gentle in the way that I aspire it to be. I used to be a fair bit more rigid about when I would write my newsletter, but over the past year have thoroughly embraced my philosophy of unplanning.
While I still have a rough idea of when I want to send out my newsletters, this structure is more of a scaffolding that I can fill in whatever way feels good to me. Sometimes I write a newsletter a week in advance, sometimes a day in advance. I move topics around and postpone posts when I need to.
I need this space. I hate the fast-paced, ephemeral nature of much social media. I need space to do business on my own terms, respecting my own needs, my humanness and quite frankly, my fluctuating mental health. Scheduling my newsletters allows me to do that.
Boundaries: I try to be fairly strict when it comes to boundaries around work and free time. I don’t mind so much to do some work—like writing—on a weekend if I feel like it, but I do try my best to protect myself from notifications and emails.
I enjoy reading the newsletters I subscribe to through the Substack app, and consider doing that as part of my free time. But that also means that I can see notifications to my own posts during the weekends or in the evenings as well. I love every single time someone reaches out to comment on a post, but sometimes I just don’t want to turn my thinking- or business-brain on. I’m learning to recognise those moments better, and either just not check the notifications tab (even though it’s tempting), or delete the entire app off my tablet or phone for a weekend. Works like a charm.
Asking questions: one of the main reasons why I decided to move my newsletter to Substack was because I wanted to foster more community. I want Female Owned, this space, to really be an online place where you can experience business done differently and connect with other people who also crave a slower, gentler and more profitable business.
There are various ways in which I try to foster this community, but one way is by asking questions. I’m genuinely curious about what you’re up to, what you’re enjoying, thinking about or struggling with in your business. Asking questions satisfies my own curiosity and encourages people to reply to my posts and to other people’s comments (this post has more info on leaving comments if you’re new to Substack).
Personality: having more of a sense of community has made it feel more like I’m in conversation with you—even if you never reply to or comment on a single one of my emails. Somehow I get the feeling like you’re there. I’ve always enjoyed adding more of myself to my newsletters through my monthly favourites, but I find myself exploring more personal topics too. Sharing little snippets about my thinking process, about the emotional side of running a business—primarily in the paid posts, but also in these free posts. Adding those bits of myself makes me feel joyful and I think also fosters a more authentic relationship.
Outreach: if you’ve been around for longer than a week or two, you’ll know that I run my business without social media. I’ve been off social media for almost two years now and I love it. There’s not been a single moment along the way where I felt the need to go back.
What works for me instead, is doing outreach, especially through podcasts. Many of you found me through a podcast (if you did, do tell me which one!) and I love the intimate, conversational feel that podcast interviews give me. I think they give you a really good idea of what I’m all about and I love that they’re resonating with you.
Last month I wrote a longer post on how and why I pitch to podcasts—you can check out the preview and become a paid subscriber to read the entire post.
As excited about Substack as I am? Or are you curious whether it’s right for you and your business? My new mini-course is just the thing!
Substack for small business owners, freelancers and artists is available now for €29 (€35 from June 7th) to help you make Substack a part of your business. It takes a gentle, effective and anti-overwhelm approach that I’m sure will resonate with you.
Or, as one of the first purchasers said ❤️
“Thank you so much for this - and for making it so affordable! I have just binge watched the whole thing and I am going to implement forthwith! I was most excited to see that there are Substacks that are artist based and focus on the images, not on the words. I love writing but it terrifies me so being able to share my art without having to write is so freeing! Thank you…” — Nathalie Todd,
What’s surprised me
Joy and creativity: when I joined Substack I was very excited and almost high about this new platform 😅 I got such a sense of joy and creativity from it, especially from being surrounded by other people who also love writing as a way of sharing about their lives and their work.
What’s surprised me is that I feel the same today. While any platform has its drawbacks, I still feel so much more joyful and creative hanging out on Substack and writing on it.
Always launching: one of the only things that I didn’t see coming when I moved my business newsletter to Substack was that once I turned on paid subscriptions I would essentially always be launching.
When you launch a new product or service, it’s customary to have a launch period in which you get your audience excited about the new thing, in which you offer an early bird price or other bonus, and then launch the thing with lots of attention around it for a week or two. This approach has never worked for me. In fact, typing this sequence out makes me exhausted. I’ve experienced in the past with launching differently, and will write more in coming months about how I launched my recent evergreen product (the mini course Substack for small business owners, freelancers and artists).
By making paid subscriptions a part of my business model, I’m basically required to keep reminding people of them. The way in which I remind you of the option to become a paid subscriber is up to me, of course—I try to do so in a gentle, value-led way—but still: in a way, I’ll always need to be launching.
Once this dawned on me it made me smile because it’s so ironic. But at the same time I feel pretty good about how I’m navigating this: paid subscriptions are an organic part of my business and of this newsletter, and I try to be organic about telling people about them. For instance, I mention the benefits of a paid subscription on my about page and in my welcome email and add calls to action to every free newsletter.
How I stick to my own voice. I was excited about writing this post and about celebrating a small milestone. But I also worried that all of you who are not on Substack and have no plans to join it, would not be interested. I wavered and wondered. I looked at my list of ideas for future posts. I looked at my previous posts (I like to have a nice balance between practical and mindset topics).
But in the end it came down to my own inspiration, to what I felt drawn to write about. This is a topic that feels exciting to me right now. The words flow right now. So it’s the right topic for me. While I write this newsletter for other people—for you—I know that it is most effective and most powerful when it comes from within me.
I like to keep this quote by the garden designer Sarah Eberle in mind: “Every time you make a decision based on other people’s thinking, or how you think they’ll think, you go the wrong way”.
Has moving to Substack been the right thing for my business?
My two aims when I moved to Substack were fostering community and making paid subscriptions—and therefore, my writing—an income stream in my business. 6 months in (and about 4 of them with paid subscriptions) I’d say I’m happy with this.
I love the sense of community I get from your interactions—I love hearing your stories and ideas and questions. I certainly think that moving my newsletter to Substack has made commenting and engaging easier and more inviting.
The number of paid subscribers is slowly and steadily growing. I love the support I get from this group of people, both financially and otherwise. As I break down in this post on my goals, I definitely want to grow the number of paid subscribers in order for them to make up a bigger chunk of my business income. But I’m pleased with every single one of you who decides to become a paid subscriber if you can and want to 💌 (Would you benefit from a paid subscription but don’t have the financial means? Do reach out to me and I’d be happy to compensate you).
What’s next for me on Substack is more of the same really. I’m looking forward to experimenting with audio for my paid subscriber-only quarterly guide in June—Substack makes audio and podcasts easy so I’m excited to try that out. I now publish two free newsletters a month and for paid subscribers one discussion thread, a monthly-ish behind-the-scenes or bonus post and a quarterly guide. I’m pleased with this schedule and it’s also what I have the capacity for.
In particular, I’m looking forward to many more conversations, to discovering other people’s Substacks, to hearing your stories and questions in the comments.
Take a moment to think or journal about these questions:
Think of a step you took over the past couple of months, whether in your business or privately. How does it feel looking back?
Which lessons can you draw from the step you took? What surprised you and what challenged you?
How will you continue in the coming months? Are you ready to try something else, or do you want to settle into your new routine or step you have taken?
I’d love to know your questions about experiences with Substack and your own comments on taking a step in your business or private life over the past couple of months.
If you’re new to Substack: you can comment without by clicking the button below. You’ll be prompted to set up an account (or profile) which requires very little personal info and takes only one minute of your time.
reading | “There wasn’t the competition for our attention—it was easier to bring your life into focus”. This quote from Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature on the 1960s is probably nostalgic more than realistic, but what I love about it is the last part: “to bring your life into focus”. Reading it made me realise that I deliberately seek out quiet and space to do just that (affiliate link).
more reading | I really enjoyed reading‘s Steph on freelancing and the lessons she’s learned.
and some more reading | last week I (finally) found myself planning some small home improvements. I will still be doing them this summer, but reading Anne Helen Petersen on optimization, including optimising our living spaces, has certainly put that in a gentler and more forgiving perspective.
sparrows | I love how they fluff themselves up, how they briefly, bravely perch on the edge of a garden chair when I’m reading, how they clean their beaks on the wood of the garden fence and lean down vertically to take a sip of water from the pond.
What’s on your lists of favourites this month? What did you read, see, hear, drink, eat, observe that made your day?
How I deal with feelings of time scarcity (this one resonated with a lot of you!)
This month I’ve supported clients with plans for different ways of marketing and creating longer term goals for a business and life that works for them.
I’d love to support you to do this and much more too: to create a business away from the norm that supports all parts of your humanness, whether that means starting or building a business alongside a family, another job, (chronic) illness or any other needs and desires.
There is a slower, gentler and more profitable way of running a business, and I’m here to help you achieve it.
I’ll be back in your inbox later this month with a very special quarterly guide for paid subscribers in the form of audio coaching, and of course another free newsletter.
If you enjoy behind the scenes looks like this post, you might consider becoming a paid subscriber and receiving more of these (upgrade your subscription here).
I’m off to bask in the Spring sunshine and listen to the bees hum—have a really lovely rest of your week xx
This newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, why not consider becoming a paid subscriber for just €5 a month? 💌
P.S. New to Substack? Once you click the button above to upgrade your subscription you’ll be prompted to enter your email address (but you will not be paying anything yet). You’ll then be directed to a page where you can select the subscription you’d like to have, including sticking with the free one. Find more info and an image of this in my blogpost.