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Fewer than a 1,000 newsletter subs? Here’s how Vidya got paid sponsorships with only 500 (plus tips on cross-promotion)

Indie Hacker: Vidya (@learnwithvidya)
Creator of: The Curious Bunch Newsletter
MRR Around $250 in sponsorships and $100 in donations/coffees
Zone of Genius: curation, newsletters, growth

In 2020, Vidya was first introduced to the world of indie hacking and by 2021, she’d grown her newsletter to over 1,000 subscribers. In this interview, she breaks down her processes for cross-promoting and finding sponsorships.

Vidya is the creator of the free newsletter The Curious Bunch where she brings her audience productivity tools, maker resources, and bite-sized bits of interesting reads. She’s got a fresh perspective and can-do attitude that makes indie hacking feel so possible, no matter who or where you are. 🔥

On starting “The Curious Bunch” newsletter

None of my friends are entrepreneurs or on a startup journey of any kind. In India, most parents have a lot of influence over their children and they prefer that they go into traditional jobs. So, I didn’t even really know this way of living existed until covid happened. At that time, I happened upon a Twitter community where everyone had more time on their hands because of covid restrictions and they were using that extra time to build products and newsletters.

I’d been writing articles and blog posts on and off since 2010. I’ve always loved going down rabbit holes and then picking out the most interesting details and sharing those pieces with friends. So when I saw other people writing and curating newsletters, I got excited.

Watching people build in public and starting at zero showed me that everyone starts somewhere. I launched my newsletter in November, 2020. Starting at zero is way less daunting when you know everyone else starts there too.

Her first 300 subs and learning to successfully cross promote

The first 300 subscribers I remember really well because that's when I made the most effort to reach out to my ideal audience.

As a physics student and analyst, I didn't have any marketing background and I didn't know how to reach my audience. I didn't know where to find them. So I had to get into the marketing mindset somehow. Everyone was talking about Indie Hackers. So I just started reading posts on IH and Twitter, and I started reaching out to people to understand how to acquire subscribers.

Then, I learned about cross promotion. And it’s been one of the things that’s worked best for me. I’d say 50 percent of my subscribers are acquired through cross-promotion.

I just reached out to other writers who were in the same niche as me. None of them said no to my request. When I had only 700 subscribers, I cross-promoted with someone who had 1700+ subscribers — most of the time, writers look for overlap between our audiences more than the number of subscribers I have.

Cross-promotion outreach message

Here are a few tips:

  1. Make sure you get the basics right when approaching writers. Find out whether their audience would be interested in your newsletter.
  2. Join communities, groups, and platforms relevant to your niche. Invite others to collaborate with you. Provide value to THEM while doing so.
  3. Experiment with the copy you’re providing the writer so you maximize your cross-promotions.
  4. If one of you doesn’t get the desired results, try and understand what went wrong so you don’t repeat the mistake. And then improve upon it.

Here’s an example of cross-promotion in my newsletter:

Cross-promotion in Vidya's newsletter

And here's an example of how my newsletter has been cross-promoted:

Vidya's newsletter being cross-promoted

On attracting paid sponsorships with just 500 subs

Everyone says that you need to have at least a thousand subscribers to attract sponsorships. But why is a thousand this magic number? So I thought, I’ll just try with 500 and see if anyone is interested. At that point I’d sent out 10-12 issues of my newsletter and I felt ready.

I approached a few sponsors who were really in line with my audience. One of the very first sponsors I got was Email Octopus which is a marketing service. They booked a one-month sponsorship and that was how I first monetized my newsletter. My newsletter has been consistently sponsored now for more than six months.

A few suggestions about sponsorships:

  1. Cold-emailing sponsors is a skill. Learn it and practice it.
  2. Find relevant sponsors for your audience. There's nothing as cringe as finding a food-related advertisement in a marketing newsletter.
  3. Start with a lower sponsorship price. I started mine with $30 and now increased it to $40.
  4. If possible, add a personal note in your newsletter before introducing the sponsor to your readers.

Here's an example of my sponsorship outreach:

Sponsorship outreach email

At 500 subscribers, she left her day job

After I got my first sponsorship I started thinking seriously about leaving my day job as a data analyst. Before Covid hit, I didn’t even know what it meant to be “bootstrapped” so this all happened fast. But, I wanted a chance to take my newsletter seriously and to explore my other interests more. A couple of months later, I quit.

It wasn’t a hard decision because I know I can always get another job as a data analyst. What I was actually most worried about was losing my motivation if I failed. So that fear made me a little hesitant.

The biggest surprise on her indie hacking journey

Everyone says it's difficult to be a successful indie hacker or maker, but I think making a hundred dollars per month through your indie hacking journey feels like success to me. I mean, I’m sure my bar is much lower than many people’s. But I think indie hacking becomes easy when you realize so much of the journey is just about starting, and then defining success on your own terms. 💪

Wrap-up snapshot

What I’m reading: The Bluest Eye by Tony Morrison

What I’m watching: Harry Potter Series

Quote I find compelling: “If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders - What would you tell him?"

"I…don't know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?"

"To shrug.”

One sentence of advice to new Indie Hackers: Give yourself permission to explore your interests and see the magic unfolding in front of your eyes.

  1. 5

    Cool story! Thanks for sharing.

    1. 2

      Hey Jacob,

      Thanks for reading! Really appreciate it. :)

  2. 4

    Very inspiring story @learnwithvidya. Amazing how you questioned the "thousand subscribers" rule and you made your own rules as you went. I would love to see more women with this confidence!!! I struggle with monetizing my projects and well, really anything having to do with asking people for money. Do you have any tips for gaining confidence? 🌹

    1. 3

      Hey @fleur_inthecity

      Thanks a lot for reading the post! And, I feel you!

      I still struggle to put a price on my info-products. It's the same with "buy me a coffee" link. But the truth is, people are more than happy to buy you a coffee if they feel it's worth it.

      I'd suggest you take baby steps when it comes to pricing your projects if you find it too difficult to ask for money upfront. It's hard to put a price on an info product since there's no industry standard for it. You can start with a simple buy me a coffee link and ask people to pay what they think is the best.

      And, when you see people paying for your products, you get that small validation that your work is in fact worthy of putting a price on it.

      If you're interested in monetizing your newsletter, I recently wrote a post with a few tips on how I do it. You can read it here.

      Let me know if you've more questions! :)

      1. 2

        Thank you for taking the time to write this thoughtful comment out @learnwithvidya. I'll definitely keep all of this in mind. I've got one more question if you have time. Was there any particular tactic you used to decide on the right price? ✨

        1. 2

          Hey @fleur_inthecity

          Wonderful question. And yes, I used a tactic to come up with my first sponsorship price but later discovered most people don't use any tactic. Most of them just wing it.

          Before I answer in a little bit more detail, I think this blog will help you with how to price your newsletter ad slots.

          The general advice in the newsletter community when you are just starting with sponsorship slots, go with the price that's 5% of your total subscriber count. So, if you have 1000 subscribers, 5% of 1000 is 50. That means you can price your "main" sponsorship slot at $50 per newsletter issue (or per week).

          Many writers also offer 'Classifieds' ad slots for a lower price. They can start at any lower price that you're comfortable with. I usually offer them based on the CTR data I already have at hand. So, if my Classified slots get only 10 clicks per issue, then the average rate is $10 per Classified Ad slot.

          Few more suggestions:

          • Book your slots 1-month in advance so you don't send a newsletter issue without a sponsor.
          • If you see your slots getting sold pretty quickly without much effort, I suggest you increase your Ad Slot price and see how it resonates with the Advertisers.
          • If it's difficult to sell your Ad inventory, try decreasing it and see if that works for Advertisers.
          • Offer "Packages" and discounts if they book those packages. Our writers usually offer discounts if an Advertiser books more than 1 Ad Slot (15% discount if 2 slots, 20% discount if 3 slots, etc).

          If you want to just "try" how your users respond to a Sponsored post in your newsletter, check out Swapstack's Plug & Play deals once you sign up. (Currently it's available only to US writers though)

          I'm happy to answer any questions you might have about newsletters and monetization. :)

          1. 2

            ✨✨✨✨✨✨ Wow! This comment!! Thank you @learnwithvidya I'm so grateful for the time you took in writing me back. I'm learning so much from you. Truly, thanks!!

            1. 1

              Thanks so much for the appreciation! :)

              So glad to know I could help you! ❤️

  3. 2

    Hey Vidya. Cool story. Can I book sponsorship in your newsletter?

    1. 1

      Hey @sweatC

      Thanks for your interest in sponsoring my newsletter. I just browsed through Microns and I think it would be a perfect fit for my audience. 🙌🏻

      How can I contact you to provide more details?

      1. 1

        Feel free to DM me on Twitter ☺️

  4. 2

    Hey @learnwithvidya! Many thanks for sharing your journey here! I really dig the name of your newsletter. How'd you decide on a name? And if you've got a minute, I'd be keen to hear what your fave newsletters are...

    1. 2

      Hey @LucyAnimus

      Thanks a lot for reading the article! :)

      Most of what I share in my newsletter is driven by my curiosity. So, I wanted something that defines me + whoever signs up for my newsletter. That's how I landed on my newsletter name. :D

      But, if you want a tool to brainstorm names for your newsletter, I'd suggest you use copy.ai. It is an amazing tool and I've seen many people use it to brainstorm headlines, blog titles, product names, newsletter names, etc.

      Also, here's a list of my fav newsletters. I think I need to update it now. 😅

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