🤯 0-2000 subscribers in 4 months

Unexpected learnings from scaling this newsletter (w/ resources that I used)

Hey there, it’s Will! 👋🏽 Welcome to Product Life — a weekly email about product strategy, career advice and frameworks for navigating life.

Happy Wednesday! As usual, I’ve left the key takeaways from today’s issue (and some resources) at the bottom.

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Last week, Product Life crossed 2,000 subscribers! 🥳.

Thank you all, truly, for your support of Product Life. I’m really happy that this content is resonating with folks. I’m excited to continue building this community!

I started this newsletter with the goal of sharing the knowledge that I was accumulating as a product manager. At the time, I didn’t realize how much I would learn from the process.

Today, I want to share three unexpected learnings that I had scaling this newsletter. If you’re launching a product, starting a side hustle or also writing a newsletter, I think these will save you a lot of heartaches. Here they are:

  1. Narrow Your Audience 🎯

  2. The People Decide 🗣

  3. Don’t Trust Your Gut 🗳

I added real data from my newsletter so you can get a peek “under the hood”. I also left key takeaways and some resources I love at the bottom.

Narrow Your Audience 🎯

The two articles I published with the lowest open rates are Get Your Mojo Back ⚡️ and The Best Way to Build Credibility 🤝.

What do these have in common? They are both waaaay too generic. Looking back on them, the target audience appears to be “office workers, ages 18-75”.

I thought writing for the broadest possible audience would lead more people to like it. In reality, it was so broad that no one resonated with it.

I was going to follow that up with an article called “3 Ways to Cut Meetings from Your Calendar”. Instead, I noticed the trend of being generic. I decided to shift the article to be speak specifically to product managers.

The new article, Great PMs Kill Meetings 🔪📆, had one of my highest open rates (46%) and was one of my most popular articles by views, signups and social sharing.

Interestingly, it also resonated with non-PMs! I realized that being targeted doesn’t limit it to your intended audience. Instead, it just grounds it in more specific language and examples. People outside of it may even resonate with it more.

Learning: Great creators deliberately choose a small audience. This can make the article feel more real, relevant and actionable.

The People Decide 🗣

I post all my articles on Twitter and LinkedIn. I originally thought that growth was driven by new traffic to the site. The more social media views, the more new visits and subscribers.

This is only half true. Here are two popular articles from the past. One has more views on social media, a 2x higher open rate and a catchier title. Surely it will perform better, right?

Surprisingly, Meet the team behind your feed 👩‍💻 had 70% more views and 42% more signups than the other article. Why? The answer is organic shares.

An organic share means that someone found the content so valuable that they wanted their friends or colleagues to see it. This is the type of resonance I want to create with my articles.

Organic shares trumped any distribution I could have on my own social media. Someone even made a TikTok about the freakin’ article:

Learning: Organic shares, referrals and word of mouth are the most important things for growth. They demonstrate that you are creating so much value for a user that they want their friends to know about it.

Don’t Trust Your Gut 🗳

About a month ago, I realized I didn’t know why people were reading this newsletter.

Was it for career advice? Or product strategy? Or life advice?

My gut told me that people wanted to learn product strategy and frameworks. This is why my first five articles were a series called Product Strategy 101. But I noticed that this type of content wasn’t resonating with readers.

I started doing user research. I first started collecting feedback at the bottom of some newsletters. This was a great start but I needed more details.

So I surveyed a handful of readers who were actively engaged with my newsletter and asked them for their feedback.

Here are some excerpts from that research (and thank you again to those who helped out):

My main reason for reading your newsletter is that it actually feels “real”. For example, the posts I like the most contain tangible advice and true, personal examples.

Case studies are so good. I really like how you map tactical decisions in product to strategic ones.

Also, there is so much product/career/start up advice on Twitter from the Tech world that is so meaningless and fluffy, whilst your newsletter never feels like that.

These helped me understand my value proposition: real, honest and actionable product insights. Importantly, it told me to focus less on fluffy topics that many other people were already covering (ex. what is a product manager, industry analysis).

Learning: Ask your users what they like and what they would like to see more of. This is more useful than relying on your intuition.

Takeaways and Resources that I love 📝

Takeaways:

  • Narrow your audience and take a stand. The more specific you are, the more grounded your content will appear. This can help you build a stronger niche.

  • Organic shares are the north star of sustainable growth. Shares mean that people are finding significant value in your content or product.

  • Do user research to learn what unique value you’re offering. This can help you differentiate from the market.

Resources:

There is so much great content out there for online writers. Here are some that I’ve personally found really helpful.

Once again, thank you for helping Product Life cross 2,000 subscribers. This wouldn’t have been possible without amazing, curious and kind readers like you. ❤️

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