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Last Updated on May 23, 2022 by DMEditor
If you’re a freelancer, it can be difficult to promote your services. But more freelancers are understanding that there are a variety of affordable and easy marketing options available, such as email marketing and newsletters.
Email newsletters are more than just simple email advertisements. They offer tips, news, and updates about your industry. Because of the education and engaging content they offer, email newsletters have a 22% open rate.
To achieve a successful email newsletter campaign, you’ll have to choose the right software. Substack is becoming a popular option. It not only offers tools to send more engaging email copy but this software lets you charge for your email newsletters (though you can also opt for a free newsletter).
But is Substack really worth it, let’s find out in our Substack Review?
Table of Contents
- 1 Substack Review: Features
- 2 User-Friendliness
- 3 Account Set up and Publishing Content
- 4 Setting up Paid Subscriptions
- 5 Areas That Need Improvement
- 6 Who Is Substack For?
- 7 Substack Alternatives
- 8 Substack Review: FAQs
- 9 Substack Review: The Final Verdict
Substack Review: Features
While Substack isn’t the most feature-rich email newsletter platform compared to competitors, the features they offer are useful and will help with your email campaign. Here are the key features to know.
Flexible Pricing – Is Substack Free?
First off, Substack is free for writers. But you have the option to charge your subscribers or let them sign up for free. If you do offer paid newsletters, you have flexible pricing options. You can offer monthly or yearly payment tiers, a minimum of $5/month or $30/year.
What if you want to also offer a free service? You can offer content for those not willing to pay, too. Substack lets you keep some or all of your content behind a paywall. You can choose to make some content free and others paid.
Keep in mind, Substack will take fees from your pay as well as their financial service provider, Stripe. And after taxes, your take-home pay will be less than what you expected. There are ways to get around this. For example, you can switch from variable fees to fixed fees if you earn a large enough following.
Substack stands out because you get your own website. Not only that, but you receive a custom domain. This way, your website, and branding look more legitimate.
Helps You Grow Your Audience
Substack gives you an email list if you don’t have your own. Not only that, but Substack also offers many tools to help you grow your audience. They offer many connections through the web, such as on Twitter.
There are still issues that writers will face. For example, more creators are discovering the power of paid email newsletters, making it hard to stand out. This is especially true for new and unknown creators. There are still techniques that writers should do themselves. Some suggestions include adapting a referral program and SEO.
One of the best features of Substack is the ease of use. It doesn’t take long to get set up and send your first email. Substack offers a very minimalist interface. You can easily sign up, get your account set up, build your newsletter, and send emails.
This is also why Substack is the best option for those new to email marketing. Competitors aren’t as user-friendly and are generally better for more experienced users. You can easily import your existing email marketing list. If you don’t have one, Substack will provide you with a list.
But their user-friendliness also leads to one issue — Substack doesn’t offer as many features as competitors. We will discuss this more in-depth later.
Account Set up and Publishing Content
After you go through the simple setup, you can start publishing your content. You start by clicking the “Start Publishing” button on the left-hand menu bar.
If you haven’t created your profile yet, Substack will require you to do this before publishing any content. This is where you’ll also import your mailing list.
You have the option of integrating your account with an email marketing platform such as WordPress, MailChimp, Revue, Tinyletter, Tumblr, Medium, and even your custom website. Or you can upload a CSV file. If you don’t have an email marketing list, you can just click the “Skip” button.
Now, this is the confusing part. After you create your profile, you’ll view your “first post,” which is pretty much the bio you entered. You have to click the “Dashboard” button at the top and navigate to the “New Post” button at the right.
As we will state in one of the next sections, the editor isn’t too advanced. Writers may need more customization options, social media embed options and more. But for newbies, a simple text editor is fine.
With this text editor, you can:
- Bold, italicize and underline
- Embed and hyperlink
- Insert images
- Add lines
- Add headers
- Bulleted and numbered lists
- Add quotes
One thing I find interesting with Substack is the CTA Buttons option. They offer pre-made buttons that you can easily add to your email.
I clicked the Subscribe Now button, but you can also add other buttons such as Leave a Comment and Share This Post.
Setting up Paid Subscriptions
Want to skip the free content and start getting paid? Setting up paid subscriptions is simple. On your dashboard, go to “Settings” on the top right. Scroll down, and you’ll see the option to enable payments. You’ll have to set up a Stripe account first to start accepting payments.
Areas That Need Improvement
While Substack offers great tools and resources for writers, some areas require some improvement. Here are a few examples.
More Features for Experienced Marketers
The writers who will get the most out of Substack are writers with a large audience who are already experienced with email newsletters and marketing. However, Substack lacks advanced features for these writers.
Some examples of useful features include email design customizations, shareable links, image captions, URL customizations, popup boxes, and more media embed opportunities.
Better Audience Management Features
While Substack offers audience management features, they drag behind compared to competitors. Other competitors, such as Patreon, offer more insight into your subscribers that can be useful for your marketing and will help you get to know your audience better.
Let’s take stats as an example. Substack does offer inactive subscribers, your biggest fans, churn analysis, and more. But Substack users would benefit from integrations with other data platforms such as Google Analytics and mobile-friendly design features.
Who Is Substack For?
Substack is an easy way to increase your visibility online, enhance your brand, and earn passive income with email newsletters. But the platform is lacking in many ways. With all of these factors combined, you may be wondering if Substack is even worth it.
So, should you bother? Or go with a competitor?
You can start by seeing if you fit one of these categories.
Hobbyists With a Large Following
Let’s say you built up a large organic social media following in a niche you love, such as beauty or fitness. If you want to earn some passive income doing what you love and you have the audience to boast, Substack may be a good option for you. Especially since you already have a following, your followers will likely pay for a newsletter subscription.
New writers are always finding a way to get paid for doing what they love. If this sounds like you and you don’t have a lot of experience, you can start writing on Substack and get your start.
ou may not earn a lot of money, but you’ll learn the trade while building your following. This experience will also look great on a resume or portfolio.
Experienced Writers Who Want Passive Income
Let’s say you work full-time as a writer and want to earn passive income or want to even start freelancing. Substack is a good place to begin.
You can work on your own terms while earning money and doing what you love. If you plan to break away from your full-time job, Substack is a good place to start enhancing your brand.
While Substack is a good option for a few types of writers, it’s not ideal for everyone. Here are some Substack alternatives you should also consider.
Medium is a well-known blogging platform where anyone can join and start writing. While Medium used to be free, it now requires a paid subscription. This helps you get paid for your writing.
Medium is ideal for both new writers and renowned writers as well as publications. Their platform is simple to use and they offer a myriad of advanced formatting options. You don’t need any web design experience to generate a beautiful blog.
Even though Medium requires a paid subscription, writers won’t get paid unless they join a partner program. With this, you get paid based on article read time.
Medium is offering more tools for writers. Previously, writers could only post their writing on their blogging platform. Now, Medium offers a newsletter option that’s very similar to Substack. The newsletter and all other publishing features are free for creators.
Further Read: Check out our comprehensive comparison between Medium vs Substack for additional details.
Do you have a large following and want to connect with your followers? Many creators are generating income through Patreon. Patreon is a paid subscription service where creators post premium content only for their Patreon subscribers.
Many creators are choosing Patreon for the different business tools they offer. For example, you can offer different payment tiers which provide various bonuses for subscribers.
Ghost is a platform that helps content creators build a membership service for their content. Like Substack, they have the same clean and simple website aesthetic. However, they offer more publishing features than Substack.
While they only allow one monthly fee as opposed to a subscription tier, they do have a customizable open-source platform that will attract more experienced content creators.
Further Read: For more details check out our Ghost vs Substack comparison in depth.
Operated by Twitter, Revue is quickly gaining steam for Twitter native writers.
While Substack is still the newsletter of choice for many Twitter feeds, Revue is catching up due to a more seamless integration.
Revue also only takes 5% of revenue (versus 10% for Substack – as of this writing). This is a significant advantage, especially if your led funnel is mostly via Twitter.
Further Read: Check out our full comparison of Revue vs Substack for further details.
Compared to Substack, Mailchimp is ancient and might seem from a different world. But at it’s core, Substack is just another email newsletter service, something Mailchimp is intimately familiar with.
Publishers should consider Mailchimp if their core content hub is a website (vs social channel), as Mailchimp integrates cleanly with the leading CMS platforms like WordPress.
Mailchimp (or any email service provider) is also a great way to save money at scale (no revenue shares to worry about) AND support advanced customization or marketing funnels (think: WordPress website).
That said, Mailchimp isn’t quite as user friendly or purpose built for newsletter creators, so expect some technical hiccups and searching.
Further Read: To see how these both stack up, check out our Mailchimp vs Substack comparison.
Where Mailchimp is more of a jack of all trades email service provider, ConvertKit is more focused on digital content creators WITHIN a traditional email marketing service wrapper.
ConvertKit is a good option for creators who have branched out to a website hub, but still want the “content creator first” feel of Substack. With a focus on storytelling, ConvertKit feels more at home for writers.
Further Read: Check out our direct comp of ConvertKit vs Substack.
Substack Review: FAQs
Answer: This varies for all users. Most subscribers only charge $5 per month. But if you have 1,000 subscribers, you can earn $60,000 from this platform! Keep in mind, Substack also charges fees and this figure is what you’ll make before taxes.
Answer: You don’t have to be a successful writer with a large following to start using Substack. Anyone can sign up and get started. Actually, we recommend new writers sign up with Substack and earn your following that way.
Answer: As stated previously, Substack has many alternatives that we recommend more for experienced users and those who want more flexibility. But is Substack still the best option? It depends. For those looking to make money, we suggest using another platform. But if you want to focus specifically on email newsletters (whether paid or not), then we recommend Substack.
Answer: Sure, you can make money on Substack. But we know what you’re really asking — do people actually use Substack and pay for email newsletter subscriptions?
Substack claims that receive 12 million website hits every month. Not only that but there are 500,000 paid subscribers.
Answer: While Substack offers many tools for writers to enhance their subscribers, there are different tasks you should do as well.
Start with organic blogging, such as promoting yourself and your newsletter on social media and your personal blog. It’s also worth it to start collaborating with other content creators.
Answer: You can definitely use Substack as a blog, though its function is different than a traditional blog. You can self-publish your own posts, but you’re limited as far as design and customizations go.
Answer: Yes, there is a function for you to export your email list by creating a CSV file and uploading that into another email marketing tool.
Substack Review: The Final Verdict
Substack is a great way to get started writing email newsletters while earning some side income if you choose to monetize your newsletters. But Substack lacks advanced features that experienced users are looking for.
Because of this fact plus the minimal earning opportunities, we recommend this service for new writers and any experienced content creator who wants to earn some side income.
Instead of email newsletters, you may be interested in email marketing as a whole. If that’s the case, you could be looking at email marketing platforms such as Campaign Monitor. Before signing up, take a look at these Campaign Monitor alternatives.