You’ve worked hard to build up an email list of subscribers. What do you do now?
How can you make money from that audience? What type of business model can you use to start making money from your email list?
In this article, we’ll share nine expert tips for monetizing your email list and generating annual revenue from your subscribers, and we’ll break down examples of profitable newsletters that have been able to leverage these strategies to create new income streams for themselves.
Why newsletters are valuable
A newsletter is a valuable asset because it’s an owned channel.
You control the content, the frequency, and who gets on (and off) the list.
This is in contrast to social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter, where you’re at the mercy of algorithm changes or can have your account suspended at any time.
With a newsletter, you’re in control.
You can build a relationship with your readers and offer them value that they won’t find anywhere else.
This is why newsletters are one of the most effective ways to monetize an audience.
Now let’s look at some specific ways to make money from your newsletter.
Why most newsletters are undervalued
The vast majority of newsletters are undervalued.
This is because most newsletter creators don’t think of their newsletter as a business. They see it as a hobby, plan to send a few emails per year, and dream of the day when this hobby can become ad supported.
A problem we see with a lot of newsletter creators is that they are not thinking big enough.
We live in the attention economy. Sharing free content is valuable, and if your newsletter readers are constantly giving you their attention attention, chances are that somebody is willing to pay for that.
To monetize your newsletter, you need to start thinking of it as a product that you’re selling. And like any other product, you need to find a way to add value for your customers (in this case, your subscribers).
The good news is that there are a lot of ways to do this.
Let’s look at nine of the most effective ways to turn your side hobby into a side business.
How to make money with your newsletter
One of the most popular ways to make money with a newsletter is to sell paid courses.
This is a great way to monetize your audience because you can offer them something that they’re already interested in and willing to pay for.
If you have a skill or knowledge that your readers want to learn, selling a paid course is a great way to make money from your newsletter.
To do this, you’ll need to create the course content and then promote it to your newsletter subscribers.
You can tease subscribers through email course material, and you can also share it on social and on your website. You’ll see in the examples below, most course creators rely on at least one platform to drive traffic to their offer first, then they capture emails, and start promoting their course that way.
The important thing is that you make it clear to your readers that this is a paid course and that they’ll need to sign up and pay to access the content.
Visualize Value is a course sold by Jack Butcher to help entrepreneurs design their ideas to capture more attention.
Jack primarily markets it through his Twitter audience, but he also shares updates and other course material through his email list.
Email Marketing Empire is a course that teaches people how to escape their 9-5 grind by building an email marketing agency.
She primarily markets the course through her email list, but she also shares it regularly on Twitter.
The Community Builder Playbook gives step-by-step instructions on how to build a community from scratch, how to keep it engaging, and how to monetize it.
Affiliate marketing is another popular way to make money from a newsletter.
With affiliate marketing, you promote products or services that are not your own and earn a commission on each sale that you make through your affiliate link.
If you have a niche audience, you’re a perfect fit for an affiliate program. Just find the brands that are targeting the same niche as you, and pitch them on how you can work together.
Brands will typically give you a unique link to track payments that come through you. It’s easy to re-use affiliate links in a blog post, a native ad, or anywhere else where you have a digital footprint.
The important thing is that you make it clear to your readers that these are affiliate products and that you’ll earn a commission on each sale. Not mentioning this could erode some of the hard-earned trust you’ve built up with those that follow you.
If you have built a product yourself, you can also set up a referral program that rewards your email subscribers for sending business your way. Depending on what type of product you are selling, this can easily be built with something like Rewardful.
Buzzfeed is a good example of a company that does affiliate marketing well.
They share relevant deals from different vendors that want to advertise with them, and instead of charging them for ad space, they make money if a newsletter subscriber clicks through and makes a purchase.
Scott’s Cheap Flights is an example of a one-person business that monetizes his list through affiliates and ad space.
He rewards his readers for referring new subscribers which he pays them out of pocket for. He also has affiliate offers in place with airlines and other travel companies since he’s gained enough authority to drive considerable amounts of business to each of them through his email list alone.
Scott also monetizes through partnerships, ads, and a paid newsletter.
Sell advertising space
Another popular way to make money from your list is to sell ad space through newsletter ads.
This is a great way to monetize your audience because you can earn money from your newsletter without having to create your own product. You can put ad placements in any of your emails, on your website, or even through social media.
It’s important that you make it clear to your readers that these are paid ads and that the companies have paid for a sponsored ad in your newsletter.
An interesting note about ad space is that different types of ads have different types of value.
Sponsored content is the most valuable type of advertising. It’s essentially when brands come to you, and they want you to put your stamp of approval on their product or service in order to reach your audience.
One person who has taken advantage of this type of advertising is Packy McCormick of Not Boring. Every week, he writes long-form articles in his newsletter on different businesses, and these businesses will pay him favorable sums of money in order to get their message out to his newsletter list. He has built up an audience of over 100k subscribers doing this, and the value of this type of sponsored content goes up as his subscriber count does.
There’s no telling what some brands are willing to pay for customer loyalty, and a few sponsored deals per year can be more than enough for you to live off of.
A banner ad is typically worth more than a text ad because it’s more visible and takes up more space. These ads typically live at the top of a newsletter, and they’re prime real estate for any brand that wants to work with you.
Morning Brew is an example of a newsletter that does banner ads well. They feature sponsored brand names and logos at the top of each newsletter, and their in-house team works on creatives to make it match their style.
Banner ads for Morning Brew are worth tens of thousands of dollars since they have millions of people opening their emails every morning.
Native ads are typically worth less than banner ads because they’re less visible and take up less space. These ads typically live in the body of a newsletter, they match other content on the page, and they’re intended to be a place to advertise without looking like an ad. They’re a good way for smaller brands to reach your audience without breaking the bank.
Sell consulting services
This one is pretty straightforward.
People are always looking for a good service provider. If you have demonstrated a mastery over a subject, people are willing to pay for that expertise.
It doesn’t matter if it is email marketing strategy, design help, engineering knowledge, or just general business advice. If you can sell your services to somebody on your email list, it could make sense for you to think about consulting.
Selling consulting services has two big benefits, and that is that you can charge whatever you want, and you don’t have to constantly be prospecting clients.
A general rule of business is that it is better to charge more servicing less clients (compared to the opposite), so I would recommend setting a minimum of what you are willing to work for if you choose to offer consulting services.
Sell your digital or physical products
If you have a digital or physical product, you can sell it to your newsletter subscribers. This is a great way to monetize your audience because you’re a) selling a product that’s already been created and b) it’s no additional cost to you. More money from less work is good.
Digital products are things like e-books, PDFs, courses, and templates. These are popular because they’re easy to produce and people can consume them immediately. The downside is that you have to deal with customer service, and some people prefer physical products.
Having a product built is the first step of this process, so if you haven’t done this yet, think about what you could sell to your audience.
What are their needs? What do you have unique knowledge in? Can you make something that creates value for them AND matches their budget?
You’ll also need a dedicated landing page for each product that you sell. This should be live on your website, and you should make it clear what people are getting BEFORE they purchase. Nobody buys based on mystery, and you should paint a clear picture in their head.
Explain what the product is. Explain what’s inside. Include pictures / visuals to give a preview. Provide testimonials and case studies from previous customers if you have them. Record a short video explaining what buyers can expect.
Most newsletter creators today have a value ladder, and they start small to earn more trust with new subscribers before upselling larger offers later down the road.
What this process looks like is first capturing an email, then providing something else for free. This is usually some sort of digital product (ebook, PDF, swipe file, etc.) that makes the new subscriber feel like they are getting a bargain by signing up for your email.
From here, you’re able to put different subscribers into transactional email funnels based on purchaser intent.
If they download the free resource, put them in a new funnel for the next product up the ladder. If they buy this product, enter them into a new funnel for the next offer.
Purchase history is the strongest indicator of who your future buyers are.
Building value ladders with transactional emails after each step is a great way to leverage technology to generate more sales of your digital products.
This is a resource library of tweets meant to inspire motivation.
It is relatively affordable, and JK and Ed partnered up to launch it (they later saw the demand for this sort of product and turned it into a SaaS). They market it primarily through Twitter and email.
Confluence.VC sells their resource library to those that want a deeper understanding of how venture capital works.
They market it primarily through their website and email list.
Sell branded merchandise
Many people think that selling branded merchandise is a great way to make money from their newsletter. It’s a great way to offer something up to your subscribers, but it’s not as easy as slapping a logo on a shirt and calling it a day.
Branded merchandise includes things like shirts, mugs, notebooks, and stickers. These are popular because they’re relatively easy and cheap to produce, and people like to collect them. The downside is that you have to deal with inventory, shipping, and customer service.
If you want to sell branded merchandise, you need to make sure that it’s high quality and that it’s something your audience actually wants. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with a bunch of unsold products and a lot of angry customers.
Do your research, test the market, and start small. Once you’ve figured out what works, you can scale up your operation to make more money.
This is a resource library of tweets meant to inspire motivation.
Full Send is the merch collection of NELK.
They gained their popularity on YouTube, and they primarily advertise merch drops to their fans through their YT channel along with their email list.
Sol Brah is a Twitter personality that tweets about health and wellness.
He started a merch line, and every time he drops a new line of clothing, he sells out quickly. He primarily builds up demand through his Twitter account, and he announces the drop through his email list.
Dom is a fitness personality that made a name for himself through his YouTube channel.
He markets his apparel throughout his YT videos, and he announces new apparel drops through his email list.
A paid newsletter is a great way to make money from your audience. Having subscribers pay for premium content to directly support your business is a dream scenario, but it is one of the harder ways to monetize your email list.
The golden rule for a paid newsletter is that you as the writer need to be giving more than enough value to justify what you are charging as the subscription fee. If you are charging $10 per month, readers should be getting much more than $10 in value from you.
Typically the people that create paid subscriptions for their newsletter have been writing for years, they have built up trust and authority, and they are able to get enough of those subscribers to convert to pay for more access to their brain.
Usually it makes sense to keep a free version of your newsletter so you can still reach your broader list, and then you can send more premium content to your paying subscribers.
By charging for access to your newsletter, you can ensure that only those who are willing to pay for it are receiving it. This allows you to create high quality content without worrying about whether or not people will actually read it; you’re able to work for those that are directly supporting you. Compare this to monetizing through advertising where you’re concerned over open rates and click through rates of your ad, and you can understand why some newsletter creators prefer this option.
In order to make sure people are actually willing to pay for your newsletter, you need to provide them with value that they cannot find anywhere else. This could come in the form of exclusive content, early access to new products or features, or even just a personal relationship with you and your team.
A general rule of thumb is that in order to have unique content worth paying for, a person has to have unique experiences worth listening to.
BowTied is an anonymous Internet personality that writes about where the world is heading and how we got to where we are today.
He writes a weekly newsletter that goes out to premium subscribers that shares his updates on how he is viewing the world, and it is filled with information that readers can apply to their day-to-day lives.
He has chosen to host his premium newsletter on Substack.
Lenny is a former PM at Airbnb, and he runs a one-person million dollar business.
He writes a weekly newsletter that goes out to premium subscribers that shares deep dives on different topics related to tech. It’s incredibly useful for startup founders, investors, and anybody else that works in tech.
He has chosen to host his premium newsletter on Substack.
Create a paid community
If you’re looking for a way to make money from your newsletter that is both high touch and high value, creating a paid community might be the right option for you.
A paid community is a group of people who are all willing to pay to be a part of it. This could be an online forum, a Slack group, or even just a private Facebook group. The key is that it’s closed off from the rest of the internet and that people are paying to be there.
The benefit of having a paid community is that you can charge people for access to it. This allows you to create a space where people are willing to pay for the privilege of being part of it, and you can use this money to improve the quality of the community itself.
Of course, the downside is that you have to moderate and manage the community, which can be time-consuming. But if you’re able to find someone who’s willing to do this for you, it can be a great way to make money from your audience.
Dru Riley created Trends.vc to compress market research reports into bite-sized pieces of information.
He has a team that helps break down complex subject, list out the players, and spot opportunities.
His monetization strategy has been to charge for premium research, and he also has a paid community for subscribers that want to ask questions and connect with other likeminded people.
Pieter Levels created Nomad List as a community for digital nomads to connect with one another and find out more information about different hubs around the world.
He was early on seeing the remote work opportunity, and he has been monetizing his audience through a paid community for close to a decade now.
His monetization strategy has been to charge for access to the Nomad List Slack group, but he also makes money through a job board and partnerships with companies catering to nomad workers.
Confluence.VC is the operating playbook for venture and growth equity investors.
They provide training, connections, Q&A, hiring, and deal flow to help investors become more effective in their roles.
Unlike many other paid communities, their members need to apply and go through a vetting process. Currently they are only letting in those work full-time in a private investing role.
Host virtual events
Covid forced events to go virtual, and this trend is likely here to stay. Virtual events have a number of advantages over in-person events, including the fact that they’re cheaper to produce and easier to attend.
If you’re looking for a way to monetize your email list, hosting virtual events is a great option. You can charge people for access to the event, and you don’t have to worry about finding a venue or catering food. Plus, since more people are comfortable attending virtual events, you’ll be able to reach a larger audience than you would with an in-person event.
Of course, the downside is that you’ll need to invest in technology to make sure the event runs smoothly. But if you’re able to find a way to make it work, virtual events can be a great way to monetize your email list.
Ask for donations
One of the simplest ways to monetize your email list is to ask for donations. This is especially effective if you have a large, engaged audience that feels connected to you and your work.
Donations are a great way to monetize your email list because they’re completely voluntary. People only donate if they want to, so you don’t have to worry about angering anyone by asking for money. Plus, since donations are tax-deductible, people are often willing to give more than they would if they were just buying a product from you.
Of course, the downside is that donations can be unpredictable, and you might not always get as much money as you need. But if you’re able to find a way to make it work, donations can be a great way to monetize your email list.
Email newsletters are one of our favorite ways to make money online.
It’s a small investment (usually the only costs associated with running a newsletter is the email service provider and hosting fees), and there’s no telling what the upside is.
An engaged newsletter is an asset. As you can see, there are a lot of different ways to make money with your newsletter.
The best way to monetize your newsletter will depend on your audience and what they’re interested in. Whether it’s digital products, courses, merch, services, advertising, or something else, there will always be an opportunity increase your revenue streams with an email list.
Newsletter monetization is a long game, and you’ll need to stick to a consistent schedule before seeing any fruits of your labor. Especially if you are just starting out, don’t expect to start printing money from your email.
Take some time to experiment and find the method that works best for you. You’d be surprised how much you can make sharing something of value on the internet.