Canva Pro Review: Is Canva Pro Worth The Money?

Canva Pro Review: Is Canva Pro Worth The Money?

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Written by Casey Botticello

March 15, 2021

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. For more information, read our full affiliate disclosure statement here.

Product TipCanva is a graphic design tool allowing anyone (regardless of their experience) to create amazing designs using drag and drop tools!

If you don’t already have Canva, try it for free! Canva makes it ridiculously simple to create blog banners, edit photos, and create social media marketing images. It is one of the few blogging tools that I use daily.

Canva is one of the single most useful tools for bloggers, digital marketers, and content creators. In addition to making stunning graphic designs simple enough for anyone to create, Canva’s free tier makes it a no-brainer to try out. Of all the digital tools and software that I personally use, Canva is by far the product that I use the most. It is also my go to recommendation for any content creator who is tired of paying freelancers exorbitant fees for blog banners, infographics, charts, social media content, or webpage designs.

While the free tier of Canva offers a lot, there are some features in Canva Pro that are true game changers for bloggers and other content creators. These features can literally save you hundreds or even thousands of hours per month, depending on your specific use case. I can’t think of another tool that I use that offers so much, at an affordable price (or even in the free tier)!

This article will assess the value of Canva Pro relative to the free version, and help highlight what unique features Canva Pro offers when compared to the free version of Canva.

While Canva Pro is an easy choice for many, I realize that some content creators have extremely limited budgets, or may only utilize one or two of the additional tools available in Canva Pro. So this review will be focused specifically on what features Canva Pro users get compared to the free version. In some cases, the free version of Canva is more than sufficient.

What is Canva?

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Canva is a popular online graphic design application that makes it easy to create high-quality images and materials. Millions of people use Canva to create social media images, posters, digital invitations, presentations, and physical materials like brochures and business cards.

Unlike high-powered tools, such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, Canva has a low barrier to entry because of its simple intuitive interface. It’s available on the web or as a mobile app for Android and iOS.

Canva offers several pricing plans for individual users, with varying levels of functionality:

  • Free: This has most of the functionality needed to make simple designs.
  • Pro: The Pro plan contains additional templates, graphics, fonts, and photos. It also allows users to save transparent PNGs, create custom templates, and upload their own fonts.There is also an enterprise plan, but for the purposes of this review, I’m going to focus on the two main options, Canva Free vs. Canva Pro

Canva’s most useful feature is its wide array of templates. Even with a free account, there are thousands of templates across over a hundred design types. There are templates for nearly every use you can think of, from a personal resume to an Instagram post for your band’s upcoming live performance. However, it should be noted that many templates are only accessible to Pro or Enterprise users.

Most templates contain several of the following:

  • Vectors and Graphics: These are additional elements used to add character to a template, such as shapes, stickers, frames, or in some cases, animated icons.
  • Stock Images: These are stock images that are directly available from Canva’s library. You can decide to keep these or upload your photos and replace them.
  • Color Palettes: To have a cohesive style, most templates follow a specific color palette for across its various elements.
  • Font Groups: These are combinations of fonts selected by Canva’s designers.
  • Page Layouts: This is especially true for templates that span multiple pages, such as presentation decks or brochures. There will typically be several layout options for each page, similar to Google Slides or Powerpoint.

Free Canva vs. Canva Pro

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Canva Free Version

  • 250,000+ free templates

  • 100+ design types (social media posts, presentations, letters, and more)

  • Hundreds of thousands of free photos and graphics

  • Invite members to your team

  • Collaborate and comment in real-time

  • 5GB of cloud storage

Canva Pro

  • Everything Free has, plus:

  • Create 1 Brand Kit and upload your own fonts and logos

  • One-click design Magic Resize

  • 420,000+ free templates with new designs daily

  • 75+ million premium stock photos, videos, audio and graphics free-to-use

  • Save designs as templates for your team to use

  • 100GB of cloud storage

  • Schedule social media content to 7 platforms

    $12.99 Per Month

Is Canva Pro Worth It?

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There are many advantages of using Canva Pro over the free version of Canva. However, I’ve chosen to focus on the 8 major features offered in Canva Pro that really set it apart from the free version.

1. Magic Resize: Replicate Designs in Different Sizes

Normally, when you start to work on a new design in Canva, you choose your preferred design type, such as an Instagram Post, poster, YouTube video, etc. The type of design determines the dimensions of the workspace.

In the free version of Canva, once you choose the type and start to create it, you’re pretty much committed to that size.

But if you’re halfway through your work and decide that you want the post to be for Facebook instead of Instagram, you’re stuck. This means that you either have to start over or somehow copy from one design to the other.

In the Pro version, however, you can use the Magic Resize tool at the top left corner of the screen. With a few clicks, you can create duplicates of your creation in other sizes. In those copies, you may need to move some elements around to make them fit better, but the basic layout remains.

This is a great timesaver if you plan to post the same thing on multiple social media platforms. Another example is when you want to create multiple materials to represent the same brand, like a website header, letterheads, and presentations.

2. Brand Kit: Consistency Across All Designs

To continue with the topic of brand representation, Canva Pro offers a great tool called Brand Kit. If you use the software to create images and videos for one client, this can come in handy. It’s also invaluable if you use Canva to promote yourself as a small business, and want to have a cohesive look.

The feature allows you to add all of your logos in one place, as well as your brand colors and fonts. After you do that, you can adapt any design to match the same brand with just a few clicks.

You simply go to the Style tab on the left, click the brand colors and fonts, and watch the transformation on the screen.

The logos you upload to the Brand Kit are also accessible from the Logos tab on the left. All of this is even more useful if you work with a team, and all of your designs need to fit the same mold.

3. Premium Templates and Assets

For people who use Canva regularly, templates are another huge timesaver. They provide you with a good base to start your designs and help you create designs on Canva with zero effort.

You can find templates for almost any situation, from an Instagram Story to a resume. These can be extremely helpful when you feel overwhelmed at the thought of having to design something from scratch. While these are available in the free version, there are so many more to choose from with the Pro version.

Additionally, a Pro account opens access to numerous assets that can enrich your designs. This includes over four million photos, as well as numerous stickers, fonts, and additional animations.

The biggest difference is with videos and sounds, as there is a much wider selection to choose from. A Pro account also helps you find assets precisely for your needs when you use the Search option. Looking for a specific word will yield multiple usable results.

4. Instant Animation of Images

Whip up a motion potion with our animation creator. With Canva Pro, you can easily add Instant Animation to social posts, presentations, or anywhere else you need to make a stunning visual impression. Simply click once to animate, then download as a GIF or video format.

It’s all about making visuals pop, or in this case, making visuals bounce, slide, fade, block, and more. Choose from 14 premium animation styles that will add motion to different parts of your design.

5. Schedule to Social Media: Manage Directly From Canva

One of Canva’s greatest strengths is designing for social media, including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and more. So it only makes sense that the software will let you post directly to these platforms, which you can already do in the free version.

However, the Pro account also lets you schedule these posts, taking the social media game to a whole other level. On top of that, with the Canva Content Planner, you can plan ahead and spot gaps in your posting schedule.

Unfortunately, the scheduler doesn’t cover all platforms, and Instagram, for instance, is sorely missing. For that, you have to use a third-party app that lets you schedule posts to multiple platforms.

6. Create Transparent Image Background

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Pesky image backgrounds can get in the way, especially when printing designs on t-shirts or placing logos over another image. Fortunately Canva Pro makes it easy to remove backgrounds and save the image as a transparent PNG file, giving you the flexibility to place your design wherever you please.

With Canva Pro, simply choose PNG, then click the box with the transparent background option. Now you’re ready to place your design anywhere—over other images, as branding on all your social posts, or even on a mug.

Extract the best part of an image or logo or update the background with something different. Transparent PNGs mean you can combine or layer photos with other image elements. Plus you can design professional logos that look great when placed anywhere. Create images that are perfect for logos and product shots. Placing your design on multiple backgrounds helps build a strong visual impression.

7. Collaborate with Your Team Members

8. Unlimited Access to 300,000 Free Photos and Illustrations

Finding the right image can be half the battle! Explore Canva’s collection of images exclusive for Canva Pro users and find the perfect image to take your design to the next level.

No need to scour the net to find a free image. Just type a keyword and choose the “Free Only” filter in the search dropdown.

Explore thousands of free images curated in different categories, from food, travel, business, fashion and more, available in the elements tab.

Canva Resources

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Canva Articles

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What Are the Best Anonymous Blogging Platforms?

What Are the Best Anonymous Blogging Platforms?

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Written by Casey Botticello

February 22, 2021

For many writers, the primary purpose of blogging is to build a personal brand. You may focus on ways to maintain some degree of privacy as a blogger, but you are still linking your identity to content that you post online.

However, in an increasingly polarized political environment, and among the outright assault on privacy by social media companies, many writers are looking for anonymous blogging platforms. And while taking measures to maintain your privacy as a blogger are sufficient for some, others are looking for the best blogging platforms, which are designed to keep your identity a secret.

Below is a list of the best anonymous blogging platforms.

1. Telegra.ph

Telegram has a blogging platform to go along with its popular messaging app, called Telegraph. Telegraph offers fast publishing and anonymous posting — users are not required to register an account or sign in through social media.

The app’s user interface looks very similar to Medium and allows for easy embeds. In fact the post editor built-in toolbar looks nearly identical.

You can embed multiple images, Videos from YouTube or Vimeo, and social media snippets from platforms like Twitter.

Publication is instantaneous upon hitting “publish.” Posts are shareable on social media platforms but are designed to work best on Telegram’s new Instant View layout, which works similarly to Facebook’s Instant Articles feature.

The simplicity and speed of Telegraph are not without its downsides. The lack of user history means that if you accidentally delete the link to your published post, it would be very difficult to track down.

2. Write.as

Write.as is a no-frills, distraction free platform for writers who want to write and publish their content without any hassle. It offers uncomplicated features and tools geared towards encouraging the basic act of writing. Users can write anonymously or set up a profile to create a variety of content, including short blog post or detailed reports. The author can choose to keep their work from the world on Write.as, share the direct link with friends, or publish it on other platforms.

The company’s philosophy stems from making digital expression accessible to everyone and providing better online privacy to encourage and protect creativity and collaboration. The business also has strong ethical commitments. Indeed, the founder believes that everyone should be able to access a safe and efficient writing platform to share their content with avid and passionate readers without having to pay an exorbitant price for it. This digital tool was, therefore, created to encourage writing ecosystems to freely grow and thrive.

No sign-ups

One of the best things about Write.as is that you don’t need to sign up and therefore enter your personal information to use it. Thanks to this unique tool, you can now publish and share notes or blogs without having to provide your email address or name. The platform doesn’t log your IP address either so it’s truly anonymous.

Private blogs

On the platform, blogs are not indexed automatically and are private by default. You can, of course, choose to share your blogs and have your blogs indexed but if privacy is a concern you don’t have to. The fact that you can control the level of privacy regarding your data is a unique feature Write.as has nailed. This creative digital tool is genuinely a safe, privacy-centric writing platform. Moreover, you can export all of your content at any time so Write.as doesn’t hold it unless you want them too.

Ad-free

Nothing is more annoying to a reader or writer than a clunky blog post or article cluttered with ads. Write.as is a minimalist interface strictly ad and content marketing free so that you don’t get distracted while you’re creating and neither do your readers. The distraction-free feature makes it an incredibly immersive publishing platform.

 

3. TXT.FYI

Write something, hit publish, and it’s live. That’s the promise of TXT.FYI.

There’s no tracking, ad-tech, webfonts, analytics, javascript, cookies, databases, user accounts, comments, friending, likes, follower counts or other quantifiers of social capital. The only practical way for anyone to find out about a posting is if the author links to it elsewhere.

But it is legible, no-nonsense static hypertext, good for short stories, not-short-enough tweets and adventures and all your numbers station or internet dead drop needs. Here you can scream into the void and know the form of your voice is out there forever.

4. Notepin.co

Notepin offers anonymous blogging. If you want to have a unique address where all your posts will be available, that too is possible without signing up.

You can also have a custom domain with it and create a proper blog with Google Analytics integration, and choose from a limited number of themes. These last features, however, are only offered with its premium plan. The premium plans also comes with some other features:

  • Email Subscriptions-Allows readers to subscribe to your blog and receive email updates each time you post.
  • Custom domain with SSL-Connect your own custom domain to your site with SSL support.
  • SEO customization-Edit the SEO of a blog post to control how it appears in search engines.
  • Password protection-Restrict access to individual posts or even your whole blog.
  • Google Analytics-Integrate with Google Analytics and monitor your blog’s traffic.

5. WordPress

While the options we talked about here deliver varying levels of privacy and blogger-friendly features, there’s really just no competition for what you can accomplish with a good WordPress blog. All the previous options don’t show your blog posts on Google search results, so if you want audience coming from a search engine, WordPress is a go to platform. And the sheer number of useful plugins, including for SEO, just make it a better blogging platform all in all.

What if you could have all the advantages of a proper WordPress blog while still maintaining anonymity? You’ll have to jump through some hoops, but it’s possible.

WordPress requires you to register with a valid email ID. And if you want to use premium functions, you’ll need to set up a payment method, which effectively compromises your anonymity. Thankfully, my tests indicate that WordPress does not blacklist disposable email sites such as temp-mail. It’s a bit technical to set one up though.

All you have to do to use WordPress anonymously is register an account with a temp-mail ID as the username or use service like protonmail, avoid Gmail ID. Next, you need to purchase a domain (like example.com) and a host. Make sure you use a proxy name and most importantly, pay anonymously using bitcoins or cryptocurrency.  This is because anyone on the internet can run a search on a who.is database and find out who’s paying for it and get the person name address.

This limits your audience to people who’ve found your URL through other means (such as you link to it). WordPress blogs, on the other hand, are Google indexed. This means that your anonymous WordPress blog will get much more traffic.

Conclusion

While it is difficult to maintain true anonymity as a blogger, the five platforms in this article all allow bloggers to safely blog with a very high degree of anonymity.

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The Best Blogs About Blogging

The Best Blogs About Blogging

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Written by Casey Botticello

January 18, 2021

Blogging has become the essential pillar of content marketing. And while there are blogs covering virtually every imaginable niche, when I ran a recent Google search for the “best blogs about blogging” I was shocked to find the top results were riddled with defunct sites.

Since Blogging Guide has become a major resource for bloggers and digital marketers, I decided to develop a current list of the best blogging websites in 2021.

These are all resources that I recommend to Blogging Guide subscribers, and that I personally follow to stay up-to-date on digital publishing, marketing, blogging, and eCommerce trends.

All of the blogs on this list contain a blog that is directly about blogging or focuses on a relevant blogging related topic (digital marketing, freelance writing, website design, digital publishing, etc.). Some of these blogs are large content marketing blogs attached to a SaaS product (HubSpot), whereas others are small blogs operated by a single writer offering blogging tips (Bloggingwithmo).

    1. Buffer

    Buffer is a software application for the web and mobile, designed to manage accounts in social networks, by providing the means for a user to schedule posts to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Instagram Stories, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, as well as analyze their results and engage with their community.

    Buffer is one of the few tech companies built around the concept of radical transparency. As part of this, they operate both a company blog and a marketing blog. Both are full of amazing content and are essential reading for anyone trying to make it as a blogger or establish an online presence.

    An example of the high quality posts produced by Buffer:

    Why social commerce will rule social media in 2020

    2. Copyblogger

    Since 2006, Copyblogger has been teaching people how to create killer online content. Copyblogger started as a simple one-man blog. It evolved into a highly profitable company with 8 figures in annual revenue thanks to useful content, smart copywriting, and exceptional products and services. They also have an incredibly useful blog, which covers a wide range of writing and marketing topics. True to its name, Copyblogger is rich with well-written content, and a clean minimalist website design.

    An example of the high quality posts produced by Copyblogger:

     Why You Think Content Marketing Doesn’t Work

    3. Content Marketing Institute

    Content Marketing Institute desribes itself as “the leading global content marketing education and training organization, teaching enterprise brands how to attract and retain customers through compelling, multichannel storytelling.”

    An example of the high quality posts produced by Content Marketing Institute:

    100+ Content Marketing Predictions for 2021

    4. HubSpot

    HubSpot’s CRM platform has all the tools and integrations you need for marketing, sales, content management, and customer service. HubSpot also contains one of the most comprehensive collections of blog posts explaining the ins-and-outs of marketing and sales.

    An example of the high quality posts produced by HubSpot:

    How to Get on Board With the Digital Transformation [+ Examples]

    5. Marketing Insider Group

    Marketing Insider Group provides content marketing strategy and content development services that helps you build the business case, defines what you need to do, and delivers digital platforms that produce a measurable return on your marketing investment. They also have their own amazing content marketing blog, filled with tons of insightful articles.

    An example of the high quality posts produced by Marketing Insider Group:

    11 Digital Marketing Trends for Growing Your Business in 2021

    6. Blogging Guide

    Blogging Guide is an online community of writers. Our content is crafted to help new bloggers monetize their online writing. We also provide in-depth coverage of all digital publishing platforms, to help writers and marketers stay ahead of the curve.

    An example of the high quality posts produced by Blogging Guide:

     Substack Newsletter Review and Platform Tips (1 Year In)

    7. CoSchedule

    CoSchedule is a company offering a family of agile marketing tools that will help you stay focused, deliver projects on time, and make your team happy. You most likely know them from their famous free headline analyzer. CoSchedule also has an amazing marketing blog, full of high quality and in-depth posts.

    An example of the high quality posts produced by CoSchedule:

    Marketing Research Strategies: Ideas and Approaches to Conducting Research for Marketing Purposes

    8. Upland Software

    Upland Software is a leader in cloud-based tools for digital transformation. The Upland Cloud enables thousands of organizations to engage with customers on key digital channels, optimize sales team performance, manage projects and IT costs, and automate critical document workflows. They also have a great blog full of articles, whitepapers, and reports.

    An example of the high quality posts produced by Upland Software:

    Are B2B and B2C Going to Converge into One?

    9. Oberlo

    Oberlo is a platform that makes it easy to find awesome products to sell online. With Oberlo, you can access a huge variety of different products with just a few clicks. Whether it’s apparel, electronics, toys, beauty, or the next trending product, Oberlo makes it easy for you to find products from suppliers all over the world and instantly add them to your online store. They also have a really useful blog full of detailed case studies and articles.

    An example of the high quality posts produced by Oberlo:

    How I Built a Dropshipping Store That Made $6,667 in Under 8 Weeks

    10. Contently

    Great content marketing requires three key ingredients: a content strategy that delights your audience, a content marketing platform that streamlines campaigns, and great storytellers that make people care. Contently provides all three to help brands create high-performing content that builds awareness and generates leads. They also have several blogs focusing on strategy, digital transformation, storytelling, and freelancing.

    An example of the high quality posts produced by Contently:

     How to Map Content Marketing to Revenue, in 3 Steps

    11. Moz

    Moz was founded by Rand Fishkin and Gillian Muessig in 2004. It was called SEOmoz, and started as a blog and an online community where some of the world’s first SEO experts shared their research and ideas. They launched the Beginner’s Guide to SEO and their first Search Ranking Factors study, and have launched some of the first SEO tools. Basically, there are few that know more about SEO than Moz. Not surprisingly, Moz has an excellent blog covering SEO and online marketing, from a wide range of industry experts.

    An example of the high quality posts produced by Moz:

    How to Detect and Improve Underperforming Content: A Guide to Optimization

    12. Heidi Cohen

    Heidi Cohen’s Actionable Marketing Guide provides you with marketing insights on social media, content marketing and mobile – including the ever expanding world of connected devices and the Internet of Things. Every Actionable Marketing Guide article includes valuable insights along with practical tips and tactics you can easily apply to your current marketing and business plans.

    An example of the high quality posts produced by Heidi Cohen:

    Blogging: What I Wish I Knew When I Started

    13. InspireFirst

    Founded by Chris Craft in 2018, InspireFirst was launched to teach you the art and science of good writing. It is our goal to help you become a more productive and profitable writer. InspireFirst has an amazing blog covering writing and blogging tips, content marketing tips, productivity, keyword research, Email marketing, and much more!

    An example of the high quality posts produced by InspireFirst:

    3×3 Writing Process: 9 Key Steps for Writing More Amazing Blog Posts

    inspirefirst

    14. AND.CO

    AND.CO is a business management software designed to help freelancers, solopreneurs, and entrepreneurs save time on running their business. They also have an amazing blog geared toward freelancers and digital nomads.

    An example of the high quality posts produced by AND.CO:

    Why Freelancers Should Become Influencers to Increase Their Earnings

    15. Snappa

    Snappa was founded in 2015 when the founders noticed that a lot of small businesses struggled to create quality online graphics. Today, Snappa is used by thousands of marketers, entrepreneurs, and non-designers to create a wide range of graphics for social media, display ads, blog posts, and more.

    An example of the high quality posts produced by Snappa:

    7 Things You Need to Know About the New Facebook Page Layout [2021]

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    Substack Newsletter Review and Platform Tips (1 Year In)

    Substack Newsletter Review and Platform Tips (1 Year In)

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    Written by Casey Botticello

    December 28, 2020

    Substack makes it simple for a writer to start an email newsletter that makes money from subscriptions. Substack provides web and newsletter publishing tools that are purpose-built for paid subscriptions.

    In many ways, Substack has emerged as a major player in the digital publishing space, not through creating or inventing revolutionary ideas, but by simplifying existing concepts, and making them accessible to the average writer (and even users who would have never have identified as “writers” but want to monetize their ideas, opinions, and insights.

    Newsletters have a long and rich history. Even subscription newsletters (where readers pay for access to someone’s newsletter) existed long before Substack. Ben Thompson’s, Stratechery, being one of the best examples.

    But this previous generation of newsletters were created almost exclusively by:

    • Tech savvy entrepreneurs who could easily build their own tech infrastructure;
    • Subject matter experts, with traditional credentials;
    • Writers who had already built up an established audience through traditional publishing channels.

    Substack was unique in that it significantly lowered the barrier of entry into subscription digital publishing. Substack offered a content management system (CMS) built for publishing email newsletters, integrated payments through Stripe, and a website that can host free and subscriber-only content. None of these aspects were unique, but the integration of these three in a WYSIWYG platform was quite a unique offering.

    As someone who writes about digital publishing, I was intrigued by Substack as both a game-changing platform (which I needed to investigate for my readers, many of which I anticipated would be eager to try out the platform) and as a new mechanism for monetizing my own content.

    You can read a higher level review of Substack as a digital publishing platform, here. Below is an account of my personal experience using Substack, data from my newsletter, and tips for fellow Substack writers.

    Creating Blogging Guide (My Substack Newsletter)

    On January 1, 2020, as part of my New Year’s goal setting, I revisited a number of entrepreneurial ideas I had not pursued the previous year. I decided to create a subscription newsletter centered around digital publishing.

    So I took a second look at Substack. Substack allows users to create a subscription based newsletter and blog hybrid, which intrigued me. I resolved to launch a Substack newsletter in the following weeks.

    Later January of 2020, I officially launched my first Substack newsletter, called Blogging Guide.

    I didn’t expect it to be immediately successful, but I had developed a decent following on several digital publishing platforms (most notably, on Medium) and thought that over the course of a year I might be able to reach 20 paying subscribers.

    However, even this seemed ambitious. As most internet entrepreneurs can attest, getting strangers to pay for one off products is hard. Convincing them to pay for a subscription information product? That is very difficult.

    So Blogging Guide was initially launched as a free newsletter. There was not even an option for subscribers to pay (monetization was off).

    I had received a lot of positive comments and feedback during the 100% free sign up only period.

    I enabled paid subscriptions for my Newsletter on February 3, 2020. At this point, my audience was still mostly those trying to master writing on Medium, so the paid newsletter launched under the name Medium Blogging Guide.

    I set the price as low as Substack would let me ($5 per month or $30 per year) and on top of that, I offered a 50% discount to initial subscribers (so it actually cost $2.50 per month or $15 per year).

    Even though this is a very low price point, I was worried few people (if any) would subscribe given that most writers already pay $5 per month or $50 per year for reading articles on Medium.

    I thought that I would give it three months or so, and see if I could even get a single subscriber.

    On February 7, 2020 (four days after enabling monetization), I received my first paid subscriber! I was stunned to receive the email notification:

    I had only published one paid-subscriber-only post a few days earlier, and figured it would require at least a month of publishing/building a large enough back catalogue to get a reader to even consider subscribing.

    This “Zero to One” moment was a real game changer. The newsletter concept worked, someone found value in my writing, and I could charge for content that was higher quality and more in depth.

    Though still cautiously optimistic, I decided to dedicate more time to developing my Substack newsletter.

    Substack Newsletter Data Analytics / Results

    Over the next few months, subscribers continued to validate the concept. Blogging Guide reached 100 paid subscribers on April 20, 2020.

    This was an amazing moment! I considered this the major milestone which validated the concept of my newsletter.

    In the context of the “1000 True Fan Theory” I was now 10% of the way to reaching a sustainable passion economy based business.

    For those not familiar, the 1000 True Fan Theory:

    More than a decade ago, Wired editor Kevin Kelly wrote an essay called “1,000 True Fans,” predicting that the internet would allow large swaths of people to make a living off their creations, whether an artist, musician, author, or entrepreneur. Rather than pursuing widespread celebrity, he argued, creators only needed to engage a modest base of “true fans”—those who will “buy anything you produce”—to the tune of $100 per fan, per year (for a total annual income of $100,000). By embracing online networks, he believed creators could bypass traditional gatekeepers and middlemen, get paid directly by a smaller base of fans, and live comfortably off the spoils.

    In December 2020, less than a year after I started my newsletter, I hit another big milestone, reaching 250 paid subscribers to Blogging Guide!

    While I am a very goal oriented person, I usually don’t focus on short term goals. I try to measure (and predict) success in intervals of at least a year.

    So as I approach the end of the first year of running a paid Substack newsletter, I thought I would provide some of my data, observations, and tips to help other writers.

    I’ve written a few articles covering Substack writing tips, Substack earning potential, Substack formatting, and platform comparisons of Substack to rival platforms. However, this post is more detailed, and likely the most useful since it contains a better sample of data.

    Having a longer-term outlook is useful for a number of reasons, but most importantly to me:

    Evaluating success using a longer period of time (at least a year) allows me to stop worrying about misleading short term trends. These short term trends are often more a result of a lack of data, as opposed to an actual shift that I need to react to.

    A good example of this (which many writers/indie creators can probably relate to) is obsessively checking your stats for your blog, articles, newsletter, or product sales. 

    While there is nothing inherently wrong with checking your stats often, there is a real risk of drawing flawed conclusions based on a limited set of data.

    Take a look at the two charts below:

    These two charts report the Gross Annualized Recurring Revenue from my Substack newsletter and writer community, Blogging Guide.

    Both of these charts show some upward growth, but it would appear any growth that it is occurring, is quite gradual (with a number of drops and financial setbacks along the way).

    This is especially apparent for the month of September, which, at the time, seemed dissapointing:

    While I was tempted to make changes, I stuck with my long term content calendar, and I waited a few more months, to allow myself the time to properly contextualize the data.

    However, even when viewing the gross annualized revenue all-time chart (long-term perspective), this period of time does not really explain much, when viewed out of context (although the trend looks somewhat better).

    Take a look at the all-time graph (just short of one year’s progress):

    When you “zoom out” and examine the broader trend, it becomes clear that:

    • The yellow highlighted period of time (seen in the previous graphs) was not actually that unique in the newsletter’s overall growth trend. It was also not a period of “failure.” Rather it was a fairly arbitrary fluctuation caused by a lack of data.
    • Any decisions made during this period (to change price, increase content production, etc.) would have likely been predicated on a skewed data sample.
    • Substack’s graph depicting gross annualized revenue can easily be influenced by a small group of users, who are monthly subscribers, with a relatively high churn rate. This is true for my newsletter too, even though 90%+ of my paid subscribers at any given time are annual subscribers. This volatility would be even more exaggerated in a newsletter with fewer annual subscribers.

    Lessons Learned in the First Year of Publishing My Paid Substack Newsletter

    1. Choose Your Newsletter Name Carefully

    Picking a good name is essential to creating a successful Substack newsletter. Ideally, your Substack publication will meets most of the following tips:

    • Keep the name short — Generally, the shorter the name, the better. It is also ideal to keep your publication name between 1–3 words.
    • Keep the name simple — I would suggest keeping the newsletter name simple.
    • Try to pick a name with an available domain name — This suggestion is optional. But if you want to have the potential to build a brand beyond your Substack newsletter.

    As you will notice from the Substack leaderboard, most of the top publications follow these basic rules.

    2. Substack Has Very High Domain Authority & Indexes Well

    For me personally, choosing the name “Blogging Guide” made sense as it was concise, easy to spell, and I had already started building a brand around that keyword search phrase. This leads me to the next lesson that I learned from Substack, which is that Substack has high Domain Authority (DA), and writers need to view each newsletter as both a new issue and a static blog post.

    One of the most overlooked aspects of Substack is the fact that your newsletter doubles as a static blog post.

    Why does this matter?

    Normally, the ROI on any individual newsletter issue is relatively low. However, when each issue doubles as a blog post with high domain authority, this significantly increases the value of an individual post. Because far more people will end up seeing it through search engine traffic, there is an additional incentive to create high quality content (as opposed to churning out mediocre content, while trying to promote a product or service.

    Your newsletter is the product or service being sold, so publishing each new issue helps you (1) continue to supply existing subscribers with new content (2) attract new subscribers by creating content that doubles as strong lead generation material.

    3. Focus on Selling Annual Subscriptions

    Substack currently allows for two main types of paid subscriptions: monthly or annual.

    Annual subscriptions are typically offered at a 10%-20% discount off the equivalent monthly pricing.

    The more established your newsletter, the less this discount matters. Conversely, if you have a relatively new newsletter, I would highly suggest offering, at least initially, a 20%+ discount on annual subscriptions, for the following reasons:

    • Annual subscriptions allow for better revenue projections. If you have a lot of monthly subscribers, revenue will inevitably fluctuate since monthly subscribers have a higher churn rate. Additionally, as you change your newsletter subscription price over time, or offer promotional deals, these variations will be reflected more in monthly subscriptions than in annual subscriptions.
    • Annual subscriptions help weed out “problematic subscribers.” Based on my experience, most of the customer service issues come from a small group of monthly subscribers.
    • It is far easier to meet (and exceed) expectations of annual subscribers. Content production varies month to month. So if you have an annual subscription, you will see a better sample of the content that you can come to expect. Monthly subscribers might sign up in a month where you happen to produce less content. This may lead to them not upgrading to an annual membership or cancelling their monthly membership.
    • Annual subscriptions decrease the risk of payment failure. A small amount of subscriptions through Substack will fail because of outdated payment information. For monthly subscriptions, there is a greater risk of payment failure, since their are 12 cycles in a year, and only 1 cycle for the annual subscription.

    4. Develop a “Content Allocation” Strategy

    Substack allows writers the ability to choose, each time they publish a post, if the post is free for everyone or only for paying subscribers. 

    This leads to a question that I get asked by many Substack writers:

    How should I allocate my content between free posts and paid subscriber-only posts?

    There are several strategies that I have seen popular Substack newsletter writer utilize:

    • Post 3-5 free posts per week, and 1-2 premium or locked posts per week. This strategy allows writers to heavily market their work through publicly available posts and newsletter issues. Potential subscribers can get a taste of your content, and if they like it, may upgrade to paid subscribers, in order to access additional or premium content.
    • Post 1-2 free posts per week, and 3-5 premium or locked posts per week. This strategy is the exact opposite of the one mentioned above. Writers are still offering a small amount of content for free (typically, to drive traffic and potential paying subscribers), but they are placing the majority of their content behind a paywall.
    • Post content for free for an extended period. By forgoing monetization for an initial extended period of time, writers can build up an email list much faster. This is the strategy that I recommend to most Substack writers, although it does require a fairly significant investment of time, and it takes much longer to gauge the interest of your audience in actually paying for your content.
    • Immediately enable newsletter monetization, and build an audience at a slower pace, but start generating revenue sooner. This strategy has the advantage of allowing you to filter readers quickly. Some readers may enjoy your content, but will never pay for it. Others will pay for content because they understand the value proposition of your newsletter. You can also assess the potential of your newsletter, at an accelerated rate. However, this strategy can be risky, since you may miss out on subscribers who may have upgraded had they seen your content (not placed behind a paywall).

     

    5. Create an Editorial Calendar

    Similar to blogging, running a successful Substack newsletter requires planning and strategy. One of the best ways to achieve this is through the creation of an editorial calendar for your newsletter publishing schedule.

    6. Mobile Optimization

    Substack automatically does a great job formatting your newsletter content so that it can be read on mobile devices. This is especially critical since Substack’s core offering, is the ability to reach the inbox of your subscribers.

    And more than 50% of all email is opened on mobile devices. So it is at least as important as optimizing your content for traditional desktop views.

    So how can you optimize your Substack newsletter for mobile devices?

    • Limit the use of large image files or GIFs. These will both increase the time it takes to load and email and will increase the odds that your email renders incorrectly.
    • Preview your articles on a mobile device before sending out a newsletter. Occasionally, headings, images, and special font formatting will render incorrectly. This is especially true if you are writing your Substack newsletters in a program (i.e. Word, Notepad, etc.) other than Substack’s editor. Copying and pasting content can lead to formatting errors which may not show up on a desktop preview.
    • Enable colored links. If you go into your Substack newsletter formatting settings, there is a box that you can check labeled “enable colored links.” Enabling this function will allow you to change the color of hyperlinked text. When viewing colored links on desktop, they may appear excessive, depending upon how much you use them. But they really display well on mobile devices and encourage readers to click them.

    7. Create More Than “Just Newsletter”

    Substack does not facilitate much more than a subscription newsletter and a blog. But that doesn’t mean that you need to limit your subscriber benefits to just a newsletter.

    I often refer to Blogging Guide as a writer community instead of just a newsletter. Not only does this sound better, but it reflects the broader efforts I’ve made to build a community around my newsletters central topic.

    I’ve done this by creating private chat groups, offering free digital downloads, and a podcast. All of these related products are offered to paying subscribers.

    Every newsletter is unique, so there is no single answer to the question of how to build a community. But below are a few ideas which may work:

    • Private Chat Communities. These can be hosted on platforms such as Slack, Facebook, Discord, and Reddit.
    • Digital Downloads. Types of digital downloads you can offer your subscribers includes digital templates, eBooks, courses, and custom software/tools.
    • Public Recognition. Forms of public recognition include shoutouts on social media, cross promotion of content, or offering jobs/opportunities to your paid subscribers first, and referencing this in future newsletter updates.

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