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The Fastest Path to Succeed on Substack Right Now (So You Don’t Remain Hostage to Algorithms)

by | Nov 13, 2023 | Writing

Substack is controversial because they’re anti-censorship.

It makes some people mad. I love it because it means they value free speech which is crucial. Debating ideas solves more problems than suppressing ideas.

I’m about to cross 100,000 Substack subscribers, and recently added a paid version that’ll easily make 6-figures in the next 12 months.

Let me show you the fastest path to success on Substack right now, without all the B.S., elitism & romantic notions of writing with a corncob pipe.

The #1 reason to build a newsletter right now

First we need to understand why to do this. Why newsletters?

Simple. People like me are tired of big tech extracting an unfair amount of the value created by the creator economy. We’d rather get paid directly than jump through circus hoops and hang out with clowns.

A newsletter turns you from a renter into an owner.

And right now every major media outlet and celebrity is talking about Substack. I don’t know why. Maybe because it feels cool. Who knows. All I know is the social media landscape is changing.

LinkedIn, Twitter/X, TikTok, Facebook/Meta and others are all going from free to paid. But Substack started out as paid so they’re ahead of the curve, while everyone else is catching up.

If you want to be an owner then a newsletter is a must. People like me chose Substack because it’s simple, easy to use, has high-quality users, and builds YOUR audience (not a platform’s audience that they then rent back to you, thus making you an Uber Driver).

Screw being a creator on an Uber marketplace app.

There are two options on Substack to master

Substack is confusing.

They started as software to run a newsletter and send mass emails. They then added Substack Notes which is their version of the X app.

You need both to succeed. Substack Notes is where you can find an audience. The newsletter part is where you capture the audience and have them subscribe so you get their email address.

What a lot of people don’t know is Substack is about to add a traditional algorithm to Substack Notes and enable the ability to go viral. When this happens it’ll be easier to find an audience.

Even without an algorithm and virality, I’m still finding my audience is growing faster on Substack than on any other platform.

The hardest problem to solve as a writer/creator is…

Where is my audience going to come from?

Once you solve that problem the rest is easy. And the point of Substack is it’s a place to find new readers who are used to paying for content. They’re the Mercedes Benz driver, premium users. Quora, for example, is where you find the 1993 Hyundai Excel users who can barely afford a sandwich.

The fastest path to success is to go where the money is.

Word of mouth is back, baby!

I’m old school. I love co-ops, farmers markets, and neighborly word of mouth. Until Substack, these gorgeous business models had died online.

Substack has word of mouth in the form of newsletter recommendations. You can team up with other creators/writers & recommend each other’s newsletters.

This lets you build your audience and leverage other people’s at the same time, so you can grow 10x faster. I’ve spent an hour a week for the last few months collaborating with other creators on Substack.

When it makes sense, I recommend them, and they recommend me. What’s wild is many of my readers are happy to recommend my newsletter without getting anything in return.

When a Substack user recommends your newsletter, it shows up on their profile page as “John Smith reads Tim Denning’s newsletter.”

This helps lots of new people find your newsletter. And chances are if you like a writer, then you might like the writers they read.

See what I mean?

It’s natural. It’s organic. And it’s less of this algorithm stuff that can become exhausting, and start to make you jump at shadows.

“Did the algorithm mess up my essay? Did Elon suppress this topic? Is it a virus? Was Clinton involved? Could this be the next Watergate?”

Seriously, algorithm worshippers start to sound like conspiracy theorists. They’re like a cult of crackpot crazies about to attend a Donald Duck rally.


Give me organic word of mouth every day of the freaking week.

You can’t escape Elon, though. I’m sorry 🙁

You’ll still need X and the rocket man owner.

Or LinkedIn. Or Instagram/Meta. The fastest path to grow on Substack right now isn’t to join the boycott club and refuse to use social media. No. It’s to change your mind about social media.

What works is a use and abuse mentality.

Take what the platforms offer you and exploit it for your benefit. Post content on their platforms, but just divert everyone to your email list or Substack. Then you get the best of both words.

The other key is to change your focus.

I’m spending a lot more time building my Substack, and a lot less time kissing platform ass to get their incentives.

Once you become an owner it’s impossible to unsee all the renters that have their livelihoods and audiences at the mercy of a button.

The simple Substack formula anyone can follow to grow 10x faster

  1. Make all your call-to-actions and link-in-bios lead to your Substack.
  2. Post short-form content on X, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. Reply to your content in the comments with a link to your Substack.
  3. Publish a daily post on Substack Notes.
  4. Start conversations with other creators and recommend each other’s Substack where it makes sense (topic, vibe, beliefs).
  5. Send out a weekly Substack newsletter for free.
  6. As your audience starts to grow, add a paid tier to your Substack.

What everyone gets wrong about the Substack incentives (that stops them from making 6-figures)

Let me be Captain Obvious.

The last point above is key. If you never make your Substack newsletter paid, Substack the company will never make money.

Question: will Substack promote your Substack if you make them $0?

My guess is no. They’re not a charity.

So…if you want to make money you have to align your incentives. That’s why having a paid tier to your Substack sooner than you think is key.

  • They can elevate your content inside of topic pages.
  • Their staff can recommend your content.
  • They can email your content to their massive email list.
  • And if your newsletter makes money, it’ll show higher in the leaderboards.

Now you know why I made my Substack paid.

Not for the extra cash but the massive audience growth potential that most creators haven’t even stumbled across yet.

Those creators are still on platforms like Quora shouting “Where’s my money man? You promised me money. When is my pay increase? Who do I have to bribe? How do I get the special treatment? When Lambo?”

I prefer to be an owner and give myself pay rises whenever I want by hitting publish. Then I invest the money into financial assets that generate passive income so I can work less. You can do the same.

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