In My Humble Confession
A look back at a humbling, failed experiment.
In My Humble
There’s a confession I should probably make.
By most metrics, especially my own goals, this newsletter is a flop.
Before I dig into this in depth, let me say thank you! Yes, you, the person who opened this newsletter to read my words, for being a subscriber. It means a lot to have people care about what I have to say and hopefully to learn something from my work. None of what I’m about to say is meant to be interpreted as shaming anyone who chose not to (or was unable to) financially support my work. But bringing up revenue is part of the necessary discussion!
This newsletter has challenged me to confront how I deal with failure. It’s been confusing and is helping me redefine my relationship to failure and success.
Let me backup and start at the beginning of this journey.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous newsletter, I took time off in 2021 after suffering from a rather severe case of burnout. I’ve spent a lot of time evaluating the elements of my work I enjoy and which ones I’d like to phase out. This ability to nix what makes you unhappy is one of the significant benefits of being your own boss. Speaking engagements and writing are the top of my “loves” column while brand partnerships and influencer work are on the “phase out” list.
In order to phase out brand partnerships and influencer work, I needed to figure out how to supplement that income in other ways. The goal was to create an asset I controlled and owned that could generate revenue on a more consistent basis.
In January 2022, a Substack representative reached out directly to me to pitch me joining Substack. There was no upfront financial incentive (so it’s not a brand partnership), but the fact that I could monetize my work in a way that I owned aligned with my goals.
Substack claims that the conversion rate from free subscribers to paid subscribers tends to be 5% to 10%. Based on this claim, I calculated I could expect to hit at least 200 paid subscribers within a month or two of publishing (which would be grossing $1,000 per month) and set a big goal to have more than 10,000 readers and 1,000 paid subscribers ($5,000 per month) by my one year mark.
That’s not what happened.
Per my agreement with Substack, I’ve published twice weekly for a year. This newsletter is my 105th issue.
Unfortunately, there has been no significant growth compared to the first newsletter on April 9th.
I did see a modest bump when featured by Substack back in January, but it flattened quickly. While the open rate is strong and consistently 50%+ on free newsletters and 75%+ on paid, the engagement rate (likes, shares, comments) remains low. The conversion to paid subscribers has stayed completely flat from the early weeks, with the occasional person doing a free one-week trial to read the back catalog and then canceling. These stats are tragically below what Substack claims is typical, my paid subscribers account for less than one percent of my list.
I would estimate that I spend at least four hours a week (which frankly, is a lowball estimate) researching, writing, editing, and uploading both newsletters, which means I’ve spent at least 208 hours (or more than 8.5 full days of my life) on this project. Unfortunately, I’ve earned less writing a year's worth of newsletters than I earn writing two articles for a major publication.
None of this is to say “woe is me” or complain, especially to the paid subscribers.
The point here is that I’ve suffered what I consider to be a professional failure, which given my relationship to my job and need for validation tends to feel like a personal failure and cuts deep.
One of my immediate criticisms of myself was considering my why and wondering if that’s perhaps part of the reason this never quite clicked. I was chasing after what I thought people wanted in order to attract subscribers and create an income-generating asset. That, however, is not the roots of Broke Millennial.
In its inception back in January of 2013, Broke Millennial was a blog with the intention of helping other (broke) millennials learn how to handle their money, while also holding myself accountable. I’d never been an avid reader of blogs, and had never read a personal finance blog before starting one, so I was unaware that people monetized and used blogs to earn a living. This coupled with social media eventually led to the rise of influencer work. A rise in which I eventually took part.
Broke Millennial, the blog, eventually earned me media attention which in turn got the attention of a literary agent and then I wrote a book proposal and got my first book deal. The night before publication, I set two goals. The first was that I wanted to hear from just one person that the book had made a positive impact and changed the course of their financial life. The second was to sell 10,000 copies within the first year because I’d heard that most books never even sell 10,000 copies in a lifetime. (I’m still a competitive person at the end of the day.) The first happened within a week of publication. The second happened within four months.
The book launched me into a new realm of “influencer-dom” in which I had brands wanting to work with me, colleges and companies wanting to hire me to speak to their students/employees, and a new world of opportunities unfolded. But the original intent of Broke Millennial remained pure – I wanted to help other people handle their money and it was a happy accident that I was able to turn it into a successful career.
This brings me back to this newsletter.
Broke Millennial the blog was written from a place of curiosity, pleasure, and a dash of irreverence. It was infused with my sense of humor and came off much like I am in real life, “a pragmatic, big sister.” The first book was written in the same manner and captured a lot of the original spirit of the brand. Broke Millennial with Erin Lowry as a newsletter never quite seemed to capture that spirit in the same way.
Of course, now I’m a decade older. Donuts and Dollars, my first blog post, was written when I was 23 years old and only 1.5 years into living in New York City. My life looks entirely different at almost 34 and having lived in New York for 12 years. I’m married, financially stable, debt free, and, perhaps most importantly, ready to start exploring what exists for me beyond Broke Millennial.
This is not to say that I’m going to stop writing about personal finance entirely, but that the trajectory of this newsletter is going to start looking different.
I will no longer be publishing twice a week. In fact, I can’t even give you a schedule right now. I’m going to take a couple of weeks off. Then I will be aiming for once a week and playing around with topics and format.
Money will continue to be a through line, but may not be the primary focus of forthcoming newsletters. This will now be a space in which I’m allowed to play once again.
I’ve turned off accepting payments for now.
If you’d like to support my work in another way, please consider preordering my forthcoming workbook: Broke Millennial Workbook. You’ll also get a bunch of preorder goodies if you email proof of purchase to email@example.com.
Thank you for joining me on this experiment. I appreciate you taking the time to read my work and allow me to take up some space in your inbox!