Grow: How Becky Malinsky’s less-is-more format carved out a niche within the noise
The Grow interview series is designed to share the nuts and bolts of how writers have gone independent and grown their audiences on Substack. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
We invited, who writes , to share insights on how she launched a Substack as a core pillar of her new career and crafted a simple, consistent format that does a job for readers.
What’s your Substack about in one sentence?
Straightforward (but also joyful) fashion and style advice meant to remove the time suck of endless online shopping.
Who reads your Substack?
Mostly women at the moment.
What do you uniquely offer readers?
I’m not asking for too much of my readers’ time. It is intentionally edited down to “5 Things” without too many links. The whole reason for starting the newsletter was to bring readers only what is good and cut out the excess that makes decision fatigue such a frustrating part of online shopping.
I also truly enjoy the category, which I think shows in my tone. I’m often giddy over the content.
Growth by the numbers
Started publishing online: Before Substack, I was the deputy fashion director at the Wall Street Journal. My experience with online publishing was at a much bigger scale and with a much bigger team. Now, it’s just me from ideation to publishing.
Started Substack with paid subscriptions: July 2022
Free subscribers: Thousands
Paid subscribers: Hundreds
What’s your content strategy?
Schedule: Once a week, on Sunday mornings.
Format: I post about fashion exclusively and always stick with five things. The 5 Things format was born from a friend having a meltdown over not being able to make a purchase decision. There were just too many options. It was clear to me that the answer to fashion guidance was not more, but less. I change up the themes. It could be five pairs of loafers one week and five ideas for getting dressed to entertain at home the following.
Production: Posts all come together Wednesday to Friday—the week before I publish on Sunday mornings. The goal is to figure out how to get ahead and produce more than one post at a time. It’s hard to focus on more than one thing, but if I am going to be able to keep publishing at this pace, I’ll have to get better at that.
It was clear to me that the answer to fashion guidance was not more, but less.
The launch moment
I started my Substack when I was leaving print publishing, an industry I worked in for 18 years, to launch a styling company and pursue freelance life. When I announced I was leaving my full-time position at the Wall Street Journal on Instagram, I simultaneously announced that I was launching a Substack. I’ve always been on a schedule and felt like I wanted something to keep me on a weekly deadline.
The friends and colleagues I’ve made over the past decade were all so supportive, and many people shared the post to their own social media channels right when I launched. I cried at the end of the week from all the support. It was the single biggest growth week.
From there, it’s been slow but steady and word of mouth. The biggest weeks of growth are after I publish a theme that really resonates. The biggest subscriber growth came after a story called What To Wear To Dinner, which was a “getting dressed” problem I was hearing from many of my private styling clients and friends. Every time the week’s theme is very clearly explained in the headline, I see significant growth.
Why did you decide to go paid?
I’ve always had a paid option. I view it the same way you would pay for a newspaper or magazine you love. Maybe that’s because I came from WSJ, which has a paywall, but I am a firm believer in paying for what you consume.
I also think it’s important to explain this to your readers. I’ve had readers email me and ask the difference between the paid versus free, and I always say that, at the moment, there is no difference, but I explain that paid subscriptions support the huge amount of work it takes to bring them the newsletter. Usually, they have never thought about it from that perspective and end up wanting to pay.
I explain that paid subscriptions support the huge amount of work it takes to bring them the newsletter. Usually, they have never thought about it from that perspective and end up wanting to pay.
How does your Substack fit into your work life?
I wouldn’t really call it a side hustle or main, but one of three pillars of my career at the moment. I run an executive styling service helping professional women get dressed for work, which is half my time, and then I split the other half between this newsletter and freelance writing and styling jobs for publications and brands.
What’s the sharpest insight you can offer other writers about growing a Substack publication?
Having a very clear and service-leaning topic helped me. I know exactly what the format is and sticking with it creates a sense of consistency. I don’t overwhelm the reader. It’s five ideas, nothing more, nothing less.
What has been a meaningful moment for the growth of your publication?
Seeing subscriptions come in from fashion industry leaders who I’ve always admired and probably would have never had the courage to reach out to. It’s also something that makes me feel vulnerable and helps me take the work extremely seriously, instead of considering it a side hustle.
In the first story I posted after I left my full-time job, two of the five items I recommended sold out, including one from a major Italian luxury brand. I was stunned and realized I was onto something. It made me recognize how rare and important it is to be authentic and stick to recommending what I truly believe in since I have people’s attention and trust.
Who’s another Substack writer you turn to for guidance and inspiration? who writes is a friend and was a huge supporter as I transitioned from full-time employee to self-employed creative. I am constantly nagging her for advice on strategy, content, and just coping with the general emotional management of the vulnerability that comes with how personal the work is.
Also, not on Substack but Claire and Erica of A Thing or Two have been super inspirational and helpful. I love their mix and their structure.
Make the most of the launch. The launch is an important moment for your publication. Timing it with milestones in your personal and professional life, and leaning on influencers in your space when you launch, can help you make the most of the moment. It’s an opportunity to establish your mission and drive a wave of excitement, attention, and subscriptions.
Read more: Launching a media business on Substack
Do a job for your readers. Becky has developed a clear and consistent format that serves her readers. They turn to her for guidance, and it makes their shopping to-dos easier.
Explain the value of paid subscriptions. A clear and compelling pitch for why paid subscribers’ support is important, especially when all your posts are free. Get in front of your readers and explain how paid subscriptions support you and your work.
What questions do you have forthat we didn’t ask? Leave them in the comments!
To read more from this series on growing your publication, see our interviews with Tim Casperson, Marlee Grace, Gergely Orosz, Anne Kadet, Category Pirates, BowTiedBull, Justin Gage, Noah Smith, Carissa Potter, Jørgen Veisdal, Anne Byrn, Nishant Jain, Michael Fritzell, Glenn Loury, Erik Hoel, Jessica DeFino, Mike Sowden, Elizabeth Held, Jonathan Nunn, Polina Pompliano, Michael Williams, Judd Legum, and Caroline Chambers.