Grow: How consistency over time helped The Profile build its readership

This is the fourth in an interview series designed to share the nuts and bolts of how writers have gone independent and grown their audiences on Substack. This interview was originally shared as part of Substack Grow, and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

We invited Polina Pompliano, who writes The Profile, to share her secret formula to reader trust and, ultimately, growth.

What’s your Substack about in one sentence?

The Profile features long-form profiles of the most successful people and companies across business, entertainment, tech, sports, and more.

What do you offer readers?

The Profile aims to improve the reader's content diet by providing high-quality profiles on a weekly basis.

Growth by the numbers

  • Started Substack: September 2018 

  • Launched paid subscriptions: January 2020 

  • Free subscribers: Tens of thousands

  • Paid subscribers: Thousands

Why did you decide to go paid?

I decided to add a premium layer in January of 2020 because I wanted to see whether anyone found the content valuable enough to back it with their dollars. I had initially priced it at $10/month and $100/year, which was quite high for a weekly newsletter. 

After a good amount of feedback, I dropped the annual price to $50/year and saw a really encouraging number of new subscribers join. As someone who had worked in a traditional newsroom my entire career, it was refreshing to see that people were willing to directly pay for high-quality content. That's when I started thinking more about the potential of The Profile, and it led to my decision to leave Fortune in March of 2020 and go all in on my newsletter. 

Read more: Polina writes about quitting her job and what she learned in the first 90 days.

Case study: The Profile launch announcement post

Polina’s announcement post includes the three main parts of a winning announcement:

1. "I have big news to share." The post calls eager readers to action right away.

“👉 I explain the benefits of a subscription to The Profile below, but if you are ready to join us, you can subscribe here for $50 a year. (That comes out to $0.96 per week :) 👈”

2. "This is why it’s important." Polina shares her personal story and how she came to invest her efforts in The Profile. To highlight the value and mission of her publication, Polina supplements her voice with the perspective of her readers using testimonials from Twitter. 

3. "Here is what you will be supporting." Polina uses a bulleted list to outline the suite of benefits offered to paying subscribers.

“If you become a paying member, you get a lot more. You receive the complete suite of profile recommendations along with these member-only benefits ...”

Content strategy

  • Schedule: Twice per week, on Wednesday and Sunday.

  • Paid posts: Wednesday’s newsletter, The Profile Dossier, features a comprehensive deep-dive on a prominent individual. 

  • Free posts: Sunday’s newsletter, The Profile, features a variety of profile recommendations. 

  • Pricing: $10/month or $50/year.

What is the sharpest insight you can offer other writers about growing a Substack publication?

“Consistency + time = trust.”

I’ve learned that the only way you can earn people’s trust is by consistently keeping your word and delivering on what you’ve promised. So no matter what your business is, make sure that your users, readers, or customers know they can rely on you to send your product on time and consistently. Don't start something if you're unsure whether you can stick with it on a regular cadence. 

What advice have you received about growing your publication that didn’t prove to be helpful?

People told me that I needed to diversify my content: get a podcast, do videos, etc. This is only smart if you're willing to be consistent with each channel. 

I asked myself, "Is this the absolute most efficient way for you to get the word out about The Profile, or are there other less time-consuming ways?" 

Sometimes, doubling down on one thing (for me, it's been the newsletter) is the best way to grow. Diversify when you have the time and resources to be consistent with each new project.

What has been a meaningful moment for the growth of your publication? How did that happen?

It happened when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tweeted about The Profile four separate times. It's not something that I could've ever expected, but I had taken the extra step of sharing my article on him and tagging him on Twitter. Who knew that he actually paid attention to his notifications?

Anyway, it reminds me of this great quote by David Perell: "Every article is a serendipity vehicle." You never know whose eyes your work will land in front of. The only thing you can control is taking that extra step of sending it to/tagging the right people in hopes of maximizing your luck.

Note: The post Polina wrote about The Rock was a paid post she made free for everyone so they could get a sense of the quality of The Profile Dossiers, her paid series. This is one of the tactics to consider in converting free readers to paying subscribers.

Takeaways

  • Consistency + time = trust. There are no growth hacks to trust. Showing up for your readers over time is what’s most important. To grow, keep going.

  • Double down to grow. There will be temptations to diversify and do more. Double down on the thing you have time and resources for. Consider diversifying when you can be consistent.

  • Every article is a serendipity vehicle. You never know when someone with a large following, like The Rock, might retweet you. The best predictor of success is writing and promoting your work regularly and consistently.


To learn more about growing your readership on Substack, take a deep dive into our recaps of Substack Grow, a series of six workshops on everything from developing a strategy to going paid:

  1. Setting goals

  2. Developing a publication strategy

  3. Building a home for your publication

  4. Growing your free list

  5. Launching paid subscriptions

  6. Growing a paid readership