From 0 subscribers to acquired in 6 months

A story about a lead magnet, TikTok comments, and SEO ft. Ali Abassi, creator of AI for Work

Todays guest is Ali Abassi, a marketer by day and creator by night. He started his first newsletter, AI for Work, last summer and sold it in January for an undisclosed sum. Over six months, he published only 13 issues of his newsletter but built an audience of around 30,000 subscribers.

In this issue, we discuss:

  • How he built an ingenious, highly successful lead magnet

  • Emailing every new subscriber to build relationships

  • Experimenting with monetization

  • Using TikTok to grow his email list (without making his own videos)

  • His plans to start a local news newsletter

Dont feel like reading today? Listen to the full interview on our podcast.

Francis Zierer, Editor

P.S. Dont forget to fill out our usual poll at the bottom of the newsletter if you have feedback about this specific issue of Creator Spotlight.

Six months after starting AI for Work, Ali Abassi had built an email list of around 30,000 subscribers for his newsletter, yet he was struggling to monetize.

While Ali clearly had a knack for building an audience quickly and efficiently, actually publishing his newsletter on a consistent basis was a problem; hed only sent 13 issues in those six months. He didnt even publish his first issue until he had between 7,000 to 8,000 subscribers.

So, having built an audience of around 30,000 and with only a few hundred dollars in ad revenue on his books, Ali went looking for help inthe hiiv, beehiiv's Slack community (available to all users on a paid plan). He sent a message to the monetization channel asking for advice. "Immediately within, like, two minutes, I got a reply, 'Hey, would you consider just selling it?' And I was like, 'Maybe.' He's like, 'What would your price be?' I told him my price, and he said, 'Cool, let's do it.'"

Three months with one issue sent each, one month with six issues, one month with four. The new owners, however, have begun a 3x per week sending cadence.

As a condition of the deal, Ali signed a non-disclosure agreement and was barred from sharing specific details like the number of subscribersAI for Workhad at the time of sale, the newsletter's open rate, the buyer's name, or the exact price he and the buyer agreed on.

However, using The Wayback Machine to view snapshots ofwww.aiforwork.cobefore Ali sold it, we can assume that the subscriber count at the time of the sale was at least 30,000. The website's header around the time he sold reads "30,000+ professionals use AI for Work."

How did Ali build a 30,000-strong email list in just six months? Using an ingenious lead magnet combined with TikTok comments and long-tail SEO.Scroll down to the Steal This Tactic section for our complete analysis.

AI for Workwas a side project. Ali was employed full-time the entire time he worked on the project, which, on the one hand, is impressive. On the other hand, its also a significant reasonwhyhe was able to grow an audience so quickly: growth marketing is what he does for a living. The company he works for manages over a dozen different e-commerce brands, and his job is to grow their reach and attract new customers.

Ali had never tried his hand at entrepreneurship or being a creator (reader, is there a difference between the two?) before starting AI for Work. Like another creator in the AI space we featured recently, Martin Crowley, he was obsessed with AI and wanted to learn as much about it as he could, so there was no downside to starting a newsletter. His doing so, at the very least, was a way for him to organize what he learned from his research.

We asked Ali what it means to be a creator. "It's so easy to consume. But to take that risk, to actually build something or to put yourself out publicly and do something like this, that's what it means to be a creator. It doesn't mean you have to be super successful. It doesn't mean you have to achieve a certain target. But I think anybody who puts new information out into the world, I would consider them a creator."

Read on for analysis andlisten to the podcast for our full conversation with Ali.

The following interview excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.

How long did it take to go from zero subscribers to one, to 100, and so on? And how did you do it?

When I first started, I had a different name for the whole thing. It was calledWork AI. I just started by posting on LinkedIn, like, "Hey, I'm starting this newsletter. I'm going to talk about AI."

I kind of copied what I saw other people doing in the sense of summarizing information. And my LinkedIn reach was so low. Nobody subscribed. My wife didn't subscribe. My best friends didn't subscribe. I was like, this isn't worthwhile for anybody. Then, I listened to two videos that shifted my mindset.

The first one was an old Peter Thiel video. He was talking about how AI is gonna be disruptive but only important if they can figure out a use case around work. That made a lot of sense to me I was in marketing and already using AI almost daily formywork. But I realized, what if I could figure out how to apply ChatGPT toother people'swork

The second video wasan old Hormozi videoabout "irresistible offers." How do you create an offer that is stupid to say no to? I knew my demand was going to be around work. If I could talk to my audience and figure out what people are struggling with, I could figure out how to build a lead magnet that makes it easy for people to give their email to me. I wouldn't have to post on social, which wasn't working because I didn't have a large network. I could get them to come to me.

From then, it took about a month. There were lots of sleepless nights and weekends, and I probably spent about a thousand bucks in API credits with OpenAI trying to figure out this method of prompting. But then I had it.

Want to hear more from Ali? Listen to our full conversation in his episode of The Creator Spotlight Podcast.

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Creating a lead magnet is one of the most important things for an early-stage newsletter

Alead magnetis a free resource full of highly valuable information that people can only access by sharing their email. It's a tactic used not just by creators but by all kinds of businesses; it's just a particularly high-value form of gated content.

Ali's lead magnet waswww.aiforwork.co. "2,000+ expertly-designed AI prompts" all you need to do to access them is share your email. If you're interested in using AI for work, you'd be foolish not to check it out, right?

The vast majority of Alis subscribers came through this lead magnet. Of course, for a lead magnet to work, you still need to drive attention to it. Ali did this in two ways: sharing the URL (in a comment, with context) on AI-focused TikTok videos and long-tail SEO.

Lead magnets are simple. The trick much like with a newsletter itself is just making something people truly want.

Its worth reiterating how much work Ali put into this lead magnet: by his estimation, it took $1,000 in OpenAI credits and one month of "sleepless nights" and weekend work to get it right. He took no shortcuts.

Ali, remember, was inspired by Alex Hormozi's thoughts on designing an offer and Peter Thiel's point that AI wouldn't matter until it could be used for work; his lead magnet combines these two ideas.

"The irresistible offer is if you're an employee at a company, and you know that ChatGPT will save you time (which everybody's telling you), it's simply one click and you're going to get a library of prompts. That's enough for people to give an email out. From there, could I write newsletters they're going to like enough to stay subscribed? And that's the part where I put a lot more effort in after I built the website."

As for the tools Ali used to build his lead magnet and connect it to his newsletter in beehiiv:

  • Website: Webflow

  • User signup:Member Space. He used this to have users sign up and subscribe on the site, as it was the only free authentication tool for Webflow that worked with unlimited users. Others cost money or had low user limits.

  • Writing the prompts: OpenAI (GPT 3.5, GPT 4, and the GPT for Sheets Plugin for Google Sheets)

  • Transferring signups to beehiiv:Make.com

  • Graphics: Canva

One TikTok video, 24 hours, 1,500 newsletter signups

Its much easier to get people to look at a TikTok video than a newsletter or website. The algorithmic feeds on platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter/X mean any one piece of content can achieve a reach far beyond the creators following; newsletters, for all their advantages (i.e., easier to monetize, you own your audience), dont have that.

Its also notoriously hard to get TikTok viewers to click a link or leave the platform to look something up; theyd much rather continue the endless scroll.

Ali, when he started what would become AI for Work, made a TikTok channel to promote his content. But he was so bad at creating content, specifically video content. He says people commented on his videos saying things like, hey, you should improve your speech or your tonality on this.

Instead of investing a lot of time that he didn't have to become a star TikToker, Ali outsourced. He DMed all the top AI-focused creators he could find on TikTok, looking for ways to work with them. But that didn't work either.

What worked was commenting on TikTok videos. A creator with the handle@savvity_digital, real name Nico, had posted a video about AI prompting. Ali commented that the prompt wasn't very good and that Nico should check out aiforwork.co. Nico responded to the comment and, within an hour, had made another video about Ali's website.

At the timethat videowas published, Ali says Nico only had around 7,000 followers. At the time of writing this article (8 months later) Nico had 62.4k followers, and that video had 450.2k views, 24.6k likes, 265 comments, and28.2k bookmarks.

In the video, Nico credits Ali with finding the website. Ali's comment didn't come off as self-promotion; it felt like an authentic sharing of a valuable resource. Nico welcomed this, of course. It's just more material for him to create content about, and there's never enough of that, is there?

A few weeks later, Nico postedanotherpairof videos framing www.aiforwork.co as an "AI business plan" generator. These also got thousands of views, likes, bookmarks, and shares. Three months later, he reposted the initial video, with no changes. This time it got 265.8k views, 13.9k likes, 127 comments, and 17.2k bookmarks. On top of all this, another TikToker also posted two similar videos that Ali says received over 500k views each. His account focused on getting multiple jobs without letting your boss know you were using AI to do the jobs; it has since been taken down.

These videos drove thousands of people to Ali's website. The day Nico posted the first video, he says he collected over 1,500 emails.

I was surprised by the caliber of individuals who signed up through [TikTok]. Executives, professionals, people from all walks of life, all different geographies. Then I ended up just talking to those users, figuring out what they were using [AI] for, and started building.

By the way, Ali didnt even send the first issue of AI for Work until August 31, a full month and a half after Nicos first video.

Two takeaways:

  1. You don't necessarily have to be good at creating social media content to grow on social media.But you do need to create something good enough that other people will share and talk about it on its own merit.

  2. There are many ways to work with TikTokers to promote your work.Ali's DMs to AI-focused creators didn't lead to anything; maybe people were skeptical of the promotional energy of his direct outreach. His organic comment, innocently sharing a resource with no indication he'd made it, is what worked.

SEO kept attracting subscribers on the backend

The vast majority of Alis subscribers came through his lead magnet website, and the vast majority of those subscribers came through TikTok. Eventually, he started seeing more subscribers coming to his website through organic search.

"Because the website was my main driver, I started creating blog content. My strategy there was just, how do I go after the long-tail keywords for the different categories that I have prompts for? So, there would be articles about lawyers, how to use ChatGPT to write a contract, and how to use ChatGPT to create a lesson plan for teachers.

And those long-tail keywords are still ranking really well and driving a ton of traffic. So yeah, I went long-tail, and I personally think it's the initial boost of people searching AI for work from those TikTok videos that helped Google index it and figure out that the site was relevant. So yeah, SEO was the second driver."

Long-tail keywords, or keyphrases, are longer, highly specific search terms, like Ali's example, "how to use ChatGPT to create a lesson plan for teachers." If you have web-indexed content containing that exact phrase, and somebody searches for it, it will probably appear in their Google results, and they will probably click on it.

To be clear, trying to attract subscribers by driving traffic to a lead magnet website through SEO isnt a good strategy for every newsletter. Ali was making content about a trending topic with plenty of digital real estate left unclaimed, and his website, with over 2,000 specific prompts, gave him plenty of material for SEO blog content.

Summarizing a few quick lessons fromAlis work on AI for Work, applicable across niches and platforms.

  1. Talk directly to at least one of your subscribers every day. Reply to comments. When people send you an unsubscribe email, reply and ask why. Talking to your subscribers is the best way to learn how to make your content better.

  2. Expect to spend at least three hours per week on a weekly newsletter. Thats how much time Ali estimates he spent each week at the bare minimum在ut if you read this issue, youll know he also wasnt very consistent. Want more out of your work? Know your goals and put in more time to hit them.

  3. To grow your list, don't wait for subscribers to come to you go to them.Ali says, "The main thing you should focus on is how to get in front of your users and how to give them something they can't refuse. You could easily get your first thousand subscribers by just putting a little bit of effort into outreach."

  4. A good lead magnet is invaluable.Ali built an incredible lead magnet but only ever shipped 13 issues of his newsletter. He didn't even send an issue of the newsletter until he had more than 7,000 subscribers. Lesson: if you know there's some information the audience you're building forreally wants, put in the work to assemble it and turn it into a lead magnet.

  5. Stop overthinking your project. Just do it.This applies at every level: starting a new project, starting a new newsletter issue, writing your next sentence. The only way to get unstuck and make a better product than you did last time is todo it. Ali's early versions ofAI for Worklooked nothing like later versions. And the first draft of everyCreator Spotlightis barely readable. But you try again. And you edit. And you send it out. And you listen to the feedback. And you repeat it.

Content we've been thinking about while working on this issue.

Thank you for taking the time to read today's issue. If you liked this one, I highly recommend listening to the podcast version.

On to next week's issue, featuring a creator with a local-news style newsletter operating at a six-figure revenue with just under 20,000 subscribers (about half the population of the town in question).

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