🔴 Free bottle of gin

Growing an audience with giveaways and paid ads, ft. Kate from Cheapskate London

In partnership with

Today's guest is Kate Samuelson, co-creator of Cheapskate London. Every Monday, they send out a newsletter featuring two free events for each day of the coming week. Over the last five years they’ve built a newsletter audience of over 19k, winning praise from longstanding media institutions in the process.

Meanwhile, Cheapskate is a side project; during the day, Kate is a journalist specializing in newsletters.

In this issue:

  • 🍸️ Giving subscribers a free bottle of gin as a referral reward

    • Weekly giveaways create a healthy referral flow

  • 📰 Operating a newsletter while working full-time in journalism

    • 2 people, someones 1 more, 1 hour here and there

  • 💷 Running paid ads for your newsletter is easier than it sounds

    • 1 ad, 6 months, 7k+ subscribers, £0.17 CPA

As always, if you only want analysis of the tactics at play, skip ahead to the Steal This Tactic section. And if you don’t feel like reading, listen to our podcast.

— Francis Zierer, Editor
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P.S. I’m always looking for interesting creators to profile. I’d love it if you replied to this email with one creator you’d like to see in the Spotlight (and why)!

Carrying the torch for service journalism

Kate Samuelson is a career journalist — her work as a reporter and editor has appeared in publications like TIME, The Guardian, and The Know, to name just a few. Alongside her friend and business partner Georgia Weisz, she’s also an independent creator.

The duo sent the first issue of their side project, Cheapskate London, in May 2019. The origin story, at the core, is little different than many of the newsletters we feature. They were looking for free events happening around London and no one was doing a good job of curating such events. So they decided to do it themselves. In other words: experience a need, identify a market gap, fill the gap.

The events in Cheapskate “can be anything from film screenings to plays to comedy nights,” says Kate. In the beginning, she and Georgia were doing a great deal of research themselves; five years in, it’s much easier. Event organizers and PR types regularly reach out to pitch events for inclusion and the duo maintains an internal Google Calendar featuring every event on their radar. As a rule, they only feature two events per day; their curation is key to the appeal.

I asked Kate if any specific type of event tends to be more popular. She shared that one event in the most recent issue saw three times more clicks than the others. It was a mystery cinema night at an arts community center in East London: “You turn up on a Wednesday, and you don’t know what film you’re seeing, and they drop clues throughout the day on their socials.” If this says something about the Cheapskate reader, it’s that they’ve a taste for new experiences, a cultural openness. 

“In terms of who our readers really are, it’s a huge mixture, but I’d say our most typical reader is female — that’s about 70% of our readers — and in their twenties.”

These are excellent engagement numbers. There’s a clear connection between Cheapskate’s mission and the audience’s needs.

Two pairs of hands (sometimes three) behind the newsletter

Kate has a two-thirds stake in the business, and her co-creator, Georgia, has one-third. I asked Kate how the collaboration breaks down:

“I do all the partnership stuff, outreach, monetization, also all the copywriting day-to-day things that go in the newsletter, liaising with different PRs.

Georgia does everything visual. So, she does the look and feel of the newsletter, she designs it and comes up with the brand identity. She does our decks and media kits. And she also does a few other things, like liaising with competition winners and some PR outreach.”

There's also an "unofficial third member of the team": Kate's partner, Tom, a journalist himself. He proofreads the newsletter before it goes out and generally helps out wherever and whenever he's needed.

Growing an audience (and beyond)

In December 2022, their second year applying, Kate won the Georgina Henry Award for Digital Innovation at the British Journalism Awards.

Besides prestige, the Georgina Henry Award came with a cash prize of £4,000. Kate and Georgia don’t take a salary from Cheapskate. The business generates revenue through affiliate links and brand partnerships, though Kate declined to share how exactly much.

Every bit of revenue goes back into the business, and Cheapskate has yet to aggressively monetize, so the award carried real weight; it gave them the freedom to invest in paid advertising for the first time. (More on Cheapskate‘s paid advertising workflow in the Steal This Tactic section.)

For the first four years, most of Cheapskate’s growth came from word-of-mouth, press, and a clever giveaway-based referral system.

Recent giveaways have been more event-focused, but there’s been quite a variety over the past five years. Back in November 2022, for example, they did a giveaway on Instagram for a special artist-edition bottle of Beefeater Gin. To enter, you’d have to like and save the post, follow Cheapskate’s Instagram account, and tag a friend in the comments. The post received 1,127 comments.

These days, Cheapskate is less active on Instagram, and giveaways happen mainly in the newsletter. Says Kate:

“We weren't getting great engagement. I don't think the crossover between our readers in the newsletter and our Instagram audience was very similar. It wasn't growing our newsletter subscriber base; it was kind of just there for show. I’ve learned from my day jobs, if something's not really doing it for you, if you don't have time, focus on the things that are actually going to reap rewards for you.”

Long-term, Kate and Georgia's ambitions go beyond Cheapskate's current format. They plan to start a spin-off for parents looking for free kid-friendly events, a food-focused spin-off, and, of course, versions focused on other cities. For now, if you live in London or plan on visiting anytime soon, you'd do well to subscribe.

You can connect with Kate on Twitter or by emailing [email protected].

Listen to our full conversation in Kate’s episode of The Creator Spotlight Podcast.

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

CS: The entire time you've done Cheapskate, you've had a full-time job, except a brief stint where you worked part-time. How do you balance it?

KS: It can be really difficult and it can also vary depending on what we've got going on. I would say I probably spend half a working day per week on Cheapskate at the moment, but because often that's split up into, you know, sending an email here, an email there, and then the writing, it's hard to quantify.

I've always done Cheapskate as a side hustle, so I don't know what it would be like to have more time to spend on it. I do know that I'm very grateful to have my business partner, Georgia, so that we can work on it together. And we also have flexibility. If one of us can't work on the newsletter for whatever reason, we can either work ahead together, or we can just take a break if we want to. We try not to, because I think it's really important to be consistent.

Consistency! In five years operating Cheapskate, they’ve sent around 250 issues.

We've had one week off this year, which was in April when I went on my honeymoon. It just wasn't feasible for me to write it when I was away. So, we do have that flexibility.

And I'm in a fortunate position because I work from home two or three days a week. That means I'm saving time on commuting to an office and I try and use that time a bit, like first thing in the morning, to respond to some emails.

I would also say, because we've been going for a while, actually writing the newsletter and doing the outreach takes a much shorter time than it did at the beginning.

I spoke to Kate for an hour, going in-depth about much more than we can cover in the space of a newsletter. Listen to our full conversation in her episode of The Creator Spotlight Podcast.

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Don’t fear paid advertising

I asked Kate to share her biggest regret running Cheapskate:

“Not being brave enough to invest a bit in paid social from an earlier point, because it took a long time to get to 10k. I'm proud that we did it through word of mouth, but that took around four years and we probably could have done it so much quicker if we'd spent a bit of the money we'd made rather than being so cautious with it.”

Running paid ads doesn’t have to be intimidating or expensive. By the time Kate and Georgia started running ads, they’d been operating the newsletter for four-and-a-half years. Of course, even when paid advertising isn’t expensive, it’s never free. You need to be able to set money aside or your business to generate revenue that can go directly into ads.

Cheapskate’s paid advertising initiative got started with just £4,000, their Georgina Henry Prize winnings. Neither of the co-creators had any experience running paid ads, so they put out a call for a digital marketing expert and found a woman who could help. She set up some ads for them, but they didn’t start spending yet.

“We still weren’t that confident to put that much behind it. Almost a year after that, we started actually throwing ourselves into paid marketing. And that’s a project that my co-founder has led on.”

In summary:

  • In six months running ads, they’ve gained 7,000+ subscribers.

  • Their CPA (cost per acquisition) is £0.17, which is incredibly low.

  • They’ve only had one ad unit the entire time.

Editor's note: If you're considering experimenting with paid ads, I've written a short guide on getting started. It's part of the Almanac I send to subscribers who get just one other person to sign up for Creator Spotlight. 

If you’ve done that (you know who you are), it’s in your inbox already. If you haven’t … get someone to sign up with your unique link (below) and I’ll send it over.

https://www.creatorspotlight.com/subscribe?ref=PLACEHOLDER

A new referral reward every week (gin! comedy!)

The Cheapskate London duo has one of the more clever — and, frankly, the single-most fun — referral programs I've ever seen. Part of the charm is they don't call it a referral program. Instead, they do weekly giveaways.

“We've been doing a consistent weekly competition since we launched and the way that you enter the competition is by referring people. Since we moved to beehiiv, actually, it's much easier for us to track that a person has made a referral.”

Cheapskate's giveaways have driven thousands of subscribers. In the early days, Kate says, she thought there was no way they could keep up with a competition in every issue. And yet!

“It's become much easier because the longer we've been going for, the more variety of brands we've worked with. So it's actually more people getting in touch with us to run competitions now rather than us reaching out.

Because we're on so many mailing lists as well, when we hear about something coming up, I'll often send a reply saying, ‘This sounds great. Can we have two tickets to give away in Cheapskate?’ And that's often how they come about.”

Here are a few recent rewards:

  • A pair of tickets for a Spanish food festival

  • A pair of tickets to a concert

  • Two limited-edition artist prints

  • One ticket for a rug-making workshop

A recent competition, as it appears in the newsletter. They always appear between the Wednesday and Thursday event listings.

Here’s how the referral giveaways work:

  1. Readers get one entry for referring someone to Cheapskate.

  2. Readers only get one entry per competition.

  3. Cheapskate tracks referrals using beehiiv.

  4. A few days after the competition goes live, they download the recent referrals spreadsheet, randomly pick a winner, and send out the prizes.

Depending on the competition, there may be several winners. Kate and Georgia contact the winners manually, which she says "helps remind readers that Cheapskate is run by real people."

I asked Kate to share one lesson she’s learned working on Cheapskate.

People are really interested in the personal.

In my current job, I send out emails on behalf of an international media brand. I'm still taking that thought process with me by having a way that readers can provide feedback. And then I respond to it personally.

No matter how big the brand is, people like to know that your emails are coming from someone. You don't necessarily have to reveal lots of personal details, but having, you know, an anecdote of something you did on the weekend every now and again, people really do like that.”

Regardless of what the laws say, corporations aren't literally people. This is just to say that even if you're sending emails on behalf of a large company, a human touch goes a long way to connect with your subscribers.

A few relevant highlights from the endless stream of content we consumed this week.

  • Kate wrote about winning the Georgina Henry Award in the Freelancing for Journalists newsletter. Read it here. It’s a good look, in her own words, about earning institutional recognition as a freelance journalist or creator.

  • “Everyone’s a sellout now,” reads the title of Rebecca Jenning’s latest in Vox. Excellent longread on the pressure to build an audience and exist online whether you want to or not. This quote gets at exactly what we so often talk about in the Spotlight: “Under the model of “artist as business manager,” the people who can do both well are the ones who end up succeeding.“

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 who’s found his way through a combination of SEO and Meta advertising over the last seven years. His niche: underdog stories in sports.

Talk soon,
Francis Zierer, Editor

P.S. Again, I’m always looking for interesting creators to profile. Reply to this email and let me know one creator you’d like to see in the Spotlight!

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