🔴 What goes into a newsletter acquisition?

A weekly roundup of freelancing writing jobs changes hands, ft. TWJN's Akhil Chauhan

Your guide to the newsletter world — new stories every Friday. Brought to you by beehiiv.

Today’s guest is Akhil Chauhan, who runs The Writer’s Job Newsletter (TWJN). But he didn’t create the newsletter — he acquired it. He’s now been running it for two years. I asked him about:

  • 💰️ The economics of a newsletter acquisition

  • 🤐 Keeping his personality (mostly) out of the newsletter

  • 🤝 Pulling off a seamless transition after acquiring the newsletter

  • 🧑‍💼 Being accountable to subscribers who rely on the newsletter for jobs

— Francis Zierer, Editor

P.S. We have a podcast! Listen to Akhil and I in conversation on Spotify, Apple, or YouTube. Enjoy it? It’d help us if you rated the pod on your platform of choice.

“I see the newsletter as a utility for [the audience]. They get access to this suite of opportunities week in, week out. It needs to be reliable. It needs to come in every week, twice a week — regardless of work schedules, regardless of the travel that I have to do for the day job or personal vacations.”

Accidentally starting a newsletter people rely on for work

Akhil Chauhan is a sales engineering leader at an enterprise software company. He’s been employed full-time at the same company for nearly six years. So, why does he run a bi-weekly freelance writing opportunities newsletter?

The Writer’s Job Newsletter (TWJN) was created at the start of 2021 by a totally different person who also wasn’t strictly a freelance writer. He worked at a hedge fund, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, he took freelance writing gigs on the side.

It takes a great deal of work to secure paying work as a freelancer — unpaid hours of searching for gigs and pitching editors. The anonymous TWJN creator would scour Twitter and various publications’ websites for opportunities each week just for himself, but, finding more opportunities than he could feasibly apply for, he turned his weekly lists into a newsletter and sent it to a few friends.

Word of the newsletter quickly spread; other freelance writers were grateful for the aggregation. One year later, the newsletter boasted 2,750 subscribers, and the creator was thinking about his next step.

Ready for a new chapter but wanting the newsletter to continue, knowing how much the audience relied on it, the creator listed it on a couple of digital marketplaces.

Acquiring TWJN and making it a better business

It’s early 2021. Toronto is in the twin grips of winter and pandemic; Akhil Chauhan has too much time on his hands. He’s just received a promotion at his day job, but he craves a creative outlet independent of that job to push and challenge him — maybe even to make a little extra money from.

Akhil maps out “six or eight potential avenues.” He could start an app. Maybe just pick up a new hobby? Or start a media business. He’s been reading about all these writers starting newsletters — maybe a newsletter could scratch his itch. He’s always enjoyed writing, though he’s never done it professionally.

Choosing what topic to build a newsletter around, how to give it a unique angle, then attracting those first thousand subscribers isn’t always straightforward. Akhil wanted to skip the rigamarole:

“I thought, maybe I could save two years worth of grind and trying to find a niche and get into something where a lot of the market validation essentially has already been done. And I could find something that maybe I could just improve, innovate, and sort of grow from there.“

In other words, Akhil wanted to cut from the back of the line (a general desire to write a newsletter) and walk directly into the club (purchase a newsletter with proven product-market fit). Still — which newsletter in what niche? He considered a few AI newsletters, though this was still almost a year before ChatGPT launched and AI’s cultural stock went through the roof.

In the end, Akhil bought TWJN because it was most aligned with his interests and price range:

“I've always been interested in writing, I've always cared about good journalism. And here's this thing that can help writers with their jobs. And it can also help me do some of my own writing in a structured and formatted way.”

The original creator had listed TWJN on an online marketplace, but he wasn’t quite ready to sell. They talked it out and Akhil convinced the seller he was the right person to steward the project; they negotiated a price and closed the deal.

Though he wouldn’t share the final price, Akhil did say it was “below $10,000 and above $5,000.” He thinks the price would’ve been lower today, now that so many newsletters have been started, abandoned, and put up for sale at a discount. The market has changed, and benchmarks are more established. It’s more common now to negotiate based on price-per-subscriber, add a multiplier, add a premium; their pricing discussions took a more holistic look at the project.

Based on what Akhil has shared about revenue and what we can extrapolate, he’s made this investment back multiple times over:

Cash aside, how much time has Akhil put into the project? He hasn’t strictly kept track, but he estimates that he’s spent 6 to 8 hours working on it per week since the acquisition. The revenue didn’t always match his input, though.

Akhil says “the newsletter was making a fraction of this amount” until November 2023, nearly two years into his ownership. This is when he finalized his move from Subkit to beehiiv, started using the platform’s ad network, and revamped his premium offering.

A clear mission is a true compass

Akhil began operating TWJN in March 2022, and combing through the archives, I couldn’t determine exactly which issue was his first. In the two years since, of course, I’ve noticed incremental changes — rebranding here and there, telltale signs of migration (from Mailchimp to Subkit to beehiiv), the addition of a second, premium-only weekly email with extra opportunities. But the transition, from a reader’s perspective, was seamless.

“The mission from the start has always been to help freelance writers find better-paying jobs. And that's really unchanged. I took over in about March 2022 and since then have just been doubling down on helping people find better paying jobs.”

Ultimately, TWJN is a service, and Akhil knows to stay out of the way. It’s not The Akhil Newsletter. Sure, he shares little notes and anecdotes in the intro each week, but it’s about the writers who open the newsletter each week and select a few opportunities to pitch.

“I got an email once from a writer who was really struggling and looking to break into the B2B tech writing space, but she hadn't had much experience in that. And then through an opportunity she found in the newsletter, she 4x'd her income with a multi-month engagement with a brand and I was just floored.

The appreciation she had in that note was amazing. She could afford to do stuff with her family, she could pay for things for the house and it was like, wow, this is why I do it.”

All newsletters have a purpose. Few are as service-oriented and to the point as TWJN’s — I admire the clarity. Some newsletters’ purpose is to give the creator a creative outlet. Others to generate revenue for the creator. Both of these are reasons Akhil does it — but that mission, “to help freelance writers find better paying jobs,” is upstream of both.

You can connect with Akhil on LinkedIn or Twitter.

For the full story, listen to our podcast on Spotify, Apple, or YouTube.

🎙️ In Akhil’s episode of The Creator Spotlight Podcast:

  • ⚖️ Work-newsletter-life balance as a creator

  • 📈 Growing the newsletter to 10k+ subscribers

  • 🤔 Akhil’s biggest regret from his time running TWJN

Listen on Spotify, Apple, or YouTube.

Listing subscriber numbers at the top of every newsletter

You’ve probably seen this before: open up a newsletter, and right at the top, it says one of two things:

  • “Hello — and welcome to the 137 new readers who’ve joined us since last week!”

  • “Happy Sunday to 2,981 motivated writers”

These are two slightly different ways of saying the same thing: look, reader, at how many people besides you read this newsletter — it must be good.

I made that first one up based on newsletters I’ve read in the past, but the second one is straight from TWJN issue #64. Sent in April 2022, it was one of Akhil’s first few issues post-acquisition. He started every single issue with this same message, number updated, until he suddenly stopped after issue #147: “Happy Sunday to 8,237 motivated writers.”

I asked Akhil why he started including these numbers then stopped 1.5 years later:

“I felt like it was more of a vanity metric. It just made me feel good when I put it at the top of the newsletter, because I'd look at the issues week in, week out, and it's like, yeah, look, it's gone up.

But I thought of this from the perspective of the subscriber: they don't care how many people subscribe. They want to know how many opportunities there are. It felt like that was something for me and it wasn't something for them.”

Broadly, I’m not sure he’s right. Nor am I sure he’s wrong. Given that he’s sharing a list of job opportunities, the number here serves the same purpose as the number on a LinkedIn job listing (i.e, 94 applicants). It gives readers a sense of urgency — if I’m a writer reading that 8,237 other writers are reading TWJN, I’m thinking I’d better send out some pitches ASAP.

For newsletters generally, though, I do think sharing subscriber numbers at the start of every issue can help as a form of social proof — there must be something worthwhile here if all these people subscribe, right?

On the other hand, maybe it’s alienating! Maybe you want readers to feel a more personal connection to the newsletter — not to know they’re one of thousands reading the exact same email.

I can see good arguments for and against consistently disclosing subscriber numbers. It’s really dependent on context. Do you feel strongly either way? Reply and let me know.

Three pieces of content we were thinking about while writing this issue.

I hope you enjoyed this one. Check out Akhil’s episode of our podcast if you want more — on Spotify, Apple, or YouTube.

Next week’s guest is Andrew Southworth, a musician and creator-entrepreneur who spent most of a decade working as a mechanical engineer and slowly building a music marketing business on the side. He was finally able to quit the day job last year — we get into how he got there.

And if you missed last week’s story about Peter Ramsey and his excellent UX education content library, check it out.

Talk soon,
Francis Zierer, Editor
Twitter / LinkedIn

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