Over the years, writers have had a flurry of places to write and get their words in front of the masses. Medium has been one such place, and who can discount the power of a blog? But in recent years, another option has popped up that up until recently, I haven’t given much thought: Substack.

While it’s not the only site of its kind, Substack stands out from the crowd of writing platforms and is arguably one of the best places for writers from all backgrounds and of all skill levels to start building an audience.

And personally? I’m going all in on Substack.

Let’s talk about that.

What is Substack?

Substack is a writing platform that combines blogging with building an email list. Any blog can be used to build an email list, of course, but Substack simplifies the process. Writers can post as frequently or as infrequently as they’d like and choose for their posts to be delivered via email and the Substack app or simply to have them appear on a Subtack page like a blog post with no special email notification.

Taking it a step further, Substack makes it easy to monetize writing by selling subscriptions – either monthly or yearly. Over time as subscribers add up, so can those subscription fees – potentially earning a lovely paycheck each month.

Again, this is all doable with a WordPress blog or other blogging platform, of course, but the simplicity of having it all integrated into a simple, free platform is hard to not like – even for those who have been writing online for a long time.

The key benefit of Substack is the fact that it allows anyone – experienced or not – to start and grow an email newsletter with no overhead at all.

Building something you own on someone else’s platform.

If you’ve followed me for long, you know how much I preach building something you own and that we shouldn’t be too reliant on any one platform or service – whether that’s Medium or YouTube or anything else.

And yes, that does include Substack.

But with Substack, you can build something you own – your email list – while utilizing the infrastructure and system built by someone else. What they’ve built is impressive, and it’s hard to not like all the great features they’ve managed to pack into the platform.

If you were to build something akin to Substack’s infrastructure for yourself, you’d have to have your own hosting, domain, email service provider and the time and skills to put it all together – or the ability to hire someone to put it all together for you.

On the other hand, with Substack you can build an email list and grow an audience without ever spending a dime.

There’s:

  • No hosting to buy
  • No email service provider to set up
  • No domain name to purchase (unless you want to)

And that’s a beautiful thing. Substack lowers greatly lowers the barrier to entry for blogging and email marketing, which is a beautiful thing. That means even without a budget and time to build your own platform right now, you can still start growing your list and building your audience.

If you have something to say and want to build an audience, all you need to do is create an account and start writing.

I love it.

Still, it’s important to remember that Substack is still a platform you don’t own. None of us can control whether it will be around tomorrow or in ten years. Thankfully, Substack does allow us to export all of our collected email subscriber information along with our posts for easy backups or to transfer elsewhere if we should ever need or want to.

That’s a feature I highly recommend using frequently. As we say in the IT world, always have a backup of a backup. Even if you plan to stay on Substack for years to come, exporting your content frequently and storing it somewhere safe is a must.

Fortunately, it’s very simple and easy.

But why an email list?

Blogging is great. Writing, as a whole, is awesome. But an email list? That’s gold. Why? An email list is an asset that you own and control. It’s a tool for staying in touch with your audience, notifying them of new things you’re working on, and for promoting your products or those of others as an affiliate.

You can spend days, weeks, months and years building an audience on a website or platform, but if you have no way to contact that audience if you ever leave that platform, was the audience ever truly yours in the first place?

I’d argue no.

This is why smart business people work to get email subscribers – not just followers. Subscribers can go with you anywhere you go, and that’s something that’s vital today.

Platforms aren’t guaranteed. Any of the big platforms we’ve come to know and love could disappear tomorrow or next week or next year. None of them is guaranteed. Or, perhaps somewhat worse, our access to any one or more of those platforms could be denied at any time – either due to a security breach or perceived violation of the terms of service. It happens, and those who aren’t prepared for it often have to rebuild from square one.

But perhaps even more than that, email remains a prime method of communication for reaching fans, clients and customers. So it makes more sense now than ever to be building that list.

Does Substack replace a website?

If you’re reading this worrying that Side Hustle Road is going away, don’t. I have absolutely no plans to retire the site. In fact, I have some big plans for it.

But that leads me to an inevitable question someone may have: Should growing on Substack take the place of building a website of some sort?

To that, my answer is a resounding no.

Remember, like I said, Substack is still someone else’s platform. You don’t own it. I don’t own it. A website, no matter where you host it, is an asset that you own and control.

Even if your web host shuts you down, with a backup, your site could easily move to another. All your content and data are yours to keep forever.

Don’t underestimate the importance of that.

But that doesn’t mean that Substack is any less valuable. I’m using Substack as a supplement and complement to this site. I’ll drive some traffic from this site to Substack and some from Substack to this site. They work together, like two tools in a toolbox.

A website too can be configured for capturing leads, and that’s a great thing to do as well. If you have a lead magnet, it’s a piece of cake to set up a basic funnel and start capturing leads to build a list. But Substack makes building that list – even with simple blog posts – so easy even I can do it.

That said, because of its elegant simplicity and ease of use, a Substack newsletter most certainly can be a decent website provided you understand that it’s not really your platform. And adding a custom domain name can make a Substack newsletter look just a bit more like a typical website. For example, I have SpareRoomTech.com set to point to my Spare Room Tech newsletter, and it works great.

If, at some point, I decide to move from Substack to a self hosted WordPress site or something like it, I can easily take my content from Substack and export my email list and get up and running.

So Substack is a blog then?

Yes and no, actually. While it can be used that way, it’s actually intended as a newsletter platform that also archives your posts in a very blog-like fashion. For example, when I write something for Spare Room Tech, the default behavior is to send what I’ve written as an email and also out to my subscribers through the Substack app. That’s great.

But what it will also do is post the content much like a blog post so that it can be found and read by anyone and even indexed by Google. I can then promote that post on other platforms so others can find my content, and those who aren’t subscribed will see in-post subscription buttons allowing them to subscribe to my newsletter as well.

So while it’s not a blog platform first and foremost, it is in fact a blog platform in practice – just a blog platform with built-in newsletter features that are enabled by default.

You could, of course, simply not use the newsletter functionality by not allowing Substack to send your posts as emails or to notify your subscribers of new content – if you really wanted, that is. But it would be an odd choice considering that’s something at which Substack objectively excels.

If you’re just looking for a basic blog setup, a simple WordPress site would cover the bases there. This is something a bit beyond what you’d get from a basic blogging platform – though it may lack some of the customization and personalization features power users love in WordPress.

Video and podcast features too?

The newsletter and blogging features aside, the feature that excites me the most is Substack’s video upload capabilities. It’s a piece of cake to upload a video to YouTube and embed it in a WordPress blog post or to upload it to Facebook Video – or TikTok or Instagram, depending on the format. But Substack combines blogging with building an email list with the ability to upload video content and podcasts too.

That makes Substack an ideal all-in-one multimedia powerhouse that’s a very compelling option for someone who doesn’t have the tools to build his own – and /or doesn’t want to build his own. Hosting video and audio is expensive. Those files can be massive.

The fact that Substack offers that functionality for free, forever? That’s amazing. And I feel I would be insane to not make use of it in some way.

More on that coming soon.

I’ve long been frustrated by the fact that we don’t have a solid competitor to YouTube – though there are interesting options. Having Substack as an alternative upload location where potential viewers can subscribe and even pay for content is an interesting option.

Monetization on Substack

While it’s not perfect, Substack does have a rather robust monetization system in place, allowing writers to make a pretty penny just from consistently putting out content in newsletter form. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on your niche and how consistently you write, but those subscription fees can add up quickly as you pile on subscribers.

The platform calls itself “the subscription network for independent writers and creators.”

Many writers prefer to keep their content free – for one reason or another. Currently, both of my Substacks are free, largely because I haven’t done enough with them to justify charging a cent for any of what I’ve put out.

Others started writing a free newsletter and then later started charging for some content – or perhaps offering additional “premium” content available only to paid subscribers.

It’s up to you to decide whether what you write is worth a subscription fee, but you may also be surprised just what readers will pay for the privilege of reading what you have to say.

Substack’s website offers a handy calculator to see how much you might be able to earn.

Substack offers a handy calculator to estimate your potential earnings.
Substack offers a handy calculator to estimate your potential earnings. Source: https://substack.com/going-paid

However, one big thing to know if you’re planning to charge for your newsletter: Substack does not currently handle sales tax. Depending on the number and location of your subscribers, you may owe taxes that Substack doesn’t collect or remit for you. You’ll have to handle that on your own – with guidance and advice from a qualified professional. To be clear, I’m not a financial advisor, so please consult an expert if you have questions.

How I’ll be using Substack

As I said, I have no plans to replace this site with Substack – now or in the future. However, it has become evident to me that not being on the platform would be something of a marketing faux pas. So I intend to leverage it to the best of my ability and continue to crank out content bot for Side Hustle Road and for both of my newsletters.

In time, I may integrate the two more thoroughly, creating content that complements the other in a more concrete way. Spare Room Tech I intend to integrate better with my tech YouTube channel.

I’m most excited to make better use of Substack’s video features – not as a replacement for YouTube but certainly as an alternate upload location to maximize my content’s potential.

Certainly, it remains to be seen just how Substack will do long term against its alternatives, but for now I’m optimistic.