How I Used Medium to Get My First 20,000 Subscribers in 6 Months
I started blogging seriously in May of 2015. However, I didn’t want to solely publish at my own blog, since literally no one except my wife knew it existed. So every time I published an article on my blog, I copy and pasted it into Medium.com and published it there as well.
Medium is a popular and innovative platform based in Silicon Valley. The readers (and writers) at Medium are interested in entrepreneurship, self-improvement, cool ideas, good research, interesting stories, and lots more.
At Medium, content really is king. You may have a huge platform or be “well-connected,” but those things only get you so far at Medium. Only the best content consistently gets pushed to the top, regardless of your current following. This is an enormous advantage as what you write is completely in your control.
So, if you’re willing to write content “so good it cannot be ignored”—hopefully every writer’s goal—you can use Medium to launch your writing career and build your platform.
The remainder of this post will detail my story and strategies—how in six months:
- I went from zero to 20,000 subscribers
- Had articles published on outlets like Huffington Post, the Observer, and am now in works with TIME.
- Had influencers endorse my work
My Story: From May 2015 to January of 2016
Last May, I really started researching the publishing industry. I had written an eBook and was anxious to know how to traditionally publish it.
I decided literary agents would be my best resource. After all, they know the publishing industry back-and-forth. After talking to 5–10 different agents about their coaching programs, it became apparent my questions would need to be answered elsewhere.
As one agent shared, in order to even be considered by agents and publishers, writers need to already have a substantial readership (i.e., a platform). I told her my goal was to have 5,000 blog subscribers by the end of 2015. She responded, “That would not be possible from where you currently are. These things take time. You will not be able to get a top publisher for 3–5 years. That’s just the reality.”
“Reality to who?” I thought as I hung up the phone.
I started looking at people’s blogs who I perceived to be successful. One dominant theme was that many of these bloggers referenced places their work was featured (e.g., Forbes). I made Huffington Post by December 2015 my goal. I started by pitching articles to self-improvement blogs like Addicted2Success.com and Purposefairy.com.
I also wrote a few articles on my own blog and republished them at Medium. The image below shows my May and June performance. Note, before May, I had never published anything on Medium. Before May, I had written five or so articles on my own blog and a non-published eBook.
A few notes: the far left column is the title of the article. The next column is the amount of views (i.e., clicks) each article received, followed by the number of actual reads, the percentage of reads compared to views, and lastly, the amount of times that article was “Recommended” (similar to “Liked” on Facebook).
As can be seen in the image, one of my articles in June went viral. Honestly, I wasn’t at all prepared for the traffic my website got when this happened. My website was extremely crappy (like, the worst). More importantly, my website OPT-IN (where you collect email addresses) was not center stage, but small and on the right hand column.
While my viral article was getting the initial wave of traffic (approximately 200,000 clicks per day on Medium), I only received 40 subscribers to my blog. Surely I should be getting thousands of subscribers with this kind of traffic?
It dawned on me that I should be inviting readers to subscribe to my blog directly. Indeed, very few people would take the time to click on my Medium profile or look up my website on their own volition. So I edited the article in Medium and added the following at the end:
After adding this simple “call to action” (i.e., Connect Deeper), I jumped to 3,500 subscribers in just a few days. Unfortunately for me, this edit was done after most of the traffic had come and gone. So, I missed a huge opportunity, but learned an important lesson.
And that’s where my subscriber-base would sit for the next four months. The day my article went viral, I was contacted by Business Insider, Huffington Post, and the Observer, all asking if they could republish the article. My goal of two weeks prior was abruptly achieved.
For the next few months, I wrote exclusively at the Observer. During this time, my writing improved dramatically thanks to my editor there. In October (four months later), I transitioned back to writing at Medium.
Since returning to Medium in late October, I have increased from 3,500 to 20,000 email subscribers. And in December, I revamped my website, making it far more professional.
Progressively, my followers on Medium increased and I got momentum. Although virility seems like a fluky thing—from my experience, you can come to control and predict what will do well. Here are my Medium stats from December:
And January 19, 2016:
As you can see, there are spikes and drops. However, on Medium, when you have one article that’s getting a lot of traffic, it’s good to publish others. The traffic from one ripples into the traffic of other freshly published articles—they can assist one another.
Furthermore, the traffic from my newly published articles also brought attention back to my article published in June, which rippled back into the newer articles—generating more traffic and more subscribers. For example, the image below shows three of my articles hitting the Top 5 Trending on Medium, two published in January, one from the previous June.
In truth, most of my subscribers have come in the months of December and January. In the past two months, I’ve increased by 13,000 subscribers.
The image below shows my current subscriber base as found in my Infusionsoft management account. Note that 33% were from the last 30 days.
From here on out, I’ll dig into my writing process and some of my strategies for writing valuable material.
Strategy #1: I’m Just Trying To Have As Much Fun As I Can
Our culture has become obsessed with working hard and being busy while simultaneously trivializing the importance of play. Indeed, “The only kind [of play] we honor is competitive play,” says Bowen F. White, MD, a medical doctor and author of Why Normal Isn’t Healthy.
Despite the increasing disinterest in play among American adults, Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, has studied the “Play Histories” of over six thousand people and concludes playing can radically improve everything — from personal well-being, to relationships, to learning, and to an organization’s potential to innovate. As Greg McKeown explains, “Very successful people see play as essential for creativity.”
In his TED talk, Brown said, “Play leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity… Nothing fires up the brain like play.” There is a burgeoning body of literature highlighting the extensive cognitive and social benefits of play, including:
- Enhanced memory and focus
- Improved language learning skills
- Creative problem solving
- Improved mathematics skills
- Increased ability to self-regulate, an essential component of motivation and goal achievement
- Team work
- Conflict resolutionLeadership skill development
- Control of impulses and aggressive behavior
My approach to writing is to have as much fun as possible. That’s what guides my writing process and my writing progress. For me, it’s like snowboarding—if I’m too serious about it, I’ve missed the point. So I’m just trying new tricks on my snowboard and pushing my creative boundaries because it’s fun. When it stops being fun, I take a step back and question my motivations.
Strategy #2: Experiment
Tim Ferriss doesn’t do what he thinks will make him happy. He does what excites him. Although his overarching vision remains consistent, Ferriss doesn’t have long-term plans.
Instead, he does short-term (e.g., a few months) “experiments,” which he puts all of his energy into. He has no clue what doors may open as a result of these experiments, so why make long-term plans? He’d rather respond to the brilliant and best opportunities that arise, taking him in now unforeseen directions.
I’ve recently adopted Ferriss’ concept of doing short-term experiments. This has changed my approach to work. For example, a few months ago I stumbled upon a personal development article that had over 1,000,000 social shares. I decided to perform an experiment to attempt creating an article that would also get 1,000,000 shares. The result was this article.
Although the article hasn’t been shared a million times yet, the results were profound and unexpected. It drew the attention of an editor at TIME who asked if they could syndicate it at the end of February. Additionally, the article attracted several thousand new readers (including some of my favorite authors & researchers) and subscribers to my blog. Lastly, it connected me with a better web-developer and new coaching clients. All from one short experiment that took a week to perform.
Experiments are a fun way to pursue goals because they allow you to get innovative and bold. Experiments are short-term — and thus relatively low risk. They are your “moon shots.” Why play small? What’s the worst that could happen, you waste a few weeks or months and learn a lot while doing it?
Trying to get several articles into the “Top Stories On Medium” simultaneously was another experiment I tried in December. Even this very article, the one you’re currently reading, is an experiment. Who knows what the results will be?
Strategy #3: Frame My Goals As Quests
I believe most people fail at achieving their goals and resolutions because they perceive their goals to be drudgery. Instead of traditional goal-setting—which is too serious and lacks the whimsy of an epic adventure—I’ve framed my goals as a bucket list. Each item on my bucket list bucket list becomes an epic quest to achieve.
According to Chris Guillebeau, in his book, The Happiness of Pursuit, a quest has a defined beginning and an end. It has various stages and levels, like a video game. It can’t be easy. Challenge is the essence of adventure, and thus, the essence of a quest. A quest must be attainable. For example, Guillebeau didn’t set out to visit every planet in the solar system, but to visit every country in the world (which he completed). Lastly, it must be something pulling deeply at you. If you didn’t do this thing, you’d regret it. Hence, the bucket list informs the quests you undertake.
As an example, rather than trying to publish three articles per week, I’m questing to get published on my favorite platforms. Instead of running four times per week, I’m training for an ultramarathon.
This approach to goal-setting—and living in general—is proactively designing your life around your highest ideals, which is the opposite of what most people do. Most people try to squeeze their dreams and highest ideals into the “margins” of their busy lives. As Stephen Covey explained, “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” Thus, pursuing your highest ideals as your top priority keeps you honest to yourself, and allows you to not get caught up in other people’s agendas.
It also makes life a lot of fun!
Strategy #4: Create Content That Is So Good It Can’t Be Ignored
Every article is an opportunity. Don’t publish articles just to hit publish. One blog post could change the entire trajectory of your career.
I believe I’ve had success on Medium because my articles are jam-packed. They aren’t fluffy. They’re dense—and often need to be read and re-read several times. People regularly tell me they’ve printed-out one of my articles and stuck it to their fridge so they can read it daily.
When I write an article, I’m not concerned about how long it will be. Instead, I focus on how good I can make it. I want my art to leave people better than it found them, including you.
Strategy #5: Quantity Facilitates Creativity And Sometimes, Even Masterpieces
In the book Originals, Adam Grant explains that “originals” (i.e., people who create innovative work) are not reliable. In other words, not everything they produce is extraordinary. And the same is true for you. In order to produce your magnum opus, you’ll need to create a high volume of work. You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.
For example, among the 50 greatest pieces of music ever created, six belong to Mozart, five are Beethoven’s, and three Bach’s. But in order to create those, Mozart wrote over 600 songs, Beethoven 650, and Bach over 1,000.
Similarly, Picasso created thousands of pieces of art, and few are considered to be his “great works.” Edison had 1,900 patents, and only a handful we would recognize. Albert Einstein published 248 scientific articles, only a few of which are what got him on the map for his theory of relativity.
I once asked Seth Godin and Jeff Goins how they each produce high quality work. Here were their responses:
- Seth Godin via email: “Plant a lot, harvest a few.”
- Jeff Goins via Twitter: “I keep shipping. I find that when I stop producing, the quality goes down. A deadline makes me do my best work.”
Quantity is the most likely path to quality. The more you produce, the more ideas you will have—some of which will be innovative and original. And you never know which ones will click. You just keep creating.
So I ask: Are you creating a large volume of work?
Are you inputting or outputting?
If you like building, build more stuff. If you like writing, write more stuff. If you like connecting, connect more. If you like running, run more. Do stuff. Output. Do it more.
You give your ideas value by acting on them. A good idea, not acted upon, only brings pain and fear. Conversely, action brings confidence. Action is fun. Inaction slowly kills you inside.
Don’t wait to be moved by the spirit. Move the spirit yourself through action. There is no inspiration without action. Action is inspiration. That’s how it works.
Faith is action, and thus also power. Faith and fear cannot co-exist in the same person at the same time. Thus, action (i.e., faith) and inaction (i.e., fear) are opposites. Do what you love. Do it more. Output all the time.
Strategy #6: “Listicles” With Style
A comment on one of my articles:
I get messages all the time from people who say stuff like, “Your articles aren’t like the normal listicle type articles. Yours have more substance.”
Not every article should be in list format. But why neglect what works? People love articles written as lists. Consequently, I frame a large portion of my articles as lists. And to be honest, those are the ones that consistently do the best.
The numbers don’t lie.
Within the flexible framework of a list, you have loads of room for creativity. My “list” articles are packed with information and sometimes very long. There are no rules. Just strategies that work or don’t work. Lists—if done well—work.
Strategy #7: Boost Your Opinion With Research And Powerful Quotes
The following image comes from an article I published last week about why I believe we should embrace, rather than avoid, imposter syndrome.
Having great quotes and using research gives you credibility. It also makes your writing more well-rounded and powerful.
Strategy #8: Surprise People
My two most viral articles included elements of surprise. For example, my morning routine article told people they should take cold showers in the morning. Although the rest of the article was good (in my opinion), that one surprising element was the tipping-point.
Similarly, another successful article started with, “Stop Consuming Caffeine.” Although that turned many people off, it also startled and surprised a lot of people.
Add some shock-factor to your writing. Give people something that is either counter-cultural or something they haven’t thought of before but which is relevant and important.
Strategy #9: Syndication
Your biggest problem is obscurity—other people don’t know you and aren’t thinking about you.
—Grant Cardone, The 10X Rule
Personally, I don’t care where my stuff is published. As long as the reader is directed back to my website, anyone who asks if they can republish my work can have it (including you). My only stipulation is that they keep my Connect Deeper section with links back to my website at the end of every article they republish.
This may not be good for SEO purposes. And I may change my strategy in the future. But for now, my goal is to “become omnipresent” as Grant Cardone calls it. I want to increase my odds of getting my writing in front of the right readers and potential collaborators.
Only on rare occasion (like this), will I write an exclusive article.
So there you have it. I did it. I’m doing it. And you can, too.
If you resonated with this article, please subscribe to my personal blog. You will get a free copy of my eBook Slipstream Time Hacking, which will change your life.
Have you published anything on Medium? Which of Benjamin’s tactics do you want to try first? Share in the comments.
About Benjamin Hardy
Benjamin and his wife, Lauren, are the foster parents of 3 epic kids. He is pursuing his PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at Clemson University. His work has been featured at Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Business Insider, New York Observer, Thought Catalog, and others.