Creator Boom by John Bardos
"Great original content always wins. Write better content than everyone else and promote it well."
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There is too much information to follow and consume out there. Choosing the best content is a constant pain in our lives.
This is where curation comes into the picture.
And we are 2,200+ lucky creators and solopreneurs who subscribe to Creator Boom because John Bardos is screening hundreds of resources every week to deliver the great ones to our inboxes every week.
Considering that high-quality curation can be more difficult than creating content in some cases, we talked about how John manages to do this consistently.
As a long-term digital nomad and ex-pat, learning and exploring new things is an important part of John’s life. His newsletter enables him to continue improving himself.
Let’s listen behind-the-scenes of his newsletter from himself.
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👋 MEET THE CREATOR
Welcome John. Let’s start with getting to know you.
I’m John Bardos. I’m a long-term digital nomad and expat. I lived in Japan for 13 years then my wife and I decided to sell our business, house and get rid of our possessions to have a travel lifestyle. We now have an 8-year-old son that we homeschool. I’ve had many businesses over the years and now sell online courses at BundlesforGood.com, with 25% of profits going to charity.
What is Creator Boom all about?
It’s a curated collection of the best links of the week for creators and solopreneurs.
I screen hundreds of newsletters, podcasts and videos to find valuable content to help you build an audience and grow your business.
Why and how did you decide to start Creator Boom in the first place?
This has been an idea I had for a very long time. I can’t get it out of my head.
I first started curating business links over 20 years ago. This was before blogs and newsletters, so I used a customized discussion forum script to organize the links by categories. Unfortunately, I gave up after about a year because I didn’t have an effective way to grow the audience.
I tried again in 2009 under IdeaEconomy.net, but I gave up again shortly after. I never figured out an effective way to promote the content.
I started again in 2020 because I find a lot of value in curated newsletters like Next Draft, The Hustle, and Morning Brew. I thought that sharing knowledge instead of news could also work.
There is so much information available now that it’s impossible to keep up with everything. I work hard to ensure the links I curate are highly valuable and actionable to help others start and grow a creator-focused business.
How did you gain your first 100 subscribers?
The first 40 or 50 were from direct outreach.
Then, I slowly added subscribers by reaching out to other newsletter creators and posting on Twitter.
You started as “Idea Economy” and changed your name and branding.
How did you manage this transition?
My focus is on creators, so I thought ‘Creator Boom’ was more descriptive to my audience. I didn’t do much during the transition. I just notified my list that I was changing, then I changed. It wasn’t difficult and didn’t impact the newsletter open rate or bounces.
Which growth channels do you mainly use? Which ones are the most effective?
I’m not so good at promoting my newsletter. I’m semi-active on Twitter and I’ve written about 6 original articles, but that is about it. I also occasionally do cross-promotions with other newsletters and have gained about 460 subscribers through paid sponsorships on other newsletters.
How did your growth strategy evolve in parallel to your subscriber list growth?
After I passed 1000 subscribers, it became much easier to do newsletter cross-promotions, but that is all I do to add subscribers. I definitely have a lot to improve.
How do you utilize paid newsletter advertising to grow? What is the ideal CPA (cost per subscriber acquisition) for you?
I’ve spent over $1400 on paid sponsorships of newsletters to add about 460 subscribers. I think that $3 or less for a new subscriber is a good value. Ideally, I’d like to get this under $2 if I were to advertise again.
Regarding growth efforts, what would you do differently if you had a chance to start over?
I think I would focus on building evergreen, comprehensive guides to encourage signups and get search traffic. Launching a newsletter with a few hundred subscribers would be much better rather than writing for no one in the beginning.
What are your plans to continue growing?
It’s tough to grow a curated newsletter so I think I will get back to writing and promoting original content. I’ve recently started creator case studies and I’m also trying giveaways.
How do you make money currently? What is your monthly revenue? Can you share the breakdown of your revenue streams?
I don’t really make money from the newsletter. I’ve had sponsors contact me to advertise, so I’ve promoted them but don’t actively seek sponsors.
When and how did you earn your first dollar with your newsletter?
I sold my first sponsorship in early 2022. It was about 1.5 years after starting the newsletter.
How does your sponsorship system work? How do you find sponsors?
I don’t have a system at all. All of my sponsors have contacted me. I don’t see value in spending time to find sponsors for a list my size. It’s not worth the money yet.
Any other plans regarding the monetization of your newsletter in the future?
I’m thinking of creating a course or other product. However, monetization is not important to me yet.
📩 E-MAIL SERVICE PROVIDER
Why did you choose MailWizz? Pros and cons?
I self-host my email with MailWizz. I have multiple lists for other businesses so it saves me hundreds of dollars every month. It has worked well for my needs in the past but I’m seriously reconsidering ConvertKit for its sponsorship network and referral system.
🧩 SYSTEM & PRODUCTIVITY
What is your typical weekly process from creating to releasing a new issue?
I use Airtable to save links with the Chrome browser app. I usually have about 20 good links when it comes time to publish the newsletter. I screen out the weakest content to focus on the best 8 to 10 links each week.
I have a custom automation in Make that generates the HTML for the newsletter from the Airtable spreadsheet and then publishes the posts to my website.
Can you elaborate on your content curation system? How do you screen resources every week?
I read and listen to literally hundreds of content sources every week, so this is where the bulk of my time is spent. I’ll save the best links I find throughout the week and then narrow those down to publish the newsletter.
I easily spend more than 10 hours per week screening content through newsletters, podcasts, and YouTube. The actual publishing of the newsletter takes about an hour to edit and test.
What is your weekly newsletter content distribution plan/system?
I occasionally share links on Twitter, but that is about everything I do. I’m definitely weak on distribution.
🎢 NEWSLETTER EXPERIENCE
How did writing Creator Boom contribute to your life professionally and personally?
I learn a lot every week from curating the content, so that is a major benefit. It has also helped me connect with a lot of interesting creators. If I’m learning and connecting regularly, I’m winning.
What is the most challenging part of writing a newsletter and how do you handle it?
Growth is hard. There are so many newsletters and information sources now that it’s a streetfight for attention. It’s very hard to stand out. I don’t have any insights on handling this other than being willing to try new things and constantly learn. I should be doing more to promote and distribute my newsletter, but I don’t enjoy it.
Can you tell us about one big mistake and your learnings from it during your newsletter journey?
For the first couple of months, I was publishing the newsletter daily. That was way too much work. It is far more important to promote your content rather than create it.
Ideally, I would like to spend 25% of my time on content creation and 75% on promotion.
What is next on your newsletter journey? Short-term and long-term objectives? How do you plan to reach these goals?
I don’t really make goals for business or life anymore. I keep doing it as long as I enjoy what I’m doing. I will keep creating, learning, and experimenting. Publishing my newsletter is a habit that I make every week. It’s who I am now, so I keep doing it.
My newsletter is focused on finding good ideas to grow your audience and business. I will keep trying different ideas, learning new skills, connecting with other creators and entrepreneurs and generally trying to improve.
What would it be if you had the right to give one piece of advice to aspiring newsletter creators?
Great original content always wins. Write better content than everyone else and promote it well. Curation is difficult because it is not unique. Focus on unique content or guides.
What are your favorite newsletters that you can’t wait for the next issue?
Growth in Reverse is a great example of high-quality writing.
For The Interested has great articles and curated links
Growth Currency is good for growing a newsletter.
Seth Godin’s short articles are always insightful.
The Steal Club always provides cool ideas to implement.
Any final words?
If I were starting over as a creator, I would focus on building a niche website of content designed to rank in search engines. That is a much more reliable way to grow an audience and it doesn’t require you to be on the content hamster wheel every week.
There are niche websites making tens of thousands of dollars per month. It’s hard to do that from a curated newsletter. I’d still collect emails, so it would technically be a newsletter. However, the focus would be content that ranks in search engines to bring organic traffic and offer the ability to use advertising networks like MediaVine and promote affiliate offers.
To succeed as a newsletter creator, you really need to be successful on a social media platform first to build distribution. While I love curating and writing content, I don’t enjoy social media.
Thank you so much, John! Already looking forward to receiving your next curation!
🔗 Where to find John Bardos and his work
That’s all for today. Thanks for reading.
If you liked reading this, don’t be shy to click the ❤️ button on this post and leave your comment (so that more people can discover it on Substack).
See you next week.
Thanks for another insight-filled newsletter, Ciler. I strongly agree with the ethos of John's final paragraph about niche websites: create something valuable and let people find it instead of running yourself ragged on the content hamster wheel.
John Bardos is as real as it gets. His interview spells it out plainly: streetfight for attention; content hamster wheel; niche websites vs. newsletters; brutal honesty about sponsorships, promotion and distribution.
Anybody struggling in the newsletter ecosystem (like me) needs to read this interview and take notes!
Thanks, John and Ciler for hooking up and sharing this interview!