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The Road to 50,000 Subscribers

The Road to 50,000 Subscribers

By Pat Flynn on

Last week, the Smart Passive Income Blog passed the 50,000 subscriber mark, a milestone that I never thought was possible when I started it back in 2008. It has truly been an amazing and humbling journey and I only have you to thank for it.

I realize that there are several sites that have grown much faster and I’m always looking at those sites for inspiration, but I wanted to take this opportunity not only to thank you, but to offer some important thoughts about how I actually got here.

I Filled in What I Saw Was Missing

If you’re trying to get into a crowded niche, it’s easy to think that you’re at a huge disadvantage.  Everyone started before you and your competition already has some authority in the space, yada yada yada.

This is true, but I used this to my advantage instead, and so should you. The more competition, the better.


Because the more competition there is, the more opportunities there are to see where the real holes are in the market. It’s easier to spot what’s missing and that becomes your angle of entry.

In the crowded and saturated blogging and make money online space, for example:

  1. I noticed that no one was talking too much about automation. The 4-Hour Work Week had just been published and the automation section (Part III: A is for Automation, Section 9: Income Autopilot) rocked my world, and so I decided to let that drive the branding. I decided to go with “passive income” because that was the money-related outcome of automation.
  2. I also noticed that too many bloggers were talking the talk, but not walking the walk. It was the few who were publishing posts with real case studies and real data that excited me the most, so I made a conscious decision to openly talk about my own businesses and the strategies I used within them.
  3. No one was talking about their failures, so I published posts like this.
  4. When reading other blogs, I didn’t really feel like I knew exactly who was writing to me, so I got personal and published posts like this, and videos like this.
  5. Nobody was publishing their income online. Hence, my income reports.

Back in 2008, it sort of blew my mind that no one else was reporting their income, although I eventually learned that a few people such as John Chow and Yaro Starak had done it before, but stopped. If any one industry should do it, in my opinion, it’s this one, so I decided to do it myself knowing that it would make some noise, and they’ve become the most popular posts on the site.

I don’t think that everyone in every industry should be posting their income—it doesn’t make sense for some—but I think everyone should have their own version of an “income report”, something that excites your audience and proves you know what you’re talking about.

What’s your industry’s “income report”?

Along the journey to 50k, I also did a lot of other things that helped me stand out of the crowd, although I wouldn’t necessarily say they were meant to fill in any holes that I saw in the market. Most of them were just naturally done because of who I am and what I wish my experience was like on other blogs.

A Unique Email List

When I started learning about doing business online, I heard the expression “the money is in the list”. So naturally, I subscribed to every email newsletter that I could in this space because I wanted to learn from the best. Unfortunately, all that I really learned was that I was being sold to over and over again, and it was annoying. It was interesting because I  saw what it was really like from the subscriber’s point of view, but that’s not how I wanted to treat my subscribers.

When I finally started building an email list of my own on the blog, I made the decision not to sell anything directly to my subscribers—to make it about delivering even more useful content and opening lines of communication instead.

I eventually learned that the money isn’t in the list, but the money is a byproduct of how helpful I can be and what kind of relationship I have developed with my audience, and the list can help me with that. The email list will always be an integral part of my marketing strategy, but not in the way I was taught.

I like to think of it as a part of my relationship strategy instead.

This strategy definitely helps me stand out from the rest, and it also makes people feel comfortable about sharing my newsletter with their friends and following too.

When implementing something new, I’m always thinking, “If I came across this on another blog, how would I really feel about it?”

Things usually work out for the best when I ask myself that question.

I Expanded Beyond the Blog

I would not be at 50,000 subscribers if it weren’t for my presence on YouTube and the podcast on iTunes.


In 2011, I conducted a survey on the blog asking my readers “how did you find me?” and the top two answers were:

  1. The Podcast (19%)
  2. YouTube (16%)

Not links from other blogs, not Google or Facebook or Twitter, but the podcast and YouTube videos.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers were even higher because I’ve gotten a lot more exposure on those platforms since then.

Currently, I’m expanding my reach even further by publishing a book on the Amazon Kindle platform. The book is being written as we speak (I’m taking a break from writing to publish this post!) and I’ll definitely be sharing exactly what happens when it launches. You’ll hear more about it, I’m sure. 😉

I Shared for Free What Would Normally Have a Price

A lot of what I post on the blog I like to think could be something that people would be happy paying for, but instead I give it away for free. I’ve actually had a few people offer to pay for certain things they’ve consumed on the blog, which is pretty cool.

The reason I do this is because I know that often this kind of content can skyrocket my traffic and subscribership, and it’s more likely to be shared.

There are several examples of this, but one in particular comes to mind because even 2 years later it continues to produce a ton of traffic and (more importantly) emails from readers thanking me for the information that I’ve given away for free.

I’m talking specifically about the niche site duel posts, where I share exactly how I created my niche site at—from niche selection and keyword research all the way to getting to the top of Google and generating a couple thousand dollars per month. Even now, I continue to write about the site as I attempt to expand it into an even bigger business.

I’ve learned that sharing information for free, especially information that would normally have a price, helps me build a stronger relationship with my readers (and my reader’s readers) and can be worth more, in the long run, than collecting a payment for that information upfront.

With affiliate marketing a part of the strategy, if appropriate and done with the reader’s goal in mind  (see Affiliate Marketing the Smart Way), it can become a win-win situation for all.

I Never Gave Up

What a lot of people don’t know is that during the first 6 months of this blog, I wanted to give up—several times.

I had a booming study guide business at and was used to seeing thousands of people coming to the site each day. In March of 2009, I was seeing over $1000.00 a day on that site working just an hour or two per week answering customer emails. At the same time, Smart Passive Income just had a few hundred subscribers and a small number of comments on each post. No income, slow growth and I was spending hours on each post.

I got to a point where everytime I was hitting the publish button, I asked myself, “why am I doing this?”

In that same month, March of 2009, I got an email from a reader who I had never made contact with before. She said that she had made her first dollar online writing for (which I was also writing for at the time) thanks to me, and she was thrilled! That’s when I realized that I was getting spoiled, greedy, and I forgot why I had created the blog in the first place: to help people.

I’m glad she brought me back to reality because since then helping you has always been my number one priority, and doing that has paid off more than anything. My goal is to keep getting mail like this:


Many people say luck has a lot to do with my success, and I agree—but only because I think we can create our own luck.

To finish off the post, here’s a great quote from author Natasha Josefowitz:

“Luck is being in the right place at the right time, but location and timing are to some extent under our control.” (Click here to Tweet this Quote!)

Thank you again for all of your support, and remember—none of this happened overnight and it definitely wasn’t a straight and smooth road, but with a lot of hard work, patience and “luck”, we can all make progress that matters.


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