How to build an audience from scratch, with Stephen Woessner

Episode 877

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Everything You Need To Know About Building An Audience From Scratch

One of the topics business owners often ask me tends to be something like this… “Hey Stephen — how fast will I be able to build my audience? Or — do you have any advice on how to build an audience from scratch?”

And let me just say – it has been my experience that the intent behind this type of question has a few layers to it…and the first one tends to be monetizing the audience. And early on in the process – especially when starting from scratch – should not be anyone’s intent.

Are there successful strategies to monetize an audience? Absolutely. And should you as a business owner have a strategy for monetizing your audience?

Of course. But not initially.

Initially — your goal should be to build an audience – even if it is a small one – with the goal of being helpful to your audience. It is not about numbers…it is about the relationship. It is about you investing in your audience…all of your knowledge…everything you can pour into your relationship with them with the sole goal of being helpful.

And then guess what? When you do that over time – and your audience sees and hears how sincere you are – and that you have their best interests at heart – when you have something to sell…maybe it’s an in-person workshop, maybe your and your team are rolling out a new service offering, or you’re launching a book…whatever…your audience – not everyone of course – but a chunk of your audience will be eager to support you.

But it is because you invested in them first – way, way, way before you ever asked them to invest in you.

Now, with that said – are there some time tested proven strategies that can help you and your team build an audience from scratch? Yes, there definitely are.

Just you and me – exploring what my Predictive ROI team and I have tested, adjusted, re-tested, adjusted, tested again – and applied at scale over the last several years to help us learn how to build an audience from scratch.

And as always – I will share the details with you in full transparency so you can take the strategies and tactical steps right out of this solocast – and apply them into your business.

But before I do that – I need to share a couple of updates with you regarding this podcast, Onward Nation – and – how it connects back into Predictive ROI’s strategy to Double Down in 2019.

You may have noticed that in the last several weeks – we reduced the number of new episodes each week to 1.

So why did we do that?

Especially when I shared with you that our goal for the year was to Double Down.

My leadership team and I mapped out several new content initiatives…a new blog…improvements to our YouTube content…and an expanded Resources Library that would blow the doors off of what we currently have available.

Like truly next-level stuff – were we are Doubling Down on our effort to be helpful to you, Onward Nation.

Well…when we mapped that out…and also looked at my role in our business development, travel schedule, teaching, writing, and interviewing schedule – we needed to free up some time each week – because we could see that by doing so – we would be able to create even more content.

So in the coming weeks and months – what you can expect from us is even more useful content.

More videos, more downloadable guides, more webinars without some sort of sales pitch at the end, and I’m even writing Book #4 as we speak.

Okay – now let’s dive into how to build an audience from scratch.

How To Build An Audience From Scratch

Last summer – I briefly addressed this topic in one of our YouTube videos – but wanted to take it deeper with more strategy and tactical steps to be as helpful as possible to you.

The recipe I’m going to walk you through will work for your business even if you’re just getting started with creating your cornerstone content, need to create an audience from scratch, and even if you don’t have a paid media budget to work with.

In fact, my team and I didn’t include paid media in this recipe for several reasons.

  1. There are already some excellent books written on how to execute paid media campaigns, so we didn’t feel the need to re-invent the wheel.
  2. If your business is narrowly focused on several niches like I recommend in my last solocast — Episode 864 of Onward Nation — then buying access to a broad audience is an investment you can likely avoid.

Again…to dominate your niches and drive biz dev for your business; you don’t need a million downloads of your content.

You don’t need 10,000 YouTube subscribers. But what you do need is an audience that cares about your point-of-view, who loves your content, and an audience that from a business development perspective can drive revenue for your business. And that can be a small — but passionate audience.

Here’s the reality. If your business is like most small- to mid-sized businesses, you would be hard-pressed to onboard and service more than four to five new clients a year without needing to adjust your capacity and workflow.

Most businesses are not in the position to on-board 10, 20, or 50 new clients in a 12- month period of time.

That type of growth creates chaos – that oftentimes results in the business going out of business instead of flourishing.

So if that sounds like your business, too — being tempted to build a large audience for your cornerstone content is a wasted effort and more about vanity numbers and your ego…not growing your business in a predictable, repeatable, and measurable way.

Instead, I think Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired Magazine, was spot on when he wrote his blog post entitled “1,000 True Fans”.

The strategy is just as relevant today as when Kevin wrote it in 2008.

Overview Of The “1,000 True Fans” Strategy

The full text of Kevin’s post as well as the long tail curve he created to illustrate the 1,000 true fans strategy can be found in the show notes for this episode.

To paraphrase the strategy…

Kevin describes “true fans” as clients who will help you mobilize and move your business to that next level. They are true fans of you, true fans of your point-of-view, and true fans of what your business does. They will support you because of the sacred bond you have built with them through the value you share within your consistent cornerstone content. Whether you do that every day or every week — no matter what the schedule, no matter what the rhythm — the fact that you’re consistent is what’s essential to your true fans.

Kevin defines “A True Fan” as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce.

True fans will drive 200 miles to visit your office for a party. They will engage your team for the super deluxe, platinum service package when you roll it out even if they are currently working with your business at the standard level.

They have a Google Alert set for your name and your business’s name. They have bookmarked your website.

They come to your ribbon-cutting ceremonies. They come to your book signings and ask for you to sign their copies.

They cannot wait for your business’s next webinar, your next podcast episode to air, or your next event.

So the best way to increase your revenue is to connect with your True Fans directly.

Connecting With Your True Fans

When you are looking at how to build an audience from scratch, all you need is cornerstone content that is focused on being helpful and delivering value, and your true fans will love you for it.

Building an audience from scratch — and building it up to 1,000 true fans over time is a reasonable goal for your business — even if you’re focused on narrow niches.

Yes, it will take some time and hard work, but your business can reach the goal through organic growth — you don’t need a paid media campaign.

And besides — an email opt-in you receive from a Facebook campaign is not a True Fan.

Someone who finds your content loves your content, sees value in your content, and subscribes because they cannot imagine missing an episode of yours — yep, that is a True Fan.

Okay — so how do you organically build an audience of true fans that is also aligned with the niches your business serves?

It starts by getting strategic about the guests you decide to interview as you create your cornerstone content.

And if you’ve watched any of my YouTube videos or listened to my past solocasts – you’ve likely heard me define cornerstone content as a blog, video series, podcast, articles, or perhaps a book you’re writing.

The type of cornerstone content itself isn’t essential – it doesn’t have to be a weekly podcast.

But interviewing someone as part of the content creation process is necessary because your guest list is one of your most valuable assets in building your audience from scratch.

Here’s how…

Your guests can become your advocates. Your guests can become your “sneezers” by sharing your content through to their audience. Some of their listeners, their email subscribers, and their social media followers…will also become your audience.

But this can and will only happen if you get strategic from the beginning.

Organize Your First Episodes

Let’s start with how you organize your initial guest list.

Your guests for episodes #1 through #5 of your podcast, or blog posts #1 – #5 of your new series, etc. should be colleagues, people you know, who you can be candid with by saying…

“Hey Sara — I’m launching a podcast serving X industry and it would really mean a lot to me if you’d be one, my first guests. I don’t know how successful the new show will be — but I know you, and I will have a fun conversation, and you will be helpful to our audience by helping them think about X. Would you be willing to schedule time using my online calendar here [and then insert your link]?

Sara will likely say yes to that type of invitation because she knows you – trusts you – and wants to help you out. Awesome.

And then you interview Sara and highlight her depth of expertise around Topic X that you mentioned in your invitation.

You then air Sara’s episode, post the blog post, upload the video, etc.

Social Media Campaign 

And you share the content with whatever social audience and email list you have — no matter how small.

But when you share the content — you should not promote your business, or that it is your first episode, or celebrate the launch of the channel.

No, instead you need to celebrate Sara, her smarts, her expertise, and how her insights around Topic X will be helpful to your audience. The content you share must not be about you leading the way — you need to put Sara out front.

And then tag Sara in all of your social posts. All of your tweets. All of your Facebook posts. All of your LinkedIn posts.

You tag Sara in all of the channels you decided are the most relevant to your niches.

You also add Sara’s email address to your distribution list so that when you share her expertise with your list — she will receive it in her Inbox, too.

And your team coordinates all of that activity to happen on the day her episode airs.

Then what do you think happens next? Yep, Sara’s notifications, and Inbox lights up.

She is overwhelmed with comments, likes, and perhaps some shares. That level of excitement motivates her to shares the posts with her community or possibly forward your email to her list because it’s an opportunity for her to share her thought leadership and add value to her audience.

Again, you make the sharing possible when you put Sara out in front within the content.

She is more apt to like it, comment on it, and then share it with her audience. But to ensure this happens, you and your team need to write the social posts in such a way that it doesn’t sound self-aggrandizement from Sara’s point-of-view.

Sara needs to feel comfortable to share it — and not like she is bragging. In the process of Sara doing that — more people become aware of you, and your channels get some early on social proof.

Your next step when you are looking to learn how to build an audience from scratch is to rinse and repeat the process you used with Sara for your next four guests.

When you do that, you will create a sound initial foundation of social proof for your content across multiple channels.

Reach Out To Thought Leaders To Build An Audience From Scratch

Now it is time to begin reaching out to your Dream 25 prospects — your prospects that are within the niches your business serves — and invite them to be your guest.

This is the Trojan Horse of Sales Strategy I talked about often with business owners. If you want a deep dive – go back to Episode 600 of Onward Nation – where I will walk you through the process step-by-step.

How to build an audience from scratch

It is likely they will review some of the content you have posted on your website and socially as part of their due diligence. But your invitation will be easy to say yes to when they see the level of engagement your posts with Sara and others have garnered.

This strategy not only helps you learn how to build an audience from scratch — but quite honestly — it will boost your confidence and keep you from being paralyzed and not reaching out to the guest you know you need to invite to move your business forward.

You’ll be able to see an increase in downloads, email subscribers, social followers, etc. as a result of this initial work.

Your key to long-term success with this strategy will be consistency.

Each episode, blog post, video, or another piece of cornerstone content needs to be shared with your guest in the same way.

And if you keep slicing, dicing, sharing, and posting week after week, 52-weeks a year, you will quickly outpace every other business you typically compete against.

After three or four months, you will be ready to reach out to some thought leaders and experts who represent larger audiences and social media profiles.

Reach out and invite them to be a guest on your show because you’re excited about the insights and wisdom they can share around Topic X and how that would be helpful to the industry you serve.

Of course – some will decline — but it has been my experience — that a large number will say yes.

And when they do, you apply the same social media, email distribution, and slicing and dicing strategies with them.

Now when they share the posts with their audiences — you will see some spikes in your numbers.

Then you rinse and repeat as your audience continues to grow over time.


Okay – did all of that feel doable? None of it involved a paid media budget – just strategy – some of your time – and then being disciplined enough to be consistent.

And that is where most business owners go awry when they think about how to build an audience from scratch. It isn’t that the work is hard, complicated, or expensive. It is that requires discipline and most people don’t have it. They expect immediate gratification – immediate results – immediate impact – and want to be famous overnight.

Good grief. I hope that isn’t you.

Instead, my hope is you and your team are serious about building a great business that is built on the foundation of your thought leadership – and that your thought leadership puts being helpful to your audience as the most important goal. Because when you do that – your audience will love you.

Additional resources:

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