By Sonia Simone
The early days of a new blog, podcast, or video channel are actually a sort of magical time.
It’s quiet. No one has shown up yet. You can say or do nearly anything. You have the opportunity to experiment and play without fear.
And, let’s face it … we all want to get past it as quickly as humanly possible.
While I truly would encourage you to stop and smell those roses, I also appreciate that we start websites because we want to build and serve audiences.
If you have something cooking and you’d like to accelerate the process of pulling your audience together, here are seven things I’ve found useful for my own projects.
Before we start on that, though, you must absolutely understand who you want to serve. What they believe, what they fear, what they know, what they don’t know. Keep digging and keep researching until you have someone in mind who feels like a genuine individual person.
Once you have a vibrant Who in mind, let’s get to work building an audience of them.
#1: Be ready for the traffic you get
At the beginning, when we’re squeaking along with just a few site visitors, it’s particularly important to capture every little scrap of attention we can.
So before you start trying tactics to get more new visitors, make sure that:
- You have at least a few interesting other bits of content for visitors to look at
- Your site doesn’t look like a dog’s breakfast
- You have a good way to capture visitor email addresses
If you’re making something interesting, you may well find that those first subscribers go on to become some of your most loyal fans. Give them a way to stay in touch by offering a smart email subscription that delivers plenty of value.
You’re not going to get a zillion visitors in the early days. But if you can spark and maintain solid relationships with the ones you do get, you’ll start to pick up momentum.
#2: Answer the right questions
Once you (truly, madly, deeply) understand your Who, you’re ready to think about how to best serve them.
One time-honored tactic comes from sales consultant Marcus Sheridan — answer every question you’ve ever seen, received, or heard of in your topic.
The idea isn’t to write a 150,000-word manual. Instead, make each answer a single blog post — and keep the answers simple and useful.
This does a few things for you:
- It gets you past that dread of the “blank page.” Answering questions is pretty straightforward.
- It reveals any knowledge gaps that you need to work on.
- It spurs you to head out into the digital world and start hunting for those questions. That’s a great way to learn a lot about your audience.
- It creates a steady stream of fresh content. This is helpful for search engine optimization, but, more importantly, it makes your site interesting for human beings.
Figure out a calendar you can stick to for these. Since they’re fairly easy to create, you might publish two of them a week for six months or more. Every other week, swap in a more in-depth article that’s got more meat to it.
You may want to have a few of these done in advance, because I promise you’ll have days when even a 10-minute post is going to be tough to get created and published.
This is also a great way for you to start developing good publishing habits.
I refer folks all the time to Pamela Wilson’s post on publishing one strong piece of content a week, as a model for the steps you want to go through. These quick Q&A posts don’t need as much promotion, but it’s still a good opportunity to practice your process on lower-risk content.
#3: Do one epic thing
If you want influencers to link to you, social media darlings to share you, and potential customers to connect with you, you have to do something to deserve all of that attention.
You have to do something epic.
You might be epically good at what you do. You might be able to pull off some kind of epic stunt.
But most likely, your venture into the realm of epic is going to involve creating a seriously good piece of content.
Boring blog posts, weak videos, or copycat podcast episodes won’t cut it. (We already knew that, right?)
Not every piece of content is going to be a home run. But, at least once in a while, you need to swing for the fences.
Make time regularly to create and publish content that’s more thorough, or more creative — or maybe more innovative, empathetic, or far-reaching.
You’ll create a few near-misses before you come up with one that’s genuinely epic. So you should probably get started on those early attempts. Maybe today.
#4: Be a social butterfly
You might love social media, or you might avoid it like the zombie apocalypse. Either way, it’s a good place to look for new connections.
When you’re growing your audience, schedule one or two short sessions on one relevant social platform every day.
- It might be posting in a big group in your topic.
- It might be posting content to your own page.
- It might be cultivating relationships with other web publishers.
Most likely, it will be a combination of those.
If you’re trying to get a site off the ground, you don’t have hours every day to waste on Facebook. But two well-planned, 10-minute sessions every day can do you a world of good.
Facebook is the biggest dog at the moment, but it isn’t the only option. Instagram has been showing a lot of promise lately, and for the right business, Pinterest can be a winner. And for those with B2B products and services, LinkedIn is refreshingly drama-free — and a place where people expect to do business.
If you have trouble with keeping yourself to short sessions, consider a productivity app to help out.
And don’t fall into the trap of building a giant community on a social platform — and neglecting your own site. Your time is typically better spent optimizing your content to get more shares and building up a good volume of high-value content.
#5: Take one controversial stand
We all know that one person on social media who flips the table over every irritation or slight.
That’s exhausting and counterproductive.
But there’s a word for people who never take a difficult stand, never ruffle any feathers, and never speak out:
Whether or not you overtly address politics is up to you. But, as Brian Clark likes to say, “This is the internet — there’s potential for controversy in any strong statement.”
Whether your niche is fitness, dog training, finance, parenting, or knitting — there are fiercely passionate camps around certain topics.
Do some real research. Question your own biases. Weigh the evidence and consider other points of view. Be willing to be swayed by reliable evidence that contradicts your assumptions.
And once you feel confident that your position is grounded with solid evidence, take your stand in the camp you believe is right.
You can literally enrage some people by asserting that the earth is round.
Trying to placate the ignorant doesn’t change the roundness of the earth.
(By the way, if you click the link above, how cool would it be to have a Science Emergency Defense Plan with NdGT on tap.)
#6: Buy a little traffic with money
So if you have a steady, consistent stream of useful material (your question and answer content), along with a few epic pieces, and you’ve taken a stand in your topic … is there anything else to do to get the ball rolling?
You can always try buying a bit of traffic with social media ads.
This is a game with rules that change almost daily, but it’s a game worth playing. Pick the most financially viable platform of the moment (right now it’s Facebook) and buy a little bit of traffic.
“A little bit” is not $1,000 worth of traffic. It’s not $100. Maybe spend $10 this week. And, if budget permits, $10 next week.
Think “risking your Frappuccino,” not “risking your mortgage.”
Learning to buy small amounts of traffic will give your momentum a bit of a push. It will also teach you all kinds of useful things that you’ll be glad you understand when you get more successful or have an offer you’d like to promote.
#7: Buy a little more traffic with time
The other way to “buy” some traffic is to put time and energy into writing guest post content for other sites. You may also find it valuable to appear on other people’s podcasts.
Like #6, this makes sense once you’ve got something worth checking out on your own site.
Guest posting broadens your audience and gives you a great opportunity to form relationships with other web publishers. It can also have nice SEO benefits … but that typically comes down the line, when your site’s a little more mature.
Remember to only submit excellent material for guest posts. It just isn’t smart to show less-than-great work on a larger stage.
Where are you on your journey?
Do you have all the traffic and subscribers you want? Still working on it? Found any great strategies for building an audience in the early days?
Let us know in the comments!
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