Why You Should Build an Audience Before You Build a Business

Where do great business ideas come from?

What about products — how can you know (or at least make a highly educated guess about) whether your idea will actually fly in the market?

In his must-read book Breakthrough Advertising, master copywriter Eugene Schwartz wrote:

“This is the copywriter’s task: not to create mass desire — but to channel and direct it.”

Though Schwartz aimed that truth at copywriters, it’s also a good starting point in explaining Brian Clark’s Minimum Viable Audience model for building businesses and products that people want.

Build an audience through content marketing. Let them tell you what they want. Build products and offer services based on their desires and needs. Prosper.

In this episode we discuss:

  • What is an Entreproducer?
  • Why you should build a Minimum Viable Audience before anything else
  • How to build a profitable business around content marketing
  • How to succeed in business without outside funding
  • Why focus groups and surveys don’t work
  • How to find and build a product that people actually want
  • How Brian built Copyblogger with a Minimum Viable Audience

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Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

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Robert: Welcome to Internet Marketing for Smart People Radio . I’m Robert Bruce. Brian Clark is with me today to spill the beans on his new multi-media email newsletter over at entreproducer.com.

What is it? What is a minimum viable audience and why is it crucial to your startup, ideas and products? These questions and more will be answered in the next few minutes, but let me start by asking Brian, did you finally get out of South by Southwest?

Brian: I did! I did, and immediately flew to Boulder, Colorado where it was 70 degrees and sunny, while it was 43 degrees and raining in Austin. Exactly the opposite experience that you want from South by Southwest but we made do. We did find a way to enjoy ourselves, I think.

Robert: We did enjoy ourselves. I was looking for a little break from the rain but that did not happen. All this talk about Texas being so hot and sunny didn’t really come around for me.

Brian: I think your break was called, “scotch.”

Robert: Okay this show is brought to you by Internet Marketing for Smart PeopleInternet. It’s the free 20 part online marketing course that your in-box cannot resist. Over 71,000 people have signed up for the course and one of the reasons you should jump in is because it’s so damn comprehensive.

Sonia Simone, our Chief Marketing Officer, and one of the top content marketers working today, developed the course. She has been at this discipline, and the discipline of dealing with Brian Clark, for years. She knows what works, what doesn’t work, and how to produce content that attracts an audience in order to sell products and ideas. She’s distilled the very best that Copyblogger has published over the years into 20 easy emails. All you have to do to take this free course is … well Brian let’s do this, head over to Copyblogger.com with me. Scroll down a little bit, about half way down the homepage, what do you see there? Read that headline for me if you will, Brian.

Brian: This all looks familiar, I think I designed this page.

Robert: I think you had something to do with it at least.

Brian: So it says, “Grab our free 20-part internet marketing course.” It’s got some handy compelling bullet points, a little social proof in the amount of subscribers there. There is even a link to more information if you need it, or you can just go ahead and sign up.

Robert:You can go there, read all you want about it by clicking that link or, yes, the easiest way to do it is to drop your email address into that little box that says, “enter your email address” and click the red “sign me up” button. If you do that, you will be on your way and we’ll take care of the rest.

So, Brian, let’s talk about this new venture and in starting to do so, I want to know what an Entreproducer is?

What is an Entreproducer?

Brian: Basically that’s a term I came up with about five or six years ago to try to describe the way we worked at Copyblogger. It really came up during 2007, when Tony Clark and I were building the first Copyblogger product which was Teaching Sells, I should say conceptualizing, because we didn’t build it before we launched it, and that’s one of the key tenets of what Entreproducer covers going forward.

A lot of things have happened, we moved into software development and all that, so essentially the way I think of it is that an “Entreproducer” is someone who sees the opportunities in online content, and since it’s a core aspect of the business model, I’ve adopted the producer/writer concepts from Hollywood such as the show runners that have become famous now.

The writer/producers like the guys from Lost and JJ Abrahams and all that kind of thing. Or it could be more like a peer producer who doesn’t create an ounce of content, never writes a thing, but makes it happen with whatever resources and people are necessary to get it done.

So the kind of things that we are talking about here are … we talked about content marketing at Copyblogger . Entreproducer is really how do you base a business around content marketing, whether it be a completely new startup idea or really taking an entrepreneurial approach to reinventing an existing business, which I think is really what the smart people will do to gain an unfair advantage in whatever market we’re talking about here.

There are also all sorts of cool things coming down the pipe in transmedia, all these forms of media that really wouldn’t work without the internet as that thing that ties everything together.

A lot of the traditional content industry is not going to go after these things because they are risky, or they don’t understand it, or whatever, so there are opportunities for entrepreneurs there. As you mentioned, Entreproducer is also the name of my new newsletter, which I am publishing as a way to finally write a book.

Robert: This is what it took then?

Brian: It had to be the right thing. I just never felt the need to write a basic content marketing book or anything like that, we give that stuff away for free on Copyblogger, that’s always been our model. We’ll teach you as much as we can of the basics in order to get you going, then of course we’ll help you out if you need a deeper course, you’ve got Teaching Sells, if you need software, you need a design, you need help with conversion, all of that stuff.

So that’s always been our model, and I think by not running off and writing a book and instead giving that content away for free has really been the key factor in our success so far. So you really don’t want to mess with that.

Why you should build a Minimum Viable Audience before anything else

Robert: Alright, speaking of the newsletter, the free content that you are giving out on Entreproducer, you’ve just released the latest newsletter article and it’s about something that you call the “minimum viable audience” and linked it in the show notes below but talk about that for a bit. The minimum viable audience, if you will.

Brian: It’s kind of a play on the term minimum viable product, which is kind of a core tenant of the lean startup movement. A guy named Steve Blank cashed out during the dot-com craze and became more of an academic and advocate of these kind of “lean” principles applied to startups.

Of course, Eric Ries, put out the book, The Lean Startup , last year which was a huge hit and started this entire movement beginning with Eric’s blog and carrying on with the book. It’s really cool to see, and of course the tie in between the two is that Steve Blank was a mentor of Eric’s at his company that he uses as an example in the book, The Lean Startup.

So I am totally down with the whole lean startup thing. We have run Copyblogger for the last six years according to those principles. The interesting thing was that I started leaner than they do in that I started with a blog and was looking for the audience to tell me what the business model was.

That is one of Steve Blank’s big things. Startups are not companies in the normal sense. They’re really a search for a scalable and repeatable business model. So once you find that model then you’ve got a real company.

At Copyblogger I’d say we became a real company in the fall of 2007 when we started getting paid. Before then the blog, the audience, was the mechanism by which the first product came to light.

In the typical lean startup model you begin with a minimum viable product, something that people will actually buy. That’s important, you know, people will only really tell you what they are willing to buy by buying it. Focus groups asking people what they would buy are horrible waste of time and will always give you bad data because people don’t know what they want.

I think the late Mr. Jobs said, “That’s the job of the entrepreneur or the business person, given all the available information and data possible, to figure out what it is that the consumer wants. You can’t ask them, it’s not their job to know.” I think that’s dead on and, in fact, I think if you ask you will get the wrong answer and you will end up failing worse if you didn’t bother anyone at all.

The minimum viable product is something that you build. It could be quite shaky. It could be a software product that’s held together with duct tape and is not stable but conceptually, if people buy it, then you take feedback from them and you immediately make it better.

This is how all Copyblogger products have been developed, with one key difference, we make better minimum viable products because we have this audience who we are interacting with, serving with content at such a level of intimacy in that it’s not like marketing research that is very arms length or anything like that.

With social media you’re right there. You put something out. People comment. Everyone’s got something to say about it and I’ve always said that social media is the greatest free market research environment ever because people are responding in authentic ways as opposed to telling you what you want to hear or things like that.

Robert: This is very different than the test subjects in a lab, right?

Brian: Absolutely. It is the world. It may be the online world, but it’s still the best thing that we’ve got for people’s reactions and unfiltered responses to something that is topically relevant to them, which is your content.

So basically all I am taking here with the minimum viable audience is exactly what we did with Copyblogger, which is before you try to come up with that first product, build an audience. They’re your test group, they’re the ones who become fans of what you are doing so far, they want you to sell something to them, and because of that relationship, you’ll have a much better and more concrete vision of what they actually want.

So your minimum viable product has a much better chance of being truly viable and it’s actually a little bit further along than you would be if you just started with an idea and tried to test it.

Why focus groups and surveys don’t work

Robert: Let me ask you just to be really clear here. I think I remember you saying, these are not direct questions that you are asking the audience, most of what you developed and came up with in the early days, and still do today, we as a company, comes from observation, right? Observation and various places. Like you said you want observations through social media as opposed to direct questions.

Brian: Yes, exactly. We have never done a survey. You ask for feedback, sure, but you keep it very open-ended. If you are going to do any kind of surveying, and people have made that work when they have a responsive audience, always ask open-ended questions. Don’t use multiple choice, you’ll pollute your sample by suggesting certain things. There’s a real art to that and even research scientists screw it up a lot of times, which I think you alluded to earlier.

With the totality of it all, by developing content you are intimately involved with in an area of relevant knowledge that you are trying to teach, transmit, share, whatever, and then you also get to see how people react to that content. That’s how we develop our content, but through that process you also get just invaluable information that you wouldn’t get otherwise.

The whole title of The Lean Startup comes from lean manufacturing, or lean production, which is actually a big company thing that was developed by Toyota decades ago for efficient manufacturing processes and it was totally focused on value to the customer, efficiency, and avoidance of waste. That’s why the lean principles are so perfect for a startup because the definition of an entrepreneur is someone who tries to make something happen with only the resources at hand, which are usually pretty thin and should be thin, which we’ll talk about in a little bit.

How Brian built Copyblogger with a Minimum Viable Audience

Robert: In the context of the minimum viable audience model then, what about promotion? What about getting the word out? How does that work? Is it more of a natural process or are you actively going out seeking promotional opportunities?

Brian: In the context of a minimum viable audience, product development is only one aspect of what that audience can do for you. What we’re talking about here is not a passive audience sitting in a theater or on the couch. What they are is a networked audience that can become a community of advocates for you.

So there are really three prongs to a minimum viable audience, one is the point when you have enough of a regular audience, people who have given permission for you to contact them, or they’ve subscribed to your feed, or they are following you in the parlance of social networking.

You want to be at the point, when you have enough audience feedback so that you know how to adapt the content itself. So the lean principle of “you start off with your best guess of what the audience will go for”, which is essentially a product of research and positioning. So when I first started Copyblogger, it was my recognition that people needed help with their blog content and it was at the intersection of copywriting and content.

That was my best guess for Copyblogger, and there was also enough room in that position to keep going, but I knew I wasn’t going to just nail it right from the beginning. You have to just start somewhere that’s good enough. It’s just like the minimum viable product thing. It’s your best guess, and then you have to put it out there and see what people actually do.

So in the content and development standpoint it’s about what are people commenting on and saying they found helpful. Sharing is the social media equivalent of buying, right? They start advocating your blog, or your video, or your podcast, or whatever format you are taking to develop content, and you are getting enough feedback to realize what they like and what they don’t like.

A lot of that can be down to what is popular and what’s not, but not exclusively. People tend to just say, “well popular is good and unpopular is bad.” To a certain degree, that’s kind of right. The audience rules, right? You also will glean insights into what do they need connecting each of these kind of blockbuster pieces of content in order to truly get the value that they are looking for. Whatever it is, the problem that they have or the desires that they have. So that’s the first thing.

The second one is kind of related, in that the minimum viable audience will start promoting your content by a social media themselves. That’s the part that people struggle with. I remember my first three months of Copyblogger, I was plugging along creating the core content for the site, which is now Copywriting 101 and a couple of others, but I kept trying these various content events like something beyond just a blog post, and I tried a couple of things and they didn’t really work, and then three months in I released a PDF report that went viral and, of course, it was about viral marketing.

That was the day I knew that I was doomed to be meta-fabulous! Copyblogger was going to have to teach and demonstrate at the same time with a very transparent wink at the audience saying, “You can listen to what I say or you can watch what I do but they are both congruent.”

Robert: They’re the same.

Brian: That is really where our “practice what we preach” mantra came from, because that’s what worked for us.

You can’t talk about marketing and pretend like you’re not doing it at the same time. In fact I think that was a determinant, so that was something that we learned from the audience by what actually happened very early on.

Then the third aspect is what we kind of already touched on which is that when you are developing content week in and week out for an audience, a type of person related to a topic (some people put the topic first, it’s really people), it’s a certain type of person you are trying to reach.

When you tune in at that level to that type of person in the aggregate as an audience, then you really start to see what’s missing. What are they lacking, other than the knowledge that you are sharing? Sometimes you make content mistakes where people don’t understand what you are saying, that’s an aspect of number one, which is that audience feedback helps you make better content.

The second aspect is beyond my content. What else is it that they need? That’s how every Copyblogger product has been born.

How to build a profitable business around content marketing

Robert: Very quickly, what is a good example out in the real world of a company or individual who’s used this minimum viable audience well, whether they knew it or not?

Brian: There are tons of people. Every person with a successful blog that’s now a business has done this and it’s not limited to blogging. I think a lot of this came out of the middle of last decade that the people who jumped on the blogging thing and experimented with advertising to various degrees of success, some people still do have advertising models, but all of them have added selling things to it.

Darren Rowse is a better example for Digital Photography School, which was his passion and his big, big business.

Problogger is not how Darren makes most of his money. He basically created a community around sharing content about digital photography and that’s a great business for him. It started out with building the audience, not with making money or knowing exactly what it was he was going to sell.

Leo of Zen Habits. Basically this guy had a life philosophy, he built an audience around it, and now he is living the dream. He moved from Guam to San Francisco, supporting his rather large family, bless him. I don’t know how he manages that many kids (laughs).

37 Signals, which I always loved to use as an example because back in 2005, before I started Copyblogger, I looked at 37 Signals. They had just moved into software and I was like, “Wow, too bad I can never do that.”

It did happen, because I built an audience, and over the course of the years following, these opportunities presented themselves thanks to having the audience in the first place and we can talk about that in a little more detail, but 37 Signals was a design shop that built a big following based, in part on their unique philosophies and utter lack of shyness about sharing them. When they went into software, they were like, “Well, Base Camp is what we needed for ourselves.” Of course at some point they recognized “if we need it then this audience we have needs it” and that’s really when 37 Signals, as we know it today, began.

That is what I like to call an example of being a “member of your own market”, which I think has benefited me as well. I am an online publisher serving other online publishers, which is helped along with the feedback from the audience which tells me what it is we all collectively need to do a better job.

Never lose touch with the people and their existing desires

Robert: This people over topic thing is really wild. We need to revisit this again at some point, but like Darren Rowse is a great example of that. I obviously follow him, I know him, I watch what he does, I learn from him, but honestly I could care less about Digital Photography School. It’s an amazing resource and an amazing site, so on one hand I am watching all the moves he makes, but this other world that he has created for those other people, around this topic, it is endlessly fascinating to me.

So let’s circle back around in the coming weeks or something.

Brian: Well just on that it is the intersection of, in this case, a passion, a hobby, but again it’s not about… If you create content that is just about a topic and ignore the fact that you are primarily there to serve people, it’s really Marketing 101, but it’s applied to the world of content development in that it’s always about the people. You don’t know how to frame the content, the topic, unless you understand something about the type of person and what drives them to do this certain behavior. In this case, taking pictures.

Robert: What’d our man Schwartz say? “Never, ever, ever lose touch with the people.” Which is why he spent so much time in “trashy magazines” and the like.

Brian: He also said, “You can’t create desire, you can only channel it.” That’s what Darren did. These people were out there, he shared an affinity with them. He decided to serve that market of existing desire. I am sure Darren has no idea that he is such the epitome of what Eugene Schwartz said, because only Copywriting geeks like us think about that, but it’s a great example.

How to find and build a product that people actually want

Robert: It’s almost over two years now that I’ve seen firsthand the power of an audience within Copyblogger, but for those who aren’t convinced of this concept, of minimum viable audience, what are the benefits with an audience over the typical “lean” startup approach?

Brian: Well the first thing is something that we already touched on but I want to refer back to. I know you read that Seth Godin post from I think maybe last week. I think it was something like “When does marketing start?” Right?

That’s the thing, I think a lot of people who go into entrepreneurship wanting to start up a company tend to compartmentalize it. Well then there is product, then if your focused on content, well there’s content, and then there is something over here called marketing.

No, it’s all marketing, and Seth has been saying that for years and I wholeheartedly agree and that nothing offends people more because they have preconceptions about what marketing is. But an entrepreneur is a marketer first and foremost. That’s what they do. They create something and take it to market, that’s the definition and to create something that people want to buy is the very first step.

So we hear about the exception cases where someone just dreams something up, puts it out there and it’s a homerun, which of course we celebrate and glamorize these stories but it’s less than … I don’t even know how minuscule this could be, half of one percent might be too much, compared to all the companies that fail, all the ideas that go into aware, all the products that are developed and are just left alone.

That is just not a function of reach. That’s another misconception, the idea that I have a great product and if I could just get on CNN, it would take off. You are probably not getting on CNN because really nobody wants what you made. You thought it was a great idea but you didn’t have any kind of viable reason why other people might like it beyond that.

Again, that’s what the lean startup movement is all about, finding out as quickly as possible, “Is this a viable idea? Is this a viable product?” According to the way we’ve done it and a way a lot of other people have done it, the way to begin that process is to serve a market before you’ve even got something to sell. The way to do that is with content, because at the same time you are accomplishing so many other things.

Let’s just start with that premise that serving an audience will give you a better shot at creating something they actually want. Not to mention that when you have fans, a lot of them will buy anything you put out as long as it’s reasonably competent, right?

I mean we’ve never advocated putting out junk. You’re not going to get away with it. That’s rule number one. There are many quality things that have been created that aren’t junk, but nobody wants them. That’s a distinction. Okay? Keep that in mind. It doesn’t mean that it’s bad, it just means that it’s undesirable. Channel existing desire.

Connecting with an audience is the epitome of what Schwartz had to read those trashy magazines for, not to say you are building a trashy audience. You get the point. He had to stay in touch with whatever market he was serving with his copy. The best way to do this is to basically take something you’re interested in or good at, making you part of that market, and connecting on a deeper level.

It’s like the best form of market research there is, not saying that you can’t start with the minimum viable product approach but there are other benefits to having an audience that goes beyond that.

Another point, which we touched on, is having that additional insight, connection that comes from constantly having to try to make a certain type of person’s life better with content.

In other words, solving problems or satisfying desires will help you build a better first product or a better minimum viable product.

Even with us, it has always been version 1.0. We only put in what we know is necessary or desirable. We know it’s not going to be perfect, there is no way. You have to get it out there, this is the whole idea behind “you got to ship.” Until you actually sell something to people you have no idea, you really don’t. You’ve got a better educated guess because you have the audience, but once it’s out there, there are going to be things that people tell you that you did right, and there are going to be things that people wished they had, and there are going to be things that people point out that you did wrong. That’s just the way it is.

That’s one of the principles of lean, which is start off with your best guess, understand that it can always be better and, number three, never stop making it better.

So you’ve seen that over time with the evolution of Teaching Sells, every software product keeps evolving, getting better, but I think the reason why we’ve been able to succeed one part is that we start off at a better 1.0 than someone who didn’t have the audience insight that we have.

Another benefit, of course, is essentially the true story of Copyblogger, which is that all I ever truly built was the audience. Tony Clark and I collaborated in 2007 to create Teaching Sells, later Sonia joined. She was one of the first members of Teaching Sells and then ended up on the team and took it to the next level.

All the software products started the same way. Someone outside came to me and said, “Hey, I’ve got this and you’ve got the audience, so let’s team up and do it.” Of course, that happened over and over until 2010 when we merged all the companies together to form Copyblogger Media.

What people don’t see from the outside is everything I said, “no” to. People look and say, “Wow.” I’ve heard that people say that Copyblogger Media has a Midas touch, everything we touch turns to gold. It’s true. We’ve never had a product fail. All of them are doing quite well, but the truth is that so many more things were brought my way that I said, “no” to. Way more than I ever said, “yes” to.

Again, that’s the same thing as building a better minimum viable product. Being able to choose what is right over what might be a fast buck. Now I like money as much as the next guy, but there is no way that I am going to destroy my primary asset of the audience on a crappy product or just something that is a short-term gain but a long-term pain.

People came to me with stuff constantly and I ignored I’d say 70% of it. So again, to quote the master, Master Jobs, “What you say no to is just as important as what you say yes to.” If I didn’t know the audience so well from serving that audience through content, I might not have been as good a judge in that context or I might have just sold out because I needed the money because I wasn’t doing very well.

How to succeed in business without outside funding

Robert: Seems like this minimum viable audience, the content that you are talking about, it seems like it’s also a great remedy for this incredibly popular word that we keep hearing over and over lately, pivot. These companies doing these massive, expensive, pivots from one product to another trying to turn this what might be a monster in some cases, but in content and in building an audience, you are doing a thousand little pivots that are less painful. It’s easier, it’s less expensive, it’s better.

Brian: Yes that’s an excellent point. There is nothing wrong, that’s another key concept of The Lean Startup, the pivot. I think you are pointing out some of the larger mistakes that perhaps I think could have been remedied by having a tighter relationship, having fans instead of just market segments and all the impersonal approaches.

A huge pivot is kind of a form of waste, on one hand, or it could be seen as saving the day on the other, but if such a huge pivot could have been avoided because you had a better starting point with audience, then you are serving one of the key tenets again of lean ideology which is “don’t waste.”

Another thing here on the waste front is that … so the lean startup thing has gained all this traction and Eric and Steve have got to be pleased about that, but at South by Southwest they had the “The Lean Startup Track”, I mean it was a whole day dedicated to it and one of our colleagues, who will remain unnamed, said she was disappointed that the main question over and over was, “How do I raise money?”

I think everyone on the other side of the table must have been slapping their forehead because that’s the wrong way to think about it. Getting investment money based on an idea loan without understanding anything about it or having any sort of asset that lets you know how much money you truly need, to me, is the epitome of waste.

For one, you’re wasting equity, right off the bat. You’re giving away part of your company, you haven’t even tried, I mean there is a lot to be said for bootstrapping beyond necessity. It seems to me that anyone can get money these days because everyone wants to be an angel investor. I’ve seen it happen before, it’s that irrational exuberance.

A lot of bad ideas are getting funded, and a lot of money is being wasted, but from the other side of the coin, why would you give up “x” percentage of your company before you know for sure what it’s going to take? You are also wasting control, right? You are wasting flexibility, because as soon as investors get involved, you may stay maybe majority owner, but they have a say and they have a very ingrained traditional way of the way things should be done.

If you are truly being a revolutionary, maybe they don’t like that. That’s always what scared me and why we’ve never taken money. We get more offers to take money now that we’re ultra profitable than at the beginning and we’re still very wary of it.

If our goals can only be accomplished, six years later, with as informed a decision as we can now make, and we decided to take money, well then I don’t think anyone could say, “we weren’t thinking it through” because that would be wrong. I am still not sure I want to do that kind of thing.

The real point here is you build an audience and they give you a better idea of what it is they actually want to buy, and someone comes along with you to partner or joint venture, whatever, on that product alone. You’re not wasting anything and you are not risking anything because if it doesn’t work out, you’ve really not done anything. You just keep moving on.

There are a lot of reasons why your first step raising money is, I think, a huge mistake that you may end up regretting later. Every funded company founder that I’ve talked to these days who understands that we never took money, they don’t even try to hide their jealousy, they are just like, “You don’t know how good you’ve got it, don’t take money.” I am like, “I know, I know,” especially at the very beginning.

I know Jason of 37 Signals is a big advocate of bootstrapping, that taking money makes you lazy, taking money makes you focused on spending money, instead of actually being creative about what needs to get done.

All I am saying is that you can bootstrap an audience. That’s been done a million times. Not only by us, but every example I’ve given so far and countless others out there, and that was why they didn’t have to get funding.

The audience gives you all sorts of opportunities, all sorts of data about what’s an actual thing that they want.

And the final point I’ll finally say it, even without all this other stuff, in the process of building an audience you’re building a valuable media asset. I know, Robert, on this show I’ve told you the story, before we merged all the companies together, I got a seven-figure offer from a publicly traded company for Copyblogger.com. That’s it.

Robert: Just the site?

Brian: Yes. Not all the other companies I held an interest in that actually make money. They wanted the platform and they had an advertising model, amongst some other stuff that they thought. So that’s how they valued their offer, which was still substantial but as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t even in the ballpark. It’s way more valuable to me with the products than it is without.

If we were ever to sell off the company piece by piece, product line by product line, which I doubt would ever happen, but if it did, Copyblogger.com would be the last thing to go. But my point is, it still itself has value. People make a living flipping sites all the time. They usually don’t take it as far as I did to get up to that level.

In 2006, people forget that the first way that Copyblogger actually made money was by launching Tutorial off of it in 2006 before YouTube sold, we kind of saw the writing on the wall about online video and then eight months later we sold it for six figures.

So in part, Copyblogger was profitable before then but I don’t count that because it was kind of a spinoff thing. You’re building media assets, people will pay money for them, people who are not good at what you do, which is create content. So I’ll close on that one because that should be the icing on the cake.

How to start building your audience now

Robert: Yes, I can hear people out there asking, “Okay this is all fantastic, but how do we actually build the audience? How do we build this platform? How do we produce the content to do these things as an Entreproducer?”

Brian: Well first of all, I always point people to six years of Copyblogger archives there. Starting with that very newsletter that you so eloquently pitched at the beginning. It really is a great resource, it really ties the topic together, to get Lebowski on you.

But from a strategic standpoint, from a business Entreproducer mindset, that is what the very next article on Entreproducer will be about, where I kind of lay out how these lean startup principles actually also apply to content development, content marketing and that’s how I started Copyblogger before Tony ever came along and explained to me what I was doing.

At that point, we were like, “Oh well we’ll just keep more of this, but now we know what it is called.” That was back in 2007, so again, I am really glad to see the whole lean movement really going wide. I think there is still a lot of confusion out there and I think there is a lot to be said for building an audience instead of chasing down investors. In the show notes as you mentioned the article about the minimum viable audience, will be already there, but if you want next week’s article, sign up for free.

I am using the very technique that I talk about in that article with the newsletter to write the book. So at a minimum you get the book in pieces for free upfront and you get a ringside seat to watch me as I do it. The same as it ever was meta-fabulous!

Robert: Alright. So the way to get the goods from Entreproducer is through email, we’ll have a link on this post and in the show notes of course. But that is Entreproducer.com. Thank you everyone out there for listening we really appreciate it. Mr. Clark, you are without equal among CEO DJ’s. Thank you.

Brian: I’ll agree with that!

Other listening options:

The Show Notes:

About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter and Resident Recluse.

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Comments

  1. Great post on building an audience first. Eben Pagan once spoke about
    how he got all his product ideas from his list telling him exactly what they
    wanted.

    He built it and sold it to ‘um. The problem I see over and over is, some
    so-called big marketers YELLING, build a list ,build a list. So you
    can spam the crap out of ‘um and make your zillions, all the while
    having a unsubscribe rate higher than gas prices.

    They don’t tell ya how to take care of that list and provide value to them.
    Not to mention learn from ‘um and find out what they need and want,
    then give it and sell it to them.

    Ron

    • That’s what I LOVE about André Chaperon’s course “AutoResponder Madness 2.0″. It’s the best course I’ve ever taken on how to actually nurture the relationship with your list. I highly recommend that you check it out. Just Google it.

      David

  2. I agree with the audience first approach wholeheartedly. that’s how I started and that’s how I recommend my students to start. thanks for the great podcast – Hector

  3. I love the term Minimum Viable Audience and this is a great point. It’s better to focus on adding value and getting loyal subscribers and then turning that into a business vs. the other way around. I think Ron makes a great point which I’ve experienced first-hand and with my clients. Once you get the list, how to take care of them, learn from them, keep in touch, be a real person, and make money is a whole new ball of wax. But if people want to build businesses, it’s essential. Looking forward to digging into the podcast!

  4. You had me at “Scotch”. What do you drink, Bruce? Chivas is a must at my homestead :)

    But I digress to my question in regards to observation & research. Do you simply look for feedback on the stuff you post or do you use keywords & see what social media is talking about related to your topic?

    Solid stuff you guys. Cheers!
    -M

  5. I whole-heartedly agree that building the audience and then “Listening” is the best way to achieve great success online.

    It’s important to listen to your audience: ENTREPRELISTENER

    Thank you for the info Brian.

  6. Robert/Brian,

    Although it does sound a lot easier than it really is, this model seems to be the ONLY way to go if you want to create a business that’s sustainable.

    I think a lot can be gained by surveying your audience, but not by asking them what they want, more by asking them what they DON’T want and what problems they’re losing sleep over… then crafting the product from that feedback.

    As always, the final vote is the moment when they either buy or don’t. However, without that personal, intimate, frequent relationship with the seller, even the perfect spot-on solution will NEVER leave the shelf.

    -Joshua Black

  7. We didn’t turn our neighborhood-news site into a business until it had been online almost 2 years and getting about 2,000 uniques a day. Of course, we didn’t even start it with the thought it might EVER become a business – but we listened, and responded, and somehow it turned into a neighborhood news/information/discussion hub. It’s not fair to ask people to pay to advertise someplace they might not even be seen, so I don’t think you can in good conscience sell ads from day 1 – or if you do, you’d have to sell at a ridiculously cheap price from which it would be difficult to upsell. When people ask us for advice, we suggest that you make sure you have a cushion for at least a few months of creating something to see if it will resonate. If it does, THEN get out there and start getting revenue.

  8. I always enjoy these posts from Robert, and listen to the audio a few times.
    I do, however, look forward to moving on to a new term to replace “content marketing”.

  9. I started my first business as trial for a real deal. I was ready that it will fail and it will work as a lesson for me. And I was right it really failed but meanwhile I got an audience, contacts and everything I needed to start some real deal.
    Thanks Robert for suggestions!

  10. Thank you for another magnificient show, Robert and Brian. By the way, I listen to a ton of podcasts and Robert has THE voice for the job.

    Quite honestly, not enough has been said about this issue and it is THE difference that makes the difference in being successful online. Understanding people is the linchpin to a longt-term, successful online business. While everyone is focused on content and search engines and traffic and conversion and blog design, I think you could stand way out by concentrating your readers on people. How do you segment people, what are examples of niches (special interest groups), how do start communicating with people, and so on.

    That’s where the edge lies. If you’re very good at understanding people, you could be a mediocre copywriter and still sell a lot. Conversely, the best copywriter in the world couldn’t sell his way out of a paper bag without understanding his audience.

    If Copyblogger Media is able to develop a piece of software that helps marketers tune into people, I think that would be an unprecedented contribution.

    Once again, congrats on the show and I look forward to the next ones.

  11. +1 for “world’s foremost CEO DJ.”

  12. agree audience is important….we need a community before a brand

  13. I content that most of the world still does not understand this concept of ‘building an audience’. I know some otherwise very smart people who cannot grasp the significance and value of building an audience- no matter what niche they’re in.

    If everyone was building an audience, then there wouldn’t be any room left to build one. That’s why it’s so valuable. The people who really ‘get’ the value of building an audience are the ones succeeding in business because they give the audience what it wants. While some people obsess over trivial details, the real hustlers are out there continually building their audience asset and discovering through feedback what the audience would happily pay for.

    This is the approach that makes sense to me. Thanks Brian and Robert for a fantastic listen.