How to Protect Your Business’s Most Important Asset (No, It’s Not Your Website)

image of audience

We talk a lot about your self-hosted website as a cornerstone business asset. You own it, you control it, and over time, if you take care of it, it becomes more and more valuable.

Your permission-based email list is an asset as well. You don’t control it to quite the same degree as your website, but it’s still something you build over time that keeps getting more and more valuable.

But there’s something more important than your site or your list. In fact, it’s what gives them value. It’s the reason you’re in business in the first place.

It isn’t your great content. (That’s the path, not the destination). It isn’t your wonderful product or your valuable service.

Your greatest business asset is your audience … the people you hope to serve with your business.

If you’re a restaurant, it’s the starving crowd that shows up at lunchtime hungry for what you have to offer.

And if you’re an online-based business, it’s the people who show up to read your content, share it in social media, and eventually go on to become loyal customers.

Your audience doesn’t have to be huge. But they do have to care about what you’re doing.

As long as your relationship with that audience is healthy, your business can grow.

So here are some thoughts on nurturing that relationship and making it as healthy and robust as possible.

1. The audience comes first … always

If a crazy website-eating meteor hit and you lost your site, you could rebuild it, even if you lost all of your content.

(Side note: backups are really, really important, so take them seriously. Losing all of your content is no fun at all.)

If your email list was somehow eaten by gremlins, you could rebuild it.

You could rebuild those things if you have a solid relationship with your audience. It wouldn’t be pretty and it wouldn’t be fun, but you could do it. Your reputation and your good will would carry you through … because your audience would actively want to hear from you again.

When you recognize that your audience is your one irreplaceable asset, you’ll start to make better decisions. You won’t be tempted to promote a bad product or slap ugly, irrelevant ads on your site, because you’ll know those things aren’t worth turning off your audience.

2. Use content to provide value that scales

The term content may win the blue ribbon for Overused Buzzword of 2012, but that doesn’t mean content itself is a fad. Solid content has always been the smartest way to build an loyal audience.

High-value content lets you do cool things for your audience without killing yourself. And it allows your audience to grow. It’s no more work to create a blog post, podcast, or ebook for 100,000 readers than it is for 10 readers.

You can grow an audience by:

  1. Making an ass of yourself,
  2. Publishing sleazy pageview-obsessed schlock, or
  3. Producing valuable content that accumulates over time into an asset that helps your audience meet their goals.

All three will draw a crowd. But #3 is the only one you can build a healthy business around.

3. Know who you’re speaking to

If you define your audience as “anyone with a pulse” (I’ve heard this one more than once), you’re never going to be able to communicate effectively with anyone.

Figure out exactly who you want to talk with — which normally will be the people who can become your absolute best customers. Find out what they worry about, what they need, what they want, what makes them angry.

And when you get critics (it’s the internet, there will always be critics), you can ask yourself if these people belong in your audience … or if they’re voices you can safely ignore.

4. Think carefully about what you want to be known for

If you’re known as a clever manipulator, your audience will hesitate to help you, always wondering if you’re manipulating them.

If you’re known as a crusader against marketing, your audience will mutiny the minute you try to sell them something.

If you’re known as an attention-seeking loudmouth, your audience will have their doubts about your competence and trustworthiness.

It’s very easy to get attention for negative behaviors. But it’s very hard to earn trust that way, and businesses are built on trust.

5. Tell the truth

Your audience needs to be able to trust you. So be trustworthy.

Show up, pay attention, don’t lie.

6. Listen more than you talk

Your audience isn’t there to dutifully listen to all of your brilliant pontification, then stampede for the shopping cart as soon as you make an offer.

If you aren’t listening to your audience, you’re missing out on at least half the benefit of having an audience. In fact, Brian Clark says that one sign you’ve built a minimum viable audience is when they start sparking great business ideas.

7. Remember you’re in business

Business doesn’t exist to build an audience. It exists to meet the needs and desires of customers.

So cherish your audience, yes. Respect their intelligence. Honor the time they give you.

But remember that part of how you serve your audience is with the products and services you offer. If you treat your audience with integrity, you don’t have to be afraid to sell.

How about you?

What’s your audience like? How do you think they see you?

Let us know about it in the comments.

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Reader Comments (39)

  1. says

    You are so wonderful. :)
    People always says their website, their domain or even their software is their most important asset.
    But it is “customer” for sure.
    Thank you for sharing.

    • says

      I definitely like the term “audience” better than “customer.” I think part of what they are saying here is to treat people better than customers. Yes, the ultimate goal is customers, but if your only focus is revenue generation, then those customers can go somewhere else.

      A community sticks around.

    • says

      All bloggers should remember that the Penguin and Panda happened because Google wanted us to give more importance to our readers by giving them good content. With good content people will want to come back to your site for more. By showing them the truth in your posts people will learn to trust you.

  2. says

    Provide always for your audience and the customers you are trying to attract. Even if you fell somehow, they will always be interested in hearing from you again, just as you said.

    Always for the audience also includes your content that is geared toward them and only them. A business is a solution storehouse and they will be looking for solutions everyday, if they can.

  3. says

    “When you recognize that your audience is your one irreplaceable asset, you’ll start to make better decisions”
    Every business owner needs to think like that. As long as you put your audience first you’ll avoid making decisions that are focused on the short-term and work for long-term success. Stop trying to “beat the system” and just take care of your audience!

  4. says

    Careerists know that your network is the most valuable asset you have. But I’ve been trying to get my smart readers to understand that you have to go beyond a network, and build an audience.

    And you do that by creating content, as you write in point #2.

    It’s the only way to scale the story you tell about yourself. There’s no way to shake every hand, attend every conference.

    4 of my last five jobs came from “strangers” in my audience who read my blog and liked my work.

    Audience > Network

  5. says

    If you define your audience as “anyone with a pulse” (I’ve heard this one more than once), you’re never going to be able to communicate effectively with anyone.

    This is one mistake I had done in starting. I started blogging for everyone and ended up blogging for no one! Though I am refocusing now and following Remarkable Marketing Blueprint(just bought it yesterday, now doing homework for first lesson!)

    Thanks for the nice post!

  6. says

    I find that #3 – Know who you’re speaking with – eludes most business owners. That’s why it’s important to really think about ‘who’ your target audience and or ideal client is before you even create a website. Why waste the time, money and effort on a website and content if you’re not attracting your target audience? Hire a marketing consultant or marketing coach to help you figure it out if you have to. Do whatever it takes to find your ‘real’ target audience and provide them with the best products/services you can.

    Wonderful post!

  7. says

    Point #3 (know who you are talking to…know your audience) is so true. As a blogger, marketers, salesperson, etc. once you know your audience, everything else falls into place. Great great advice on Point #3.

    As someone who deals with small businesses everyday, I would just add one more business asset and that is your people – your employees. Without good people, you won’t attract an audience and what audience you have won’t last long. The businesses I work with that have the “biggest audiences” (aka most satisfied customers), are those who have the best people working for them.

    Travis Van Slooten

  8. says

    My partner and I serve an audience that wants to be educated about hypnosis and desires to have its problems instantly solved. So we offer them quality information on what they can get out of hypnosis, answer their questions about trance states and chat them up on a regular basis. As Brian has said (and you reiterated), some of the best ideas for new blog posts and videos come from the subscribers themselves. :)

  9. says

    I find that point #3 is direct to the point as we should figure out exactly who we want to talk with specially when basic infrastructure such as (website, Products, ..etc) are handy. In fact, we should do whatever it takes to find real target audience and provide them with the best products/services you can.

    Thanks for the post

  10. says

    Great post, Sonia.

    One of the great things about having a band as your business is that you get to see a portion of your audience physically assembled before you during a show, and you get the very definition of real-time feedback second by second while you’re playing. Need to find out whether the new product you’re considering will be a hit with your target market? Well, since it’s a song, just start playing it; you’ll know by the end of the first chorus whether it’s going to fly or not (note: when the answer is “not”, this can be pretty challenging ;).

    I think it can be really helpful to seek out offline situations where you can watch or experience the interplay between “content marketer” and “audience” ; it really underlines the excellent points that you’ve laid out in this post.

  11. says

    I’d like to add a little ‘small business 4.0′ and add the importance of your customers’ happiness. It’s not just a matter of solving a problem in a creative way, but does your product/business make your customer happy in the process?

    It’s a lot easier to build a tribe of happy customers than it is to build a tribe of merely satisfied ones.

    After all, it’s the meaning of life, right?

    -Joshua Black

    • says

      To me, that’s what makes content marketing so interesting, and difficult. It’s jounalist-meets-novelist: you’ve got to inform your readers, but also engage them. You’ve got to provide answers, yet spark their imagination. That requires the perfect balance of style and personality on the one hand, and “cold hard facts” on the other.

      And you’ve got to “know who you’re talking to” to find that balance. Some audiences want content with very little intrusion of personality. Other audiences want a more generous mix of the two.

      Jon Morrow is a great example of what I think of as the perfect mix. His writing is always exciting and engaging. It’s full of personality. But he doesn’t make it so much about him that it distracts from the point. I try to always find that balance when I produce content in any form.

  12. says

    Hey Sonia, I wanted to add a point to #2. Yes, you don’t want to make an ass of yourself. Yes, you don’t want to climb in the gutter with Gawker. But this doesn’t mean that you turn into a bore. Great content holds your attention and competes effectively with all of the other things that fight for our time. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to turn into Sarah Silverman, but don’t kid yourself that a 50 page statistical treatise on the growing patterns of bluegrass qualifies as good content.

  13. says

    Great and true blog post. I think one thing that can lift seemingly mundane content into interesting is your passion for your topic. Kirsten Lamb talks a lot about blogging about the things you care about. sometimes I’m surprised by the things that people find interesting, but if the post is infused with excitement and/or passion, then I discover all kinds of new and fun things. That is why it is so important to know who your audience is, because you can’t bring that excitement to the post if you’re too unfocused. This was a lesson it took me a while (and a lot of help from this blog and others) to learn. Thanks for the reminder!

  14. says

    Thanks for this advice as I build an audience. I am working on content, building an attractive site and experimenting. I have not made the choice on an email management provider yet. Since I speak and perform I do see the value in your use of ‘audience’. The content is key and the offer must relate. I now see that as well. That email management; that is the microphone. Are there thoughts on which one to choose? Thanks —Al

    • says

      There are several good providers, I like Aweber a lot. Whichever one you choose, be sure they allow unlimited autoresponders — it’s such a good content tool that you don’t want to limit yourself to any artificial number.

  15. says

    Hi Sonia!

    Great post and excellent tips and certainly I am agree with you if you caring the customers with the point of view that you are there to help them not selling your products to them that’ll eventually increase your repo and business.

  16. says

    Really good info. Trying to
    Have quality over quantity followers a good way to look it. I think I forget that sometimes. I’ve realized engaging customers isn’t as easy as I would thought. Thanks for the article

  17. says

    No matter in what business, audience is always the biggest asset. Without them, none of company in this world can survive.

    Another greatest asset is relationship with customers.

  18. says

    My audience, I think, does respect me. They are housewives, career women, writers, broken people who are looking for encouragement or a good book to read.

  19. says

    Audience is the first thing every business should take care of and rest will be taken care of. All other activity should be align to keep your audience happy. If you take care of them, they will take care of you, vice versa

  20. says

    what about business that doesn’t cater to an audience but rather solving a problem…a hit-man for example, or a brain surgeon not to many repeat customers… how would they build their audience. I ask because I offer answers to health questions that lots of people are asking, but once they get a satisfying answer I never see them again.

    I might be able to funnel a few into an aurtoresponder series but I’m having real trouble converting these folks into an audience.

  21. says

    Hey Sonia,

    awesome post and I couldn’t agree with you more.

    The reason I took all advertising off my site quite some time ago was to give the best reader experience possible, and though I’ve actually had 2 surprisingly lucrative offers, I still didn’t go ahead and at the moment quite like the idea of never having ads on my site for the same reason.

    Your final question is also interesting, ‘How do you think they see you?’ – unless we’re really engaging with our audience, we’ll never really know (just like the minimum viable product).

    I don’t actually get a massive amount of feedback from my audience but when I do I really really appreciate it, ALWAYS respond as soon as possible and these are very often really touching interactions – it’s what makes it all so worthwhile,

    take care & very best wishes,

  22. says

    The customer base is the most valuable asset. When I’m down a year ago, those loyal and trusted customers are the one who gave me a hand.

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