When I first started publishing content, I was obsessed with one question:
How long will it take me to grow a huge audience?
Blog readers and email subscribers … I wanted them. In vast numbers.
And I wanted them right now.
I wish I’d had a crystal ball to see all of the very real benefits I had when I was just starting to build an online presence, without the audience or subscribers.
If you’re starting fresh, there are a few things you ought to be taking advantage of. They’ll help you build a rock-solid foundation — so that when you get big (and busy), you’ll have a great base for your next steps.
#1: Unparalleled responsiveness
Those first few readers or listeners who show up tend to be explorers. They’re the ones who check out new things, who boldly go where no one has gone before.
They’re curious and they’re often chatty. And if you ask them questions, they respond.
And when the audience is small … asking them questions and responding to all of their comments is easy. In a few minutes a day, you can make a connection with any visitor who comments or connects with you.
When your audience gets big, that can get tricky. Eventually, you’ll reach a point where responding to every comment or answering every email takes a giant bite out of your day.
Maybe that’s why some of the relationships you make early on are some of the most enduring.
How to use it:
In the early days, make sure you have comments enabled for a blog or podcast. Monitor those comments yourself — this isn’t the time to oursource, and the job is still nicely manageable.
If you can’t stomach allowing comments on your YouTube channel, I’ll understand. But consider creating video posts for your YouTube content on your own blog or Rainmaker Platform site, so you can enable and manage comments there.
Also make sure that you have an email list in place, that people know how to get signed up, and that all reply messages go a real person, preferably you.
There is no excuse for “Do not reply to this email” in the early days. (I’m not a fan of it as your business gets bigger, either, but that’s another conversation.)
Invite your readers to reply to your email messages — and start conversations!
#2: Blissful forgiveness
When you’re starting a new project, you don’t have any idea what the final shape will look like.
You might have a very clear vision — but reality has a way of muddying those waters.
That angle on a niche topic you’re sure will be a hit? It might be a dud.
But along the way, you’ll often stumble across a different topic or angle that’s got the spark you’re looking for.
I started my first blog on a domain I didn’t own (mistake). It was hideous (mistake). I was too formal (mistake). I miscalculated what my angle and approach should be (mistake). I started with the wrong email service for me (mistake).
And it didn’t matter. At all.
Those pioneer visitors didn’t care if I made mistakes, and they were fine when I switched horses midstream. 8 or 10 times.
How to use it:
Getting it done always beats getting it perfect. And that’s doubly true on a new site.
Set out to make some interesting mistakes.
Try different things. Experiment with your WordPress theme, fonts, and colors. Play around with humor and find out if you’re funny. Try out new topics, or new angles on topics. Write content from the point of view of your dog. Swear, or don’t. Snark, or don’t.
The only thing you can’t get away with is behavior that’s genuinely unethical — but you’re not going to do that anyway. As long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people, go crazy.
#3: Passion (theirs)
Those pioneer visitors also tend to be the ones that have the greatest interest in your topic.
They may have some problems that are particularly tricky to solve. They may have a point of view you haven’t seen before. And they probably want to share it with you.
They’ll also tend to be some of your strongest cheerleaders — which means they can do an amazing job of getting the word out.
How to use it:
Encourage social sharing and question-asking. You might even host a few free Q&A calls, on Google Hangouts or one of the free teleconferencing services.
You don’t have to pretend you know all of the answers (you won’t.) At this point, you’re harnessing your audience’s passion by gathering the questions.
#4: Passion (yours)
This is also the point when you tend to have the most energy and enthusiasm for your new project.
If it’s successful — and I hope it is — you’ll become distracted by other business concerns: financial questions, unexpected opportunities, managing your team. And those are all great.
But a brand-new project is a little bit like a newborn baby. Take advantage of those early days to really give it all of your focus.
How to use it:
This is the time to write or record as much cornerstone content as you can.
- Blog posts
- Email autoresponder messages
- White papers
- Special reports
- Videos (long or short)
New topics carry a lot of creative energy. Use that — and the extra time you have not managing the “big audience” concerns — and create as much high-quality content as you can manage.
Since you probably have a job and a life to run in addition to your new project, look for smart strategies for creating content efficiently.
But don’t be afraid to let your new project become a bit of an obsession for awhile. You may find yourself working more nights and weekends than you normally would — it’s only natural in the early days.
#5: Learning and growing
Between your Q&A calls and writing or recording all of that content, you’ll find lots of gaps in your knowledge.
That’s awesome. Because you’re going to track down the answers to fill those gaps, and in the process you’re going to become more expert in that topic.
Even if you already have a lot of knowledge around the topic, creating content and gathering audience questions will reveal some shadowy corners. Lighting those corners is fun and interesting — and it makes you a lot smarter.
How to use it:
This is the time to chase your topic down all the rabbit holes.
Read everything you can — not just blogs, but actual books. (I know, radical idea.)
Summarize and synthesize, always giving full credit to where you found a particular idea. Link back to the writer or her work, if that’s an option.
Play with ideas. Gather lots of facts. Use something like Evernote — or any flexible tool — to keep everything organized.
Make sure you’re scrupulous about identifying direct quotes from material — so you don’t come back to a note later and think you were the one who wrote that brilliantly-phrased insight. You don’t have to have a complex system — just put quotes around the material and note the author’s name (and the work it’s from, if you know).
Like this, which I dug out of my own Evernote:
A writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.”
~ E. B. White, from The Paris Review Interviews, found on Brain Pickings
What to do if you’re already big
You might be long past those early days. You have an established blog or podcast, or you’re working in a larger organization that may not have any interest in going back to newbie status.
It can be a wonderful recharge to start a new project and allow yourself to be a beginner again.
Creating my podcast let me start from scratch — new ideas, a new approach, a new format, and building an audience from the ground up.
It’s been a lot of fun to get back to that beginner’s mind. And it has me thinking about old ideas in some new ways.
Brian Clark started his further.net project to have new things to learn and explore, and a new audience to build.
He then put together his latest project, Unemployable.com, another chance to start fresh and new with his latest ideas.
It might be a business idea — or it might just be a passion project you’re itching to start.
Don’t be afraid to go back to square one. There are some beautiful sights to be seen there.