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:
- Making an ass of yourself,
- Publishing sleazy pageview-obsessed schlock, or
- 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.