This guest post is by Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing.
We all have pet peeves. Things that annoy us. Products that we would never spend money on. And things that we swear we’ll never do ourselves.
But sometimes, fate turns the tables on us. That’s what happened to me, and that’s why I ended up writing the kind of book that I usually hate.It’s all because of Derek Halpern. And Ana Hoffman, and Corbett Barr, and Brian Clark. Here’s what happened.
Building an engaged audience, from scratch
I’ve dabbled in the online world for a few years now, but my current blog is less than a year old.
Just like everyone else, we started with nothing—no traffic, no subscribers, and no followers. We had no post history, no comments, and no search traffic.
We had to build an engaged audience, from scratch.
But we didn’t know how, so we tried things. We ran PPC ads, but it was too expensive, and the traffic didn’t stick. We tried SEO, but that was taking too long to get results. We started tweeting, but nobody was really listening.
We were basically trying to learn by trial and error, and while that can lead to some really great and robust learning, it also takes waaaaay too much time for you to be able to build a business around it.
Then I realized something: I could outsource the trial and error!
Outsourcing to the world’s top audience-builders
When I say the word “outsourcing”, you usually think of people working for very low wages in developing countries.
You think about tasks that require a lot of repetition and systematization, like data entry, backlink building, and other dull and tedious tasks that we don’t want to do ourselves.
That isn’t the outsourcing that I’m talking about.
No, what I had in mind was a lot bigger.
I was going to outsource to the very best audience-builders in the world. They’ve already done the trial and error, right? I just needed to find out what they had learned.
I made a list of the top blogs that I read, and the top audience builders that I follow. Some were huge, established names, like Guy Kawasaki and Brian Clark, and others were much earlier in their audience-building, but were clearly bringing something special and unique to the table; people like Jk Allen and Stuart Mills.
I read what they wrote, and I watched what they did. I listened to their podcasts, attended their webinars, and took careful notes along the way.
Pretty soon, some patterns began to emerge…
Patterns of audience-building
The patterns that I started noticing were pretty simple. Here’s what most successful audience builders do:
- Have a clearly defined objective.
- Write great content.
- Put it on sites that people are actually looking at.
- Stay focused.
- Gather and share information that your audience wants.
- Build relationships.
- Express gratitude.
Simple enough, right?
Well, I wrote all those posts (which were all published here at problogger.net) while putting the same best practices to work for our blog, and the results were spectacular.
In less than a year, our traffic and subscriber counts have grown by several orders of magnitude, and today I’m recognized in much of the blogosphere as the Freddy Krueger of Blogging.
Something was still bothering me, though…
What about the other ways?
While observing what the audience-building superstars were doing, I didn’t just notice the patterns—I also noticed what seemed to be exceptions to the patterns.
There were lots of very successful audience-builders who did things very, very differently, and it worked for them.
So … was I doing things wrong? No. I was getting great results, so of course I wasn’t doing things wrong.
Then … were *they* doing things wrong? No, they’re getting great results, too.
So what was going on?
No one right way to build an audience
That’s when I really understood what I had already been told so many different times:
There is no one right way of building an audience.
There are lots of ways, and mileage will vary depending on your circumstances, experience, background, and personality. What worked for one audience-builder won’t work for another, and what worked for me might not work for you.
So, how do you know what to do? I mean, if you’re reading this, then you’re probably trying to build your own audience, and you want to know how to go about doing it. Am I saying that I can’t tell you, because even if it did, it wouldn’t help?
No, that’s not what I’m saying at all.
The patterns that are right for you
When I was watching all of those audience builders, I didn’t just notice the patterns of what was working—I noticed the patterns of what would work for me.
You could watch the same people do the same things, and notice different patterns—the patterns that will be right for you.
Because that’s what our brains are wired to do—notice the things that are relevant to us, and filter out the rest. But in order to do all that, first you need to see enough people doing enough things to actually notice the patterns.
That’s when I realized that I was going to write a book. And not just any book. This was going to be the kind of book that I hate.
The kind of book I hate
We all have books that like more, and like less. Some people like reading about philosophical discourse, some people like popular science, and some people like post-apocalyptic serialized fiction.
Personally, I like the kind of popular science or business book that delves deep into something and draws insightful conclusions. Some of the authors on my list of favorites include Malcolm Gladwell, Chip and Dan Heath, Steven Pinker, Clay Shirky, Marcus Buckingham, Dan Ariely, and others.
Their books are fascinating, and they all run hundreds of dense pages of thorough analysis and conceptual exploration.
None of them write books that are collections of articles or perspectives by various authors. I usually hate that kind of book; I find that they don’t get into any real depth, and you end up with a couple dozen articles all telling you more or less the same thing.
But I wanted to write a book that would give people the road map that they need to build their own engaged audiences. And to create this road map, I knew that I would need a lot of guides to point the way.
So I reached out to all the audience-building superstars that I had followed, and I asked them one simple question:
“If you had to build an engaged audience from scratch, how would you do it?”
It took a bit of time, but then the answers started rolling in. They were rich, and thorough, and many of them surprised me. They were even more diverse than I thought they would be, and every single one of their perspectives was useful and valuable.
The ironic thing is that I usually can’t stand this kind of book, but in this case, I think it’s the best book I could give to anyone who is looking to build an audience. The coolest part is that it isn’t even all that self-congratulatory of me to say so, because even though I “wrote” it, only about 10% of the 239 pages of great ideas were written by me!
But enough about the book. What’s the lesson here for you? Actually, there are two of them.
Lesson #1: One peak, many paths
The first lesson is the lesson that I learned when I set out to write the book, which is that there are many paths up the mountain, and many ways of reaching the peak.
This lesson comes with good news, and bad news.
The good news is that just because someone built their audience in a certain way doesn’t that you have to do the same; there are lots of other ways up the mountain, which means that you never run out of options. As long as you’re committed, and keep on exploring, you’ll find a way.
The bad news is that there isn’t any step-by-step plan that you can follow verbatim to get really great results; the bad ones just won’t work, and the good ones will have to be modified to fit your skills and situation.
The only way to find your own path is to study the paths that so many others have taken, and then chart your own course.
Lesson #2: Sometimes what we hate isn’t so bad
The second lesson is that you shouldn’t make blanket statements about not liking something, because every situation is different.
I don’t like reality TV, unless it happens to be about martial arts. My wife doesn’t like eggplant, unless it is pureed and cooked. And I don’t like books that are collections of articles, unless it’s the best way to share all this information about how to build an audience.
So don’t get too rigid about what you like and what you don’t—instead, think about what will work best to help you achieve your goals. And then go do it!
Danny Iny (@DannyIny) is an author, strategist, serial entrepreneur, expert marketer, and the Freddy Krueger of Blogging. Together with Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark and Mitch Joel, he wrote the book on how to build an engaged audience from scratch.