How to Build an Audience

by Corey Pemberton 8 Minutes

People have more ways to entertain themselves than ever before.

Whether it’s checking their emails, scrolling through social media feeds, or watching funny YouTube videos, there’s always something to do. No one wants to pay attention to a boring ad.

Attention is quickly becoming the most valuable commodity. Buying it with paid advertising can still work in some situations, but there’s another way to encourage sustainable growth.

You could build your own audience – and earn valuable attention instead of buying it.

This is a long process, and it takes plenty of effort. But it’s exactly how some of the top entrepreneurs online found their success.

Keep reading to find out how you can do the same!

An “Insurance Policy” Against the Ups and Downs of Business

Many freelancers and small business-owners are laser-focused on finding enough customers to sustain themselves – and hopefully grow. Anything more seems like wasted effort.

That’s completely understandable, especially if you’re just trying to get your business off the ground. Some of us might not need a ton of customers to make a significant impact on our financial situations. With only so many hours in the day, the thought of building a broader audience might sound superfluous.

Here’s another perspective. An audience acts like an insurance policy that protects you against the ebbs and flows of running your own business.

If a few of your top customers stop doing business with you at around the same time, it can be super stressful. Without an audience who knows and trusts you, you’re left scrambling for more work.

Having an audience in that situation allows you to cash-in on some of that social capital you’ve built. When things get tough, you can release a new product or take on more clients. Opportunities are also less likely to dry up in the first place with a deep pool of people paying attention to you.

Why You Should Build an Audience

Here are some other key reasons why building an audience is more than worth it:

  • No one can take your audience away. With an audience, you control your destiny. Individual customers come and go. But as long as you have a crowd of people paying attention to you, you have the potential to generate new opportunities quickly.
  • Feedback and new ideas. Who better to let you know how you’re doing than your target customers? An audience offers constructive criticism about how to improve. They’ll also ask for new products and services – ideas you never would have thought of on your own!
  • Authority and opportunities. An engaged audience gives you massive authority. From that platform, you can attract other influencers and potential joint ventures in your niche.
  • Your audience helps you grow. Two of the most effective marketing strategies are: 1) social sharing, and 2) word of mouth. An audience will help you get the message out, which can lead to exponential growth.

How to Do It

Now that we’ve covered the value of building an audience, let’s talk about how to do it.

Image credit: Couleur

1. Listen

You know what they say about making assumptions…

This is one of the most dangerous traps we can fall into. We are experts in our industries. We immerse ourselves in the field all the time. So it would make sense that we’d know exactly what our audience is looking for, right?

Not exactly.

Making assumptions, then putting out messaging you think will work, is like waving a tiny sign that says “pay attention to me!” In such a crowded space online, it’s unlikely to attract any eyeballs. Even if it does, it probably won’t align with what that person wants to talk about.

A better bet, then, is to start by going to where the conversation is already happening.

Are there any popular blogs in your niche? If so, which content gets the most traffic and comments?

Which questions come up the most on Q&A websites like Quora? Which questions do you get the most from customers?

Put this all together, and you’ll start to notice trends. You’ll spot which topics resonate the most with your audience, and how they like to talk about them (blog, video, podcast, etc.)

This gives you a huge advantage. Instead of guessing how to find the right people, you can go to their favorite channels and engage them on topics you’re passionate about. You may not get everything dialed in right away. And that’s okay. Audience feedback itself will guide you to the most fertile topics gradually.

Image credit: pixelcreatures

2. Give People a Reason to Pay Attention with Killer Content

Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about. – Cory Doctorow

Shouting “look at me!” isn’t enough anymore. Everyone is completely overwhelmed by all the marketing messages they encounter everyday. They’ve learned to tune these things out – and quickly screen out the ones that reek of self-promotion.

This includes your target audience. So you have to give people a compelling reason to pay attention to you.

One of the most effective ways to do this is by creating content. With a one-time investment of time and effort, you can produce something that people can see months – or even years – from now. It’s a simple way to scale interactions to the degree they’re needed to build a large audience.

Which content should you create?

Look for the overlap between: 1) where your audience likes to hang out, and 2) the types of media you’re inclined toward naturally.

Here are a few tips to help you get traction:

  • Consistency is key. If your audience doesn’t know when to expect a new piece of content, they’ll stop checking.
  • Quality beats quantity. You’ll get better results with one intelligent blog post a week than five senseless ramblings.
  • Forget about perfection. There’s a fine line between valuing quality and falling into perfectionism. Do the best you can, then move on to the next piece.
  • You don’t need completely original topics. Putting your unique spin on well-trod topics makes then new again. Just be you. How can you approach the topic like only you can?
  • Make content for different subgroups within your audience. Are you creating content for beginners, intermediate, and advanced readers?
  • Let your audience guide you. Audience response will show you which topics get the most attention.

Image credit: unsplash

3. Borrow Audiences and Authority

This tip works best when you don’t have an audience yet. Borrowing an audience – and the authority of the person to whom it belongs – is one of the best ways to build your own.


Because there’s little value in playing to an empty auditorium. Your content might be awesome, but it isn’t doing you any good if no one is interacting with it.

Borrowing an audience can help you shortcut the process. Ryan Deiss calls this the “Oprah effect.” By interviewing tons of influential people, Oprah became an incredibly influential person herself.

There are a few ways you can do this. If there are popular blogs in your niche, consider guest posting. Yes, your content will ultimately end up on their platform. But an author bio and link back to your website at the end of the post will still get you plenty of attention.

You can also go the Oprah route and interview authorities, which works great on a podcast or even as just written questions and answers on your website.

Because most influential people are busy, try to keep these short and sweet. Brainstorm how you can create value for them in the process. That way it becomes a mutually-beneficial interaction instead of someone just doing you a favor.

Image credit: Pezibear

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Put All Your Eggs in Just a Few Baskets

Building an audience is a long-term commitment. It takes a lot of time and hard work.

You only have so much of that to go around. And you have to find a way to do this without sacrificing your ability to serve customers here and now – while your audience is being built. If you don’t, your revenue will dry up.

There are countless ways you could build an audience. A new channel or social media platform pops up all the time. If you try to hit them all, you’ll spread yourself too thin.

Focusing your efforts on one or two strategies – and then working those until you start seeing results – makes it a lot more likely to get the critical mass needed to build momentum. If you are unsure which way to go, remember that overlap between where your audience hangs out now and communication styles that suit your natural talents.

The beginning is truly the hardest part. Once you have a growing audience, it will help you build an even larger one (through social media and word-of-mouth referrals). Then you can use your increased influence to branch out into other channels.

Image credit: geralt

5. Keep At It – and Be Willing to Pivot

Brian Clark talks about this aspect of audience building a lot. A lot of people are familiar with the concept of building a minimum viable product; he also emphasizes the importance of building a “minimum viable audience.”

Even if your small business isn’t tech-related, there are plenty of similarities between it and a Silicon Valley start-up. The name of the game is to gather feedback as quickly as you can where execution meets the real world.

Having an audience can help you find a scalable and repeatable business model.

Oftentimes it isn’t what you thought it would be. Consider the path Copyblogger followed. Input from their audience led them from a blog, to offering training courses and even selling software products.

If you’re willing to embrace audience feedback and pivot when new opportunities emerge, you can completely transform your business. This can also work well for freelancers looking to make the shift to full-fledged entrepreneur – like how our founder Ruben was as a software developer before starting Bidsketch!

Keep an open mind, and don’t limit yourself with any notions of what your business must be. You may find yourself in a much different place than where you started. But if you grow with your audience, you’ll thrive.

A Model for Long-Term Success

Building an audience can be one of the smartest investments in your long-term success. It takes time, and plenty of effort to pay off. But earning attention – especially in a time when it’s so hard to come by – gives you control over of financial destiny.

This is the very model people like Brian Clark (Copyblogger), Derek Halpern (Social Triggers), and Danny Iny (Mirasee) used to build massive business empires and make a huge impact.

You can do the same. There’s no better time to start building than today!

Are you building an audience for your business? If so, which strategies have worked the best for you? Leave a comment below and share your experience.

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by Corey Pemberton
Corey Pemberton is a freelance copywriter and blogger who helps small businesses and software startups get more traffic and conversions online. You can find him on his website or follow him on Twitter.