You know that feeling when someone you don’t quite recognize walks up to you and says, “Hey you, how’s it going?”
You’re suddenly caught in this awkward moment where you don’t know how to respond. You don’t want to be rude and say, “Do I know you?”, but you also don’t want to come off as a phony, pretending to know who they are and what they’re all about, when actually you don’t have a clue.
That’s kinda how I feel when I think about you, the reader of this blog. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate you taking the time to read my stuff. And nothing satisfies me more than hearing feedback and followup questions, telling me that the things I publish are helpful in some way.
But I think I could do better.
And in order to do that, I need to do a better job of knowing who you are and where you’re at. Right now, I have a vague sense. But I could be off the mark by a bit (or by a lot). I’m not 100% sure. So my goal for the next few months is to change that.
What I’m learning is that there’s a distinct difference between those that have built a large community of followers and those who struggle to gain traction. That difference, the key ingredient, has been right in front of my nose for years, but I’m just now making the connection.
That’s it. It sounds simpler than it really is. Ask yourself this question:
Is your audience made up of people just like you?
It’s easy to assume that the answer is yes. But if you make that assumption, then you run the risk of you being the only person who finds value in the stuff you write. In other words, you’re writing a personal journal. Not an educational resource for a large and growing audience.
Are you able to (accurately) answer these questions about your most common audience member?
Hmm… Maybe this Knowing Your Audience stuff isn’t as simple as it sounds.
The best bloggers and brands seem to have it so easy. They gain subscribers by the thousands, attract highly engaged readers opening their emails and sharing their stuff. Their audience buys and recommend their products.
Because they connected. They’re able to connect deeply to the pain and challenge that their readers face, and offer them real solutions to get through it. And they connect on this level repeatedly and consistently.
How do they make that connection?
By delivering exactly the right content on exactly the right topics — topics that speak to the questions that their audience is hungry for answers for.
How do they know what questions to answer?
They know their audience, inside and out. They’re able to answer each of those questions above with complete confidence. Since they know exactly who their audience is, what they want, and where they want to go, they know which questions stand in their way.
Here are two friends who know their audience better than anyone I know. They consistently publish content that not only answers their most burning questions, but also help their subscribers achieve a clearly defined goal.
Pippin is a very talented developer, who specializes in WordPress. But he doesn’t just code plugins. Through his blog and community site, Pippin’s Plugins, he’s been able to build a large audience and thriving community of folks who share a common aspiration: To become better developers using WordPress.
It started with Pippin’s own passion for development and WordPress. He taught things as he learned them. Over time, through interacting with his readership and supporting the users of his plugins, he gained a deep understanding of who those people are (novice-intermediate developers), where they’re at (getting to know WordPress), and where they want to go (build a plugin, become a professional developer).
Equipped with the knowledge of his audience, Pippin delivers. Every few days, you’ll find a new coding tutorial or article about WordPress development best practices. He speaks on the same topics at WordCamps across the country. And this all helped Pippin build an outstanding business, first as a consultant and today running a thriving WordPress products business.
Hear my interview with Pippin back in episode 4 of Bootstrapped Web.
My friend Brennan Dunn has built a very successful business by taking an audience-first approach. Look beyond his successful SaaS application, books, and workshops, and you’ll find it all stems from his relationship with his core audience of freelancers and consultants.
After moving on from his former business where he led a large and growing consultancy, he built an audience of folks who are aspiring to do the same. He identified key challenges they have, like charging the rate they deserve and landing better clients, and started teaching.
What’s interesting about Brennan’s approach is the vast majority of his teaching and interaction with his audience happens not on his blog, but over email. Every week (without fail), he delivers a detailed lesson to his newsletter subscribers, helping them build a better consultancy. He reads their many replies and uses those messages to craft more content and solutions for his audience.
Hear my interview with Brennan back in episode 3 of Bootstrapped Web.
So how can you get to know your audience? Well, I’ll tell you about a few of the things I’m doing. Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit.
Every new subscriber to my email newsletter receives an email 1 day after subscribing, which reads:
I’ve had this running for about a year and I’ve had quite a few responses. Some have been quite lengthy, some fairly short, some acknowledge that they know it’s automated but like to respond anyway. But every single one gets a reply from me. And that that usually leads to a few more emails exchanged.
This is not only one of the most enjoyable aspects of running this blog. It’s also the number 1 way I learn about my audience.
Now that I have a year’s worth of responses to this email, I collect them all in a Google Doc and “Normalize” them. By that, I mean I group them into buckets with similar themes.
I’m still working through this process (actually it never ends) and it’s a great start. But I’m hungry to learn more.
I know, I know. Nobody wants to fill out surveys. And I’ve been hesitant to try this for a longtime, because I surveys always feel impersonal and frankly, useless (at least when they’re sent from a large corporation).
I don’t want my survey to be confused with one of those. I’ll obviously be reading (and re-reading) every response.
It’s super short. My goal is for you to spend only a 60 seconds filling it out. With this in mind, I had to be very selective about which the questions to include (this was very hard since I want to ask so much!)
The questions basically boil down to:
That last one helps me get a sense of who else my audience connects with, which will allow me to study and dig deeper into the topics and themes those bloggers cover.
By the way, you’ll notice that the last few fields, where I ask for your name and email are optional. I think it’s important to offer the option to submit the survey anonymously. If that makes you more comfortable revealing what you really think, (or more likely to actually submit the form), then I’m all for it.
Check out my survey here. But even after the survey results are in, I have a feeling I’ll want to know more…
I’ve done some consultation sessions through the sales of my book (one package includes a consultation session with me). Those have been enlightening for me, as it allowed me to dig into the questions those customers have.
Now I want to do more of those, but on a broader scale. So in the coming weeks, I’m inviting those who filled in the survey to join me in a live Q&A Hangout where I’ll open it up to questions. Ask me anything. Hopefully you can learn and pick my brain, while I learn from you and figure out which questions to focus my content around moving forward.