Every “guru” talks about how having an audience is the key to success. I don’t need to convince you of that fact. However, if you are like me, you look at every tone-deaf article about audience building and think “you can go screw yourself”.
Why? Because the crux of every article is that you need to invest a lot of money to grow your audience, and they are written from people who had a lot of money to invest into their audience at the beginning. It’s really easy to talk about audience building when you have thousands of dollars, a marketing team, and products that already sell a ton, but what about the little human, the one who doesn’t have a pot to piss in. What do they do to get in the door?
Does that sound like you? Yeah. Me too. For years I was grumpy, surly, and bitter at the “experts” telling me that all I had to do was invest $10,000-$20,000 in Facebook ads to grow a massive audience.
Cool story, bro. I didn’t have two pennies to rub together, but these experts expected me to pull $10,000 out of thin air while I was trying to scrape by and it just wasn’t happening. The truth is, that when you don’t have a lot of products or money audience building becomes much harder. However, it is not impossible.
In fact, I’m about to show you the five best ways I’ve ever found to build your audience without spending a ton of money. In fact, most of these can be accomplished with no money AT ALL. However, a little bit of money goes a long way with these.
A note before I get started. One of these strategies involves inorganic growth methods. There are many definitions of what that means, but for me, organic growth is when somebody sees your work and signs up to hear more from you because they like you already. Inorganic growth, by contrast, is when you are using somebody else’s brand to build your audience and then working to convert them into people who love your stuff as well. This will make more sense as we move forward.
There are gross, black hat strategies that involve buying lists which also fall under inorganic growth, but we won’t be covering those here. Instead, we’ll be talking about an above-board inorganic growth method which isn’t slimy or sleazy, but you probably haven’t heard about it before.
Inorganic growth is WAY FASTER than organic growth. However, the people you bring into your ecosystem take longer to convert into fans and have a way smaller conversion percentage than those who come to you organically. I feel it’s still worth growing your brand this way because it’s cheaper and faster than organic growth, and while they don’t convert as well as organic growth, the sheer volume of people you can reach with by using inorganic growth methods is incredible, and more than makes up for in quantity what you lose in quality.
Besides, if you do it right then you are targeting people who are in your perfect audience. It’s then up to you to make them fans of your work. However, if you put in the work you can create fans from these potential customers.
What is an audience?
Before we get into the best tactics to use with audience building, it’s important to define what an audience is for a moment.
For the purposes of this article, an audience is the total number of people you can reach through your mailing list, social media networks, and other channels. Imagine a concert venue, and your audience is the people filled inside of it. When we start building an audience, we can’t even fill a dive bar to hear our message. However, the more we work at building our fanbase the bigger our audience grows until we can fill arenas all over the world.
It’s important to note here that just because somebody is in your audience doesn’t mean they are buying your work, but it does mean they can hear your message when you speak. If a person can hear your message, they are part of your audience. Think about your Facebook friends. While you might be friends with hundreds of people, only a small fraction of them will buy your products when you launch them. Your entire Facebook page is your AUDIENCE. Those who buy from you are your BUYING AUDIENCE. That second number is way less than the first, and your job once you have an audience is to convert them into buyers, but that is an article for another day.
What is audience building?
Now that we have defined an audience, it should be easy to explain what building that audience looks like. Audience building is the process of filling those arena seats with more and more people, so your message is heard by more and more people.
Audience building does not mean we are increasing our BUYING AUDIENCE. That is a function of audience building, but it is not the function we are talking about today. Today, we are specifically talking about amplifying your message so that more people hear it and doing so in a rapid way that will bring tons of new people into your audience. Simply by having a bigger audience, you WILL find more buyers. However, that is not what we are dealing with now.
Where can you build an audience?
You can build out an audience anywhere, but it’s best to focus on growth where there are already buyers for your products. As an author, that means building out my mailing list, Amazon, Bookbub, Kickstarter, and Facebook pages. I’ve studied my numbers and these are the only places that generate sales for me. However, these crucial areas might look very different for you than they do for me.
If you are an artist, you might need to grow out your Instagram and Twitch channels. If you are a graphic designer, Pinterest might be essential to your business.
You will need to take the strategies I discuss below and tailor them to work for you. I’m going to focus specifically on mailing list growth since that is a crucial element for all creative professionals, but you can use these tactics to grow our social media channels as well.
Let’s get started building your audience
Now that I’ve have defined what an audience is, what audience building looks like, and explained the channels you can focus on to build out an audience, it’s time to get into the five best techniques I’ve found for rapidly building your audience.
A note—before you step into building your audience, it’s critical to learn the basics of marketing and understand your ideal audience. If you don’t understand your audience before you implement these growth tactics, you could end up with a huge mailing list of people who don’t care about your work, and that would be tragic.
If you want to learn about how to set up these foundational elements, check out my course, Build a Rabid Fanbase, which walks you through how to craft an ideal customer, build products for them, and turn potential prospects into rabid fans.
Viral Giveaways are the key to building a huge audience
The most effective way to grow your audience quickly is by implementing viral giveaways into your business. Remember when we talked about inorganic growth? Well, this is the only inorganic growth technique I will be sharing in this article, but it is also the most powerful.
From 2015-2017 I grew my mailing list from zero to over 2,000 people using organic growth techniques. That’s awesome, and 2,000 subscribers is a lot. However, once I implemented viral giveaways into my business, I was about to grow my list from 2,000-40,000+ in just over eight months. Currently, I have triple the amount of people opening my emails than I had on my entire list for the first three years of my company’s existence.
That is the power of viral giveaways.
What is a viral giveaway? Viral giveaways are sweepstakes that rely on virality for rapid growth. Virality, according to dictionary.com, means “the tendency of an image, video, or piece of information to be circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another”. The goal of a viral giveaway is to construct an enticing giveaway that has a high probability of being shared and entered a lot. You might be offering books, or movies, or gift cards. The more enticing your giveaway, the more likely people are to enter them and share it with the world.
Here is an example of a viral giveaway that I ran in the past.
As you can see, I used Lovecraft as the theme for this giveaway because Lovecraft is a hugely popular and influential author among the horror community. I also happen to have a Lovecraft themed anthology called Cthulhu is Hard to Spell. I used this giveaway (which got 5400 entries) as the base for my marketing efforts around that book.
That is why this is inorganic growth. The giveaway has nothing to do with my work. It has everything to do with the work of somebody else—in this case, Lovecraft—whose audience has a high probability of loving my work as well, even though they know nothing about my work at the time of entry. This strategy works because somebody who signs up for a Lovecraft giveaway would likely also be interested in a Lovecraft anthology. Since I produced a Lovecraft anthology, the chances are high that they will also buy that book from me. Therefore, if I can get them to like and trust me, I can turn that prospect into a buyer.
Do you see how that works?
Now, I know what you are thinking. “Russell, you said at the beginning that this wouldn’t cost much money and, like, for sure that costs money, right?”
Yes, that is true. This kind of giveaway costs $250 for the prizes and then more money for the advertising. However, I ran this as a group giveaway, which ended up with 30 sponsors. Each of those sponsors paid part of the costs and they were allowed access to the mailing list once the giveaway was over. That meant instead of paying $1000 to run the giveaway myself, it cost me only a fraction of that to be one of the sponsors. This allowed me to keep the marketing costs low while adding 5000+ emails to my mailing list. Additionally, I built up several social media channels during the viral giveaway as well.
Entrants to the giveaway could receive additional entries for following the sponsors on different social media channels. For this giveaway, I chose to build out my Bookbub, Kickstarter, and street team Facebook group, each of which grew by 100+ during the week I ran the giveaway.
Before using viral giveaways, it would take me a month or more to get 100 people to follow my page. Now, I can get those same results in a single week, if not quicker. Using these techniques, I grew my Bookbub followers from zero to over 2400 in three months and grew my street team Facebook group by over 1200 members in a single month, all while adding thousands to my mailing list!
Are there some costs associated with this? Yes, there are some costs. However, you can cut them down significantly by recruiting like-minded humans to participate in these giveaways with you.
I have a course about how to do this, which you can access here.
Or, if you would like to be involved with my viral giveaways, you can sign up for our monthly mailer here.
Group Promotions can turn small audiences into huge ones
While Viral Giveaways can be a group promotion, there are many different types of group promotions that do not involve giveaways. For instance, a great group promotion for authors is to be involved in an anthology. Ten to twenty authors—or more if you’d like—contribute a short story or full novel into a single anthology product, and you all promote it together.
You want to make sure all the stories are thematically similar and hit the same audience, so you can all benefit from the group promotion.
This might mean promoting the anthology as a free mailing list download, or it could mean selling it. Either way, you are promoting the book together, which means that you are getting the benefit of all your audiences building on each other. You and your friends might all have very small audiences, but if you work together on a single promotion you are pooling those fans together.
If you don’t have books, you can still find a group of friends or colleagues who make similar products and offer a “gift bag” combining many of your products together into a cohesive theme. Group promotion opportunities are everywhere if you keep your eyes open for them, as you should always be on the lookout for them.
The goal of a good group promotion is to combine many smaller audiences into one massive audience so that everybody wins, thus introducing you to other audiences who might like your work and introducing the other participants to yours. This allows all the audience to co-pollinate and grow.
You might be protective of your audience and not want to share them with other people, but I promise you that fans appreciate when you introduce them to new, interesting products. In fact, they tend to like you more when you share cool things with them and strengthen their bond with you.
Group promotions made my career. Viral giveaways built my audience, but group promotions have allowed me to make writing my fulltime career. So many people have “vouched” for me with their audience that I grew my fandom exponentially in a short amount of time.
Conventions are a great way to build an audience
Another way to massively increase your audience quickly is through tabling at conventions. Now, conventions can be a big-time investment since you need to pay for products and table space, but there is nothing like meeting your fans face to face to convince them that your products are worth buying.
Personal interaction is the quickest way to bridge the gap between prospect and fan. That’s why “Outside Sales Reps” who travel to clients have a much higher closing percentage than “Inside Sales Reps” who call people on the phone all day, and both of those have much higher closing percentages than “Direct Marketing”, which only send emails or letters. The more personal connection you have with a potential customer, the more likely they are to like you, and thus buy from you.
To cut down costs, look for local shops who might be interested in having you come in to do product demonstrations, talks, or signings. People love to meet local craftspeople, and many shops specialize in local products and will offer you a free table if you ask, in return for a percentage of your sales. If you sell services, look for local meet-ups that might benefit from hearing from you.
Other cheap options for conventions are flea markets, swap meets, and art walks. These might have a small cost, or even offer you a table for free. However, you can also split your cost with multiple craftspeople to drop the investment even lower. Even if you decide to invest in a table at a big show, you should still consider splitting a table to keep costs low, especially if you don’t have a lot of products to offer. I still split tables at conventions and I’ve been doing this for many years.
The key to a convention is that you must talk to the customers who pass by your table. You can’t just sit behind your table and smile. You must engage. That is the key to success at conventions, and to building your audience. This type of engagement will not only build your audience rapidly but most of the people you add to your email list will be buyers, which are the most valuable type of people to have on your list.
Conventions are a great way to “short circuit” people’s natural inclination to ignore email because you have made a personal connection with them.
Newsletter Swaps can build your audience quickly with a personal touch
If you want a more personal touch than a group giveaway, you can look for creators to do newsletter swaps with who have similar audiences to yours.
If you don’t have a big audience, you can’t lock down a swap with somebody who has an enormous audience right off the bat—unless you are willing to pay for it—but you can daisy-chain your way up to bigger lists over time as your audience grows. However, even doing a swap with somebody that has a couple hundred people on their list will help build your brand.
If you implement the other strategies mentioned above along with seeking out newsletter swaps, you can start arranging bigger and more powerful swaps with more influential lists as your audience grows. Additionally, there are things you can do to make newsletter swaps more appealing to bigger and more influential lists.
For instance, a creator is more likely to share a giveaway or a free offer than they are a paid offer, b/c they are always looking for ways to provide value for their audience, and sharing free things is a powerful way to show your audience that you are looking out for them.
Offering a giveaway, then, is the best way to get shared on bigger lists, because it’s not about your book, but about a brand that will connect with their audience. You don’t have to offer a huge package with these swaps, either. It might be a $25 Amazon Gift Card, a new DVD, or a product much cheaper than the $250 prize packages we talked about earlier.
If you don’t care about newsletters, you can also use this strategy to grow a social media profile. You can reach out to creators who have similar or bigger audiences than you on any platform and it will operate in a similar way. Just know, that most creators you reach out to will ignore you, but a few will say yes. If you ask enough, you can create a lot of buzz with a small group of influencers who can help you build your audience. Expect to send out 10 messages for every response, and that response won’t always be a yes.
Group Takeovers are a great way to add value and build your audience
One of the coolest things you can do to grow your audience quickly is a group takeover. Most creators have a Facebook group or membership community where their most engaged fans hang out. While you are connecting with creators, you can ask them about “taking over” their group—or their page if they don’t have a group—and doing an AMA (ask me anything) or posting special sneak peaks of your work to the group.
You can offer sneak peaks of your work, giveaways, or just answer questions about a topic. This is a really cool way to get new fans and start building your own community.
Usually, these takeovers last for 2-4 hours, but you don’t have to be involved the whole time. When you do an official takeover, the creator will hype up your work for a couple of days beforehand and then introduce you personally to their group, which means they’ve now “vouched” for you to their group, thus making your job way easier.
Every group takeover is different, but if you do it right both you and the creator win because they are introducing you as a new cool thing their audience should get behind, and you are able to provide value to their group in return.
Now go build your audience
There you have it, 5 ways to rapidly build your audience without spending a lot of money. Just remember, the more money you can spend on audience building, the more you can get out of these strategies, but if you have more time than money you can build a little more slowly but still get amazing returns.
The biggest thing you can do is start now. Go do it. You are going to suck at doing it at first, but the more you do it, the better you will get. Please, do not let being crappy prevent you from moving forward. People are much more forgiving than you give them credit for, and appreciate seeing the growing pains because it humanizes you.
I write cool things, filled with monsters, humor, action, adventure, and generally awesomeness. Then, I sell those things to humans. I am pretty good at it.