Step 1: Choose Your Primary Audience Channel
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There are many different ways to find your initial potential customers. In this step, we're going to explore the channels we recommend most.
3 Audience Growth Considerations
Audience Consideration 1: Will you own the relationship with your audience directly, or will you leverage someone else's platform?
The advantage of owning the relationship (via your own website or email list, for example) is that you can dictate how and when you communicate with your customers. On the other hand, the advantage of relying on someone else's existing platform (like Amazon or Etsy, for example) is generally that you can tap into a larger pool of potential customers (within the rules set by that platform).
Audience Consideration 2: what kind of work will be involved? Some methods favor lots of one-on-one personal interactions. Others require creating content (written, audio or video) on a regular basis. You may or may not be interested in or capable of doing the work some channels require.
Audience Consideration 3: which audience channel is best suited to the kind of people you want to reach? Where do your potential customers spend time? Do they read blogs? Do they listen to podcasts? Do they obsess over Pinterest?
5 Audience Growth Channels
Below are the five audience development channels we recommend. As you read about each, think about how suited you are to the work that would be involved, and whether your ideal customers could be reached effectively through the channel.
1. Hustle & Sell
Some businesses don't need many customers to thrive. Freelancers are the perfect example of this. A website designer might only need 10-15 customers to earn a decent living in a year. For a business like this, content marketing might be an inefficient way to find customers in the beginning. Instead, the designer could find customers faster through an old fashioned "hustle and sell" approach.
This method is as simple as it sounds. You pound the pavement, shake hands, network, cold email, ask for introductions, stalk people on social media, attend conferences and do whatever it takes to start conversations with potential customers. Then, you sell your services or product directly. If you're convincing and your product has a high enough price tag to justify the time spent per customer, this approach can be simple and effective.
2. Content Marketing
Content marketing is probably our favorite method at Fizzle. Publishing free content on your topic grows an audience you can sell to over time. We've used all formats to grow our audience, including written, audio, video and live interactive sessions. Each can be fun and effective.
However, content marketing isn't for everyone. It's a lot of work, and there's a lot of competition. You'll have to find your voice and learn how to create content your audience loves.
Content marketing is also a longer game because it is an indirect sell. You have to gain trust slowly and sell softly.
The upside of all this work and time is that you get to know your audience intimately, in a way that your competitors may not be able to. You'll also have tons of experience creating content, which comes in handy if you ever need to write emails, create courses, write ebooks and more.
If content marketing is right for you, and if it's a good way to attract the customers you're looking for, you will need to choose a specific format. The six most common and effective formats are: blogs, podcasts, videos, email newsletters, webinars and social media.
3. Established Sales Platforms
Leveraging an existing sales platform can be a great way to find customers quickly, especially if your product is remarkable. If your product is just average or "me too," you'll have a hard time getting traction on an established platform.
Examples of established sales platforms include Amazon, Etsy, Udemy and Yelp. Each of these platforms gives your business an opportunity to appear in front of customers who are searching for a specific solution or product.
Some of these platforms have hundreds of thousands or even millions of potential customers. So what's the downside? The biggest downside is, there will likely be plenty of competition for those customers. Your product will be just one of hundreds vying for attention, and it's entirely possible that none of those potential customers will even find you within the platform.
To overcome the issue of competition, you'll need to learn the platform's unique quirks and ecosystem, and you'll have to figure out what actions you can take to make your product appear higher in the search and discovery results. Generally, this happens through a combination of reviews and sales popularity.
But wait! You came to this platform to find customers. Now we're saying you need to get reviews and make sales in order for new customers to find you?
Usually, yes. Sometimes you'll get lucky and simply publishing your product will be enough to cause sales to happen. (This can happen when your product is unique or remarkable enough to stand out, or when it solves a problem that hasn't been solved before.) But in most cases, you'll need to "prime the pump" to give your product some momentum within the platform. The best way to do this is usually to seed your customer base with buyers and reviews from an existing audience. Maybe you don't have an "audience" per se, but you do have friends, right?
4. Advertising & Sponsorships
Advertising and sponsorships are other ways of tapping into someone else's audience. In this case, you're simply paying for exposure in the form of advertisements. You could pay for Facebook Ads or Google Adsense, or you could sponsor a conference or a podcast, or any other channel where you think your potential customers might hang out.
The downside here is that you have to have cash to play, and there are no guarantees that what you spend will turn into sales. You could very well spend a bunch of money on advertising only to find out your product isn't something people want. Or you could find out that you reached the wrong audience. Or maybe your ads just didn't cut it. Or it could simply be too expensive to reach the customers you want to reach.
There are plenty of reasons why advertising and sponsorships are difficult to make work. There's a learning curve, and again plenty of competition. As they say, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
However, just like with leveraging existing platforms, the big upside here is that you can jumpstart your customer base without having to put in all the time and effort required to build your own audience from scratch. If you have deep pockets and enough patience, you might be able to make advertising and sponsorships work.
5. Partnerships & Affiliates
Partnerships and affiliates represent the last of the five audience channels we recommend. With partnerships and affiliates, you convince someone else to sell your product to their established audience, in exchange for some value, usually a commission on each sale. These kinds of relationships are best handled one-on-one, but you can sometimes also find affiliate networks where affiliates are looking for great products to represent.
A typical affiliate relationship might work like this: you approach someone with a large, established audience gathered around a topic your product relates to. You convince this person that your product would be a great fit for her audience, and arrange to create a promotional offer for that audience (usually in the form of a webinar or email campaign). You then compensate the affiliate with a commission on each sale (rates vary, between 5% and 60%, depending on the product, margins and relationship).
Once you build a track record of being able to sell your product through this channel, you'll be able to sign on other affiliates using your history as proof that the relationship will be a win-win-win.
Choose One Primary Channel
OK, now you have a tough job ahead. You need to choose one primary audience channel to move forward with.
Remember, you're not trying to build the perfect business model just yet. You're simply trying to find one effective channel to prove your product idea is solid. You'll eventually use more than one channel, but for now you need to focus.
There may be other channels not listed here. If you have a compelling reason to choose a channel we didn't discuss, you're free to do that, but please run the idea by someone you trust, or bring it up in an upcoming Fizzle Friday session.
Questions? Looking for feedback? Please discuss your idea in the forum.