This is a guest contribution from Tewfik Cassis.
For a startup or brand new blog, every milestone poses its challenges, but perhaps none more so than the first one – that daunting task of breaking outside of your friends and family into your first set of real readers or customers. It can be overwhelming for many. Where do you even start? How do you break in to an already oversaturated market?
We launched the Daily Pnut, a daily email that gives you an informed and funny take on the world in bite-size pieces (we like to say it will make you sound marginally more intelligent – you can subscribe here), in July of 2015. Within a few short weeks we had already exhausted our friends and family and were stumped about how to grow. By working hard and reaching out, trying new things, we soon hit our first big milestone – 10,000 subscribers.
Below is a list of things we did, and while this isn’t totally applicable to all, it should help you think about how to grow your own brand online.
Further Reading: Email Lists: Make them a Priority with These Tips
5 Tips to Help You Collect Your First 10,000 Email Subscribers
1. Ask for help
Assuming you’ve built a blog or business (or both!) that’s useful/enjoyable (work on that before anything else), then your first set of customers should be willing to talk about it and get others to read your blog, sign up to your mailing list, and buy your product or service. While ideally we’d like that kind of behavior to happen spontaneously, most of the time some prodding is needed.
Be explicit about what it is you want them to do. There are many points when you can do that – either in your sidebar or a bar across the top of your site, at sale/sign up or by emailing them again after they’ve had a chance to read your blog or eBook or use the product for a bit (ideally both times). Be clear about your ask, say that every little bit helps and if they like the product (or like you), they will go and do it.
Finally, a bit of an incentive won’t hurt – think of some ways you can give back to them for doing you this favour. Offer a prize to the best sharer, run a competition, give them something in exchange for their time and effort.
Further Reading: How to Write a Post that Has a Clear Call to Action
2. If you can’t get them to write about you, write about yourself:
PR and mentions in traditional media can be a godsend for young companies, and it can work well for blogs too, if you find the right angle. But it is becoming increasingly hard to get. Big news outlets like Tech Crunch will only cover you if something substantial is happening in your product, and even the smaller publications are less interested in covering launches than before (they will wait to cover a funding round instead). Find a way to be super-useful to a bigger blogger in your niche and they may just be inclined to share you with their audience if it’s a good fit.
So what can you do now? Get your own story out there. Write your own press releases, and craft some great guest blog posts. This should get people energized about the your blog, your brand, if you do it right and share it with the right site. Link back to yourself respectfully. Also, don’t just do it once – write every time you release a new product, have a brand new thing to share with your community, or have something coming up that you want to get traction on.
We tried to read the market using Medium and it worked out great for us. It even helped us land our first actual media coverage.
Further Reading: How to Promote Yourself without Coming Across as a Jerk
Publishers are desperate for content, provide it for them:
This isn’t true for all publishers, particularly bloggers, but try approaching big sites that turn over a lot of content and offer to provide it for them. Similar to what we did with Medium, we also wrote more about our story on other news publications. This helped us quickly reach audiences that we otherwise would never have gotten to.
Tailor your voice and message to each platform, while linking back to your company and getting your message across. We did it for The Muse, The Week and Daily Secret. Be useful and keep your choices to niches relevant to your own. It’s all very well and good to be featured on a huge site, but if their audience isn’t interested in your topic, you won’t retain any readers – and they aren’t likely to sign up to your mailing list.
4. Try cross-promotion
Another way to get your name out there is to find other blogs or brands of similar size that complement your own, and cross-promote. This can be on their blog, their instagram or their Facebook. This allows you to reach their audience and in return gives you something to tell your audience that isn’t just “buy my product.” Remember to keep the basic tips in mind – be useful and be relevant. What can you provide their audience that they’re not already getting? What will the new blog or brand provide yours? Collaborate on a win-win situation for all.
Because we are newsletter-based we were able to add links for other newsletters in return for asking them to link back to us. We also did it with some of the brands that advertised on our platform by asking them to email their customers about us in exchange for discounted ad space. Your customers will love you for giving them a new “tip” or product to check out, and you get more people buying your product.
Further Reading: 7 Commonsense Tips to Improve Your Next Expert Roundup
5. Figure out who your dream reader or customer is and go out and get them:
As Darren says, find where your ideal reader is hanging out, and hang out there too! People want to be reading/wearing/buying things that the people they admire and respect are using. What you need to do is figure out who you would love to have reading your blog (personas are good for this) and then think about where they might be online – what other blogs are they reading? What social media platform are they on? What online stores do they shop at? Who are the people they look up to and what are they reading/wearing/buying? Once you’ve created a “wish-list” of potential readers and customers then go find them! Write for those sites, buy advertising on their pages, be present on those platforms where your ideal reader loves to be. Reach out to them!
Don’t forget also that a great lead magnet or incentive to sign up to your email list can be the final push people need. What can you create or offer in exhange for people giving you their email address? Printables, eBooks, eCourses, something you are good at providing and that is worthwhile to the reader can be invaluable. In fact, most blogs will have some kind of freebie to give their audience on mail list signup.
We emailed famed academic Steven Pinker and convinced him to subscribe. A few weeks later we emailed him again asking for a testimonial. Now he tweets about us all the time, and it has driven hundreds of sign ups as well as nabbing a few other famous clients.
Further Reading: Finding Readers: Strategies for Building Your Audience
There are a few other pieces of advice that precede the five listed above. One is that you should launch, launch and launch – even if you are scared or you think it’s not good enough. A product in the market or a blog created is infinitely better than an idea in your head. You effectively have zero readers or customers before you launch. The best way to get readers and customers for your content (and improve your product) is by launching. Just get it out there, and refine as time goes on.
The other is to always be uncomfortable. If you are comfortable where you are then you are missing out on something and aren’t stretching yourself, and by extension, your product’s reach enough.
Finally, you should always plug your product, or mention your blog where you can, without being spammy. For example, now that you’ve read this much of my article I ask that you subscribe to our daily email and get a funny take on world news every morning ;-)