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Building Your Audience From Zero to Traction

Posted By Guest Blogger 18th of March 2015 General 0 Comments

This is a guest contribution from Brian Casel.

If there’s one common thread among many of those who build successful businesses online, it’s this: They’ve been able to build an audience, which has helped them gain traction and spread value with a farther reach.

But what if you have no audience yet? Zero subscribers. Little to no traffic. How can you get started, when nobody knows who you are?

I was there about 18 months ago. My blog received less than 20 visitors a day. My newsletter did not exist. I had been blogging for years, but couldn’t connect with an audience, let alone create a product they might buy.

Since then, I’ve turned it around by embracing a three-step strategy I’ll share with you today. As of this writing, my newsletter is up to 5000 subscribers, the blog receives hundreds of visitors per day, and my course has sold multiple five-figures since it launched four months ago.

These aren’t groundbreaking numbers. But to me, they represent the difference between blogging as a hobby (where I was at a few years ago), and meaningful part of my business today.

Now—I’m sure you already know the mechanics of building an audience: Blog posts. Landing Pages. Email lists. Autoresponders. Yadda Yadda. Those are the tools and tech, and there plenty of resources where you can find the right ones for you.

But those things won’t actually get people to stop, take notice, and give you their email address because they want more.

So how do you do that, when you’re still unknown?

Let me break it down with four important concepts:

  • Your “Who”
  • Their “Why”
  • Resonate
  • Exposure

Your “Who”

The most important thing in building an audience, or marketing a product, is to know who you’re writing (or selling) to. The more you know your audience, the easier it is to resonate with them. (tweet that)

But how can you possibly know who your target audience is when you don’t have an audience yet?

A lot of advice out there tells you to hunt for your audience. Do keyword research… Analyze buzz trends on social media… capitalize on current news headlines. They’re telling you to spot a herd of people and catch that wave.

To me, this always seemed like a monotonous and uninspiring way to create content. So I never followed this advice.

In fact, I’m pretty sure none of the folks that I subscribe to — who happen to have very large audiences — never followed this advice either. Probably for similar reasons. They just didn’t want to.

This brings me to my first point: You get to choose your who.

Your who is the person you care about and the person you genuinely want to help. They’re probably a lot like you. Maybe you’re further along in your journey, or maybe they’re further than you. Either way, you guys are probably on the same path.

Do this:

Give some thought to who you want as your readers / listeners / subscribers. This part is totally up to you. At the end of the day, if you don’t care about the people you’re writing for, then you won’t be able to help them, which means you won’t get very far anyway.

In my case, I was a freelance web designer, and I transitioned to a products business. So I decided the my who are my peers — freelancers and consultants who work on the web and want to transition to a products business.

By the way, lots of different people will stumble across your site over time. The vast majority of them won’t be your who. Only a small slice of those new visitors are. Those are the ones you want as subscribers and they’re the ones who you want to see again. So focus your attention on them.

Their “Why”

Finding your who is up to you. But creating content that resonates with them is not.

Now you need to reconcile your who with their why.

Everyone is on a journey. Everyone wants to get to a destination that is different and better than where they’re currently at. This is always changing. For everyone.

If you asked me 10 years ago where I wanted to go, I would have said I wanted to find my career path, and meet a girl.

Five years ago? I wanted to get more clients, and find a home for my wife and I to settle down.

Today? I want to build my products business so my growing family can live comfortably and travel.

Next year? Who knows…

How would your people answer that question? What is their why?

Do this:

Set up a welcome email autoresponder sent to every person who joins your email newsletter. Here’s a screenshot of the email I send to every new subscriber who joins my newsletter:

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 11.21.23 am

Keep that welcome email short and to the point, which is: Ask your new subscriber, “where they want to be one year from now?” I recommend adding, “What’s your biggest hurdle holding you back?”

In the beginning, you won’t have many responses. That’s OK. You’ll get plenty of replies over the course of year.

The fun part is to watch how your audience’s why changes over time. Your understanding of it will change too. The more in touch are you are, the easier it is to write things that help them get ahead, and the more likely your posts will resonate.

Writing stuff that resonates

So you know who you want to be reading your blog, and you’re in touch with the journey they’re on (their why). Now how do you actually speak to that, and create content that truly resonates?

I found a very simple method: Just answer questions.

Every blog post / podcast episode / video / whatever you create should be your answer to a question that your people are seeking an answer to. They have a very specific problem, and your post is the solution. In fact, it’s the best solution they’ve come across in a very long time.

That’s what it takes for a blog post to resonate.

Do this…

Start every new blog post with a question. Have you noticed that the first few paragraphs of this article contained several questions? The idea for this article literally came from a question that one of my subscribers asked me a few weeks ago.

Here are some places I go to identify questions that I could answer in new articles:

  • Questions people ask me when replying to my newsletter.
  • Questions people ask me when I’m out at a conference.
  • Questions that come up in forums and communities that I hang out in—particularly the ones that I feel eager to hop in and answer.
  • Questions found on Quora and Reddit, and similar question/answer sites.

Spend an hour and come up with a list of 5 (or more) questions that your people are asking. Make sure they’re questions that you’re eager to answer. I’m sure there are many that fit this criteria for you.


Now I don’t want to give the impression that if you simply write great content that could resonate with the right people, then it will.

It probably won’t.

Unless… you get exposure in places where your people are already hanging out.

Here are the common “tactics” that most people focus on. These have never worked for me:

  • Cold email a popular blogger and cleverly include a link to your new post, in hopes they might tweet it. I tried it. Sometimes it gets that tweet. Great… For a minute. I stopped doing this because I hate the idea of “pushing” my stuff on someone who didn’t ask for it. Plus, they’re super busy and I want to respect their time.
  • “Go viral” on Hacker News, Reddit, Digg.com. I have submitted posts to these a handful of times. Maybe twice my hit the front-page for a while and brought a spike in traffic. Almost none of those folks ever subscribe and return.
  • SEO Keyword Optimize my posts. Have some of my posts done well in search engines? Sure. Do I know how or why that happened? Not really. My goal when I write is to help my people get ahead, and hopefully get them to subscribe so they’ll come back again. SEO traffic typically doesn’t play out this way. The channels I’ll list below do.

So here’s what has worked for me, and what I think you should focus on when you’re just getting started:

Answer questions in forums

I suggest focusing on just one or two online communities that you personally feel connected to.

Find a question you’re eager to answer and post the best response you can possibly fit in the reply box. Then finish by including a link over to your blog post on that same topic.

Don’t simply reply by saying “Good question, I wrote a whole article on it: LINK”. You should actually answer the question right there in the forum, then provide the link for more. Build credibility and earn their trust with your thoughtful reply, then invite them to your site for more.

Case Studies

Readers love hearing about real-world examples of a problem being solved. You still want to be sure you’re answering a question, but your answer (or solution) can come in the form of a case study.

I found that these types of posts tend to get shared and passed around a lot. One of my post popular articles from last year on my System For Selling, where I covered how we set up Trello as our CRM, and our process for handling inbound sales leads. This continues to get passed around, and even wound up getting mentioned on Trello’s blog!


While you won’t get thousands of listeners overnight, podcasts are much less competitive and easier to reach people than a new blog. There simply aren’t as many podcasts as there are blogs.

I also found that podcasts seem to build a more intimate relationship with your audience than readers of a blog. Plus, it’s fun!

Paid acquisition

I wouldn’t recommend this if you’ve never managed an ad campaign before. But if you know you’re way around Facebook ads or Twitter ads, then you might try it as a way to jump-start your email list. Point this traffic at a landing page for a free, educational resource, that is highly relevant to the people you want to reach, and the topics you write about.

I’ve had better success with Retargeting ads, since those are seen by folks who have already found you through organic channels first, but maybe didn’t opt-in to your list on their first visit.

Related: Tips and Tricks to Nail Facebook Advertising With Jon Loomer
The Lowdown on Facebook Advertising, and What We’ve Found Works Really Well

Return Visitors

Now, to be clear: The ideas I just listed above won’t bring in tidal waves of traffic. They’ll be more like drops and splashes. That’s OK for now. They’re only intended to get things going.

What will really move the needle are getting those first visitors to return and to share your content. That’s where your email list comes in.

Here are some ways I found work well attracting those first subscribers to your email list:

  • Offer a free resource, like an email course, highly relevant to your people’s why.
  • Point everything to the free resource: Bylines on your guest blog posts, link to it from your Twitter profile, mention it when you go on podcasts, this is your “gift” that you’re proud to share with anyone who might benefit from it. So promote it.
  • Include bonus content on some of your posts. For example, in my System For Selling post, I offer the exact setup instructions for anyone to download when they subscribe to my list.

The small breaks

As I’m sure you can tell, none of this audience-building stuff happens overnight.

The reality is it’s a long series of “small breaks”. A high profile Retweet. A guest post opportunity. An invitation to be on someone’s podcast. All of these add up and build exposure over time.

Some might see these as “lucky” breaks. But I see them as inevitable opportunities that arise when you repeatedly put yourself out there, serve your audience, and stick with it!

Brian Casel was a freelancer who turned productized business owner. Today he writes his newsletter and blog to help you do the same. Get Brian’s free email crash course on Productizing Your Service.

About Guest Blogger
This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above.
  1. Excellent, excellent post! There is certainly invaluable information here. What are your thoughts of trying to reach an audience or prospective clients the old-fashioned way with physical mail? Do you ever find that that route is effective in bringing readers to your site?

  2. Brian
    awesome great post spot on what to say, you are actually over came that path .
    inspiring and good tips
    thanks for sharing

  3. Brian,

    Thanks for sharing these tips. I found this post grabbed my attention due to your transparency and the good tips you included.

    Take Care, Ken

  4. Really nice article, not bad :P

    People have to understand that everyone starts from scratch, no one is born with an email list or a huge following so they should keep it in mind that there’s going to be some hard work involved like in any other business.

    The best way to build your audience from scratch is to go to flippa, check which websites just sold for a high price in your niche. The good thing about flippa is that when someone sells their site they share all the details. They’ll let you know how it started, where they get traffic and a whole lot of other stats that can help you grow your audience or find out where the people you’re looking for hangout.

    Another great place is forums, you can offer value if you want but that takes a while. What you can do is check who’s popular and regularly posting then offer them a deal to add your link on their signature. You can pay them with cash or offer a commission. Advertise on the forum, buy sticky posts or even go extreme and buy an email blast from the forum admin.

    The best thing about forums, is that your target audience is already there so they’re really powerful. But good article, Thnx for sharing :)

  5. I really appreciate a success story and sound advice that doesn’t involve SEO and emailing popular bloggers. Although I can’t imagine adding a podcast to my routine, it’s still really nice to hear that possibility for success exists outside the norm of advice. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

  6. Thanks for sharing.. i am now do one of them. When i started blogging, i never know who want to targeted to. But a month ago i realize that it will not make me to ‘who’ i am. So i started new blog with a niche that i am good at it.

  7. Thanks,

    I added a automated email in MailChimp asking people “If there was a post you’d like to send to your spouse, what would the title be?”

    We’ll see how it turns out.

  8. Starting a blog has been one of the most difficult things I have done. If you don’t have some funds behind you it is difficult to get going. Google ads cost me hundreds of dollars and I made zero in return. Facebook and Twitter ads are working for me as well as approaching media re articles. One thing that works for my business is paid reviews, placing my book reviews on Amazon with links to my website, holiday reviews with links to my website. I leave links everywhere lol it works! :)

    • Yeah, I had a slow start as well. Due to my subject matter, and target audience, I write anonymously. so I started with no, funds, no friends and unable to leverage even family to share my content.

      But, we’re going to get over a million views in this, our third year. So, it is possible to get some traction from nothing.

  9. Hi Brian and Darren
    Thanks for sharing your personal story. I will definitely keep these things in mind. I really liked the concept of autoresponder mail asking about your subscribers. But, the autoresponders come with a price tag. I think in the beginning not everyone can afford the cost of those autoresponders.
    Earlier also, I have heard about REddit and Digg. Now, I will have a look at them also. Ya, you are right in providing the suitable answers to the people in the forum. In this way, we develop a connection with the readers.
    You have broken four components in a nice manner. Podcast is also a better alternative for reaching out to your readers.
    Thank again for this wonderful post, buddy

  10. Hi Brian,

    I like the careful attention you pay to detail. This is how to accelerate your online success. I know my why and am focusing more on the WHY of my audience too, because they want to free themselves. In the end we all want freedom, and those who listen to our freedom pleas and serve us best become our mentors, and that’s where the traction is gained. Yep, the survey or simple asking new subscribers the right questions works well too. Think; if you want to grow you’ll grow others, and asking questions gives you the fuel you need to grow your blog like a weed.

    I am huge on purifying my intent too. I used to blog to make money, to get social shares and for a wide range of outcomes. Now, with my newer blog, I blog to free me and to free my audience. I think about tht intent before I publish posts or eBooks, or before I leave comments, to stay true to it and as I do, I naturally expand my presence quickly and easily because I’m not too attached to growing my blog, but to helping others build a dream, freeing life. That of intent really made all the difference in the world to me, and to my audience, and to my online success. Keep the focus on freeing yourself and your audience and you’ll naturally follow your dead on tips.

    Thanks Brian!

  11. Some good advice here. Thanks :)

    I only disagree with the “things not to do” – I found cold emailing the big names in my niche really helped me build a network in the beginning. About 50% of them got back to me and we continue to work together 6 years and millions of web visitors on.

    Also, in the beginning, writing keyword targeted articles was the best way to gain traffic. Of course your articles still have to pack a punch but targeting them for Google as well helped me along significantly. Maybe it’s different today, the algorithms work differently. Now I have a following I tend to write headlines and articles that capture the imagination, which is how new articles quickly gather momentum on social media. (I do love your suggestion of answering questions as a way of sourcing good content, I’ll definitely be using this again as I realise I haven’t done so in a loooong time!)

    It all works out though, with committment. In the early days I didn’t get much traffic but I was still honing my skills as a writer. That seems only right now. By the time I started getting serious traffic, I felt like I’d earned it, and that early effort paid off. Committment – and passion – is huge.

  12. Excellent post! One of the best I have read in a long time. I am definitely going to implement your welcome email technique, I love it!

    Any tips on what your follow up emails after that should include?

  13. Brain such a great post you shared here,as you mentioned the ways to follow here was awesome.thanks i am going to implement these tips to my blog.

  14. Individuals need to comprehend that everybody begins without any preparation, nobody is conceived with an email rundown or a gigantic after so they ought to remember it that there will be some diligent work included like in whatever other business.awesome extraordinary post spot on what to say, you are really over came that way .

    motivating and great tips

    much obliged for offering

  15. thanx i am now do one of them. When i started blogging, i never know who want to targeted to.

  16. Interesting! Thanks for sharing! I think the best advice for businesses that are trying to take things online and create a presence is first to watch — instead of jumping in — and look at pages that you like and make active observations about what’s going on.

  17. Nice Post.
    Case studies and podcast very help to building audience and increase traffic blog. If you want do it right now. thanks for sharing brian casel.

  18. thank for sharing :)

    very useful ;)

  19. Hey Brian,

    This is all too common. Many people who start blogging don’t have the confidence or the direction on how they can grow their audience. Well they have direction, but they may get overwhelmed with so many different opinions that they remain stagnant.

    You gave some real simple tips on how they can build their target audience. Yes, I like when you said:

    “Your who is the person you care about and the person you genuinely want to help. They’re probably a lot like you. Maybe you’re further along in your journey, or maybe they’re further than you. Either way, you guys are probably on the same path.”

    When I first started, i was a bit confused about this. I was in network marketing, and I got the advice to chase other network marketers. It’s good advice, but everyone was chasing everyone which meant no one was getting no where LOL

    So I had to back away from that school of thought. As a matter of fact I got out of network marketing (not that it’s a bad business model). But I got to the point that I wanted to direct my focus on people who were like me. Like they say, like attracts like. And you know what? It has worked quite well.

    Thanks for sharing these tips! You have a good one!

  20. if my who is not my peer? is there any other way to find out my who? currently i’m doing a product review targeting US people but i don’t know what would they love to read about.

  21. Excellent post! Year’s ago I put energy into my email list and then let it fizzle and put energy into social media. I think that was a mistake, I needed to grow my email list and keep it healthy by doing just what you suggested. One question, what happens when your who changes?

  22. I like the idea of starting a blog post with a question, because it leaves the readers to give their answers.

  23. Hello Brian,
    These are the great tips for newbie bloggers like me.
    Gonna apply this on my new blog.
    Thanks a lot for sharing tips on this post.

  24. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for sharing this – it’s great to hear your story.

    I like the idea of asking your newsletter subscribers questions as soon as they join.


  25. Some good tips there. I’ve already updated my autoresponder and I’m curious to see what I learn about my audience. Thanks.

  26. Some awesome tips here – I wish I’d read this back when I was just starting out! I was struggling away with the generic SEO/backlinking/viral content tips, when I should have been focusing on building a solid audience.
    I still have a long way to go to success, but by applying these tips (and similar), I’ve finally started gaining some traction!

  27. Perfect post! As far as, I am concerned, the best way to build a true audience is to be able to go to them. I mean, that you need to find the right way to converse with them. I think that the best way as you mentioned it on your post being active on forums and social media. I think, also, that we need focalize our handwriting on what the audience lack and what they need to read, hear or see. If we can determine the right need and overwhelmed, we will be able to gain our place in the cibled niche developed an opt-in email base which means that we have been able to develop a loyal community.

  28. What I have found is that is takes a lot to get the people you want to write for to begin reading your work, and it is getting harder by the day, especially as the volume of information increases.

    That being said, doing something will get you there a lot quicker than just reading about other people doing it.

    Thanks for the article, I will implement what I can and learn what I must.

  29. So many people struggle with this problem … thanks for the road map!

  30. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for sharing your case study with us, it makes one feel good and confidence when you read how other people get things done, especially when it has deal with same situation you’re in at the moment.

    Growing an email list of responsive subscribers is not as easy as we read; providing answers to those question you ask up there will be help bring clarity and success.

    Thanks for sharing.

  31. Jeremy says: 03/20/2015 at 5:32 pm

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for this post. I’ve bookmarked it :)
    Its refreshing to see stories from the trenches of when you started the blog.

    We all see the same flippant techniques being thrown around..guest post…email an expert in your niche…and so on.

    I too will be applying the welcome message on my autoresponder.


  32. Thanks for this post.
    This is very usefull to start with for generating traffic.
    Ill make sure to follow what you have listed.

  33. Very helpful info… As I am a new blogger, these type of posts will inspire me to do hard wok.. Thank you. I follow Problogger regularly..

  34. Thanks a lot for this post. These are great blogging tips. Thank u

  35. I am pretty sure these ideas going to work well in the future SEO Era, But what about contents? Its very hard to write a unique content about anything, because there are already existing content might be ranking well in all search engines. You could not able to compete with those contents, If you try it will take time to reach up to there. So content writing is one of the toughest job I have ever seen.
    Anyways Nice write up!. Keep it up.

  36. Thank you so much for this heartfelt and honest post – your transparency is immensely appealing! #HUGSSS

    Knowing your WHO and their WHY are paramount to building an audience, it seems!

    Thanks again, Brian

  37. shakir says: 03/24/2015 at 7:10 pm

    Hy Brian Casel.
    its really use full for us
    Thanks for sharing your study with us.

  38. man i just spent the last hour reading all your posts :D good stuff

  39. Hey, Thanks so much for sharing your tips. I will definitely use a couple of these going forward in my business. Thanks again :)

  40. This is such nice tips sharing. The step you show here prove me clear enough. I haven’t thought about my WHO and response to WHY. Great sharing!

  41. Manthan Sharma says: 01/07/2018 at 4:14 am

    The blog post is awesome! I learnt few things from it and I am gonna apply them :)

  42. Hanit Mishra says: 02/05/2018 at 3:52 pm

    Every business even it is small or big it mainly depend on the trust that we have developed with the customers. Providing rightful information with basis standards will help you the most.

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