Last week I started collecting emails for my free eBook, Validate Your College Business Plan (or Startup Idea) Within One Week. On the form you can fill out to get the book, I ask what your biggest marketing challenge is.
Though it wasn't a required field, I've gotten some really interesting responses so far. They range from challenges very specific to a certain business (how to spread to other colleges) to very broad challenges (how to get more customers in general).
I'll likely address most of these as time goes on but there was one response for the biggest marketing challenge that really stuck out:
"Convincing my target audience to give me a chance."
I hear this all the time.
There's one simple solution:
Have your target audience look to you for answers to their questions. (click to tweet)
I know what many people are probably saying right now as they read the sentence above this one...
"But I'm not an expert!"
Here's a little secret:
You don't need to be an expert!
Sure, it would be great if you had every answer.
It would be amazing if you could solve any problem.
The truth is, the only way to become an expert is to start off as a beginner. The only way to progress quickly is by teaching! (click to tweet)
Step 1: Own It
Anyone who is a self-proclaimed "master" is a pretty terrible bullshitter.
This cannot be emphasized enough. Look at the Twitter bios of the people you personally identify as masterful in whatever it is they do. Next, do a search for people with that same occupation and you'll find many random accounts of people you've never heard of who are proclaiming to the world that they are experts.
Don't be one of those people. Don't pretend you know everything. But don't degrade and reduce yourself either! As humans, we are prone to either pumping up our egos or being our own worst critics. Try to avoid these extremes and be honest with yourself and your growing audience. You will make mistakes in the things you do, the things you write, and the things you believe. Mistakes make you human. Your audience (and eventually your customers) will feel more comfortable knowing they are working with a human instead of a robot. Admit when you've messed up and move on.
Step 2: Learn It
This is all about learning. Find the true masters to learn from.
Where are they?
Slideshare? Twitter? A niche forum?
Find the people who operate on another plain. There's a truism about how successful people surround themselves with others who are better than they are so they can learn from the best. If you can't be in the same room with these experts, inhabit the same digital spaces. Constantly be on the lookout for experts to follow, study, and learn from who will force you to progress rapidly.
Internalize what they write. Experiment with their ideas on your own. Don't be afraid to ask them questions (but only if a careful Google search doesn't provide the answer). Develop your own thoughts based around what you learn.
Step 3: Teach It
"But I'm not an expert...how can I teach someone?"
This is an awful thing to believe. In order to teach, you must either:
Know something that the person you are teaching does not.
Have a higher level of proficiency in something they have limited experience with.
Let that sink in for a moment.
You don't need to be an expert, you just need to be slightly better or slightly more experienced.
"But I don't know how to teach."
If you've never taught before how would you know how to teach? The answer is, you probably won't know. That's why you need to start right away! You will never know what works until you start experimenting and eliminating what clearly does not.
"But who do I teach?"
This is the real trick. You've already found sources of knowledge where you can learn concepts that you can take, adopt, and reshape. Now it's time to find an audience that knows less than you but also has a desire to learn. You can become their teacher. Employ the same methods you used for finding the experts to find communities of aspiring marketers, musicians, etc.
"How do I approach them?"
Never sell. Give your knowledge freely. The way you'll become great at whatever it is you do is by teaching as many people as you can in a variety of different ways (long-form blogging, forum posts, chatting over coffee, etc).
Start off by approaching the communities with the answers to questions they are already asking. This builds trust and provides tangible value from the offset. Refer them to what your friends are doing if it's relevant. It's a wonderful feeling when you can share what your friends are working on - you're helping the community and your friends at the same time!
Always be thinking about how you can add value rather than extract it. I now spend at least 30 minutes per day on r/startups because many entrepreneurs that are just starting out go there for advice (and many experienced entrepreneurs dole it out to them). I want to offer my help whenever I can and it is usually very appreciated.
Step 4: Earn Your Audience
This is when it gets really exciting. You've learned, you've taught, and now people are starting to value what you have to say. You need to convert visitors into an audience that continually stays up-to-date with what you are doing. The most powerful way to do this is through mailing lists.
"How do I collect emails?"
First there's the technical aspect:
- Mailchimp offers free mailing lists/email collector widgets until you get to 2,000 emails.
- Google Forms is completely free but the formatting is pretty ugly (you can technically create your own signup widgets using HTML/CSS but this is against Google's ToS). Google Forms saves your signups to a Google Spreadsheet (Excel file) but you'll need to manually import them into a mailing list manager like Mailchimp anyways.
Use freebies to provide value:
There are many ways to provide value but the best method is to give your users something more than just email updates about what you've posted on the blog. Give them something tangible.
Currently, as of 5/27/2014, I have two freebies that I am using to encourage signup. One is a downloadable list of the Top 150 Tech Blogs to Pitch Your Startup To and the other is an eBook called Validate Your College Business Plan (or Startup Idea) Within One Week.
Just how powerful are these freebies? To give you an idea, 83.33% of signups to my mailing list came from freebies I offer (click to tweet) instead of my sidebar or popup email collectors. Know what's even crazier? You'll be able to determine the people who REALLY love what you are doing based on the fact that they'll sign up multiple times through different widgets. Make sure to give these people special attention!
Optimize for conversion:
So now you realize how essential it is to offer something on top of simply emailing (in)frequent updates from your blog. Start thinking about what you could offer as freebies as you read on.
Notice how if you are on a computer there is an email collector constantly visible on the left side of my site? That was a very conscious decision on my part! Let's take a look at one of my favorite blogs by one of my favorite companies, Fetchnotes, so you'll see exactly why this is:
Everything looks great at the top of the page. There's a very nice email signup form and no clutter to distract a visitor. Now let's read a bit of the article...
There's no way to easily join the Fetchnotes mailing list if you are part-way through reading one of their informative blog posts! You'll either need to scroll to the top for the traditional email widget or to the bottom where they have a beautiful CTA (call to action) for the Fetchnotes app (which you should download on iOS or Android for productivity's sake).
The Fetchnotes Blog's click-through CTA at the bottom of their posts makes me really jealous...I'd love to have one even nearly that nice!
Aside from the lack of an omnipresent email collector (or click-through CTA), Fetchnotes does a fantastic job of optimizing for conversion. Their goal is to ultimately get you to download and become a daily user of their app so focusing on the click-through CTA that enables you to sign up is very wise. Their CTA on the email widget at the top of the page smartly has a fun action ("Let's Party!") rather than a dreadful one ("Sign Up" or "Join Our Mailing List").
Based on your goals, I would suggest a Fetchnotes-style click-through CTA (that links to an app download/signup) or a special email collector (that offers a freebie) at the bottom of each blog post.
If you are going the freebie route, make sure what you are offering relates at least slightly to the content of your post.
The more freebies you generate, the more you can optimize your offering for each post's content, and thus achieve higher conversion rates.
Step 5: Rinse And Repeat
The best way to convince your target audience to give you a chance is by helping them.
It's by answering their questions.
It's by being the one they look to for advice.
I realize there is definitely a lot of information in this post but I wanted to write a guide that you can continually come back to. This is definitely a work in progress and I'll be updating it as time goes on. Please tweet me (@julianweisser) with compliments, criticism, questions, or just to say hello. I want to optimize this guide for you and make it the best it can be!
If you found the guide useful, please click here to tweet it and spread the love!