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Have you ever had an idea you thought was brilliant, then spent weeks planning and working to bring it to life, only to share it with the world to find out no one cares?
It’s a terrible feeling most entrepreneurs know well. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way and you don’t have to go through that anymore.
There’s a much simpler and common sense approach you can take that will help you build a list of interested people before you waste your time creating something no one will buy.
Here are 4 basic steps I took to build a list of 500 of supporters from scratch when I was completely unknown and had zero money to invest in building my list.
1. Create a similar but smaller item you could sell
This is the probably the hardest part of the entire process, but it’s definitely the most important. You have to create something you would feel comfortable charging people for. That means no generic eBooks that are essentially long blog posts. Most people jump straight to that, but I’m here to tell you you’re better off trying something else.
Get creative and think, “What is it I want to sell? Now, can I make a smaller version that people would still be willing to pay for?” For example, if you want to be a consultant, think about creating a video series that’s a shorter, more generalized, or more condensed version of your consulting idea.
Another example would be if you’re wanting to write a book about a topic, then ask yourself if there’s a mini-book you could write that would deliver similar value, just on a smaller scale.
Yet another example would be if you have an idea for an app, create a similar tool potential users of your app would find beneficial. It doesn’t have to be revolutionary, just valuable.
You don’t need to spend tons of time creating a huge product, but it should deliver value that is related to your main idea, product, or service you want to ultimately provide.
Now ask yourself what you would charge for this item. Remember, this item is an “intro” item to your larger overall business idea, so keep that in mind when placing a monetary value on it.
With that in mind, what would be a reasonable price for this item? Be honest with yourself here. Do a little market research and compare your item to similar ones already out there for sale. How much are they charging, and are they making sales at that price point?
Once you have an idea for an item you can create that is similar to your business idea, and you have an estimated price point/value, it’s time to move to step two.
Remember: The goal of this step is to create something valuable enough that people would pay for it. So if you can’t honestly say people would pay for it, do not move to step two.
2. Create a sign up page
Now that you have your item in mind, you need a place online to take people’s information and distribute the item you made in step one.
But before you do that, you need a Mailchimp account. Mailchimp will allow you to add people to your email as they register to get your item from step 1. This is crucial because the goal of this entire process is to build a list of people who will be interested in your idea in the long run. In order to do that, you need an email list.
Once you’ve created an account in Mailchimp, it’s time to create your sign up page.
There are several tools out there that allow you to create landing pages, but I recommend learning WordPress then creating a landing page and a “thank you” page using WordPress. WordPress is fairly easy to use once you get the hang of it, and you won’t have to pay developer fees and/or fees for using premium tools that do this for you.
If using WordPress is off the table, and you don’t have the funds to pay a developer or to use a premium tool, there is a third option. You could create a Facebook page then use Mailchimp to embed a sign up form on your page. This is a less efficient and professional option in my opinion, but it still gets the job done on a basic level.
Once you have your landing page up, it’s time to add your MailChimp form. When you get to the part where you’re setting up your form in MailChimp, just worry about having an email address field and maybe a name field. Don’t worry about anything else right now, that’s all you’ll need for this step.
If you use WordPress, the steps in the article linked above should suffice. Add your signup form using the method Mailchimp shows you, and you should be good to go. Continue reading this step to see what to do after your signup form is on your landing page.
If you use a premium tool, most of them will have some sort of Mailchimp integration. You may need to get on a call with the company that’s providing the tool in order to set up the integration, but it’s usually a simple process. If they don’t have Mailchimp integration, see if you can get form submission information in a .CSV format. You can manually import.CSV files into Mailchimp to add those people to your email list, it’s just a hassle.
Finally, if you’re using a Facebook page to collect contact information for your item from step 1, you can either add your MailChimp form to your Facebook page from within Mailchimp (they have a Facebook integration).
Once you have your landing page up, you’ll then need a way to deliver your item from step 1 (the reason people are signing up in the first place) immediately after people register. The easiest way to do that is to use a custom “thank you” page, and tell Mailchimp to redirect to registrants to that page once they’ve opted in.
Important note: Mailchimp automatically sends a confirmation email upon sign up asking each registrant to confirm their subscription to your list. Their language in that email is less than ideal from a conversion standpoint, so I highly recommend changing the language and button text in that email to sound more appealing.
3. Make a list of websites, forums, subreddits, and other places your target audience hangs out
Okay, now that you’ve gotten all the technical and logistical details ironed out, it’s time to get people to sign up for your item from step one. To do that, you have to go where your target audience hangs out online (or offline, depending on the situation). You can’t think in general terms. I’m talking about places like:
- Very specific Facebook groups
- Specific and active LinkedIn groups
- Popular and active niche forums
- Active subreddits for your target audience
Again, be very specific. If you were someone who needed the item you created in step one, and ultimately the business idea you have in mind, where would you go to talk to other people who are interested in the same topic?
I’ll cut straight to the chase here: use Reddit if at all possible. Of course, it depends on how active the subreddit for your particular niche is, but Reddit is so diverse it would be tough to find a topic people aren’t talking about on there.
Reddit should be the first place you go to find an audience, because Reddit is an unfiltered source of traffic. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have algorithms that throttle back what each user can see. Unless you’re in a group or already connected to people on these platforms, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are going to be tough.
You also might be able to find other sites in your niche that are similar to Reddit in format. If so, those are the sites to focus on.
Once you have a list of potential places you can talk to your target audience, move to step four.
4. Give your item away for free
I know, I know. It hurts to give away something you worked so hard on, but you have to get past that if you ever want to build an audience that helps you build your business idea.
Trust me when I say this does work. I’ve used the exact steps outlined here to build a list of 200, 500, and 1,000 people — all from scratch. So if you want to actually move the needle quickly with your next business idea, you have to get past this feeling to charge for everything you do. It’s just the way the internet works now.
Assuming you’ve overcome the objection to give your hard work away for free, it’s time to look at how to give your item away for free. It’s much more of an art than you may think, because people are so overwhelmed with free offers online that they basically shut down at first mention of a “freebie”. They assume it’s a marketing gimmick, and they’ll look at you the same way unless you know how to position it.
The key to overcoming the leeriness of free stuff is to put an actual price tag on your item from step one, then give it away for free as a special promotion. You should have set your item’s price in step one, but make sure you have a good idea as to what you would or should charge if you were going to sell your item.
The cool thing is, you’re not trying to compete with your “competitors”. After all, you’re giving yours away for free, so who cares if they’re charging less than you think your item should be worth. You just need a point of reference when you mark yours down to zero.
You may have a major discovery when you’re looking at potential price points and value. If you can’t find anyone selling what you’re planning to offer (from step one), then you probably need to reconsider the value your item is offering.
If that happens, start thinking about what you could add to your item in order to make it worth buying, then repeat the research process to see who your competition would be for your new and improved item.
And of course, if you just can’t find anyone selling the item you want to give away, you might need to change your item from step one altogether. That’s why it’s important to research the competition in step one.
You’re not trying to reinvent the wheel with your giveaway item from step one. If the item you came up with is “innovative” and no one else has created anything like it, you might want to steer clear of it.
You can innovate all you want once you have an audience onboard, but trying to draw an audience in with an item they’ve never seen or heard of is a big gamble. The better solution would be to use an item people already need, give it away for free, then once you have an email list you can start asking them questions that will lead both you and them down a path to your innovative idea. But for now, it’s best to stick to things people already know they need.
When people hear the word “free”, their ears perk up then their guards go up. The key is to get past their guard, then pique their interest after they trust you. There are two basic ways to do this quickly:
The first option is to start a conversation or contribute to an existing conversation either in a subreddit, in a social media group, or on a forum. Then lead that conversation into “here’s something you can have for free that should help.” This is usually much easier than it sounds, but it does take a little bit of time.
The second option is to create a post in a subreddit, social media group, or forum that comes right out and says what it is you’re offering. This tends to come across as being a bit more “spammy”, but if you’re item is providing enough value and you word your message the right way, it can work.
Try saying something something to the effect of, “I just created ___ and I’m giving it away for free in exchange for feedback (which is optional)”, or “I just created ___ and I’m giving it away for free for the next 10 days”. Think along the lines of, “I created something I’m going to sell, but I need to get it off the ground first, which is why you get it for free.”
Using that approach should help explain why you’re giving it away for free, so hopefully they’re less likely to label you a spammer.
A third way to give your item away for free is to find someone who already has an audience similar to yours, then tell them you plan on charging for your item, but they can give it away free to their audience for a certain amount of days or in exchange for optional feedback. Affiliate marketing doesn’t always work when there’s no financial incentive, but it might be an idea worth trying if you already know people who have an audience.
The big take home lesson here is people like getting premium stuff for free. As long as what you’re giving away would be worth paying for, people won’t see it as a marketing gimmick — because it isn’t. You’re genuinely giving away something that is worth money. That’s sacrificing your time, money, and effort so you can help people out and build a community, and that’s marketing worth doing.