How To Start Building An Audience With Content Marketing

content marketing guide

It takes more than luck or talent to succeed with content. You need platforms and authority and effective promotion. You got to do the right things, the right way. But how to do all this?

That’s what this guide is about. It’s about building an inbound platform, and raising your brand to such a level that you no longer have to pitch your content to influencers – journalists, bloggers, magazines, publishers and more, or hard-sell to prospects. Opportunities will come to you.

Here’s what you need and how to go about making things happen. Without these things, your content could only go so far, and your reach will be restricted.

Building A Platform

The platform is your stage. It’s the place where people come in thousands and millions to consume your content. With a platform, you can create your own luck and attract new opportunities.

Technical setup is easy. It doesn’t take much to start a Youtube channel, podcast, blog, books, speaking engagements or email newsletter. Though there are exceptions like having your own newspaper column or TV show.

But the real work is building it into a community which engages your audience and gets you permission to regularly communicate with them. You get this permission when more and more of your audience  subscribe to or choose to follow or join your platform.

It can get overwhelming at first. Where do you even begin? There are 3 important steps to build a massive platform that gets noticed.

Step #1. Master Your Niche

First, you need as much experience and knowledge in your niche as required to create epic content on the topics your audience care about. This means you got to spend some time getting good at whatever you want to be known for.

Helpful Resources: Amazon Books, Lynda, Udemy

Becoming an expert isn’t about knowing as much as possible, or having read every book, or taken every course on a subject. It’s about knowing enough to form your own intelligent questions, opinions and solutions to problems.

When you have plenty of burning questions and problems related to your niche that both you and your audience want resolved, and you at least know how to solve or where to look for answers, you can go the the next step.

If you’re stuck at this step, waiting to feel good enough, stop it. That’s not the real problem. The real problem is fear. It’s the fear of starting. The fear of rejection and embarrassment. It takes courage to put you and your content out there.

What it takes to start creating content isn’t talent. It’s the willingness to start, follow through and finish. To keep learning, experimenting, asking questions and finding answers.

Step #2. Start Showing Off

Don’t take this literally. But once you have acquired competence in your niche, you need to keep learning more as well as demonstrating the skills and talents you have so far.

It means creating content about your lessons and experiences and sharing with the world through your platform. Give your audience free access to this content. You need to prove that you have the competence which makes you worthy of your audiences’ attention.

If you don’t have a blog, starting one isn’t that hard. You can create a self-hosted blog using a free software called WordPress. The instructions on that are easy to find and follow.

However, don’t confuse self-hosted WordPress with WordPress.com. Both are different. You don’t want to go with WordPress.com because the platform won’t be your own and you won’t have full control over your blog.

Step #3. Promote Your Content

This step is about generating buzz. You want your audience to find your content and realize you’re so good that they can’t stop talking about you to their peers.

Without loyal advocates, it doesn’t matter how much you know and how great your content is. If you don’t have a raving community of people who like and promote your work, you won’t matter.

The best way to earn authority and build a community around your platform is to help people, even if it’s one by one.

In a world full of distractions, ads and people who are only interested in promoting themselves, you instantly stand out when you help someone without asking anything in return.

Generosity is unexpected. It catches people off-guard. Which is why it works. So they start trusting you and taking an interest in you, just as you have done with them. And you get the permission to share your content.

Establishing A Brand

Imagine having to re-introduce yourself every time you pitch a story to a magazine, or launch a new product or service. What a waste of time and brand value, not to mention frustrating.

That’s what happens when you don’t have basic brand assets, like a website or landing page. Without a platform which carries your brand, you’re forgettable.

Whether it’s a personal or corporate brand, there should be a personality and a graphic that people can instantly recognize.

There are 3 basic elements that form a brand. When building your brand, you’ll have to keep each of these in mind.

Name – It can be name of the company, product, or domain name of your website. If it’s your personal brand, you can use your name or a pen name.

Something related to your niche and connected to your will work just fine. But take your time when choosing a name and make it short and memorable. It won’t be easy to change later.

Graphic – Your face, company logo, icon or another headshot. Or it can be a combination of two or more of these elements. It need not be complete, but the best representation of you or your company.

When you upload a profile picture on Linkedin for instance, it’s not a photo of you coming out of shower, or someone else entirely. It’s probably a photo of yours which would go well on a professional platform, like wearing a moderate smile and a somewhat formal shirt.

Now that doesn’t represent you completely. You have a life and personality outside of work too. But you chose to highlight only the part relevant to your personal brand on Linkedin.

Personality/Voice – Your style or tone of communication also helps people to recognize it’s you. Finding your unique voice is one of the most difficult tasks you’ll come across.

It’s about communicating in a way that’s both personally resonating and relevant with your audience. You’ll have to find where your interests, preferences and personality intersect with those of readers.

But note that these 3 elements are not the brand. These are symbols which help identify your brand.

Your brand is what you or your company stands for. It’s your core message – what you want to be known for. It’s the identity you intend to represent. It’s what you promise and what your audience can expect from you, again and again.

When we think about Apple, for instance, we think art, creativity and how cool it is to deviate from status quo. And the same message hits on the head every time we see the Apple logo.

Your brand should be something simple and consistent, so your audience can easily understand and recognize it.

But most of all it should be true. Don’t think of it as using marketing gimmicks to shape what you want your audience to think when they come across your brand elements.

Whatever opinion you want to shape in the mind of your target audience, make sure you can live up to it. Or the brand will fall apart before you even start promoting it. Once the label “fraud” is attached to your brand, it’s really hard to shift perception.

If you regularly post great content for instance, it becomes part of your brand. People now trust that whatever you’ll publish in the future will also be great.

This gives you power because you have their attention, and responsibility that you have to live up to the promise, the brand.

Distribution Channels

Your platform will not work without channels to act as a bridge between your audience and your content. The more relationships and avenues you have access to, the better your marketing.

Many people don’t like to promote themselves, and others do so much shameless promotion and spamming that the word promotion starts sounding dirty.

So obviously, if you want to content to go places and be found, you’ll have to strike a balance. You need to start building connections with publishers, influencers, prospects and other content creators.

There are more channels than ever to find and reach the audience you’re targeting, ranging from Facebook & Twitter to emails and phone calls, and from newspapers and magazines to meetups and conferences.

Building Connections

To get wide and relevant distribution, you need to find channels where your target audience are most likely to be present. And then you need to identify influencers  and peers relevant to your niche.

Influencers are people who have already built a huge platform. They have access to the same audience that you want to reach. And peers are people who are more or less in the same boat as you, but showing great promise.

A blogger with a huge readership, a journalist or editor working at a popular magazine, a Youtuber with thousands of active subscribers – these are all influencers.

Building long-term relationships is a slow and organic process. A connection is made only when two parties relate to each other and share a meaningful experience. It should be mutual.

Before you share your work with or pitch an influencer or peer, you must have his attention and permission. He should be at a point where he cares about what you have to say. That’s because there should be something in it for him too.

Most people do it wrong because they either chicken out and not do anything, or they come on too strong and rush the process. Then they wonder why nobody is paying attention to them, or responding to their emails.

So the best way to build a relationship is to be extremely helpful and generous. Think about what they want and give it to them, instead of just going on to ask what you want.

The more you know about someone and his platform, the better you’ll be able to discover ways to help him. Subscribe to their blog, follow them on social media, read their posts and updates, answer questions and participate in conversations.

Setup a meeting to learn more about how you can help them. Make it as easy and convenient for them as possible, like offering to buy them breakfast and coffee near their office.

Even if all those things don’t give you any clue, check if they have launched or published something new, something that they are trying to promote, and help them with that.

Or just offer to do something nice, like giving a backlink, interviewing them on your platform or turning one of their blog posts into an infographic. Tell them you followed the advice in one of their blog posts and what happened. Stay in touch by occasionally sharing something you know they’ll like.

Showing interest and offering help without an agenda is the best way to make a friend. Get into the habit of giving more than you get, and you’ll see your influence rise.

Obviously, you want them to endorse your work or help in some other way. But don’t make this the agenda of your first meeting, email or other interaction. Build a connection first.

There’ll be plenty of opportunities to ask later. It’s acceptable to ask influencers for endorsements or referrals but know that you’re asking for a favor. And it’s easy to do someone a favor when that someone has done a lot for you.

Getting Published

To get published on platforms with your target audience, you want to get noticed and build meaningful relationships with both influencers and peers. And I already talked about some ways to do that in the previous section.

Other than starting off with an influencer on the wrong foot, a grave mistake people make is trying to run before they walk.

The process of getting published in all the high places and turning your platform into a powerhouse doesn’t happen in one lucky moment. It is carried out step by step, and each step builds on the previous steps.

This is good news because you don’t have worry about taking a giant leap. You just have to take the next step, and then the next.

Publishing a best-selling book, for example, doesn’t begin with sitting down to write the book itself. You start with small, gradual steps and keep on building momentum towards the final, big step.

You start a blog and write something every day or every other day. Then you begin guest posting on small blogs, magazines and publications, eventually pitching to the larger and more popular ones. Or doing freelance writing gigs.

Little by little, you’re preparing, building a portfolio and making connections. In other words, you’re building your platform and audience.

Approaching An Influencer/Publication

Hundreds of books and thousands of articles are published every day, either online or in print. And honestly, some of those aren’t very good.

So what’s the difference between content creators who manage to get their work featured on popular platforms and those who don’t? They know and follow the process. Let’s discuss the steps in more detail.

Whether you’re pitching to a magazine, website, blog or a book publisher, you should always give options. Don’t make the mistake of writing something first and then asking for feedback.

It’s better if you start with a few flexible ideas and contact the publisher before doing considerable work on an idea.

A publisher may not always like a single idea, but you’ll increase your chances by pitching more and offering choices. From experience, I can tell you that many times publishers pick an idea that you expected the least to be accepted.

Once you’ve built your influence, you’ll be eventually be able to have more control over what ideas you want to work on and get published. But until then, you’d have to compromise a bit by giving more weight to what publisher wants.

Before you start pitching, make sure you have an interesting headline for each idea, along with couple of sentences describing what you could do with the idea.

Then build a list of target publications and start pitching. Most have some kind of a write for us, contribute, tip us, or submission guidelines page revealing instructions on how to do so.

Before you sit down to the write the pitch, do your homework. Make sure you’ve read the publisher’s guidelines and are familiar with the kind of content posted regularly on their platform.

Here is a list of things your pitch should include:

Personalization: Call the editor by name. And demonstrate in some way that you’re familiar with his work.

Introduction: Tell a bit about yourself quickly if this is the first time you’re contacting, or if it’s been a long time and you doubt the influencer remembers you.

Content Samples/Social Proof: Link to your best work and mention if you have previously published at other reputed platforms.

3-4 Content Ideas: Get a feel of the kind of content and headlines your target publication is interested in from the content they have already published. Then come up with some ideas with potential, along with small excerpts.

Contact Info: End your pitch with your contact information, and links to website, portfolio etc. in case the influencer wants to learn more about you.

Want to see exactly how it’s done. Here’s a template I have used many times.

Hi FirstName, my name is YourName, and I am JobTitle at CompanyName. I have been following your work for a while and really appreciate what your write.

I have a story idea that’d be a good fit for MagazineName. In fact, it’s something that came to mind as I was reading your piece on …

Here’s a short premise/rough draft:

Idea 1 headline and excerpt.

I know about this because … I can take this piece in a number of directions, but I think the … angle will make it compelling to your readers.

Here are a couple more ideas I have if the above doesn’t seem worthy of pursuing further.

  • Idea 2 headline and excerpt
  • Idea 3 headline and excerpt

If you are interested in running any of these, I’ll be glad to develop something more concrete and send your way.

If you’d like to see some of my previous work, here’s an article I wrote for BlogName, and another I contributed to MagazineName. Thanks so much for your time.

Once you have made the initial contact, be persistent. Follow up and stay in touch, but not in a pushy kind of way.

Most publishers are overwhelmed by dozens of submissions they get every day. So it’s not up to them to remember who you are and what you wrote last week. And you don’t want to be forgotten.

So make sure you check if they need anything else, if you can do something to make it easy for them, or if they are still interested in running your piece.

In most cases, checking once a week is a good rule of thumb (unless the publisher has told you not to). If other publications are also considering the piece, make sure the editor knows about this. This gives you social proof and puts a little pressure on them come to a decision.

If the submission guidelines don’t have a clue on when you can expect a response, and you haven’t heard anything back for a month or so, they probably won’t publish your piece and you can take it elsewhere.

Once you have published with someone, you’re in the door and familiar with what they want. You get to know them and keep developing the relationship. It’s also easy to keep writing for them because now there’s no need to introduce or prove yourself again.

What goes around comes around. Sooner or later, you’ll find the same people you helped and publishers you approached showing an interest in you, promoting your content and doing business with you.

They’ll become champions of your work, and you’ll see your content going places you never thought possible.

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