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Shawn Blanc is a writer, small-business owner, productivity coach, and creative entrepreneur living in Kansas City with his wife and their three sons.

Shawn has been teaching and learning about creativity, diligence, and focus for over a decade, and his online courses have helped thousands of people do their best creative work while learning to thrive in the midst of life’s tensions.

A while back, Shawn sent an email that caught my attention. He wrote about the importance of creating a customer avatar and developing a content strategy to connect with them and help them achieve their goals. I liked the email so much that I emailed him back and asked him to come on my show to talk about his journey to making a living through writing online and what he’s learned about growing an audience.

Shawn also shares my passion for productivity and deep focus; so much so that he’s gathered 12 incredibly smart people for a free 5 day online summit about the power of focused life.

In this episode, Shawn shares how he was able to make a full-time living by writing online, and we discuss how you can grow your audience by creating a customer avatar (your ideal listener) and creating content that addresses their needs and desires.

Highlights, Takeaways & Quick Wins:
  • Interview your customers to get a real life picture of your audience.
  • Start selling products as early as possible.
  • Your customer avatar is a real person that exists out there.
  • Use the language of your customer avatar in your content to create a deep connection with them.
  • Be in people’s weekly cycle at a minimum.
  • Your niche is going to draw your audience but your ancillary interests will keep people interested.
  • Show up consistently to earn people’s trust and create an anticipation of future value.
  • Do guest-based podcasts to grow your audience.
  • Reach people that are far outside of your social circle by connecting with the people you can connect with right now.
Show Notes
    • 01:04 Aaron: Shawn Blanc is a writer/small business owner/productivity coach/creative entrepreneur living in Kansas City with his wife and their three sons, and Shawn is a member of our Community. He spoke at our seanwes conference this year. He’s been teaching and learning about creativity, diligence, and focus for over a decade now.
    • 01:23 His online courses have helped thousands of people do their best creative work while learning to thrive in the midst of life’s tensions. A while back, Shawn sent an email that caught my attention. He was writing about the importance of creating a customer avatar, that’s knowing who you’re creating for and what you want to help them achieve, what kind of person you want to help them become.
    • 01:44 I thought it was really interesting, so I sent him an email right back. I said, “Shawn, do you want to come on the show to talk about this? I think podcasters need to hear about this idea of customer avatars and also content strategy.” Shawn agreed, and he also shares my passion for productivity and focus, so much so that he has gathered 12 incredibly smart people for a five day online summit about the power of a focused life, and that’s going to be starting, I believe, as this episode comes out.
    • 02:11 If you’re listening to this in your podcast player, it’s starting today, I think. I’ll give you that link later. In this episode, I want to talk with Shawn about why you as a podcaster need to create a customer avatar, know who you’re creating for, develop a content strategy, and then also the benefits of deep focus, what we call deep work.

A few small changes in your daily habits can lead to big improvements in your productivity and creative output.

  • 02:42 Shawn, that’s one of the longer intros I’ve ever done. Thanks for joining me today. I really appreciate you being here.
  • 02:50 Shawn: Thanks, Aaron. I love it. Super excited to be here.

Shawn Blanc

    • 03:44 Aaron: I think of you, Shawn, as a writer and as the creator of an online course called The Focus Course, which is great. You’re so much more than that. Do you want to give everyone a quick introduction, how you got here and where you came from? I would also like to hear what your biggest struggles have been over the years of getting to the point where you’re at right now.
    • 04:05 Shawn: Absolutely. I’m in Kansas City. Originally, I’m from Denver. I’m a Colorado guy at heart. I’ve been married for going on 12 years, and my wife and I have three boys. It’s insane at our house. We used to call the first two the Twin Tornadoes, but we just had our third eight or nine weeks ago.
    • 04:28 Aaron: Congrats!
    • 04:31 Shawn: It’s awesome. Love it. I love being a dad. I used to be a drummer. I know that we have a lot of musicians around here. Sean McCabe plays a little bit of music, I think.
    • 04:42 Aaron: Yeah, he used to write music, just like he used to do lettering. I still play drums actually.
    • 04:50 Shawn: I used to play drums for a large ministry here in Kansas City, and I ended up transitioning out of that. It’s a long story, but I ended up becoming a marketing and creative director. I ran a team, an in-house design team, with about 17 people—web developers, print designers, web designers, writers, editors, project managers, whatever. We did a bunch of stuff. One of our huge things was that we would host a conference at the end of the year that I was running.
    • 05:18 25,000 people would come out for that. I did that for several years, and then my wife and I got pregnant with our first kid. I was like, “I don’t want to do this work as a dad.” Part of it was just super demanding. Anyone who has experienced working in the corporate design scene knows that it’s a very demanding spot.
    • 05:43 Everything is urgent all the time. I was doing like 80 hours a week, and I really enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun, but I was like, “There’s no way. I don’t want to do 80 hours a week as a dad.” I had that, plus I had this little blog on the side, where I had been writing about marketing stuff. I felt like, “This would be a good opportunity to quit what I’m doing and take a leap, see if I can take my website full time. Could I blog for a living?” That was the thought.
    • 06:13 I was doing about $1,000 a month in advertising and some affiliate stuff. I figured that if I could give it 40 hours a week, I could get the revenue up to a spot where it could pay the bills. I figured that it could grow from there.
    • 06:27 Aaron: How old were you at this point?
    • 06:31 Shawn: I was just about 30, not quite 30, like 29, when I made that jump. I asked everyone that was reading on the site. I said, “I’m quitting. I’m going to do this thing full time.” I asked people if they would be interested in supporting me to write the site for a living. I was like, “If you like what I’m doing, I’ll write more if you want to give me some money to do it.” I did this little membership drive. I was going to charge $3 a month for membership. I was doing a daily podcast as a perk of membership.
    • 07:07 Aaron: You aren’t still doing that, are you?
    • 07:07 Shawn: It’s on hiatus at the moment. We’ll see. I’m going to be diving back into the podcast scene starting early 2017. I miss podcasting. It’s fun.
    • 07:25 Aaron: You decided to ask people to support you, give you $3 a month, to go full time with your writing?
    • 07:31 Shawn: Basically. I figured if I could get 500 people, at $3 a month that’s $1,500, plus the other $1,000 I was doing, and that would be $2,500 a month. That’s not a ton, but I figured that would be enough to cover the bare necessities. I figured that things could grow from there. People signed up, and I hit the 500 person mark by the end of the month before I had even quit.

I started my new job, April 4th 2011, basically fully funded as an independent blogger.

  • 08:05 Aaron: I bet that was exciting.
  • 08:08 Shawn: It was really exciting. I felt like I got this permission slip from my audience to go for it. As a creative person, sometimes you need that. Sometimes you want to be like, “Do you guys care? I’m here. I’m making this stuff.” A lot of the work we do as creative entrepreneurs is for your audience. I know that we’re going to talk about this in a little bit, the customer avatar profile. It’s for these people that you really want to serve. When you hear back from them and they go, “Hey, we like what you’re doing. Let’s keep the relationship going,” it’s like having a DTR with your audience.
  • 08:48 There’s something cool about that kind of permission slip moment. It’s like when you sell your first product, or whatever it is. People are interested. You get your first positive review on iTunes or whatever. Obviously, there’s going to be the junk that comes later, but whatever.
  • 09:08 Aaron: Some of the haters that come later?
  • 09:08 Shawn: You forget about that stuff and you keep moving on.
  • 09:13 Aaron: That’s awesome.

Asking for Money

    • 09:14 Aaron: When you think back, do you remember any big struggles or hurdles that you really had to overcome about that period in your life?
    • 09:22 Shawn: There were so many. It’s hard to say, “If I could do it differently, I would do it this other way,” because who knows? If I had done things differently, maybe it wouldn’t have turned out the way I thought it would. One of the biggest struggles for me was asking for money. It was a huge challenge related to the membership drive. I was asking folks to support me on a regular basis to write for a living. I was like, “Who am I? What kind of a dork says, ‘Give me money so I can blog for a living.'”
    • 10:06 Aaron: Nobody pays for things online anymore. Nobody wants to pay for writing.
    • 10:10 Shawn: Exactly. That was a huge challenge. It has continued to be a challenge for years. I have been doing this for almost six years now, full time. When I came out with my first book, it’s called Delight is in the Details, and it was an eBook package thing. I did some interviews.

I charged $29 for my book, and I felt like this huge hypocrite.

    • 10:34 It was this feeling of, “This is information. Information should be free on the internet. Why would anyone ever buy this?” I felt like there was no value in this thing that people would pay for. I was like, “I have to do it. I’m going to charge for it.”
    • 10:52 Aaron: Sorry to jump in, but at the time, did you really feel like $30 was a lot of money?
    • 10:59 Shawn: Oh my gosh. I woke up feeling sick to my stomach the day I was going to launch it. I was like, “I can’t believe how much I’m asking for this.”
    • 11:07 Aaron: What did you think was going to happen?
    • 11:08 Shawn: I thought that people would buy it because they trusted me, and then they would read it and come and burn my house down because I had ripped them off so bad. I charged so much money for something.
    • 11:27 Aaron: It was your first time launching a product, right?
    • 11:30 Shawn: It was. It was my first product launch ever. It ended up bringing in like $5,000 in that first 48 hour launch window. It made $5,000 that first couple of days. In hindsight, it was this huge inflection point for me. I think I spent about 100 hours building the thing, made $5,000 from it in the first week, and I thought, “Woah, that was a great return on my time investment! Now I have this product that I can continue to sell.”
    • 12:02 Since then, in the last four or five years that I’ve sold it, I want to say that it’s sold $50,000 over the years. That’s awesome. There’s something great about creating a product, and it changed a lot.

Producing and selling a book changed my relationship with my audience.

Now I’m creating products for them to buy.

    • 12:26 That initial hurdle was huge. $29 was so much money. I think that was probably the biggest struggle, of being able to properly identify how much value I’m providing people and to price it correctly. That’s just hard. I think that’s why you should start selling stuff as early as possible, because you have to learn. There isn’t a formula for how much value you’re providing and how much you should charge for it.
    • 12:57 You can’t just plug your stuff into a worksheet and get a number back. You have to feel out the market, your market, your audience, your skill level. How much polish are you doing? How much depth of information are you providing? Whatever skill, service, or product it is you’re providing, you have to learn how to make money and price your stuff! It’s hard to do it when you’re starting.

The biggest challenging for me at first was becoming comfortable asking for money and learning to accurately price my products.

  • 13:38 Aaron: The other thing is that once you launched that book and got familiar with all that stuff, that was a stepping stone to your future products, your future books and courses, and everything else that you’re doing. I’m sure, at that point, you felt like, “Okay. I’ve done this once before already. Now it’s like riding a bike. I just need to get back on and keep peddling, keep going.”
  • 13:58 Shawn: Yeah, absolutely. It really was a huge stepping stone. One thing I loved about creating and launching a product was that there was a start and an end date to it. This thing has to ship. I worked on it, and I was done. I put it out there. Boom, now it’s there. I’m done. It’s out in the world. Obviously, you iterate on it. A year later, I added some new interviews. I added some new chapters. I created some videos. I remastered all of the audio for the audio book.

Product Launch Hiccups

    • 14:29 Shawn: Super random story related to this. It was the relaunch of Delight is in the Details, a year after it had come out, and I put it out there. People are buying it during that relaunch period. I get an email from someone going, “I was just listening to the audio book, and the last chapter sounds like it’s not edited correctly. Something is weird about the last chapter. You should check it out.”
    • 15:03 I recorded the audio book and edited it by myself. I go and I open up the audio book for the last chapter and I’m listening to it, and it is the original take that I did of the book. The way I did the audio book, I’m reading it into my microphone in GarageBand. If I goofed up in the middle of a paragraph, I would just take a pause, say, “Okay, again,” and then I would start talking again. That was my marker. The last chapter of the book was that track, the whole thing.
    • 15:46 The audio track should have been 10 or 12 minutes for that chapter, and it was 30 minutes because of all my edits, retakes, and pauses. The whole thing. What’s worse is, it was there from the very beginning. For a year, I had been selling that thing. I was mortified. For a year, I had been selling my book with the last chapter all messed up, and I was mortified.
    • 16:07 Aaron: Nobody said anything!
    • 16:10 Shawn: They didn’t. Either no one listened to it, or when they listened to it, they just assumed… I don’t even know. I was so mortified. There you go. What worse thing can happen? Earlier, I had been so concerned about selling something that people weren’t going to consider valuable. Here’s this huge, huge mistake. What a goof!
    • 16:36 Aaron: I need to remind everyone that this audiobook is called Delight is in the Details.
    • 16:42 Shawn: The irony, right? That was one of the selling points of the book, too. I was like, “If you buy this book, it’s a case study in sweating the details itself. You’ll see all the areas where I’ve sweated the details in this product.” Whatever. Oh man. I was mortified.
    • 17:04 Aaron: Thankfully, no one came and burned down your house, and it was over a year before anyone even said anything. A lot of us are so curious about people who do such good work, so when a mistake does happen, it’s almost humanizing. It’s like, “Now I can relate to this person, because they’re not 100% on top of everything all the time, either, like I struggle with. I make a lot of mistakes, so it’s kind of nice when you see a really awesome musician on stage mess up a part and then jump back into it. You’re like, “Oh, they are humans, too.” That’s really cool. Nobody burned your house down, thankfully.
    • 17:47 Shawn: That’s why it’s so helpful to ship early. You get stuff out the door and you start learning. I love it.
    • 17:54 Aaron: I tell people this a lot, too, when it comes to podcasts. If you’re thinking about making a podcast, there are so many things you can tweak, improve, or work on forever, but it’s so much better to say, “What’s the minimum I have to do? I want to try and do a good job, but let’s do this, ship it, and iterate and improve on it every single week.”

If you don’t ship something, you just pick at it and tweak it endlessly.

  • 18:24 Before you know it, it’s been a year and a half, and you’ve got three or five episodes you recorded 18 months ago that you’re still working on. In the meantime, nothing has happened.

Start Moving

    • 18:35 Shawn: As well, we have this picture of what we want something to look like and what we want it to be, but we have zero experience. I like the analogy of those lifesize mazes. Especially around Halloween and Thanksgiving, there are those corn mazes. They’re these giant things. Imagine someone standing at the entrance of this life size maze, staring at the entrance to it, and in their mind, trying to figure out how to get to the end so they can get straight to the end the fastest way possible without making any mistakes along the way.
    • 19:17 Impossible! Not going to happen. You have to go in the maze and go left to realize that you should have gone right. Then turn around. You have to go through the thing to make it through. I like the phrase, “Action brings clarity.”

Action brings clarity.

You’re waiting for clarity before taking action, and it’s not going to happen—you have to start moving.

  • 19:37 You just have to get going and you adjust course as you go. You start to realize what you should major on and what you shouldn’t.
  • 19:46 Aaron: That’s an incredible analogy. I’m totally going to use that in the future now. It’s perfect. You sit there and you imagine yourself being at the end of the maze. That’s where you see a bunch of other people. Your friends have gone through the maze and they’re at the end, so you’re like, “I have to get to the end fast. I can’t make any mistakes. I can’t take a wrong turn, because that’s where all my friends are, and that’s where I want to be.” You do have to go through it. That’s really incredible.

Creating a Customer Avatar

    • 20:26 Aaron: Shawn, you sent out an email and you were talking about this. I want you to explain how you think about customer avatars, and then if you did something like that for yourself when you were just starting, or if this is something that evolved over time. Customer avatar and content strategy, go!
    • 20:52 Shawn: This is great. When I first started as a writer, I was doing ShawnBlanc.net. My entire job was publishing articles and links on my website. I didn’t have a customer avatar or a customer profile, what I had was an ideal reader. I think, in terms of podcasting, it’s very similar. Who’s your ideal listener? For me, I actually had a person who was my ideal reader, who’s name was Shawn Spurdee.
    • 21:23 He was a really good friend of mine. He and I had become friends through the blogging Twitter-sphere back in the day. When I wrote articles or links, I had him in mind. I thought, “Is this something he would find interesting? Is there a story in here that he’s going to want to read? Is this a link to something he would like?” You had that ideal reader. John Gruber wrote about this for his site, Daring Fireball.
    • 21:49 He talked about his ideal reader, and he called it “a second version of himself.” He goes, “This person is interested in all the same things I’m interested in, and he cares about what I care about. All the design decisions I make on the site, all the articles I choose to link to, the stories I choose to tell, all of that stuff is with this ideal reader/listener in mind.”

It was instrumental for me to have an “ideal reader” for all of the work I was doing.

    • 22:19 You know who you’re trying to target. I’m still the writer for sure, but we’ve switched a lot more of our focus onto direct sales, building a customer base, and selling products to our audience. I still don’t have that ideal reader. Who am I writing this for? Who is this product being created for? It has gone beyond just an individual person that I know. We did a customer profiling thing. I have a guy who works for me full time, and his name is Isaac. We took a couple of big, giant sticky pad things, two feet by three feet, they’re huge, these giant sticky notes.
    • 23:10 Aaron: Where do you get those? Can you get those on Amazon?
    • 23:13 Shawn: You can get a lawnmower on Amazon, so I’m sure you can get sticky notes. We got ours at Office Max, an Office Depot kind of thing. It’s weird. You drive to this store, and you can walk in, and they sell products on their shelves. You have to pick it up with your hand and drive it home yourself.
    • 23:38 Aaron: It seems like a waste of time.
    • 23:50 Shawn: For this customer profiling session or whatever, basically, we had these four quadrants. What do they think? What do they feel? What do they want? What do they say? Something like that. You’re trying to get this picture of this person. Who is this person? What are the things that they say? Like, “I love my family. I like to watch Netflix.” Whatever.
    • 24:36 Aaron: “I want to learn how to make a podcast.”
    • 24:39 Shawn: Exactly. It’s not just business, it’s just life. What are the kind of phrases they might say? If you ask them what they care about, what things would they list? What are their pain points that they’re feeling in life? For us, creating this customer avatar, we named him Brian. We found a random picture of somebody and stuck it up there to begin to humanize the person.

Your customer avatar is a real person that exists out there.

    • 25:12 We talked about, “Here’s Brian,” and we came up with this stuff. Brian has a job that he kind of likes, but he’s got these other creative ideas that he really wants to pursue. Maybe he wants to take it full time. Maybe not. That’s not really the most important thing for him. The most important thing for him is getting his best creative work out there and being able to do it and feel like he’s making progress on the areas of life that matter to him. He’s also a dad and a husband, and he cares about his family quite a bit.
    • 25:43 He cares about his kids. He still wants to be available for them. When he comes home from work, he’s really tired, so the evenings don’t feel like a good time to do his creative work, but he’s not a morning person either, so he doesn’t know when he’s going to get the time. These are some of the scenarios, the stories, that begin to emerge as you begin to write stuff about this person. What are the pain points that they feel?
    • 26:09 When they look around, what do they see? What kind of car does Brian drive? Does he like minivans? Does he have a minivan? How many kids does he actually have? You really kind of start to come up with this stuff, and there’s a lot you can do to get to a higher level of doing these customer profiles. You can actually do interviews with your customer base.
    • 26:33 Aaron: I do this! I try to meet people and talk to them, especially when it comes to podcasting.

When you interview your customers, you can actually begin to get a real life picture of your real life audience.

Creating an Empathy Map

    • 26:47 Shawn: There’s this thing that we did, an empathy map, and you take the empathy map to create your customer profile. We ran this survey to our email list, and we ran a separate one to our customer list. It was, “When it comes to focus, what’s your single greatest challenge?” It was just this open-ended question where people could write stuff down.
    • 27:17 Some people say, “Time.” Or, “I can’t focus. I’m distracted.” Then you get some people who go, “I’m trying to build my photography portfolio website on the side because I love photography and I’m trying to grow it. I’m working this other job, and when I come home in the evenings, family is first. I spend time with family, so by the time the kids are in bed, I’ve only got about an hour left in the day. I’m so tired, and I don’t want to spend time trying to work on my photography website, so I don’t know where to get started.”
    • 27:54 The person who gives an in depth answer to the challenge like that, vs. someone who just says “time”, they’re really in touch with their pain point. There’s a book called Ask by Ryan Leveque, and you can find it on Amazon. He teases out, “You ask these questions, and you separate the people with the longest answers. You put their answers up at the top.”
    • 28:22 You cut the list at 20%. The bottom 80%, forget about those people, and look at the top 20%, these “hyper-responders.” What are their challenges? What are their pain points? Aaron, you could do this. You could say, “When it comes to building a podcast, what is your single greatest challenge?” You’ll probably have someone who says, “Building my list.” Or, “Building my audience.” Or, “Technical stuff.” But then you might have someone who really gives this heartfelt, in-depth answer.

If someone gives you a heartfelt, in-depth answer, they’re hungry for a solution.

  • 28:54 That person is going to pay for a solution. That person is going to digest this, and when you give them something, they’re going to check it out. Look for these hyper-responders and cater your response to them. That’s what we did. That’s how we figured out that our biggest pain points for people who go through the Focus Course are one of four primary buckets, so to speak. It’s time management, getting traction on their business or side projects, finding clarity on what’s important to them and what they should be doing about it, and a lot of people also feel overwhelmed by all that’s already happening in life.
  • 29:34 Or, they look at the thing that they’re trying to make progress on, and they feel overwhelmed. They don’t even know where to start. Really, all of these things feed off of each other. When one is in a rough spot, the others start to be in a rough spot as well. We go, “Okay, these are the main challenges we’re going to address as part of the Focus Course, in all of our writing. This is it.” The people that fit within these four buckets are the ones who are willing to pay for a solution.

Use Your Audience’s Language

  • 30:04 Shawn: Read the actual responses, the answers, and take the language that people are saying and use it in your articles. Answer their actual questions in podcast episodes. You use it in your marketing language. The landing page for your product, or your podcast, or your sign up, or whatever—use the actual language of your hyper-responder customers. Now, not only are you listening to them and you know who that ideal customer is, but you’re also even speaking their language.
  • 30:35 A) it’s going to be cool because hopefully you’ll do more sales, but B) you’ll actually get to connect with the people you want to connect with. That’s the whole point. That’s why we’re here. That’s one of the huge benefits of having these customer profiles. It can help you stay focused on who you’re trying to talk to and what it is you’re trying to talk about, to help them.
  • 30:59 Aaron: That’s mindblowing. That’s fantastic. At the core, I kind of know this stuff, but hearing you explain it made it even more clear to me. I love that. I want to take it in this direction.

How to Grow Your Audience & Create Deeper Connections

    • 31:19 Aaron: One of the most common questions I get about podcasting is about growing an audience. It’s always, “How do I get more attention? How do I get more listeners? How do I grow an audience?” I love what you said right here.

Use the language of your customer avatar in your content to create a deep connection with them.

  • 32:00 That’s where listeners come from. So many people think that they’ll magically get 100,000 people to listen to their podcast, and they won’t have any idea of who these people are. They’re nameless, faceless avatars on the internet. No! Especially in the beginning, you start small. You develop relationships with people who care passionately about the thing that you’re talking about.
  • 32:26 By investing in them, getting to know them, and asking them questions—regardless of whether you’re doing some kind of business thing or not—by just talking to them and getting to know their language, that’s how you’re going to resonate with them and even more people. What methods have you found effective for growing an audience and developing deeper relationships?
  • 33:05 Shawn: I think that’s a great question. Everyone wants to know the answer to this. For me, there are three primary keys to growing an audience:
    1. Consistency
    2. Honesty and transparency
    3. Relationships.

1. Consistency

    • 33:19 Shawn: Consistency is core. This is a phrase in the seanwes Community, and it’s a phrase I like to use, and that’s this: show up every day. That’s consistency. We’re just people of habit. The internet is a thing of habit, so you have to have that consistency where you’re in people’s regular cycles. Sean McCabe talks about this a lot. You want to be in people’s weekly cycle at a minimum.
    • 33:47 Show up on a regular basis. Also, that’s how people know you’re going to be there. There’s something about that consistency. One of the ways you develop an audience where people are tracking with you and paying attention when you’re showing up consistently.

When you show up consistently, not only do you earn people’s trust, but you create an anticipation of future value.

  • 34:16 You want to have that. That’s huge. People are like, “I want to know what’s next. I want to follow this story and be here.” Consistency is huge.

2. Honesty & Transparency

    • 34:29 Shawn: This comes out in a lot of ways. In some ways, you want to have the transparency like Nathan Barry talks about, to “teach what you know.” Share what you know. Also, there’s a human element, passion and persona, who you are as an individual. Humanizing yourself is so helpful. We don’t want to connect with brands, we want to connect with people. As indie entrepreneurs or indie creative folks, when you are running your own thing, you are a brand but you’re also a person.
    • 35:06 You’ve got to keep the person aspect of it, the human aspect of it, you have to keep it there. Allow your mistakes to show through. Allow your passions to show through. For me, at ShawnBlanc.net, I cut my teeth and grew my audience originally by writing about Apple stuff. I wrote tons of product reviews. It was super nerdy, gadgety stuff. I would also write about coffee, camera gear, books I was reading, music, and things like that.
    • 35:43 Aaron: Stuff you cared about.
    • 35:43 Shawn: Exactly. Other interests that were related to Apple gear because it was my site, and I can write about whatever I want. That humanized the work that I was doing. So many people came to my site because of the Apple stuff but they stayed because of the coffee stuff.

Your focus, your niche, is going to draw your audience, but your ancillary interests will keep people interested.

  • 36:20 You’re a real person with real interests who is not just this robot spinning off the same thing all the time.

3. Relationships

    • 36:36 Shawn: This is huge. I stink at it, but I’m trying to reply to emails. When people email me, replying back to them. Also, here’s a prime example, having me on your show, Aaron. The practicality of it is that when this show goes live, I’m going to tweet about it. I’m going to link to it. I’m going to point the people that track with me over to your stuff. That’s a way for you to grow your audience, but it’s also a way for me to grow my audience.
    • 37:07 Your listeners, a lot of people, don’t know who I am. Now, hopefully, some of them will come check me out and sign up for our stuff. There’s a really cool dynamic here of introducing your group to someone else. Hopefully, that person will also introduce their audience to who you are.

Doing guest-based podcasts is an awesome way to grow your audience.

  • 37:41 I did some back in the day, when I was first starting my site. I did interviews, blog interviews. The whole thing was conducted over email, and it was just this back and forth email. I did one with Daniel Jalkut, who used to work at Apple and then started Red Sweater. He has the best blogging app on the planet for Mac, MarsEdit. It’s a super great app. I emailed him and did an interview with him.
  • 38:11 I did an interview with John Grubar. I did an interview with Brett Simmons, all these people who are super famous Apple people. I’m going back and forth with these guys and posting their interviews. They link to me on my site, and I get this influx of new readers. Or you find software that’s awesome. I would do super in-depth reviews about this stuff, and then people would link to those reviews. Honoring other people, connecting with other people, and doing stuff that’s worth talking about.
  • 38:49 Then the word will spread. That consistency, being transparent and honest about who you are, having that passion and that human dynamic to the work that you do, and then just trying to connect with other people. Do things that people are going to want to talk about. Another example is the summit that we’re doing, the Focus Summit. I’m punching way above my weight class here with some of these folks, and it’s a chance to hopefully get some of their audience to discover the work that we’re doing and visa versa.
  • 39:27 I hope that people who sign up for this summit will get introduced to some new people and that they’ll find some incredible resources. It’s just fun. We’re all just folks trying to do our best work, right?
  • 39:42 Aaron: Absolutely. I love that. That’s one of the best answers for building an audience that I’ve ever heard.

The Importance of Investing One-on-One Time in Your Listeners

    • 39:50 Aaron: The thing that I’m working on, and I just want to share this, is investing more time in my listeners. It’s hard sometimes, because you can spend all the time in the world talking to people on the internet, as I’m sure you know, Shawn. I’m sure people are constantly emailing you, asking for your thoughts, your advice, and your feedback on stuff, and you try to stay really focused. Something I’ve wanted to do is spend a little bit of time every day, like on Twitter, reaching out and telling people that I appreciate what they do.
    • 40:25 Or, if somebody emails me, having a conversation. In depth, giving them 15 or 20 minutes of focus time to reply, and even asking them questions. Someone says, “Hey, thanks for doing your show. I really appreciate this thing.” I’ll reply and say, “Thank you so much. How is your podcasting journey going? What are you working on right now? What do you want to get better at?” Some great conversations have come out of that.
    • 40:52 I’m trying to invest a little bit more in my listeners. I’m at the point now where I’ve started inviting some of them on the show. “Hey, you sound like you’d be a cool person to talk about podcasting with. Would you like to come on the show?” It just spreads.

It’s the building of community that will eventually attract people to you.

    • 41:13 When I started, I had 30 or 40 friends, maybe a couple hundred followers. Every new person that finds my show and gets to know me as a person, who respects the work I do, they might have 200 people that follow them, and they share my show with those people. It just spreads out from there. It becomes this big net.

You can eventually reach people that are far outside of your social circle just by connecting with the people you can connect with right now.

  • 41:45 Let them do the work of sharing your stuff with their people, too.
  • 41:49 Shawn: Yeah, exactly.

Focus Summit & Products

    • 41:53 Aaron: That’s fantastic. We’re getting close to the end of the episode. We need to wrap it up. I told everyone in the beginning that I would get you to talk about this Focus Summit that you’ve got coming up. What’s the deal with this? Tell us a little bit about that.
    • 42:10 Shawn: The summit! I’m so excited about this. We have Jocelyn Glei, who just wrote this book called Unsubscribe, which is a fantastic book. It’s about email distractions and stuff like that. We’ve got Josh Kaufman, who wrote The Personal MBA. Anyone who is trying to do anything related to business, you need to read The Personal MBA. It is a bargain.
    • 42:34 Aaron: So much good advice.
    • 42:34 Shawn: It’s like a $35 book, and that book is so packed. Excellent, excellent stuff. Sean McCabe is on it, and Sean and I talk about how quantity leads to quality, which ties right into this stuff on showing up every day. The summit is going to be really, really cool. When this podcast drops, the summit is going to be kicking off. Here’s the link: The Creative Focus Summit.

You can sign up for the Focus Summit for free.

    • 43:13 After the summit wraps up, we’re opening up registration for our Focus Course. That has become my flagship product. It changed everything for me, in terms of what I was focusing on. I came up with this course as the next product in a series. I had done Delight is in the Details, and I wanted to write a book about diligence and productivity. I wrote the book, and then, long story short, I realized that it needed to be a course.
    • 43:43 I felt like the way that I wanted to get these ideas across wasn’t a book that someone would read, highlight, think was cool, and then puts back on their shelf and returns to life as usual. I want something that’s really going to effect change. I knew that a book would probably go farther, broader, and reach a total number of more people. I would rather fewer people go through the course but have a higher number of them really get real impact.
    • 44:18 For me, the book ended up turning into the Focus Course, and we’ve had close to 1,300 people go through it. It’s basically productivity training for creative people and entrepreneurs and leaders. It’s way, way more than that. It’s not tips and tricks. It’s what I call “meaningful productivity.” It actually gets to the core, the heart, and the foundation. What do you really care about? How are you really spending your time?
    • 44:45 This is not a “Five Life Hacks That Will Help Me Go Through My Email Inbox Better.” It’s hard questions that will make me challenge my assumptions about my family, my work, my down time, and my rest time. Anyone that thinks that taking a nap will improve productivity, the Focus Course is for you.
    • 45:09 Aaron: That’s me!

You have to have a healthy life to do your best work.

  • 45:17 Shawn: You can’t sprint this. This is a marathon, so you have to have that breathing room. The Focus Course opens up after the summit is over, and I’m super excited about it. We’re going to have a whole group of people cruising through in January. We’re doing a winter class for it. We’ve got some forums, so everyone can share their progress. It’s going to be a blast. I’m really excited about it. The summit is free, and the Focus Course itself is going to be something we charge for, obviously.
  • 45:46 Aaron: You have to charge for things, or else people won’t take it seriously.
  • 45:50 Shawn: It’s so true.
  • 45:51 Aaron: You have to invest.
  • 45:52 Shawn: That’s something else. We didn’t get into that earlier when we were talking about the pricing stuff, but that’s another reason to charge for your work. Someone is actually going to have skin in the game. They’re going to find value for it.
  • 46:04 Aaron: They have to ask themselves, “Okay. Do I think this is going to help me enough in my life journey to actually put money towards it?” If they answer that question for themselves and then make the choice to give you that money, they are going to say, “I told myself, I believe, that this is worth my time, so I need to invest my time in it.”
  • 46:27 Shawn: Exactly. Very true.
  • 46:32 Aaron: Where should people go if they want to follow you, connect with you, or ask you questions?
  • 46:40 Shawn: Twitter is a great spot. I’m @shawnblanc on Twitter.