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Do you know why you’re building an audience? Do you have explicit reasons for increasing your number of followers or subscribers? Are these reasons vague in any way?

Building an audience is one of the best ways to increase revenue and grow a business online. It is a method that is tried and true, and while the steps themselves can seem complicated, the goal remains.

But “build an audience” is not the end goal. It is a means to an end.

If you’re building a list but aren’t really sure what you’re building it for, this episode is for you. If you feel like you need to send out tons and tons of emails but it’s not leading to anything and you don’t have any idea of what it could lead to, this episode is for you.

On today’s show we’ll be talking about defining your reasons for building an audience and why the implications of vaguely growing a following without purpose can be detrimental to your brand.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • Know what you’re building an audience for to avoid aimlessness.
  • What you’re building your audience for is an action, which gets to the “why” of your audience.
  • Building an audience can help establish your expertise.
  • Share the process rather than trying to arbitrarily increase numbers.
  • Not everyone wants to accomplish the same goals in the same ways, so not everybody should try to build an audience.
  • The longer you wait to build an audience, the harder it’s going to be to learn how to do it.
  • People don’t show up overnight and start following you—they trickle in over time.
  • If you’re only building something for yourself alone, people are going to notice and they’re not going to want to follow.
Show Notes
  • 03:22 Cory: Kyle, I think one of our biggest mantras that we repeat on this show over and over again is the idea of goals. You have to know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and who you’re doing it for. I’ve had a lot of these conversations, especially in the last four months. I’ve had several conversations with friends of mine, folks in the Community, where I asked them, “What are you building an audience for?”
  • 04:04 I’ve noticed that there can be some confusion about this idea of building an audience. The idea of building an audience is such a hot topic right now. You want to make money? You want to make recurring revenue? You want to build a business? Build an audience! Grow an audience! Get subscribers, get followers! It’s a catch-all for where everything is right now, but it can be a little vague.
  • 04:33 It goes back to episode 14, where we talked about how the numbers don’t matter. What actually matters is the people behind the numbers and the kind of impact you’re making with your brand. What you’re building an audience for is different from why you’re building an audience.
  • If you don’t know what you’re building an audience for, you can start to become a little bit aimless.

  • 04:57 You start doing stuff because you read it on a blog somewhere—“The top five ways to build an audience,” or whatever. There’s no real reasoning behind it. I think that’s an issue.
  • 05:12 Kyle In my experience, I’ve seen three different types of people trying to build an audience. One of those is for some form of popularity. They’re outwardly saying, “I have so many followers,” and it’s an arbitrary number. “I want to have this many people following me online.” Then there are people who want to do it to match up to those they’re associated with.
  • 05:44 Maybe it’s somebody they’re friends with. Let’s say you have a friend with 5,000 on Instagram. You don’t feel as adequate as they are if you don’t have that number. Some people feel that way. I guess there’s another group of people that just aren’t that concerned with it. Then there’s the group of people that we’re really talking to here that want to actually grow something, make a business. You actually have goals in mind, and you want to attract a specific type of person, a specific audience for what you’re building.

Why Are You Building Your Audience?

  • 06:43 Cory: Something that goes hand in hand with that is thinking that why you’re building an audience is the same as what you’re building an audience for. Maybe you want to build an audience because you say, “I want to make a living off of what I do online.” Let’s say you’re trying to build an audience on YouTube, and you’re like, “I want to sustainably provide myself with income through this YouTube channel.”
  • 07:14 That could be a why. That can definitely be a reason. What you’re building an audience for is different than why you’re building the audience. Let me explain what I mean by that. Let’s say you build up this audience. What you’re building an audience for is the method by which you use that audience to achieve why you’re building the audience. I hate the term “use the audience” because it feels so derogatory.
  • 07:48 Let me make this a little bit clearer. Let’s say you’re trying to build a list, like an email list. At the end of the day, you’re like, “I want to build an email list because I want to make a living doing web design.” What you’re building an audience for is the product they’re going to buy at some point that helps you achieve your goal.
  • 08:18 If you don’t have anything that you’re leading them to, if you don’t have a product or a way that you’re going to make money or achieve a goal, all you’re doing is growing an audience, hoping that end goal happens at some point, by some magic spell or whatever. What you’re building this audience for is to say, “I’m building this audience so that they will buy this course.”
  • 08:46 Or, “Buy this product,” or, “Buy this video,” or, “Sign up for my subscription site,” or, “Donate to me on, so that I can do X. So that I can achieve my goals. So that I can make a living online.” The problem comes when your reason for building an audience is just, “I need to have an audience.”
  • Having an audience doesn’t bring you anything in and of itself.

  • 09:18 Kyle: Just having a list of people doesn’t do anything. Let’s just be real here. You can go online somewhere and pay money to get people to sign up for things, to look like you have a lot of subscribers to your email list, your social media, or whatever, but that doesn’t accomplish anything. It has to be people who are actually interested in what you’re doing for that to ever amount to something that you can sustain in the future.

Kyle’s “What” & “Why”

  • 10:01 Cory: Kyle, you’re building an audience right now.
  • 10:03 Kyle I am.
  • 10:06 Cory: What are you building an audience for?
  • 10:09 Kyle I thought through this a little bit. At the heart of it all, I want to gather people around the common desire to connect with others and project a clear message that fuels forward momentum. That’s the heart of everything. Of course, there are my personal goals, which are things like being with my family, not being concerned about my income, and all the things that come along with it because I’m able to have people interested in the products I produce and the things I make.
  • 10:47 I’ve thought a lot lately about the bigger picture, the bigger why. I have this future vision of things I want to be doing, but the “why” between what I’m doing now and what I want to do in the future hasn’t really connected that well. I started thinking about that. I’m growing this audience. How does this audience benefit from my vision of the future? Maybe they don’t all follow along in the future when I start to build toward different things.
  • 11:25 What kind of audience am I building, and am I letting them down by having that vision in the future? I think this reason that I just mentioned about building people around the common desire to connect with others and project a clear message, that’s the heart and essence of icon design. It’s the human side of UI or UX design. Icons are objects we’re used to seeing in the real world, so they connect us with other people and speak a message.
  • 12:02 Either through expressions, like emoji, or through directions, like in certain apps where you can hit a back button or click on recent notes you’ve created or something. In the future, I really want to help other people with some things I’m doing now. I think that continues to reflect that same reason for building this audience.
  • 12:35 Cory: Can I put you on the spot? You said that your reason was gathering people around the desire to connect with others and project a clear message. Do you know how you plan to do that?
  • 12:55 Kyle Well, I’ve actually been working on that, so, yes. The end of last year, I took a really hard look at this. I’ve mentioned this before. Soon after seanwes conference in October of last year, I started thinking about what I’m doing, what I’m focusing on, and who I’m targeting. Who is my target audience and why should they care? Right now, I’ve realized that I was sort of trying to speak to people who have an interest in icons, specifically.
  • 13:42 That isn’t really that big of an audience. Or maybe the audience I’m trying to attract doesn’t know about icons yet. Part of my goal in the future is to raise more awareness about icon design as a principle. I started looking at UI and UX people. That’s a fairly broad area of design, and I started realizing that there are a lot of things, especially in the UX community, about communicating and using the appropriate things in appropriate places.
  • 14:19 Not littering the page with icons, for instance, but putting them in strategic places. The user experience design is all about the experience and helping people connect with whatever the product is, other people, or whatever they’re trying to create. Is that what you’re looking for?

What Action Do You Want Your Audience to Take?

  • 14:41 Cory: Yeah, but I’m also looking for specifics on what the action is that you want your audience to eventually take to help gather people around the common desire to connect with others?
  • What you’re building your audience for is an action, which gets to the why.

  • 15:09 For instance, for me, my reason for building an audience, at a very high level, is that I want to help the people I can without worrying about how much it costs, what the method is, or how long it will take. That’s a very high level, slightly vague explanation. It makes more sense to me than to anyone else, but that’s what I want to get to. That’s going to take freedom in time and freedom in finances.
  • 15:40 What I’m building an audience for is a specific action I want people to take as a result of being in my audience. For example, what am I building an audience for? I want to build an audience for getting me to my reason, and how I want to do that is something like hiring me for consulting. Or, I make a course at, and I want them to buy that. One, because it will help them.
  • 16:12 I really think there are a lot of people out there who are being benefitted by this. In fact, people email me all the time saying, “I really love your guys’ show, I love what you’re saying and what you’re doing.” In fact, I get more emails talking about how great you are, Kyle. I want to build an audience. I want them to get value. I want to help them, but I also want there to be an action there that helps me help the people I can without worrying about how much it costs.
  • 16:50 I want them to buy a product, hire me, or hire us at seanwes media when that gets off the ground. Or I want them to become part of the Community. Or I want them to sign up for seanwes conference that’s coming up here at the end of September. All of those things are there to bring value to people, for sure, first of all. Also, they’re there to help me achieve my goals, ultimately.
  • 17:20 When the company I work for does well, I do well. If I was running my own business, when my business does well, I do well. It helps me get to my goals.
  • You build your audience for an action or actions your audience takes that helps get you to your goals.

  • 17:42 Kyle: You’re talking a little bit more about short term things that help me fuel that reason.
  • 17:49 Cory: Could be short term, could be long term.
  • 17:52 Kyle All the things you mentioned are short term. I’m thinking like 15 plus years in the future here. That’s part of what my reasoning is, that’s part of why I had that reason. It applies to very, very future goals. If I get to where you’re at, currently, I’m working on a guide called Choosing Great Colors, and it’s about getting good color pallets and connecting people with the message you’re trying to send. That could be one example, I guess.
  • 18:30 Also, the Learn Icon Sets course that’s coming out later this year, that’s a course that’s specifically about an issue of creating icon sets that are cohesive and communicate with other people and connect with the missions other companies have in a clear way. Are those the kind of things you’re looking for?
  • 18:54 Cory: Yeah, and I think another thing that you and I have talked about before, Kyle, is how you’re positioning yourself as an expert in your field—as the expert in your field. Ultimately, that helps you get to this 15, 20, or 50 year goal, this reason you’re driving for. Building an audience can also help establish your expertise. It doesn’t always have to be a financial thing.
  • 19:28 If you’re seen as an expert and you’re in front of the right kind of people, when you make an ask, people find out that you’re for hire, you release a course, or whatever, those are the bridges between where you are right now and accomplishing the bigger picture.

A You-Centered vs. An Others-Centered Audience

  • 19:57 Kyle I will say, on a different note, something I have actively been trying to do lately is try to reach out and actually have conversations with people. For example, on Instagram, I’ve gone into some deeper question territory just to see. I mentioned the value of time and using time wisely, and that it used to feel like I was in this loop of not using my time effectively.
  • 20:31 Some other people reached out and said that they had the same thing, and we had good conversations. They were struggling right now. That felt really good. That was part of connecting deeper with my audience, actually understanding who’s there. I know who I want to be there, but who’s really there? I really value my audience and I love it when I get to talk with people, but there are occasions when I’m in focus mode.
  • 21:08 I realized that I don’t just have sporadic conversations like that. That’s something I want to work on, to just talk. Let’s just talk as people. I want to get to know my audience instead of just hoping whoever comes along sticks to whatever I’m projecting. That’s a piece I’ve been working on lately.
  • 21:33 Cory: What you just said is such a common story. I’m not talking about your case, but what you said—“I’m just going to project something and hope it sticks. I’m going to do a thing I really like to do, and I hope somebody likes it.”
  • Building an audience is not only about what you want to do, and getting affirmation and attention around that.

  • 22:01 Some people have built an audience that way and some people can build an audience that way, but that’s not really others-centered. Everything I’ve heard you say, Kyle, is all about wanting to connect people. It’s not even about your goals as an individual, like being with your family more, not worrying about income, and having that kind of freedom. Those are all great goals as well, but I love that you’re talking about what it’s actually going to do for other people.
  • 22:34 There are people who just want to build an audience because of what it’s going to bring them rather than wanting to build an audience because of what they’re able to give to other people.

Should Everyone Build an Audience?

  • 22:56 Kyle Sebastian asked earlier, “Should everybody try to build an audience?” I’m curious about your thoughts on this, but I want to say this real fast. Years ago, I kind of started building an audience. It wasn’t necessarily intentional, but I wanted to share, as someone who makes visual things. I wanted to share that online and get feedback from people. If anyone had anything bad to say about it, I wanted to hear it.
  • 23:26 Or, if it was good, that’s great. I started sharing things on Dribbble, which is very design-centric. I grew an audience there. I had close to 800 followers before I even knew I had an audience or what that would even help me with in the future, as far as a business goes. There’s real value in that.
  • There’s value in sharing the process rather than trying to increase numbers for its own sake—share things you’re doing as you go.

  • 24:06 I was sort of mindlessly doing this. I wasn’t trying to get people to follow me on Dribbble. I wanted to share these things and talk with people and see what other people were doing. That’s what I have tried to go back to a little bit. When you get into “audience-building mode,” you kind of get into that “we need to increase the numbers” type of thing. Whether you mean to or not, you start to get into that mode.
  • 24:43 Then you realize, “I don’t want just anyone. I want to actually connect with people.” Personally, in Sebastian’s case or for anyone who wants to make a living from what they’re doing and perceives that in the future they would need an audience to do so, I think you should start building an audience now. Even if it’s 10 people, at least allow that to grow and have a relationship with some people.
  • 25:16 You can’t just flip the switch one day and decide you want to have an audience and decide you want to start selling things, that you want to build a business, and you don’t have anyone.
  • 25:33 Cory: Yeah. I’m thinking. I often talk very quick, but I like thinking about what you said. I think another angle of that is this. Sebastian asked, “Should everybody try to build an audience,” and my answer to that is no. Not everybody should try to build an audience, because not every person wants to accomplish the same goals in the same ways.
  • 26:11 Audience can mean different things. Are you just trying to build up a count of a certain number so you can look really good on some ratings so you can get an ad deal or a sponsorship? Or do you have a small business, and the best way to grow it is word of mouth, so you go out and make relationships with people and have one-on-one conversations and do it that way? That’s totally fine, too.
  • 26:39 The primary reason why I am working on building an audience right now is because I know that next year, it’s going to be different. I’m going to have to keep learning how to build an audience. In five years, having an audience is going to mean something completely different than what it means right now.
  • In ten years, having an audience is going to mean something completely different than what it’s going to mean in five years and what it means now.

  • 27:08 If you’re wanting to have some kind of an online presence in any regard, if you’re wanting to try and build a business, make money, and bring in revenue and income online, you have to have people who care. You have to have people who care enough to give you money, and you have to be ready to share and deliver incredible value and make great products so that the people who care and have money will give you the money.
  • 27:41 They’ll give it in exchange for that value, of course. They won’t just give you the money. It takes a little bit of self-knowledge and a little bit of forethought. Think through what you want the next few years to look like and what you want your income to look like. If you’re very comfortable working at a day job and you don’t want to be an entrepreneur, you’re not going to try and build something that brings you income in the future online, you’re fine with your job and what that brings, that’s totally fine.
  • You don’t have to build an audience if you’re happy working in your day job.

  • 28:18 Making a salary does not require that you build an audience, necessarily. However, if attaining your goals and getting where you want to be requires that you have people online exchanging money for value, then at some point, you’re going to need to start building an audience. The question is, why would you start in five years from zero when you could start now and, in five years, have more than zero?
  • 28:53 It really depends. Ask yourself, “What do I want the future to look like? Do I want to get into this realm? Do I want to have any kind of a presence online?” Acknowledge that the longer you wait to build an audience, the harder it’s going to be to learn because it changes all the time. At one point, the best way to get an audience and get money was to buy an ad on TV, to make an ad and get it on TV—or to make an ad and get it on the radio!
  • 29:26 At one point, that was the way you built a business, that you built an audience. It’s totally different now. In some cases, today, it’s Instagram, it’s Snapchat, it’s social media. For some fields, it’s LinkedIn. For others, it’s Facebook. For others, it’s a variety of others things. In five years, it’s going to be completely different. The longer you wait to start building it, the harder it’s going to be. The more you grow and age, the easier it is to lock into what you know and not be willing or able to learn new things as fast as you want to.

Preparing to Build an Audience Later

  • 30:10 Cory: There are a lot of small ways that you can prepare to build an audience, even if you’re not building one right now. You can prepare yourself for that time. For Sebastian, if he’s not selling a product online but in five years, maybe, he wants to, maybe he can start a blog and get comfortable writing online. Maybe he can do something now that builds up an archive and a habit, that gets him comfortable.
  • 30:36 That way, when people start to follow, because people follow consistent output and valuable content, you get to that point and you’re already ahead of yourself. You’re ahead of where you would be if you had started later.
  • 30:55 Kyle If you know that’s something in the future that you want to have, you inevitably have two choices. You can either start building it now and get over thinking that you have to be at some certain level to start sharing online. You don’t. Being consistent is great and I highly believe in that if you’re actively trying to build an audience, but you can just start sharing things.
  • 31:23 Somebody will follow along. I have people who have followed on Twitter for forever. They’ll come up to me at a conference and talk to me about that, and I don’t ask this, but my first thought is, “Why did you follow me back then? I wasn’t really trying to do anything.” You start to grow because people get interested in what you’re doing. The alternative to that is to wait until you have some magnificent thing you want to share with people, and then nobody’s there to hear about it.
  • 31:57 You get in this scarcity mode, and you’re like, “I’ve got to build an audience, because I spent all this time on this thing and I want to do this.” Or, “I want to get out of my day job, and I built up a business plan for the last three years. Now I want to get out of it,” but you haven’t built any kind of audience or any sustainable way to actually move forward. There’s a disconnect there.
  • People don’t show up overnight and start following you—they trickle in over time.

  • 32:26 It grows because you know what you’re talking about or they see the process of learning in the same way they want to start learning. Or you’re one step ahead of them, and they want to learn what you’re doing. All of those things factor in here, and it’s not just something you can jump into overnight.
  • 32:47 Cory: It’s something you can jump into overnight, but it’s not something that grows overnight.
  • 32:51 Kyle Yeah. I should have clarified there. Having a substantial audience that’s interested in what you’re doing and can sustain your business moving forward, that doesn’t happen overnight.
  • 33:06 Cory: There’s that saying, “All overnight successes take about 10 years,” or something. “My overnight success happened after 30 years!”

Lead by Serving

  • 33:26 Cory: We talk about this every once in a while, about how some of our episodes are highly practical and some of our episodes are about getting people to think. This is definitely a thinking episode, thinking about why you’re building an audience, what’s the reason, and what’s the long term goal? What are you building an audience for? What’s the action you want your audience to take to get you to your goal? And how is that beneficial to them?
  • 33:56 How is everything between where you are now and where you are in your goal beneficial to other people? I see a lot of brands that are very self-absorbed and very self-centered, and it’s not sustainable, especially going forward. In a future episode, we’ll talk about transparency and authenticity and the growing appreciation and value for that.
  • If you’re only building something for yourself, people are going to notice and they’re not going to want to follow.

  • 34:31 A leader that leads for themselves ends up being alone, but a leader that serves is going to be one surrounded by people who love them and want to follow along, who are willing to invest because they know that the leader is there for them and has their best interest at heart. They can make their lives better and make the world a better place for them, and that’s all I want.
  • 35:02 Kyle That’s the most important thing.