Across industries and specialties, most consultants have at least one thing in common: a long to-do list. Between the services you offer for clients and all the strategies you pursue for your own business, the work often feels neverending. But one goal many consultants swear by—even though it takes work and time to pull off—is building an audience.
The internet is full of websites competing for people’s attention. You may wonder if it’s really worth your time to try competing against the Facebooks and Reddits of the world to wrangle the attention of an audience. The answer, in short, is absolutely.
For one thing, building an audience for your business isn’t just about gaining attention. Gabriela Cardoza shares that “building an audience...has allowed me to build a sense of community that in turn has increased my brand’s credibility, trust, and recognition.”
And as your audience grows, you stand to learn more about who they are and what matters to them. As Nathaniel Hansen puts it, “Knowing more about one’s existing clients, their look-a-likes, and their influencers drives specificity in PR, advertising, content marketing, and relationship building.” And specificity is the path to more effective marketing campaigns.
And finally, it affects your bottom line. For Dennis Shiao, “Building an audience is valuable to my business because a percentage of that audience will convert to become clients.” But he adds, “That conversion is only possible if I’m building the right audience and providing utility in serving their needs.”
Once the why is obvious, you have to figure out the how. And growing an audience isn’t one-size-fits-all for consultants—you need to figure out the right strategy for your particular business and audience.
To develop an approach that works for you, it helps to understand what’s worked for others.
Gabriela Cardoza, Brand and Social Media Marketing Consultant of CardozaGab describes her process of audience growth as involving “a lot of active listening and proactive outreach.”
“I like to first get a solid understanding of where the target audience is and what their needs are,” she explains. “The more you know the easier it is to reach them...I want to make sure that I’m reaching and connecting with people who understand and can benefit from my, or my client’s, unique value propositions.”
Finding the right audience, and knowing enough about them to speak to their unique needs is how you reach people who will be engaged and motivated to participate as not just an audience, but a community. “For a long time, I approached building an audience as growing a following. When the following became a community because people felt understood, supported, empowered, and engaged it transformed my business,” Cardoza says.
For Nathaniel Hansen, MA, Director of Research at The Socializers, “audience intelligence and audience building is crucial for clients I work with across different domains.”
“Knowing more about everything a certain segment is talking about is equivalent to running focus groups on the fly and is a powerful way to gain qualitative insights on an audience segment,” he adds. “Combining the insights from the Insights dashboard in Audiense with insights from conversation analysis brings tremendous value to our clients.”
Having that intelligence is an important precursor to applying it to your larger strategy to build relationships. For clients in the financial services domain, he shares, “we’ve definitely used analysis of our own networks to create new relationships.”
“We look for specific types of individuals who have large networks and can develop awareness, introductions, and sales for our clients. So quality of the audience is important in this case, with a specific scoring protocol to build the final audience,” he adds.
Dennis Shiao, the Founder of Attention Retention runs a marketing consultancy. He uses audience building both in establishing his own business, and as a service for clients. For his consultancy, the most effective strategy has been hosting a regular meetup.
“I launched the Bay Area Content Marketing Meetup six years ago with a focus more on building a community than building an audience.” His goal was to help marketers network and learn but, as a lucky side effect, the meetup helped create an audience for his business as well—one that includes many professionals that later became clients.
And because the community that’s developed around the meetup finds it valuable, they now help promote it to new audiences. “It’s like a form of employee advocacy, but for a community. I see about 10% of members being the most active and they’re doing it on their own without being asked,” he says. As long as you’re providing true value, good audience building tends to become exponential.
Ellis Mbeh, Founder and Principal of Pivotal New Media, treats audience building as a key component of the media buying and marketing strategy development process they provide to clients.
“Our consultancy believes that audience-centric strategies are crucial to success for digital marketing,” he emphasizes. They use audience analysis to understand where people are hanging out and what kind of language they use. “This helps us with the development of our queries, interest lists, key players within the conversation (influencers), and competitors within the space,” he explains. “Then we use those key points to assess topics, content pillars, target audiences for ad buying, and audience segmentation analysis via Audiense.”
All of that then gets applied to their marketing strategy to ensure it’s relevant enough to inspire engagement—a key goal. “An engaged audience is one that's likely to continue interacting in the customer journey,” he says. “Whatever other innovations come out—nothing beats the sweat equity of directly engaging audiences to build an engaged audience and promote your thought leadership.”
Freelance writer Kaleigh Moore has been steadily working for over five years to build an audience of freelance writers through her email newsletter. For her, building an audience helps with building authority for her personal brand, and aids in content distribution. Her main advice on finding success in audience building is simple: “I really just try to share what I know, teach when I can, and consistently provide value.”
It also helps that she knows who she’s talking to. The newsletter is focused on the needs of a niche audience of freelance writers (a role Kaleigh knows more than a little about). And for consultants working to build a brand based around one main person, she emphasizes the importance of authenticity. “Be yourself! You don't need a schtick or alter ego.”
For John Hanson, the Audience Development Manager for the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), audience building is literally his job. At CMI, their main audience-building goal is growing email subscribers, and for good reason. “Subscribers that opt in to receive communications have a higher propensity to convert to additional CMI programs, especially our in-person events and online education,” John says. They use two main tactics for gaining subscribers: a pop-up on the website, and a leaderboard ad suggesting readers “Join over 200,000 of their industry peers.”
But gaining new subscribers isn’t their only important goal, they also care about understanding the audience they’ve gained better, and working to keep them. “We have so much data on customer action,” he explains. “We can drill down to the member level to see what categories are resonating. We can cross reference this by company, job title, job function and more, which then impacts our paid acquisition strategies.”
And to maintain retention, they make sure the content they provide matches subscribers’ preferences. “It’s important to also make sure you’re giving your subscribers what they need,” he says. “Segmentation helps – sending them only the content that’s most relevant to them. Honoring what they signed up for is also critical.”
Building a committed audience drives tangible results. Kaleigh credits her audience-building efforts with helping her land $50,000 in sales of her digital products. And Dennis reports that around a third of his clients found him through the meetup.
But don’t feel like you have to try to be everything to everyone. Most consultants that find success with audience building are strategic. They clarify who they want to reach, and work hard to understand what matters to that audience. And you don’t need a full team to do effective audience research—even a consultant with limited resources can gain insights into what your audience is thinking and feeling with the right audience intelligence software. Audiense Insights makes the process of finding your audience and learning what they care about manageable, even for a one-person business.
Understanding who you’re talking to is a crucial step in knowing how to provide value. And value is a necessary ingredient in every success story of audience growth.