Or said differently, Some Random Thoughts, and Things I’ve Learned About Building a Brand New, Fun & Profitable Community Site from Scratch.
As a few of you know, the last 3 or 4 months I’ve been working on a number of new “authority” sites in one super specific niche. (the spiritual growth and mindfulness marketplace)
In a lot of ways, it’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve done in a long time……simply because it’s given me another opportunity to start something from the bottom up, with pretty much just my own vision to lead the way. (while this is a project with multiple partners, it’s pretty much been my own ideas,input, inspiration and direction that we’re following, or at least insofar as what we’ve built thus far – which offers me a bit of freedom to experiment with things I haven’t quite had on some other more democratically constructed projects in the past)
I’m going to share some of the things I would have done differently, some of the mistakes and simple oversights that I’ve made, and some of the things that are really working wonderfully well, for those of you who are still trying to build something viable, valuable, fun and meaningful in your own markets, niche or industry.
My hope is to give you the inspiration to KNOW, empirically, how easy this work can be.
I’ll probably spread some of these blog posts out over time – or maybe I’ll just hammer them all out in one fell swoop – I’m not yet 100% certain, as I know that most of the folks reading this aren’t ultimately going to be part of what I’m doing next – in my own life and business.
In keeping with the above – I’m pretty much totally “out” of the general online marketing blogging business – if you are on my newsletter list – not the one noted above – but the one that the vast majority of my subscribers are on – some 15K strong – the aweber list that I’ve used for years……I cancelled that account about 45 days ago, without keeping a single name – no exporting to my new list – no email campaign in advance of that – no advanced “warning” or grateful goodbye.
Just one single innocuous email to invite folks to check out a new marketplace project when it launches in September. (oops! Note to self: Invest in a good non end of the world Mayan Calendar)
Because to build something new, sometimes the best incentive is to burn the old.
Take away the comfort of a net – and instead, go back to your instincts – your inspiration – and sense of passion and purpose about working with ideas – and people who truly get what it is that you’ve got. (or not)
I decided a few years ago that I’d love to work with professional people in the spiritual development, the personal growth and the mindfulness/meditation marketplaces.
The reasons are many – and probably a bit out of the scope of what I want to cover here, but in general, being a pretty discplined devotee of various meditation practices over the last 3 or 4 years, I’ve seen first hand how tranformative this sort of “spiritual” practice can be.
(especially for someone like myself – who traditionally fell into the more atheistic/agnostic camp about all things bigger than our bodies)
Having had many extraordinary experiences through very specific meditative practices, and later having some decidedly “paranormal” experiences that I would have laughed off if someone I knew or loved shared with me in the past, I decided I really wanted to spend as much of my life exploring not only these states – the powers and possibilities that they “point” to from the perspective of human potential ……but the people who routinely offered them up as part of their professional practice.
Of course, even as I write this….I’m super skeptical of most of what I read and see in this field.
This does provide some challenges when cultivating a community of passionate professionals in a field where my ideal audience – my target audience and client pool – as well as their fans/followers and friends seem to be, quite often, dangerously deluded about the nature of reality.
But, then again….what do I know about reality?
Not all that much, I guess.
I know the Eagles are winning.
Other than that, I’m not all that sure. So part of this project – and this process – is suspending a bit of my skepticism and working with ideas that turn me on – even if some of the folks I’m working with make me shake my head and roll my eyes, before they spit out a single sentence.
So there is that challenge, if I’m being honest. Staying true to my own sense of power and possibility, while building a brand, multiple blogs, and a businsess around ideas that I’m 100% sure I’m not always going to be on board with, let alone believe.
Of course, the chances are, this isn’t all that applicable to you – as you are probably working in a field or industry not fraught with the credulity challenges above.
So I want to share with you some of the things I’ve done to build a vibrant, viable, and valuable community in this niche, from scratch….pretty much just over the last 90-100 days or so.
This is NOT a get rich quick marketing system – but instead, a process of quite literally, building something. Building a blog – and a brand – and a business – and your bank account, around an idea that turns YOU on – and makes you want to connect with a community (and clients) that you can see yourself cultivating for years to come.
I have no real notes for this blog post – I’m just thinking aloud – but I’ll share with you some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far – and some of the tools I’ve used – and some of the results thus far – and I’ll make all of this into a series that those of you who want to, can keep coming back and checking in on. (i’d recommend subscribing to the RSS feed, so you get updates when I post something new – rather than using the mailchimp newsletter above, as I’m not sending anything out to that list on this at all – or at least not until that marketplace is ready – which may or may not be anytime soon)
So here are some of the really big brush points:
1 – Beginning with the end in mind, as cliche as it sounds…..is so incredibly important. Having a super strong sense of why you are doing what you are doing, and how it will utlimately all be worth it, be that monetarily or psychologically or a creative combination of compelling reasons as to WHY you want to build an authority/community site in your marketplace is just key. If I was just trying to build a directory (which is the first cog in our community – a directory of professionals who work in the field) it would probably never really feel, financially or emotionally, worthwhile to pursue the project.
However, knowing that I have a BIG back end in mind (working with, and developing real relationships with these higher end, often fairly well known spiritual coaches, consultants, teachers, trainers, and “enlightened entrepreneurs” – helping them build their OWN brands with products and books and courses and help them expand their own influence – is a great way of offering overwhelming value in the beginning stages when they have no idea who I am.
Said differently – by creating an authority site that I own – and inviting them to particpate in that – and having them see all of the amazing people, and their professional peers, who are already involved….offers me the appearance of expertise and creates a measure of trust that I simply could not have earned otherwise.
I have complete confidence that I can help 90% + of these folks instantly improve their brands and businesses – their content and communities – but I also know that they have no idea who I am. Proactively creating an authority site – or a community site that appears to be where “all the cool kids are” is a great way of opening eyes – and attracting an audience that wouldn’t pay attention to me otherwise.
(and this is working wonderfully well exactly as designed – we’ve had over 200 people in this niche SELF INCLUDE themselves in this community, just in the last two months alone – many of whom, are now PAYING us to be part of the community every month 🙂
I also of course, at heart….really want to write more – books, courses, products, and so forth. So my BIG back end objective is not only to get more exposure for my own books on spiritual practice, mindfulness and mediation and the amazing array of experiences this offers, I’m culitvating a community of fans, friends and followers amongst some of the most important “thought leaders” in this space – relationships I can later leverage for helping me expand MY audience for my books and blogs on topics that I’m not known for at all. (spiritual stuff)
2 – Complimentary content is the absolutely EASIEST way to grow your community…..without any question. Write nice things about people, and those people will not only read them, but they’ll tell other people to read them too. We’ve used this “sneaky” strategy to have some high profile, TV personalities share our content – and our community with their tens of thousands (or more) social media followers, and this has been a BIG boon for our brand.
How? Because if your community is sharing your content – and that content is driving a ton of traffic – this helps in ways too plentiful to count. BUT….one obvious benefit has been that many TOP level professionals in a niche, are always followed by others who work in the same marketplace, and strive to be as good, or as well known as they are. So if they see the person (or persons) they professionally admire SHARING your community – and specifically, sharing complimentary content you wrote about them – those “second tier” folks are very likely going to be called to join your community as well.
One simple content share – on Twitter – last month – directly resulted in 12 new signs up to our directory in less than 24 hours – half of which PAID for inclusion – which not only generated easy money across a multitude of marketing metrics (sign up fees, adsense clicks, book sales, affiliate offers) – that second group of people ALSO shares with their fans and followers, and so cycle continues to spin.
All of this emanates from a single piece of COMPLIMENTARY content to sort of expedite this process in predictable ways – content that is easy and enjoyable to write as well, especially when you have genuine admiration for those you flatter in print. (or pixel 🙂
Again – this is somewhat disorganized in terms of my thoughts here – but I’d like to also share a few of the REALLY big mistakes I’ve made, especially using the directory model specifically as the launching point of a much larger community project. (next we have a marketplace for digital goods and services that will feature many of the same people – and will leverage our trust and traffic – both from the public – and the professionals – who now regularly freqeunt and recommend our site.
Google hates us.
Yes, I can honestly say…..if my job description was SEO guru for this community – I’ve failed in a major league way. Here is why: (and I knew better…..and saw this coming, I just was lazy and forgetful and didn’t want to ask people for more than the minimum to join)
The people (the 200 or so above) that have joined our site as PROFESSIONALS (e.g. – they are listed on the directory in their geographic area and area of expertise) are pretty much copying and pasting their bio info from their main blog or website. This means that the vast majority of our listings – our profiles – are cut and paste duplicate content. I’ve NEVER been one to bemoan duplicate content – and always offered up an eye roll at the experts who waxed poetic on this and other content marketing sins.
However….I’m now seeing, first hand, through our own internal anaytics and the precipitous decline in natural search traffic (and the way Google has been crawling the site to precede this) that the Google gods think we are a content farm of recycled nothingness.
Of course this isn’t true…..we’re doing all sorts of other things to combat this content wise – but in the short run, at least for the last month or so – Google has cut our natural search traffic to about 5 people a day. (from about 500 we were getting at week 3)
A little bit encouraging is that Bing and Yahoo are both sending us a good amount of natural traffic, but in the grand scheme of things, seeing them in the referall logs every day just reminds me how much better we’d be (and will be) doing if Google would come back to the party.
Interestingly, this defecit has really FORCED me to come up with more creative ways to generate non search traffic – and using the COMPLIMENTARY content approach above has really been a godsend – as our natural referall traffic from social media, and even the links other folks are placing on their own sites, promoting their listing on OUR community, is really more than enough to keep the lights on.
Also – and I’m going to cover this in some depth – (just not today) we are crushing it on Facebook, every day….specifically using QUIZZES and trivia orienited content to generate a seemingly never ending source of inexpensive, paid traffic. Currently, on 3 campaigns that are using quiz content – we are paying UNDER 4 CENTS a click for traffic – which has driven tens of thousands of visitors to our community – many of whom then browse our members, click on their links, click on adsense ads, and so forth. As a matter of fact, we are making actually getting all of our Facebook traffic 100% for FREE, as the clicks on the adsense ads, on a daily basis, more than offset the cost for our FB campaigns.
The other big regret I have that I’ll quickly cover here is, I didn’t include a subscribe to our newsletter checkbox when folks registered for our community until last week. There are some great free plugins that will do this for you – add a “subscribe to xyz list” when you join, and I didn’t do this until way too late. Is it a big deal? Not really…..but it does make sending out a newsletter offer to our community a bit more cumbersome – as there are several hundred PROMINENT people who “could” be on my client newsletter list for premium offers, upgrades, and services I want to sell, and now I’ve got to add them by hand, or email them individually and suggest they subscribe to stay updated for great offers, blah, blah, blah.
When we added the “add to mailchimp” plugin to our registration process – almost 9 out of 10 of our new members have subscribed at the point of registration.
Now, and especially because many of the higher end names are already members…..I worry that we’ve needlessly lost an easy way to connect automatically as we begin to roll out bigger and better offers, and a whole marketplace to boot in about a week.
So…there are some thoughts for you. Again – this is the DIRECTORY model (we’re using the Directory child theme and Vantage from App Themes – the whole combo cost $139 – and I made some very specific modifications to the template that have directly resulted in lots of paid businesss – I’ll share that easy mod with those of you who want it – it’s made a dramatic difference in paid members for obvious (to me) reasons.
Any questions? Feel free to email me and ask – I will start to post questions on the blog and answer those for the benefit of all. (myself included 🙂
Sorry for all the typo’s – this was sort of a pre-game 1 world series brain training exercise in just letting some thoughts flow and see where they went. Hope it was helpful to the (very) small group still paying attention! 🙂