In January 2006, no one had heard of me on the internet. If you searched for my name (not many did), you’d have come across a small, dark website with no signs of life.
Then in February, I started writing a blog on the site…
Fast forward to today, and at least 99.99% of people on the internet have still never heard of me. But that’s OK, because I never set out to be world famous. As an introverted poet, I shudder at the very idea.
I only set out to become slightly famous, a term I learned from Steven Van Yoder in his book Get Slightly Famous. According to Steven, you only need a certain number of clients/customers/fans — so if you can become famous to a relatively small group of people within your industry, then that’s probably all you need to achieve your ambitions.
In my case, I loved working with artists and creatives as coaching clients, and I wanted to find more of them. Back in the nineties, when I started coaching, they were quite hard to come by. I could go for weeks before coming across the kind of interesting, inspiring and enthusiastic client I like to work with. When I discovered social media, I realised it had the potential to help me find many more of them, much more easily.
Think about how you came to be reading this page. Maybe you first found my website via Google. Or maybe you read one of my books. Or maybe you came across a link on Twitter, Facebook or another social network. Or maybe a friend emailed you the link to The 21st Century Creative enrolment page.
However it happened, it didn’t happen by accident. It happened because I set out to connect with interesting, inspiring creative people. People like you.
Every month, tens of thousands of people read my blogs, books, Twitter updates, and these lessons, or listen to my podcasts. Enough of them share the links with their friends and contacts to keep my various mailing lists growing steadily. And enough of them hire me as a coach or buy my products to keep my business growing.
Supposing you had a similar system in place — with people not only reading your words, listening to your music, watching your video or admiring your images, but telling their friends, and their friends’ friends, so that sales and new business opportunities kept landing in your inbox?
Here’s how to get started on building your own reputation (and business) online. The bad news is, it takes a lot of time and effort. The good news is, it doesn’t take much money, and it’s a lot of fun — if you like creating new things and meeting new people, that is.
One of the biggest trends in modern marketing is content marketing. In a nutshell, it means creating and giving a way original media content that doesn’t look like marketing – but functions like marketing.
For example, my small, dark, barely-visited website was full of beautifully written sales copy, telling people how great my coaching services were. It helped to a certain extent, when I could tell prospective clients “yes, I’ve got a website”, but I had to send clients to the site — it didn’t send clients to me.
Then I started a blog at Wishful Thinking, publishing articles containing practical advice for creative professionals — things that they could apply to their work right away, without paying me a penny. My friends and ex-business partners were concerned. “That’s valuable information, you should be charging for it”, they said.
It felt a bit scary at first, but every month, when I looked at statistics for my website traffic, I noticed that I had more visitors than the month before. Here are my monthly website visitors for Wishful Thinking in 2006. Like me, you probably don’t have to be a statistician to notice a trend.
By the end of the year, I’d gone from a handful of monthly visitors to over 6,000 unique visitors per month. It was still small fry compared to many bloggers — but as the months went by, I started receiving e-mails and phone calls from artists and creatives asking if I could help them with some coaching… and towards the end of that year, I started getting high-quality business leads from creative agencies.
The kind of companies who had refused to take my phone calls a few months earlier were now inviting me in for meetings. Instead of having to work hard at selling during the meetings, creative directors were asking me what I would advise, and signing off on my recommendations.
You don’t necessarily need to write a blog. But if you want to get noticed you need to publish some kind of original media. Because that’s what people are looking for when they go online. E.g. A free report, a series of videos, a regular podcast, free cartoons, or an e-mail newsletter that people actually look forward to receiving.
It’s not expensive. Remember the website you created in Lesson 9? All you need to do to transform it into a fully fledged multimedia publishing platform is to go to www.WordPress.org, download the free software, and install it on your web space. You may need some help with the installation and setup process. And if you’re on a budget, then there are plenty of free and low-cost design themes that you can install and tweak. But once you’re set up, it’s not much harder to operate a dynamic WordPress-based website than it is to use a wordprocessor.
I’ve said before that the rise of content marketing gives artists and creatives an unfair advantage at internet marketing. The world is crying out for original and startling media content. And as a creative professional, that’s what you do best, right?
I know some of you will be reading this thinking “That’s all very well, but it’s not as simple as that. I’ve been writing a blog/producing videos/sending out e-mails for weeks/months/years, and I don’t have much to show for it”.
You’re absolutely right. There are plenty of people churning out high-quality blog posts, videos, music, paintings and so on, and attracting hardly any attention. It’s hard work producing creative content on a regular basis, but sadly it isn’t enough. You also need to be networking and building relationships, so that people start linking to your site and sharing your content with their audiences.
So it’s time to revisit Lesson 11, about growing your network online, but with an important twist. In that lesson, we focused on building your professional network, with clients, colleagues and potential customers. But if you want to build your reputation on the web, you need to get yourself on the radar of prominent bloggers, social media power users and other influencers.
A link from even a medium-sized blog with a relevant audience could send hundreds of visitors to your website. And if you get blogged, Tweeted or otherwise recommended by someone with a really big audience, you could get so many visitors that it crashes your website. (So make sure you’ve got a good web host.)
Make it your business to get to know the bloggers and other social media users in your niche. Read their blogs and leave comments. Follow them on Twitter. Link to their sites and build on their ideas. If they have products or services that could help you, buy from them — and send them feedback. Offer to write a guest article for their blog, or request an interview to introduce them to your audience.
And don’t just focus on the so-called rock stars, who will be harder to get through to. Look around you, and there will be other people starting out, just like you, or a little further down the road. They can become fantastic allies if you reach out to them.
3. Build lists
It would be nice if website visitors equalled customers, but unfortunately that’s rarely the case. The vast majority of people who visit your website will never buy anything from you — at least on a first visit. So unless you find a way to capture their attention and encourage them to come back, your website will be like a leaky bucket. It doesn’t matter how much you pour in, if it’s all going to drain out the bottom.
So when someone visits your website, by all means try to sell them something. But you should also offer them a free subscription. Seth Godin calls this a permission asset:
Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.
(Seth Godin, Permission Marketing)
Your subscription could take several forms — free updates from your blog, an e-mail newsletter, or even a ‘ follow me on Twitter’ link. ‘Join my mailing list’ isn’t a very inspiring offer, but it’s better than nothing — if someone gives you their e-mail address in exchange for the promise of sales messages, they must be at least remotely interested in buying from you. But you can probably do a lot better than that. If you’re publishing content via WordPress, it’s easy to offer updates via RSS and e-mail.
Why offer subscriptions?
Because, as any direct marketer worth their salt will tell you, ‘the money’s in the list’. If you can build a list of people who are willing to receive regular messages from you over time, you build authority, familiarity, and trust. They get to know you a little, and realise you’re not going to take their money and run. There’s no guarantee they’ll buy from you, but they should be willing to give your offer a hearing.
Imagine you’re in the market for a new widget.
- Widget Manufacturer X is selling high quality widgets at a great price in your favourite colour. But you’ve never heard of them, and never visited their website.
- Widget manufacturer Y has the same great deal, but you never heard of them either, so you’re not best pleased when they send you an e-mail out of the blue telling you to “Buy now! While stocks last!”.
- Widget Manufacturer Z has been sending you a monthly ‘Widget Wonders’ e-mail newsletter for several months. It’s jam-packed with useful widget-related tips and advice. And they also clearly has a sense of humour and a pithy writing style that makes the e-mail is surprisingly enjoyable way to while away a few odd moments over your morning coffee.
When you’re in a widget-buying mood, which company website are you most likely to trust with your credit card details?
And when it’s your turn to be the vendor, would you like your prospects to see you as more like Company X, Company Y or Company Z?
4. Make offers
It’s all very well having thousands of adoring fans, but it’s not much good to your business if they never buy anything from you. Some people with big audiences get stuck because they’re afraid their ‘friends’ will all unfriend them if they dare to try to sell them something. And some of them probably will. But this is your business remember, you can’t afford to sit there and starve for fear of offending a tiny minority.
Sonia Simone suggests you think of sales as “making an offer”, not “asking for the sale”. If you don’t really believe you are offering something valuable, then you probably shouldn’t do it at all. But assuming you do believe in your offer, then in a certain sense you owe it to your audience to tell them about it. They’re not mind readers.
Think of all the things that you’ve bought the moment you knew about them. If you didn’t discover them, or if nobody told you about them, you wouldn’t have bought them. And you’d have been missing out.
There are several ways to make an offer, including:
- Have a well-written sales page on your website. If you’re not confident of writing this yourself, you almost can’t afford not to have a professional copywriter do it for you.
- Include offers in the e-mails you send to your list. Being careful not to overdo it — nobody wants to read an e-mail newsletter that’s nothing but a series of sales pitches.
- Write a valuable e-book all report and give it away for free — with a note about your products or services on the final page if they’ve read that far, they may be interested in what you have to say.
And remember, no offer is final. If people don’t respond to one offer, maybe they’ll respond to a different one. Each time you make an offer, ask yourself why the people who responded responded, and why the people who didn’t didn’t. Use your conclusions to shape your next offer …
The following episodes of The 21st Century Creative Podcast touch on the themes of today’s lesson:
Written by me, unless otherwise indicated
The ideas in this lesson take months to execute fully, so you might want to bookmark this page for reference.
Get Slightly Famous: Become a Celebrity in Your Field and Attract More Business with Less Effort by Steven Van Yoder. As well as internet marketing, this covers more traditional forms of marketing and PR.
Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers by Seth Godin. Classic book on creating ‘permission assets’ – mailing lists of (potential) customers who give you permission to contact them.
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin. In which he argues that the internet gives us an opportunity to rediscover our tribal roots, and marketers succeed by becoming tribal leaders for likeminded people. One of the few really inspiring marketing books.
WordPress.org – This is where you get the awesome free software that will power your website. (NB make sure you go to WordPress.org, not WordPress.com which is a different kettle of fish.)
3. Build lists
Aweber (affiliate) – The e-mail marketing software I use, and which powers The 21st Century Creative course. Has an excellent reputation as a trusted source that gets your marketing e-mails past spam filters.
Hugh’s Daily Cartoon Newsletter – A free daily cartoon in your inbox from Hugh MacLeod. You should sign up for two reasons: 1. The cartoons will make you laugh (if you don’t mind a few swear words); 2. It’s an object lesson in how to market creative work via e-mail.
4. Make offers
Does Your Customer Want What You’ve Got to Offer? by Sonia Simone
58 of the World’s Greatest Offers by Brian Clark
How To Stop Being Afraid to Sell by Sonia Simone
Seven Copywriting Tips for a Well-Staffed Business Website by James Chartrand