When you first launch your online business you’re going to feel pulled in two directions –
- Start by building up your community, so you have an audience to learn from and eventually sell to.
- Start by trying to sell something, so you have money, which is what you need the most during the startup phase.
While these distinctions might seem confusing, the difference is obvious when you look at the practical steps each of these paths lead to…
- Start blogging, writing guest posts, creating podcasts or publishing videos on YouTube, and building up your social media profiles. Basic content marketing to grow your community so you can learn from them to figure out what and how to sell to them.
Or the alternative…
- Jump straight on to a platform like Facebook, buy ads to send traffic to a landing page, follow up with an email sequence with content designed to sell your product, then keep tweaking things until the numbers work and you have a profitable campaign.
Often this decision is made based on your own strengths.
If you’re a numbers person who knows marketing psychology, the idea of learning how to use an advertising platform and using it to drive traffic direct to offers so you can make money right away, is appealing.
If you’re a content creator, you probably like the idea of sharing your ideas, building your community, interacting with people, then when you feel ready and you have a large enough audience paying attention to you, you offer them something for sale.
I Didn’t Start Out Knowing What To Do Either
Back when I first started my blog, I was not ready to sell anything of my own. I didn’t have the knowledge, the self-confidence, or the experience to pull everything together to sell my own products.
I’m not a numbers person, so even though I knew people who were making incredible amounts of money really quickly just buying ads through Google AdWords, I didn’t feel compelled to follow that path (besides wanting the money of course!).
I ended up spending months just blogging – writing out stories of things I had done as an online entrepreneur. As a result of this focus on content marketing I built an audience. I didn’t make any money though, so in terms of financial return on investment, I was not doing very well!
It wasn’t until two and a half years later since starting my blog that I finally sold my first product. I did make money with advertising and affiliate products long before that, but it was a long time before I felt ‘ready’ to sell my own creations.
Of course the delay had a lot more to do with limiting beliefs, procrastination and good old fashioned fear. I had to grow a lot in confidence, educate myself in how Internet marketing works, plus feel the growth that comes from people telling you they benefit from your work.
Today when I teach others how to get started with an online business, I guide people first to understand some core concepts. Once you understand these, and in particular how they impact your specific situation, you can decide how to proceed next.
For example, one of the most important things to know about making a sale online is it all comes down to one element, which you can decide how to create based on your situation.
That element is TRUST.
Trust Is What Leads To A Sale
It doesn’t matter whether you create a blog and fill it with content to build an audience and then sell them something, or buy ads on Facebook to get people to attend a webinar to buy a product — it’s all about establishing enough trust to get people to ready to buy.
A community is brilliant for building trust.
Once you have a large enough community then making a sale is easy – just present a product and some of your loyal following will buy just because it’s you.
You don’t really need to push for the sale, just tell people about your product and if they want it there is no issue, they already trust that it’s a good product.
That definitely makes life easier.
However if you do not have a community and people do not know who you are, when you try and sell something to them, you have to build trust using a very direct approach or you will make zero sales.
To put it simply, you have to hit them with a powerful marketing strategy using tools like copywriting, persuasion triggers like social proof and scarcity, processes like launch campaigns, and tools like webinars.
The goal is the same – to build enough trust to get people to buy – but you do so using a timeline that is much more compact.
The entire experience from first discovering you to purchasing a product might take a week.
This is quite different to a person who decides to build a community, choosing to foster relationships through steady and consistent sharing of value over months. The timeline from first discovering your work, becoming part of your community, and then buying one of your products might be months or even years!
Of course there is no reason why you cannot do both. Your goal long term should be to have several high impact marketing funnels that convert people into customers quickly, and have a long term community building strategy in place too.
It’s just not realistic to do all of this at once when you are first starting. Right now, you need to ask yourself…
What method should you use to create the trust necessary to sell your product right now?
Bloggers Are Natural Community Builders
In my experience with bloggers they are much better at building community.
While communities take time to grow, you gain vital insight into who your audience are, what they want, what drives them etc.
This is priceless research for deciding what products to sell and how to sell them.
The downside is you might not make any money for months, and you have to put a lot of work into content creation. Even then there’s no guarantee you will build an audience. You have to do some marketing or people will never discover your work.
On the flipside, if you choose the direct selling approach, it forces you to make an offer straight away. It also forces you to put together the materials to make an offer straight away.
Unfortunately the reality might be that you are simply not in a position to make an offer yet. If you don’t know enough about your audience, you’re not sure what to sell, and your selling skills are not up to scratch, you could end up wasting a lot of money running ads to campaigns that don’t sell.
What Should You Do?
My advice is to take the best from both worlds (community building + selling) using whatever resources you have now and can build quickly.
There are many ways you can fuse both community building and selling into the same strategy, for example…
- When you create your first blog posts, design them as a series people can study in order that leads to an offer for a product
- If you’re not sure what product to sell, sell coaching or freelancing first – you can sell your time from day one
- That first series of blog posts can also be your first email funnel – send people emails to each of the blog posts in your series as an ’email course’ they can work through, and also promote your first product offer in the email series
- Do all of this in your first month before you do any marketing, that way when you do go out there and promote your content, when people come back to your blog you already have a process designed to build trust that leads to an offer
- Once that first funnel is ready, all your future blog posts can offer an optin box to subscribe to that email course, so your medium term strategy puts people into your high impact marketing funnel that you build first
- Over time you can improve the funnel, adding a webinar, or a series of videos, or a free report – or all of these elements!
The idea here is you focus on creating the best high impact short term marketing process you can right now, then as you roll out a longer term content strategy using things like pillar posts and acquire more resources (case studies, create more content assets, etc), you can add them to the process.
You can look at this first sequence as your money-testing machine.
All the variables of this process – how many people optin to the email series, how many people open and click the emails and of course, do any of them buy – are the parts of the machine you test to improve.
This is how you learn to sell and how you find out if you have buyers.
The benefit of focusing on some kind of minimal selling process first, is when you do start building your community they are exposed to your offer making process straight away. As soon as you attract your first blog readers you will attract your first email subscribers and possibly your first buyers too.
This methodology allows you to explore your topic and learn about your audience through blogging, but it also gives you a mechanism to make money from day one, and learn about the selling process too.
How much you focus on the selling process versus the blog community building process from there is up to you.
Your results can guide your focus. What is not working well, whether that is not attracting traffic, or not getting people to optin to your email list, or people not buying your offer, dictates what is broken and needs fixing.
There’s a lot to do here of course, but you can see it is possible to enjoy the process of fostering a community to build trust at the same time as putting offers together to make money as soon as possible.