I was wrong: audience != customers

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    That's why when you get a lot of Twitter followers, the only logical thing to do is to make "How to get Twitter followers" course on Gumroad.

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    I think the problem with statements like this these days is people build audiences selfishly. Their goal is to grow their audience, rather than gain credibility, relationships or trust.

    I know that building an audience can equal customers, but you have to think strategically about where you want to head. And you absolutely shouldn't think of your audience as customers, think of them as learning opportunities, relationships, friendships.

    Even better, think of it as building a community around you instead of an audience.

    I've had a blast building up my credibility in community over the past couples of years. I have an audience/community because of that.

    Does it lead to sales and opportunities? Yes.
    Do I actively sell to them? No.
    Did I have specific plans on where I was heading? No, I kept an open mind and built up on things day by day.
    If I launch a product will my audience be my target market? Not really, personally I don't like selling stuff constantly to people who follow me. But they've brought me trust and credibility that will help me to the next stage.

    My previous business was a community, I built a community for quite a long time before deciding how to turn it into a (7-figure) business. And the community was who I sold to.

    As with all things indie, there is no one way. You can build a business with or without an audience. With or without a community. With or without experience.

    Figure out what works for you and what you enjoy doing.

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      Great expansion on the subtleties here, Rosie. Thank you.

      The mistake I made was to assume that the audience I build would also buy my product. And I'm talking specifically about Saas, as I do believe your audience can be your customers for creative work.

      And I am not fan of the idea of building an audience just to sell to them. Not my style for sure.

      What I hadn't considered is building a "community", and it's interesting that you've managed to build a thriving business around it. I'd love to learn more. Do you have any links to where you've talked about that journey?


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        Rosie also has a great newsletter on communities:


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        I did an IH podcast last year and an interview a few years ago.

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          Thanks. Will look them up.

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    Great thread, and thanks for the shoutout in there.

    One of the most important principles is to know who you want your future customers to be. Your "target audience" can't just magically appear on Twitter by default. You will need to find them in the locations they already visit.

    I'm writing about this discovery process at the moment. One of the examples that I really like is ravelry.com. It's a forum with millions of regular visitors that's only focused on knitting, crocheting and all kinds of needlework. It's not on Twitter, it's not on Facebook: it's right there, inside this forum-based community. If you want to build an audience for people who knit, your best bet is to become a part of their community and build your audience in there.

    So when we see people on Twitter sell Twitter-audience-building courses, then that's a clearly intentional thing. But you also see people like Paul Jarvis being incredibly active, building a brand around himself and his SaaS Fathom Analytics. When we look at Twitter, two things happen:

    • In most cases, founders who are very active on Twitter are targeting an audience made eup of potential customers of their BUSINESS who are also on Twitter. Their Twitter audience is future customers. This is the professional brand.
    • In many cases, founders who are very active on Twitter are building a personal brand as a reputable FOUNDER, regardless of the actual product and business they build. Their Twitter audience is other founders. This is the personal brand.

    In some business cases, you can build both on the same platform. For many businesses, only the personal brand one will work on Twitter, and you will have to build a parallel audience within the communities where your prospects hang out.

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      Thanks for the input Arvid.

      I love that Ravelry example! I think I heard it first in your interview with Rob Fitzpatrick.

      And I totally agree with the advice to go where your customers are. You also make a good additional point of making sure you embed yourself and be an active member of that community (there's that c word again!).

      I think Jason Fried and DHH are also good examples of founders who have successfully built their professional brand. The principles they believe in are also embedded in the products they build. So their audience (more like fans) and customers overlap a huge deal.

  4. 3

    I totally agree that people get very confused about what it means to build and have an audience.

    An audience is a group of people with common goals and interests, that you can study and most importantly SERVE.

    I think the issue here is that you mistook "followership" for audience. You can do all kinds of things to grow a followership, and end up with nothing but bigger followers than you started with.

    The real value – the REAL asset – of building an audience is earning their trust.

    When you have an audience that trusts you, it doesn't matter what you make for them. If it's SaaS, educational products, or something else entirely. If they trust you, and you've taken the time to understand their problems, and made something that they feel like is made just for them, you'll have paying customers on day one.

    If people aren't buying, I find it an interesting choice to decide that having an audience was somehow the problem.

    There's also:

    • Is it an audience that tends to buy on value?
    • Is it an audience that tends to buy software to solve their problems?
    • Were you effective in communicating the problem that your software helps them solve?
    • Was the problem painful enough that they'd be willing to pay for it to be streamlined or automated?

    Here's something for you to chew on: the idea that software is "special" in how it's sold and marketed only exists among people who make software.

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      Thank you Alex! Even more evidence that "audience" means different things to different people. "Followership" is closer to what I think I was trying to build.

      You're right, trust is the real asset from audience building. And I think that comes also from reputation, e.g. "Alex Hillman has the reputation(*) for deeply understanding how to grow a business", so when you launched TinyMBA, I trusted and believed that your book will provide value to me (it did, btw).

      I think the title of this post gives the impression that I'm blaming my audience, which I'm not. I am getting signups to my software, but they're not from my audience. So my conclusion to this was that just having an audience does not necessarily mean you have a ready group of customers for what you launch. In my case, perhaps I simply did not build what my audience needed. (My audience building was on Twitter and the product I launched was a Twitter bookmarking web app and browser extension).

      Your last statement is definitely food for thought. And I'm beginning to see that there's a better way to build an audience. One that you can serve and, over time, will trust you enough to buy what you build.

      Thanks, Alex.

      (*) By the way, trust and reputation are themselves fascinating topics to study.

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        Have you thought about the steps it takes to "ready" people in an audience to be customers, too?

        Think about it this way: even if you solve a problem that someone has, peoples' attention is most likely to be literally anywhere except thinking about signing up or buying something from you.

        People assume that Software, especially low-touch SaaS, is the sort of thing that people just walk off the street and buy but if you analyze the way people make decisions (especially buying decisions) you notice that there are lots of little steps in between "never knowing about your thing" and signing up or buying.

        Some people zip through the steps so quickly that it seems like they skipped them, but the truth is that they were already primed/prepared. MOST people, though, are somewhere on the spectrum of awareness to ready-to-buy.

        Regardless of the audience, and the product, SALES is figuring out where someone is on that spectrum, meeting them there, and doing what's needed to get them ready to move to the next step. Sometimes that's a 1-1 human interaction. Sometimes that's educational content. Sometimes that's a line on a page that makes them reflect on the problem they want solved.

        I broke the 7 steps down in the context of a launch, but every day is launch day for someone in your audience when signup and buying is self-serve. And while this is almost certainly not perfect and complete, it's a good start to realizing where your audience is on the spectrum and what you need to do to move them along.

        1. they need to believe you understand their problem
        2. they need to believe you’re capable of helping them with your problem
        3. they need to know that you have a thing they could buy
        4. they need to understand why that thing is right for them
        5. they need to have their objections heard, understood, and answered
        6. they need to have a reason to take out their wallet/credit card NOW
        7. they need to complete the purchase now, and not set it aside as “something they’ll do later”

        Hope that helps you reframe your thinking!

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          I’ve long discarded the idea that launches are these major events. Every time I release something is a mini launch and an opportunity to reinvigorate the channel.

          But this:

          “every day is launch day for someone in your audience”

          is a game changer for me. Seeing it from the audience perspective is so useful. Thanks for this mega (ahem) ebomb! Thanks for the link to your post too.

          Would you say that somewhere between steps 1 and 3 is where people will most likely sign up to a newsletter?

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            Depends on what the newsletter offers.

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              Makes sense. Thanks Alex, for the detailed input to this discussion. Really valuable.

  5. 2

    I think the issue here is that people mistake building an audience based around YOU as the same thing as building an audience around a problem.

    What makes this difficult personal brands on Twitter is that nobody wants to solely talk about a specific problem and therefore that means you bringin a more general audience where only some of the people might be interested in what you do.

    However, if you had a Twitter (just using that platform as an example) that solely focused on the problem that you're looking to solve and the intricacies around it, then it 100% makes sense that the audience that follows you is the audience that can be your customers.

    When you focus solely on the problem then that's something an audience can rally around and when you present your solution they're all about it.

    However, with your personal account when you're randomly sharing what you're building and also talking about other things, it doesn't make sense for your audience to suddenly run to the checkout line to grab what you're offering.

    I think this is where many SaaS makers are being disillusioned with the #buildinpublic movement. They try what other people say to do (which in essence is build your personal brand) and then see that it doesn't work for them so they toss it aside.

    However, if someone was trying to solve the problem of time travel and that's ALL they talked about and they also talked about the progress of their time machine, then the people that go and take an interest in such things would be more likely to not only follow them, but to also be a customer.

    When @rosiesherry or @arvidkahl talk about communities, I think people assume that their own accounts can't be part of the decentralized community.

    Right now every single one of you are taking part in a decentralized communities with your personal accounts, but you might know what those communities are because you don't talk about just one thing.

    It obviously becomes a lot easier when you do.

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      Really, really good answer.

      1. 1

        Thanks, Chief. I probably stole it from you through some form of osmosis and remixing.

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      Now that's clarity.

      This distinction between an audience around "you" and an audience around a problem is important, and I've not thought about it like this before.

      If you can find the right target niche, and a problem that you're trying to solve for them, having a Twitter account (as an example) where you only tweet highly relevant content to them can build an audience that can eventually become your customers.

      I feel you're right about the misunderstanding people have around building in public. If your updates look like progress reports, then that's not building an audience for your SaaS (unless they're into progress reports).

      Thanks for this Paul. Very enlightening.

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        If your updates look like progress reports, then that's not building an audience for your SaaS (unless they're into progress reports).

        THIS is so, so, so key.

      2. 1

        You nailed it 😁

  6. 1

    Thank you everyone for the very healthy discussion in this post. I learned a lot and my audience-building goals and focus is a lot clearer now. And yes, I was wrong about why I was wrong.

    I have written up a summary of the discussions here and on Twitter in this blog post: https://farez.me/audience-building-for-saas

  7. 1

    This is such a great discussion topic. Thanks for opening it up.

    I agree your audience is not necessarily your customers, since audience can be there to learn, to support each other, and all sorts of things.

    Some creators are able to spot what "some" of their audience wants and develop something for them and turn them into customers. But def not 100% of them. So building an audience has its good, just don't misunderstand it as a guaranteed channel to sell.

    And a lot of people confuse #BuildingInPublic to focus on support group vs target audience. One is for accountability and rally, the other one is to open up a distribution channel. It is important to know what the goal is then do the right thing.

    I learn a lot in this thread, thanks a lot for opening up :D

    1. 1

      Hey Kevon, thanks for your input.

      Great point about having a goal for why you’re building in public. I think in my case the goal was somewhat fuzzy to begin with. I’m sure you cover this in your Build In Public guide - I’m looking forward to reading it.

      And yes, I’m learning a lot from this thread too - looks like I’ve been wrong about why I’ve been wrong!

    1. 1

      That's an interesting article. Wonder if there were other factors at play. I know a friend who has an IG account with under 1000 followers and was able to sell over 40 t-shirts. All he does is post funny memes about his hobby - surfing - and shares a lot of other people's content. Nobody even knows who's behind the account.

  8. 1


    Definitely not if you have a SaaS product.

    If you have a decent audience while building a SaaS business, best thing is to make an info product on the side which documents your process. (I checked your Twitter bio, seems you are already doing that :P)

    I think Jack Butcher explains this ideas as -- Prove with your work, then sell your process as a product.

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      Building an audience is great for info products. And I think if you're only selling the final product to your audience, you're missing the good part: building and iterating early WITH your audience.

      Yes I did publish a book, but TBH, that was more of an experiment to see what it takes to write one (the answer is a lot!). I was lucky to have a topic that resonated with some of my followers, but building an audience in order to sell them a book wasn't my goal.

      1. 1

        Cool, that makes sense!

        "And I think if you're only selling the final product to your audience, you're missing the good part: building and iterating early WITH your audience."

        This again comes back to audience != customer-- Which is kind of your point.

        Good stuff👍

  9. 1

    Lol, I wanted to retweet, but I can't in good conscience.

  10. 1

    It's a subtle-should-not-be-subtle distinction that you make clear in your thread. I don't get the "audience-driven" term tho (I know it's not yours). Do we mean directed by, fuelled by, validated by, like crowd sourcing? Any thoughts?

    1. 1

      Yes, it's a term from @arvidkahl and from what I understand, to be audience-driven means to have every business decision be made in the interest of your audience and made with what you continuously learn from them.

      Maybe Arvid can clarify?

  11. 1

    While the thread is interesting and full of good points I have to reject the premise.

    As a sample three things that having an audience helps you when running a SaaS:

    1. Finding users => receive great feedback.
    2. Creating content => educating intended customers on your app.
    3. Lead generation => build likes into customers.

    Maybe if you provided an alternative I could give more consideration to the premise, I'm also not saying is easy.

    But as it, building an audience is my main marketing strategy for SocialQ

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      I'm not saying there's no value in building an audience. I'm saying your audience may not necessarily be your customers.

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      One point is an audience may be entertained by watching your build but will never become a customer because they don't need your product.

      • audience !=> users
      • audience !=> customers

      As your product is about helping people gain followers it's likely you have high audience-customer overlap.

  12. 1

    Putting that not equal to sign was a great idea @farez!
    The thread was great, thanks for sharing!

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