The 29th December 2016 will forever be a significant day.
It was a Thursday, and every Thursday, I open Campaign Monitor (the email marketing company I use) and check how many new subscribers I get each week.
I knew I was getting close. Two weeks prior, I had an article featured on Pick The Brain. This brought in the usual flow of 30 to 50 new subscribers and got me within 15 of hitting the magic number. However, after all these years, 1000 subscribers still seemed quite far away.
Imagine my delight, then, when I opened Campaign Monitor and saw that the magic number had been surpassed. There, on my screen (as you see in the image below), was the total figure of 1019 subscribers (you need to add together the Pre-Book Release and the Screw The System Monthly Newsletter to get this figure).
I want to tell you about my journey to gaining 1000 subscribers. Commencing April 2012 when this website went live, and finishing on the hallowed date listed above, the 4 years and 8 months saw a lot of struggle, hard work, mistakes, experimentation and lessons learned.
My hope is that you’ll learn something from my experience. Of course, I’m no expert when it comes to internet marketing (the length of time it took me to gain 1000 subscribers clearly indicates this). However, my story is real and this is where its value lies.
You may have a similar goal. Whether your message is intended for a personal development audience, or a completely different niche, I believe you will find something of value here. I’m going to share with you what worked, what didn’t work and some of the most useful resources I discovered when it came to building an audience.
I entered this game green. I knew absolutely nothing about internet marketing or how to build an audience. Someone told me that if you have a message to share, then you go on social media, start posting or tweeting about your blog or book, and people will show an interest.
Simple, I thought. I believed in my message. I believed in my book. I would just let the quality of my work speak for itself.
That was my first major mistake.
Promotion is possibly more important, and, likely, more time consuming, than creation. You need a strategy and to be equipped with the knowledge of how to bring an audience to what you’ve created.
Remember, you’re operating on an internet with over 250 million active websites. How else is anyone going to see your work?
It took me a while to learn this. At first, I feared the reason I was failing to gain the desired number of subscribers was the quality of my work. Despite having spent four and a half years developing my writing skills under the tutor ledge of a best-selling author, perhaps I just didn’t have a message worth hearing.
You might have similar thoughts. Dumbfounded by the lack of interest in your work, it’s easy to question yourself and reach the conclusion that you haven’t got what it takes. However, this might not be the case.
There’s every chance you have a message worth hearing but have underestimated what’s required to get it heard. If so, you’ll take heart from what you are about to read. If I can struggle and scramble, with no prior knowledge about internet marketing, and still build a following of 1000 plus subscribers (and counting), then I’m certain you can too.
Here’s how I did it.
As mentioned, social media was the only strategy I had for building an audience when I began my journey. For me, this equated posting and tweeting on Facebook and Twitter.
I’d go on these platforms, with maybe 50 friends and 100 followers at the time, tweet a link to my website or post a status update with a section of my book, and rub my hands waiting for those subscribers to roll in. I’d be lucky if I got a single like, a retweet was totally out of the question.
Despite my lack of success with social media, though, I did get one thing right. My website was set up correctly. Sure, it could have been optimized to gain more sign ups, and I could have spent more time figuring out what keywords I wanted to rank for, but I had the basics covered.
My blog was there, and updated monthly, so readers could get a taste for my work. I had an About Page, so they could resonate with my WHY. And, most importantly, I had my free book as an incentive for signing up.
My first mini breakthrough came 4 months after Screw The System went live. Although I wasn’t pursuing it as a strategy for gaining subscribers, I decided to write an article for a personal development blog I’d been reading. I liked their message, and their submissions process seemed straightforward, so I applied.
To my delight, Finerminds featured my guest post on ‘Letting Go’. This brought me in the highest concentration of subscribers I’d seen to date – about 15 in a week (compared to the 2 a month I’d been averaging before).
You’d have thought a lightbulb would have flashed in my head. Clearly, guest blogging on prominent personal development sites was the way forward.
Perhaps because of the overwhelm I was experiencing at learning the new skill of marketing, and acquainting myself with the workings of social media (which seemed harder than understanding a foreign language), I wasn’t thinking with a great deal of clarity. I didn’t follow up my semi successful first guest post for another 5 months. Instead, I plodded along making daily social media posts, writing blog posts for my own site (that sadly no one would read) and making ineffective YouTube videos.
By the time my site had been active for a year (April 2013), I’d amassed a grand total of 83 subscribers.
Moving into Screw The System’s second year, I was marginally more informed than when I started. Although I’d overlooked the power of guest blogging, my mind did occasionally wander back to this avenue. However, the research required to find sites to write for, the infrequency with which they accepted articles, and their poor response rate to my emails, put me off.
So, instead of guest blogging, I decided to start writing bimonthly blog posts on my own site. Sure, some of these were popular, and for (at the time) a tiny site like mine, received a high number of social shares, but it did very little to increase my subscriber numbers because so few people knew Screw The System existed.
Moving into 2014, I was spinning my wheels. I crossed my two-year anniversary with only 197 subscribers.
Little did I know, this was all about to change . . .
The watershed moment in the history of Screw The System’s (the site’s name before I changed it to Escape The System in Nov’19) growth came at the end of October 2014. It was then that I read an article on Jon Morrow’s website, Smart Blogger, with the title ’11 Traffic Techniques That Are a Waste Of Time For Beginners’.
In the section entitled ’11 Traffic Techniques You Shouldn’t Be Using’ I recognised all my mistakes. In his ‘The Only Four Traffic Techniques That Work for Beginners,’ I saw the blueprint for success.
It’s hard to describe the bitter sweet emotions I felt as I digested this article. On the one hand, I felt like a total idiot. On the other, I was jubilant with the knowledge that, after two and half years of fumbling around in the dark, I finally had a clear strategy to follow.
Saving my advertising budget for later, not having the time to create a podcast and having had bad experiences with outreach, I decided to focus on the first point on the list – Guest Blogging.
Of course, I’d already had some success with this avenue but it took reading Jon Morrow’s article to snap me out of my inertia and start me submitting content to other sites.
Using the 80/20 principle as my guide (I found that, when my articles were featured on sites like Elite Daily, Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life and Motivational Memo, although prestigious, they didn’t bring in a great subscriber rate) I decided to focus my guest blogging efforts on Pick The Brain. Between November 2014 and December 2016, I had fourteen articles featured on their site. This brought me in an estimated 550 new subscribers.
GUEST BLOGGING WORKS!!!
There are two other occasions that deserve a mention in the story of this sites rise to 1000 subscribers.
Twice, I’ve had key influencers share my work and the results can only be described as guest blogging on steroids.
First, my writing mentor, Tom Butler-Bowdon, was kind enough to feature me in his newsletter on two occasions. Once, back in December 2012, and again in May of 2016. Both times, he primarily focused on the book he helped me create, but links were also left to my website and this yielded close to 100 new subscribers.
The second time a key influencer featured my work was blind luck. Or was it?
In early December 2016, Susan Cain, best-selling author of, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, posted a link to one of my Pick The Brain articles on her Facebook Page. The article was entitled, ‘The 3 Reasons Why You Don’t Need to ‘Fit In’ and it proved popular with her audience.
I didn’t know what was happening at first. Over the space of two weeks, I’d received an additional 150 subscribers and I had no idea where they came from. I didn’t have a guest post out on Pick The Brain so I was a little dumbfounded (although delighted) with the sudden growth. Fortunately, one of her fans got in touch and explained he’d reached my website through her Facebook page.
This boost to my subscriber base could easily be written off as luck. I hadn’t contacted Susan and asked her to feature my work. She just did and a chance experience like this can’t be relied upon to consistently build an audience. However, there’s a reason why she featured my work.
Susan Cain, or one of her associated (I flatter myself in thinking it was her – although most likely it wasn’t), clearly felt my article resonated with their audience. They liked it. They thought it was of a sufficient quality, and strong enough message, to share.
This isn’t luck.
It comes down to those endless hours I spent developing my writing craft, and my obsessive (occasionally verging on unhealthy) insistence that every piece of work I put out had to be of the highest possible standard. This is what caught the attention of a key influencer and led them to share my work.
Why am I stressing the importance of breaking the 1000 subscriber barrier?
It’s partly personal, partly practical.
When I started my journey back in April 2012, 1000 subscribers seemed like an impossibly large number. Although I believed in my work, I couldn’t see how I would attract that many people to my site. Therefore, to have crossed this boundary is to achieve the impossible. The boost this gives my self-belief now has me aiming for 10,000 subscribers and knowing I’ll get there.
The practical aspect of achieving 1000 subscribers relates to the monetization of your blog. An influential learning resource for me was Chris Guillebeau’s PDF, 279 Days To Overnight Success. This eBook charts the story of growing his blog (The Art of Non-Conformity), and becoming a full-time writer, in just 279 days. In it, he counsels his readers thus,
‘When can you start thinking about getting paid for your great work without compromising the integrity that helped you create the following?
Your numbers may vary, but I think the approximate number to start thinking seriously about this is 1000 followers or subscribers.’
Of course, you (and I) want to make money from your website or blog. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, it’s difficult to do that with just 100 or 200 subscribers.
Therefore, achieving the 1000 subscriber mark represents the beginning of making a living from your website or blog. With a well engaged email open rate of 20% – 25%, you have an audience of 200 to 250 people who are interested in your work and have a greater inclination to purchase products you offer.
Before I end this article, I want to mention a couple points I left out of the main body of the story, yet still feel could be of benefit to you when building your audience.
1. Although the growth of my subscriber base between Nov’14, and Dec’16, had a lot to do with focusing on a strategy, the increase in the number of hours I spent working on my website also played an important role. As you will read in this article, between April 2012 and October 2014, I was far too easily distracted by earning an income through my other work as a tennis coach and hypnotherapist.
That all changed after reading another Jon Morrow article, ‘Why Your Site Gets Such Pitiful Traffic (and what to do about it)’. His advice, ‘For the next 4-6 years, dedicate 20 -40 hours a week to learning and practising traffic generation,’ caused me to reassess how many hours I was putting into growing my audience. I found myself lacking. As a result, I set myself a demanding (alongside my day job) new goal of working 20 hours a week on my website. Achieving it, played a crucial role in the consistency with which I could produce content to share on other sites.
2. Generally, social media was a ineffective and time inefficient means of growing my subscriber base (although good for engaging with my followers). However, there was one exception.
Sharing posts from my Escape The System Facebook page to a popular, and active (this is the key), Facebook group (in my case Supporters of David Icke and his Work) proved to be a very non labour intensive way of gaining extra subscribers. I would still say guest blogging brought greater returns, but you can’t argue with spending 5 minutes creating, and sharing, a Facebook post to receive 10 extra subscribers.
* * * * *
And so, my epic journey ends.
It’s been demanding, exhausting even, but, ultimately, very rewarding.
I just want to take this opportunity to say a MASSIVE THANK YOU to you – my (now) 1160 subscribers for believing in me and your continued support. I truly appreciate it and I promise to continue putting everything I have into my work.
(image taken from iSchumi photostream flickr.com)