Let's skip all the small talk.
Building a long-term, successful, and profitable business that survives the 5-year window is hard - extremely hard at that.
You might be able to make it through the first few months of torture, and maybe even past the first year or two.
However, this by no means guarantees your success in the later years that follow.
Although I sometimes under exaggerate the simplicity of building businesses, in essence, it does take a tremendous amount of hard work, discipline, and fortitude.
Aside from timing, the market, having a dedicated team, and start-up capital, there are still dozens, if not hundreds, of things a business owner has to balance simultaneously.
It requires that you never give up, that you keep showing up day after day, and that you step out of your comfort zone, doing things you never thought you'd ever have to.
The classic approach has always been “If You Build It, They Will Come”. If you somehow miraculously make it past phase 1 - building and launching the product, then the customers will magically show up as if a massive horn blew, announcing the moment of your launch.
However, this no longer works the same way it did back in the early 2000s. Instead of building businesses, it's much more effective to flip the narrative on its head and find your customers first.
Today, we're discussing why it's more important to build an audience or list first, before building your business.
An audience is irreplaceable
Whenever you build a business, you always run the risk of losing everything.
Imagine you've just spent 2 months setting up an Amazon FBA business.
You found your product, you contacted suppliers, ordered samples, and everything checked out.
Next, you placed a bulk order and sent it to Amazon - a few weeks in, and you're already making a ton of money for the amount of time it's been, nothing can top this feeling.
Another few weeks later, you get an email from Amazon.
By the subject line, it doesn't sound good. You open it to realise that they're shutting down your seller account because they found that your product breaches their terms of service.
You now lost your business, and you have no customers because they were all Amazon's customers.
You have to start all again.
This scenario is almost the same in any field or business - you always run the risk of losing your business one way or another.
An audience, on the other hand, is yours forever.
If you spend time building an audience, engaging with them, and giving value, you'll have people who will know, like, and trust you forever.
As long as you keep giving, they'll be happy to help you - whether you want to build a business, market a product, or anything along those lines, they will be first in line.
An email list is always yours.
A mobile number is always yours.
An online server - that's always yours.
Business situations and markets will always change and those changes can wipe you out.
If you focus too much on building a business rather than an audience, you would have essentially lost everything you've worked so hard to build.
However, if you focus more on building an audience, those people will help you with the next project.
Guarantee your success
The header of this point might be a little clickbaity, however, it's almost true.
If you spend your time building a business, you're not guaranteed to succeed.
With every business I've ever built, I've done so while biting my nails or holding my breath throughout the whole process.
However, as soon as I started to grow an audience by blogging daily, I felt a new breath of fresh air.
It finally felt like I was doing something long-term, and not something to make a quick buck.
It's the same now with NFTs.
A lot of people look at all these massive success stories, however, they don't realise the community aspect of the entire thing - the glue of the whole operation.
You can spend a few days creating your own NFT collection, however, if there is no community, you're not going to succeed.
On the other hand, those collections which spend more time building the community, a strong and connected group of people, will be more successful straight out of the gate.
The community will then provide a bridge for the founding team to go and build anything else they would want to do.
Whether it's another NFT collection, a business, a podcast, a YouTube channel, and so on.
This applies to any business - ever.
You're never guaranteed to succeed, even if you have the best product in the world.
However, your chances are infinitely higher when there is a group of people who trust you.
Launching a business with access to 100,000 people who are ideal customers will yield almost instant results compared to launching a business with no one but your family and friends ready to post on social media.
Much cheaper to build
You know, it's so much cheaper to build an audience than it is to build a business.
I might keep referring to NFTs - because I'm a little involved in the space and it's a great example - however, there are small teams who are launching collections and amassing hundreds of thousands of members in their communities in a matter of weeks.
Some collections have even seen much more staggering results reaching 100,000 members within 24 hours of reveal.
This all happened due to the power of the network effect.
One person found the collection, really liked it, and shared it with others, who then did the same, and so on.
The more people in a community, the better it is for the members in the community because once they buy an NFT, they know their investment will multiply over time due to growing demand.
Therefore, for every new member that joins the community, the perceived value of the NFTs goes up and so there is exponentially more added benefit for the holders of the NFTs.
Even outside of NFTs, the point still stands.
Starting a blog is free and can be done in under a day.
To this day, I've only spent around $20 on my blog and manage to get around ten thousand monthly visitors to the website, along with traffic on other platforms like Medium.
Creating an account on Instagram or TikTok to post videos is absolutely free, and fairly easy.
Creating a youtube channel to build a community around what you love to do is... free.
Creating a podcast, another powerful community-building tool, is free! Joe Rogan managed to turn his podcast into a $100 million+ per year empire.
On the other hand, imagine you want to build a SaaS business.
You spend 10s of thousands on the product, then there is still marketing to cover - the old notion of "If You Build It, They Will Come," is stupid advice, to say the least.
Much safer to build
Our audience-first approach yields another massive benefit over the more popular business-first approach: safety.
If you're anything like me (risk-averse) then taking on massive risk in order for a glimmer of hope is not something you like to do - at all.
That's why it's so great to build a community, we don't need to worry about taking on more risk than we can handle.
Instead of dumping tons of money at a pipedream, we spend time creating powerful content and building a community, an audience full of people who will then help you turn your dream into reality.
There's a reason why many YouTubers and content creators are so successful - they took the safe, but maybe long way, around.
Instead of climbing the mountain, they decided to walk around it.
Let's look at one of my favorite examples (maybe because he's British), KSI.
KSI is a YouTuber who decided to create content over 10 years ago and post it on YouTube.
Today, he is known by almost anyone in the world, literally.
Starting off as a simple YouTuber, he managed to branch off into businesses like Vodka, clothing, beverages and even does boxing and music.
Had it not been for the 10 years he spent building an audience, it would have been impossible for him to be where he is today.
However, instead of focusing on the money in the beginning, he did something that a lot of people overlook which is building an audience.
This made it infinitely easier and safer to build the rest of his empire, today.
Another example is Gary Vee.
Gary Vee started as a business owner and never made a single piece of content till he was 30.
However, if you ask people today who is Gary Vee, they'll tell you "he's that guy from social media, right?"
Gary Vee has mastered content creation and it took him from a small Wine company owner to the owner of a multi-business empire.
Knowing Gary, he may have been able to do it without social media, but it would have taken him tremendously longer.
Path A vs Path B
Let's put ourselves in the shoes of two people.
Josh and Jim both have massive visions for their future. They both want to be business owners who run wildly successful companies.
Josh is more of a 'shut up and get to work' type of guy.
He rushes into building the business of his dreams.
Jim, however, is a bit more introverted - he's a little more cautious with how he approaches things.
Instead, he focuses on learning all about his industry before he starts.
To engage with people like him, in his industry, he creates a social media account where he posts content to draw the attention of like-minded people.
6 months in, Josh is struggling to keep up with his business.
He's managed to successfully build the business and get it up on its feet.
Although he had a shaky start, he managed to find the right people to help him build his business and is now on the road to $3K in monthly revenue.
Jim, on the other hand, has managed to build quite the community.
With over 50,000 followers on social media (combined), he decided to also start a podcast where he sits down, weekly, with a guest and speaks on a matter regarding their industry.
With the recent shifts towards super-short content, he has a freelancer help him turn his podcasts into more content for platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
While Josh might be close to $3K in monthly revenue, he might be over $10K in the hole already.
However, Jim has managed to build a community for less than $100, start a podcast, and only pays the freelancer once a week to edit his podcast videos.
Jim is in a position now to start a business related to his topic and mentions the fact that he's creating a pre-order list, limited to 5000 people.
Constantly advertising it, it takes Jim a month and some change to get 5000 people to commit to a purchase of his new product which costs $50.
Jim has managed to make a quarter million before he ever built a product while Josh is barely scraping $3K per month after a ton of time, effort, and risk.
Whose shoes would you rather fill?
Instances when this might not work
Building an audience first is an approach that could work almost 100% of the time.
There are not many instances where you can't build an audience, however, there are instances where building an audience could take longer (and prove to be harder) than building your business first.
For example, if you're building a B2B (business to business) business, it might be much harder to build a community of online business owners who might be willing to buy your products or services.
However, it always comes down to how you approach the situation.
While TikTok might not be the best idea for B2B products, you can always focus on building your audience on LinkedIn and through podcasts.
These are likely the most powerful ways to build a business whose customers are primarily other businesses.
I have a connection on LinkedIn who managed to build a business acquisition marketplace primarily due to the size of his network.
Andrew gets roughly 1000 likes and a ton of engagement on his LinkedIn content, and it's for this reason that he managed to make so much progress with his business last year.
At the end of the day, it's all about how you approach your unique situation.
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