Biz Tips: The difficult beautiful truth about building an effective platform

Biz Tips: The difficult beautiful truth about building an effective platform


The difficult beautiful truth about building an effective platform

It’s not a huge secret, but few people want to accept the truth

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Three times I’ve started this essay. Three times I’ve read what I’ve written, wondering why it was so… long.

And the truth is, my main worry is that the truth would be hard to accept. So I added a lot of explanations and fluff. That’s why it was long. I was hiding in entertainment.

But the beautiful thing is, even though the road to an unstoppable platform may be difficult to execute, it’s simple to understand. And being difficult to execute makes it hard to copy.

Here’s the simple to understand, hard to do checklist:

  • Decide what you’re going to be known for and research whether it’s viable
  • Build an independent foundation — your island (the home base of your platform)
  • Build outposts and roads to your island
  • Gather the people where they are and give them a reason to follow you back to your island
  • Create a way to follow up with those following you
  • Be consistent about staying in touch, but innovative about what you say

Why is gathering people so far down on this list?

Take it from someone who had the community first.

If you gather the people first, and have no where to put them, you don’t necessarily get the same results.

The first time I built a community it was a few thousand poets. I had ideas that I got them fired up about — then found out that the thing I promised to build them didn’t exist yet on the internet.

Eventually I hobbled together a few pieces of software and built it for them. But it was hard to get them fired up again. I opened with hundreds of community members instead of the thousands I had brought together.

Maybe I’d have eventually grown them to millions instead of about ten thousand, if I’d built the platform first. Who knows.

Maybe it couldn’t have been helped.

Ever since? I believe that before you get people on your platform? It ought to be built.

Not perfect or you’ll never finish. But minimum a home base and a reliable way for people to subscribe to updates.

That’s not all there is to it though. You must know who you want. It turns out I didn’t know how to help poets make a living.

What I really wanted were writers. Not all poets are writers, not all writers, poets. I love poets, but after the original dot com bubble burst, I couldn’t even afford to keep the home I built for them open.

(20 years ago, hosting speciality software was not cheap.)

Moral of the story?

If you don’t know who you want to join with or help, then you won’t know what kind of platform you should build.

The policy of “build then fill” avoids so many of the issues that can come up.

So. Ready to build? Let’s start with identifying what you’re building.

It involves a bit of soul searching.

What are you the Beyoncé of in life?

Or the Oprah? Or the Steve Jobs? Or the Bill Gates? Or the Prince?

The point is, you have some unique take, voice, or niche. This is also known as branding. You need to stand out. How?

You may feel you are an expert or leading edge at a lot of things.

Pick one.

You can be or offer more than one thing. Does Fenty Beauty sell only one shade of foundation? Does McDonald’s only sell French fries?

Lead with the thing people most desire, and you can offer the people you get everything else once you get them to you.

But confused prospects go away. So don’t offer them everything at once. Offer them one majestic solution to their problem, then everything else.

You also need to make sure what you want to offer has a demand. Blue apples are a cool idea, but does anyone WANT blue apples? Will they buy them? Do your research.

(I’ll have a whole free course on this at my site soon. For now, you can start with ad research on Google. If no one would pay for ads to reach your audience? You have to ask yourself if your audience exists, and if so, whether it’s big enough a niche to provide customers to you and your competitors. )

Building your independent foundation

Every website, app, email list, all of them might as well be on a deserted island, with no way of communication with the outside world when first created.

You must think of what you’ve built as isolated and solitary, in order to do the step of generating buzz correctly. It’s not like the offline world where you can open an office in a busy strip mall and people driving or shopping nearby will trickle in.

If you think anyone will find out about your site by anything other than being told about it, you’re living in a dream world.

Wake up and do some self promotion.

If that makes you feel icky, you’re probably following the instructions of someone who sees marketing, publicity or promotion as a necessary icky evil.

There are many approaches to promotion. The easiest way is to focus on how you’re making other people’s lives easier or better.

You need to think of it as an opportunity to serve. Because that’s what it is.

(There’s another reason for thinking of it as a desert island, but we’ll come back to that.)

When you create something, and there’s demand for it, whether you’re charging for it or giving it away for free, not telling people about it does them a disservice.

Think of what you have built or what you do as water in the desert. Picture the people you want to reach as so dehydrated that they don’t even know how badly their thirst is. Give them your water. Let THEM decide if they don’t want it.

Circling back around, let me briefly stress the word independent.

The metaphor of building an island is partly to stress becoming independent.

Do not build the foundation for your platform anywhere it can be taken way.

Whether it’s someone else’s website or app, if you build a following where it can be cut off from you for any other reason than you not paying your bills, you’re building someone else’s platform.

That means you build your home on space you own.

Buy a domain name, and get a host for your email list and your domain. Make sure you can always export your data from either.

That’s ownership.

A Twitter following is nice but it’s not a foundational base.

You can get banned from Twitter, or suspended, over a misunderstanding or a stricter interpretation of how the rules are applied to you versus others.

Twitter could shut down or kick all business accounts off. It’s their prerogative. Same with Facebook. It’s already happened to people.

Which brings us to roads and outposts.

How do you get to a deserted island?

Remember how I said to assume you’ve built on a desert (or deserted) island? It’s partly because the metaphor is helpful in getting you to understand that you can’t build for foot traffic on the internet.

In other words, no matter where you build in “cyberspace” there’s no such thing as building an independent foundation on a busy thoroughfare — you must bring the people to you.

You can advertise.

You can generate buzz.

You can tell people about what you’re doing one at a time. But you absolutely must do some marketing.

For many people that’s getting positive publicity on the web.

For others it’s being on radio shows or presenting before their local chamber of commerce. You might offer free classes on Udemy, The Learning Annex or at a local community college.

However you want to get the word out about your skills or business, those are the roads you are building to your island.

Your island will be busier if you build major bridges from the “mainland” outposts— in this case, Google, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Bing, industry publications, etc.

We already covered why having 100,000 followers on your Twitter outposts is not a foundation. But this is the area where they start to become useful as a way to bring people to you.

Build community there, then give them something to do that takes them out of there. If you serve your community, they’ll want to help you in return.

Building a Community of your own

For some, it’s as simple as finding out what the pains are of a bigger community, pointing the pain out, then leading people back to your platform for the solution.

Or you could find the people that are unheard. You could draw several communities together.

For someone on a budget, especially if it’s zero, you’ll want to focus on community, content and interaction. (If you’re not on a budget, advertising is the fastest way.)

Content meaning — write the answer to the howto everyone wants, and ask your community to share it far and wide.

Or create an infographic and see if you can leverage some blogger relationships you created to get it published.

Maybe you’re saving someone a blog post for the week, perhaps you’re being intrusive and won’t even get an answer. That’s the difference between building relationships and spamming people.

Which do you want to be known for?

Do you want to be known at all?

Build relationships. Or hire people that have those relationships already. There isn’t a way around it. It’s at the core of building a platform.

The relationships you built are with people who will

  • advise you,
  • partner with you,
  • expose you to their audience or help you find a more lucrative connection.
  • You need relationships and community to build your foundation. It won’t scale. It doesn’t need to scale. Your 10,000th customer can get the same kind of experience from someone you hire.

For now, just serve as best you can, on a one on one basis when you can, for as long as you’re able. It may only work for the people who help you get started or it may last up to your 100th client.

When you can’t do it anymore, you know that’s when to bring on more people who can provide some semblance of that experience.

So what do you do in these relationships?

I have a step by step guide to that already written but again, too long. For now I can tell you — help and serve. Pick people that you like that you are delighted to help if you get nothing back.

Because no new connection will be exactly reciprocal.

Some will do you one big favor because you asked. Others will retweet you without you ever getting a chance to have a discussion.

If you ask me, you can never go wrong with giving first. I think to myself “what do I have in abundance that I can give freely without depleting my resources” — I have two active Twitter accounts. I can give two retweets for every one I get if I’d like.

I ask myself “what do I have that others value?” -it’s often as easy as my attention. People want to talk and know someone listened and appreciated what they had to say. I love listening to people because I’m an introvert, then I don’t have to talk.

Following up is the most commonly missed step

If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it three or four thousand times.

“Tinu, help. I don’t know why people don’t read my blog anymore.”

“How do you remind them to come back?”

Blank stare. “I, uh… what?”

“Do you have an email list?”

“I’m making money off ads/affiliate sales/leads for other people/visits to my offline store — why do I need a list?”

Not only do you need an updates list, for any type of business, even if you advertise?

You need to follow up with people you’ve already made sales to before.

It’s already difficult to build a small business or be a freelancer. Especially if you depend on the web for clients.

Why wouldn’t you follow up with the people who you have already sold to? You did the hard work, you put up ads, you got them to your site. They said yes to subscribing, then yes to buying something (or clicking an ad or whatever).

Then instead of keeping the people already there and offering them something else? So many people start over and try to get another new client.

That’s not building a business. That’s creating a second job besides the one of being an entrepreneur or small business owner.

Send people you used to work with a helpful article related to a conversation you had. Wish a colleague happy birthday and attach a Starbucks coupon.

Offer your subscribers something exclusive that they can’t get anywhere else.

Send out a weekly newsletter. If you don’t have news, fill the space with links to recent blog posts of yours as well as things you’ve read around the web on blogs or publications that don’t compete with you.

Whatever your do, find a way to keep following up with people who have already said yes.

Once you get people you have to keep them. Or you’ll always be actively building your platform’s foundation. Instead of letting it advance on its own momentum.

Consistency doesn’t always mean daily

On the other hand? If you can do daily you’ll be ahead of your competition.

At the time you’re doing it, blogging daily or participating for 15 minutes on your chosen social media app may seem like a time suck.

But trust me, do it for a month and look at your stats, including subscribers and sales. If you’re doing it right, activity going to your site will increase slowly but surely until you stop expanding and finding new people to engage.

If you’re blogging daily, you’re also providing more reasons for people to link to you, more opportunities to get found in search engines and more fresh items for people to share on social media.

You can still achieve great success with weekly posts, or posting several times a week, or a huge post once a month, depending on what your goal is.

Most small businesses don’t NEED to publish daily. But it’s also hard to compete with daily posting or posting several times a day when it comes to search or content marketing.

Not just with blogging, with video, or slides if that’s your thing.

You can repurpose content as well. I know people who do better with guest posting twice a week but only once to their own blog. They have deeper conversations and participation because of the relationships they built on the sites where they share links to their work.

What are you going to DO?

Now you know the skeleton of the blueprint. I teach this in a lot more detail in the classes I have debuting all summer. But this is enough to get you started.

The thing is…

Having been in marketing for almost two decades, I know only a handful of people are going to do even the first step after reading this.

Some will bookmark it, with great intentions and move on.

A lot of people will share it, so very kindly, and hope that will remind them.

Some people smarter than me will put the link to this article in a recurring weekly appointment and each week do a different step.

And so many will take the first step, right now.

But if that group represents 100 people? Only 5 will use this to their ultimate advantage, and use it to grow.

I hope you’re one of those people, and that our paths will cross again. Otherwise, you still have my thanks for reading this to the end. And I hope that something in here helps you on your journey.

Thanks for reading The Marketing & Growth Hacking Publication

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