Let me tell you a little secret.
With my current email list, every time I send out an email, I get 20 unsubscribers.
I used to freak out. What did I do to push them away?
And this is not just emails. On Twitter, I remember in my early days, I’d watch my follower count go up and down all the time.
I’m 2 followers away from 600! What? How did it become 595 now?
If you’re feeling the same, read on because this article is for you. If you prefer a video, hop over to my YouTube.
What inspired me to share on this topic is when a reader of my book, Find Joy in Chaos, shared his struggle with no audience growth.
While I was expressing the same about email in a creator community I’m part of called the Creator Science:
This tells me we’re all on the same boat.
For everyone who is trying to grow an audience, no matter which stage we’re on, we will forever have this feeling!
So you shouldn't feel alone in this.
Your feeling is valid because of a few things:
- You feel that your growth is stagnant
- You feel that you’re doing something wrong
- You feel personally criticized that your work hasn’t lived up to standard
Now I want to bring you the Fish Pond Audience to show you how you can shift your focus back on the right things and continue to grow.
Managing your fish pond
I want you to first imagine you’re the owner of a fish pond. Your job, obviously, is to take good care of all the fish inside your pond.
Your pond is next to the ocean so fish come in and out freely.
Let’s pause for a minute. You can think about:
What’s your responsibility as the owner of the fish pond?
If you have the answer, read on!
I think most ambitious owners would go:
- “I want to attract a lot of fish in my pond!”
- “I want more and more fish! I can expand the pond if I want to!”
That’s exactly the trap social media and email marketing platforms want you to fall into. They want you to think that the secret to success is to have a huge fish pond (a big audience).
Think about it.
Fish = followers/subscribers. Pond = your account. Ocean = everyone.
The more followers you chase after, the more addicted you are to their technology, the more you use it … and the more money they make.
And this is why they show you the “follower count” or “how many unsubscribed from this email”.
But the problem is - this doesn’t help us grow our business.
This is what you want to do instead.
1. Attract more fish into your pond
This is what you and I and everyone else want to do.
You speak on podcasts. You give presentations at events. You run workshops. All for the goal of introducing your pond to fish out there so some would come in.
I don’t think I need to say more about this.
2. Feed the right food
In the early days of building up an audience, you likely have this feeling:
“Wow! A new fish came into the pond! Let me try my best to feed it and eventually grow them big enough to sell at the supermarket!”
You don’t think much about whether this is the right fish: is it Salmon? Tuna? Yellowtail? You simply don’t care. All you think about is to capture every rare opportunity.
This is fair, but it is bad for your growth.
When you do this, you’re being reactive. You’re adjusting your strategy to fit in what’s in front of you. Over time, you become unfocused and your product and positioning get lost finding the right group of people to serve.
And this brings us to the 3rd point.
3. Let the wrong fish go
If you see that the fish that come into your pond are not the right ones, you don’t have to focus on them!
It doesn’t mean that you’re rude. It means that you’re honest. I’d even suggest you to be upfront about it and suggest them to go to another pond where they can find the right food.
For example, if you focus on helping online creators but someone running a local brick-and-mortar come into your pond.
Trust me. Attracting the wrong people happens more often than you think on the Internet. This is why you have to take your stand.
Now if we revisit Greg’s and my anxiety at the start of this article, the unfollowers or unsubscribers are the fish who find out they’re in the wrong pond and want to leave.
The best thing we can do is to let them go and shift our focus to the many happy fish still in the pond.
Let me say this again because we forget all the time: focus on the people you already have!
And later when these “wrong” fish feel ready, they’ll return to your pond again!
4. It is nothing personal to you as the owner
You shouldn’t feel bad when fish want to leave your pond.
90% of the time it has more to do with fish not needing what you provide in your pond more than them hating the owner of the pond - you.
Maybe they need to sort out another part of their business first. Maybe they don’t have budget for this quarter. Maybe they are experiencing toughness in their personal lives.
We just don’t know and it is better to not guess it.
5. Bonus: How you can level up feeding the right food
I want to spend more time on feeding the right food because you’re likely thinking how knowing the Fish Pond Audience can help you grow your audience and business again.
The right food is:
- The right content
- The right conversations
- The right circles
A. Create the right content
From what I see across my audience, if you’re starting out, you are very tempted to write whatever you want.
It could be what you feel like saying. Or what you’re learning lately.
Since it is your voice (under a personal brand), you see that you can follow your heart.
This is a common battle between content serving yourself versus serving people.
If your goal is purely to have an outlet to express yourself, it is totally okay to do so.
But if your goal is to build a community around your work or to get known, then it is important to go deeper into what your brand & positioning stand for.
I wrote Find Joy in Chaos to address this. If this is what you need, there are two chapters in the book “Unfolding the authentic self you don’t know” and “Create an impressive Twitter profile” that you’ll find helpful.
Imagine you’re here to learn how to best show your work and build in public, and I start talking about my SEO strategy. The first time you’d be okay. The second time you’d start to question whether I’m the right person to read from because I’m all over the place.
When this happens, you lose your credibility and focus.
Be clear on your topic and who you are serving, then stay laser-focused on it.
B. Create the right conversations
On the back cover of my book, Find Joy in Chaos, I have this bold statement:
Twitter is not a stage for you to broadcast to a crowd. It is more of a peer circle to have conversations.
Because many people don’t Twitter as the place to create conversations. While conversations can help you uncover key insights for your business, many people just want to sell their products and miss out on the golden opportunities.
For example, recently I saw Arvid Kahl asking this question.
Arvid is creating the right kind of conversations for what people follow him for.
And I absolutely love it because I’d love to know what’s in people’s brain. These are insights that are hard to come by unless you go into 1:1 chat.
But now, you can learn at scale. This is powerful.
C. Create the right circles around you
As you gain clarity of your niche and start to build up connections, this is what you should aim for.
My basic measurement to know whether you’re doing a good job is that when people are forming their own circles and having their conversations and they still remember you, you’re doing a great job.
I run a live course called Build in Public Mastery. And 2 of my students, Jannis and Javier, recently met up in Berlin!
I was jealous but, of course, happy for them.
And Jannis looped me in the conversation because he knew that it was Build in Public Mastery that connected them.
To build the right circles, it comes down to you being helpful to other people. When they experience a mini life-changing moment in their journey, they’ll for sure remember you.
As you can see, audience building is all about: content, conversations, connection.
You don’t need to try so hard to growth hack your tweet threads. You don’t need to try so hard to get people’s attention. You don’t need to blast out hundreds of cold DMs.
If you aren’t seeing traction so far, I’d say it is a good time to review whether you’re doing a great job for all 3Cs.
If you prefer to learn and advance with a group of peers, make sure to check out my live cohort, Build in Public Mastery.