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    How to use the Audience-First Approach to kickstart your online career

    By Kieran Drew
    💡
    This is an edition of my old newsletter Digital Freedom.

    It's lightly edited but otherwise untouched. I've kept them on the site to show how the journey has evolved.

    Escaping the 9-5 is tough because you’re not aware of other options until you're in deep.

    You’re catapulted from school to college to cubicle and clawing your way out feels impossible. I used to drive to work dreaming of a creative career, then come home too exhausted to make it happen.

    But despite what we’re told, a fulfilling career isn’t a silly pipe dream. Not anymore. There’s a clear path to digital freedom.

    Today we’ll break it down.

    It’s a 5-minute read.

    Let’s dive in.

    The Audience-First Approach

    "Your audience is your most valuable asset. It’s not your product, your business, or your skills. It’s your audience."

    ​- Pat Flynn

    Sell high ticket.

    Send more DMs.

    Optimize your offer.

    This is great advice if you know how you can help, but useless if you don’t. Yes, successful creators do these things. But deconstruct their success and you’ll find one recurrent theme.

    An audience.

    Just because you don't know what to build, doesn't mean you can't get started laying the foundations. And you'll find that if you show people you care about their success, they'll return the favour.

    A business emerges from relationships

    A great example is David Perell.

    At ~20,000 followers, he asked his audience if they’d be interested in a course. Write of Passage was born. It’s now one of the most popular cohorts.

    Write of passage pricing plan screenshot

    He explains:

    "The audience is everything. They are the gatekeepers of success, and they are the ultimate judges of our work. When we understand our audience, we understand how to create content that matters to them. We build a loyal following, and we create a legacy that lasts.”

    It’s the understanding that’s important.

    How hard would it be to build a business serving 100 strangers who don’t know (or care about) you?

    But if you have a stadium of 10,000 followers with shared beliefs, values, problems, and goals, you'll find it much easier to turn ideas into income.

    So let’s run through the 5 steps.

    1. Choose a core topic

    You need to pick a lane early because if you write about multiple subjects, you'll be seen as average at both.

    Instead, narrow down to one. Specificity creates authority. And you can always pivot later.

    Which topic?

    Well, building an audience is hard work. Ignore marketers who try to sell you otherwise. So pick something you're genuinely fascinated by.

    2. Explore on social

    ‘Build it and they will come’ is a lie.

    You need to go where attention gathers. For better or worse, that’s social media. And yes, the start sucks. The same could be said for anything worthwhile.

    But here’s a tip to make it easier:

    Don't be an expert. Be an explorer.

    Distil:

    • Books
    • Experts
    • Podcasts
    • Frameworks
    • YouTube videos

    This way you enjoy two benefits:

    1. It’s a forcing function. When you share what you know you’ll learn what you don’t. You win regardless of the result.
    2. You build authority by association. Reputation is leverage. The fastest way to build your own is to borrow someone else's.

    3. Focus on one fan

    The paradox of specificity is the narrower your focus, the better the result.

    As an early creator, I found this tough. Dentistry was easy because people come in pain. But online you need to attract those you can help. Which means you need to be crystal clear on who that is.

    So let me make this easy for you.

    The simplest way to build an audience is to serve your shadow. The person you can help the most is the person you used to be.

    Think back. It could be 5 years. 3 years. 6 months. Even 2 weeks ago.

    You don’t need to be an expert to have ideas worth sharing. Just empathy in a problem worth solving.

    4. Do the things that don’t scale

    "When you're just starting out, it's important to be scrappy and do things that don't scale. It's how you build a foundation for growth."

    - Paul Graham

    Look my friend, I won’t sugarcoat it. Having a small audience sucks. But every problem has a positive for the person who chooses to look.

    Yours?

    A human touch.

    When I started out, I replied to every comment, DM, and email (I still do for emails). Then I offered free calls. When you do this you’ll notice two things:

    1. Common problems
    2. You have solutions

    The second point’s important.

    Most people don’t make money online not because they’re bad entrepreneurs. But because they lack self-belief. I was terrified pre-monetization so I helped loads of people for free.

    Ironically those became my first paying clients and are now close friends.

    5. Build a solution

    The aim is to create an offer that solves a specific problem for your audience.

    You can’t afford to be a generalist.

    Take me for example.

    The problem I identified was writer’s block. But if I built a ‘How to Write’ product it would’ve gone terribly because I had no story or authority.

    So instead I built the Viral Inspiration Lab.

    I created a unique mechanism (The Looking Glass Technique) to solve a common problem.

    It wasn’t a crazy launch.

    But it was enough to pay the bills.

    The unique mechanism is important because it’s likely your audience has heard it all before. You need to offer a new solution to an old problem. Tie that in with a specific emotion and people will think, ‘this is for me!’

    specific solution

    And if you don’t have a solution, great.

    The best product to build is the one you wish existed when you started. So get results and document the journey.

    Now you have a story to tell and a reason to sell.

    The escape plan

    This strategy isn’t the fast path to riches (although when you understand leverage, you know it gets more lucrative the longer you play).

    Instead what you’re laying is the foundation for a future career.

    Now that we have the start of an audience and something to sell, the aim of the game is iteration.

    This is where the audience-first approach shines through.

    You sharpen your ideas by following the data of your content. You improve your product by listening to the feedback from current customers.

    Over time, you’ll have a compelling message, engaged audience, and the early rumblings of a business.

    And I can’t tell you when to quit your 9-5.

    But with this approach I won’t need to.

    Your audience will.

    People will buy your product and want to pay for your time. A lack of it becomes the issue. Now your day job is costing you money. And that, my friend, is the perfect time to go all in.

    Let your audience tell you what business to build.

    I breakdown the entire system for how to execute the Audience-First Approach inside High Impact Writing.

    Keep writing your way to freedom,

    Kieran.

    Audience first, business later

    Kieran Drew

    About Kieran

    Ex dentist, current writer, future Onlyfans star · Sharing what I learn about writing well, thinking clearly, and building an online business