This is the first in a series on how to build an online platform, particularly aimed at writers/authors but also useful for anyone else out there. (There are people who aren't trying to be writers? Seriously?)
The aim of building a platform is to get your writing out into the big, bad world, get as many people as possible to see it and hopefully like it and/or follow you. You might or might not also want to generate income from the platform through advertising, affiliate links etc. (on top of getting book deals). That's up to you. But either way, you need to be prepared to promote yourself, in the nicest possible way.
Since you want to get as much possible traffic you can't just go in there with a happy-go-lucky attitude hoping you will magically be discovered. You need to be canny and purposeful in your positioning and targeting.
The Internet is just like real-estate, it's all about location, location, location. And in Internet terms, that means having a site that is easily found by the search engines.
Sound all too commercial and selling out your art form? Well, just depends, do you want to change 5 peoples' lives, or 5 million peoples? With the right position and promotion you can reach almost imaginable numbers of people. And if you love your writing, really think it is of value to people, have put months and years into writing it, why not spend an extra year maximise it's potential reach? You do not have to monetize the actual platform if that makes you feel better.
I personally intend to, because I think I offer great value on my platform as well as in my books, and everything I offer through affiliate links will be helpful and won't cost my readers anything extra. So, I don't feel bad to have people pay nothing extra and bless me with a small side income that will allow me to keep writing in between the book deals (when the book deals come). But I understand that some bloggers do push it and make their readers uncomfortable, please let me know if I ever do that!
So, regardless of whether it is for the money, or for the exposure, let's start looking at how to build a successful online platform!
Today, I'm just going to lay out all the steps, so if you are super excited and know what you are doing you can jump straight in.
Over the next few weeks, I'll go through each of the steps and outline them in detail, and probably add more steps and then link back to this as I go, so don't be surprised if this page changes. (Will make this it's own page tab as I start working through the steps and linking to them).
The following is based on a collection of the steps in Gary Vaynerchuk's 'Crush It!', as well as advice from Pat Flynn over at the Smart Passive Income blog, Bob Lovich at Christian Personal Finance, and a good dose of Buffy mixed in there (and maybe a few other things I've read places and now claim as my own because I can't remember where they are from).
1. Identify your niche area.
Every author wants a blog about themselves. But until you are already famous, that might not be the best approach. If you market your blog towards particular area, people will be more willing to read it. For example, would you read a blog about Mary Jane doing her house work? Or Mary Jane's tips on how to become a top selling young adult author?
2. Make sure you can think of at least fifty awesome blog topics on that area.
Having a stock pile of posts ready to go, or even just a list of topics you want to work through (like a contents page of a book) makes a big difference. It also ensures you have enough to write about in your niche. If you can't think of 50 posts, find another niche.
3. Name your personal brand.
Two things to keep in mind here: it needs to be catchy and concise, and it needs to pick up on keywords people search for to maximise your chance of being found. Ideally it would be a short statement that summed you and your approach up neatly. Gary uses the example 'The cool guide to young adult books boys will love to read'. Pretty clear and targeted.
4. Build your Home Base!
If you are spending money: buy a domain name as close to your brand name as possible. Exact match domains are great. Then get it hosted and start building the site.
If you want to do it for free: start up a Wordpress, Tumblr, or Blogger account with as close a match as possible. (Will discuss the pros and cons of these two options).
5. Choose your medium.
We are all writers, so we naturally think in terms of a written blog. But you can also make an audio podcast about writing which people can listen to as they go to work, or a video blog where you can be much more interactive with your audience. Of course, you can include elements of all three as Pat Flynn does on his site. (am going to start adding video blogs soon, just because I want to experiment, so watch out for those, and if you don't see them soon, call me up on it!)
6. Design your webpage.
Gary suggests hiring a web designer, and if you are not really good with technology this could be money well spent. However, it is easy to learn if you are patient and ready to ask for help.And it's not necessarily all or nothing, you can do most of it yourself and just pay for help with the harder bits.
7. Create a Facebook fan page.
I've just done this! (like, literally, yesterday). I haven't added much content yet, but join my page!
Just to note, this is not your ordinary FB profile, this is a special page separate to that.
8. Start posting content!
Yah! You need to get some solid content up before you really start driving people to your site.
9. Sign up for apps to distribute your content across various social media platforms such as Facebook and twitter.
10. Start creating a community.
Leave comments on other people's blogs and forums and reply to comments on your own. (Events like ROW80 is a great way to meet people in your area, just saying... :D)
There are a couple of ways to do this, but basically you want to your content and name to appear in as many places as possible, all pointing back to your home base site. There are two levels at which you can do this, and I'll discuss both. Some of you reading this will have come through articles and Hubpages that I've put up around the place, so you know it works!
12. Use Twitter Search.
This allows you to find as many people as possible talking about your topic and communicate with them.
Okay, for the sake of full disclosure, I'm not yet on Twitter, and so will be learning how to do this as I'm telling you.
13. Similarly, use blogsearch.google.com to find more blogs that are relevant to your subject. Then become a regular, with such great, insightful comments people just have to know more about you!
14. Keep posting content!
You need to be consistent, and posting about 3 times a week. I post a bit more here because I want to build up a good stock of content and practice my writing.
15. Join as many active Facebook fan pages and groups relating to your blog topic as possible.
16. Guest Post!
Write epic content and see if you can get other, more established blogs to feature it, driving their readers towards you as they will be blown away by how awesome you are.
17. Bribe people!
Run a giveaway or a contest which encourages people to interact with your content.
18. Set up a email subscriber list.
As they say in the online business: the money is in the list. You don't have to directly sell anything through your list, but you could use it as your invite list to your first book launch, or to ask for reviews on Amazon, or even just to show an agent and say 'hey, I've got 500 people signed up to my list who already like my writing.' (would be better if it were 50,000 but we are still only up to step 18, not 992!)
19. Produce an ebook.
While you are waiting for a publisher to snap up your first great novel, how about writing another one that will be fun and entertaining, which you can offer to your readers either as a free gift for signing up to your email list, or to buy for the price of a cup of coffee. (Yes, you will be seeing me doing both of these things in the coming months, so enjoy!)
20. Show me the money!
After about 6 months, you can start thinking about monetizing your platform if you want to.
I agree with Pat and the others when they say not to jump in too fast to monetizing, as the aim is to build up a really good community first. Once people trust you and love your content, then they won't mind you have a few ads here or there, and a few affiliate links.
21. Keep learning!
There is so much to know about Search Engine Optimization, new media, things that are trending etc., and if you want to stay on top of it all you need to dedicate time on a regular basis to learning. I've been listening to the Smart Passive Income podcast, which is completely free and I don't get any money for referring you to it, I've just learned so much from Pat that I want to point other people his way. I'm also investing in books such as Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion (that is an affiliate link through to Amazon, just to be open. The book was useful, and good for the very beginner, but after 52 episodes of Pat, I knew quite a bit of it already, just to let you know).
22. Finally, keep posting epic content.
Did I mention you should be posting great value content?
No? Well, you should always post high quality content and get a reputation for giving great stuff away for free.
And that's pretty much it. Not that hard, really. Right?
Don't worry if some of that sounds unfamiliar or overwhelming, because you know me - I'm definitely going to take you step by step (it's the teacher/lecturer/preacher in me, I just can't help it!)
So, get excited, because you are going to be huge!
Good night for now,