Is your business product-focused or audience-based?

Online Marketing

How to build an Audience-based Business
A lot of people that I work with seem to have the following model in mind in building the online component of their business.

Steps for a product-focused business:

  • Offer a service or create a product
  • Find people to sell it to
  • Make a lot of money
  • Quit selling “offline” or quit their day job

It sounds good (in theory). The problem is that this is like pushing a huge rock uphill. Trying to force a product on a market that hasn’t asked for it can be a long, long process.

There’s another model that a lot of companies are using very successfully, but you just might not know it. It’s called building an “audience-based” business (I give credit to Danny Iny for that phrase, but it may have started elsewhere).

An audience-based business includes the following typical steps:

  • Provide high value education to a small set of people
  • Delight those people and grow your platform (website/blog, youtube channel, email list, podcast subscribers)
  • Build a true bond with your “audience”
  • Learn what they really need
  • Sell products/services that they’ve asked for
  • Continue delivering way more value than you “take”

So who’s creating an audience-based business?

Brian Clark of Copyblogger learned that providing valuable information in the real estate market (and then in the copywriting area) can lead to a loyal and dedicated audience. Product and service ideas (and sales) came next to create a multi-million dollar business centered around

Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income started by providing free information related to the LEED Examination (green design) for architects. After building a large, loyal audience, his first product – an ebook for the LEED examination – sold thousands. He then translated this audience-based business approach to start the even more successful, Smart Passive Income blog and website.

Derek Halpern built a massive audience providing website reviews for top online marketers (for free), like this one on Denise Wakeman’s site. Of course, posting these interesting videos on these websites exposed him to a huge audience, quickly building his own loyal fan base. He has built this audience into a successful business centered around

Hubspot is a very successful seller of “Inbound Marketing” platforms. It has always provided a ton of very valuable resources for free, building up a loyal audience – and a portion of that audience buys Hubspot products (and that’s enough!).

Danny Iny launched his audience-based business by writing hundreds of guest posts (providing value) in sites in the small business/entrepreneur niche. He then created a free ebook/paid physical book (Engagement from Scratch) by getting other top marketers to join him in the creation of it (Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark, Mitch Joel). Once he’d built an audience, he made it his mission to continue to provide tons of value to them on the road to building his now very successful business (see his free video here, which provides some great perspective as well as access to his second free ebook).

Srinivas Rao, co-founder of BlogCastFM, is well on his way to building a successful audience-based business. By persisting and by providing the best content possible (in this case via interviews with marketers), he is building a loyal audience. And his persistence is paying off – he recently interviewed Seth Godin, CC Chapman, Chris Brogan, Chris Guillebeau, Erika Napoletano, Mike Stelzner and Danielle Laporte.

So why should you consider building an audience-based business?

So should you consider turning your business from product-based into audience based? Here’s why you might want to consider it:

  • It’s hard at the start, but if you persist you’ll have an loyal audience and a solid platform
  • Your product ideas can come from the audience (versus from your imagination)
  • It beats chasing transactional sales. You’re making sales based on relationship
  • You own the platform – you don’t have to continually beg to “borrow” other people’s audiences

So how do you create an audience-based business?

I’ve given you some of the steps that others have used to build their audience-based businesses. What steps are you taking to build your audience based business? Let us know in the comments!

Tom Treanor is the founder of the Right Mix Marketing blog. He’s the author of the Search Engine Boot Camp, the co-author of Online Business Productivity, and regularly speaks at industry and corporate events. His writing has been featured on the Content Marketing Institute, Social Media Examiner, Copyblogger and other leading industry blogs.


  1. Isn’t this a question like the chicken and the egg? One can’t come before the other; you have to work the audience and work the product together and look for synergies.

    1. David,

      You’d think that you have to have a product first and then go and find an audience for it. If you look at Pat Flynn or Brian Clark (and some of the others), they built their audiences on the faith that they’d figure out what the audience needed as they went. In fact, Pat doesn’t really have his own products yet (mostly selling affiliate products). I guess the point here is that if you develop the audience, you may be able to make a good business out of it (later) if they’re passionate about your brand. I’d say I’m following your model now but may start leaning towards a bigger focus on audience over product to build up the platform.

    1. Hey Ryan – yes, a lot of sweat equity, but much more solid. Keep up the good work and speaking of building an audience-based business, you got a nice mention on Marcus Sheridan’s last podcast episode!

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