It Takes Time to Build an Audience

When asked how he built such a robust online community with his blog, Jon Acuff’s answer was simple: “The same way you build an offline one. Slowly and honestly.” That got me thinking.

Photo credit: Flickr (Creative Commons)

Maybe I’ve been going about this all wrong. Maybe I’ve been looking for a magic-bullet solution. Maybe I’ve been lazy in thinking that it wouldn’t require hard work to build a sustainable blog audience.

There is no magic bullet

If you’re a leader or writer or wannabe-influencer, you may be looking for that “one thing” that will get you to another level. I know I was.

Most of us who want to influence others are in search of the many. A larger blog audience. A more dedicated Twitter following. A tribe of inspired individuals who will read what we say, believe what we believe, and share our ideas with the world.

But that’s not how leadership works.

If you are waiting to make it big until you reach the many, then I have some sad news for you: You are going to be waiting a long time.

The reality is there is no “magic bullet.” There is no 1-2-3 solution to building a community. It takes one crucial ingredient that most of us would rather sidestep: plain, old-fashioned hard work.

A lot of us are looking for the many when, in fact, we should be looking for the one.

It takes time to build an audience

It takes patience to find a following. It takes courage to keep putting yourself out there time and again. It takes gumption to garner enough trust with your readers that you can ask something of them.

It takes honesty, too. You have to go first. Wherever you’re leading someone, you have to be willing to take the first step before asking them to meet you there.

This can be scary and intimidating, but it’s what leaders are called to do. And if you want an audience, then you’re asking to be a leader.

This doesn’t just apply to blogging, of course. This pertains to church groups and conferences and families and corporations, as well.

If you’re the one trying to build a community, it will require sacrifice. That may come in the form of time, patience, security, energy, resources, or all of the above.

So is it worth it?

It had better be.

Life is short. If you’re not willing to put in some time and commitment to build a tribe, then you had better get another hobby. Find something that is worth the cost.

This is the only way to gain influence, to truly lead, whatever your art form may be. Slowly and honestly. It won’t be easy, and it won’t come without it costing you something.

But getting there is worth the struggle.

Where do you begin?

Start with one. A coffee date. An email. A phone call.

Don’t wait for the auditorium. Share your best messages now. They matter now. We need them now. Not later. As you do this, you’ll find that what you have to say slowly begins to matter to more and more individuals.

And before you realize it, you’ve found yourself a whole group of people tuned into what you’re saying. And that’s how influence works: one audience member as a time.

How have you seen this to hold true in your own writing or attempts to build community? Share in the comments.

94 thoughts on “It Takes Time to Build an Audience

  1. the best audience is oneself. With this, acceptance is
    assured. One should always write to please oneself.
    To try to please others makes you their slave and honesty
    goes by the wayside.——Doug

  2. Well…again, for some of us, it takes more time than others. You have done amazingly well. Others of us have been blogging for 5 years and have 1/4 the readers you have. But many of the tips and ideas you present here on your blog can help us gain more readers and spread our message. So keep writing!

        1. Nope. And that was a good thing. My other blogs plateaued. The reason this community built up so quickly was because of strategic relationships built with other bloggers and influencers and because I focused on my content a lot more than in other blogging efforts.

    1. You know, I am starting to hear this a lot. While I don’t want to dismiss luck or circumstance, I do think that it’s important to note that I’ve been blogging for well over 6 years, just in different places. I’ve learned a lot from making mistakes and tried to only do the “right” things on this blog.

  3. A great article! Thanks for pulling it out of the files.  I am going through the long haul right now.  I think people don’t realize that they need to get their blog out there for people to see.  It isn’t enough to just write and post.  Often the best way to get your work out there is to build friendships and have people who care about what you do and believe in what you do re-post and share what you do with the people they care about!

    1. you’re right, heidi. relationship is essential. i’m going to do a follow-up on my manifesto about the second step for a writer — how to get their stuff out there. this can’t be the motivation for writing (not the primary one, anyway), but it should be a goal.

  4. This helped, especially the part about sharing my best thoughts now, when my audience is small.  It reminds me that I am supposed to be doing my best all the time, as unto God.  Thanks.

    1. That’s right. Don’t hold off until you have an audience. You earn audience by going the extra mile, by hustling and sharing your best stuff now. Keep up the great work, JoAnne.

  5. This is great post. I love the honesty and transparency. I agree that
    We tend to miss the beauty of one on one to build community- it changes
    Both parties and continues to stitch the whole picture together, one stitch (conversation,
    Phone call, email, luncheon etc) at a time. Great post!!

  6. Wonderful post Jeff.

    Sharing a message with the world, be it through blogging, ministry or other avenues is long, tiring, arduous work.  Funny enough though, if your message is authentic, relevant and passionate enough, those who do get involved are more than likely to bring the audience along for the ride in time.  The important thing isn’t to grow the audience, it’s to give them reason to return.

    Have a Blessed Day!

  7. Well stated, Jeff.  The magic bullet factor is true for many – we all long for a “community” of cheers.  A great reminder that things worth holding onto take patience and effort.

  8. Love it! Such a great point that it takes time and real work to do anything that’s worthwhile. Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

  9. Jeff, from a book I  started reading last night, one you recommended,

                 “Someone once wrote, ‘The principle part of faith is patience,’….”

    I’m new to your blog.  Comes, as all things do with God, in the nick of patience.


  10. Great post.  Keep it grounded.  You’re right that we’re looking for the “many” in the hopes of doing much good, but that a world of good can be done in one single relationship.  Thanks for this, Jeff.

  11. I think this was one of your bests pieces. I have many people in my life who want to have a successful business or a bigger audience the moment they begin to speak. I will be sure to send this post over to friends and colleagues who need to realize being a leader and fostering relationships takes time. Time and a butt load of hard work. A great motivator for my day!

  12. Honest hard work is right.

    That’s why I ignore blog posts with gimicky titles like, “how to get 10,000 subscribers in one week.”

    Sorry, but I refuse to click on those types of blog posts.

    IMHO it’s better to be authentic and find your tribe… the people that resonate with your honest  message.

    Great post!!  🙂

  13. Yes, rich truth.  When I started this blogging journey I got caught up in doing all the right things, and the 1,2,3 action steps to get there and really we can do all the right things and still not have an audience.  It really isn’t all about doing the right things  . . . it is about listening  . . .to the one who made us . . .and trusting, patiently trusting alongside hard work.

  14. I’ve absolutely seen this hold true in my own experience. 

    When I started my blog back in May, I only had 100 Twitter followers. I had no idea what I was doing but I put out my best and did what I knew how–I wrote, then told others about it. Over time I learned how to write better blog posts and how to interact with my niche better. 

    You’re absolutely right–there are no shortcuts. You build your audience one person at a time and you do your best to interact with them on a personal level. No one said it was easy, but the best things in life never are. 

  15. Great post.  It’s goes against the flow to really care for the 1, not just desire the masses.  To see our lives as an opportunity to transform just 1 (who will carry it onwards) just by our story, our message, our service…   Thanks for your thoughts.  

  16. Timely post Jeff. My husband and I were just talking about this yesterday. As you said, it’s flat out a lot of hard work. It takes time, patience, persistence, risk, and yes sacrifice. We are coming up on the two year anniversary of our blog. We’ve been slowly growing, adding readers and subscribers. It never seems to go fast enough. We will persevere, because we love doing it. It takes a huge amount of time and energy to create, write, shoot and publish a food blog. It’s taken over every weekend. No more hobbies! The focus is always what are we doing next. What would help the readers. What would they enjoy? Sure feels good when you get a post done and hit publish, then look at the analytics and see the traffic spike for how it’s being enjoyed. And when a reader makes a comment about how they made the recipe and loved it, it’s somehow all worth it!

    1. I think there is great peace and comfort in expecting this to take time. And if it happens sooner than later, well, then, you’re surprised. Which is nice, too.

  17. Seek to be helpful, first. That’s my approach. If I can help (at least) one person, then another and another… That makes me feel a sense of accomplishment. 

    It takes time, patience, hard work, and “showing up” day-in and day-out to earn attention – build your audience. But I feel like I’m making progress if even just a little each and every day. 

  18. I agree. Being helpful is key and it’s fun too. I keep a blog on Louisa May Alcott because I am passionate about her and her work. I’ve done it for a year and have a small following but the quality of the followers is high – authors, scholars, people who are as interested in Alcott as I am (and that was one of the points of creating this blog). I just got an email yesterday from someone who lives in Paris and wanted to know where Louisa’s youngest sister (May, the artist, she had lived in Paris) was buried – I did some research and sent her back the cemetery name, links to writings about May’s death and grave site, etc. She was delighted and promised to take a picture and send it to me when she finds it. That is wicked cool!

    I also wanted to do this blog so that people looking for lesser-known facts about the Alcott family could find something. Most of my traffic is driven by search engines, people finding my blog because they are looking for a specific piece of information (just like I have always done). I find that really rewarding.

    I supposed I’ve sacrificed because of all the reading I have to do, the research, the writing . . . but I love it so very much that it doesn’t feel like work at all!

  19. The work has to be important enough that this is worth doing slowly and honestly. It has to be something that you are committed to even if nobody shows up for it. 

    It is also good to think more about the audience you do have and less about the one that you don’t. If you have built a good tribe, albeit small, then eventually these tribe members will help spread the word.

  20. Hi Jeff
    Just over three weeks ago and thanks to your influence I started my blog. I have been quite disciplined and posted every two or three days. My support is growing just a few at a time and I’ve found the quirky titles grab attention. I love the thrill of putting the word out there. I’m spreading the word on Facebook and to friends when we meet. 

    It is hard work but I’m committed and determined to let this take me wherever it may lead. I agree there are no magic bullets, there never have been for real and lasting success at anything. People can spot a fake a mile off. You really do give such good advice and are always prepared to share your own stuff. Thank you.


  21. Jeff, I’ve been thinking about this post since this morning. What suggestions do you have for converting visitors to subscribers? I have thousands of unique visitors a month, yet my subscribership is just not coming along as fast as I think it should. Yes, I know it takes time, but any words of wisdom? Thanks.

    1. Sally, use multiple opt-in boxes on each page: one up at the top, and one at the bottom.
      Also, don’t be afraid to mention that people can subscribe in your posts.
      Lastly, be patient and keep writing great content. The audience will come. I have been surprised by how many people will join your list if you offer a free giveaway. That’s what I did with my ebook:

  22. The time to build an audience is the most-often-neglected part of launching a brand. You have to figure in the time to build things up – even if you have an amazing message, stunning graphics and a great strategy… it will take time to get people to listen. Great perspective here!

  23. Great post, Jeff! I believe we have a similar approach to tribe building. I particularly liked it when you said “Don’t wait for the auditorium. Share your best messages now. They matter now.” We get so caught up with wanting a large crowd at the expense of our small group of readers. Lead the small group first, and give them our best now. That’s the way to do it! 

        1. I’m sorry. I mispoke. I MEANT 11 easy installments of 19.99 (that’s Euros, by the way.) You can wire the money to my account in Nigeria via Western Union. And yes, you must get 5 other people to buy, too, in order to get this super-low price. Otherwise, we’ll ship 15 boxes of berries to your house tomorrow… along with the invoice.

  24. This is something I’ve been thinking about for awhile now.  To be honest I’ve looked at my stats and been a little frustrated thinking “only 25 people have visited my blog” or “only 35 people care what I have to say”.  But here’s the thing: If I can’t be happy that 25 people read what I have to say, and if I can’t pray that their lives are affected for the better, then I don’t deserve a bigger audience.

  25. It sure takes time! But with the right help (from guys like you ;)), then it’s doable in a reasonable time!

  26. honestly in his serious wednesday, I agee…but sLowly? I dunno. I was following him in 2007 and he was doing fairly well…then he got much bigger…kind of huge really…in about 3 years. That’s not so slow. 

    I thought he built as audience with razzle dazzle…skittles, pop-n-locking, and side hugs.Being genuinely funny was a big help too.

    1. I guess in the grand scheme of things, 3 years is pretty quick.  But in this age, it feels like an eternity.  Many people bail on a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load (myself included).  I think 6 months would be pretty quick, but longer than a year takes some patience.

      BTW Lisa, I’ve seen you on BWC, and have enjoyed your writing.

  27. The other day I was stopped by a teacher at my boys’ school. She wanted to let me know that she related to a blog I had written. I did not know this teacher personally but she had seen the blog link on a mutual Facebook friend’s wall weeks ago. Funny enough I wrestled with if I should post the blog on that friend’s wall. I almost didn’t. I am surprised by how my audience is slowly finding its way to me. Ever so slowly but you are right it is honestly. 

  28. I needed this more than you know today, Jeff. Thanks for your vulnerability in sharing your own journey and struggle with this idea. Makes the rest of us not feel like complete weenies. 🙂

  29. I did a google searching on audience building, and guess who showed up at the top of the list? My old writing partner! Thanks for the tips, Jeff. Will sign up for your email list.

  30. Hey Guys, How often have you guys wanted to quit, and how did ya overcome that. cause im on the verge of quitting my blog site, how can you keep the fire burning?

  31. I have just started mine, so this information is useful. I’m sure everyone can relate in saying It’s hard sometimes to be patient as we all have big dreams and expectations, but i’m learning its the patience and dedication that makes dreams come true.

  32. Hi. I was doing a google search and came across this article. Thanks Jeff for the insight. I started my blog less than a month ago and I am happy to help whoever I can. My key take away is “A lot of us are looking for the many when, in fact, we should be looking for the one”

    Thanks for the article
    Touya Kelley

  33. Hi, thanks for sharing your experience.
    I don’t totally agree when you say “There is no magic bullet”.
    I was fed up building an audience so I decided to build a “magic bullet”.
    If we are wasting our time building a following, it’s because we have forgotten that we are already all connected.
    That’s why we created popcore, an Instant network that creates on-demand Social Graphs
    Give it a try, and let me know what you think about it.

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