Dear Breck: Start Small, Grow Organically

Dear Breck,

We had lunch a few weeks back, and you had all kinds of questions about how you could parlay your strengths and your career experience into a viable online venture.

You’re focused on the market you want to target. You have a clear idea of the audience you want to serve. You have some ideas on the kind of content they would respond to.

Problem is, you aren’t entirely sure how to get started. Your ideas range from an extensive directory and resource center to an outright vortal for the professional niche you are uniquely qualified to serve.

But you’re stuck. So I’ve been thinking… Let me make a suggestion.

How about starting small and growing organically?

How small? I’d start with a weekly text newsletter that goes out to the database of 700 to 1,000 colleagues you have in your industry.

Don’t Spam them. Drop each of them a personal email. Tell them what you are doing and ask if they’d like to receive it. Yes it’s hard work, but it’s proper netiquette. I’m assuming you’d send these only to people you’ve personally met or have done some business with. If not, don’t bother them, OK?

Then, having put your stake in the ground, start sending them an emailing every week.

You say you’re not a writer… poppycock! You can talk, can’t you? I’ve had enough conversations with you to know that you are in fact quite eloquent and engaging. But you freeze in front of the keyboard. Why? Because your darn English teacher back in high school said you had to write in this uptight, formal way.

Get over it, Breck. Write the way you speak. Just take a deep breath, relax, and start typing through the keyboard. Chat it up with your friends. Keep one of them in mind as you write. Don’t write to a vast audience. Write to a colleague or a friend. Everybody will appreciate it that much more.

How should this newsletter look?

Formatting is key, yet often overlooked, even by well-funded, professional operations. You need to make it easy on the eyes. If you want to see some examples of good formatting, check here, or here.

The key to pay attention to here is to keep your page narrow no more than 60 characters wide. Give your content lots of space to breathe, going easy on your readers’ eyes. Break it up a bit.

What tools do you need?

A good text editor for beginners… You can check out Download.com or TUCOWS.com and find some dandies that you can try out for free and buy for less than $30. The one we use cost about $20, as I recall.

You should also set up a relationship with a list hosting service. I can’t recommend a particular vendor, but if you want to check out the listings we’ve maintained, just click here.

A good one will be able to handle all your subscriptions, unsubscribes, bounces, and so on. It will do the delivery; it will do the whole works… so that you can focus on what you need to which is developing your audience and your message.

As for when to send out your mailings, you might want to time it for midweek, like a Wednesday, first thing in the morning. They’ve gotten through the early crunch of the week and may be more receptive to hearing what you have to say.

What do you write about? Well, you know the niche. It’s where you’ve spent your career. You might want to chat about conferences you’ve attended recently, offer some observations on some new developments in your industry, highlight some news items that crossed your desk with a little commentary included. I’d also quote and respond to emails you’ve gotten from some of your readers about some issues you’ve raised in earlier editions.

How do you grow? Ask them to help you. Invite them to forward your emailing to their friends and colleagues. Do so in every issue. Personally respond to every email, and do so quickly. And thank people as often as possible.

How do you monetize this? The main thing to remember is not to worry about making it “a business” as you are getting started. Focus on your readers: their needs, their wants, their interests. Stay closely tuned to them. They will guide you in the right direction. They’ll tell you quite clearly what information and resource gaps they need to have addressed.

As time goes on, begin to roll out solutions in response to their needs don’t assume you know at the outset.

Go to them without an agenda. They’ll create one for you. Opportunities that you didn’t expect will come along. Business ideas that you would never have thought of will arrive in your email… as a request!

Just start small. Grow organically. Relax. Set your agenda aside. Respond… and serve.

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