Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur selling a physical product or service, a blogger, or hoping to become an internet influencer sensation, you’ve got to build an audience.
There’s no question that it takes time to develop an engaged following and there’s more than one way to do it, but the fact remains: it’s a crucial part of earning money online.
Without followers, no one will buy from you because you have no one to sell to.
It’s that simple. Seems simple, right?
In theory, it is. But building an audience online takes a lot of work and consistency. The beginning stages are oftentimes the hardest because you may not see much return for all the elbow grease you’re putting into the work. But with time and dedication, you’ll soon have your systems running practically on autopilot and bringing in more and more fans to your audience.
So, how do you do it?
5 Ways to Build an Audience
Like I said, there’s more than one way to build an audience. If you want to maximize your reach, your best bet is to utilize a mix of social media, email newsletters, and online content.
No matter how you go about it, you’ll have to do a little research to see what will get your people to engage with you. This might mean testing a few things at once (not everything at once!) or trying one thing at a time for a few weeks to see what works well and what doesn’t.
The main ingredient here is to determine who your ideal audience actually is and where they spend the most time online. If you can figure that out, then you’ll know where you focus your efforts.
Here are the X main areas to focus on when building your audience.
1. The Social Media “Big 4”: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn
Social media is a huge, HUGE part of building an audience – there’s no doubt about it. As of 2019, people around the globe spend an average of nearly 2.5 hours scrolling through their social feeds every day. That’s a lot of social time.
It makes sense that every business and brand wants to have a strong social media presence. But, like everything else, it doesn’t make sense for every brand to have a profile on every platform available.
Sure, massive companies like Nike, Apple, Starbucks, and others probably have social media accounts and followers on every conceivable platform out there, but they also have massive staff and advertising budgets that allow them to give multiple people the responsibility of keeping those profiles updated consistently.
As a solopreneur (meaning you’re doing everything yourself, girl!), you don’t have that luxury. Instead, you need to focus on where your ideal buyers are spending the most time.
The safest bets are Facebook, Instagram, and maybe Twitter.
Facebook is a no-brainer. Since its debut all the way back in 2004, it’s remained the largest social media platform on the internet. Everyone who is anyone (ahem, all the peoples) spend at least some time on Facebook every week if not every day.
Facebook has created some great ways to communicate with your followers. While Facebook pages have lost their luster over the years, Facebook groups are a fantastic way to offer value to your fans and build trust so they’ll eventually buy from you.
Build your Facebook audience by engaging in other groups, inviting friends from your personal circle of relationships and acquaintances, and talking up your page or group when you’re engaging with new people both on and off the internet.
Instagram isn’t technically in the “top 3” most popular social media sites, but when we hear the term “social media,” tell me Instagram isn’t one of the main platforms you think of. (It ranks in your head with Facebook, doesn’t it?)
Instagram is, obviously, image-driven. Increasingly, videos are becoming more popular on the platform, too, but it remains a mostly still image site. It’s harder to share links here (you can only do that well in your profile bio) and there’s no such thing as “Instagram groups,” but as humans, we love looking at pretty, interesting photos.
Instagram isn’t the best place to focus for everyone and it can be tougher to engage with your audience on this platform. On the flip side, it’s a great place to be for many entrepreneurs.
Build an Instagram following by researching hashtags that correlate to what you do or who you’re trying to reach. Start small here – look for hashtags that have 1,000 or fewer images linked to them. It’s easier to be found with these by new followers who are also searching the same hashtags; it’s a lot harder to be found as a newbie entrepreneur with a still-small following using hashtags that have hundreds of thousands of images linked to them.
Twitter, in my personal opinion, is a dying breed. Yes, the US president likes to air his grievances there at all hours of the day and night and yes, there are plenty of celebs that have great Twitter accounts that are very entertaining… but it’s a hard place to gather a following that will buy from you.
Twitter can, however, be a good place to interact with fans. In that sense, it’s not fair to completely shut it out of the “social media for business” running. After all, if we look at some big brands like Wendy’s (a US-based fast food restaurant) or Netflix, it’s clear that a dash of humor can go a long way in attracting an audience and engaging with them.
Build your Twitter following by following like-minded and -centered brands and influencers, big and small. Search for and use relevant hashtags in your tweets. Engage with others who have similar interests by commenting or retweeting their tweets. To make the most of Twitter, you’ll need to spend a significantly larger amount of time there than you might on Facebook or Instagram – you should be tweeting an average of 7-10 times in a single day.
LinkedIn is different than the other social platforms because it’s specifically a place for professional social relationships. It’s not a “bad” place, per se, for Twitter-like funny quips every now and then, but the tone is quite different than all the other social platforms.
This is a better place to be if you’re selling a “professional” product or service. In fact, professional services do the best here. LinkedIn gives its users some special tools, like groups, that are reminiscent of Facebook, but it also has some extra tricks up its sleeve.
LinkedIn is a great place to show the world you’re an expert at what you do because you can create a sort of mini-blog there. Writing and publishing articles on topics of interest to your ideal audience is a great way to help yourself stand out from the crowd and gain a following or potential customers or clients.
Build your LinkedIn audience by seeking out others in your field or similarly-aligned fields and connect with them. Search and use hashtags like you would on Instagram or Twitter and engage with folks often on their posts. Write articles to publish on your LinkedIn account that are native only to LinkedIn and not on your website.
Other Social Platforms to Consider
While the “big 4” should be on your radar, there are a few others you might not want to ignore.
For example, TikTok has become all the rage in the last year or so. In my mind, it’s the new Snapchat. Both of these platforms are places where a mostly younger crowd spends time. In essence, unless your ideal audience or client is under the age of 25, it’s likely not worth worrying about these platforms.
That said, if you enjoy them and think they may be beneficial to your business, by all means, use them!
Technically, YouTube could be classified as both a social media platform and a search engine.
As videos are open to consumption for anyone surfing the web (assuming the account owner has left them open), viewers can leave comments and interact with the person who uploaded the videos. This makes the platform social. YouTube also gives channels with large subscriber followings the option to do “stories,” something that originated on Facebook and Instagram.
As it’s owned and operated by Google, the search engine side of it makes a lot of sense. Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you type a search question into Google that the results will come back with a few video options on YouTube? It’s pretty cool, right?
YouTube is a powerful tool and if you’re comfortable being in front of the camera, it can be an awesome place to build a following.
Build your YouTube following by using a few strategic keywords in your video titles. Also, make a point to comment on your own video and ask questions to engage viewers to respond. Make sure to invite viewers to subscribe to your channel often.
Your blog is a major place for you to build a following for a few reasons:
- It plays a crucial role in search engine optimization (SEO) for your website.
- It gives you a place to demonstrate and showcase your expertise.
- It shows your audience that your business is alive and kicking.
- It offers a place for your audience to gain free value and ultimately helps you build trust with your followers.
Personally, as a content creator and marketer, I think every business should have a blog. I’m not kidding. Every. Freaking. Business. Needs a blog.
To make the most of your blog and grow your following, you need to write articles that
A) Are on topics that your audience finds interesting or answers frequent questions they may have, and
B) Are consistently offering value.
Here’s the thing, buttercup: No one wants to read a blog article about how you added a new team member to your company. Or about how you’ve gained a new customer. Or spotlighting something that’s about only you or your company.
People will come to your blog because you have something of value to offer them – information, tutorials, tips and suggestions, and so on. Don’t make it about you because ain’t nobody care about you. We’re all selfish (and that’s okay sometimes!), so make it a point to keep your topics focused on your followers’ interest.
4. Online Advertisements
You certainly can “pay to play” on social media or search engines and drive traffic to your website. While I don’t recommend this for entrepreneurs just starting to build an audience and are still getting the swing of things, paid advertising can be a powerful tool.
If this is something you want to start considering, I would recommend beginning with Facebook/Instagram or LinkedIn advertising. All of these platforms are very affordable and have robust options to set up ads that, with research and practice, are fairly easy to use.
I would also recommend that you drive traffic to a landing page to download a free tool or product, like an ebook or Trello board or spreadsheet you’ve designed. This way, you can add those folks to your email list, which brings us to my last point…
Unlike social media, email newsletters are the only guaranteed way you have to connect with your audience. Why?
Because you don’t own your social profiles, social media platforms do. You could get locked out of your Facebook or LinkedIn group at any time and if you don’t have a backup list of all those people in your group (because let’s face it, who does that?!), then you’re screwed. How are you going to connect with your people?
Also, none of us have control over social media algorithms. We simply can’t compete and “organic reach” – meaning the number of people who see your posts in their news feeds without you paying advertising dollars to get your posts front and center – isn’t what it used to be.
By sending consistent email newsletters, though, we can be certain all our followers have an opportunity to hear what we have to say. Sure, we can’t guarantee that all those people will open our emails, but we can be sure it lands in their inbox and they at least see it there.
Build your email list by offering freebies like I mentioned above – ebooks, spreadsheets or worksheets you create, Trello boards, or other tools you can develop or set up and share. Set up shop with an email service provider like Mailerlite to keep everything under one proverbial roof and stay organized.
Building an audience takes work, yes. But it can also be a ton of fun and as time wears on, it’s well worth the effort you put in. If you’re hoping to make money online in any capacity, you need a flock of fans who are excited about what you have to offer.
If you want to make a living online, it’s important that you’re constantly learning and improving your craft. One easy way to do this is to make sure you subscribe to company newsletters that will help you grow as an entrepreneur. Newsletters delivered to your inbox daily, weekly, or monthly are like a crash course in new tips and tricks. And best of all, they’re free.
There are so many company newsletters out there that it’s hard to know where to start. Here are 7 company newsletters I highly recommend to help you hone your digital craft.
Hubspot is an industry leader in the world of digital marketing. Their blog is full of tips on writing for the web: Optimizing your content, finding clients, growing your social media following, improving your sales tactics, and more. The content is applicable to a wide variety of careers, whether you’re a virtual assistant or a freelance writer or something in between.
Hubspot offers tons of free courses to business owners and entrepreneurs through their platform and they have some powerful paid tools, too. Check out their popular (and free) inbound marketing course for entrepreneurs.
Additionally, the Hubspot newsletter is filled with the latest blog posts so you can keep a finger on the pulse of the digital world. They also periodically release studies and reports with comprehensive data analyses that discuss current and upcoming trends. Consider diving into these so you’ll know how and when to adjust your process.
Yoast is a free WordPress plugin that scores the search engine optimization (SEO) levels of blog posts and web pages. Their newsletter is packed full of the latest news in search engine optimization – from how to adjust to new Google algorithm updates to tips and tricks for your WordPress website.
In addition to their newsletter and blog content, Yoast offers some great courses to help you improve your SEO skills. If you're writing content for yourself or anyone else, having at least a basic understanding of SEO and how it works is important.
Even if you don't take their courses, this newsletter is a must-read. If you don’t, it’s worth subscribing for the SEO strategies alone. Yoast's content is incredibly informative.
Carol Tice is an award-winning freelance writer who’s been freelancing for over a decade. Her goal is to help writers of all skill levels advance in their careers and avoid the pitfalls that many freelancers face.
Carol's online platform, The Freelance Writer's Den, is a paid membership community. Members have access to courses for writers, a job board with highly lucrative writing opportunities, and a supportive community of like-minded freelancers.
Whether you're part of the Den or not, it's worth subscribing to Carol's newsletter. Every email is peppered with advice about starting out as a freelance writer, monetizing a blog, content strategy, productivity, finding reputable clients and agencies to work with, and more. Whether you’re looking to freelance full-time or just to dip your toes in as a side hustle, her words are priceless.
Jocelyn is the mastermind behind the podcast Hurry Slowly, which focuses on creativity, resilience, and slowing down in a fast-paced world. She takes a radical approach to productivity in an era of burnout and constant stimulation, encouraging her readers and listeners to look at the world through a gentler lens.
This newsletter is a breath of fresh air for professionals who are constantly bombarded with ways to do more better and faster. If you want to cultivate mindfulness in your career, this one’s for you.
Paul Jarvis is an author and designer who sends out a newsletter every Sunday to discuss the broader implications of our digital lives. His articles are thought-provoking and cover a wide range of subjects, from running an online business to dealing with your inner critic.
These missives are less about actionable tips and more about starting a conversation around the way we live in the 21st century, but Paul is a brilliant writer with a lot of keen wisdom to share. It’s worth tuning in once a week to see what he has to say.
Create + Cultivate is a company that hosts a series of events across the United States dedicated to women working in creative industries. Their website is full of helpful articles about dealing with stress, growing your career, and finding inspiration in everyday life.
Subscribe to their company newsletter and you'll get great articles delivered right to your inbox in addition to being granted access to the “classifieds” section of their website. The classifieds email is sent out weekly and can help you find remote work doing what you love.
Jessica Stansberry is a go-getter mom who grew her seven-figure business from a small town in North Carolina, USA. She has an incredibly popular YouTube channel, an equally popular podcast, and creates a vast array of content for both seasoned and newbie lady entrepreneurs.
I love getting Jessica’s email newsletters because they’re generally packed with the “kick in the pants” I need to get going – especially on weeks when I just don’t feel like getting to work. (Sometimes you have to dig deep to get things done, even when it’s for your own business!)
Jessica offers some incredible courses and digital products (check out her digital planners if you’re into that sort of thing) and keeps her audience in-the-know about what’s happening in her business. I love Jessica’s mix of encouragement and butt-kicking.
I call this one a bonus instead of truly counting it in this lineup because Creative Market doesn’t really offer any business help in its newsletters like my other recommendations do. But what it is good for is free stuff.
Creative Market sends out 2 newsletters every week: The first one, on Mondays, offers 6+ totally free products for you to download. It could be font files, vector image files, stock photos, or something else. That’s right – THEY’RE FREE! No one wants to pass up a deal like that.
You can use the freebie images for your blog or social media accounts (double-check the licensing to make sure that if you’re using the images to make money, you won’t run into any trouble). You can upload the fonts into Canva or Adobe Illustrator to use in your image designs. And you don’t have to pay for any of it!
The second newsletter sent out later in the week shares “trending goods” from the site that have been popular. These are paid, but they give you a good sense of what other types of designs and images are popular across the internet, so you can stay in line with what’s “hot” at the moment.
The free stuff is hit or miss – there are plenty of weeks when I just ignore the email entirely or don’t see anything that’s helpful to me – but it’s a great opportunity I make sure to check out from time to time.
The Moral of the Story: Subscribe to Company Newsletters
Starting the day with a cup of coffee and a good business-focused newsletter is the modern equivalent of reading the paper (but by all means, do that too!). Newsletters are an effortless way to stay on top of the latest industry news and pick up new skills along the way. When you open your inbox to the right newsletters every morning, you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn, grow, and gain.
Don't stop with my recommendations – find some of your own. I also subscribe to news-based newsletters so I can get a quick snapshot of what's happening around the globe. Like everyone else, I also subscribe to newsletters from some of my favorite retailers to make sure I'm getting in on the best deals when I'm ready to spend a little money.
But most importantly, I really cherish and devour my business-based email newsletters because I know I'm going to get something out of them. I hope you do, too.
As an expat English teacher or military spouse, your options for making a little extra money on the side can be limited due to your visa agreement. That being said, it’s not impossible to start a successful side hustle while living abroad.
One of the easiest ways to get started with your own online business is to become a virtual assistant. There are myriad ways you can help other entrepreneurs handle tasks for their businesses without taking on a full-time job or even leaving the comfort of your own home. It’s all completely remote and completely up to you on what kind of specialties or services you provide.
What is a virtual assistant?
A virtual assistant (also called a “VA”) is a person who remotely provides specific services to other businesses without being an actual employee of that business.
These services can range from creative help – like making images to writing content – to technical assistance – like writing special code for websites or troubleshooting issues with online store software – to administrative and/or management roles.
There are literally dozens of ways VAs help business owners. There are general VAs, specialist VAs, and VAs that fall somewhere in the middle of those two groups.
Where you fall on the virtual assistant spectrum is totally up to you! Below, I’ve listed several things VAs are known to do but this is by no means an exhaustive list. The possibilities are practically endless!
Here are 11 things you can do to get started as a virtual assistant.
The term “social media manager” gets thrown around a lot in the online entrepreneurial world and, understandably, it can mean a few different things to different people.
Basically, though, it means an individual (the “manager”) handles a company’s or brand’s entire presence on social media. According to Sprout Social, one of the best social media management platforms on the web, “[S]ocial media managers grow [a] business through social networks.”
Often, a social media manager handles all the social profiles for a single entity across multiple platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and possibly others.
While you might take on the title “social media manager,” you could decide to specialize in something specific (which is a great idea for a number of reasons), such as Facebook group management, Instagram management, or Pinterest management (more on this below).
Making yourself super-well informed and an expert on one or two platforms is the best way to separate yourself from other general social media managers and ultimately make more money. 😉
2. Email Marketing
You know when you sign up to receive emails from a blogger you like, a company you enjoy buying from, or to receive updates from a brand you follow? Somebody has to put together all those emails that drop into your inbox.
Yes, I’m telling you that one person is responsible for all of those annoying Bath & Body Works emails you get 80 times a week! 😆
You could be the person to actually write the copy (the words) that goes into those emails or you simply set up and execute the design – sourcing and placing images, deciding where the copy should go in conjunction to those images, and choosing the size of the text and possibly which fonts to use.
Then, those emails have to be scheduled to go out via an email management platform like MailChimp, Mailerlite, ConvertKit, or others.
Designing these email campaigns, deciding on special emails that should go out to subscribers, and sending them out can be super bankable, even if you’re not the one writing the content in the emails.
3. Customer Service
Smaller companies that offer products or services to their customers often don’t have the resources to hire a staff of customer service reps to work for their business full-time. Instead, they outsource to VAs who handle answering customer questions, emails, and even phone calls.
Customer service is a big task for any business and as a customer service VA, you’re helping solve a major need. This often doesn’t take a lot of training other than learning the ropes of how your new client runs their customer service process. In special cases, you may even be hired on in the beginning stages of a client’s development and play a role in helping them create a system.
Either way, it’s an easy gateway to get started as a virtual assistant and possibly even learn a few things on how to handle clients as your VA business grows.
Copywriting is often not thought of as a virtual assistant-specific job, but if you’re a strong writer, this is a great VA service to offer.
There’s a lot of opportunities out there for freelance copywriters! Blogging consistently for businesses is highly lucrative, especially because it typically means recurring work. Copywriting, though typically a one-off opportunity, is still a great way to build your portfolio and work your way up to higher- and higher-paying jobs.
5. Online Store Management
From shops on Etsy to actual shop setups on individual websites, online store management is a big job. Whether you’re listing new products, helping with customer service (see above!), or handling returns and refunds, there’s a lot that goes into managing an online store.
If you’re close to a “brick and mortar” business location and they sell actual products, and if you can help physically with shipping or returns, this could be an even bigger opportunity for you (that is, should you want to be involved at that level).
Additionally, virtual stores may use a number of different systems to operate their enterprises, including WooCommerce, Shopify, or other platforms. Knowing the ins and outs of these systems and how to keep them running smoothly is a big job and always in high demand.
6. Email Management
This is different than the email marketing we talked about above because it doesn’t involve designing email campaigns but instead, it means helping a business owner manage an email inbox.
Business owners and entrepreneurs get dozens of emails every day, potentially hundreds every week. Some people hate keeping tabs on their inboxes (understandably, right?!) and want someone to handle weeding through all the stuff that gets sent their way.
As an email manager, you might handle a business owner’s main inbox or a special inbox set up for specific email campaigns. For example, every email management system, like MailChimp, Mailerlite, and others, requires the sender to provide an email address to serve as the “from” email. Often, businesses set up separate accounts and invite subscribers to reply to or send emails to that special “from” email address. Therefore, someone has to open, read, and reply to or pass on the important messages.
Believe it or not, depending on the size of the business, a VA could devote a few hours a week solely to email management.
7. Online Advertisements
This should come as a no-brainer: Creating, setting up, and running online ad campaigns is a great way to make money.
Whether you specialize in Facebook or Instagram advertising, Google Ad Words, Pinterest ads, or other online ad campaigns, there’s a lot of money to be made – both for your client and for yourself.
The more practice you get and the more you learn about the different types of ad campaigns and what works and what doesn’t work, the more money you can charge clients to help them advertise their products or services.
I separated Pinterest from the social media management section because it’s a horse of a different color. Pinterest is, first and foremost, a search engine. While it does have some social media-like qualities, including “likes” and messaging, its main function is to help people searching for specific information find what they’re looking for via keywords and images.
At its core, Pinterest helps online bloggers and businesses direct more traffic to their websites, build brand awareness, and gain additional fans and followers.
Like specializing in advertising, specializing in Pinterest management is a great way to separate yourself from other “manager” VAs who may not be as well-versed in running Pinterest campaigns.
“SEO” – also known by its full name, “search engine optimization” – is a big online buzzword. It’s an important part of running a website and a successful blog: If a site is properly optimized, it increases the site’s visibility and ranking on search engines like Google.
Think about when you go to Google and search for something. You might type in a few words or even a full sentence into the search box. Once you hit “submit,” the search engine presents you with a page of results. Usually, the ones at the top of the page will be your best bet. It’s probably rare that you look past the first page of results, but there are actually hundreds of pages of results you could weed through if you really wanted to.
So how do websites end up on that first page of search results? By using SEO best practices.
SEO specifically deals with using keywords in the content on a webpage – in the copy itself, in image alt text, in a page’s meta description, and in article sections, called headings. SEO beginners and experts alike start by making lists of main keywords that their ideal audience might be searching for or find interesting. The trick is to use those keywords to develop blog posts and/or informational pages that will ultimately get picked up by Google and, hopefully, pushed to the first page of search results. The closer to the top of the page, the better.
Business owners are always looking for help with SEO and if you’re a freelance writer, this is another great way to increase your perceived value to your prospective clients.
10. Business Organization / Online Business Manager (OBM)
Plenty of business owners need help keeping their business organized – it’s not everyone’s strong suit! Some biz owners may also want to hand off management roles to someone else so they can focus their efforts on other things. As a business organizer or online business manager (OBM), you can help do either or both.
You might excel in helping businesses organize files or systems; you could create systems for them, such as standard operating procedures (SOPs) on how to handle tasks in their business; or you might help manage other assistants that work in various areas of the business.
These kinds of opportunities often require more experience. However, depending on what kind of professional work experience you have before starting your virtual assistance business, you might fit the bill even without extensive VA experience.
11. Content Editor
There are plenty of folks who want to handle the bulk of a writing project on their own but loathe the idea of running back through the work and looking for mistakes. If they’re wise, they’ll seek out an editor before publishing or printing any materials.
If you’re a strong writer, you’re probably also a strong editor. Other writers and professionals of various industries seek out freelance editors for publications like white papers, professional articles, professional journal publications, ebooks, and more. These jobs tend to be one-off opportunities or, for those that are ongoing, there may be significant amounts of time between editing projects.
Editing is a great addition to offer clients if you’re marketing yourself as a freelance writer or any kind of content management VA.
There are so many ways to get started as a virtual assistant – these are just a few ideas. While it may be tempting to try and offer as many services as you can, you’ll be more valuable to business owners and have the ability to make more money by narrowing down your offerings.
Look at the list above and consider what things interest you most. Start by researching those services to see what skills you already have and what you need to learn to jump-start a VA business.