Brian Casel
Brian Casel

Introducing, Audience Ops

by Brian Casel on May 7, 2015
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Finally. I know what I’ll be working on for the foreseeable future. It’s a new company called, Audience Ops.

Here in this post, I’ll share the mission behind Audience Ops and my plan to get it off the ground. For more on my thought process leading up to this (and 3 business ideas I decided not to go with), tune into today’s episode of the podcast.

Here we go…

What is Audience Ops?

Audience Ops is a content marketing service that helps online businesses dramatically grow their audience, educate their customers, and earn more sales. We do that through deep customer research, educational email campaigns, and blog publishing.

It will be delivered as a productized service, by me and a small team of talented writers and educators. I’m currently speaking to candidates to join me on the Audience Ops team (Interested? Apply here).

Taking a Stance

I was inspired by Jesse Mecham’s talk at MicroConf Vegas last month, where he spoke about the importance of taking a stance in the mission behind your company. His company, YNAB, sells software that helps you create a budget. But it’s built around a certain budgeting methodology they call the “4 rules”, which Jesse & co believe to be the best way to budget.

This got me thinking about the core belief that’s driving the mission behind Audience Ops.  Here it is:

Content marketing isn’t about tactics. It’s about building assets.

Most companies are missing a huge opportunity because they’re focused too heavily on tactics like word counts, keyword stuffing, and click-bait. They’d see much better results if they focused on these two crucial elements:

Customer research and email.

If a company wants their blog to be read by people who have a high likelihood of becoming customers, then they have to get inside their minds and figure out what’s worthy of their attention. Only deep customer research, up-front and ongoing, for the purpose of building content assets will get you there.

Once a potential customer resonates with something a company publishes on their blog, it’s critical that they come back again. There’s nothing worse than a fly-by visitor who was actually highly qualified for the product, but forgot the URL and is never to be seen again.

The best (and still underused!) way eliminate fly-by visitors is email. It’s the only channel where you have your reader’s undivided attention and the ability to re-connect at will. Companies that earn their invite to their customer’s inbox and deliver on their promise of good, helpful, actionable content find themselves miles ahead of their competition.

The investment is in truly knowing the customer and growing the email list. The return comes in the form of sustainable traffic (more return visitors, more organic and referral traffic), more qualified leads (content that resonates with your target customers funnels more of them into your list), and sales (education leads to trust leads to sale leads to referral). Taken together, it all adds up to an asset—your audience—and that gives your company an unfair advantage in your space.

That’s my stance when it comes to content marketing, and that’s what Audience Ops will be built on.

Productized Service

No surprise here. I decided to launch a productized service business. Here are my reasons for going this route:

Doesn’t require software.

I’m not a developer. If I chose to build a software business, I’d need to hire a full-time developer or find a CTO to partner with. I decided I wasn’t in a position to do this right now.

Launch to revenue quickly.

I’m able to get this thing off the ground and running very quickly. I launched only a week ago. Based on the way my conversations are going, I expect first revenue to come in by end of this month.

Solving a problem.

By delivering this as a productized service, I know I’m solving crushing a pain that some businesses have, which is they know they want to invest in growing their audience, but don’t have the funds, time, or skill-sets to do it in-house.

Doing things differently

The whole point of moving from one business to the next is to apply the lessons you learned from the last one to correct and improve the way you do things. With this in mind, here are a few ways I’m approaching Audience Ops differently than I have in the past:

Scale from day 1

In years past, I would deliver the service myself for a while and eventually begin to delegate and remove myself from the process.  It took me 3+ years to remove myself from the day-to-day operations of Restaurant Engine.

This time I’ll move much faster. From day 1, I’m designing this business to be highly systematized and streamlined. I’m also bringing in better writers than myself to handle the creative work while I focus on building this as a scalable business.

Ideal client

Launching Audience Ops means I’m getting back into consulting in a big way. This time around, a big difference is my focus on an ideal client.

When I did web design consulting (before Restaurant Engine), I worked for any client that came my way with the right budget. This time, I’m being much more lazer-focused in terms of who we serve and more importantly, why.

It’s still early so understanding who the ideal client truly is is still work-in-progress. But here’s what I know so far:

  • Naturally, early conversations about Audience Ops have led me to folks who are already in my network—Software product owners, web consultancies, and productized service owners… I’m super excited about the prospect of serving my people.
  • There are certainly those who handle all of their content themselves because they are their own personal brand. These folks won’t be a fit for Audience Ops.
  • There are companies who already value audience building and an education-based sales process, but don’t have the time or resources to handle it in-house, and they’re not quite ready to hire a full-time person to do it right. So far, this describes those who’ve resonated most with what Audience Ops is offering.

Delegate more

I’m certainly not new to delegating and handing responsibility over to my teammates. But this time around, I want to get even better here.

In the past, my approach to delegating has been to do it myself for a while, hammer out a standard repeatable process, then find someone to take my place. This works well for most operational things within a service.

But I need to get better at delegating before I even try doing something myself. There are plenty of things that someone else would be much better at doing than I would. My goal is to do a better job of identifying these things, and look to bring someone in before I invest time and energy into hacking away at it myself.

Business model

With the launch of Audience Ops, this will be my fifth type of business model that I’ve done. Historically, my businesses looked like this:

  • 2008-2012:  Freelance, project-based web design consulting. Projects ranged from $1k to $30k at the height.
  • 2010-2012:  Digital download products. I sold WordPress themes for $59 each.
  • 2012-present:  Software as a Service.  Subscription-based products ranging from $19-$99/month.
  • 2013-present:  Educational products & coaching.  An eBook and course ranging from $29 to $695.
  • 2015: Productized consulting. Retainer-based consulting starting at a few thousand dollars per month.

So I’m getting back into a consulting model, which in the past brought two main problems for me:  1) Income wasn’t steady. Lots of feast and famine. And 2) Client work brought a lot of headaches. Here’s how I’m solving these two problems this time:

Regarding income stability… I’m attacking this by going with the retainer-based consulting model. Recurring revenue means no more feast and famine. But I also learned in my years working in SaaS that selling a subscription is much harder than selling a one-time purchase. Luckily, at this higher price point, it only takes a small number of customers to have a very healthy business, unlike a SaaS which can take years to reach the hundreds required to make it viable.

By the way, the prices you might see on the website today are far from “set in stone”. As of this writing, they’re introductory prices and will likely raise in the near future. I’m also not sure whether we’ll continue to publish pricing or move that conversation further into the sales process.

Now about those client “headaches”… By productizing what we do, we’ll limit the amount of headache traditionally associated with consulting. That usually comes from a mix of working with the wrong clients (not knowing who your ideal client is), and projects that go off the rails (because nothing is standardized).

First Steps…

Now let me share a brief sequence of very first steps I took to move Audience Ops from “idea” to an actual thing…

  1. Ideate.  It came together as a concept in my head while I was in Vegas at MicroConf. That’s not to say I “invented” this idea. It’s certainly not an entirely new concept. Just saying I formed it as a potential business idea for me to pursue.
  2. Notes.  My next step was to furiously write a brain dump of all the ideas swirling around my head. Ideas for scope of service, pricing, team, go-to-market strategy, etc. This happened in my hotel room in Vegas and on the flight home.
  3. Conversations.  While still in Vegas I started running the idea by some friends, and started the feedback process. I also presented the concept to my mastermind group at this point.
  4. Name.  Next I needed a name and domain name. I knew I didn’t want to spend more than a few days on this. So I gave myself a deadline of 3 days and decided I’d go with the best name I had by then.
  5. Sales page (v1).  Again, it’s easy to go overboard here, so I set myself a deadline of 3 days to write and design the sales page. I still went a bit overboard and probably spent too much time picking fonts, colors, and graphics. But I managed to get it ready to show in a weekend.
  6. Send to friends.  My next step was to pass around the site to about 30-40 friends in my network. I also posted to the private Productize Community. I asked for their critical feedback, which was incredibly helpful. I also asked for introductions to anyone who might be a good fit as a client, and also mentioned that I’m looking for writers. This step produced about 5 client leads (booked consultations) and 5 recommendations to writer candidates.
  7. Iterate. Based on the feedback and conversations I had, I made several changes to the content of the sales page. I re-worked headlines, clarified the value prop, and re-worked pricing.
  8. Announce. Today I’m publicly announcing Audience Ops to my newsletter, blog, and on this week’s episode of the podcast. The goal here is to give it a bit more reach. Again, I’m looking for feedback on the concept and also seeking leads for both potential clients and teammates.

These steps took a total of 3 weeks. Not bad!

Next Steps…

  1. First proposals. I’ve had consultations with some first leads and have a few more lined up. Now I’m sending proposals and I’m expecting first revenue to come in by end of this month!
  2. First teammates. I’ve already interviewed several excellent candidates. I have a few more to speak to. I’m aiming to bring on two people on a contract basis within the next 2 weeks.
  3. Audience Ops content strategy. We’ll strategize and launch our content strategy for the Audience Ops blog and email newsletter. I’m aiming to have this launched within a month.
  4. Develop a 3 month marketing plan. In the first 4-8 weeks we’re working off of network effects and referrals. But by June I’ll have an actual marketing plan to execute and test for a 3-month period.
  5. Create an educational product. I want to launch an educational product, probably an eBook or a course of some kind around content marketing strategy. I’m aiming to get this together in late 2015.


The thing about plans…

…Is plans tend to change.

I’ve made somewhat of an effort to avoid blogging about things I will do and try and focus on teaching from experience. This post is, of course, an exception since I’m laying out my future plans here.

Publishing about the future is hard, because I realize how easily plans might change as new information comes to light. It’s entirely possible that I’ll look like a fool if the plans I publish don’t pan out (it wouldn’t be the first time).

But that’s also why I’m doing it. To give myself that added pressure of learning things the hard way… In public.

Here we go!