What Small Businesses Could Learn From A Blogger Who Gained 50K Subscribers In 16 Months
This week I met a fairly young entrepreneur, Benjamin Hardy. At age 28, Hardy is at work on a Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology (he’s studying the difference between entrepreneurs and “wannabe” entrepreneurs). With his wife, he’s the father of three foster children.
He’s authored two eBooks, including “Slipstream Time Hacking.” He consults startup founders and is published in Fortune, Fast Company, Huffington Post, SUCCESS and Business Insider.
As a sideline and experiment, Hardy’s also become one of the top three most read and followed writers on Medium.com, a platform he began publishing on in May of last year. Inspired in particular by the works of Dr. Stephen R. Covey (“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”), Hardy has put a high focus on writing and thought leadership. “I always knew I would be a writer,” he says. “Blogging is simply a means to that end.”
In the process, he’s documented his learnings for others and shared his strategies with me in the following interview. It is especially interesting to note that Hardy entered the thought leadership arena not only as an exceptionally young entrepreneur, but without a book, a product or a company. He began from square one to acquire his current following of 50,000 email subscribers in the space of just 16 months.
His two secrets:
1. The Platform
“First, I realized I needed an online platform, which is a hairy and big process to learn,” he said. “It went really well, really fast, but it embodies what I’m doing right now.”
Hardy began by compiling a “core principles course,” that comprises the seven core principles he uses to succeed at any endeavor. As step one, he teaches the seven principles in private consulting and also provides them in a short online course. “It’s 70 minutes of content, and it costs just $19, but it’s basically my ‘indoctrination funnel’ bringing people up to speed on the principles I believe will make them successful at anything they do.”
Before the course, he found that he had many subscribers who’d liked his writing, but who “really didn’t go anywhere” in getting more deeply involved. Now, as people read Hardy’s articles and subscribe to his blog they get a series of five emails that share a set of his strongest strategies for elevating their lives, and then they receive the invitation to purchase the $19 Core Principles course, which is principle, rather than strategy, oriented. (Translation: the emphasis is general and inspirational as opposed to being a detailed “how-to.”)
2. The Premise
Hardy’s other big secret is his morning routine. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, he had served a two-year mission for his church. During that time he became highly aware of the value of having a powerful and consistent a.m. routine.
“The hours between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. will make or break your mission,” he said. It was his devotion to this principle that produced his first giant publishing hit, an article entitled “8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8 a.m.”
“That article went mega viral,” he says. “There were three million reads on Medium. It was the #2 article on the NY Observer for 2015. There were almost a million reads on Business Insider. It went everywhere.”
In fact, when I asked him how he’d come to be published in Fortune, he said this article had been the key. He’d done nothing, The Fortune editors found his piece on Medium and re-posted. This strategy — Syndication — is another of Hardy’s keys, which is also in keeping with an “abundance” mindset. He is liberal in giving value-add information away.
As a next step, Hardy has joined with fellow online marketing experts Richie Norton and John Lee Dumas (I’ve interviewed them both in the past) to create an instructional course on “How to Hack Medium” that will document the subscriber building process he’s used.
“I don’t know if my results can be replicated precisely, but I will teach the best concepts I can,” he says. As a test, he recently wrote an article with an individual who didn’t have an existing following or platform. The article carried this individual’s name and was published on Medium, but generated conversation that Hardy perpetuated on Facebook as well. “It did go comparatively viral,” he said. “It received 25,000 views.”
In the week of our interview Hardy had also helped another article achieve top 10 standing, for at least a little while, on Medium. When Hardy’s publishing adventures began, however, he had no template to follow.
He’d begun blogging on his own website in only April of 2015 and heard about the publishing platform Medium in May. From that point, here’s a chronology of what he did that can also serve as practical tips for other entrepreneurs:
1. The quality of your writing is vital.
By quality he does not mean the grammatical or literary excellence, necessarily, but that the material strongly resonates with readers in its message, its lessons, and provides sufficient urgency and “take-aways” that readers desire.
2. Headlines count
Hardy took an online course in successful blogging from Jon Morrow, of SmartBlogger.com. One of Morrow’s best pieces of wisdom was that headlines are the first and biggest factor that influence a writer’s success. So Hardy practiced heavily in putting the headline factor to use.
3. Republishing can be magic.
Perhaps top among his strategies, Hardy says, is that he republishes each of his blog articles on Medium (with link and attribution to its original appearance, of course). Now, he notes, Medium is growing so fast as a platform that even Fortune is adopting this strategy, locating its entire Fortune Insiders platform on Medium and drawing from the best material from a variety of expert sources and entrepreneurs.
4. To draw subscribers, leverage your popular articles well
“When my article ‘8 Things Before 8 a.m.’ went crazy, it was drawing 200,000–300,000 new viewers a day,” Hardy recalls. “But my website was crappy.” He didn’t have a place established for people to subscribe to his work. Millions of viewers visited his site, but no subscriber traction occurred.
As quickly as he was able, he added a section to the end of his article that said, “If you like this article, come to my blog and I’ll give you a free eBook if you subscribe.” (The ability to add a full invitation/where to find more paragraph to the end of a piece is is yet another advantage of publishing on sites like Medium, LinkedIn and the new BeBee.com over traditional online magazines.)
This strategy took Hardy from zero followers to 3,500; however, he realizes in hindsight that he missed the biggest part of his opportunity by being caught unprepared.
5. Be aware that it’s not the largest publications that will produce the bulk of your email subscribers
With his validity proven, Hardy was able to publish in tier one publications such as Huffington Post and Business Insider. These wins were great for building Hardy’s credibility as an expert and author, but did little to increase his following base. “Ninety-nine percent of my subscribers arrive via Medium,” he says. “All I’ve done is write compelling material, include the invitation for the free e-book if you subscribe, and my following rose to 50,000 subscribers in 16 months.”
6. Learn to leverage the power of breadth
Hardy quickly discovered a principle that ongoing writers for Forbes and other leading publications have discovered as well: When readers are compelled by one article by a particular author, it leads them to look for other posts by the same writer.
So when you have an article that’s doing well, Hardy says, that has perhaps achieved top 20 status and is getting a lot of traffic, you should publish other articles immediately. They will show up at the bottom of your piece as other recent pieces by the same writer and the articles will help each other to generate additional steam.
7. Leverage the long tail
Hardy has now started republishing articles he’d already published on Medium eight months earlier. He realized that since the pieces originally appeared, his followership has doubled or tripled approximately every eight months, which means that his most popular material from a year ago hasn’t been seen by the majority of the people who follow him now.
“The life of an article isn’t very long,” he observes. “You can republish every 6–12 months, depending on how fast your followership is growing. I republished 10 or so pieces from earlier in a period of 3–4 weeks and they all did just as well as they’d done originally. In fact, I ended up getting 10,000 new subscribers in a single month.” On Medium, the fact that he’s re-posting pieces that have already appeared is just fine and is not prohibited or discouraged by the platform’s guidelines.
As an experiment, Hardy deleted the original version of five of the posts he republished when they re-appeared and for the other five, he left the originals there. There were no negative issues, he says.
However — as a caveat — Hardy doesn’t republish everything, he says. In large part this is because his writing has gotten progressively better with experience, and he now realizes his past pieces, as well received as they were, are not as strong as the material he’s publishing now. But of all his strategies, the simple step of republishing his best prior works in front of his growing and new set of readers has led to “an insane amount of traffic,” he says. That step, alone, has led to at least 10,000 of the current 50,000 subscribers he has.
8. Use ClickFunnels to create landing pages
ClickFunnels is a software for creating “squeeze pages” (the web pages that lead readers down a path that encourages them to buy or subscribe) or landing pages (a simple “subscribe here” page) but can also host online courses. “I’ve used Infusionsoft before,” Hardy says, and he notes that Infusionsoft integrates well with ClickFunnels. “But my landing page, up until three months ago was just my website that included a banner that said ‘click this link to get my free ebook’,” he says. “That step alone has led to a much higher conversion rate. But I don’t direct anyone to my site anymore. Now I send them to my ebook landing page.”
Thanks to the ClickFunnels template, it took him just 15 minutes to create the landing page. The software is $99 a month and allows users to build as many landing pages as they like. “You can just replicate them as needed,” Hardy says. “I can just change the name of the ebook. It’s easy. And 70% of people who click that page opt in. They get the ebook, then they go through the indoctrination funnel and get invited to buy the course, which is $19.”
9. Leverage Influencers
If someone with a big following on Medium presses the “recommend” button (the green heart), all of a sudden your piece is on the forefront of “a ton of people’s newsfeeds,” Hardy says. So when you publish on Medium, you should recommend your own article and where you can do so appropriately, invite highly-followed people you know to also recommend it and share it for you.
Hardy’s “How to Hack Medium” course should be available shortly, he says. The best way to receive word, of course, is to visit Hardy’s pieces on Medium, where he provides instructions on how to subscribe.
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This story was originally published at www.forbes.com. Information about Cheryl Snapp Conner’s Content University program to help businesses and executives tell their stories better is available here.