The Audience Building Hamster Wheel & Customer First Business Examples

July 4, 2017 - 14 Comments

Last week, as a closure of the ActiveGrowth Podcast launch day, we held a live webinar to answer your questions about the podcast and the topic that we choose for our first three episodes: why you should quit chasing traffic and focus on getting your first customer instead.

Based on all the questions and feedback we got, we decided to record a 4th episode as part of the "Forget Traffic!" series.

We noticed that there's some resistance to the idea of going customer first (even though "get paid sooner!" should be pretty appealing) and we address that in today's episode.

We also walk through several practical examples and case studies on how the customer first approach can work even for the less typical business models. 


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Episode transcript

Bonus Content

Here's the downloadable bonus we've prepared for you, to go along with this episode.

In This Episode, You'll Discover:

  • ​What video games and chasing traffic have in common
  • Why the customer first approach can be unattractive at first glance
  • The "selfie-problem" or why we shy away from building a real business in a world of Instagram and YouTube starlets.
  • How to quit feeling resistant and procrastinating for the wrong reason
  • How starting with simple coaching sessions can help you create your e-course
  • If you have a legitimate reason to not go after your first customer - or if it's just fear... 
  • Business examples that go beyond the typical online info product selling
  • How even a vegan chef, a newbie tattoo artist or a martial arts sensei can get their first customer without trying to drive traffic to their websites first. 
  • How to launch a podcast and start earning money with it before you spend too much time on recording episodes.


Here are a few resources mentioned in the podcast and stories related to the topic:

    Is The Customer First Approach For You?

    We would love to hear your opinion about this topic! Share with us what kind of business you have and whether you think the customer first approach is going to work for your business. What would you like to learn about in upcoming episodes?

    Please let us know by joining the conversation in the comments section below or leaving an audio message here:​ 

    Thanks for listening in - see you in the next episode! 

    About ​Alexandra Kozma

    Alexandra is a traveling marketer. When she is not editing podcast episodes or writing blog posts, she's out there exploring a new city. She's the creator of the Morning Mindset daily mindfulness journal.

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  • Ed Monson says:

    Thanks for such deep dives into such important material. Found you when searching “landing pages” and subscribe to Thrive Themes shortly thereafter.

    Still digesting the new podcasts. As I listen, you will spark something in my brain that result in brainstorms. That means multiple listening are in order as most of what you said after my “spark” wasn’t completely absorbed or even heard.

    I’m launching an insurance brokerage online focusing almost entirely online. We’re going after younger drivers who are tech savvy but not insurance savvy and, on the other end, people turning 65 who are guaranteed approved for Medicare Supplements. These are the tail end of the baby boom who are also more tech savvy than predecessors. Does this count as a “physical product”? I’m loving your content, but not feeling it 100% applies to me.

    • Thank you for your comment, Ed!

      It’s great to know that our content sparks inspiration for you like that. :)

      Your business sounds interesting. I would call this a service based business. I think a lot of what we talk about will apply to you as well. One thing that stands out to me, from what you describe: you’re targeting two very different groups of people. I think trying to reach both these groups with the same message will be difficult. It’s probably better to reach the different groups with two distinct messages and possibly even two separate brands.

  • Lorenzo D says:

    Thank you for the follow up episode, this one really did it for me. I could see right away that the customer first thing makes all the sense in the world, and yet, I thought I actually was one of the few exceptions…my plan is to sell information products, as I have done for years. I know the game, I have the tools.

    Except now it’s a completely different topic and in English for good measure (not my native language).
    Plus, it’s a topic that doesn’t really lend itself to the coaching session format.

    So I was ready to just create the first course as best I could right now, and then start a YouTube channel, a blog, a simple lead magnet and follow up sequence. The videos/posts would be clear examples and “bait” for what one could expect to get in the course, so provided that the target audience liked the content, even just a decent amount of traffic would also bring *some* sales from day 1.

    Not as bad as starting a YouTube channel with zero business plan and revenue source, BUT still very much dependent on traffic.

    New plan after hearing this episode:
    still create the course, but create it as a bare bones MVP. Contact suitable small and medium range established personalities in my online community (which is thankfully growing rapidly, and could definitely benefit from the products I have in mind), and offer them the course for free, along with my personal supervision, one on one, plus maybe group sessions to spice it up, and – perhaps most importantly – the promise they will get the chance to be the first to promote the course as affiliates once it’s open to the public.
    Coaching sessions are doable if you have the course as a basis, and I can certainly use their feedback to refine the course. At the same time, since the course is done already, I will have the time to start publishing content on the channel/blog and get things rolling for a few weeks (or months).

    As soon as they have completed the course, make the final version with their feedback and do a launch, hopefully with their testimonials and their promotion. If the beta version was successful, traffic will come in droves from THEIR channels, which will both make for much higher revenue, AND kickstart my own channel for real.

    Of course, the problem with this strategy is that I am NOT making money from day one. But it’s still definitely Customer First, and I AM amassing social capital, building relationships.

    Revenue comes a few months further down the line, but it will almost certainly be much higher than if I tried to do it alone. And I have saved enough money to last me at least a year, so no huge pressure. What do you think?

    • I definitely like your new plan a lot better than the previous one!

      However, as I was reading it, my first though was what you wrote as well: the problem is that you aren’t making money, here. You’ll be getting really valuable feedback and I have no doubt that this way, you’ll end up with a much better course. But you’re doing too much for free, here.

      What’s the reason for not charging your early customers? Especially if they get one on one help and group sessions, why should all that be free?

      • Lorenzo D says:

        If these were random people in my general target audience, I would ask for some compensation. However, one of my main goals is to have very strong social proof right out of the gate. The idea here is to assemble a small team of what are essentially mini-celebrities in their part of the internet, all youngish, very unordinary people.

        Which in itself is fun and exciting, but I’d do that as one of their unknown followers, or, well, let’s say sympathizers. Their time appears more valuable than mine in this scenario. Plus, the course will not be easy. It is something pretty innovative that requires commitment and even some guts. So I’m asking them to commit to weeks of real work, from a position of perceived subordination. My perception is, they are paying me with their time, attention and cooperation. Should I also ask them for money?

        I don’t know, maybe. But let’s say I’m offering you, Shane Melaugh, to take part in the course. Let’s say you can see the value and the usefulness of it, you like the project overall, and you can even see the potential financial gains down the road. It’s still weeks of commitment, you are still a superbusy mini-celerity, and I am still one of your followers, who is also unproven in this new field. Ask you 100$ on top of that?

        I think some people would take me more seriously, but others would just go “yeah, would you also like me to be your car-driver during that time?”

        How would you react in each of those cases, free and 100$? Provided that you liked the rest of the offer, obviously.

        I suppose I could set up a more open beta run with a price tag, and promote it via PPC, or just ask the guys to promote the payed course among their friends, but letting them, the main guys, in for free. Or some other combination of payed and free.

        But you know what, if the finished course sells for around 200$, and I ask around 100$ for the beta run, and I have 10-20 people coming in (optimistically), we’re talking about 500-1000$ after Italian taxes.

        Peanuts is still better than a kick in the face, but I can make that building a blog for a client, takes me a few days. So the real question here is psychological and strategic: we know people value things much less if they don’t pay for them, so coming in for free would almost certainly reduce their commitment and my perceived authority during the course. I know this from experience. Getting them to pay is clearly better in every way.

        But can I AFFORD to ask my targets for money in this scenario?

        Again, put yourself in their shoes, I might well ask you, too. How would you react?

      • Hanne Vervaeck says:

        Hi Lorenzo,

        If I’m not willing to pay money for it, I’m definitely not willing to spend my time on doing it…

        If you believe what you offer is valuable and will help this “mini celebrities” then I believe you should change your mindset and show them you’re giving them an excellent deal by offering half price or whatever.

        Also, I would not only try to get those people… As you say yourself they are busy and you ask a lot of time investment which they might have (they might be at a point where they simply prefer paying for someone to take care of it for them).

        While it would help for social proof, I would always prefer earning money now from normal people and build up social proof that way.

        Good luck!

  • Mārtiņš says:

    Hanne and Shane,

    Thanks for the podcast!

    Some time ago I was inspired by book “Content Inc.” and have actually made my blog/business according to that book. This is classical “audience first” approach.

    I have spent more than year on that and exactly how you explained – I’m waiting for enough subscribers to start creating products and selling :)

    But few month ago I have stopped posting on the blog and started to work on small software product – WordPress/WooCommerce plugin.

    * I have defined my target market: Woocommece store owner who is using ActiveCamapign for e-mail marketing.

    * I have almost finished my MVP version of the product.

    But now I have few questions:

    * have I done it right by creating MVP first or the better approach would be to somehow do consulting/coaching first?

    * what would you recommend to do next? Run some paid ads, do a manual search of potential customers, or … ?

    * when I have reached some potential customer, what should I do then – offer them the product for free and charge later or sell it immediately?

    Thanks in advance for your help!

  • Another great episode, well done.

    My niche is automated software testing, it’s also my full time career and a passion.

    I’m currently working out if there are customers in this space and not just free-loaders.

    I’ve tried a free coaching call offer with a LinkedIn group and got a couple of callers, so I know the tactic works it’s all about making the offer!

    My dilemma is my “customers”, i.e. The ones who interact with me, expect everything for free, because 90% of the material is free!

    ive got the experience and knowledge to build products, etc, but am facing a wall of non-payers.

    Any advice on this?


    • Thank you for your comment, Steve!

      That’s an interesting conundrum, you describe. So, there are two thoughts that come to my mind about this.

      1) “Automated software testing” sounds to me like a B2B product. That means that the person doing the testing is not your customer. At least, it’s not the person who spends the money. The tester works for a company and the company has a boss or a department that’s in charge of purchasing stuff. So, it’s possible that the people you talk to (testers) are unwilling to pay because that’s just not how it works for them. They’re not the ones buying software or training. If that’s the case, it means you have to figure out how to reach and convince whoever the person with the money is, in your prospect company. That can be a bit more difficult, but it also means you can charge more.

      2) Having said all that, not every product can find a market. A simple litmus test for this is: are there other people or companies selling the kind of product you want to create and sell? If not, there’s maybe just no market for it. If yes, you can try to find out how they do it.

      • Hi Shane,

        Re 1: you’re spot on, in fact you’re the first online person who got my niche first time!

        And yes getting in front of “the money men” is very difficult, I know I’m one of them, lol.

        Re 2: there are software products out there, I can think of 2 big corporate players in my space doing that.

        But they’re selling software applications, I want to create training packages so people can learn how to do the same things themselves.

        I see this lack of knowledge at every company I’ve worked at and found myself going over the same training every time to new starters, hence my favoured direction/business idea.

        I know there’s an industry need, I need to get people off the free model!!

        Maybe I can offer a “full video training course” that step by step gives you the basics, then offer “upsells” to go to the next level.

        However if I can’t make this work then I’ll dig a little deeper into my experiences/knowledge and look for a different problem to solve.

        Thanks again and look forward to your thoughts.


      • A possible angle could also be targeting testers themselves, in the sense of “learn this and you’ll be a more valuable employee and be able to ask for a higher salary”. However, that depends a lot on the industry and testing is one I know next to nothing about. In some industries, there are official certifications programs and employees and employers only care about those. In others, there’s more room for smaller players to enter.

  • Hey Hanne and Shane! Thank you so much for all these podcasts! Such amazing content! I wish I could meet you before… So, this is my situation and I hope to have a little help from you. I did everything wrong. I started to build my online course without having an audience. Launching an inexistent product for me sounds like a fraud, so I decided to work on it before I launched. I’m a freelancer and the more I was dedicated to creating my course, the less time I had for my clients. So some of them I dismiss, some of them left me on this journey. And I started to live with less I could in Southeast Asia. However, my biggest client decided not to renew the contract. So, I launched my course, with the same ticket as my client in total risk. I had 50 people on my list only and I sell one, which I believe was a miracle. My question is, considering that my financial situation is not the best now… What to do? The training I launched is the MVP of the course, so should I keep working on that +audience building? Or give a step back, start with the coaching sessions and monetize quickly and study better my audience until I build it? Hope to hear from you soon and thank you in advance!

    • Hi Helga,

      First of all: doing anything is better than doing nothing. In other words, it’s better to do all the wrong things than not to do anything at all.

      Regarding your financial situation, I highly recommend that you ramp up your freelance work again to pay the bills. From all the successful entrepreneurs I’ve talked to, most had a period of building their business as a side hustle, next to their job or client work. Ideally, you can slowly transition from one to the other. Spend 80% of your time working with clients to pay the bills and 20% on doing the work needed on the course business side. Then do less client work and more course work once that starts bringing in some money, until you’re eventually fully working on the course business.

      As you can see from the Customer First approach we talk about, we also recommend basically doing client work or coaching work as a way to finance the building of your course business.

      • Hey Shane,

        Thanks a lot for your quick answer and kind advice. Always good to have an outside opinion to have more clarity. Again, I wish I could meet your blog before. :) For sure, I wouldn’t make so many mistakes. I’ll go to the coaching program implementation. It seems to be the best option, I guess. :)

        You’re totally right when you say that I should come back to my clients and put more effort into this to pay my bills. But the truth is that I’ve been doing this for one year and not seeing real progress on the implementation of my courses was killing me. I wasn’t doing my best for my clients anymore (and of course they were noticing that)… So, yeap, better to face that’s not working and embrace the risk and put my focus on make it happen, hum?
        To much stubbornness? I tell you if I fail or not later.

        Thanks again! Wish you a beautiful day! :)


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