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3 Ways to Build an Audience for Next to Nothing

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

Updated 6.13.24

If you’re a writer, you want readers. And thanks to the internet era, you can choose from dozens of methods to build an audience.

But too many options can be a snare for those of us who fall for The Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS). Like me, you may be distracted by the latest audience-building goodness, like new apps and courses and shortcuts. Each promises to be the magic bullet for building an audience.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m all about using different methods to reach more readers and build an audience. But I’m a solopreneur. Marketing my writing is necessary, but I need to find a balance between finding readers and providing them with quality content. Many of you, I’m sure, feel the same.

Fortunately, there’s good news for those of us who want to build a writing audience. The process can be simple. And you can do it just one step at a time. In fact, the “tortoise” approach to building an audience is the best way to go. And best of all, you needn’t spend a fortune to help readers to find you and your content. You can do it for very little cash outlay.

3 ways to build an audience with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips      #WebContentWriting

Build an audience for next to nothing — with 2 caveats

Let me state two caveats. First, when I say you can build an audience, I speak of online traffic. I assume you have a central hub that you call your online home — whether it’s a website, a blog, a social media site, a YouTube channel. And I also assume you’ve got a system in place to track numbers. You’ve adopted a way to record traffic metrics (such as Google Analytics) from one day or week or month to the next.

Second, when I say you can build an audience for your content for next to nothing, I mean so in terms of financial outlay. You can gain readers for very little monetary cost.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that building an audience costs nothing. You’ll invest plenty of sweat equity. At the keyboard, that is.

How to build an audience for next to nothing

The principle is simple.

  • To build an audience, you need to build traffic.
  • To build traffic, you need to point readers to your central online hub.
  • To point readers to your hub, you need to give them something they need.

You do that in three ways.

1. Build content

You can build an audience when you create a quality piece of content that your target reader needs or wants. Optimize it for search engines. Readers find you organically or through referral traffic. When you build content, you create an asset — one that readers want. That content can take a nearly limitless number of forms, such as:

  • Informational website
  • Online course
  • EBook
  • Checklist
  • Guide
  • Workbook
  • Worksheet
  • Podcast
  • Video
  • Membership site
  • Webinar
  • Cheat sheet
  • Template
  • Infographic
  • Online event

Write content using low-supply, high-demand keywords, and your project will gain traction with the search engines. Even if you tap into AI to create an outline, when you offer unique, benefit-laden content then readers find value and will find you. Plus, online content lives on the web until you remove it. Update it at regular intervals and the content will stay on Google’s radar, continuing to pull in readers.

Creating your own original content takes time, but it’s a proven long-term strategy to use to build an audience.

Use this step-by-step guide to create your own unique
content writing strategy that you can stick with.


2. Borrow traffic

Other writers have audiences that follow them. You don’t need to steal their readers. Quite frankly, you want their audience to keep following them to stoke momentum and interest in your niche.

What benefits you, however, is access to that audience. When you pop up in another provider’s universe, then her niche readers are exposed to you and what you offer. If you provide them with useful information or valuable insight, then they will become one of your fans. You build readership.

There are plenty of methods you can use to “borrow” another platform, including …

  • Guest posting: research to find a list of bloggers or online publishers in your niche — or a related niche — who need content. (A point of encouragement: every publisher needs more content these days). Offer to write an article or blog post and include a link to your site at the end.
  • Commenting: follow Reddit threads, Quora questions, social media sites, and blogs in your niche. Add comments to appropriate posts and then drop in a link to a page on your site that provides useful information on that specific topic.
  • Open platforms: submit articles to Medium, Substack, or other open-source platform. Include contextual links to content on your site and a link to your online home at its end. Articles that I publish on Medium generate consistent traffic to my website.
  • Memberships: are you a member of a professional association? Niche business group? Ask for a link to your website. I belong to Christian Proofreaders and Editors Network through which I lead a grant writing class. New writers and new readers find me through my instructor bio.

What does borrowing cost? You need time to find like-minded audiences and readerships. You need to invest time in finding appropriate questions to answer and threads on which to post. And you need to have intelligent, valuable content at your home hub that you can link to.

3. Buy traffic

You can buy traffic for cheap. My first Facebook ads cost just $5 a pop, but those ads drove hundreds of new readers to my site with an offer for a free download. Subsequently, those readers gave me their email addresses in exchange for my freebie.

Then, they began receiving my weekly newsletter. I make sure to offer helpful information in each email newsletter I send to retain those readers. Over the years, they have remained loyal subscribers. Many have purchased my books and products and courses and services. So while I spent “next to nothing” for my initial ads — the equivalent of an overpriced cup of coffee — that investment yielded results.

Build an audience steadily — at low cost

It’s a rare writer that gains instant traction on the internet. Instead, you build an audience over time. Greek storyteller Aesop (620 BC-564 BC) illustrated that truth in his ancient fable, The Hare and The Tortoise. Perseverance beats speed.

Perseverance beats shiny objects, too — and it’s cheaper on the wallet. You don’t need a massive marketing budget to reach readers. Instead, you need a plan to build traffic … and persistence to carry it out.

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