[334] How to build a large audience without paid advertising with Callie Willows

How to build a large audience without paid advertising with Callie Willows

Are you trying to grow your audience but don’t have the funds for paid advertising?  Or are you feeling fed-up with forking out on ads which aren’t bringing you a good return on investment?

In this episode, Callie Willows from The Membership Guys, shares practical tips on how to grow your audience through content marketing, how to use targeted email marketing to get clients plus how to build your brand authority within your industry.

{Click on the player above to listen to the podcast episode and/or read on for a detailed overview. Scroll down to the bottom to read the show notes including all the links mentioned in this episode}.

Callie is the co-founder of the The Membersite Academy – the leading membership site for people who are interested in building and growing membership sites. The site currently has around two thousand active members, but Callie and her co-founder Mike Morrison have never invested in any paid advertising to grow their list. They have built their audience organically.

How to build your audience organically

Janet believes it generally takes around a year to build a big enough audience to launch a membership site or online course.  But Callie and Mike have proved it can be done much quicker if you produce consistent and high-quality content that answers your ideal customers’ questions.

They launched The Membersite Academy back in 2015 with a tiny email list – simply by creating targeted content for their ideal customers. Callie explains: “We were blogging, we were podcasting every week. And we did that for about three months before we launched the membership and free Facebook group. I think we launched with about 500 people on our email list. Now, three years later, we’re at over thirty thousand.”

How to get eyes on your content

Callie and Mike put their success down to pure persistence. Prior to launching The Membersite Academy, they were building membership sites for other people. This meant they were both active in relevant Facebook groups and had also started their own Facebook group where they could share and promote their blog content.  They also shared their content across all their social media channels, with friends in similar fields and with their previous clients (who were interested in membership sites already). As Callie puts it: “It was really just about lots of little, different things that we were doing in lots of different places, rather than kind of doubling down on one [method] in particular.”

This echoes something Janet talks about in 39 surprisingly easy ways to increase your email subscribers, in which she explains there is no one ‘magic thing’ you can do to grow your audience – you have to try many strategies to see what works.

As Callie puts it: “Anything with audience building, content marketing for your audience building in particular, is a long game. It’s not something where you’re going to see instantaneous results, and you do need to persist. And you do need to accept that you’ll be putting stuff out there for a while that you won’t necessarily know whether anybody is actually paying attention properly or whether anybody cares.”

How to get your blog posts to rank on the first page of Google

One of the key things that helped Mike and Callie build their audience quickly was blogging regularly – twice a week at first. Some of the blog articles quickly ranked on the first page of Google, which meant anyone who was interested in membership sites could find them easily.

But while having a basic understanding of search engine optimisation (SEO) is helpful, Callie believes it’s more important to “write like a human being”. Callie and Mike have found their content generally ranks well (and quickly) in Google simply because they’re addressing the questions their audience is asking.

Building authority on a niche topic can also help a lot, adds Callie. “I think these days, there’s a lot of people talking about membership sites and there’s a lot of content out there about it. But when we started doing this, we were the only people consistently, week after week, talking about membership sites. And that was all we talked about. We were just like one track ponies…. membership sites, membership sites, membership sites.  So it became natural that whenever anybody thought of membership sites, they thought of us.”

How to use lead magnets to grow your email list

Callie believes there is no magic formula for audience building. Mike and Callie attract email subscribers in a number of ways, including lead magnets, online challenges and a single call-to-action on every edition of Mike’s podcast – to join the Membersite Academy.

“We don’t sell a lot of different products, we don’t have things like coaching and consulting and things like that,” she explains. “The only thing we sell is the membership. So we just make sure that nobody can know who we are, or be on our email list or in our audience and not know that we have a membership site. And then when the time comes that they’re actually in that place where they’re like, ‘I either wanna start a membership site or I need some help growing my existing membership site’, we’re the first thing they think of.”

Something Callie and Mike have done right from the beginning, however, is segment their email list.  New email list subscribers are categorised based on where they are in their membership site journey. – ranging from interested in starting a membership site, currently building a membership site to established membership site owner. Having different lead magnets which are tailored towards these different stages in the membership site journey, allows them to direct prospective members towards the content that is most relevant to them. If they feel their current needs are being met, they are much more likely to join.

Callie’s top tips for growing your audience

If you’re currently trying to build your audience, Callie believes you shouldn’t expect to get any traction for at least three months – but don’t let that deter you. She suggests giving your audience building a boost with an online challenge, summit or webinar series that will help you get in front of more people and build your email list quicker.

Mike and Callie are running an event called Retain – which Janet will be speaking at – in September 2019.  It’s a conference all around membership growth, looking at sales tactics, retention tactics and all the different ways that you can grow your membership site once it’s up and running, and take care of your members better as well.

Podcast show notes:

  • Callie’s business story (2:52)
  • How to start building your audience through content marketing (6:10)
  • How to get more eyes on your content (7:28)
  • How to ensure your blog posts rank well on Google (11:45)
  • Why niching down can help grow your business (14:90)
  • How to improve your conversion rates (17:40)
  • How to use email marketing sequences to grow your client list (21:00)
  • How to build your brand authority within your industry (24:50)
  • Callie’s top two tips on how to grow your audience (29:02)


Callie’s website: The Membership Guys

The Membership Guys’ Facebook Group and Facebook Page

Retain Live – The Membership Growth Conference

Apply for a place on the LinkedIn Content Strategy Masterclass here

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Janet Murray’s Audience Calculator

Register your interest in the Build Your Audience programme

Order the 2019 Sorted Content Planning Toolkit here

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