The Watering Holes Framework
How to build an audience
Quick question - do you know how many people use the internet everyday?
Most people know the 3rd option is correct.
That's a great sign for all internet entrepreneurs like us.
Problem is, early on in our journey we treat the internet as 1 giant blob of 5 Billion people.
With that mindset, trying to find followers, subscribers or customers can feel like trying to find a tiny needle in a giant haystack.
It can be overwhelming and painful.
Thinking of the internet as a collection of millions of tiny communities helps scope down the problem, and success becomes more achievable. I like to call this idea the watering holes framework.
Let's get into it -
Watering Holes Framework
So last week I crossed 5000 Twitter followers.
Also, across my newsletters and email lists I have 4000+ subscribers at this point. These are big number for me because I have no background in marketing or branding. I'm just learning audience building by trying and failing a lot.
The watering holes framework has helped me reach people who vibe with me, think like me, have similar values as me. And people who eventually end up becoming followers, subscribers, friends, even customers.
The idea is that you find your audience by going where they hang out every day on the internet.
Like animals in the African Savannah visit watering holes every day to quench their thirst.
Your audience also goes somewhere online everyday to meet like minded people.
Can you also go there and help them quench their thirst?
There are different types of watering holes you can go to -
Interest based communities like Subreddits and FB groups.
Keyword based searches on platforms like Google or Amazon.
Personality based followers on Twitter, LinkedIn or in niche newsletters.
Whatever you're building, you will be able to find "your people" in these places.
You always borrow an audience
You never "create" an audience from scratch, you always "borrow" it from someone or someplace that already has it.
That's why the first advice every Twitter growth course gives is to reply under large accounts in your niche.
It works because the people you want to follow you are already following these large accounts. So by replying to them you put your content in front of your potential future followers. If they like it, they have a higher chance of following you.
This is common sense advice and quite intuitive when you think about it a little.
But it gets more interesting when you add another dimension to this framework.
So the first dimension is a topic or niche.
The next dimension is the platform you prefer.
Want more Twitter followers? engage with large Twitter accounts
Want more newsletter subs? cross promote with other newsletters
Want more podcast listeners? go on other people's podcasts.
Existing newsletter readers are more likely to subscribe to your newsletter. Other podcast listeners are more likely to listen to your podcast.
15 years ago, in the golden age of blogging, that's how new bloggers built audiences.
They "guest posted" on larger blogs from more established creators. Those were the watering holes of that era.
This framework has existed since the first days of audience building.
So there are 2 dimensions here -
Let's say you want to grow a newsletter around finance.
Topic - Finance.
Platform - Newsletter
Newsletter subscribers are likely to be found on text based platforms.
Then your possible watering holes can be -
Reddit and FB groups around finance.
Large Twitter accounts around finance.
Other Newsletters around finance.
Search keywords around finance.
Your approach should be to create targeted content around each of these watering holes and putting yourself in front of your ideal users every day.
This works for SaaS products as well.
Let's say you're building a community platform for gamers.
Then you should start by going into gaming communities on Reddit. Reach out to users there, get their feedback, solve the problems of that community and build the product closely with them.
BTW, this is exactly how Discord was started 7 years ago.
And today it's a 15 Billion Dollar company!
All because they found the right watering hole and quenched the thirst of their ideal audience.
Look where you already go
Many a times it's easier to think of the watering holes you already visit, and trying to build an audience there.
When I first started to explore building a side hustle to eventually quit my job, I discovered the Indie Hackers website and the related maker/creator community on Twitter.
These were watering holes I started hanging out on every day.
Mostly to learn from and network with like minded people.
Gradually as I learned and shared my lessons, I started building an audience from within this community. Over time I was also able create products and services to serve this community.
So if a community excites you then go deeper into it and try to serve it every day.
Arvid Kahl goes deeper into this idea in his book The Embedded Entrepreneur. (here's a summary I wrote)
Earn it or Pay for it
Now that you know this concept, you can find your watering holes and borrow your audience there.
You can do this by spending time or money.
If you have money, you can spend it on ads to borrow an audience from existing watering holes.
The platforms you go to are the same -
FB or Reddit Ads
But if you don't have money then you spend time creating content, doing cross promotions and engaging in your ideal watering holes.
I've experimented with Twitter, Reddit and FB ads for Indie Masterminds, but seen mixed results. Twitter and email are still the best channels for me to get members for the mastermind groups.
What would work for you?
There's no way of knowing without trying a bunch of stuff. So always keep experimenting. This is how I've been able to build a little following on Twitter and my email list.
Cool, that's it for today.
We've covered everything around this concept, but it would mean nothing if you don't apply the idea to your work.
So here's some homework for you -
List your niche and related topics
Decide your platform - 1 or at most 2 platforms. So Twitter + Newsletter, or LinkedIn + Podcast, or Instagram + YouTube.
Find the at least 2 or 3 watering holes where your ideal audience hangs out.
Spend time or money to borrow an audience from these watering holes.
Do this for 3 months, experiment with different platforms and topics.
The results will be amazing!
Hope you found this useful, just hit reply and let me know :)
Related Frameworks -
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Recommendation of the week
Working Mom's club is a fantastic newsletter from my friend Abha. With her newsletter she helps moms become better versions of themselves, in their personal as well as professional lives. I love how it highlights the personal lives of creators and professionals. I was glad that Abha did a profile of me for her newsletter. I know I'm not a mom! But she interviewed me as a dad solopreneur, we discussed my personal life and family, which I don't talk about much elsewhere. So it was a refreshing experience. Read the post here.