How did you get started creating your SaaStr community, and how could I get started on making one for a different industry?
We certainly never would have predicted that answering a few questions on Quora and a few blog posts in 2012 and 2013 would eventually lead to a global community with 50,000+ attending our global events, 150,000,000+ views of our content, 2,000,000+ downloads of our podcasts, etc.
But I have at least learned a few things about content marketing that might help others:
- First, speak about something you really, really know. At this point, there are 100s of folks, if not 1000s, that can write with as much authority on SaaS as I have. There were fewer when I started. But the real learning is that I had both experience and deep passion about these topics. That somehow worked. No blog post I ever wrote in 5+ years as CEO of EchoSign ever had any material number of views. But when I started writing about my mistakes, my toughest learnings getting to $1m in MRR … it just resonated with folks. Somehow.
- Quality over quantity — and focus on truly adding value. A lot of content is good, but much more important is fewer pieces that are more widely read, generate SEO, and for businesses, generate leads. Don’t outsource content to an agency that writes boring, formulaic pieces. That’s been done a million times. Instead, focus on adding value. Better 3 pieces a month that add value than 30 talking about random trends in your industry. And focus on content that helps others. That will help you make sure you add value.
- I’ve been surprised which channels work/perform and which don’t. Quora, our blog, LinkedIn, and later, Twitter have worked for us. But Medium and Instagram, and to a large extent, YouTube, haven’t performed well for us. This is despite the fact that we have published amazing content on Medium and 100s of incredible videos on YouTube. Different content performs differently in different media. Rather than try to get channels to work that don’t work for us, we try them all, and then just lean into what performs.
- SEO still works. I’m not an SEO expert, but there’s a lot of debate in the industry if SEO is somehow dead. Well, I can tell you with a lot of data, it isn’t. Write something canonical, that matters, and there’s a decent change over time you’ll get plenty of traffic and views from it. This is, however, a big challenge with podcasts.
- You probably have to do it yourself. It is hard to outsource your core. If you want to write and talk about something and be an expert in it, it has to come from you. Not a junior content marketer or agency.
- Don’t promote yourself (directly). At least not very much. I think one key to SaaStr is that while I tried to share so many of my mistakes, I at least tried to do it in a way that didn’t promote me. Perhaps it was because I’d sold my company, and had nothing to promote :). But it freed me to only care about the audience. Now that we’ve put on 1000+ speaking sessions at the various SaaStr Annuals and Europas, we have the data that shows you that speakers that just promote themselves and their products … bomb. They are the lowest-rated speakers, even if they run a decacorn. Share your mistakes, your hard-won learnings, the true tips and tricks in your industry that really work. That folks have an endless thirst for.
- Build your list. Whether it’s an email list, or a text/SMS list, or both … build your list. Even today, folks will open your newsletter. And they will read your texts. A lot of them will.
- Look for early wins. Our first blog post at SaaStr probably had < 100 views. But the first like was from Aaron Levie, CEO of Box. That inspired me to keep at it.
- It compounds. Like most things, building a community takes time. We had early quick wins with great readers. But it took 2 solid years of writing to build up to our first 800-person meet-up, and 3 years to get to our first 1,500+ person SaaStr Annual. That corpus of content, and referrals, and SEO built upon itself. But not overnight. A bit more on the first 24 months here: SaaStr Grows 10x in 24 Months to 2.5 Million Views a Month: What We’ve Learned | SaaStr
- Focus lots of love on your super fans. I guess anyone that has build a 2-sides marketplace would know this, but it’s all been new to me. Your superfans in a community are so important. We’ll have so many founders who are coming to their 6th SaaStr Annual this year! Those are the folks that write about you. Tweet about you. Tell their friends. And bring their friends. Identify and cherish your superfans.