I was a nobody on the Internet. It took me a total of 2 months and 10,000 words to finish the Building in Public guide, and this happened: 2,100 unique visitors in 3 days, 73% increase of Twitter followers in 7 days from 767 to 1327, #20 on Hacker News Page 1 for a day, 3 live sharing sessions, and regular mentions of the guide.
Were these good results? Heck yeah.
Considering I only started this journey in Nov 2020, it was a small step that would be huge when I look back in the future.
I want to share some of the key decisions I made about this launch. Grab a coffee and read on.
How I started
I was the CEO of an angel-backed startup in 2019-2020. Near the end of 2020, I decided it was time to shut down the project because of the lack of growth trajectory.
I gave myself some time to figure out what's next, and I was fascinated by the idea of establishing my own voice on the Internet. I didn't know personal blogging could be so influential, in addition to being a strong self-reflective tool.
But, everything I worked hard for was for the startup, I didn't build up my brand or voice at all in the last couple of years. "Where do I even start?" That was at the top of my mind.
I followed my own interest and curiosity and eventually bumped into this concept called "Building in Public". I found that it fits my personal value very well, and more and more people are getting into it. But wait, I couldn't find good resources guiding people on how to start.
I spotted an interesting opportunity there and decided to dive in.
What were my initial goals?
To dedicate lots of hours across a few months to a topic was not a small project, I absolutely wasn't doing this for fun. So why did I do it?
1. The best way to start is to give
If you've seen my email course on Making Twitter Friends, you know that I think a lot about human interactions. I know that in order for others to pay attention to my voice, I first need to gain trust and credibility. These 2 things are too important to ignore for anyone just starting out.
Because most of my work was buried with the companies I was running, I had no credibility on the Internet. And this was also why I decided to make this guide free for all.
A number of people have come to me for advice since the launch, and paid vs free comes up frequently. My take is always: when you have no credibility, do it for free and give it away. Help as many people as you can without thinking about making money.
Too many people want to make money from the very beginning because they've heard the amazing stories of how someone can make thousands of dollars in a couple of days. The truth is, these creators have done a lot to build up their credibility beforehand, just that it isn't obvious when you're not tracking their whole journey.
I've made the mistake in my previous startups to see charging people as the only way to validate an idea, and I was only able to win a few customers without any credibility. I learned my lesson, so I wanted to build credibility first.
2. Understand what a launch means
A big launch is pretty awesome. Take a look at my first paragraph in this article, that's how I get your interest to read on.
But at the back of my head, I didn't care so much about the launch. You shouldn't too, as it gives you the wrong kind of expectation.
A launch can give you a spike in traffic and more awareness, but it is never going to get you to your goal overnight. 2,100 unique visitors in 3 days were amazing to me, but I like to break it down a little bit: what do these 2,100 people mean to me?
- They're the early readers of my guide. Some find it useful, and some don't.
- Some will bookmark this guide and come back later, and some will completely forget about it.
- Some will remember me as the author and refer to their friends when they have questions about Building in Public.
Honestly, the truth is I don't know. What I know is that I started to create a small piece of knowledge real estate that belongs to me, and hopefully it will have a sustainable impact in the days to come.
This is why I don't have an expectation of what this launch can potentially bring me. What is more important is that more people will see how I can help and we get to start some conversations.
3. I'm interested in SEO
If you've read my newsletters, you know I'm someone who values long-term impact and does not mind taking baby steps to get there. When I started to build my personal voice, my goal was to establish my website and rank well via SEO.
I'm interested in social media, but organic search engine traffic sounds a lot more attractive to me. I did that for my startup, but doing it for a personal site is like 10x harder.
Since my website is fairly new, I have a domain rating (DR) of 2. It is miserable.
Getting enough traffic to prove that my website is useful and getting backlinks are two factors that play into the algorithm. Getting backlinks is out of the question for someone like me with no content and credibility, so getting some traffic to tell Google that I'm a serious content creator would be my first step.
After I launched the guide, I received a spike in traffic which was good. I checked my domain rating again and it went from 2 to 3.9, then to 3.6, then to 2.5. I wasn't exactly sure what happened there, but I knew the effect from this launch likely hasn't kicked in yet, or maybe it will never kick in. I know it'd be a tough battle in the early days, but if I stay consistent, one day this will pay off.
How I approached creating this guide
1. Be present
If you also love writing as I do, you know that writing is not just about writing. A bigger part of writing comes from understanding the topic and creating a good outline.
So when I decided to create this Building in Public Definitive Guide, I didn't jump into writing.
I spent some time growing my early Twitter audience. I researched every single thing I could find about Building in Public on the internet. I went to forums where people talk about Building in Public and I checked out what people were asking and discussing. I took a lot of notes during those days.
Finally, I spent two entire weeks being active on forums to join in discussions and reply to people to help them get started. Mostly I wanted to get myself familiar with the topic, but also I was hoping a few of them would remember me. So when I officially launch, they'd offer a hand in sharing or something. I wasn't sure if that happened as I didn't keep track, but helping people has always been my number one principle.
2. Writing in public
Once I confirmed working on this guide, I put it out there by sharing my intention. I created a few tweet threads to share my thinking and progress.
Why I did that was exactly the entire purpose behind Building in Public. I was as transparent about my work as possible and shared it early.
Another important decision was to split up the guide into two parts and launched them separately. For the first 5 chapters, I did a tiny launch by sharing on Twitter. Then when the last 4 chapters were done, I aimed for a bigger launch where I would get more people to spread the word.
There were mainly 2 reasons for this.
- Firstly, I wanted to find early readers to give feedback before I rolled it out to everyone. 10,000 words are a lot. If you can find someone to help you by reading 10,000 words in a day or two, you've found yourself a hero and you should buy him/her a vacation package to Hawaii. It is a big ask. And it is not easy at all to read so many words at once and give good feedback. By splitting it into 2 parts, I was able to lighten up the ask and keep it a manageable read in one go.
- Secondly, I wanted to gauge people's feedback before I wrote more. "Do they enjoy the content? What about the tone? Are they excited about the topic? What is missing?" These are all questions I could only find out once people read the guide. I collected all the feedback and used them to improve my writing for part 2. I was mitigating my risk of creating something mediocre. This is the power of building or writing in public.
3. Early readers are insanely important
I had a total of 9 early readers, and they weren't just there to point out grammar mistakes. They were giving me feedback on the structure of content, whether a particular paragraph made sense, and if they found the chapter useful. With their feedback, I kept editing the guide by cutting out unnecessary words and rephrasing sentences so they're easy to understand.
How did I find them? I tweeted about my guide a number of times and I asked if anyone would be interested in being and an early (beta) reader and to give feedback. The relationships I've built helped and a few people said yes.
4. Using a ton of real examples
From my own experience reading a guide, I always prefer something that is practical and actionable. Theories are important, but it'd help me a lot if I can take action now.
With that, using real examples would be my approach in writing this guide. So when I was researching, I noted down which example would be great for which chapter and talking point.
Once I added these examples in my chapters, I made sure to include a profile picture of everyone and linked to their Twitter or websites. If I was going to use someone's work as an example, I better give them enough respect.
For most examples, I didn't contact the person to ask for permission because they were positives about their work. But for some examples that were more sensitive, e.g. Wenzel tweeted about his fear of getting his idea stolen, I reached out and asked if it'd be okay to quote him. Everyone was happy to be included.
How I launched
This was not the "perfect launch" that you should learn from. Honestly, I didn't plan much about it. My whole plan was to post it everywhere I know. After all, it was a free guide, not a paid product, so I didn't have a master launch plan.
I posted on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Indie Hackers. I shared with my own subscribers. And later I realized I could also post to Hacker News and Product Hunt, and so I did. And somehow my submission crawled to page 1 of Hacker News and that brought in decent traffic.
1. I asked for help
I kept a list of everyone who was included as an example, who helped as an early reader, and who expressed interest in the full guide. When it finally launched, I sent a quick message to every one of them (except if they're quite a big name and my chance is slim) sharing that the guide was out and asked if they'd mind helping retweet it. I made sure to let them know that it was completely okay if it didn't fit into their social profile as it was a big ask.
2. I kept talking about Building in Public
To make sure there would be consistent exposure before and after the launch, I had to keep bringing this topic up. What I did was extracting key points from my guide and writing a bunch of short tweets. I then used Hootsuite to schedule 2 tweets per week, and it started even before the guide was launched. This way I was gradually building up my voice on this topic.
3. Be grateful and give people credits
The Internet is a big playground and to succeed, you have to think beyond yourself. You have to understand that to create a piece of useful content, most of the time it is not your own work.
Without having these people as my examples, my guide wouldn't be as educational and valuable. So I made sure to give credits to every one of these amazing people in the first chapter and my tweet threads. I linked to all of their Twitter accounts and their websites or products.
After they helped retweet, I sent a thank you note to each of them.
It has only been 7 days, so I don't quite have enough data to say how far this guide can go. The launch traffic has inevitably died down after a few days. But to me, I can already see that my "small potato" status on the Internet is evolving a little bit. People are sharing the guide with one another and starting to tag me as a go-to person for Building in Public.
The most exciting part of the launch was definitely seeing how many people were on my website at the same time right after the launch. 50+ people reading at the same time? Wow!
Lastly, I'm not exactly sure what the next step is. The main question is: in addition to a written guide, how can I create more value to help people build in public? I'll surely be paying attention to signals from people to figure out the next step!