7 Ways To Build Your Online Platform From Scratch

This is a guest post by Chris Tomlinson. He is the author of Crave: Wanting So Much More of God and blogs at Crave Something More. He and his wife, Anna, live in Northern Virginia. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

Four months ago, I was a first-time author with absolutely no web presence. Today, I’m a first-time author with an established, slowly-growing web presence. The difference? A little encouragement from my publisher, a lot of research, and an investment of my time.

Blueprints with Hard Hat, Hammer, and Tape Measure - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/skodonnell, Image #5370498

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/skodonnell

If you’re an aspiring author, you’ve probably heard that publishers are looking for three things: great writing, a great idea, and a great platform. They will usually settle for two out of three. If you’re anything like me, you may have been neglecting your platform, thinking you’ll get to that once you land your book deal.

But the best advice I can give you is to start building your platform now. And the online space is a great place to start. Building an online platform is not unlike building a house. Your platform will be the house itself; your posts, or your tweets, or your books will the conversations you have inside or by phone. There are many reasons to begin building, but the primary reason is simple: you have something to say, and there are people who want or need to hear it.

This new year, this new decade, is a great time to get started. So here are 7 ways to build your online platform from scratch:

  1. Define your core message. I know, I know, it sounds so corporate, and we’re artists, right? But your core message should inform every medium you use and pervade every bit of content you produce. It’s the experience you want to create whenever people come over to your house. I spent a lot of thoughts on what my core message would be, and it influences everything I try to write. Yours should be your own, and it’s essential to have.
  2. Establish your brand. Branding is not for marketing departments at large publishing houses. Branding is what you do every time you interact with readers. It’s not just the paint on your house though; it’s the experience people have when they visit, and it’s what makes them want to come back again. Visuals are a place to start, so you should have a Gravatar (spring for a professional picture) and ensure all your web visuals complement one another. But visuals are simply markers that remind your readers of the experience they have reading what you write. Which is part of the reason your core message is key.
  3. Build and launch a website. Over 40 percent of internet users are buying books online, which means they will be looking for you online one day as well. You will need this home base from which to operate. And don’t wait until you get your book deal—launch your site now and spend time building your audience. Quality templates on easy-to-use blogging platforms (like WordPress) are cheap these days; I got one from Woo Themes for $50 and had a quality site up in hours.
  4. Blog . . . regularly. Today’s online users have high expectations; if they show up at your home and find cobwebs on the windows, chances are they aren’t coming back. Regular blogging acts as a signal to visitors that there’s ongoing activity inside that might interest them. What “regular” means is up to you. I try for 2-3 posts per week, although some bloggers get by with less and many others post daily. However often you post, make sure you focus on quality content—if you’re not hitting your core message often, it will dilute your brand, which is the lifeblood of your growing community.
  5. Build and engage a network. There are a thousand ways to do this, but go about it in an intentional and methodical way. Start by realizing you already have a network—all your family and friends who are online. So invite them. Read other blogs and comment. Offer to write for other blogs. Explore the online communities that interest you. And keep in mind that building your network isn’t just cramming people through your front door; it’s finding people that know where you live and invite themselves, and their friends, over for dinner.
  6. Join the social media revolution. If you’ve been holding out on Twitter and Facebook and the like, it’s time to jump in. I objected to both for years, and I missed out as a result. My world is both larger and smaller because of these tools—larger because my content horizon is much broader than ever before, but smaller because I have a place to interact personally with my growing community. Social hubs will come and go, but these are the big players today, and they’re worth tapping into because your future readers are already on them or will be soon. And you won’t just be having your neighbors over now; you’ll be having conversations with people from all over the world.
  7. Stay true to your mission. There are hundreds of thousands of voices crying out for attention in today’s online arena. And many are worth listening to. So how are you going to break through all the noise to be heard? The answer is to stick to your core message. If you begin talking about what is most important to you, you’ll find that the neighbors will either move away or come over a lot more often. The ones that keep coming back are the ones that are worth all the trouble.

So why shouldn’t you start today? Building an online platform has never been easier. But you must take the first step.

Question: What other advice would you offer to those who are just beginning to build an online platform?
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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  • http://www.stevefogg.typepad.com Steve

    Chris,

    Thanks for your post!

    I’ve been blogging for about 2 months now and my USP is about helping leaders and ministries “Communicate Simply and Clearly”.

    I’m not obsessed about driving traffic to my site, I’m certainly networking, but generating more traffic isn’t my goal – helping someone communicate better is. I think bloggers can often get obsessed with the traffic without realising blogging is all the quality of what you have to say.

    Loved your last point. Stay true. Perfect conclusion.

  • http://www.finkelde.com.au John Finkelde

    Great post Chris – staying on purpose is key to building an online presence
    My recent post The first preaching words of Jesus

  • http://twitter.com/Matthew_Dent @Matthew_Dent

    Great post! It seems being consistant is a pattern that keeps coming up. I especially liked #5 build and engage networking which ttakes time and dedication. What motivates you to continue buidling your brand?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

      Matthew,

      Good question. I have both self-centered and noble purposes for wanting to continue to build my brand.

      Self-centered: I want an audience because that will give me validation that who I am and what I write are worthwhile. I want respect because I think it will satisfy my longings for meaning in life. I want access to more people because it could provide me with another way to support my family than my current occupation. I think that validation and respect and audience are all morally neutral; it’s just my orientation towards them is askew.

      Noble: My deepest motivation comes from my core message—to proclaim Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to every human need by pointing to His superior worth over anything else life can offer. I assume that there are many of us who treasure other things more than Jesus (including me), so I believe this is a message worth sharing (and remembering) until we all see Jesus as infinitely worthy of our love and worship. I suspect I will be proclaiming this message until I write my last word.

      In my self-centered pursuits, I confess them to God as motivations not worth having and but try to avoid feeling guilty about them; I know I’m a work in progress. And in my noble pursuits, I ask God for His help in proclaiming that message in a way that’s consistent with the way in which He loves people.

      At the end of the day, I think the motivation for building your brand has to come from the passion you feel about your core message. If your core message is something worth saying, and you’re the person to say it, then you’ll find the passion to keep saying it.
      My recent post Publisher’s Weekly Reviews Crave

  • http://mikekey.com Mike Key – Entrepreneurial Ninja

    Great article, this will be helpful to me because this is something I’m currently working on which is building my online brand.

    I’ve had a online presence for a long time, so I’ve been mostly focused on 1 and 2 to retool my brand overall.

    Now I’m Mike Key, Entrepreneurial Ninja! LoL :-) It works for me.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Laura_Droege Laura_Droege

    I'm starting to think about my "brand" and "core message" (which seems to relate to kicking Christians' rears) and have started to incorporate your suggestions. I'm forcing myself to blog even when I can't come up with anything that seems profound, even when no one seems to be reading it.

    Here's a question: I'm a part of an online writing review site. It's a pretty casual sort of site; lots of people seem to use it as an online journal, really, though there are plenty of folks (like me) who are serious about writing. I've started posting a few of my blog posts on the site as a way to promote traffic to my blog. So far, there hasn't been a significant increase in blog traffic, but people are reading and responding to my blog on this writing site. Does this "count" as network building?
    My recent post I’m Ms. Potato Head today

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

      Absolutely. Going back to the concept of brand, every time you interact, whether it's at your home (your blog) or in the neighborhood (other blogs) or in someone else's home (another person's blog/media platform), you're continuing to build a picture in people's mind of who you are as a writer. This is why the core message is so key, and it's great you're focusing on that at this point. Over time, people will begin to associate your name and your images with your content.

      Or to say it another way: you build your brand online every time you interact online. So be intentional.

      A few other notes:
      1. You can do some small things like embed links in your posts on the online writing review site that may drive traffic back to your site.
      2. Be willing to be personal and revealing about who you are as a person. Increasingly, people won't listen to your message until they know and trust you as an individual.
      3. When you start finding yourself caring too much about your blog traffic (as we all do at times), consider the following: http://cravesomethingmore.org/2010/01/08/7-reason

      Be encouraged!
      My recent post The State of My Union

      • http://lauradroege.wordpress.com Laura Droege

        Thanks for the feedback, Chris. I appreciate it.

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  • Anonymous

    Great thoughts!!! These are all thing I’m doing. Staying focused on my core message and being consistent has been key. Thank you for sharing.

  • TC Avey

    I appreciate your advice.  It’s been challenging for me to start my platform.  I recently started a blog (focusing on current events, politics and Christianity) but have not managed to generate much of a following.  A few family and friends have signed on, but like me they do not use the internet much.  Call me old fashioned, but I don’t like social media.  So the idea of building a platform has been difficult to overcome though I am realizing I have to utilize the internet and it is not as bad as I had previously imagined.  Thank you for the encouraging words, I look forward to the challenges facing and am open to any ideas.  

  • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

    Checked out your blog. Nice. Like your points. It’s the basics we lose sight of when we try and do big things. This is truly how to get started and keep it going. Sometimes time makes us think we should try other, more complex ideas. I believe what you’ve laid out here is the core to eventual success. Persistence is key. Appreciate this post.

  • katya lector

    Very nice and encouraging words. I don’t have any idea of what will I supposed to do here. I rather call myself as a Frustrated author. I want to write a blog and make a website of mine but I don’t know exactly where to start. But because of some words of encouragement I read here. It feels like I bump my head on a wall and finally decided to build a web page. Thank you a lot.

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  • 1173330787

    中国的步伐!

  • http://twitter.com/giselaandzoe gisela

    although i’ve been doing all the social networks and blogging for quite a while now, i feel i have fallen into a mundane routine and became stuck. i do belief you have to be more intentional because i feel thats whats left me behind in the dust! i’ve made it a goal to grow my platform and be consistent; i feel my audience would be much bigger if i had done this from the beginning. thanks for your article and i can’t wait to get Michael’s new book, Building Your Platform!

  • http://soulofatlas.com/ Mark David Henderson

    I clicked on the “Crave Something More” link, but it took me to some php code in Chris’s WP blog.