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A Front-Row Seat on the Ups and Downs of Building an Audience-Based Business (Introducing Project ABC)

Have you been following the changes that have been happening around here lately?

From new hires, to new features, things are changing.

And one of the things that we’re excited to introduce is a brand new, super-exciting case study for you.

Why a case study?

Because we think it’s important, above all else, to give practical, actionable advice – but there are only so many ways we can say: “Hey! This works! We promise!”

So in the interests of putting my money where my mouth is, I am ridiculously nervous proud and excited to submit myself, and my own new project, to your scrutiny.

Under Danny’s expert tutelage, and in the company of a kick-ass group of coaching students, I’ve been working on starting an online business called Paying For Life.

We’re calling this thing Project ABC – a project that will track my progress building Paying For Life, for all of you to see. You’ll get a front row seat on the growth of this business project – all the ups, all the downs, and everything in between, too.

Here’s how it’s all going to work…

Why are we doing this? (And why “Project ABC”?)

We’re doing this because, as great as how-to advice and strategies are, there’s a giant gap between understanding something in theory, and actually applying it to a real live business.

Building a real business is challenging – it takes work, determination, and creativity to take the generalities of theory and apply them into a specific situation.

But where there is challenge, there is also opportunity.

For *me* to build an exciting business doing something that I’m passionate about…

…and for *you* to see it all happen – live, up-close, and personal.

So why call it Project ABC?

For two reasons (we’re such fans of double-entendres here, there would have to be more than one!):

  1. The business that I’m going to build is our very favorite kind; an Audience-based Business. And this is a Case study. So Audience-based Business Case study = ABC.
  2. Because ultimately, doing this successfully will be about getting the basics right – just like we preach to all of our students. So this is going to be me publicly reviewing and running through my marketing ABCs. 😉

This isn’t a scripted curriculum – I’ll be sharing my actual process of building a business, from conception to (hopeful!) success. You’ll see what crossroads I face, what decisions I reach, and where those decisions take me.

I’ll have Danny in my corner, of course, and I’ll ask for your advice, too – because the truth is that no matter who’s in your corner, success in business can never be guaranteed, and I’m going to need all the help that I can get.

So… what is this new business project of mine? I’m glad you asked… 😉

What am I hoping to achieve? What’s Paying for Life all about?

Briefly, my goal is to teach the young and underemployed how to make the most of their slim paycheques, and bring more of what they actually like doing into their working lives.

It wasn’t so long ago that I, too, was young and underemployed.

Creative but miserable, working all the time but constantly broke – a lot of us go through this phase. Had I not started on at Mirasee, I might still be firmly there.

And it freaking sucks!

Have you ever been there? Really good at what you love, but working some brutal service job because, well, going to college wasn’t the cure-all you thought it would be?

In my opinion, the biggest problem with being in that state isn’t that you’re in it – it’s that getting out of it is so incredibly hard because there don’t seem to be enough resources to make significant changes.

And you know what? Sometimes, that really is the problem, but most of the time, it’s also (and especially!) a poor use of the resources that you do have that’s holding you back.

Most schools don’t teach basic personal financial management, and many parents don’t either – so students graduate and start fending for themselves without a good understanding of how money can or should work.

I want to do something about that – and I’m going to do it through Paying for Life.

Still with me? Thank you!

Where am I now? What have I done so far?

Lots and lots of prep work. 😉

So far, I’ve managed to figure out a target market, and a niche within that market.

(In case you’re wondering, it’s underemployed recent arts/humanities grads.)

I’ve figured out my positioning within the market, and thanks to some competitive analysis tools and good old fashioned reading-personal-blogs-and-talking-to-people-at-parties; I’ve got a good handle on who the on- and offline competition is.

I’ve also done a ton of audience research and created a customer profile:

Recently Graduated from College or University. Underemployed.

They have a job that is unrelated to their passion. They are willing to sell out, to a certain degree, to finance their lifestyle / projects, but resent that fact, and want to get out of what they are doing. They find this difficult because they are not earning enough money (or are using it too badly) to be able to afford to follow their passion fully. These passions can include, but are not necessarily limited to: artist/musician/writer/activist/traveler/scholar/.  This passion takes up a significant portion of their free time and usually late at night. They are working in customer service in some way, because the hours are flexible and the remuneration is the highest possible for the least amount of emotional investment.  They frequently find themselves short of money, despite working full or close to full time. They have pricy social lives; they frequently go out to bars, restaurants, shows, plays or their friends’ houses. Drinking will almost always be involved. Much of their “after-rent” income will be devoted to social expenses.

They are socialists, dislike the government, large corporations, organized religion and anyone who tells them to stop screwing around and get a real job. They feel frustrated that they did the “right” thing by going to college and it turned out wrong. They do not trust that hard work will get them where they want to be, or believe that the best way through life is to graduate, get a career, marry, buy a car and house, and have kids, although they know a few people who have done this.

They have debt: student loan or credit card or both. They make the minimum payments but little more. They try to avoid thinking about it, because it seems overwhelming. They rent their urban apartments, and usual bills include smartphone, internet and utilities. They pirate television and movies, but buy music (as long as it is available for direct purchase from the artist).

I’ve decided on two initial offerings I’ll be able to split test against each other.

And, finally, I put up the skeleton of a website.

This isn’t going to be easy…

Okay, I have a confession to make.

I’ve been telling people to create detailed customer profiles since about my second week on the team -so I foolishly thought that picking a niche and outlining my customer would be a breeze.


Not a chance.

It’s one of those dastardly “simple not easy” things that I ended up spending a lot of time on; getting pretty far, realizing I’d strayed too far from what I wanted to actually do, circling back, starting over… you get the idea.

Something I knew logically was that it is important to be able to justify everything you say about your customer. And now I know practically that this sort of justification takes some serious thought, analysis of current competition, an overall understanding of the market, and a very firm grasp on your end goals.

It’s not enough to intuit that my ideal customer is young, living in a city or anti-establishment – I’ve got to prove it. Doing so took time, but I ended up being much more confident that I could speak to them, and give them something they needed.

So what comes next? Oh not much, really, just…

  • Building the website / landing pages / opt-in systems
  • Populating it with foundation content
  • Creating a promotion / guest posting strategy

…and that’s just the beginning.

It’s all incredibly challenging and exciting. Stay tuned, because the next Project ABC update is coming on October 13, written in absentia with more project details (I’ll be away on my honeymoon, sending you tons of love from Iceland, Holland and England!).

That’ll be your chance to check out the website (assuming I can get it done in time!), and weigh in on some of the big questions that I’m still working on figuring out.

In the meanwhile, I’d love to learn from *your* experience. What do you think is the biggest challenge I’m going to face as I build my audience-based business? What should I watch out for? And how can I get over those hurdles?

Please leave a comment and let me know! 🙂

Oh, and by the way, if you’re interested in building your business along with me by following the same blueprint, you should check out the Audience Business Masterclass! 🙂

About Megan Dougherty

Megan Dougherty is an alumnus of Mirasee and is passionate about online education, small business and making a difference in the world. You can find out what she's up to and how side-hustles will take over the world at Follow her on Twitter at @MeganTwoCents.

26 thoughts on “A Front-Row Seat on the Ups and Downs of Building an Audience-Based Business (Introducing Project ABC)

  1. First of all, you are so right that young people haven’t learned how to manage their money and many parents don’t teach it! In fact, our society goes after these young adults for getting them into debt right away with credit cards and school debt. So sad. So your new audience based business is going to be interesting to watch. I think your biggest challenge will be getting the eyeballs you want to your blog, but I like how you have such a specific profile. It will be fun to watch.

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence Amy!

      You’re right – getting the eyeballs is going to b the big challenge. I think that within the market there are two groups – one big segment that needs to be educated from the ground up – they’re not really looking for a solution yet, and a much smaller segment who are going to be poking around for things related to the subject, reading blogs and books – I’ll try to start with them, I think, and then move on to the rest.

  2. Hi Danny and team. This is a great idea. I’ve just started a new biz here in Sydney with some pretty ambitious goal… aka how you build a $1M biz in 18 months or less…. from scratch of course, and, just like what you’re doing it will all be documented along the way. (I’m still trying to keep up with publishing the writing). It’ll be fun!

    • I don’t believe we had a best of the web scheduled for this week Sheyi – we usually do them early in each new month.

      I’m glad you liked the article!

  3. Very cool and looking forward to the call.

    I’ll second Amy’s comments on the struggles of a recent grad and also getting the eyeballs to your blog.

    I think all students should be required to start something before graduating and what better a place than the Internet for a nominal cost (free). You learn marketing, accounting, research and so much more. You have two great scenarios: A Successful Business &/or A Great Learning Experience.

    You folks have inspired myself to try something for on the side from my online store, that I’m rolling out next week and listening to this will surely help I’m sure!

    See everyone on the call!

    • Interesting idea Mike – for student to try and create something before they graduate. The only issue I’d find with that is that, well – not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur- or is cut out for it. I think there are so many different ways to learn, that even if it was required – there would be a number of students who didn’t get much out of it, just because it’s not suited to their learning style – although the skills are super-valuable.

      I’m so glad you’re inspired – keep us updated on your project!

      • Megan,

        I hear you and strongly agree entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Even some entrepreneurs aren’t cut out initially for it and might at times like Peter Shallard (believe was guest blogger) said some should quit their business and get a real job. I just think school is a great environment to learn it in and explore as an over-all well rounded education. Owning several businesses I’m always hearing folks say who are the “Worker” that they want to be the “Owner”. Part of what I’m trying over the next few weeks is helping take peoples dreams of moving from “worker” to “owner” and showing them how to validate/test it. Should be fun. Looking forward to Tuesdays call!

      • Megan, when my girls and their friends were at college I encouraged them to be entrepreneurs. They all needed to work, and the available jobs on campus paid so poorly-less than minimum wage. I mentioned tutoring or instructing as examples, a skill they all possessed. To teach flute, for example would bring $10 or $15 per half hour. This would enable them to earn more with less effort. The sad fact is that I wasn’t able to get any of them to do this. I guess they weren’t ready, or were afraid of failure, or just didn’t know how to get rolling.

  4. Hey there! I’ve been subscribing to your content for maybe a month now and I have to say it has helped clear some fog with some topics. Greatly thankful for it all!
    I’m actually really excited to hear about this project of yours and how we’re going to be coming along for the ride! It’ll definitely help bridge the gap between theory and practice.
    I’m actually getting ready to push my own project and I have to say – it’s quite motivating to have another project to compare to. So, yeah, I’m really looking forward to how this’ll play out!
    I’d say the biggest challenge you will face would be to consistently update along the way so your efforts are truly “felt” as if we were alongside you. With the speed of starting something like this, I’d expect it to be quite turbulent in the beginning. Stay vigilant!

    • I’m glad you’ve been finding the content useful Rhuwell, and that you’re excited about this feature!

      I’ll be doing an update here once a month – as you say – getting something like this going is turbulent and time consuming. Also – we have a pretty packed editorial calendar – and don’t want to overload it with too much of one thing.

      I find it SO motivating to know there are other folks doing the same thing as well – it’s nice to know one isn’t alone!

  5. Hi Megan,

    Great adventure!!

    Another area that may require a wee mite more focus (as in homing in on specifics) is the whole “arts and humanities” subject. That’s a vast area. Perhaps you could tune into a more specialized area of arts and / or humanities (what are these students’ / grads’ particular artistic or social obsessions?).

    Re: “The Arts …

    “Artists” is a broad category. Glassblowers, sculptors, bead workers, jewellery makers, fabric designers, fashion designers, home interior designers, woodworkers, photographers, graphic designers, food stylists, muralists, store window stylists, landscape artists, architects, wedding cake makers, chefs, packaging designers, hair stylists, goldsmiths, metalworkers, tailors, and gardeners are just a FEW types of artists in a certain group.

    Actors, directors, vocalists, musical instrument players, choreographers, composers, set designers, film editors, special effects specialists, makeup artists, costume designers, and sound engineers are another FEW types of artists in a certain group.

    Not to mention painters in all the various categories of oil, watercolour, mixed media, etc.

    Each area described above contains many others types of artists I didn’t name.

    I haven’t even begun listing the types of people who comprise the “Humanities” side of the equation. A myriad of different kinds of people are in the “Humanities”, as well.

    So I’m wondering if you might want to narrow the field a bit.

    Always in support,

    • Hi Wings,

      You make a really excellent point about the breadth of the arts and humanities sector. Narrowing it further was an idea that I bandied around with Danny a little bit: “Writers who can’t manage their money..” etc.

      I decided not to narrow it that way because for what I’m hoping to do, the important factor that differentiates this group from other recent grads (say, in business or science) isn’t their particular art – but that they have under utilized creativity, that at present, isn’t contributing to their livelihood, leading to a frustration that becomes one of the pain points I can address. For me, in identifying this market for my business, what they do have in common – their values, their social lives and their employment, was more critical than where they differ.

      Depending on how the first few months go, of course, I may narrow it down much more if, for example, I happen to get a ton of super interested and engaged people all from a specific discipline – I’d absolutely create more content geared specifically towards them.

      Thank you so much for your input – I’ll be sure to consult your list if and when I do end up narrowing the niche!

      • Hi Megan,

        I see your point and I get where your thoughts are. My only concern for you was how to “reach” them (pierce their hearts and souls with the epiphany of requiring a shift of gears).

        It’s been my experience that the majority those in all fields of the arts and humanities couldn’t give a flying fluffball about business, finances, accounting, marketing, etc.

        When their attention is brought to it, passing momentary focus is given, at best. A more likely response is a glazed-eye look with the underlying thought, “My mission / passion is my art. Let someone else think about those things”. They think, “Who cares if my money picture isn’t working right now. There’s always tomorrow” or, “I’m not cut out to think about numbers. I’ll just have another glass of wine / a cookie and not think about it too much or I’ll ruin my creative flow”.

        Obviously there are exceptions but my decades of work with these very folks shows me that it’s a tiny few who are the exceptions.

        Yes, arts and humanities grads may be frustrated by feeling hamstrung and stuck in an unfulfilling rut but they’re also notorious for not “seeing” or “hearing” the way beyond their situations even when the roadmap or opportunity is banging them over the head.

        My thought was to “get them where their passion lies”. That’s their obsession; they WILL pay attention to something wrapped in the garment of their obsession.

        More grist for the “ideal customer” mill. … 😉

        By the way, my list of artist types was by no means definitive or comprehensive so feel free to expand and spin that list in whatever way jiggles your joy button. 🙂

        Ever in Support,

        • That is definitely some fantastic food for thought – I can’t thank you enough for sharing it. I’ll keep this in mind when I’m working on my initial content – I don’t doubt it will come in handy!

          Thanks again!

          Also – I am going to start using “jiggles your joy button” in all possible instances. 😉

  6. WOW Megan! This is an awesome idea!! I am still struggling with coming up with a detailed customer profile, but I know it is something I need to finish ASAP! I can easily see evolve into some sort of challenge where we all work together beside you as you build your business from scratch and we all share our results, problems and weaknesses that we need to work on. I look forward to what you come up with on October 13th Cheers!

    • Thanks Monique!

      From your video (love it, btw) it sounds like you’ve got a good start on it! Have you gotten a copy of our One Customer Worksheet? ( It can help with the profile hugely.

      It would be very cool if that kind of interaction develops- I know I’m already really valuing the input folks have offered (and is it ever motivating me to get my tush in gear!)

      Please keep me updated on your project too!

      • Yup! I’ve had your worksheet for quite some time and it was collect some cyber dust… but I finally got down on myself and decided to finish it and I did today finally after about 2.5 hours later. It wasn’t easy as you said but it’s finally done! So thank you for creating that worksheet! It helped a ton!

  7. First, I absolutely love that you are showing and telling with real numbers, the good, the bad and the ugly as they say. I think many people are disillusioned, frustrated or both with all of the advice that’s often given by people who started years ago in completely different circumstances (like Danny mentioned in his recent post). A couple others have started to do this too and I think it’s great.

    I’m also joining you on your path to building something new as I very recently decided to do a pivot/shift and re-focus my business. For me, rather than being totally from scratch, it’s sort of revisiting something I did in the past, and re-starting from a new vantage point, with a different set of market circumstances and different experience on my part etc.

    I wish you the best in your endeavors-could have used you about 20 years ago 😉

    • Hi Cheryl,

      Thank you for all the kind words. I’m really excited about this project, and so happy that you’re on the same kind of journey!

      Best of luck to you too!

  8. This is so interesting :). I’m excited to see how this all progresses. I think there are some really great lessons to be learned from this.

    I think the biggest challenge is going to deal with getting people to buy your products. I think it can be tricky to get people with very little money to purchase things with their very little money. I think you can deal with getting eyeballs by doing lots of guest posting and being present here on Firepole Marketing (which already has a ton of eyeballs). Also since this is really interesting I think you can use twitter to keep the momentum going until the next update arises.

    Plus, if the website is up on October 13th, and you write a post here that will get a bunch of eyeballs over there. My question is how do you sell a product when your market is people with very little money? In no way am I saying this isn’t possible! I think it is a wonderful idea, plus it always comes down to execution.

    This is one of the reasons I’m so darn interested in this :). Looking forward hearing more about it. Maybe you’ll shoot out some updates on twitter. Yes?

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