When you start a business there are two versions of your story: the tidy lie and the honest mess.

The tidy lie is the neat version of your story. It’s the catchy radio-edit that you trot out in pitches.

The honest mess is the real story. It’s the full length club mix you play so rarely you’ve forgotten what it sounds like.

Here’s my tidy lie:

“I was running an an agency and I wanted to meet other agency leaders to share stories and get advice. So I emailed a bunch of people, organised a meet-up, and it snowballed from there. Conferences, events and training. Whoops – I’d accidentally started a business. LOL me!)”

For a long time I’d give everyone my tidy lie.

I started to forget it wasn’t the real truth.

It’s short, simple, and sort of true.

The honest mess is a bit longer.

The truth is I was working in an agency and I wanted to build a business.

But my problem was:

  1. I wasn’t ready to quit my job

  2. I didn’t even know what business to start anyway.

What I did know is that if I could build an audience I could probably figure out a business later. I could quietly build an email list of people who wanted to hear from me…

…and one day use that audience to start a proper business.

So that’s what I did!

(Sidenote: I knew this was possible because I’d done it before. I started a blog called RockstarComms which for a time was quite well known in the HR / internal communication industry. I had an email newsletter of 500 people, and I’d get recognised at conferences and things. I parlayed it into a job at an agency, and a small shareholding which paid off when we sold it in 2017).

But what audience to build?

I instinctively felt that agency owners were a good audience.

Here’s what I knew about them:

  1. They have money. Agency owners generally have money for stuff they want to buy. (I once tried to build a community of copywriters. Big mistake – copywriters are poor.)

  2. They call the shots. They don’t need anybody’s permission to spend money or attend an event. If you build an audience of employees, you have to remember that they aren’t decision makers.

  3. They’re easy to find. This is important. Agency owners are quite easy to track down. You can go on LinkedIn or visit their agency’s website and find them pretty easily. That isn’t the case for people in government or the energy sector, for example.

  4. They’re fairly open minded. All things being equal you want to build an audience of cool people open to new ideas.