How We Made the Inc. 500 (and You Can Too)

By QuickBooks

3 min read

The first year our company, Content Marketing Institute, made the Inc. 500/5000 list was in 2012. That year, our five-year revenue growth eclipsed 1,000%, and our company was recognized by Inc. magazine as the ninth fastest growing media company in the U.S.—three places behind Facebook. We’ve been fortunate enough to make the Inc. list for the past four years.

Every year, Inc. selects 5000 companies to make its list of fastest-growing companies. Companies are selected according to growth over a three-year period. More information can be found on their website.

Even in such esteemed company, our model is different than just about every other company on the list. We grew—faster than most—by not creating a product first. You read that correctly. We did not create a product. What we did was create an audience by delivering consistent and compelling information over time. That audience came to know, like and trust us so much that when we did launch our products and services, they bought and bought and bought.

Audience First, Product Second

Through a lovely accident, we stumbled on a powerful way to build a business in the digital age, and now believe there is no better way to go to market. By focusing on building an audience first and defining products and services second, an entrepreneur, startup or small business can change the rules of the game and significantly increase the odds of financial and personal success.

Let me repeat that:

I believe the absolute best way to start a business today is not by launching a product, but by creating a system to attract and build an audience.

Once a loyal audience is built, one that loves you and the information you send, you can, most likely, sell your audience anything you want.

The Benefits of an Audience-First Strategy

While researching for my latest book, Content Inc., we found fast-growing businesses from all over the planet who have leveraged this “audience-first” strategy just like we did. We call this approach the “Content Inc.” model.  If you want proof, here are 20 startup examples:

20 Amazing Examples of Content-First Startups (the Content Inc. Model) from Joe Pulizzi

While there are many benefits to adopting this business model, here are four to chew on.

1. Accelerated Growth

With an audience in place, the entrepreneur has created a “pre-customer” database. The audience already knows, likes and trusts the business, and is ready to buy. This enables the company to grow faster than most companies.

2. No Need to Pivot

The approach is “audience-first,” not “product-first.” Most entrepreneurs begin with a product or service that they believe will change the world in some way. Naturally, the attention is on building a product. It’s all-consuming.

That’s why so many companies need to pivot at some point. They’ve focused so much on the product, they’ve found the audience they were targeting doesn’t need it (i.e. no product/market fit). If you focus on your audience 100% of the time and serve that audience with amazing information on a consistent basis, they will tell you exactly what they want to buy from you.

3. Less Startup Capital Needed

The cost of publishing is a rounding error compared to the product-development costs of most startups.  A content management system (e.g. WordPress), an email marketing system and access to social media is all you need to get started.

4. Built-In Marketing

When you are ready to launch your product, marketing costs are minimal because your customer database is already subscribed to your content on a regular basis.

Who This Method Isn’t For

If you are shooting to be the next unicorn, a la Facebook, Instagram or Uber, this model is not for you. A Content Inc. model takes time, patience and the consistent delivery of amazing content to a very specific audience.

But if you are looking to build a multi-million dollar platform that will change your personal life and career in ways you can’t possibly imagine, including a possible shot at making it on the Inc. 500/5000 list, then an audience-first approach is the one method that—if executed properly—works.

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Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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