By Lisa Baker
What would it mean for your business if your email subscriber list doubled next month?
What if your client list doubled?
Better yet, what if you knew you could double your client list whenever you wanted, with just a few simple steps – and you could do it without spending any money on your marketing?
If you’re like most entrepreneurs, that would transform your business (not to mention your wallet).
And that’s the kind of results you can expect when you partner with influencers to implement a hubs marketing strategy.
Hubs marketing is simple: it just means finding the people your customers already listen to and the places where they already are, and asking those people and places to share and recommend your products and services.
Hubs are the influential people whom your ideal customer is listening to. They’re the famous bloggers, the citywide farmers’ markets, the healing festivals, and the big nonprofits where your ideal customer is hanging out, listening, and spending time.
Like the hub of a wheel, they’re the centre where many spokes branch out — a whole network of places and people where your customers already are.
And when hubs talk about you, people come to you.
But how do you get hubs to talk about you?
Many people believe it’s pure luck: You have to already know the right people.
Others think it’s networking: You have to slowly schmooze and network your way into the influential “cool kids” club.
But I believe that connecting with hubs is very simple: You ask.
Sound terrifying? It doesn’t need to be. If you have the right elements in place first, you can reach out to hubs with confidence and connect with them simply and naturally.
You just need three things.
First, you need a truly valuable offer.
Creating this mostly has to do with deeply understanding your niche. Once you understand exactly what’s unique and different about what you’re offering in your business, and you’re able to articulate that in a clear way, then it’s easy to attract the attention of a hub. The key here is being different – if you reach out to a hub asking them to share something that’s exactly like what everyone else is doing, they won’t be intrigued or interested; they’ll be annoyed.
Discovering and articulating your niche is a lot of work, and it can take some time. Here are some ways you’ll know when your niche is ready for you to reach out to hubs:
- When you meet someone at a networking event and you tell them briefly what you do, their response is something like, “Wow! Tell me more?” or “Whoa. What does that mean exactly?” or “Oh! I know someone who needs that!”
- When you look at the message and offerings of the most influential and well-known people in your industry, your response is, “That’s a great start, but they’re leaving out this really important thing…” or “I disagree with their approach; it’s much better to…” In other words, you can clearly describe what you feel is missing from what most people in your industry do, and the missing thing is something you offer.
- You’ve studied the major influencers and players in your industry, and you can honestly say you are the only business you know of who does [fill in the blank] for [whoever you do it for]. The thing in the blank could be the specific thing you do, the exact way you do it, or the people you’re doing it for, but either way, it’s definitely, truly unique.
Your niche doesn’t have to be perfect before you start reaching out to hubs, but it needs to be close. It needs to be about 70% of the way there. You need to have a pretty solid idea of what your message is and why it’s different.
I recommend that before you start reaching out to hubs, you test your niche description at a networking event. Go to an event focused on people in your industry, and see how they respond to your introduction of yourself and what you do. If they aren’t immediately intrigued by your one-sentence description of your work, then your niche isn’t quite ready yet.
Second, you need hubs who are a great fit for you.
Marketing is always about finding the right fit with customers, and hubs marketing is about finding the right fit with hubs.
Just like finding a fit with customers, the right fit with a hub encompasses two things: the how and the what. How means your approach, your mindset, your vibe, and your general worldview. What means the specific thing you offer and whom you offer it for. Both of these need to align for you and the hub to be a good fit.
“General worldview” is a broad filter that can be hard to discern from a distance, but my rule of thumb is always this: If you don’t truly, honestly admire a hub, then don’t try to partner with them.
Skim through their website and social media, and check with your gut. Do you like the things they’re sharing? Do you get a good feeling from their language and their message? Is your instinctive reaction “Wow, I want to be friends with them!” or “Ick?”
Find the partners whose online presence makes you feel like you can’t wait to go out for a beer with them. Sure, you can’t really tell from their online presence or reputation. Yes, you’re just guessing. But anyone who’s influential will have some kind of public persona. And your reaction to the public persona they project will often be an accurate indicator of whether your general approaches are aligned. Go with your gut.
The what of fit is often harder at first, but it’s actually easier to determine.
Many entrepreneurs, when looking for hubs, think first of the influencers who do basically the same thing they themselves do, only bigger and better. If you run an organic fruit stand, your first instinct when looking for hubs is to think of influencers in the organic fruit space.
But this is a mistake.
If you’re offering the same thing – or essentially the same thing – that the hub is offering, then why would they need your offer?
Instead, you need to find hubs that offer something similar but different . . . or who offer something different to the same people you serve . . . or who offer something related that adds to your offer.
In other words: If you sell organic fruit, look for hubs that sell organic vegetables. Or look for hubs that teach how to make organic jam from fresh fruit. Or look for nutritionist and dieticians and personal trainers who help people eat more healthy. Or look for publications that feature local organic food sources. Or look for vegan and raw food meetups for people whose main diet is fruits and vegetables.
The key here is finding the little circles of your niche – the small, specific groups of people who might be interested in what you have to offer. These circles need to be more specific than you think they should be. You’ll know you’ve found a good little circle when ideas for hubs start to immediately come to mind.
For example, say you’re an animal intuitive helping busy owners take better care of their pets. Who are your people? Pet owners, obviously – but that’s your broad, big circle. Dog owners? That’s still too broad. But how about dog owners who want to bring their dogs to work? Now you’re talking – and you can search for companies in your city with dog-friendly policies.
Third, you need a system for reaching out to hubs.
Here’s the reality: Hubs marketing is much faster than any marketing you do within your own networks, but it still takes time. And even when you do it right, it takes a minimum number of hubs before you start to see results.
Sending one email to one hub is not an effective strategy for growing your business.
On average, you should be able to do a partner promotion with about one hub for every ten emails you send to hubs you don’t already have a connection with.
That means, if you want to do one partner promotion a month, you need to send at least two emails a week.
For each hub, you’ll need to find the hub, the right contact person, and the email address.
You’ll need to keep track where you are in conversation with each hub so you know who you should follow up with, who is waiting for information from you, and what you need to do to prepare for each partnership.
And, if you want to continue to grow and scale your business, you’ll need to keep records of what types of partnerships you did, what worked and what didn’t, and what the results were for each partnership.
If you do all that, then over time, your hubs outreach will become easier and easier, because you’ll quickly be able to see exactly what type of hub is best for your offer, as well as what type of partnership helps you gain new customers and subscribers.
But for all this, you need a system: you need some kind of hubs database.
Your database needs to do three things.
First, it needs to be a “mind dump” spot where you can add any ideas you have for a new hub you could reach out to.
Second, it needs to help you track exactly where each conversation is with each hub, so you know when the ball is in your court and what your next step is for each partnership.
And third, it needs to help you track the results you get from each partnership, so you know which types of hubs you should find more of, which types of partnerships you should do more of, and which types of hubs and partnerships you shouldn’t do.
When you’re first getting started, I recommend a really simple system for this: a Google spreadsheet.
Here’s the spreadsheet I give my clients when they’re first getting started with hubs outreach.
The first column is how you found the hub. This is useful because if a partnership does particularly well, it’s valuable to go back and look to see how you found that hub in the first place. Where the spreadsheet says “Google ‘keyword’”, change “keyword” to the phrase you used in Google to find that hub (like “dog-friendly offices Atlanta”).
The second column is for the category or little circle. It’s best to keep these down to two or three at first, so you don’t go wildly pitching every type of hub. Going back to the organic fruit stand, the type of partnership you would propose with a meetup group will be different from the partnership you would propose with an organic vegetable grower. Choose no more than two or three little circles to start with to keep your search focused.
The next three columns are “Biggest Platform Size,” “Platform of Biggest Audience,” and “Past Partnership Example.”
These form the foundation for your initial hubs research.
“Platform” means the place where the hubs’ audience is most concentrated. For example, some hubs have a huge Facebook audience but almost no Instagram audience. Others have a huge email list and very few blog followers. There are various ways to research the size of a hub’s audience on each platform, but all you need to do right now is glance through their social followings and website and make an educated guess.
The main thing you’re looking for is where the best place would be for them to host a partnership with you. Ideally, you want to do a partnership on a platform where the hub has a big audience, where they regularly host promotions, and where you know your audience is likely to be.
For example, if they have a lot of Facebook followers, and they frequently interview expert guests on Facebook live posts, and you know that many of your ideal customers are on Facebook, then put their number of Facebook followers under “Biggest Platform Size,” put “Facebook” under “Biggest Platform Example,” and put a link to one of their expert interviews under “Past Partnership Example.”
Then it’s easy to fill out the next column: you want to propose that they interview you on a Facebook live.
You don’t need to spend a lot of time on these columns figuring out the perfect partnership, because often, you won’t know until you talk with them. Even if you think something would be an ideal partnership from your perspective, it might not fit their business model (they might have recently decided they don’t want to do Facebook lives anymore). Right now, you’re just trying to make an educated guess about the kind of thing they might be willing to do.
- Do they have a blog?
- If so, how many comments on average does each post have? This will give you a general idea of the size of their blog readership. (You can note this simply as “5 comments average per blog post” for “Platform size.”)
- Do they publish guest posts on their blog? You can easily find this out by googling their website (“website.com”) and then the words “guest post.”
- If they publish guest posts, do they include a bio at the end with a link to the author’s website? This gives you an indication of whether you would be likely to get any visitors to your site or new subscribers if you wrote a blog post for them.
- If the answers to #2 and #3 are yes, and each post has at least 5-10 comments, then you can make an educated guess that they would be open to a guest post proposal.
- Do they have a podcast?
- If so, how popular is it? This is very difficult to judge, but you can look at the number of reviews on iTunes, and you can look at iTunes rankings to see where the podcast shows up. You can also look at their blog to see if they publish podcast episodes there, and if so, how many comments are on each podcast post. You can also look at the host’s social media following and make a guess about their podcast audience size from that.
- Do they interview guests on their podcast? If so, would your topic be a good fit compared to the other guests they’ve interviewed?
- If they do interview guests, do they publish a link to the guest’s website on a post about the podcast? Do they talk about the guest’s website and services in their interview?
- If the answers to the second two questions are yes, then you can make an educated guess that they might be open to a pitch for you being a podcast guest.
- Do they have a community/forum/membership group that people can join?
- If so, how big is it, and is it paid or free? Paid membership sites are great places to offer workshops or be interviewed, since all the members there are already spending money on the kind of thing you want to sell.
- Can you find any information about what content is inside the group, and if so, does it mention expert guests or interviews? Does it list any examples of guests?
- If so, then they might be open to a pitch for you to be an expert guest inside their community.
- Do they have a Facebook page or group?
- If so, how many fans or members does it have?
- Do they host interviews or workshops with experts on their page?
- If they do, then they might be willing to host a workshop with you.
- Do they have an Instagram page?
- If so, how many followers does it have, and how many comments/likes does each post get on average?
- Do they ever post about other experts or brands on their page?
- Do they host live videos on their page?
- If so, then they might be open to posting about your offer or posting a live video of you.
Again, don’t spend too much time on each of these. Think about where you most want to promote your business (if you don’t have a visual brand, then Instagram probably isn’t for you). As you discover a new hub, skim through the platforms where you most want to promote your business, and see if it looks like they ever do partnerships there. If they do, or if you think they might be open to it, add them to your list. If not, move on and find another hub to add.
The last two columns on this tab are “Why I like them” and “Why they will like me.” For these, you’re making a note to yourself of two things: what attracted you to them (this is the “worldview” level fit), and how you feel your offer is complementary to theirs. Again, don’t spend a lot of time; just write a quick note to yourself so you’ll remember when it’s time to reach out.
This first tab in the spreadsheet is your brainstorm list. It’s your note to yourself about the hubs you think you might want to get in touch with.
Once you have 10 or 20 on the list, it’s time to move them to the second tab – the tab at the bottom labeled “Outreach.”
The “Stage” column is to help you know exactly where you are in conversation with each potential partner: lead (you’re still just researching), contacted (you’ve sent them an initial pitch), followed up (they didn’t reply, so you emailed again), discussing (they’ve replied and you’ve sent them information), call scheduled (you’ve scheduled a call with them to talk through the details of a partnership), said yes, or said no.
The drop-down helps you keep track of your own process throughout the conversation with a hub. It’s a guide to your workflow. If you aren’t sure what you should do next in a conversation with a hub, it gives you a guide on what you want the next step to be.
The rest of the columns are for the information you’ll need to reach out: The name of the company or organization, the name of the best contact person, their preferred name you’ll use to address them, their email address, and the type of partnership you plan to suggest (based on your research from the last tab). Finally, the “date last emailed” will help you keep track if you drop the ball on a conversation and need to touch base with them to follow up.
These columns are designed for a coach whose goals are new email subscribers, discovery calls with new prospects, and new clients. But you can change the columns to match your own business goals.
As you do more promotions, you can start to see patterns on this tab, and you can use those patterns to refine what types of partners you look for in the future.
For example, suppose you did a promotion with a hub who has about 5,000 subscribers on their email list. They hosted an online workshop for you. You might want to add a column with “# Workshop Attendees” to your tracking tab so you can include that information here – I’ll explain why in a moment.
There are a lot of numbers you can look at here to evaluate which promotions did better.
First, you can look at the conversion rate of email subscribers on your partner’s list to attendees on your workshop. You can calculate this by dividing the number of workshop attendees by the number of email subscribers each partner has on their list. Dawn sent more attendees, but she only sent 0.5% of her list, while Tara sent 1%. So even though the number of attendees from Tara was half as many as those from Dawn, a much bigger percentage of Tara’s list was interested in your offer. This means that as Tara’s list grows, she’s likely to send even more people to your workshops in the future.
Next, look at the conversion rate of workshop attendees to email subscribers. This is the number of people who signed up your email list, divided by the number of people who attended the workshop. At Tara’s workshop, an incredible 60% of the people who attended signed up for your list. At Dawn’s workshop, only 20% did. This tells you that either your presentation was much better for Tara’s workshop, or your message is much more aligned with Tara and her followers.
The other conversion rates are similar: 10% of the attendees at Tara’s workshop signed up for a discovery call, while only 1% of Dawn’s attendees got on the phone with you.
And then, of course, 4% of your calls with Tara’s followers led to new clients and revenue. None of Dawn’s did, but the number of calls was so low, you can’t really conclude anything from that.
But what can you conclude from looking at these numbers, and how can you use this information to plan your future promotions?
First, obviously, you can conclude that Tara is a better partner than Dawn, even though her audience is smaller. Assuming that the presentation in your workshop was essentially identical for both partners, you can use this information a variety of ways:
- First, analyze why you think Tara is a better partner. It probably has to do with her messaging and brand and its similarity to yours, so if you compare her brand, her emails, and her message and offers to Dawn’s, you can draw conclusions about what aligns with you and what doesn’t. For example, if Dawn talks a lot about higher consciousness and manifesting, while Tara talks a lot about girl power and uses cuss words, then it’s a solid guess that you should look for more edgy partners who are into girl power.
- Next, look back at your first tab and notice how you found each of these partners. Look at how you found Tara, and use the same method to find more potential partners. Don’t repeat the method you used to find Dawn.
- Finally, consider each step of your potential customer’s sales path in this worksheet, and think about whether you can improve things at any point along this path. For example, only 1% of workshop attendees at Dawn’s workshop signed up for a call with you. This could be because your messages aren’t aligned, but it could also be because of something you did differently. It’s possible that a small change in your presentation would result in a lot more calls. Do you have any other partners who are similar to Dawn that did send you clients? If so, what did you differently with them?
The more you track details like this, the more you can improve your promotions with hubs over time. Eventually, as you build up a record of numbers from past partnerships, you’ll be able to accurately estimate how many clients you should get from a new partner just by looking at their platform numbers on the first tab of this spreadsheet. That will enable you to predict your future income from the hubs partnerships you have scheduled, and you can adjust your marketing ahead of time to make sure you meet your income goals.
Remember those questions I asked at the beginning of this post, about what it would mean for your business if you got more email subscribers or clients? The reality is that for most entrepreneurs, the answer to those questions was “I don’t know.”
What would it mean for your business if your email list doubled from a hubs partnership you did tomorrow? If you haven’t been tracking these numbers, then you probably don’t know.
But if you start today, then a year from now you could have a solid foundation for accurately predicting exactly what it would mean for your business and your income. If you keep filling out this spreadsheet as you launch into your hubs marketing, you’ll also be able to predict how many outreach emails you need to send to get a promotion, as well as how many new clients you’re likely to get from a promotion.
And eventually, that means that instead of haphazardly hoping for new clients, you can create a system that predictably, sustainably brings you new clients at the rate you want, in exactly the timing you need.
Want to know what to say to hubs once you start reaching out to them? Join Lisa’s email list and get a free 5-day email course, “How to Email Any Influencer.” You’ll also get a copy of her book about her philosophy of connecting with influencers, How to Grow Your Business and Be a Better Human. Also consider taking Lisa’s quiz What Type Of Influencer Partnership Is Best For Your Business?
About Lisa Baker: Lisa’s dream is to end homelessness, racism, and climate change (not necessarily in that order). She’s a marketing consultant for small businesses who works on saving the world as a side gig. She’d like to change that.