Do you have a minimum viable platform?

If you lost your job or biggest customer tomorrow, how quickly could you recover?

If you have a breakthrough idea today, how many people could you communicate it to by tomorrow? Would it be a few hundred, a few thousand, or tens of thousands?

With a solid platform you will have better answers to the questions above. In this post I'll define what a platform is and why it is important, then detail the seven essential elements of a minimum viable platform. To help summarize all of the guidance in this post, here is a free set of checklists:

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What is a platform?

Your platform is the set of channels and tools used to present your brand and ideas to the world. It is the audience paying attention to you. In the book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, Michael Hyatt defines a platform as “the means by which you connect with your existing and potential fans.”

Your platform is your total reach across all of your social media networks, professional networks, content, publications, and speaking. You may be saying to yourself “I have none of that other than Facebook :(” That’s ok, we’ll fix that!

A platform is built over time. In today’s world, it is a massive differentiator between average and great outcomes. 58% of all people use one or more social networks according to StatisticBrain. The difference between a user of social media and a producer is that your platform extends beyond your family, friends, and immediate co-workers.

Whether you are employed in the corporate world, an online entrepreneur, or a freelancer, you must have a minimum viable platform that you own. That ownership can either be your personally or through a business entity that you own.

What is a minimum viable platform?

Minimum Viable Platform

In product development and marketing today, it is usually better to launch a minimum viable product than to wait and try to create a perfect product. By launching, you start learning. The faster you learn and improve based on real customer feedback the better.

For your platform, the same concept applies. Don’t wait until you have every social network figured out. Don’t wait until you feel like you have a year’s worth of good content.

Start today with a minimum viable platform. A minimum viable platform has four core components:

  1. One or more publication points (blog, Facebook, etc.) for your ideas, content, products
  2. One or more social networks to amplify your reach
  3. An email list to capture and nurture your audience members
  4. Systems and tools to promote your content, increase your number of followers, and grow your email list

Minimum Viable Platform Process

What are the benefits of a minimum viable platform?

Imagine you find out tomorrow you’ve been laid off from your job. Nightmare scenario. What if you have no platform other than your friends and family, some colleagues at work, and a few business cards in the bottom of a desk drawer? Your next step is likely Monster.com or some other job site with tens of thousands of people chasing after the same jobs.

Now imagine if you have even the modest platform elements listed above:

  • A great LinkedIn profile
  • A few hundred twitter followers in your industry
  • A blog with a few hundred readers
  • An ebook with some interesting ideas

You would put a note out to your platform (all channels) discussing the circumstance, note your valuable content/expertise with examples, and ask your network for leads to relevant positions. How do you like your odds now for finding an opportunity?

Now consider the scenario above, but your platform consists of a blog you’ve been running for two years about your area of expertise. You also have an email list of a few thousand members.

You may be able to generate replacement income within days by marketing a small product (guide, blueprint, ebook) to the members of your email list. You could immediately start offering consulting or coaching services for further income.

Finally, at the high-end of the spectrum, your platform might enable you to completely replace your income if you were laid off. In other words, you might be happy for the nudge into full-time entrepreneurship!

The benefits of a minimum viable platform are the flexibility it provides you. The MVP helps you diversify away from dependence on your employer. It gives you options. If you like your job, your MVP will almost certainly raise your profile if you focus it on your industry or area of expertise.

Is an MVP the same as a personal brand?

No, but they are closely related. Your personal brand is the actual content and design you publish through your platform and the emotional response it creates in your audience.

 

“Your personal brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room” – Chris Ducker

 

These days almost everyone has a platform, even if just a personal Facebook profile. Still, many people do not treat their platform and personal brand as a strategic asset.

If there are more drunk photos and snarky comments published through your platform than valuable content, you are not treating it as a strategic asset. If you think “that’s my personal profile” and elsewhere I am “all business” and you think you can separate them, I have some bad news for you…

For younger readers who have grown up with social media, this is important. I’m not saying you have to be a boring stiff online, but I am saying that every single thing you write, post, or tweet to your platform becomes part of your personal brand. You are either increasing or decreasing its value with every item posted.

 

“You have to understand your own personal DNA. Don’t do things because I do them or Steve Jobs or Mark Cuban tried it. You need to know your personal brand and stay true to it.” – Gary Vaynerchuk

 

Without a solid and growing platform, success in online business is impossible. Even on the traditional career path, if you are not building a platform you are putting yourself at risk of invisibility compared to those that do.

I know MANY extremely intelligent people inside Microsoft and the other large companies I have worked for that are invisible to the outside world because they have not built a platform.

What should my minimum viable platform be?

If you are just starting out, think of the elements of your MVP as foundations you build on over time. They are the minimum expected points of presence from your audience, potential customers, or employers.

One place to start your analysis is looking at the most popular social networks:

Statistic: Leading social media websites in the United States in February 2016, based on share of visits | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

Facebook is by far the most dominant social network. For our purposes, we will take a different path than pure popularity. Remember we have several goals with our MVP:

  • Employment insurance (ability to find a new job quickly should we need to)
  • Personal branding
  • Business building

There are few critical points that apply to each part of your platform:

  • You must own the platform elements in your own name or a company you own and control. Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, or blogs owned by your employer do not count. I’ve known people that have put thousands of hours of their own time into company blogs and so on where none of that belongs to them or conveys with them to their next job or venture. Own your own work!
  • The platform elements you choose should be used for your business or personal brand only.
  • Each element needs to highlight the key points you want your brand or business to represent
  • Each element of your platform needs to lead back to your home base: your blog (you’ll see why shortly)

With those requirements in mind, let’s build your minimum viable platform!

Minimum Viable Platform Design

In this section, we’ll define the elements of your MVP in the order of importance and implementation.

7 Elements of a Minimum Viable Platform

7 Elements of a Minimum Viable PlatformInfographic

LinkedIn

While it is far from the most popular or trendy social network, the first element of your MVP should be a fully populated LinkedIn profile.

This is the “break glass in case of emergency” part of your platform. Like insurance or an emergency fund, you want this profile and network of professional contacts you cultivate to be there in case you need it. 122 million people have gotten an interview from their LinkedIn profiles and 35 million have been hired from a connection on LinkedIn.

A sudden job, contract, or business loss are the scenarios this element of the MVP is focused on. Here are a few other reasons for starting with LinkedIn:

  • Employers look for it if you are applying for jobs
  • Your audience and potential customers will want to look up your professional background
  • LinkedIn is your online resume and summary of your career that happens to be highly searchable
  • LinkedIn is a place to highlight achievements/publications in an environment where that is expected
  • This platform helps you cultivate recommendations in your areas of expertise from peers (social proof of your abilities)

Here are some resources for creating a great LinkedIn profile:

Blog

A personal brand or company blog (that you own) is your home base. Social networks are great, but you don’t own that content or platform, you rent it. There is a saying that “you should not build your home on rented land”. Copyblogger nailed this risk in their post Digital Sharecropping: The Most Dangerous Threat to Your Content Marketing Strategy

Think about that… Social networks come and go, even large ones. There was a time when MySpace was king and Facebook was a joke. Google Plus was going to be huge… then it wasn’t.

Social networks are critically important to your personal brand and MVP, but they need to lead back to your home base: your blog or website. Here are the top reasons why you should start a blog today:

  • Provides an outlet for your ideas, content, products
  • Your blog/website can evolve into a multimedia presents (podcast, video, etc.)
  • Your blog/website can evolve into an e-commerce platform or online store
  • A blog persists over time, between jobs, and life phases
  • With WordPress and other free or inexpensive tools, you can have an online platform that used to cost hundreds or thousands of dollars or more to create

There are over 76 million blogs on WordPress.com alone, with 409 million people reading them. Despite the popularity of social media, blogs are still a critical element for an MVP, especially for any form of monetization.

Here are some resources for creating a great blog:

Email List

Creating and growing an email list of your audience members is the most critical element of your MVP. This is a core asset you need to invest in building. Why? Your email list is your audience. Your list is also your target market for any products or services you create in the future.

 

“Only one mode of communication with your ideal prospects remains steadfast in the face of a changing social media landscape: email.” – Amy Porterfield

 

If you are able to grow your email list to 10,000 members, you have the potential to earn a six-figure income developing and selling products to that audience. Here are the top reasons why you should create and start growing an email list:

  • Critical to the long-term health of your platform and future business since this is your target market
  • Key metric on your ability to monetize (on average you can see between $1 – $10 per list member per year in revenue)
  • Size matters less than quality

This is a more advanced topic than most personal branding guidance covers, but it is absolutely the most critical topic for building any kind of online business or freelance career where you are not dependent on platforms like Upwork.

 

“One of the biggest mistakes I made as a blogger and business owner was not starting an email list right from the start.” – Pat Flynn

 

You will need to invest in a good email service provider in order to build and maintain your email list. Examples include Aweber, Mailchimp, and many others.

Recommendation: I use, recommend, and am an affiliate for ConvertKit. ConverKit provides a great set of features at a very attractive price. With ConvertKit you get many of the features of a high-end email marketing solution like Infusionsoft at a price much closer to the commodity providers like Aweber. ConvertKit also provides forms and landing pages (see the next section) which are more than adequate in most cases.

Here are some resources for building an email list:

Landing Page / Lead Magnet

A lead magnet is a piece of content that you give away in return for someone opting-in to your email list. A landing page is a page on your website or blog where you offer up your lead magnet and collect the readers email address.

How you market your lead magnet to your audience, the quality of the landing page, and the quality of your lead magnet all contribute to the conversion rate you achieve. The conversion rate is the percentage of people exposed to your lead magnet who opt-in to your list.

You may think this is a bit much for a minimum viable platform but there will come a time when you will need or want an email list and regret that you didn’t take these steps sooner if you skip them now.

Here are the top reasons why you should create a lead magnet and landing page:

  • Lead magnets are the key to growing your email list as they entice readers to enter their email address to receive your free content
  • Lead magnets give you a chance to showcase your expertise
  • Lead magnets demonstrate your commitment to providing free content and value to your audience
  • Through advanced scenarios like Facebook tracking pixels, even readers who don’t opt-in to your email list can be re-targeted with different content

Imagine 100 peers or colleagues of yours that you know personally. Ask yourself how many of them have a blog where they give away free content and build an email list? Probably less than 5%, maybe even less than 1%. Doing this gets you into that small group and differentiates you from the others.

A big part of your MVP that will put you light-years ahead of most people is a focus on email list building. The audience you are trying to build is inundated by marketing from all kinds of different businesses. To stand out, you need to offer your potential audience significant free value in order to convince them they should opt-in to your email list.

You need to leave your audience with the feeling that if you are giving away great content, you must have more great content in store for them.

Even if you are not planning an online business yet, building a healthy email list is an extremely valuable personal asset.

Here are some resources about lead magnets and landing pages:

Twitter

Twitter is an essential part of your MVP. You are most likely on Twitter already but you need to determine your strategy for using Twitter as part of your minimum viable platform. Twitter has over 300 million active users according to Statista and a culture of sharing content through tweets and retweets.

Some Twitter users have a business/professional oriented profile alongside a personal one while others combine the two. I have two user accounts, one for my technology consulting career and one for StrongStart.fm.

If you are already starting an online business or brand, separating the brand from your personal profile makes sense. If not, having one profile for professional and personal is ok, but from now on you need to think about how everything you posts effects what I call your “professional personal brand”. Too many party pictures, food pictures, or political tweets can significantly impact your audience’s opinions and your personal brand.

Here are the top reasons why you should create and start growing your Twitter following:

  • Twitter is a large potential audience for your content where sharing/retweeting is a core behavior
  • Good content has high potential for reaching a wider audience
  • The time investment to engage is low both for you and your followers

Once you decide on profile strategy, you need to focus on growing your following. Like your email list, a growing and engaged Twitter following is an important asset. Your social medial followers are toward the top of your marketing funnel (which you need even if you don’t have products or a business yet).

Your marketing funnel starts with the widest audience (people who don’t know you at all which are exposed to your platform for the first time) then followers, then members of your email list, then potentially customers or buyers of your services.

Here are some resources about setting up your Twitter profile:

Facebook

Given the size of Facebook, with over 1.6 billion monthly active users, it cannot be ignored. The same considerations of professional vs. personal exist but even more so with Facebook . Here I do suggest in almost all cases a separate professional/business page from your personal profile.

Statistic: Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 4th quarter 2015 (in millions) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

A fan page or like page for your personal brand is the way to go. The content for the page can be links to blog posts and your typical social updates but there are also now huge opportunities around video, live video, and others ways to magnify your personal brand.

Again, attracting followers/subscribers is the key and growing that number over time. Here are the top reasons why you should create and start growing your Facebook fan page:

  • The ability to access such a large audience is unparalleled
  • Engagement on Facebook tends to be higher than many other social networks
  • Facebook’s advertising platform can significantly reduce the time it takes to build an audience when you are ready to use paid traffic. Having an existing page and following helps significantly.
  • Configuring your blog with the Facebook tracking pixel lets you start building custom audiences you can target ads and content to

Here are some resources about setting up your Facebook page:

Publish an ebook

Once all of the previous elements of your MVP have been established, your next focus should be on a few more differentiators that set you apart from your peers. Publishing an ebook related to your area of expertise is a great investment of time.

Self-publishing has become extremely easy so there are no barriers to getting your thoughts and ideas out there for others to consume. 45% of all ebook unit sales are now from independent or self-published authors.

Here are the top reasons why you should create and publish an ebook:

  • An ebook can be a great lead magnet for you to build your email list
  • Adding “author of XYZ” to your resume and the rest of your platform will further set you apart from your peers and build your authority
  • Demonstrates commitment to providing high-value free content to your audience

An example of this is the ebook I created called StrongStart Guide – Personal Productivity. You can see that single piece of content being used for a variety of purposes on my site. It is often the primary lead magnet on my home page. Part of it have been used as blog posts. Many of the Facebook ads and other social media campaigns I run include it.

If you aren’t yet convinced, here’s five more reasons for publishing an ebook.

Here are some resources about authoring and publishing an ebook:

Beyond the Minimum Viable Platform

Once you have your MVP in place and you are providing content to your audience and growing your email list, you may want to consider adding a few more elements to your platform.

Particularly for those of you beginning a freelance career or building an online business, additional platform elements are recommended. The elements listed below enable a greater depth and connection with your audience than just the written word.

Live Video Streaming

Live video streaming (Periscope, Facebook Live) and smaller-form video (Snapchat) is exploding in popularity. Like most social media trends, it beings with teens and moves up the demographic spectrum to young adults and adults. That is the point when businesses and marketers start getting interested. That point has arrived in the last year. By 2018, 79% of Internet traffic will be video.

What’s interesting is that it is still early days for live video, so people and brands jumping onto these platforms are attracting large followings that would have taken them much longer on more mature and saturated platforms. There are already 8 billion daily mobile video views on Snapchat.

Live video streaming is especially exciting for your MVP as it’s a very low barrier to entry scenario. Most of these services only work from your smart phone. No fancy cameras or video equipment is required.

Here is a resource I created which will help you with live streaming in general and Facebook Live in particular:

The Definitive Guide to Facebook Live

Podcast

If you are considering or already have an online business, starting a Podcast should be a part of you MVP. Podcasts are increasing in popularity, with 21% of the U.S. population, or 56 million people listening to podcasts on a monthly basis:

There are over 250,000 podcasts listed in iTunes. The recent growth is driven by the widespread use of smart phones and integration audio systems. This is enabling people to listen to podcasts on the way to work instead of radio.

Podcasts move you from a text-based relationship with your audience to and audio-based relationship. They can hear your voice and judge your authenticity. Podcasts give you an additional way to reach your audience. While podcasting is not hard, it does take significant time and commitment.

Is creating a podcast worth the effort? It depends! You need to balance the commitment versus the ROI. Podcasters are only successful if they stick to a consistent content schedule.

For individuals, podcasting may not be worth the time unless your expertise is in a fairly unique content category.

If you are starting a freelance or online business, then I do think a podcast is worth the effort. Reaching your audience through written, audio, and video content is a powerful way to build your platform.

Here are some resources for getting started with podcasting:

Conclusion

This may seem like a lot for a minimum viable platform! Below I will break it down into some simple next steps. Note that this platform can not be built in a day. Your MVP is an investment in your future! Work through the steps below in order and challenge yourself to get them completed within four week’s time.

Action Plan

Here is the exact plan to get started building your minimum viable platform:

  1. Create or complete your professional LinkedIn profile
  2. Begin designing and building your blog
  3. Create or complete your Twitter profile
  4. Create or complete your Facebook fan/business page
  5. Publish an ebook

Once those are done, you can explore the optional items mentioned:

  1. Choose a Live Streaming platform and deliver content
  2. Start a Podcast

Call to Action

To help you accelerate building your MVP, I’ve created a set of checklists for each of the core elements that you can use to guide your efforts.

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