A short drive from my childhood home was a place called The Fairytale Grounds.
It was a small theme park, located out in the country. After parking, you would walk along a forest path. All along the route were miniature dioramas featuring different fairytales. These dioramas would come to life with small animatronic characters like Robin Hood, Snow White, and Red Riding Hood. Everything about this little world was flawlessly crafted: each piece a marvel unto itself.
You'd think that I'd have plenty of good memories from visiting that place as a child. You'd be wrong.
The owner was brilliant; and a skilled craftsman. But he despised children. When we visited, he followed us around, barking at us if we came close to his masterpieces. He greeted each visitor with a sour face and a judgmental eye.
What a shame! He'd created an entire world of fantasy and wonder but didn't like his target market: kids!
Contrast that with this quote from my buddy Chase Reeves from the Fizzle podcast (58:49):
"I really love this audience. These are real people; they're good, they're brave, they're putting their ass on the line, they're actually interested in this stuff. I love this audience, and I would have given up a long time ago if I didn't. If you build up a really successful site around an audience you start to resent, you get into a really bad place as a creator."
Often, the first question we ask ourselves is: "What do I want to make?"
The question we should ask is: " Who do I want to serve?"
I have a friend who wanted to build a product for real estate agents.
I asked him: "Do you hang out with real estate agents?"
He answered: "Well, no."
I continued: "Do you like going to real estate conferences, trade shows, and workshops?"
Again he replied: "No. I've never gone to anything like that. Why would I? I'm a software developer."
"If you don't like hanging out with them now," I asked, "are you sure you're going to want to serve them (every day) from now on?"
When we're in the idea phase of a new business, we don't think about the daily grind. How will it feel waking up every morning with 20 support emails in your inbox? Will it be easy to write a weekly blog post for your target market? Will you be willing to put your energy, creativity, money, sweat, and tears on the line for your customers?
Here's a simple way to determine who your audience should be: if you're going out for a drink, who do you call?
I run a local event called Geek Beers. On the last Thursday of every month, we head to a local pub to hang out and talk about technology and business. In a single night, we might discuss functional programming, blogging, and the challenges of remote work.
We're a group that likes helping each other: that might mean providing some resume advice, helping with a Python script, or giving feedback on a new app. If someone in the group calls on me, I'm happy to help because I genuinely appreciate and like these people.
My audience online is similar: people who are passionate about technology and business. Each Saturday, I read their responses to my weekly newsletter; and it's enjoyable. I'm happy to listen to their struggles, encourage, and offer advice when I can. I love this audience.
My recommendation for you: select a group that you belong to, or that you like. Don't make realtors your audience if you don't like spending time with realtors.
Remember, there's some variance here: for example, you might be a Senior Developer that enjoys serving Junior Developers. Or you might be a Hiring Manager that has great advice for job applicants.
If you're hoping to build a product or a business around this audience, you'll also need to make sure that this group is easy to reach, and pays for things.
"Do you see yourself liking this group in a year? What about 5? You have to care about them to make something they will love." - Carl Alexander
Remember, when you build an audience online, you're going to be interacting with these people every day. Will you be happy to do that for the rest of your life?