How To Build An Empire Without Ads (And What To Spend Your Time & Money On Instead)

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The other day I did a webinar where someone asked me if I had used ads to build my business, get people to my landing pages, and register for my webinars.

I laughed, because I honestly don't know the first thing about ads!

People in the comments and chat started saying how amazing that we should never use ads because it was a HUGE feat!

Meanwhile I'm over here feeling super behind the times and stressing because we haven't "tapped into" any paid advertising sources yet (no Facebook, no Twitter, nothing).

And then another friend said to me in a comment:

"I want to learn from you because you have actual hacks and strategies that I can implement without spending a lot on ads, but you still get huge results. Everyone else just seems to keep saying "just spend more on ads! Do fb ads! spend $xxxxx on ads!".

Then the other day, I got an email from a reader interested in Your First 1K®, but who said they weren't sure I'd be able to help them since their niche is "banned" and not allowed to have ads on Twitter or Facebook (nothing dirty, just a finance-advice niche).

I was so surprised they assumed I focused on ad strategies, when EVERYTHING I teach in Your First 1K® is organic, relationship-based, and totally free traffic and list building strategies.

I wanted to clear that up and also give my reasoning, since so many people seem shocked and curious about this topic when I mention it!

Who told you that you had to use ads to be successful?

Most "business strategists" (overused term alert!) will tell you that you need to invest thousands of dollars into FB ads in order to launch a course or do a webinar.

Not only is this a huge barrier to entry for a lot of people (including me when I was a newbie!), it's also just flat out not true!

And if you don't know what you're doing, that strategy of spending, spending, spending won't work.

The truth is that I've built this entire business without any paid advertising. Not because I have some sort of chip on my shoulder about using ads - but because I didn't have the money for that (or the time to learn how to use them).

So I figured out how to grow my list and get people on my webinars for free, using some smart strategies and relationship building techniques (I have a SYSTEM for making friends online - this shit does not happen by accident!).

I've had plenty of 5- and 6-figure launches and have grown my course business without spending a penny on ads.

In my courses, I show you exactly what I do to build up my pre-launch list using all free and organic methods. You do not need to spend thousands on ads to have a huge launch! Me and my students are proof!

Why I Personally Don't Like Ads:

Again, I am not "against" ads, but I do have a few reasons we didn't use them in the beginning of our business..

1. Cost and investment without a guarantee:

One big reason I've always stuck with affiliates over paid advertising is that affiliates are commission-only. That means that I only pay someone if they've sent me a sale, meaning there's a guaranteed profit on that transaction.

With ads, you're spending money up front in order hopefully recoup your investment and make a profit later. It's a risk though! I'm pretty averse to big risks like that in my business - I try to be slow and strategic instead of hoping something will work and spending a lot without testing it first.

2. Bad leads:

I haven't used ads myself so I have no experience with the quality of the people that end up on your list, at your webinars, or in your courses as a result of using them. But I do talk to tons of other business owners every single day who are using ads, and I've heard the same thing again and again:

The people who are joining their gang (their "tribe") from ads on Facebook or Twitter or Adwords are NOT the best customers or fans. They're very different from the fans they know and love who weren't "bought". They're more likely to unsubscribe, or just get your free content then get out.

And I do think there's something to be said for someone clicking on your "free thing" offer in an ad, versus someone finding you through your amazing content and getting so into you and your blog that they decide to opt in after reading your content for a while.

This is anecdotal, but I know as a consumer - I'm not going to click on your ad. I am however happy to subscribe if I find you through my research or as recommended by someone I already trust.

The Alternative To Ads: A Relationship-Based Business!

As a business owner and content creator, I'd much rather be introduced to you through someone you already like and trust than have our first "meeting" be in your Facebook feed with no context.

I kinda think about it like any other relationship, or dating even.

What's better: An introduction from a trusted friend, or a blind date or tinder swipe?

I'd rather be introduced to you from one of your favorite bloggers via a blog post or webinar than have me just shoved into your feed interrupting your other content.

It feels more permission-based and I value that.

I've also interviewed my customers and the majority of them say they don't click on ads for programs or courses, and they they aren't interested in those types of ads.

That means that MY people - my ideal audience (a badass business babe who love to break the rules) is not clicking on those ads anyway.

Since day 1, I knew that the key to building my business online wasn't going to be hustling and scraping for each, individual follower and friend. Instead, it was going to be based on building relationships with people who already had an audience of people who could benefit from what I have to offer. We're talking about being smart and strategic and leveraging your skills.

I was starting from absolute scratch - but I wasn't feeling discouraged like "OH MY GOSH I AM STARTING FROM ZERO THERE IS NOTHING OH DESPAIR!" precisely because I saw other people in my niche with audiences, and I figured I could, in a matter of time and by being EXTREMELY generous and giving, build relationships with those people and get that awesome, "best friends" introduction to their fans too, which would then eventually become my fans.

I knew from the start that the quickest way to build my own audience was by tapping into other ones that are similar to the people I was looking to serve, help and connect with.

Network Hacking: What It Is and How I Do It

A few months ago my pal Halley and I were talking about my efficient-but-super-friendly-and-fun style of reaching out to others in my niche that I wanted to collaborate with, and she told me it was like "network hacking." I thought it was such a cool phrase! It really does describe this strategy.

Basically network hacking is just getting in front of other audiences to build your own, instead of starting from scratch by yourself and trying to do it ALL ALONE in a vacuum with no help or collaboration.

It's an art AND a science. It's partly soft skills and being personable and friendly and partly strategic moves and good timing.

What happens after while when you start network hacking is you start getting more and more introductions to more people in your niche and in their lateral industries too.

So I would do a collaboration (most likely a webinar) with someone, it would be fun and we'd hit it off, then they'd introduce me to two friends, then THOSE two people would introduce me to some more people, and it just grows like a spiderweb once you get some momentum.

Introduction > new person > new person > etc.

The other side effect is that your audience becomes a "patchwork" of lots of other audiences.

So if you looked at the tags in my ConvertKit you would see that everyone in my audience came from a special content upgrade for a guest blog post, or a webinar with someone else's audience.

So how can you start building a growth strategy that's relationship-based instead of ad-based?

Let's look at some examples of things I've done myself.

It's all about building two sets of relationships: the relationship with the host, blogger, or influencer, and the relationship with the audience.


  • Webinars - I've done dozens of joint venture webinars. The thing is I'm not trying to get "all the people" into my gang, just the RIGHT people. The people who are going to get me, like me and my voice, and aren't gonna gasp when I swear. Webinars are the PERFECT collaboration: short, fixed time frame, sharing the workload to build a bond, and making money together. It's super fun too!

  • Podcast interviews - Talking to someone for an hour or more is a really fun way to get to know that person and share your value and story with their audience too. If you're not being asked to do podcast interviews, pitch some people! Hosts and bloggers always need content - and you can make their lives easier by being a good guest.

  • Guest posts - Now guest posting doesn't build a relationship with the host in the best way, that's my only issue with these. They're great for your traffic and list building, but they aren't great for building real lasting relationships with the person hosting you.

  • Virtual Summits - I recently participated in one of my first summits, it was a GREAT way to build a relationship with not only the organizer but MANY different people's audiences. With a summit with multiple speakers, there's potentially 10 people all promoting the summit at once - that means you could be introduced to parts of 10 other audiences in one fell swoop. I love that efficiency :)

"But What Can I Offer?"

So many of my clients and students say: "But Mariah, I don't have a big list to share with the other person! I have nothing to offer them".

Guess what? When I started building relationships like this, I didn't either! That's right, we all start at exactly the same place: the very bottom, with nothing. :)

The "I don't have a big list and therefore I have no value" excuse is old and tired. Stop trying to use it as a reason not to reach out to people!

You have a lot more than your email list to offer a potential relationship.

For example, you could offer them:

1. Tech skills and a training - if you can teach a skill that people want to learn, you have value to share with another person's audience! Even if they have 30,000 subscribers and you have 25. That doesn't matter. It matters that you can teach a skill!

2. Information their audience wants and asks for but the audience-owner doesn't provide - Here's the thing, within the scope of this business I talk about webinars, list-building, and creating and launching courses. However, I also get questions ALL THE TIME from my students and readers asking for help with accounting, branding and web design, copy writing, and tons of other things that I love and know about but don't like to focus on or actively teach.

And I'm always looking for guest experts who can provide value to my audience in an area that they need and want help with but that I personally can't provide. You can be that person too!

3. The ability to run and set up a webinar - You know what's a SUPER valuable skill to have (I found out through experience)? Being able to set up and run a webinar, on the tech side. Not a lot of people know how to do this themselves. It's not actually super difficult, but it's a special skill.

And what I realized early on was that by offering the fact that I could handle all the "tech stuff" on my end gave a lot of people a reason to say "yes" to my joint webinar requests.

So I would ask people to do a webinar and say "I'll take care of all the tech stuff, don't worry about any of it. All you have to do is show up!" and it was such an easy yes - FRICTIONLESS. And if these people aren't used to doing webinars to their audience, you've just offered them a special treat and some really high value content.

If that person usually just writes blog posts and you do a webinar, it stands out and also provides a more "high value" format that the regular blog posts that their audience is used to.

If you need help learning the tech side of webinars so you can start having a reason to reach out to people to build relationships, Webinar Rockstar® teaches you how to do both.

All of my courses teach you how to build your business without ads.

I teach you how to get people on your list, to your webinars, and convert them into customers without any ads.

I don't believe you have to spend "just a few thousand bucks" to get started. I focus on organic and relationship-based audience building and lead generation, because it really freaking works and is WAY more fun.

That's why in my courses I teach you how to:

Get hundreds of people to sign up for your webinar using all free methods of promotion such as my Twitter hacks, social amplification, and incentives (all taught in Webinar Rockstar®).

Grow your list to 1,000 people without using FB ads - just strategic partnerships, value-bartering, and giving so much value your customers can't ignore you (all covered in Your First 1K®).

And I teach you how to pump up your pre-launch list and convert your readers and fans into actual customers with a strategic series of webinars and emails that guide your audience to the decision to buy, without the need for retargeting ads (that's all in Launch Your Signature Course®).

So, what do you think?

I'm not saying ads are bad! Not at all, I hope this hadn't given you the wrong impression. One day I hope to learn to use them effectively.

I'm just saying that they aren't NECESSARY to your success, as I've heard others saying.

You don't NEED to use them to be successful. And when you're just starting out, you definitely don't need to add another thing on your plate.

My goal isn't to turn you OFF of using ads or start an argument, but just instead to maybe help you let out a sigh of relief to know that there IS another way of building your business!

And to show you that if you're feeling like the cost of using ads is stopping you from starting, don't let it! You don't need them. Get started anyway!

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