I want to show you exactly how to build an online platform in any niche. You may be where I was four years ago. You have a passion welling up inside of you, but you’re not sure how to get the word out. You want to influence and contribute in your space. You want to make a difference by sharing your expertise, passion and creativity with the world, but getting started seems so daunting.
What if I told you it’s easier and harder than you think? It’s easier than you think because if you want it badly enough you can do it. Its harder than you think because building a platform requires hundreds of small steps. These small steps add up over time to become something amazing, but so many people give up after a few steps if they don’t see things happening fast enough.
I want to detail my journey for you. This is not to brag because I could also show you many others who went further faster. Rather, I want to give you an honest look at what it has taken to go from nothing to over 200,000 page views on my site, 20,000 podcast downloads, 15,000 Twitter followers, dozens of articles syndicated on major sites, and a bestselling book.
I want to show you that all of this (and more) is possible for you, too.
It’s hard to believe, but four years ago this week I launched PreachingDonkey.com! Looking back over these 48 months it’s amazing to see how God has taken a small passion project of mine and used it to help thousands of preachers around the world communicate the message of the Gospel more effectively.
It’s actually quite humbling, and I want to to tell you the story, and show you the stats of what we’ve been able to do in these short years of helping preachers communicate better. But what I’m most excited about is sharing with you what is to come!
When I first started building a blog and brand, I didn’t know anything. I mean, nothing. I had to search and claw and discover how to do everything. That’s the nature of any new endeavor. No one is going to do it for you. And anything worthwhile is worth making the effort.
But I wish I had had a step-by-step guide from someone who didn’t have a big name and a pre-existing platform. I would have loved to see an example of how to go from no online presence other than personal social media to becoming an influencer in a space.
In the summer of 2014 I had finished my seminary degree and was finally “done” with school. Not done with learning, but done with school. I’m a big proponent of the never stop discovering, learning, and growing way of life. So since I was no longer being forced to write papers and take tests I wanted to dig deep into a passion of mine and help others along the way. What was my passion? Really. Great. Preaching. Why was I so passionate about really great preaching?
This desire was deep down in me for two reasons:
I needed to discover at the deepest level possible what makes the difference.
I’m not anti-seminary. It was great in a lot of ways, but there are a lot of things seminary just can’t cover. Or won’t cover.
My bachelors degree is in Communication from a state university. In this program I learned how to connect and communicate with human beings.
My masters degree is in Pastoral Studies from a seminary. In this program I learned how to bore everyone with the Bible.
For some reason the communication principles I discovered in my undergraduate program were virtually ignored. Instead, we focused primarily on hermeneutics (the art of biblical interpretation) and some of the technical aspects of outlining and delivering sermon content.
My experience is like so many preachers who go through seminary. They learn how to study the bible for a sermon but not much about how to take that material and present it in a way that is intriguing and compelling such that people lean in to hear more.
Properly interpreting and teaching the Bible is crucial. Seminary covers that well.
Effectively connecting and impacting your listeners is also crucial. Seminary does not cover that well.
But in my opinion you shouldn’t do one without the other. Our sermons need both. So this is what I decided: There needed to be a resource for preachers that has a one singular aim: to help preachers communicate better.
I started making a list of what I had learned in my communications program, what I had observed from some of the best communicators out there, and what I had experimented with in my years of preaching to that point.
Then I spent a few weeks figuring out all the ins and outs of setting up a self-hosted website on WordPress, installing a theme, designing the layout, and making the site live. And Preaching Donkey was born. By the way, if you’re curious why I called it Preaching Donkey, check out our first post from four years ago.
I created content with one question in mind: How do I hit preaching from as many angles as possible to equip pastors to approach every sermon with the confidence, skills and practices required to be effective?
From there I began writing posts and sharing them and it took off. What follows is a detailed journey of exactly what has happened over these four years.
Starting out I had one goal: Post one article a week. I did this consistently for nearly the first year. From there I reduced the frequency and began focusing on other elements like the podcast and book. But the site itself, and particularly its articles remain the home-base of the Preaching Donkey ecosystem. There are 68 articles live on the site. All of them are on the subject of preaching and communication. The site has had over 200,000 page views in its four years of existence.
In a world where we are so accustomed to viral online content, 200,000 page views seems insignificant, but let me tell you, if someone had told me 4 years ago that 50,000 times a year a page would be viewed on my site for four straight years I would have said they were crazy. Nobody knew who I was or cared when I launched this site. Four years from now I’d love for it to be a million page views, but I’m happy with 200,000 this first four years.
There are also a few thousand pastors subscribed to my email list. I use ConvertKit (now Seva) as my email service provider. I started out at MailChimp, but ConvertKit has been so much better. I’ll post a comparison at some point.
My social media strategy was basically Twitter at first. A lot of pastors use Twitter so I wanted to get in front of as many of them as I could on that platform. My Twitter following quickly grew to a few thousand people. What really spurred the growth was being featured on larger sites (more on that below).
Beyond that I built a Facebook Page, but pages kind of stink thanks to Facebook’s algorithm changes. I haven’t spent much time trying to grow it. The organic reach of a page is about as good as if I went outside on my deck and yelled, “Hey everyone! I posted something new!” One neighbor might hear me. If you want a Facebook page to show your posts to people you have to boost the posts (pay some $$). And usually I choose to invest marketing dollars in other ways. Facebook groups are better, and I’ve been experimenting with some options there.
But, nearly 1,000 people like the page so it’s not terrible, but not great either.
The absolute coolest, most unexpected thing to happen in this journey was getting an email from Sermon Central asking me if they could repost my articles. The site had been up for less than two months! They wanted to repost and push it out to their audience of 350,000 daily subscribers. I was like, “Let me think about it… YES!! YES!! YES!!”
I was floored. My little side project was now going to be viewed by a whole heck of a lot more people than I ever thought would when I started. SermonCentral went on to post 25 of my articles. Along the way I got requests from Church Leaders who re-posted 19 of my articles and Pastors.com who posted 10 of them. Within 3-4 months of blogging I was syndicated on three major sites (in this niche) and my site was getting some traffic as a result.
After the first year of blogging I dove into podcasting. Like anything else in the platform building universe there was a bit of a learning curve to figure out the best tools to use and how to record, post and host my podcast. But I got it up and running and it now has 50 episodes. The first several episodes are rough as I was learning how to talk into a microphone alone in a room in a way that other people would want to hear. But I got the hang of it and I really enjoy it. The podcast has had just over 20,000 downloads.
I’ve always wanted to be an author, but prior to starting this venture I didn’t have enough to say about any one topic for it to make up an entire book. After a year and half or so of blogging and podcasting I finally decided it was time to put everything that I had been teaching into a holistic go-to resource for anyone who wanted all of the concepts conveniently and systematically organized for them.
What resulted was my bestselling book, Preaching Killer Sermons: How to Create and Deliver Messages that Captivate and Inspire
I say “bestselling” because it ranked #1 for awhile in its category on Amazon and someone told me that’s enough to call it “bestselling” so I went with it. I don’t use the word often, but I do like the sound of it.
One of the most satisfying weeks of my life was when the book ranked higher than Tim’s and Andy’s (Keller and Stanley) on Amazon:
Writing a book is no joke. There’s a whole heck of a lot to figure out and learn. Prior to writing this book, the most I had written was 20-30 page seminary papers. It was a labor of love though, and it got me hooked. I’m almost finished writing my next one and will be releasing it soon.
If you’re interested in writing and publishing, let me know and I’ll share more about my journey. The best self-publishing resource out there if you want to check it out for yourself is Chandler Bolt’s Self-Publishing School.
The most rewarding part of having written a book is hearing from the pastors who have been helped by it. One pastor in Seattle told me his whole team went through the book together, and it helped shape their preaching team.
Here are some reviews readers have left on Amazon:
I’m excited about the future of this brand. Helping preachers communicate better is very fulfilling to me so I want to continue to reach more pastors with more resources. We are now on YouTube. My next book which will help you sharpen your skills and maximize your impact as a preacher is nearing completion and will be releasing in the fall. Be sure to subscribe to my email list so you can get your hands on it as soon as it comes out! Finally, courses on a variety of preaching topics are coming next year.
As I look back over these four years I’m filled with gratitude that people read, listen, watch and respond to my content. And I’m even more grateful that it’s just the beginning of the journey.
I’m going to do a couple more posts outlining both the mistakes I’ve made these past four years and the lessons I’ve learned. When it comes to building an online platform, what questions do you have? What would you like to know about growing a brand?
**Some links in this article are affiliate links which means I get a small referral fee if you click through and make a purchase. I only recommend products I use and love and ones that I know will help you.**