It's no secret that we live in a world of ubiquitous content. It's everywhere.

We read, stream and binge-watch content at all times of the day: on the train before work, during our lunch break, with friends at the bar.... even when we're on the toilet. (Warning: Just don't drop your phone.)

With so much competition these days, many of us simply give up without even trying. "It's too hard." "I won't get noticed." "People wouldn't care anyway."

Guess what? These are all lies.

Don't start by focusing on the money. If you build an audience first, the financial rewards will come later. This strategy is called "reverse-engineering."

I recently spoke to Brian Clark, CEO of content marketing company Rainmaker Digital (formerly known as Copyblogger Media). When Clark founded Copyblogger, his goal wasn't to make money. As he says, "I just really wanted to become a writer."

Over the first 18 months of his website, Clark's audience grew to 200,000 readers. At that point, he decided to monetize the website for the first time, and brought in over six figures in the very first week. Six months later, he was a millionaire.

These are six steps he used. Hopefully, they can help you reverse-engineer your way to the top, develop a killer content strategy and attract loads of followers along the way.

1. What needs are NOT being serviced?

Find out your audience's pain points and frustrations. These are invaluable insights that you can use to shape and inform your content strategy.

When you focus on what your audience finds difficult or challenging, you're able to offer tangible solutions that adds value to their lives. This is the holy grail of effective content marketing, because it tells you straight away what content will resonate with your audience and what won't.

2. Persona and Empathy Mapping

A persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.

This means probing the demographic makeup of your tribe to understand their educational background, what influencers they follow, what social networks they use, how much money they make, what their biggest challenges are, how they spend their free time.... the list goes on and on.

When you combine this with empathy mapping--which tells you how your audience feels, thinks and in what ways they're likely to act--you're able to predict what content will work and what won't.

3. Talk about your customers

Think of content marketing like a cocktail party.

If you're talking to a group of people by the bar, and one ego-maniac decides to steer the conversation towards his great exploits and accomplishments at every moment, what conclusion are you going to draw of this person?

You're going to think he's an asshole.

The same rings true when publishing content. You need to ensure that the focus remains wholeheartedly on your customers. Avoid ego-centric messaging at all costs, because it can cripple your strategy and reeks of low self-esteem.

4. Make your audience the hero

You need to make the audience the hero of your story. People create successful followings because they're able to address fundamental human emotions. When you foster an "underdog" mentality, you create an extremely powerful sense of togetherness that unites your tribe under one cause.

Create punchy, effective content that adds value to your customers' lives. Find something that you share in common, and use that to your advantage.

Remember, you're not just trying to sell a product or market a service. Ultimately, it's all about how you're going to make someone's life just that little bit better.

5. Be different

Different is better than better. Being uniquely you is something that no one else can copy. But here's the real kicker: Everyone is afraid to do that! The vast majority of us are biologically wired to "fit in" and follow the crowd, whether we believe it or not.

The real struggle lies in overcoming your fear of being different. Relish the difference and use that to your advantage.

After all, your life view and personal experiences are totally unique to any other human being on the planet. Lean into this and you'll exude a confidence and authenticity that people simply can't resist.

6. Reverse-Engineer for Success

Don't focus on the money or financial returns straight away. It's important to focus on building positive relationships first.

You can go from virtually no income to six figures in a very short space of time, but to do so requires incredible patience and exercising judgment to know the right time to strike.

When you start with the audience and the relationships first, you give yourself a much better opportunity for financial success further down the line.

Published on: Dec 15, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.