You need millions of dollars in your bank account, a breakthrough idea, and the ambition of building the next Facebook. That’s the approach you need to take toward new creative entrepreneurship projects, right?
Well, in 2008, Kevin Kelly dispelled the myth with his essay titled “1,000 true fans.” It took the internet by storm and was implemented by renowned personalities like Ramit Sethi and Tim Ferriss. The premise of the essay was that any writer, designer, musician, artist, entrepreneur, investor, or any other kind of creator, can lead a comfortable lifestyle by simply finding one thousand ‘true’ fans.
Unless your goal is to be the next Bieber, you don’t need 100 million Instagram followers to drown in a huge business loan. You need to appeal to a niche audience that raves about your work and pays for every creation.
As a creator, how do you find these dedicated customers to live a comfortable lifestyle? In this article, you’ll see the exact actionable steps with examples of brands connecting with a few super fans. First, let’s define what a “true” fan is.
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What Is A ‘True’ Fan?
Essentially, a true fan is someone that is enthusiastic about all of your work. They follow you closely and purchase anything and everything you produce. They will plan overnight journeys to attend your concert and get your signed copies. They will buy your mug, t-shirts, and every merchandise you sell.
Since your true fans are SO enthusiastic about your creations, you should personally connect with them. Besides expressing gratitude for their support, you should give special access to these super fans. They may act as your unpaid marketing force and spread your work through word of mouth. They can get your casual fans and regular followers on board.
For example, Slipknot calls its fans ‘maggots‘. The ‘true’ maggots (like me) don’t just watch every new music video they release on YouTube. They buy music/masks/merchandise from their site, closely follow the updates about their band members, and don’t miss a chance to watch them live. In some cases, they plan to travel 4,500 miles to witness the band live at their metal festival (that would be me!)
But Is The 1000 True Fans Theory Relevant Today?
Kevin conceptualized the theory in 2008. Back then, Google, YouTube, and Facebook were fairly new. For the distribution of any kind of creative work, some middlemen decided which product gets to the end users. As a creator, you dealt with entities like record labels, brick and mortar retail stores, book publishers, TV channel executives, and the like.
Flash forward to today, and the internet has democratized the distribution of content. There are an ample number of platforms with:
- No middlemen,
- Direct access to millions of users,
- Increasing consumer attention by the day.
The current scenario looks like a cakewalk for any talented creator to start their career and hit a home run. It’s easy peasy to publish content and attract your 1,000 true fans, aye?
Well, not so fast.
If you delve deeper, you will find an issue. It relates to the exponential rise of content creation. Since anybody can now publish their articles, videos, and other creative work on the internet:
- More than 400 hours of video are uploaded on YouTube every minute.
- Over 2 million blog posts are published every day.
And mind you, those stats are from 2015. Today the numbers have further peaked.
So that means 1,000 true fans is a dud?
With the rise of digital tools, creators can now pick from so many platforms to connect and engage with their “true” fans. Here is what the numbers say:
- Kickstarter, the largest crowdfunding platform, has seen over 100,000 creative projects funded. And the average number of backers for a successful project stands at 255. That means you can run a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign with “true” fans.
- In his revised version of the essay for Tools of Titans, mentions how every idea, product, and desire has takers on the internet. Even if you appeal to 1-in-a-million people, they can access your work with a few clicks on the internet. Here’s how Kevin puts it:
“Yet if even only one out of a million people were interested, that’s potentially 7,000 people on the planet. That means that any 1-in-a-million appeal can find 1,000 true fans.”
The verdict is clear:
The theory is more relevant than ever.
The internet is wide open, but niching down your creative work to focus on your 1,000 true fans has never been more important. So, let’s get down to the step-by-step method of finding your “true” fans, shall we?
How To Get 1000 True Fans: 4 Slow And Painful Steps
Forget going viral. Abandon your pursuit of getting thousands of social media fans. And stop focusing on trying to gain the attention of the masses. Take these four slow and effortful steps to find your true fans and make a sustainable living.
Step #1: Define Who You Want To Appeal
The noise on the internet calls for niching down. It’s no longer about trying to create a video or a blog post that hundreds of thousands of people will ‘like.’ Any metric that doesn’t tie closely with your revenue is a vanity metric.
Instead of creating, without a documented audience and sans strategy, you need to attract certain kinds of people.
Note that these superfans are not supposed to be an “ideal” audience. They are actual, real people. Don’t fall into the trap of creating a set of people in your fantasy world that don’t exist. That’s the sole reason why many startups fail, blog posts don’t get traffic, and artists fail to break through.
Hence, research, get clarity of the audience that you want to attract with your creations, and document the audience.
In his advice on creating content that sustains a career below, Tim Ferriss notes that your goal is to define the people that absolutely LOVE what you create. They find your work extremely valuable and will recruit casual followers for your creative endeavors.
Here are the questions you can begin with for a basic overlay of your “true” fan:
- Who is my audience? (Write down their age, location, gender, job title, annual income, and the like)
- What are their top challenges? (Write down a few pain points, questions, and concerns that they have).
- List their major interests. (Include hobbies, books they read, blogs they visit, and other aspects of their personality).
- What are the desires that they currently seek? (List any results and goals that they want to achieve right now).
You can also give a visual representation of your true fan by attaching a photo alongside the above characteristics. Here’s an example persona to guide you (remember that we’re sketching out our “true” fan instead of an ordinary buyer).
Note that the above avatar is a dynamic entity. Once you have a few “true” fans onboard, then you can keep fleshing out the avatar.
Step #2: Create For Your Super Fans
When you create, your goal is to connect and add value to your “true” fans. Even if you create with the mindset of appealing to a niche audience, the engagement from these enthusiasts can catapult your reach. Even Facebook and Google algorithms are weighing user engagement to decide the content that gets visibility on their platforms.
Now, when you get down to creating, you can use the formula below devised by Dana Sitar. Before she begins writing, Dana likes to fill in the following statement that she refers to as a ‘reader story.’ You can modify and use it for your other types of content as well.
“As a [type of person], they want [some goal] so that [some reason].”
If you’re stuck for ideas, then don’t directly run to paying for a tool like Ahrefs and finding the highest-volume keywords. Rather, you should get out there and talk to your true fans. Don’t already have access to them? Wait for the next step where I’ll tell you an actionable strategy to build a community.
Until then, you can join the communities where your “true” fans hang out. Try exploring niche forums, Facebook groups, subreddits, and the like. If you run into the same questions repeatedly, then note them down.
Once you have a few questions from these fans, then it’s time to come up with content ideas and find the relevant keywords that fit with them. It’s like an inverted keyword research strategy by Grow and Convert. The cool part? It prioritizes reaching out and engaging with a few dedicated customers, over getting LOTS of traffic that doesn’t convert.
Step #3: Build A Community Of Your True Fans
Mike Shreeve solicits the email of his website visitors in exchange for valuable advice on freelancing that his target audience seeks. Once he has their email, he sends them nuggets of helpful freelancing advice daily. Even if Facebook shuts down tomorrow, Mike can still continue to grow his business because of owning a list. Here’s how he puts it.
Later in the above email, Mike aptly summarizes the advantage of building a list, “In the world of doing business online, the email list (and the relationship you have with your subscribers) is the only real asset that you own.”
Now, how is building a list equivalent to building a community?
You see, a community is all about relationships and interacting with your audience. An email list achieves both of these goals.
The only drawback is that you miss out on the valuable discussions that happen between your community members. So if you have the bandwidth, then you can also start a Facebook group and invite your “true” fans.
Authority Hacker has a dedicated Facebook group (for its paid subscribers) where passionate site creators talk about marketing, SEO, business, and the like. In fact, the founder of the company, Gael, also drops by occasionally when writing a blog post. Look at the number of comments containing questions Gael could address in his article.
Even when he plans to revamp his paid training course, Gael conducts a poll asking the community on what they want.
Isn’t that a great way of finding the EXACT issues and requirements of your “true” fans. In the process, you also make your work extremely relevant and valuable to them. The community also fulfills another crucial aspect of having those true fans. “You’re always hanging out nearby your true fans.”
Step #4: Solicit Feedback And Create MORE For Your Existing “True” Fans
If you don’t innovate, then your existing ‘true’ fans might get bored. Here’s how you can engage them and keep your fans near you.
- If you’re a content creator, then serve new content at a regular pace and address the questions raised by your audience. You should also create exclusive content and give special access to these subscribers.
For example – Wait But Why is one of the world’s top blogs. It has close to 3,500 Patrons (at the time of writing this article) that pledge a monthly amount to create high-quality blog posts.
The author of the blog, Tim Urban, hasn’t published a new article at Wait But Why for almost a year. Yet, you’ll see exclusive updates from Wait But Why for their patrons (like the one below).
Mark Manson, author and writer, also does something similar for his site members offering them exclusive privileges including bi-yearly AMAs.
- If you’re selling a digital product, then it makes sense to validate new product ideas with them and serve them. You can build a thriving business and lead a comfortable lifestyle by focusing on your die-hard customers alone.
For instance, Ramit Sethi took us behind the scenes of his premium course business. He attributed $8 million in revenue to his top 1,000 students alone. Indeed, he shared that his average “true” fan had purchased six of their products.
Here’s a comparison of how the average spend of a “true” student stacks up against an ordinary student.
Recommended reading: 15 Best Online Course Platforms To Sell Your Skills
- Lastly, even if you’re selling physical products as a Direct To Consumer Ecommerce brand, then interact with your tightly-knit community. And come up with newer products for your existing customers.
Dollar Shave Club (DSC) started with selling razors on a subscription model and gained quick recognition with their viral video. Then, they launched their second product: “One Wipe Charlies”, which was basically toilet paper.
No trend forecaster would have predicted that guys are unhappy with the current products for wiping off their butts. So how did DSC uncover the need and launch another successful product?
Well, the brand conducted lots of small consumer panels. A particular panel was complaining about rough toilet paper, and that’s where the idea for One Wipe Charlies sprung up.
From a business perspective:
The cost of acquiring a new customer is between five times to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.
It’s undebatable that you’ve to deepen your relationship with the right kind of customers (your “true” fans). So carefully pick members to whom you can add value and keep them near you. You’ll find that these few super enthusiastic customers will keep adding LOTS of value to you.
Let’s Thank Kevin Kelly For Coining 1000 True Fans By Showing Him Another Example!
If you want stardom and aim to make a fortune, then 1,000 true fans might not be the ideal way. However, with the rise of hundreds of digital tools, you can build a thriving business merely by catering to your 1000 “true” fans.
Indeed to finance your next product/creation, you can raise money. In North America alone, over 17.2 billion dollars have been generated via crowdfunding. And Kickstarter creative projects have been pledged over $4 Billion.
The best part is that you can leverage your direct relationships with your super enthusiastic fans alongside the traditional intermediaries. That is, you can lean on a publishing powerhouse, yet also self-publish (depending on your goal with the content you create).