Why we don’t need millions of fans to have a sustainable creative career, we just need one thousand true fans.
Kevin Kelly, the previous associate and editor of Wired magazine, put forth this theory 10 years ago. He gave artists and creative entrepreneurs some hope in building a sustainable and equitable future in the arts.
He believed that creatives need to find their true fan base, the people who truly believe in what they are doing. He theorised that creative people could survive comfortably on the income generated by 1000 of these ‘true fans’ aka super fans.
Kelly explains that a ‘true fans’ is
“… defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce. These diehard fans will drive 200 miles to see you sing; they will buy the hardback and paperback and audible versions of your book; they will purchase your next figurine sight unseen; they will pay for the “best-of” DVD version of your free youtube channel; they will come to your chef’s table once a month. If you have roughly a thousand of true fans like this (also known as super fans), you can make a living — if you are content to make a living but not a fortune.”
Sound like a lot of fans? Just remember the scope and breadth of the internet, today – the greatest and fastest communication technology in the history of the mankind.
This has never been more achievable to for artist; to make a living by working on your passion. But, so many of us don’t know how to get started, or we hit a roadblock.
Let’s reverse engineer for a second. In 2015, more than 3.2 billion people were using the internet. With the possibility of communicating and connecting with over 3 billion people, most of us would be overwhelmed.
The real art in finding your fans is to become overly specific. You want to actually exclude specific groups of people from your value offering (your art) – this sounds negative, but let me explain:
The main goal should be to reach those who truly resonate with what you are doing right now. You don’t really want to spend your time and money trying to convince outsiders on why you are valuable to them. Outsiders need to convince themselves to like you, and they do this by social proof – from the noise and excitement generated by your true fans.
In the 1000 True Fans theory, the goal is to produce enough valuable content that you can earn $100 profit from each fan every year. This means that you will earn $100,000 a year by directly servicing your fans. This is not a fortune but is a very comfortable and sustainable living.
The number 1000 is not really critical, it’s about the magnitude of the fans that you have. If you have ‘True fans’ then you don’t need a million people to know about you in order to make a living. You just need fans in the thousands, because they will buy whatever you are selling.
By focussing on the 1000 true fans, you’ll find a message that resonates with them. And, that message will then scale larger.
Bigger corporations are famously under-equipped to deal with niche markets. They lack the mobility to connect directly with their customers because they have become too big, fat and bureaucratic. This is good news for small time creators because you can own a niche or micro-niche that no one is serving.
Why we want to live in the long tail
Do you want to be viral or sustainable?
The long tail (yellow part of the graph) is what we want to aim for when it comes to our fans. We want to the people to keep buying our stuff over a long and sustained period of time.
The red part of the graph is called the head. This is where a viral piece of content might live. The problem is that hyped content is too ephemeral and doesn’t really nurture your audience like the long tail does. People in the long tail are people who are going to help you have a sustainable career. Hype is important when you launch something, but the long tail will keep you getting paid.
This is a concept that I’ve adopted from Ramit Sethi. In his best selling book, I Will Teach You How To Be Rich, He talks about prioritising your quality of life in the future, and setting yourself up so you can be confident and comfortable in your old age. This really resonated with me because he talks about how difficult it is in actual day to day practice.
This means that you may have to get really uncomfortable now so that you can reap the rewards in the future. The point is to get better at what you’re doing so you can offer more value to people who are interested.
This could mean that you make less money in the initial stages because you are doubling down and spending most of your time getting better at your craft. High-quality content scales widely.
What does this message offer creative people who are trying to start a movement?
This tells us that all the hard work that creatives spend on their craft is not wasted. It reminds us that it is better to improve our skills so that we can offer more to our clients, customers and fans.
It tells us not to arbitrarily chase viral popularity and measure ourselves against the social norms of success. If we can attract fans by delving deeper into our core message and purpose as creative entrepreneurs – we can generate gradual, but long-term returns on our creative investments – all by just focussing on getting better at our craft.
Something that’s stuck with me for years is something that Graham Cochrane, founder of The Recording Revolution, said in one of his videos, something along the lines of not chasing a quick and easy fix to try to make your recordings better.
There is a misconception that you need to have expensive equipment and an influential network of hype behind you. Those things do help, but, the truth is that you are not achieving your goal because you just aren’t that good yet. And that’s ok because everyone is no good at some stage. The good news is that you can change that.
Let’s all remember how successful Graham is, because of this philosophy, and his ability to absolutely serve his fans!
Focus on getting better at your craft but don’t change who you are to try and win over people who don’t care about what you are doing in the first place. Spend that time and money reaching those who are interested and resonate with your purpose – spend your time trying to delight those people.
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How to start building your audience
The process of constantly creating valuable content is challenging. We just don’t know which pieces will hit a chord with our fans and consumers.
“Artists have the same dilemma, you can never really guess which one of your creations will hit…you just have to keep doing it again and again and again” Kevin Kelly
Technology allows us to interact with our fans directly. If you’re an author, you used to partner with a manager and a publisher before your book even got to the reader. Now you can sell a book directly to your fans and cut out the middleman.
If you have the ability to connect with your fans directly and make sales without having to pay the middlemen, the amount of money that you actually need to survive is significantly smaller.
On episode #78 of his popular podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, Ferris mentions that entrepreneurs need to remember 2 things before they start creating content.
1. There is always a market for high quality
If you offer the best in anything, you can charge high-profit margin for it.
2. There is always a market for long form
The most efficient way to get fans is to write long-form content that is evergreen. This means that it is Search Engine Optimised (SEO) primed for authority. In short, Google likes your content so it puts it higher in the search results.
Ferris then gets quite philosophical. He says to prod deeper and ask yourself why you even need to build an audience at all.
Why do you have to build an audience at all?
Ask yourself why 3 times. Why do you want to start an audience: because it helps make money; Why do you want to make money: because I want to travel the world; Why do you want to travel the world….and so on.
Your objective shouldn’t be to build the largest audience possible, but to focus on the least crowded channel (niche/micro-niche) and service them as best as you can.
You need to get an intimate understanding of your current and potential audience.
How to map your potential customer
Struggling to find where you’re ideal fans are?
Here’s a secret – you know what attracts people just like you because you know what grabs your own attention. Here’s the trick – you have to break down distinctive places where you spend money, what intrigues you and what grabs your attention in as much detail as possible.
How do you choose a price for your creative offering?
Figure out where you are most price insensitive.
Step 1. Look at your credit card statement
a) Where are you price insensitive?
b) What do you spend $100 a year on?
c) What do you spend $250 a year on, and so on?
When you do this, you start to understand the threshold of what your ideal customer will pay for value vs cost.
How to locate where your potential audience
Step 2. What are the subcultures that you belong to
1. Identify 3 to 5 subcultures that you belong to and understand very well.
2. For each of the subcultures, identify:
a) 5 sites that they are likely to visit
b) 3 to 5 twitter accounts they follow
c) 3 to 5 Instagram accounts that they are likely to follow
d) 3 to 5 Facebook they like
e) 3 to 5 podcasts they follow
By using this process, you are mapping yourself and your best customers, and getting a deep understanding around the psychographics of the markets that you belong to.
The Oprah strategy
Give as much quality content away for free as you possibly can. This does 2 things:
1. It increases the likelihood that people will find you when they are searching, and
2. You have more moments that you can use to build long-term relationships with your followers, readers, fans or customers.
The goal is to capture people attention by providing them with useful stuff – then a percentage of those will stick around for more free stuff, and about 20% will become part of your true fans category.
What Pareto’s law tells us about our true fans
This is also known as the 80/20 rule. It’s a naturally observed law that helps us to focus our efforts in the places that yield the most returns.
The law states that 80% of all your ‘effects’ come from 20% of your ‘causes’.
What does that mean in tangible terms?
This plays out in life in that 20% of stars produce 80% of visible light, 20% of a company’s customer base supplies 80% of the sales, 80% of goals are met by 20% of the tasks that you are doing, and so on, the number of examples are endless.
It means that roughly 20% of your core fans, clients, customers and investments will yield the most significant support and value for YOU. This also has a deeper meaning; don’t pander to the mass crowd – because they won’t support you anyway.
Find the core 20% and really provide something remarkable for them. Because they are the ones who will drive 2 hours to come see you play a show, or pre-order your album 1 year in advance, buy your album on Bandcamp, CD, Vinyl and own the limited edition t-shirt, buy the upper tier on your Kickstarter campaign, and brag about you to their peers.
So, whatever you do, don’t let those guys down – because true fans are your best advertising mechanism!
* Have high-quality and in-depth content
* Map your own psychographics to determine your ultimate customer
* Find out where your ultimate customer ‘hangs out’ on the internet and advertise to them
* Delight the fans and customers that you currently have
* Make super fans that will allow you to have a sustainable career
* 80% of your success will come from 20% of your efforts
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