Like most people, I thought that earning money from an online business requires a ranging crowd of fans who are sleeping in front of your shop (or in front of the laptop if you have an online store only) and screaming your name on social media. The count of people who had to buy goods from you to keep things afloat seemed unreachable. That changed when I read a blog post from a guy, unknown to me back then, who mentioned that you only need around 1,000 clients to have an operating business. This idea sounded absurd at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it’s the right approach if you’re about to start something.
The concept is called the 1,000 true fans and it was originally published as an essay in 2008 by Kevin Kelly – author and co-founder of Wired magazine.
The study explains why you don’t need millions of users to make a profit from what you do and it aims to convince you that you too can succeed online if you have something to sell.
What does it take?
As the title suggests, an audience of 1,000 fans who adore you and will happily pay for everything you create.
Is it possible?
Well, we’re about to find out…
The Premise of the 1,000 True Fans Theory
You don’t need millions of users to make a living from the thing you’re creating or about to create – you only need 1,000 true fans and some sort of service that will cost around $100 per year for the end-user.
And by true fans, Kevin Kelly means people who will literally do anything to be a part of your life – they’ll buy all of your products and share passionately with others why you’re the best.
If you do the math you’ll see that 1,000 times 100 means $100,000 per year. That’s not bad if you’re a one-man army and if you want to quit your 9 to 5 job.
Of course, if you’re not satisfied, you can change the 1,000 number to 1,100, or 2,000, whatever sounds best for you (or even lower the number to 500 if that’s enough for you). Still, keep in mind that the more you add the more time you’ll have to spend making sure that everything is working properly. That’s why I suggest creating something with fewer moving parts.
Why You Should Know About the 1,000 True Fans?
If you’re starting out, trying to get to one million users is not feasible. It’s a worth setting goal, it sounds cool, and it can be motivating for some hustlers but it has the potential to ruin your flow if after a year you only have 100 users.
In contrast, if your goal is to get 1,000 people to like you, to buy from you, both your priorities and how you view the situation changes.
Firstly, it seems a lot more achievable to get to 1,000 people. And secondly, you’re no longer trying to please everyone. You don’t spend thousands of dollars on advertising, you say no to people you don’t like, you enjoy what you do. Thus, the likelihood of you continuing if you have 100 clients after a year is greater.
How The 1,000 True Fans Theory Changes Your Business Model?
Your business model shifts from “How can I reach more people?” to “How can I create the best product for the people who are already reading/watching?”
In a world obsessed with page views, followers, likes, clicks, bounce rates, and a hundred of others metrics, if you follow along, you’ll never feel satisfied. It’s a never-ending catch-up game and the rules are constantly changing.
If you’re alone with a limited budget, it’s impossible to compete with the big fellows in your industry. But once you abandon the desire to seek more at all costs, you can recalibrate. You’ll properly focus your attention on the things that really matter: making your product the best thing on the market.
Eventually, those who find it will share it with their friends. Which brings me to the second thing: Making the thing you’re doing sharing-worthy.
And why do people share stuff online?
According to scientific studies, the main two reason people flood their online “walls” with stuff are the following two:
- To help others: The things people share are to inform others for products they care about and find interesting.
- To define themselves: People identify themselves with the content they share. If they share funny things, they think that they are funny. If they share tech-related videos, they want the world to know that they are into tech.1
So, by creating something that is valuable and it’s also specifically designed for a certain group of people you’ll undoubtfully have something that’s share-worthy.
How To Implement The 1,000 True Fans Concept?
It’s fairly simple: Find a niche and create something that’s worth paying for. Once you have a product, find your 1,000 true fans. The opposite is also an option and on a lot of occasions the better choice. Meaning, first build an audience and then create a product to satisfy the needs of the people following.
However, just because it sounds easy it doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park. Growing an audience and later creating a product takes time, stamina, and certain skills. I’m not saying this to discourage you, I simply want to give the full disclosure.
So, the above is the essence but let me give you a couple of actionable tips for building an audience of 1,000 paying fans:
- Speak up: The only way you can stand out from the crowd in this world full of noise is by being yourself – a.k.a. being authentic, yourself, saying what you believe is right. So, find your voice and don’t try to be someone you’re not.
- Avoid trends: Things come and go. Don’t go chasing after the next big thing just because it sounds cool today. Trends are usually a good way to spot an opportunity but are a bad idea if you’re trying to build something lasting. How can you spot a trend? Well, it’s when suddenly everybody is talking about it on Twitter. However, if you wait a week you’ll see how the interest rapidly declines.
- Build one thing: You don’t need a large portfolio to reach a thousand clients. This can be easily achieved by producing only one thing. And this one thing concept is widely popular for two main reasons: 1) It forces you to focus 2) the quality of the product will increase since that’s the main thing you’re building.2
- Focus on quality: Think about your operations as a boutique shop. The items inside this extravagant store are just a couple, strange, expensive, and few people are entering but the ones who purchase don’t mind spending $200 for a t-shirt. Why they do it? Because they know it’s unique and of high quality. They know that the artist picks the finest materials and that the product is one of a kind.
- Choose one platform: You don’t have to dominate all social media platforms. Especially if you’re on your own. Choose one platform and build your audience there. Personally, I’ll suggest going with a site and an email list. The ROI of an email list is much higher than a large online following on the major social media platforms for one simple reason – attention scarcity. When you send someone an email there are fewer distractions as opposed to sharing something online where you have just a few seconds to grab the attention of the person before he scrolls down.
- Direct contact: It’s impossible to have a direct relationship with the owner of your bank or with the CEO of a large retail store. That’s normal since these institutions have thousands of clients. However, the benefit of having a small circle of fans is that you can even remember their names. Make sure you’re directly communicating with your clients. In a noisy world, people crave for personal stories and intimacy. They want to escape the busyness and to find people who think like them.
- Persistence: Not only in terms of continuous updates, but also in terms of continuously telling people who listen why they should care about what you offer. People rarely fall in love with your work from the first sign, this usually happens after a while. After you have earned their trust. If you’re persistent, others will spot that and eventually join your circle of close fans.
- Ask for feedback: You need to figure out what your fan base wants. How can you do that? By asking them what kind of things they want to improve in their lives. This can be easily achieved these days. Once you have a site, add a subscription box and collect emails. Then, simply ask your subscribers what do they most struggle with. Once you know, create something that will help your readers overcome these worries.
Diversion: It’s more of a disclaimer. While the 1,000 fans concept sounds like “I’m going to quit my job now” kind of thing, it’s not that simple. It doesn’t mean that you only need to show your work to 1,000 people and voila, you’re set for the rest of your life. Nope. Since your product will be highly specific, i.e. not for everybody, this means you will probably need to reach thousands of people until you find the desired fan base. This takes time and persistence.
Some Closing Thoughts
Having people scream your name is no longer reserved for celebrities. You too can form a group of people who will literally throw cash at you just to see your face or to hear your voice.
The question is, are you up for the challenge?
Do you have something others will want to see? Something others will be willing to pay for?
Let me answer this with a quick: yes. Yes, you do have what it takes. Since we’re all different, we all like different things.
I don’t need to know you personally to tell you that the wired obsession you’re hiding from the world is something a lot of people would like to see more of. Even if it’s not so appropriate to mention in a dinner conversation. Don’t worry. We’re now more than 7 billion people, surely there are 1,000 folks who somehow dig what you love doing. You simply need to tell the world.
Whatever your interests as a creator are, your 1,000 true fans are one click from you. As far as I can tell there is nothing — no product, no idea, no desire — without a fan base on the internet. Every thing made, or thought of, can interest at least one person in a million — it’s a low bar.” Kevin Kelly