Having 1,000 True Fans Is So Overrated
You don’t need a thousand fans. You need to help people solve their problems.
Photo Credit: Guduru Ajay Bhargav via Pexels
After almost seven years, I’m excited to announce to the world that I have now graduated from module two of Ramit Sethi’s Zero To Launch, an online course on how to start an all-virtual business.
I wonder if I am Ramit’s slowest-moving client ever? It’s very possible. This course in a nutshell has four modules:
- Validate a business idea,
- Build an audience of 1,000 email subscribers,
- Create an information product, and
- Sell it via a scheduled series of emails.
Having 1,000 True Fans Is So Overrated – Post Outline
Module 2 is the one that had me stuck for ages. It would normally not take seven years to complete an online course… I think?
I mean, I’ve had friends meet the love of their life, get married, have a kid, and then get divorced in the timespan in which I have been festering in module 2 of Zero To Launch. Kids who were in seventh grade when I started are now in college. You get the idea: It’s taken me a minute.
1,000 email subscribers is often seen as an industry benchmark that validates your business idea is good enough to flourish online. But I’ve actually been working online for years without ever hitting this number. Why is that?
Where The 1,000 True Fans Theory Comes From
The number 1,000 gets attributed to a famous essay from former WIRED editor-in-chief Kevin Kelly entitled “1,000 True Fans”. Mr. Kelly’s essay, written in 2009, postulates that to live a comfortable self-employed life – measured using a salary metric of $100,000 a year – you just need 1,000 true fans to buy from you whose purchases would each yield $100 in profit.
It’s a great essay with several important points regarding customer service, creating a wow experience, and avoiding the red tape that often comes with third-party distributors. But it seems like, over the years, the reasons for having an audience of 1,000 true fans have gotten both diluted and sensationalized.
Here’s what I’ve learned from successfully consulting online for years: Having 1,000 true fans is overrated. You don’t need 1,000 fans or 10,000 followers. You just need clients who are a good fit and want to work with you regularly.
Allow me to play devil’s advocate on some of the most popular reasons for having 1,000 true fans.
“You Need 1,000 True Fans To Achieve A Steady Six-Figure Income”
This is a commonly-quoted detail of Mr. Kelly’s manifesto, and while 1,000 happy customers will certainly have you well on your way to six figures, it’s not the only road you can take.
I’ve hit and held that level of income myself with as few as four clients on retainer and no list or followers at all. That’s because I manually prospect, I write proposals that zero in on the benefits, and I actively pursue securing the credentials necessary to back up my rates.
Also, let’s remember that Kevin Kelly’s formula asserts 1,000 people will each yield $100 of profit with you, which adds up to $100,000 in a calendar year. That means you need 1,000 transactions every year.
– Are you planning to swoon 1,000 new people each year?
– Are you re-selling your same 1,000 fans again and again?
– If you’re going with the latter… Why should they keep paying? What problem do they continually encounter that you’re continually solving?
“Oh, but Nick, I run a membership model/Substack account that’s just $100 a year, which is under $10 a month.” If this is you, recalibrate your conversion targets immediately. Double them.
Talk to any entrepreneur that runs an online membership offering right now and they’ll tell you the truth about their churn: Most customers who sign up for a subscription drop off after three to six months. You might need twice as many sales as you originally thought to hit your goals.
A safety net obviously helps, which is why you should diversify your offers when possible.
“1,000 True Fans Shows That I’m An Influencer”
It doesn’t. If you want 10,000 followers on Instagram to enable a swipe-up feature that no one will actually use or care about because you don’t have real fans to begin with, you could buy them here for about a hundred bucks if this is actually what keeps you up at night.
Your business won’t grow, but your ego will have a field day… for about three weeks.
Influencer marketing is in a tricky spot right now:
- The market for artificially inflating your followers has significantly outpaced the defining of industry-standard benchmarks regarding influencer marketing ROI, so there’s a lot of fake influencer-ness floating around at the moment.
- Companies don’t have a reference point regarding what good influencer marketing ROI actually is.
- Bottom line: Influencer marketing feels like the wild west right now for advertising professionals, and they’re being increasingly thorough in how they vet influencers.
If you want to get your feet wet in this space, Ahrefs spent $51,975 on podcast ads and measured the results along the way so you don’t have to.
“1,000 True Fans Is Not Actually That Many People”
If your business model is synonymizing “true fan” with “paying customer” – and you’re following Mr. Kelly’s guidance to the T and not going through a distributor to bring your product to market – 1,000 people is a lot of people.
Let’s bring in our good friend arithmetic to illustrate your growth needs.
- Even if you’re upfront with an entry-level sale like I am, it’s challenging to convert more than 3-4% of your email subscribers into buyers. In Zero To Launch, Ramit Sethi teaches clients to expect email list conversion of 0.5%-1%. And that’s for a $47 product.
- Let’s be ultra-optimistic and say 4% of your email list buys your $100 product, program, or service from you per year (Which would actually need to be $125+ to account for taxes and processing fees, and higher still to offset expenses).
- To have 1,000 true fans at 4% conversion, you would need… 25,000 email subscribers. Each year. Why do you need a small stadium’s worth of people every year to have on online business? Trick question: You don’t.
I’m just not buying it that you have to have 1,000 true fans to hit six figures. It’s a great concept to aspire to, and research shows that moonshot goals make us more accomplished in the long run. But let’s stop acting like you need an absolute minimum of 1,000 fans or a bajillion followers to establish a six-figure business online.
“1,000 True Fans Will Let Me Have A Passive Income”
Look at some of the top writers and most popular content creators on this platform, and you’ll find what they have in common is that their efforts are most definitely not passive. They are writing a ton, and the writing is compelling. They develop their craft and pump out new material each and every week.
You can certainly create a digital product, program, or service that fulfills itself upon purchase, requiring no extra effort from you. But you’ll have to create and promote content on a regular basis to attract new fans and make them whip out their wallets. That’s not passive.
What To Prioritize Instead
Instead of glorifying an online audience of thousands, let’s review some of the best things you can do if you’re just getting started with working for yourself.
Sell Outcomes And Benefits.
I feel like I just repeat the same three phrases over and over again whenever I write about online business, so to keep my streak up, here they are:
- Clients don’t buy a product or service, they buy a transformation or feeling.
- The internet is now in a content glut, so clients will pay a premium to receive the right steps in the right order.
- I really did close a $24,800 contract last month using one Google document and some online sales acumen. (Most of the first payment is paying for more dental work.)
If you want to work for yourself and work online, know that people are buying your knowledge of the how, but when marketing it you need to talk more about the why. Zero in on the outcomes and benefits and you’ll see the needle move.
Consider the 5+50+100 Networking Model.
In How To Be A Power Connector, Judy Robinett introduces the “5+50+100 rule” she’s used to build her bionic online rolodex.
It has three components:
- Your “Top 5”: The 5 people in your life who you connect with almost daily. You’re thinking every day about how to add value to these people.
- Your “Key 50”: The 50 people after those first five whose support and relationship are key to your career and the quality of your life. Brainstorm ways to wow these people each month and add value to them to build win/win relationships.
- Your “Vital 100”: The 100 people after those first 55 who are in your orbit. These people cross your mind each month, and perhaps you do something small to stay on their radar and avoid letting months go by with radio silence.
Start there with your networking efforts. You’ll be surprised how many doors open when you begin adding value to influential people on a regular basis.
Instead Of Being Original, Just Be Yourself.
“Write some blogs,” they said. There are 70 million blogs being published each month – that’s over 1,500 posts every minute – and that’s just on WordPress, so you’ve got some competition. The reality is that few ideas are original anymore.
Instead of trying to come up with new, never-before-thought-of ideas, aim to be yourself instead. Talk about what you know and help people solve their problems from your own experience.
As an added bonus, being yourself makes it more difficult for your work to be copied. It’s way harder to be copied when your content threads in personal stories, anecdotes, or personality. Even if your idea was completely original, it’ll be copied in a matter of hours or days, so be yourself along the way.
If you don’t have 1,000 true fans yet… I have good news. You don’t need that many people to have a successful online business. But you do need to solve your reader’s problems.
Dial in the outcomes and benefits, network intentionally, and be yourself along the way. You’ll be surprised how far resetting your focus can take you.
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