True Fans Require Untrue Fans

In 2008, Kevin Kelly made a bold statement that fundamentally shifted our creative culture.

He wrote:

“To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor [or indeed as an expert or thought leader] you need only thousands of true fans…

…[AND] a true fan is defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce.”

I think it’s a good premise that gives us a sense of scale and scope for our marketing – and to differentiate between “the money” and “the many”.

But it’s worth remembering that 1,000 true fans are the tip of (a big!) iceberg.

For the same reason as it’s difficult to only go on dates with people you DEFINITELY click with, it’s difficult to build an audience of ONLY true fans.

Stats gathered from Mailchimp users suggest that only 1 in 4 people in a given audience will be engaged enough to open your emails. 1 in 35 of those will click. And one in 50-100 will buy.

This would suggest “1,000 true fans” may ACTUALLY look like 50,000 total newsletter subscribers, on average.

It might be fewer (say, 10,000-30,000) if you’ve got great engagement with your tribe, if you are the leading expert in your market, or if you have a relatively high value-per-customer.

But it gives you a sense of scale and scope for your marketing.

At this point, some good questions to ask yourself are:

  • How long would it take me to build an email subscriber base of 50,000 subscribers? (Could I even hit this number?)
  • What would it cost (time, money, effort) to hit this number of subscribers?
  • What would each of my 1,000 true fans need to be worth (on average) to justify this effort?