1000 True Fans


“Start your own revolution and cut out the middle man.” — Billy Bragg

“I have used Twitter for so many things, from places to stay, places to go, things to do…it feels like I’m being taken care of by half a million people.  It’s like having a mom.” — Amanda Palmer

In 2008, before “crowdsourcing” was a term, Kevin Kelly published his seminal essay “1000 True Fans.”  Kelly argues that members of the creative class need only 1000 “true fans” in order to earn a living.  A true fan is a fan who will buy everything that an artist creates and who will push the artist in to their network.  All that the artist needs to do is stay connected to the fans and keep adding value to their lives (that’s a pretty big “all”).  Kelly was writing specifically about independent artists–unencumbered by publicists, PR agents, and advertising agencies–the middle-man.  True one-to-one relationships between the creator and the fan based on transparency, connections, and value.

In the last nine years Kelly’s idea has “scaled up” in lots of ways.  These days small business’ can also create and maintain an immediacy with their fans:

  • Technology allows businesses to interact with customers with ZERO outside influence
  • The effort needed to maintain connections with fans is small relative to the effort required to create a new fan (although the effort needed to add value to their lives is something that not only requires effort but is so thoroughly non-traditional for most business owners that the friction alone kills the enthusiasm and they opt for the path of least resistance)
  • The order of magnitude increases when a company continues to add value to fans’ lives and “they tell two friends, and they tell two friends…”

I’ve never worked with a business owner who hasn’t said “My company grew through word-of-mouth.”  As the business grows the owner finds herself detached from the fans, becoming increasingly dependent on middlemen to create new connections while precious existing connections often go untended.  In simpler terms, too much emotional and practical distance grows between the business and the fan.

Here’s a potential alternative:

A salesperson runs two leads a day, 10 leads a week, 500 leads a year.  The salesperson sells, conservatively, 35% of the leads.  175 sold jobs.  175 fans assuming that things go well.  At the very least, 175 customers who said “Yeah, we trust this person more than anyone else.”  Over a 5 year sales career that’s 875 (hopefully) fans.  According to Kelly’s logic if each of those fans spent $100 per year with the salesperson then…you can do the math.  If they recommend the salesperson within their networks then it scales quickly.

All of this raises some important questions:

When will professional salespeople stop thinking in transactional terms and start thinking about the long-tail gain of the hundreds and hundreds of fans?

When will professional salespeople stop using the term “close the sale” and replace it with “open the relationship?”

Are small businesses owners ready to accept that engagement and value-added content are not ancillary considerations?

Are business owners willing to accept the distance that middle-man programs create between their business and their customer?

Are business owners ready to re-take control of the one-to-one relationships that they’ve buried in CRMs and file boxes?

There’s a lot of truth that “second money is the easiest money.”  True fans–the ones who fall in love with you, your products, your people, your brand–they’ll keep coming back for more.  But IF and only IF you keep adding value to their lives.  That’s when a network, as Tim Sanders notes, creates net worth.

2 responses

  1. Matt, feel free to “figuratively crowd surf ” anytime you want because I’ll hold you up as one of your 1,000 fans, great job on this article.

    You basically turn “business and sales as usual” on its head and remind us of what’s truly important for creating long term relationships and sustained growth.

    Especially liked how you took an older timeless article, related it to today with specific examples and ultimately challenged us to focus on what we should be doing.

    Well played sir.

    • That’s quite a compliment my friend and thank you. I know that you’re hip to this idea and I’d love to see you put it in to practice. Your customers are huge fans of your brand of service. We “may” have talked about this before. Matt

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