A true fan 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.Kevin Kelly, 1000 True Fans
Due to previous experiences, my girlfriend’s terrified of earthquakes. Whenever something appears to be moving around the house, she goes on the web, on social media, and looks for evidence of an earthquake.
It might sound silly but that’s how important social proof is.
We ask others to validate our own experiences, thoughts, and emotions.
This is most obvious when it comes to being a content creator. The goal is to create content that attracts a large following. The dream is to be able to build a tribe of people within that following who are willing to financially support the creator.
1,000 of them, to be exact. One thousand true fans.
But how much effort does it take to persuade 1,000 people to purchase your products, enroll in your courses, or become paying members of your newsletter?
In Theory, It’s Not That Difficult
Back in 2008, Wired editor Kevin Kelly predicted that the internet would allow people to make a living off their creations by building a moderate following.
The article became a viral hit, often being referenced in the world of content creators. It’s become synonymous with success as a content creator, and it has inspired the rise of multiple platforms designed to support bloggers and creatives.
It makes sense:
- You only need 1,000 people to purchase a $10 eBook from you to earn $10,000.
- If those $10 become a monthly subscription, you’re looking at a six-figure annual income.
- In this social media age, word of mouth is more powerful than ever. Your 1,000 true fans act as proof of your relevance in your niche, market your products (and you as a brand) to others, and lead to even more paying members of your audience.
Well, the issue is that, while in theory, this seems to be a simple concept, in practice, getting 1,000 people to pay for a product is not as easy as it appears.
A couple of months ago I decided to turn my main blog into a membership site.
In other words, I’d share an exclusive article every week with paying subscribers, among offering other perks such as access to my eBooks.
The reason behind this decision was the fact that advertising, especially on blogs, is slowly dying, and I decided it was best to stop running ads or selling ad space directly to my followers.
Of course, I was also curious to use this as a metric to see if my audience was engaged enough to pay for access to more of my content.
I sold a monthly membership for $3 and a yearly membership for $30.
As of today, I have 142,123 followers on my blog and 568 paying subscribers. That’s a 0.4% conversion rate.
Granted, my blog is part of an ultra-competitive, content-saturated niche — personal development, self-help.
At this rate, I’d need 250,000 followers to gain my first 1,000 true fans.
Considering that it took me eight years to grow the audience I now have, I realized working toward getting my numbers up wasn’t the best strategy.
That’s when I stumbled upon an article by Li Jin about only needing 100 true fans and decided to try another experiment.
Better, Not Bigger
What if I were to charge more for content that adds more value to my followers?
I’d need less “true fans” to earn just as much.
This is why I decided to use another blog of mine to sell online courses, eBooks, and tutorials.
The results were quite interesting.
Being in a different niche (content creation, content marketing) and selling different products priced anywhere from $1 all the way to $999, I got a conversion rate of close to 1.5%.
Currently, at 42,088 followers, the number of people who have bought an eBook or have enrolled in one of my courses is fast approaching 1,000.
More so, a small number of them decided to pay close to 1,000 dollars for one-on-one coaching.
The lessons were clear:
- It’s not just the numbers that matter, but the quality of the content and its relevance and significance to the audience you’re targeting.
- A different tiered offer is preferable. Offering different products and services at different price points enables you to convert a much higher percentage of your audience.
Another surprising result was that the more specific the content, the better it performed.
One of my bestselling courses is one that’s aimed at personal development/self-help blogs. It’s not general, know-it-all-by-the-end-of-the-course. It’s quite specific. And it sold like crazy.
A Third Experiment
What if I were to gradually increase the price of my bestselling products and services?
I did that, and the results were not what you’d expect.
An increase in price did not mean a decrease in customers.
Granted, there are countless factors that could have affected this, including the fact that I hadn’t priced my products properly within my niche and I was just catching up to the competition.
But this third experiment made me realize that, just like Malcolm Gladwell’s famous 10,000-hour rule, Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 true fans rule was missing a crucial ingredient.
Your Biggest Competitor Is “Free”
There’s so much content out there and so many content creators that people have come to expect content to be free.
On a more subjective note, it was quite rare that the people who engage with my content the most (the ones who comment on each of my articles) would become paying subscribers or enroll in one of my courses.
This can be quite heartbreaking, but it does show that there’s a big difference between someone enjoying the content that’s free and them being willing to pay for access to the same content.
This translates into low conversion rates.
A 1% conversion rate seems to be the norm, and this is something to keep in mind as you adjust your strategy for the future.
At the same time, a 1% conversion rate, though intimidating at first, might not be such a bad thing if your goal is to have 100 true fans paying a premium for the kind of access and value that costs more than a monthly subscription.
The 1,000 true fans rule is fascinating, and it gives hope to a lot of content creators, but we should choose a more realistic approach.
These are the two words that should be used at the end of any advice, framework, or strategy.
You can earn a living with as low as 100 true fans, but it depends on:
- The niche you operate in
- The quality of your content
- Your ability to successfully network and build relationships with your followers
- The products and services you offer and how you price them
Depending on these factors, having 1,000 true fans might seem like such an impossible mission, not even Tom Cruise would accept it.