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How many customers do you need in order to reach a level of financial sustainability within your solo or small business? In 2008 Kevin Kelly wrote a revolutionary piece titled “1,000 True Fans.” The article talked about how content creators such as musicians, authors, craftspeople and anyone that creates any form of content for a living need to find 1,000 hardcore customers in order to create a long tail effect and maintain an income. Kevin defines a True Fan as:

True Fans True Friends

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce.

The idea is that these True Fans will not only financially support you but act as influencers to attract and convert Lesser Fans (people who do not purchase everything you sell, and may not seek out direct contact, but they will buy much of what you produce). By purposefully seeking out and nurturing those 1,000 customers (fans) you can maintain your income stream. Honestly it’s a great concept but it isn’t much of a business plan by itself.

I use this concept frequently when refining Buyer Personas for clients. By considering the type of person that would plunk down cash for any piece of content (or product) you produce not only helps you find customers but helps you tighten your product offerings. While the “1,000” number may fluctuate depending on the size of the company (this model was designed for a solo person or business) the ideas behind finding your “1,000 True Fans” is consistent. Starting from zero and attempting to find those 1,000 rabid fans is daunting. How do you start smaller?

100 True Friends

Every journey starts with the first step, right? So start this journey by finding what I call your “100 True Friends.” Dunbar’s Number states that people can reasonable only maintain close relationships with 150 people and that once groups increase past this number they self-select into smaller groups to maintain the 150 headcount. These 100 True Friends should be people that know you well enough to know that any business you are involved with is worth taking a serious look at. These folks should be willing to learn enough about your offering to keep you top-of-mind when networking with a potential client. (To clarify, I’m not talking about social media “friends” but rather people you would have in your home for dinner – not all at once of course.) Honestly, they don’t even have to be actual friends, but rather clients, customers, or professional associates that don’t necessarily align with your product, but rather have access and clout with your potential sales base.

Direct sales organizations often coach new associates to call up friends and family to start building their professional customer network. Why? Because the people closest to you are the easiest to manipulate for favors. People you have contact with in your day-to-day life are more likely to trust you and be easy to follow up with over the course of time – or guilted into compliance because of the close contact. Personally I’m not a fan of this heavy-handed sales tactic, but it does (as a manager of a downline) easily identify those people with strong “100 True Friends” networks and the ability to influence those closest to them.

Now I should mention I’m not looking for you to turn those “100 True Friends” into customers. These are your trusted influencers. Your megaphone. Your ear to the track. Your long tail. They are not to be exploited merely for a business transaction. Relationship marketing is not about making a sale out the gate but rather growing and feeding your network to help them to the best of your abilities (via your business, services, and/or products) as well as being the great connector between them.

10,000 Casual Fans

On the other side of the pie chart, and greatly guesstimating the numbers, let’s assume you would need “10,000 Casual Fans” (also in my opinion known as Facebook Fans) to whittle down to those “1,000 True Fans” Kelly talks about. You tell me… how difficult is it to build a Facebook page to 10,000 followers? Exactly. You are starting at the wrong end of the funnel. Why spend time and money to attract 10,000 people just to have to cycle through the process all over again to narrow it down to 1,000 True Fans? In other words, you can spend your effort trying to win people who don’t care or you can spend your time nurturing relationships and people who thrive to help you in return.

Let’s be honest – 100 is a pretty big number to start with. Why not start with a list of 10 people you can contact TODAY and invite them to help you find your “1,000 True Fans?” Every week, 10 more people. Once you hit 100, go back to the beginning and keep in touch. Relationship marketing and maintenance is a cycle, not a goal.