As an artist, professional creative or entrepreneur, how many people need to buy your wares in order for you to make a living?

10,000?

100?

1 million???

After all, when we look at stories of “successful people” online, often we see social media profiles with millions of followers on Instagram, TiKTok, YouTube or even LinkedIn.

But the problem is, those huge numbers of “fans” aren’t usually willing to actually help the artist directly. The millions of followers and fans do not mean that these people are necessarily earning a living, let alone the lifestyle they portray online.

This was exemplified beautifully a few years ago when an Instagram influencer asked her 2 million followers to buy a T-shirt. She did not even sell 36 shirts.

So how many fans do YOU need?

Well, in reality you probably need a lot less than that.

And a good rule of thumb is that instead of looking at getting as many “fans” as possible, all you need is 1,000 True Fans.

This idea was first developed by Kevin Kelly’s blog, and popularised further by Tim Ferris’ books.

According to Kelly, a true fan is someone who likes you work so much that they will buy from you again and again, year after year.

And most people can successfully build a life doing what they love for around $100K a year.

Here is how Kelly describes it:

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.

Here’s how the math works. You need to meet two criteria. First, you have to create enough each year that you can earn, on average, $100 profit from each true fan. That is easier to do in some arts and businesses than others, but it is a good creative challenge in every area because it is always easier and better to give your existing customers more, than it is to find new fans.

Now this number could be different for different industries. If you are a consultant and your work costs a company $1,000, then you would need 100 True Fans. And if you are a musician or comedian where you can produce one new album or special a year and sell it for $20, you would need 5,000 True Fans.

And you need to factor in profit margins and costs.

But in both cases, it is not the millions of fans which people usually expect.

This is not even enough people to fill one large venue, yet it is all you need in order to make a living, if you are producing what people really love, rather than producing something for millions of people but which nobody loves.

Kelly also points out the importance of direct connection with your fans, and especially direct payments between them and you. With the tools of the internet, including building your own platforms, mailing lists and social media for communications and even crowdfunding, it has become easier than ever to build a direct relationship with your fans instead of having to wait for a powerful publisher to give you their blessing.

So how will you go about getting your 1000 True Fans?

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of Ideatovalue.com and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.