This is for everyone. —Tim Berners-Lee
The web is an incredibly powerful enabler. It allows you to move from the germ of an idea towards a reality in a very short space of time. The web is wonderfully empowering.
There’s never been a better time to embark on a career using the digital tools at our disposal. The infrastructure that underpins our work is, for the most part, free, and it removes the barriers to entry that previously stood in the way of creatives wishing to share their talents with the wider world.
Using the web, and the myriad of other tools underpinned by the internet, it’s easier than ever before to establish a presence and share your work with others. In short: You are a channel.
Put some thought into your channel and you can create a sustainable future that not only impacts upon you, but on the wider world, too. There’s never been a better time to start something.
Of course, we understand this and we are well aware of the opportunities that lie before us at our disposal. And yet, one thing holds us back….
We worry, endlessly: “What if no one cares?” It’s only natural to worry. It’s only natural to find excuses not to start. We are, at times, conditioned to see the world through a glass-half-empty prism. Pause. It doesn’t need to be like that. We can, if we connect with just 1,000, find success. We just need to believe.
1,000 True Fans
Kevin Kelly, the founder of WIRED magazine, believes that any creative business can succeed with just 1,000 True Fans. Reflecting on Chris Anderson’s ideas (as outlined in Anderson’s excellent book The Long Tail), Kelly states:
The long tail does not raise the sales of creators much, but it does add massive competition and endless downward pressure on prices.
No one likes, “massive competition and endless downward pressure on prices,” however, Kelly believes there is a sweet spot on the long tail. As he puts it:
A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.
Kelly defines a ‘true fan’ as one who will purchase anything and everything you produce, and he believes that 1,000 is the point at which one can balance nurturing the relationship with your fans and having a critical mass of fans that can sustain you. As he puts it, “One thousand is a feasible number. You could count to 1,000. If you added one fan a day, it would take only three years.”
Kelly assumes conservatively that a true fan will spend an average of $100 per year on what you do. Some, of course, will spend less and some will spend more. On average, however, that’s $100,000 a year (£65,000 or €90,000). After some modest expenses that’s a not insubstantial salary. Even better if this salary is a by-product of doing what you love.
Reaching Your 1,000
The web allows you to connect with your 1,000 in ways that – before Berners-Lee shared it with everyone – would have been prohibitively expensive. With the profusion of (often free) social media tools at your disposal you can now build a direct connection with your fans, sharing things that you, and – importantly – they, will find value in.
Reaching your 1,000 is easier than it’s ever been. I can’t stress this enough. The only person holding you back from succeeding in this empowering world is you. Let go, build something and share it. You might be surprised at the results.
We are, in this new world, conditioned to believe that success requires an audience that measures in the tens or hundreds of thousands. I don’t think that’s the case. By building deep connections with just 1,000 you can make a difference.
Size isn’t everything.
Focus on building deep connections and stay true to your values. Do that and, I believe, the rest will fall into place.
If you have an idea, build it and share it. Let go of your worries and see where the adventure takes you. If nothing else, you’ll learn a great deal on the journey. Let go. Make things, share things, and – along the way – you’ll learn tremendously.
Share Your Work
In my teaching at the Belfast School of Art, I encourage my students to: “Make things, share things and be nice to people.” I echo this in the consultancy work I do with young, fledgling startups. I encourage those I work with to put their work out there.
Do that and I believe you’re more than half way there.
We are incredibly fortunate to be living in a time when making things and sharing them is incredibly easy. It’s hard to imagine a time before the web, when the barriers to entry were so much higher.
I, like many others, was fortunate to embark on a career on the web empowered by the openness of a ‘View Source’ culture. The ability to peer behind the curtain and see how things were made empowered me tremendously. I believe in a culture of sharing, for the betterment of others. I believe that culture empowers not only those starting out, but those who are on their second, third or more ideas.
Make things. Share things. In so doing, you’ll learn the lessons you need to, to ensure your ideas are successful.
Lastly, be nice to people. I’m a firm believer in karma. What goes around, comes around. Being nice to people costs nothing. Try to see the good in everything. Do that and you’ll be rewarded, yourself, in time.
Sharing your work can be stressful, you find yourself worrying – ever fearful of rejection – but remember, sharing your work helps you to grow. What you learn on your journey will help you tremendously down the line. You’ll learn more by sharing than by keeping your ideas hidden away.
I’m looking forward next month to further exploring the idea of making things and sharing things and underlining the importance of releasing your ideas into the wild. See you in a month for the next step of the journey.