Kevin Kelly has a lovely and encouraging idea for creative people wondering how to make a living from their talent or craft. It only takes 1,000 True Fans – people willing to spend $100 a year on your stuff – to gross $100,000. Back out some expenses and that’s enough to make a modest living or renumerative hobby. He writes:
“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. True Fanship is doable. Pleasing a True Fan is pleasurable, and invigorating. It rewards the artist to remain true, to focus on the unique aspects of their work, the qualities that True Fans appreciate.”
Kelly allows that the number will vary: “Maybe it is 500 True Fans for a painter and 5,000 True Fans for a videomaker.” And he provides examples for encouragement and ideas for sites or services that would assist in this bootstrapping approach:
“Digital technology enables this fan support to take many shapes. Fundable is a web-based enterprise which allows anyone to raise a fixed amount of money for a project, while reassuring the backers the project will happen. Fundable withholds the money until the full amount is collected. They return the money if the mininum is not reached.”
I spent 10 years running a small business in the pre-Web world and Kelly’s prescription for building a small business out a fan following resonates with my experience. I got into business by accident in a sense at age 26, with no formal training and no role model — my dad was wage-earner as I am now. But what struck me way back then was how a core group of clients made our business (a mom & pop typesetting and publishing shop). It was never easy. It was always feast or famine. So much work we were setting type until our eyes bugged out or else were worried by the lack of a backlog and trying to hustle up some work. But we ran that shop for 10 years and sold it as a going concern (though it died not long thereafter; to use Kelly’s metaphor, new owner did not bond to our fan-base).