1,000 True Fans and the Portfolio Life

In the book, The 100-year life, the authors introduce the idea of a portfolio job. To provide an individual with autonomy in their working life, they step away from full employment in a single position to take on several smaller roles that together make up the required income and creative outlets that person desires. A portfolio job requires the individual to have developed mastery in a field that they can then exploit for revenue through various products and services. It is an attractive idea for those of us that have worked hard to develop a level of mastery in our chosen fields, but it is a step away from what most of us learned in school. For knowledge workers, the two big questions are who are our potential customers and what kind of products are services can we offer them? 

1000 True Fans

Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of Wired Magazine and author, wrote an article in 2008 titled 1,000 true fans in which he argued that to be a successful creator and make a living, you only need a thousand true fans. Kelly defines a true fan as someone that will buy anything that you produce and a living as earning $100,000 per year. To make $100,000 per year as income, you must create enough to earn $100 profit from each of these true fans and then sell them directly. This calculation assumes that it is better to sell more to your existing fans than it is to find new ones and that you get to keep all the purchase price from any sale instead of giving away a percentage to an intermediary.  

The target of 1000 true fans is a number that is manageable for most people, that could be as simple as one per day for a few years. You can play with this formula depending on your field, so if you can earn more per true fan, you need fewer of them to hit the $100,000 mark. These true fans will also work for you through word of mouth marketing and attract regular fans that may purchase some but not all of your product so focusing your attention on them is far more valuable than other marketing approaches.

Kelly highlights two areas where this formula is becoming accessible to a larger group of creators. The first and more obvious reason is the internet has made it far easier to connect, build relationships, and have financial transactions directly to a vast pool of consumers. The second and less obvious reason is how network effects amplify the discoverability of niche products and put them one click away from that best selling ones.

Selling your creative output is an easy idea for traditional creatives such as musicians or artists, but what about knowledge workers?  

The Full-Stack Freelancer

Tiago Forte has built a portfolio business as a freelancer in Forte Labs and suggests seven types of product that can make up a portfolio income in his blog post ‘The rise of the full-stack freelancer.’ These income streams can mix products and services, digital and physical, and passive and active income.

  1. Social Media
  2. Blog/subscriptions
  3. Public workshops
  4. Online courses
  5. Phone coaching
  6. Corporate training
  7. Consulting

A portfolio of income streams takes advantage of opportunistic addition; doing each of these in moderation can add value and minimise the diminishing returns experienced when focusing exclusively on one area. Each of the products or services feed off each other and create a marketing funnel from free content to the higher value offerings. True fans can be developed in one direction through this funnel or move through multiple streams and back again with a monthly subscription to a premium blog, purchasing one-off highly interactive courses, and receiving a free monthly newsletter for example.

Creating a portfolio life

The idea of discovering and cultivating a relationship with a collection of individuals who will then purchase what you produce to give you a steady and comfortable living is exciting. A place to start could be to build a presence on social media such as Twitter or Instagram and begin to cultivate an audience, and an email list, through free longer-form content on blogs or podcasts. Once you have a following, you will introduce revenue-building products or services such as a book or an online course. Whatever route you choose, the portfolio life is an attractive one, and the internet has made it easier than ever to cultivate. 

Have a conversation with me about this post on Twitter; I am interested to hear your thoughts.