Everything seems difficult when you try to do everything at once. You’re not alone in thinking the entire world is stacked against you from the word go. It’s natural to think about how hard it is going to be to get anyone to care about what you do.
You write a blog. Have you worked out how many people it’s going to take to justify your advertising so you can make any kind of money?
You play music. Have you thought about how many punters you need to drag to your gigs to just break even on the cost of hauling shit, buying gear and rehearsing?
You build software. Have you thought about how many people need to download your app and use it more than once to make your entire career choice valid?
You’ve probably thought all this shit through, and you’ve found it incredibly depressing and daunting and damn near impossible. You might have even thrown your hands up and straight out quit.
I wouldn’t blame you. I wouldn’t blame anybody for giving up when you’re banking against the immense difficulty of making the right people give a shit about what they do.
But here’s what I know to be true. You don’t have to worry about getting a whole of people into what you’re doing. That’s not something you have to care about or concern yourself with.
Here’s my rule. It applies whether you’re building a startup or writing a book or recording a mixtape. It’s the same principle for anyone making something.
All you have to worry about is getting one single person to give a shit.
1. Because it’s manageable.
If you set out with the goal of reaching some set number of people, or meeting your calculations about what your audience has to be like before it’s worth doing what you do, you’re going to crash and burn.
It is staggeringly demoralising to do that. I want to be clear, if you keep thinking about the audience or the readers or the customers you need as being an insurmountable number, it will paralyze you.
You will not be able to do anything. You won’t even be able to find the right place to start.
But if you’re thinking about trying to find just one person — that’s a whole lot easier. That’s doable. It’s a matter of reaching out and starting a conversation about what you’re doing and why. That’s not a tough thing to do.
You can set up a simple out-reach process that will allow you to accomplish this every single day.
2. One success is going to motivate you.
Seriously, when just one person cares about something you do, it’s incredibly motivating. You’ve managed to make something that has touched the life of another human being. Someone you don’t know. Someone who now believes in you.
From now on, every time you fuck up, fail or just want to throw in the towel and walk away, you’ll be able to look back on your one success and remember what it’s like to win.
The biggest reason people quit, I truly believe, is that they don’t think anybody is going to care. They think that if they disappeared, not one person would notice.
Get to one fan or customer. And there’ll be at least one person who will miss your work.
The drive to get to more than one person comes from there, and it’s a solid, motivating force. A force that will push you forward.
3. You won’t be shouting into the void.
The hardest part about making something is when you put it out there and nobody responds — and it’s like you’re wrecking yourself screaming into the void and getting total silence back.
That used to break my heart. It was like getting lost in a sea of voices, with nobody listening or wanting to hear what I had to say or do. It was killing me.
If I put something out there and I didn’t get a response, my natural reaction was to delete it. Hate it. Erase it. Start again. I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in that, there have got to be other people who feel the same way.
But if your release strategy is not just to shout about what you’re doing — it’s to give it to one person and get them to care — you won’t experience that deafening silence. You’ll experience a connection.
Without the silence, the urge to give up will weaken slowly, every day. It may even disappear altogether. I don’t know. But I know you’ll feel better about what you’re doing.
4. It’ll make you appreciate every win.
You know what sucks? When my page views are down. When my reads and my recommends are down. I get fucking depressed and I go to my (extremely patient) partner and tell her that the whole world hates me and I should quit.
It’s dramatic and it’s self absorbed and it’s ridiculous. And every time I do it, she calls me on my behavior. And she tells me, if one single person read about what you do today — you’re doing OK.
She’s right. I need to appreciate every reader. When I remember that just reaching a single reader is my overarching goal, I never feel like I’m a failure. I don’t feel like I’m falling short.
Taking anything for granted is bad. Taking your audience for granted is fucking terrible. Don’t do it. You need to appreciate everyone, every single person who cares about what you do.
They’re real people, and they have lives and feelings and a limited amount of time to spend on this rock, and they decided to spend some of that time on you. Unless you’re a selfish jerk, that should matter.
5. You can build on one person, every day.
So I know what you’re thinking right now. One person isn’t enough of a fan base or customer base to let you do anything major. And you’re right. You’re 100% right.
But you remember how manageable it was to reach out to just one person and get them to care?
What if you did that every single day? Every day, at the top of your To-Do list, you have one task. Reaching out to another person and telling them about what you do and trying to explain why they should care.
If you do that every day for a year, not everyone is going to respond. Not everyone will like what you do. Not everyone will give a shit. But if even just 50% of the people you talk to are interested, you’ll have 180 people.
180 people who care. Shoot for that.
6. One person who genuinely gives a shit is better than 10 casual fans.
I would always rather have one person that has a personal connection with me and the work that I do than 10 people who maybe care a little, who are interested one day but not so interested the next.
I think you need to divide your audience or customers into two groups. Numbers and people. The numbers are the ones you can’t care about. They’re the faceless statistics that you see in your analytics panel.
They’re the bulk of the 1,000 views you might have had on that one blog post or artwork. They’re impressive. But they don’t matter. They’re a vanity metric.
The people are the ones who talk to you every day, who look forward to your work and want to engage with it.
They’re faithful. They’re loyal. They’re long term. And you’ll learn their names one by one, because you’ll have some incredible conversations with them. The chances are, these are the people who started as your single daily out-reach.
The people are the ones who matter.
7. You can ask them for feedback.
Feedback is so important to everything we do. I can never see how crap something is until other people point it out, because I am firmly planted in my own reality distortion field where I believe that I’m awesome. I’m arrogant like that.
When I can get some quality, honest feedback from somebody it lets me step into their shoes and look through their eyes and understand a different take on what I’m doing. I love that. I love finding out that I was wrong.
Being able to reach out to one person, on an individual level, means you have an opportunity to get some of that incredible and honest feedback every single day without begging people for it or waiting for an anonymous troll to give you way too much of their opinion.
Just imagine how much you could learn.
8. You can create an advocate.
This is the dream. Having somebody who loves what you do and has enough of a connection with it to become your biggest advocate. When you’ve done it right and built up someone to honestly give a shit about you, you’re starting your own tribe.
They’ll find other people and want to share your work with them. They will spread the word. They will stand up for you, fight for you and repeat your name where it matters.
Do you know who the greatest punk rock band of all time are? Fugazi. They never had a radio hit or a top 10 record. They had an audience who would leave every show and go out into the world and tell other punk kids that they had found a band who were authentic, real and the holy grail of underground music.
It worked. That band is legendary.
* * *
So how do you get to one person? How do you make one person care? It’s easy. You identify a persona, you find someone who matches that persona, and you hit them up.
I like to look for creatives who are doing something similar to me. Bloggers, writers, artists — whoever it is. Then I go on Twitter. I find their audience, and I find some of the people who follow their work, and I get to know them.
I reach out and explain that I found them because we’re both fans of the same creative. And I want to share my work with them. I have an 80% response rate from people I reach out to in this way.
Almost everyone will take the time to check out your work, as long as you aren’t spamming them or being disrespectful. This isn’t a situation where you can blast out an email or a tweet to a hundred people, it has to be extremely personal and tailored.
There is something to be said for eating the world one bite at a time. It’s the only way to do it.
When my partner and I have to clean our apartment, we start with one area. We clean the couch first.
When Jobs and Wozniak started apple, they didn’t try to sell a thousand computers. They sold one computer first.
When Green Day started making music, they weren’t selling platinum albums. They were selling one record at a time to people they talked to at their shows. Somewhere along the line, they sold one record first.
When any billion dollar startup first kicked off their journey, I promise you they did not have hundreds of customers and advocates. They reached one customer first.
If you start small, it does not mean you have to finish small. All it means is that you’re taking on a manageable slice of work that you can easily accomplish.
I know this isn’t a ground breaking concept. Get to 100 customers. Get to your first $100. This has all been said before. But I give a shit about it enough to say it again, and say it smaller.
All you have to worry about is making one person give a shit. The rest is easy.