The big focus for creatives is building an audience. Whatever you call it – fan base, tribe, platform – an audience is necessary for “anyone with something to say or sell” as Michael Hyatt’s Platform jacket cover points out.
There’s much discussion over just how big a tribe you need. Kevin Kelly suggests you don’t need to attract millions; you can make a comfortable living if you cultivate around a 1,000 true fans. His definition of a true fan is someone willing to spend $100 per year to obtain your stuff. John Scalzi responds that while this sounds reasonable, doing it is harder than it looks.
The ranks touting their ability to build a fan base – folks who have jumped from 0 to 1,000 or 100,000 or 1,000,000 seemingly overnight – is growing. They’re willing to help you follow in their footsteps – for a price. The price often seems hefty for beginners who have yet to develop an income stream. Another possible problem is that many of these “successes” are relatively new. How do we know what they preach is sustainable and able to overcome failures?
Eager to build my own fan base, I’m pondering all this when who should come to mind but God. God is the only one I know who has successfully built an enduring tribe, nourished it, then started again almost from scratch when the tribe failed to respond to His greatest gift. Seriously.
Here’s the Bible story in a nutshell, the SDT or StoryDame translation. When God’s first created man Adam sinned, God wasn’t surprised knowing all along this would happen. When mankind’s wickedness skyrocketed, God was so upset that He wiped out everyone except Noah and his family in a great flood. Down the line a bit, God reached out to one of Noah’s descendants, Abraham. He asked him to leave Ur where he was living and follow God to a new place.
Abraham, being a man who trusted God, followed not even knowing the destination or the expected time of arrival. (Talk about a true fan!) At one point on his trek, God had a nighttime talk with Abraham and told him his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. This would have been almost believable if Abraham hadn’t been childless. But Abraham believed anyway. When all possibility of bearing a child seemed vanished, God miraculously caused Abraham’s barren wife Sarah to conceive! Isaac, meaning laughter, was born. Then Jacob was born to Isaac. Then Jacob fathered twelve sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel. God nurtured, protected and blessed this tribe so that it grew, just as he had promised, numerous as the stars.
All the time God was building the twelve tribes of Israel, he was promising and preparing them for the coming messiah who would take away the sin Adam brought into the world. And then one day many years later, that messiah was born in a manger in Bethlehem of a virgin named Mary. This was such great news that angels announced it to shepherds in the field. It was so noteworthy that kings came bearing expensive gifts. It was so threatening to the powers that be that when the king heard, he tried to find and kill the child!
Despite Herod’s attempts to kill the infant, Jesus grew to be a man who started his formal ministry by turning water into wine (and not just any wine, but the best wine) at a wedding in Cana. While twelve disciples eagerly signed on as followers, few of the tribe God had nurtured and protected and blessed believed Jesus was the promised one. Because of something called free will, platforms can fail for even the ruler of the universe.
What do you do when your platform fails miserably? God didn’t hesitate to open the door of the good news to a new people category, the gentiles.
Did this move work? Two thousand years later the Pew Research Center says there are 2.18 billion Christians worldwide, the largest religious group in the world.
My take-aways? Don’t be discouraged to start small, with one person even. Nurture, protect and bless your small group until it begins to grow. If, down the road, your tribe fails, open the door to others and repeat the process.
Relax. Wait patiently. True fans take time.