Why You Only Need 300 Fans

Thumbs up or like symbol in coffee froth

I’ve been working with small businesses for over six years now, from the ‘ we haven’t even opened yet’ stage to running for multiple generations. And I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern.

Once we reach about the 300 fan mark on some social media platform (usually Facebook), they seem to do much better. Payments are more likely to come in on time, they are more open to us experimenting with their marketing, they are just generally more confident, likely because they are seeing traction, financially and otherwise.

There is a part of all of us that probably wants to be famous. We want to be sitting on the Today Show stage or on the front page of the New York Times, saying our equivalent of ‘golly gee, we started in our basement/garage/spare bedroom and look at us now!’

But we don’t need millions of customers and we don’t even need thousands to survive or even thrive. We just need a few hundred. Here’s why.

You’ll have customers at different levels.

In our business we have a mix of people we deal with:

Many are once or twice a year customers: they aren’t giving us lots of money but they also don’t need very much from us either.

We have some that are our power users. We are on retainer, make thousands a year from them, and are in regular contact.

Then there are people in between.

Whether you provide services like us or sell products, I bet you have customers at base, mid, and high levels of offerings.

People who move between levels, and  new customers come in as well to balance those who to elsewhere, go out of business, etc. (If you don’t have multiple levels of products, you may want to rethink that!)

Your business can’t survive on one client (well, it can but then you are kind of their employee then, aren’t you?). But you also don’t also need to kill yourself trying to serve thousands of people either since you are meeting different customers’ needs differently.

You’ll have repeat customers if you know what you’re doing.

The hardest sale is the first sale. Once people are used to working with you, however, that second (or third or twentieth) sale is not only easier but more fun.

If you have a good product with good service, you’ll have repeat customers in some capacity, whether they always stay in your hotel when they come to town or buy cheese from your shop every year for their holiday party.

Your customers have friends and family.

There will be people in your business life who inexplicably love you. There are people I have met in my travels and I have no idea why they like me so much… but they do. And they tell other people.

Every time a loyal customer sends someone your way who buys, that’s another sale you didn’t have to bust your hump for. In the biz, people call these ‘brand mavens’ (and there is a few other words for them) but they are your vocal minority spreading the love. And if you have just a few of these in the mix, they do wonders.

Between these three principles, it seems like most people need to stop worrying about getting millions to like them and work on getting 300 people to love them.

Because 300 people, and the fact that their your people, makes a big difference. And it’s not just me who’s noticed:

(Fun Fact: Kassie watches this before running marathons. I had to ask her what the movie was about.)

Tech Thursday: When Should You Pay for Online Advertising?

One of the cool parts of marketing online is that, for the most part, it’s free. But sometimes, it does pay to pay for some online advertising. What are the options? Why should you spend money to promote your business on Facebook? We have some answers!

This video is all about how to strategically spend your advertising money online, whether it’s by using Pay Per Click advertising on a site like Google, or through targeted ads on social networks. Remember, the key isn’t to spend the least amount of money- it’s to spend your money in a way that will get the most returns to your business.

And, hopefully after watching this edition of Tech Thursday, you too, will make it rain.

Conducting Your Own Annual Review

yourownannualreview(I was going to call this a ‘self audit’ but the word ‘audit’ seems to make people nervous and think of taxes!)

I think I can safely say all of us what to have the best life possible. But what we are all liable to do is coast, phone it in, or otherwise, not try to be better as individuals. And by be better, I’m not talking about necessarily losing weight or making more money (though those are fun). I’m talking about setting and regularly evaluating goals.

We’re all good at setting goals. It’s the evaluating part that we have to make ourselves do.

On the most basic level, we can all think of making New Year’s resolutions as an example of us striving to be better. Why don’t they work often? Because we aren’t evaluating ourselves. When was the last time you revisited your new years resolutions, found out why they were or weren’t working, and set new goals?

Businesses are regularly audited financially or otherwise. Employees are regularly evaluated by bosses. Students and professionals in some fields are asked to regularly take tests. Why don’t we evaluate ourselves personally? We should, right?

I’ve read several great resources if you are actually interested in doing this:

Now the thing these three resources have in common is you can do them yourself (other great evaluation tools involve having a team of people or accountability partner you regularly consult with). I don’t want not having someone in mind to stop you from doing this.

They all have a few things all these self evaluations have in common:

A somewhat time consuming initial brainstorming and narrowing process.

The Best Year Ever book has a whole chapter about basically conducting a 3-4 hour goal setting/evaluation workshop with yourself.

Point is, if you think you are going to get out of this in 20 minutes you are wrong. The brainstorming, narrowing, and evaluating are all necessary.

If you are a busy person, this is the step you’ll most want to skip over (myself included here-I have a hard time with anything I perceive as touchy feely and sucking up too many hours) but take the time for the brainstorming, ranking, and personal reflection necessary. You are setting yourself up for success here so let yourself do that!

Personal and business goals are involved.

Whether you are self employed or not, some of your vocational goals intersect with your personal life goals and vice versa. I was surprised to find how many personal things I do, from how I dress to who my friends are, effect my business life. So when you sit down to do this, be prepared to think of your life in a more holistic way than you would in a job evaluation and you’ll get a lot more out of it!

Establishing a way to measure progress that is a) regularly done and b) works for you.

Gretchen Rubin’s chart involves you checking in with your goal daily and simply giving yourself a checkmark (I did this) or not (I did not do this) for each resolution on each day. You might be more numbers oriented (scoring yourself 1 out of 10), you might more list/narrative orientated with a journal. (I work more this way and I have been noticing the months I haven’t written my notes in my little Google Doc on my goals are the months I have slacked.)

Regular check in and actually writing things down is key. So pick a time (daily, weekly, or monthly), find a format that works for you, and schedule it in.

Revisiting, re-evaluating, and preparing for year 2.

If you go into this thinking it’s ever going to be over, it’s probably best not to start. Every piece of literature detailing this personal evaluation process involves following up to the review/evaluation and moving forward (ie the equivalent of the big chunk of time you put in at the beginning being at the end as well, like neat little bookends).

One of my resolutions was to write personalized thank you notes every month to friends and clients as a way to more genuinely keep in touch than simply ‘liking’ their Facebook status. I have found handwriting notes a chore (and if you’ve ever seen my handwriting, you’ll know I struggle to do it neatly) so I have decided instead to stop liking statuses and instead leave engaging comments on peoples’ status updates. It takes more time but it is somewhere between the more thoughtful personal note step and the chore I perceive as writing letters.

Think of this larger evaluation as a very indepth check in and reworking (ie next year’s personal evaluation!)

Dwelling somewhat on the negative.

Most processes involve acknowledging what didn’t go well and why. Among the questions for the self evaluation portion of ‘Your Best Year Yet’ are “How do I limit myself and how can I stop?” and “What were my biggest disappointments?”  This is the WORST part because who likes being wrong or negative? But unless I visit what I failed at, I can’t get better I suppose.

Also these are literally 20% of the whole evaluation process at a maximum so the pain is relatively short lived. Don’t let it stop you!

Do I recommend a self evaluation? I absolutely do. Will you be more accountable to a self appointed board of directors, accountability partner, membership website or some other third party you check in with? I’m sure you will. But a self evaluation is a start of the conversation and can help you decide who to enlist for help, what next project to work on and lots of other things. Now that the whole wedding thing is behind me and we get ready to move into our slower season of work, I plan on doing this process in the next month to get ready for 2015 (doing it around Thanksgiving/Christmas is too chaotic for me- going to get a jump start!)

Buy your own copy of “Your Best Year Yet” on Amazon (Note: This is an affiliate link)

The State Of The Mobile User

People like us are always telling people to think of the mobile user.

I know it seems like we are making up just how important this group of people are and it’s easy to assume that it’s only young people using their phones. This, my friends, is the state of the mobile phone user.

Mobile use is ticking up, are you thinking about how your website fits in?

Mobile use is ticking up, are you thinking about how your website fits in?

Mobile users are spending time on their phones.

The most frequent thing I hear (usually from older people while I meet with them face-to-face): “It’s only you young people who care about mobile phones.” They have clearly never watched my mom and her friends on their iPhones and iPads. Some facts:

The average user spends 3.3 hours a day on their phone.

85% of people (this is all people, all ages) say that mobile devices are a central part of their everyday life.

60% of social media time is spent on smartphones and tablets. 


Mobile users are making purchases.

This is clearly the thing businesses care the most about and as much as I don’t want to hit people in the wallets, sometimes that is the way to get people thinking about their website on a mobile phone:

The more consumers are considering a purchase, the more likely they are to use their smartphones to find product information and reviews.

67% of shoppers were more likely to buy from a mobile-compatible website.

37% of consumers are more likely to buy from mobile-optimized websites.

67% are shopping online and 43% are planning a trip on their mobile phone.


Most websites fall short for the mobile user.

So if up until now, you’ve kept your head down and pretended that mobile users don’t exist, for awhile that was fine… but now, it’s giving people not only a reason not to make a purchase but to have a bad taste in their mouth about your brand:

73% of users accessed websites on mobile devices (only 20% of companies have mobile optimized websites).

88% of online consumers won’t return to a website after a bad mobile experience.

55% of companies are currently conducting user experience testing. (85% of user experience problems can be solved by testing with 5 users.)

87% of Fortune 500 companies have an easy to find search field on the homepage of their website.

27% of consumers will leave if you don’t have a mobile-optimized website. 

Am I saying this because I am a jerk who wants to scare you? Of course not! I just want you to think about your mobile user, who wants to buy things from you and like you!

So do yourself a favor and get five people to try out the mobile version of your website and get feedback from them. According to the stat above, that’ll fix 85% of your problems and it’s a relatively simple thing to do. 


25 User Experience Facts and Stats (

73 Smartphone and Tablet Facts Every Marketer Needs (Heidi Cohen)

Social Media Engagement: The Surprising Facts About How Much Time People Spend On The Major Social Networks (Business Insider)

American Idol Syndrome


At WordCamp last month, one of the seminars I attended was called “5 Secrets of Tech Marketing” (as it was pointed out in the introduction, this seminar wasn’t “THE 5 Secrets,” just “5 Secrets”). The final point of the presentation focused on the idea that Good Marketing is people-centric. It shouldn’t be about you and making yourself look good, nor should it be about one-upping your competitors. Good marketing is about other people- your customers.

And then the presenter brought to my attention a term I’d never heard of before: “American Idol Syndrome.” She described it as what we frequently see with contestants on American Idol- those who have overcome significant adversity in their lives tend to get the most attention on the show. With a business, this syndrome translates into “Unless you’ve got a great background story, no one will care about your brand.” This type of marketing pulls the focus away from the product/service, how you can actually be beneficial to customers, and, most importantly, it can affect your authenticity. When you’re focusing your energy on creating some sort of adversity for yourself, your actual business measures are most likely going to suffer somehow.

Another definition for American Idol Syndrome is wanting to get famous without any of the hard work to get there, i.e. becoming an overnight sensation. This is a similar idea with marketing certain products or services. You hear about people pushing their new app or phone or what-have-you, but this person comes off as incredibly showy.

Either way, American Idol Syndrome is lame as a marketing technique. Here are some ideas to focus on instead:

 Do it for the People. Like the Seth Godin quote below says, if you are creating products and trying to force them on people, you may want to reevaluate your approach. As a business, you have a whole group of people (your clients/customers) looking to you. Ideally, they trust that you’re going to give them the best advice and service that you can. If you’re trying to come up with a new product or service to offer, your first thoughts shouldn’t be “What product can I devise that will make me a zillion dollars STAT,” or “What’s going to land me on the front page of Forbes in the next two seconds.” Sure, those are lovely goals to have in mind, but in order to create quality stuff, think about what your people need. What can you create that will make their lives better?



Quality (or, Talent). With the American Idol analogy, this equals the quality of a person’s raw voice, without the instruments or amplifiers, or the showy costumes and back up dancers (are there back up dancers? I watched American Idol for one season, and I vaguely recall backup dancers). Sure, bells and whistles are fun and make a great show, but don’t be overly reliant on them. When you’re focused on the show rather than the song itself, you risk cheating your audience. They came for music- if they wanted to listen to someone playing auto-tune they would’ve downloaded the app and stayed at home. Quality (and sheer talent) isn’t something you can just phone in. If you’re doing something, and doing it well, people will notice. A little razzle dazzle is nice, but don’t blind people with glitter and showiness.

 Not all stories need to be comebacks. That may come off as a bit insensitive, but I’m talking brand stories, here. Your brand story doesn’t have to be all Forrest Gump or Rocky Balboa, as long as it’s authentic to your business. Being unique is great, and adversity builds character, but if it isn’t true to you, then it’s cool to bypass.


At the end of the slideshow, the presenter said, “Good marketing equals people. So, be a people.” This resonated with me because a) I felt like she was speaking my language, and b) it really is that simple. If you are trying to connect with someone as a corporate entity, chances are you won’t make a successful connection. When was the last time you identified with a corporation? Oh, Wal-Mart, you just get me!  File that under things no one has ever said. When you are marketing, just remember, it’s a conversation among human beings, not a “Hey watch me on national television and cast your vote” contest. 

Subscription Services: Why You, Why Now

subscriptionboxfeatureYou may have noticed an uptick in ‘subscription boxes’ the last couple years. My sister mentioned having a few beauty items to give me from her boxes (a gift subscription from her husband) while many health podcasts I listen to are constantly advertising for Naturebox, a hand-picked snack service. And you may wonder what’s going on.

Birchbox started the subscription box retail trend in 2010. Specializing in beauty, grooming and lifestyle products, subscribers pay a fee per month to receive goodies like skin rejuvenators, fragrances and makeup. Now Birchbox has 800,000 active global subscribers, translating to $96 million in annual sales.

The market has opened up wide for subscriptions, everything from clothing (Gwynniebee) to meals you can cook at home (Blue Apron).

Subscription boxes are curation.

Most subscription services have you fill out some kind of intake form when you first start. For example, with Naturebox, you can browse snacks by nutritional needs (12+ grams of protein per serving, gluten free) and/or by preference (non GMO, salty snack). You might pick some initial things you may like and the service might send you things based on your feedback over time (you liked this, you didn’t like that). In all cases, it involves interacting with the website, which tracks what you’ve had, what you’ve liked, and what you’d like in the future.

Subscription boxes surprise and delight. 

You know that feeling when someone recommends you a great book and then you read it and think ‘Yes, that WAS great’?

It’s hard to make that happen on a regular basis (unless you have friends who are constantly interesting like I have). 🙂 But in the case of these services, you get tipped off to something new and off your radar that you love. Seth Godin talks a lot about surprise and delighting people being effective marketing and this is probably what keeps people not only subscribed to subscription services but looking for more. (That’s a link to Canadian Subscription Box Addict, though there seem to be plenty of blogs in this vein!)

Subscription boxes are something to look forward to in the mail. 

Like most adults, mail I get typically involves bills or people asking me for money. Whenever I see either 1) a box or 2) a handwritten envelope, my heart quickens with happy anticipation.

Having a subscription box service is like having your mom send you care packages again, you know, without annoying her to do it. As adults, there is something exciting about getting fun mail, and having no idea what’s in it. And since the subscriptions come at regular intervals, we know the exact date we can look forward to.

So what does this have to do with your business/non-profit? More than you think. Let’s do two very fake case studies taking what we’ve learned about the success of these services and apply them to a non-profit and for-profit situation.

Animal Shelter (No, I’m not saying you send pets in the mail!)
How about having a subscription service people can buy for a dog in your shelter, maybe $20-$30/month. Maybe some of that money would be used to buy the dog a new toy every month and the person’s monthly gift would be a card with a picture of the dog and the toy together. This does two things 1) create a regular income stream for the shelter and 2) a regular base of engaged people who support the shelter and are receiving regular updates from it. So while everyone else is begging for money in a form letter, you are doing something different and treating the dogs under your care with something special at the same time!

Convenience Store (inspired by this amazing video for local Gott’s Convenience store)
I know many of you don’t live in my area but the convenience store (ie where you get EVERYTHING) is legendary (watched the linked video above and see what you mean). But what are you to do if you’re a convenience store with far flung fans? Why not send them subscription boxes? I would pay $20/month if I knew Ouellette’s Variety (no relation to me that I know of) in Caribou would send me their pull apart bread and the best chocolate peanut butter rice krispie squares ever on a regular basis. They could even throw some fudge and a random movie in there and it would be amazing!

Is it worth the hassle? Only you know your profit margins and the price point that makes the hassle of interacting with customers about what they like and putting something in a box on a regular basis worth it to you… but you can totally take this trend and make it work for you:

  • Seed with some items you aren’t restocking but would delight your customer
  • Make available perennial favorites you regularly make money on to far flung but loyal customers
  • Beta test new products you are thinking of carrying
  • Keep track of customer preferences/likes on your website (for their benefit and yours)
  • Send regular emails with helpful (and exclusive) tips, information, and events
  • Let your customers find items they want and spread the cost (and joy of getting them) throughout the course of the year
  • If the idea of doing this for tons of people makes you want to cry, make it an exclusive program for your best customers and limit the signups.

At Breaking Even, we’ve subscribed to Naturebox (I know, the things we do for market research!) and are planning on offering something fun like this for our most enthusiastic and loyal customers… and hope this blog post has inspired you to think in a similar way of this successful and widespread retail trend.




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