Personal Finance and 1,000 True Fans

Over the last year or two, I’ve had to do a lot of thinking about where I wanted The Simple Dollar to go in the future. The site had become quite popular, but I didn’t know what that meant. I had started The Simple Dollar mostly as an outlet for my desire to write a lot of words every day and also to thoroughly explore my experiences and growing interest in personal finance (and other areas related to it, like time management).

To be honest, I didn’t ever expect you to be here. Sure, I had big dreams – who doesn’t have passing fancies about having their articles read by several hundred thousand unique readers a month? – but I was also realistic about things. My original goal was to attract a couple hundred semi-regular readers who might send some articles along to their friends and that maybe I’d help a handful of people with their personal finance problems. Instead of what I thought would happen with The Simple Dollar, I got what I dreamed about.

Right around the time I made the decision to write full time, I read an article that changed my perspective on everything. The article was called 1,000 True Fans, written by Kevin Kelly. The article makes an argument that a person who wants to make a living with a creative endeavor (which The Simple Dollar is) needs to cultivate a thousand true fans that are willing to support a writer/musician/etc.

Let me put that in a bit of a different perspective. Let’s say I was a skilled musician, but I wasn’t signed to a big record contract. All I had was a lot of concert dates around the country in small clubs and a contract with a small record company that really couldn’t afford to promote me at all. The 1,000 True Fans argument is that all I would have to do is strongly connect with just 1,000 truly loyal fans – those who will come to my shows no matter what, buy my albums, buy my t-shirts – and I’d be able to survive.

(Don’t worry, I am going somewhere useful with this. Just be patient.)

This led me to a big realization about The Simple Dollar: people might visit for the first time for personal finance advice, but that’s not why they’re sticking around. There are thousands of sources for personal finance advice out there – books, other blogs, professional magazines. There’s something inherently different about The Simple Dollar (and the same applies to Get Rich Slowly and Zen Habits and other blogs) that causes people to come back to this site specifically instead of other sources.

In effect, those people that keep coming back and keep reading the emails are my “thousand true fans.”

You guys don’t support me through financial contributions (though many have bought my book and have even picked up a few of the downloadables), but you find other ways to support The Simple Dollar. You comment. You send me emails. You send articles to your friends. You “friend” me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. And, I do believe that if I did need some sort of financial contribution, quite a lot of you would drop a few dollars my way.

So where’s the useful lesson in all of this?

I write articles for The Simple Dollar. I put them up here and share them as freely as I can. I communicate by email and IM with a lot of readers each day. Where this gets interesting is that many of those people return the favor in some way even though they’re not obligated to. They do the things I mentioned above – they send articles along to their friends, they talk about what they read here, they leave comments, and, yes, sometimes they buy my book and look at the ads.

All I did is start the ball rolling by writing – and giving my sincere effort in that writing, every single time. All of the value exchanges from there add up to enough to support me and my family. The interesting key, though, is that I started writing The Simple Dollar without thinking I would get a single thing in return for it.

There’s an exchange going on here, of course, but it’s an exchange that you can have in your own life as well. It’s easy to start: give what you know to others without expecting a thing in return. Do it regularly, consistently, and without reservation.

It’s easy to do. Help people. Share what skills and talents and ideas and gifts you have at every opportunity. Be generous with your time and your love. Help your friends, your neighbors, and even strangers. Most importantly, though, expect nothing in return.

After some time, you’ll come to realize that there is a bedrock of people in your life that are willing to help you out whenever you need it. These people might be your close friends or your family, or they might be people you see only a few times a year at community events. It might be the guy down the block that you’ve helped a few times when his car didn’t start. It might be the mailman. It might be the single mother that lives next door with two young girls.

These are the “thousand true fans” in your own life. You give of yourself to them as much as you can – and when you need it, they reciprocate in kind. What’s most amazing of all is that this builds up over time with hundreds of little exchanges – and before you know it, you’re receiving far more back than you’ve ever given.

Thank you.

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50 thoughts on “Personal Finance and 1,000 True Fans

  1. Michele says:

    Great post! There is a reason you have 1,000 true fans. Your blog posts are very well-written. I am new to blogging, but not to personal finance, so when I started my own blog, I wanted to see what other personal finance blogs were out there to compare my blog to. Yours is one of a handful that I’ve been returning to over and over. Thanks!

  2. Jimbo says:

    These words would mean something if you took some time out to respond to comments in your posts like other bigger blogs such as getrichslowly and zenhabits do.

  3. Johanna says:

    I comment on posts for the same reason as you write them: Because I have ideas and opinions and want to get them out there. Except I’m too lazy to start a blog of my own and commit to thinking up interesting things to write about on a regular schedule. You do a great job of that – frankly, I would never have guessed that there even *were* so many interesting things to write about regarding personal finance. Keep it up. Yeah, I’m a fan.

  4. harry says:

    @Jimbo it’s unreasonable to expect trent to respond to the comments. I think it’s a very simple opportunity cost problem: the amount of effort required to read all of these comments vastly outweigh the benefits.
    If I were trent I’d do the same.

  5. Esme says:

    Trent, you know you’re a success when you have your very own resident troll/curmudgeon/detractor Jimbo, who seems to come here every day just for the express purpose of criticizing your ideas,or your wording, or the reason why you don’t respond to comments(which you’ve already explained),or whatever else he can find to whine about. LOL!
    I totally support you and your message. I like your blog because it feels real, you’re not trying to sell anyone some snake oil or fake wealth scheme, and you’re honest and have a really positive outlook. This post is proof. Thanks and keep up the good work!

  6. Jimbo says:

    Esme – when one points out inconsistencies between words and actions that isn’t “trolling.” Just because someone doesn’t have nice things to say all the time doesn’t make him a “curmudgeon.” FYI.

  7. Great post! I love the idea of building a social network of 1,000 true fans, not of a service or even an idea, but simply a life well lived.

  8. The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    Nice post. I like the 1000 “true” fans idea. I’m striving for those myself.

  9. I’m just messing around in this blog world, and somehow had stumbled upon your blog a while back. It’s one of my favorites.

    You’ve got a good thing going here. I’m sure there’s a reason for that ;-)

  10. ChristiaanH says:

    Nice post, you actually got me to add a comment here, for the first time. =]

    I really enjoy reading your blog, and will keep doing so in the future. You even got me to buy several of the recommended books and in doing so.. YOU!… changed my life.

    I bow down to thee sir, and await more guidance through your blog-posts (and twitter)

  11. kevinf says:

    Wil Wheaton also talks about the 1000 True Fans. I like both his blog and this one because they are both very well written and entertaining. Both Wil and Trent seem like pretty regular dudes, even if only one of them was not on Star Trek.

  12. laura says:

    I completely agree with the 1000 fans idea. I started following an artist virtually unknown years ago, yet through her blog and continual update of her site (check her out if you want she is amazing. http://www.metalandmagic.com) she is pretty darn well known in the fantasy and comic world. She has inspired me to update and be more active in my own persuits (which if you want to check out would be great) and I have found the same connection with your blog. I don’t NEED most of the advice you give, but I find you writing to be entertaining, and your attitude great so I continue to enjoy reading your blog. The previous artist I mentioned HAS hit dire straights before, with a tax problem, she threw it out to her blog member, a ‘can you help me’ special edition print for cheap, anyone who ordered by tax day (I think this was last year) got one, after that the edition closed. And she not only got enough to cover the tax bill, but to purchase a new printer (hers died trying to keep up with the print load she garnered in this endeavor) and have a bit to spare. I think it is a very telling sentiment, and that you would find the same thing would probably happen to you should you have an emergency such as she did. :) Best! Sorry it’s so long!

  13. tiphaine says:

    Thank you Trent.
    I indeed consider myself one of these thousands. You helped me out so much, just to go ahead and dare be openly “frugal” in a disposable world.
    I do recommend your site to dozens of people, and they need it. We even started workshops at work (a community center) where I suggested using some of your articles. You help more than a thousand!!

    keep up the good job!

  14. KellyB says:

    Hi Trent,
    Great, thoughtful post. I’m sure you have even more than 1000 true fans :-) I would say we stick around because your writing style is friendly and understandable, and most of all sincere. The content is excellent, even when it isn’t something I’m currently interested in, I know it probably helps someone else out there, or usually a group of “someone elses”. And yes, you are one of very few people I would actually send dollars to if you needed it! Let us know how to support you (clicks? comments? advertising clicks? subscribing?) What sends “dollars” your way?

  15. IRG says:

    Ah, Trent. If only the simple act of sharing one’s gifts had such a positive outcome as you’ve experienced. There are so many equally talented bloggers, web site creators, writers, editors, etc. who could tell you the opposite based on their experience.

    It is truly great to see that your efforts have been “rewarded” in the broadest sense, as you have defined it.

    Trend writes:
    give what you know to others without expecting a thing in return.

    A lot of us, both online and offline, have done exactly that. Given with no expectation.

    Unfortunately, quite a few people, especially when you have something they want, ironically, are thrilled to do nothing, give nothing, not respond when you give it away. They come to expect everything for free (as most do on the web and offline too). There are plenty of greedy people out there, as we’ve all seen over the years.

    That has led to a true challenge for many folks who can’t afford (time, energy, etc.) to give away at that level.

    As an independent contractor, who writes and edits, all I’ve seen when I “give it away” is the expectation that I should not charge for ANYTHING I do. Including work that should be paid for.

    There has to be limits at some point, for both you and others, to limit what you give away with no financial/fiscal response. You can still give value-added stuff, but it can’t be ALL your work.

    I, too, would pay to read your work and am surprised you haven’t asked. I would prefer, ironically, to pay than to have you subsidized (and possibly compromised)by ads, etc. alone.

    Another consideration: clients and/or paying work (as most other bloggers have to support their blogging) are the ones who basically fund many a web site creator and/or blogger. without that income, they’d have no way to live and no ability to give anything away.

    The other thing is, lots of folks online, live off the work of others (Including outright stealing of ideas, articles, etc.)

    When folks like you, actually work hard to create something real and of value, you deserve to be compensated. It’s only this FREE FREE FREE Web mentality that makes it seem “wrong” to expect to be compensated for your work.

    Professional writers–including colmunists, which is what bloggers really are, deserve to be paid. Given the caliber of your work, that includes you.

    Professionals on the web are few and far between despite all the stuff that is online. (As a trained journalist, who actually went to J school when it meant something, I feel qualified to say that.)

    Their should be ways that, if they make blogging or a site, their true work, that they are compensated.

    Consider that people who have created silly sites to solicit money (pleading for help in getting out of the messes they make and gleefully share online) get $$$ and lots of worthless stuff generates cash.

    You have to really believe your work deserves financial recognition, before you can begin to ask for $. I’ve worked with some seriously talented people who never really succeeded because they never felt comfortable with either the marketing or the rest needed to get paid fairly. Meanwhile, jerks and no-talents succeed by their sheer will and entitlement.

    One article a week is fine to give away. several articles a day? Seriously, where do you get the time? I guess those ads make more money than we know. In which case, I’d seriously like to see you write about how we can improve our blogs and web site and get that kind of ROI from ads!

  16. Kris says:

    Great post, Trent. I believe the reason you have so many true fans is because your writing ‘voice’ is so real and from the heart.
    Last week I was at the home of a woman who obviously had no financial worries. Amongst the beautiful home, the barn with 6 horses and the 10 acre lot there was something else. A generosity that I haven’t encountered with many others. She made it clear that everyone was welcome in her home and that she would be willing to share what she had with others without expecting anything in return. It made such an impression on me and I have no doubt that she has thousands of true fans, myself included.

  17. Interesting things to think about; especially for anyone with a blog. Mine is very new, but I try hard to focus on providing value. Much of the reason I blog at all is because of you and your blog and only a handful of others. Thanks for being a consistent and positive inspiration to so many of us.

  18. Michael says:

    Receiving back more than you’ve given, eh? I guess I’m being ripped off here.

  19. KCDesi says:

    Hey Trent. Thanks for a very nice thoughtful post. I really enjoyed it.

  20. Valerie says:

    Ah, you’re feeling good today, after that news you announced on Facebook! Congratulations!

    Somehow I think you have MANY thousands of fans…

  21. $5000+/ Free Money Available says:

    Yeah, i have an employment blog that kind of took off after about a whole year and I didn’t know what to do with my success. In the end, it just encouraged me to work harder and give my readers better reading content. keep up the good work.

  22. lurker carl says:

    The final four paragraphs speak the truth in volumes. The more you help others, the more others will return that favor.

    Apply the “Golden Rule” with random acts of kindness throughout your day for a lifetime. Being generous with your time, abilities and spirit will bring far more back than anyone could ever imagine.

  23. todo es bien says:

    I am definitely one of the 1000. While reading the first part of your blog I kept thinking “Oh-oh he is gonna ASK me for something.” Then I realized, oh what the hell, you need a 100 bucks Trent, say the word, I will send it to you and you will pay it back if/when you are able. So there you have it Trent, you got a $100 credit line @ the bank of Todo es Bien, and if you default I know it is only for good reason. That offer doesn’t exist for more than a dozen or so people in the world, and I am dead serious.

  24. Jessica says:

    @KellyB: Trent mentions this in the article:

    “You guys don’t support me through financial contributions (though many have bought my book and have even picked up a few of the downloadables), but you find other ways to support The Simple Dollar. You comment. You send me emails. You send articles to your friends. You “friend” me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. And, I do believe that if I did need some sort of financial contribution, quite a lot of you would drop a few dollars my way.”

    And he’s said, if he wanted to be rich, that there would be a lot more ads on the site.

  25. J Brown says:

    Trent
    I have been reading about your life for 8+ months. It is you, that has helped me. But through you helping me, you have helped my family, friends and co-workers. I am not only better informed because of your life, I am healthier and becoming closer to being debt free. All of this is my life changed, because of your life and experiences. I am truly thankful for your willingness to take a risk and quit your day job. As always, keep up the hard dedicated work.

  26. Joey says:

    “These words would mean something if you took some time out to respond to comments in your posts like other bigger blogs such as getrichslowly and zenhabits do.”

    Agreed. Zenhabits is far bigger than this blog, yet Leo takes the time to provide multiple comments in almost every single entry. He doesn’t create an artifical “writer/reader” divide between himself and the commenters. That, to me, is one of the factors distinguishing a great blog from a regular one.

  27. Ken says:

    People value quality writing that speaks to their lives in real ways. You’ve created this at your site…keep up the good work….one day I hope to have half of your audience.

  28. Great, insightful post. I always enjoy your articles.

  29. Curt says:

    You will need about 150,000 customers throughout your lifetime.

    According to Robert Allen (billionaire and author of ‘Multiple Streams of Income’), each customer is worth $1000 through your lifetime.

    Here is the article
    http://www.pennyjobs.com/pp/public/Articles.aspx?aid=80

  30. BonzoGal says:

    Joey and Jimbo, Trent has EXPLAINED why he doesn’t respond to comments- he’s trying to not quash the discussions that go on here.

    And if you don’t think this is a “great” blog, why bother coming here? Go spend your valuable time reading what you think is “great”!

    As for me, Trent, I’m one of the 1,000 (plus). I always learn something, and even if it doesn’t apply to me, it’s interesting. You’re a good writer and decent feller. Thanks!

  31. Jackie says:

    I’m one of those thousand fans too, and I think what you’ve done is create a community feeling– a place where visitors feel welcome, where they find something rewarding, and where the bar is set high enough that we know we’ll have a good chance of finding something rewarding every time we come back. We feel connected to you and your work, and that manifests as loyalty, for sure.

  32. Trent says:

    I don’t typically comment on threads because I don’t want the comments to be about ME. I want them to be about the readers and the ideas they have.

    I’ve already said my piece in the original post. For me to pop up over and over again in the comments merely overshadows the voices of the many commenters, and that’s the last thing I want to do.

    Personally, I find it quite annoying when I go to a blog and half the comments are from the blogger themselves. Comments are valuable because they provide *other* voices and info that contrast my own, not because they’re an extension of personal brand marketing.

    It’s that very reason that I don’t just delete negative comments like many other bloggers do. Jimbo and Joey are expressing their own opinions and I welcome them.

  33. Tessa says:

    Wonderful post! I do agree with IRG #15 in that bloggers are basically columnists and really should enjoy a decent income for their work. I am new to blogging and read yours every day and enjoy it a lot! Please keep up the good work.

  34. almost there says:

    Great writing on many subjects and I look forward to the dialy reading. Also breaking the finances down to TP in a way that everyone can relate to. Just my two squares worth. :)

  35. Maarten (the Netherlands) says:

    Count me as in one of your 1.000 fans. I started reading blogs not long ago, first Zen Habits and now the Simple Dollar. Thank you (these words can not be said often enough) for your ideas, useful information, inspiration and for motivating me to live a more frugal life. A few months from now I will change jobs. After 15 years in banking I decided that I wanted to help other people; instead of pushing money around. So I applied for a job as a trainee at the local hospital. That will have a serious impact on my income and finances. The Simple Dollar helps me to pursue my dream, otherwise I would have been put off by the idea of having my income halved during the next three or four years.
    (The trainee salary is less than minimum wages).

    Also your comment on helping other people reminded me of the movie ” Pay it foreward”. For many years now I am giving masterclasses in sculling and crew rowing. Although I expect nothing in return, I am allways pleased to see my students advancing and enjoying themselves, reaching a higher degree in technique. Nothing in return might be impossible, but non-financial rewards are the most sweet of all. Last week I read a comment about motivation. Are your really expecting nothing in return? Imagine the people you are helping refusing to accept your help; if that is annoying for you, it is time to re-evaluate your motivation and maybe start doing something else..

    Please do keep on writing this blog Trent!!
    I need your advice and really like to read your blog, not only for motivation, but also for the joy of reading something nice.

    Maarten, the Netherlands

  36. Good post, I am a true believer in this, writing like you want to make money and push a product is really transparent, people will know you are trying to push something on them. Writing because you are interested in a subject is the best way to get readers and also to help them interacting.

  37. dawn says:

    awesome :) gave me an idea for my own 1000 fans too!

    p.s. as expected, trent does read all the comments. if u read regularly u’ll see he posts in response to some too.

  38. Michelle says:

    You are such a blessed man, to have followed your dream of writing, and you are such an inspiration. I’m glad to be one of your 1000 fans. (Just wondering why I haven’t been receiving you daily posts in my e-mail anymore? I just logon to the website anyway, and just wondering about that.) Thank you for following your dream, and inspiring all of us in the process.

  39. I am a true convert of your articles and especially touched by this one.

    All great things start small and when you put your heart and soul into your writing, a lot of your readers feel it too.

  40. Nick says:

    I just paid off my student loans 7 years early. I’ve been pretty lucky in that time, always being employed at a decent paying job, but I also have used a lot of the tools on TSD to get there.

    Feels good to be completely debt free at 26. Now I just have to figure out how to buy a house :)

    Thanks.

  41. Judie says:

    Thank you for sharing your ideas on your blog. Love the 1000 fans idea. I totally agree with the helping of others, and I agree with your “pay it forward” feelings, something I’ve always done.

  42. Johanna says:

    On Trent’s comments or lack thereof: There must be a way that a balance can be struck. You don’t have to stay out of the discussion entirely, and you don’t have to respond to every comment individually. Likewise, you don’t have to argue back every time somebody challenges you, nor do you have to back down every time somebody challenges you. Both extremes are less than ideal. There must be a sweet spot somewhere in the middle. I encourage you to try to find it. But it’s your blog, and you can do as you like.

  43. Marta says:

    Trent,
    I’m your friend on facebook, I forward and print your articles to share with people, I talk about your website, and I read every day.
    I live in Wisconsin, and was raised in much the same way as you, so I feel a closeness to you, though we have never met or spoken.
    I am one of the 1000.
    Let me know if your family takes a trip up this way again this summer. I just might have a picnic for you ready on the back porch.
    Wishing you all success and happiness, Marta :)

  44. Kelsey says:

    I agree with the 1,000 true fans concept. I was childhood friends with Sara Barellies, who was just nominated for two grammys! She slowly built her fan base during college and after, around the clubs in Hollywood. She had a lot of loyal fans before she became an “overnight success.”

    Very intersting idea…

  45. I’ve always believed that the more you give, the more you’ll get back. I enjoy your writing, and I applaud your success. You can count me among your 1,000 true fans.

  46. Jeannette says:

    Trent – Huge Thanks for all of your tremedous efforts in the care and feeding of this site’s content.

    I look forward to reading the site everyday – to identify new tips and tricks and to realize there is a huge network of like minded people out here each and every day trying to achieve financial independence.

    You serve as friend, advisor, and community leader to this community of well more than a thousand fans.

    Hat’s off to you!

  47. Mule Skinner says:

    Pardon the cold water here, but this is a meta-discussion. A blog about the blog.

  48. Vivian says:

    Hi Trent, Just want to let you know that I really look forward to your daily articles. You’ve put into simple terms things that I did not understand. You’ve confirmed that I’m doing the right things to get myself out of debt. You’ve reminded me of other things I should be doing towards that goal. In the past 2 years I’ve gone from 80,000 to 25,000 in credit card debt. Part of that was accomplished by refinancing my house. I was able to get more money and a lower interest rate without raising my monthly payment. At this point in time, my retirement plan is to get out of debt as the interest rate I’m paying is higher than anything I can get in investing. (I am contributing to 401K to get the company match.) Investing, stocks, bonds etc. is another area I do not understand at all. But with your help, I will have a handle on it by the time I’m ready in 2-3 years. Thanks again for your efforts.

  49. antiSWer says:

    I enjoy the variety of content available. Some of the posts I bookmark and come back to, while there are others I skip right over. That’s ok, cuz there’s enough content for me to always have something to read and make me think about!

  50. Great article Trent, guess you hit the nail on its head.. one needs to have his fan base to be able to succeed and that comes with some effort and dedication.. keep writing and helping us …

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