An Experiment in Personal Branding


It was about a year ago that someone introduced me to the theory of 1,000 True Fans. Admittedly, I was a bit embarrassed I was so far behind on the popular argument first written by Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired.

When I first read Kelly’s essay, it interested me, but it struck me as off-hand knowledge that I could bring up in conversation to make myself sound smarter.

But recently, I’ve been circling the theory to see if it has an application that could suit my goals.

In case you’re like me and haven’t read 1,000 True Fans, the argument goes something like this: The economy has shifted because of the effects of the long-tail. Consumers have more options to satisfy their specific interests, and a few aggregates, such as Netflix and Amazon have grown into goliaths.
Kelly argues the consumer is the true winner of the long-tail. With distribution costs at an all time low, creators are free to satisfy their individual niches. And what’s more, they can survive without needing to create a blockbuster hit by finding their true 1,000 fans.

If a true fan spends $100/year on a creator, that person is free to do what they do best because they have a secure living.

So again, what does this have to do with me?

For a long while, I thought nothing. I didn’t think of myself as a creator; I thought of myself as an educator and entrepreneur. And then I started to see some patterns.

About a year ago, I started experimenting with several business concepts to see if I could test their validity as quickly as possible. Regardless of what concept I promoted, I noticed the same people would sign up for every mailing list. The same people. On every list.

Do I already have some true fans? Are there more people that really support the work that I’m doing? Am I capturing their attention and validating their belief in me?

And so, I’m looking for my true 1,000 fans. People that will support me because they believe in the work that I’m doing, and I’m asking these true supporters to spend at least $100/year on my work.

Like most projects that I embark on, I’m running this as an experiment.

My first goal is to launch my personal website, complete with episodes of my new Pobcast Podcast (available on my website, Google Play Music, and iTunes!), list of articles that I’ve written, and information about all the projects on which I’m currently working.

Experiment: Can I get people to subscribe to my email newsletter?

The main call to action on the website is to subscribe to my email and actually follow me. Am I interesting enough?

Not an image! You can add your name an participate in my personal branding experiment!

For everyone who signs up, I’m sending a welcome/thank you video message, my Snapchat username — my most recent social media account, and a free chapter of my first book Teenagers Don’t Scare Me: What I Learned from Traveling to China, India, and Latin America with High School Students.

Let’s say that there are people out there that want to follow my crazy journey and listen to my Podcast thoughts. Then what?

The second goal is to launch a Patreon account to see if I have any true fans, past or present clients, friends, and colleagues who will support the work that I’m doing.

Patreon is a crowdfunding site that allows fans to make small, recurring monthly pledges to support an individual’s creations. In my case, I’m looking for support to set aside time to write the books on my docket, continue to record my podcast, and to create more scholarships for students to participate in my education programs.

Experiment: Do people value my work enough to make monetary pledges to help me expand my impact?

Initially, I posted most of this text on for the purpose of educating people on the goal of my new website. Quickly after I sent the first iteration of the website to a few trusted people, one pattern emerged in the feedback: there was too much text.

I knew there was, but my logic said that if someone actually cared about what I was doing, they’d want to read it. Only I’m trying to build beyond the people that personally care about me.

The most important feedback came from someone that I work with (thanks, Heather, if you read this!). To be honest, at first I ignored it because it tore into the basic premise of my website. Then, as I was finishing up a couple of book this week, her advice was seconded and then thirded — I just made up that word, deal with it.

You can’t stand on a soapbox and yell “Buy My Shit!” over and over again. And that’s exactly what I was doing.

I still have a call to action on the website, but instead of trying to curate a small list of true fans, I want to share my stories and experiences with anyone who will give me a minute to convince them it’s worth listening to me.

Kelly admits in his original essay that only a portion of income is generated by true fans — the value is in their loyalty, not a single purchase — and Heather reminded me on this with direct evidence: her sales, website, and fan base statistics.

I dug in for a couple of days not wanting to change anything, but that was short lived. I repurposed the main section of the website, taking into account the feedback I received, and hopefully the results will show it was the right move — I think it was.

And so I begin the process of trying to build a personal brand, something that I’ve not only neglected for six years, but actively avoided.

As I do, I look forward to hearing what people think so that I can incorporate feedback as I receive it!

Keep up with my projects by following my Medium profile, Frank Pobutkiewicz, or adding or following me on Facebook or LinkedIn.

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