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I'm a consultant and advisor  for social enterprises - using business to change the world.

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Fans vs Customers

Fans vs Customers

Customers in front of shop

Here’s an interesting question:
Are you looking to grow your fanbase, or your customer base?

Fans are people who like you.
They say nice things, follow your posts, and have affection for your brand.
They think you’re great, and if they saw you in the street, they’d run up to say hello.
Fans are great.

Customers are people who buy your stuff.
They make an active decision to choose you over your competitors.
They commission work, and pay your invoices.
Customers are great too.

Which one do you need right now?

I’ll give you an example.
There are many people/brands that I’m a fan of, but who have never received a single dollar from me.
These include Tesla and Lamborghini, Game of Thrones, a whole range of YouTube channels, social enterprises like Who Gives A Crap and Embrace Warmer, some of my favourite Facebook pages, my NFL team (Houston Texans), etc.

I speak highly of them.
I think they’re wonderful.
But I’m not really supporting their business.

Social media metrics

You might point out that by being a fan, I help grow their audience, introduce new customers to their brand, and maybe one day I’ll be their customer myself.
Very true.

Unfortunately, for most social enterprises, their number one issue is cashflow.
In other words, the pressure to make consistent sales in the next six months, to avoid going bankrupt.

So whilst fans are the long game, customers are the lifeblood of the business.
And the problem I see is that a lot of new enterprises chase fans instead of customers.

It’s perfectly understandable, because fans “grow the brand” and it’s incredible re-affirming.
The problem is that it’s the wrong way around.
It’s often easier to make fans out of happy customers, rather than customers out of fans.

social enterprise workshop

Here’s the test:
Would you rather an extra 10,000 fans on (pick your favourite channel), or three more large customers?
Which would be more beneficial?

Sometimes the right answer is the 10,000 fans.
Maybe that gives you a statistically significant audience to measure.
Maybe that gives you credibility – like a “k” after your number of followers, or like the blue tick on Twitter.
Maybe it validates your work, and makes larger clients take you more seriously.
In these scenarios, it makes sense to pick the 10,000 fans.

But if you’re picking the fans in order to potentially get more sales, why not skip the middleman and take the 3 large customers?

If you’re worried about your sales pipeline, you’ll probably have more luck getting repeat business from these three happy customers than from trying to convert small orders out of your followers.

It’s easier and more rewarding to measure likes, comments, shares, impressions, retweets and compliments.
Those are all fuel for you as an entrepreneur, but not fuel for your cashflow.
Ultimately, your impact is driven by serving more customers.
And ironically, the work you produce for your larger customers can often become great content to show your fans.

This should change your approach to storytelling.
When you talk about your work, it should persuade your customers to take action.
You can do this by explaining how your enterprise solves one of their important problems.
You make them see so much value in your offer that they want to pay for it.

This is in contrast to the usual approach, which is where you persuade the public that you’re an interesting person who works on addressing tough social problems.
You’ll get applause and followers, but generate no work.

Signing up new customer

Here’s what I’m getting at:
What could you do this week to prioritize capturing new customers?
What parts of your marketing and storytelling need to change?
Who do you need to get in touch with?

Once you’ve done those things, go nuts acquiring fans.
As I said, fans are great.
Just as long as your customers take priority, because customers create your impact and keep you afloat.
Even if they don’t rush over to say hello to you in the street.

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