When Small Beats Big

We are hard-wired to believe bigger is better.

Especially when it comes to building an audience for our work.

100,000 Twitter followers or an email list north of 20,000 feels much more impressive than a few hundred believers in your tribe.

But here’s the thing.

Sometimes, smaller—think exquisite jewel box—beats big.

Take “Shannon”. When she launched her consulting firm after a successful career as a Fortune 500 VP, her goal was clear: to build a national reputation (and thriving business) consulting, speaking and writing about her big idea.

Her potential client base was narrow: about 2,500 Fortune 1000 corporate VPs in jobs similar to the one she’d just left behind. Toss in another 500 or so business association leaders that could bring her in to speak and she was pursuing maybe 3,000 people.

Hardly a number that intrigues big-name media or publishers to return your calls.

And yet it was exactly the right size for her.

Because she focused on her tribe. Her vision. The road they would travel together.

Selling her first book to a brand-name publisher was no small feat (and required advance purchasing enough copies that all the financial risk was hers).

At last count five years later, she’d sold north of 20,000 copies.

Which would thrill many first-time authors, but Shannon didn’t make her real money on book sales—and never planned to. The book was her calling card—her entrée to five to six figure consulting gigs and the door opener to more/lucrative speaking gigs.

Instead, she made the bulk of her income from high-impact, high-priced consulting assignments—typically a handful a year. One-shot clients brought in $125,000 a pop; recurring clients averaged $60,000 a year. Aside from the occasional freebie, her speeches ran $20,000+ (and usually included buying books for the audience).

So the math for a typical year looks something like this:



New clients:             $ 250,000

Recurring clients:    $ 180,000

Speaking                            $ 200,000

Books                                  $   30,000

TOTAL                                $ 660,000

She’d never make a living on book sales—but they continue to deliver qualified leads to the 3,000 or so folks in a position to hire her today (and those coming up behind them). She never makes cold calls and only the occasional warm one—her clients seek her out while she focuses on doing what she loves.

She follows a simple social media strategy that keeps her connected to influential media, clients and prospects. She has amassed about 10,000 Twitter followers and built a small but distinctive LinkedIn presence (her major social media platform). She’s written two more books that keep her relevant and in-demand for speaking and corporate consults.

Not many people know her name outside of her industry. But within her tribe? She’s one of the three leading voices in her field. Generous with her insight, impeccable in her work and committed to the future of her niche.

And making a very nice living in the process.

She didn’t let her ego lead the quest for more followers, more website traffic, more subscribers. She leads with her head and serves from her heart.

Shannon’s business and revenue model is uniquely hers. And that’s pretty much the point.

You need to dig and create the model that best suits your talents, your vision and your audience. To decide which services and products to leverage—and how.

And maybe—just maybe—“small” will not only beat big, it will knock it out of the park.

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  • Very interesting comments. When I wrote my book, I did not view it as a marketing tool but quickly found that it worked that way. Not sure why; particularly since I viewed earlier and current columns I write just that way. A key take away is quality not quantity. It just make sense to identify and know your audience — a process that takes time but makes so much sense.

  • Rochelle

    Thanks for your thoughts Corey–quality over quantity is the ONLY way 🙂

  • Thank you & I agree with you. I have a craft business and all my contacts are interested in my designs, patterns & books etc.. I am there for them and am growing a loyal customer base that is spreading my name in the crafting world. Social media is helping me grow, but it’s the quality not the quantity that’s growing my business.

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