Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Why You Need a Small Army & How to Build One

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

—Margaret Mead

What does leading a movement, selling a product, or spreading a message have in common? They all require a small army of evangelists.

Small Army Photo

Photo credit: The U.S. Army (Creative Commons)

In our world of uber-connectedness, this is how ideas are spread and revolutions are launched. Consider last year’s riots in Egypt or The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, for example.

They began with a small group of people caring so much about something they were willing to keep talking about it until the world cared enough to act. If you’re a communicator who has a message to spread, you’ll need one, too.

You’ll need to build an army. This is what I do every time I launch a book, roll out a program, or create a product. I assemble a group of “early adopters” who can help me reach the masses. And it works like a charm every time.

Why this is important

In the post-advertising world, we don’t believe marketing. Not anymore. Instead, we embrace messages worth sharing. (Feel free to tweet that.)

We’re inundated with advertising. Our airports and highways and websites are filled with messages, all vying for our attention. All trying to sell us stuff we don’t want. There’s no end to the SPAM. It can start to feel overwhelming.

So how do we find valuable stuff worth our money and time? Simple: word-of-mouth. Reviews, referrals, conversations. That’s the best tool to get heard in a world full of noise.

But if you’re just starting out (heck, even if you’ve been doing this for awhile), you need to help kick-start the discussion. You need to give people something to talk about.

Army-building 101

If you have a message no one seems to care about, it’s time to assemble the troops. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Start talking. This needs to be about something people already care about. It can be a problem or struggle, even a major frustration. Most likely, it’s a point of pain.
  2. Join the conversation. Find a place where people are already gathering to talk about the issue: go to a conference or the mall, join a social network or create one. People are talking; find them.
  3. Create something that solves the problem. It could be an book, a CD, a course, whatever. (Note: this isn’t just for business; a song can solve a “problem” such as despair or depression.)
  4. Build a launch team. This is what I did for my book. You might call it a beta group or a test market, but the idea’s the same. Trade the product (which you give away to the group for free) for helpful, honest feedback. Ask them to leave a review on Amazon, talk about it on social media, and tell their friends.
  5. Encourage word-of-mouth. Do something remarkable to get your launch group talking. Make it scalable so that if they tell their friends, their friends are likely to tell others — and so on. In order to do this, you may need to create what Seth Godin calls a “purple cow” — a truly remarkable publicity stunt or gimmick that others can’t help but share.
  6. Keep rewarding loyalty. Give stuff away to people who talk about you.

The secret to launching anything

There’s a lot of talk about marketing and movements these days, about how to successfully engineer the spread of ideas. The truth is these things never work according to plan.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, perfectly illustrates this concept. Truly viral ideas spread in the most unusual, idiosyncratic ways. And that’s precisely why they catch on. It doesn’t feel like marketing.

Your job isn’t to force this to happen; it’s to help it. And believe it or not, you can do this. All you need is the most essential tool to getting a message to spread.

It’s not an ad or marketing campaign. Not even a great web design or strong social media presence. Heck, it’s not even a platform. No, it’s something much more simple: People.

That’s what spreads ideas, sells products, and starts movements. People talking to other people. Anything else is hype or someone trying to sell something.

Don’t be fooled by the shiny solutions and guru programs. If you want to start a movement, spread a cause, or sell a product, all you need is a small army of committed evangelists. If you stick around, I’ll show more about how to build one (click here to join my army).

And if you want more specifics on how to build and utilize a launch team, check out this guest post I wrote for DIY Themes: One Incredibly Overlooked Key to a Successful Launch.

So how about it? Are you ready to start your small army? Share in the comments.

Note: I’m pretty sure Chris Guillebeau was the first guy I heard to use the term “small army” when referring to an audience of evangelists for your message.

Disclosure: Some of the above links were affiliate links.

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. Check out my new book, The In-Between. To get exclusive updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • http://bobholmes.blogspot.com/ Bob Holmes

    I start reading and I think “Jeff’s going to give the same old tired spill”  and then you say this: “In the post-advertising world, we don’t believe marketing. Not anymore. ”

    Absolute genius insight!

    PS  Jeff, Your leadership is stellar!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Bob.

  • http://dreamjobprogram.com/ Drew Tewell

    I’m in the process as we speak. Thanks Jeff for adding so much value to so many of us!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      you’re welcome, Drew. Good luck!

  • http://bryanallain.com/ Bryan Allain

    Have you been hacking into my computer and reading what I’m working on? Earlier this month I started writing something that basically said “If content is king, then community is the army…” I’m sure I wasn’t the first person to say that, but I did a double take when I saw your post today. keep up the good work!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      So you haven’t found my cameras yet?

    • http://twitter.com/justinharmons Justin Harmon

      Great minds think alike. Have you seen my site? Same concept. It’s all about connecting people my friend.

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        and stealing Bryan’s ideas… don’t forget that part. ;)

  • http://josephiregbu.com/ Joseph Iregbu

    Very timely, especially for my upcoming devotional. Thanks man.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      you’re welcome, Joseph! good luck on your upcoming project!

  • http://thepaperskies.com David Helms

    If only there was a way to include a toy prize in a book, like in cereal or crackerjacks.  I’ll think of something.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      made me think of this: http://www.sethgodin.com/freeprize/

  • Jim Martin

    Jeff, this is a great post.  I love the image – “small army.”  It is very helpful hearing you reflect on this in light of your recent book launch.  Thanks.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      you’re welcome, Jim. thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.crazyaboutchurch.com/ Charles Specht

    I was blessed to be a soldier in Jeff’s small army. It helped me grow my own book launch arsenal for next year. But I was mostly blessed because I met some awesome people on the launch team! What a great community. Thanks for including me, Jeff!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      thank YOU, Charles!

  • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

    Great post, Jeff.
    My favorite part is when you tell people to go to the mall and start talking to people. I tried that once… at 6’8″ I think I scared people a little.

    Just picturing what that would look like…

    Me: Hi— will you be in my army?

    Them: No. Do you know where Auntie Anne’s pretzels is located?

    • http://twitter.com/justinharmons Justin Harmon

      lmao!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      hah! if you asked me to be in your army, I say yes. ;)

      • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

        I am going to hold you to that! :)

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          mostly because of your intimidating size, though… ;)

  • http://www.tanyamarlow.com/ Tanya Marlow

    Not exactly an army, but a dinner party, certainly…
    Helpful as ever, thanks!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      that may be even more powerful, Tanya.

  • http://fantasyfic.wordpress.com/ Sandra Bell Kirchman

    I watched you (and participated) as you prepared to launch Wrecked.  I thought I had never seen anything like it before.  And because you give lots of value and benefits to people with your blog, books, newsletters, etc., people flocked to your “banner,” ready, willing and eager to help you.  It was amazing.  Step by careful step you built your “army.”

    Then I realized I had seen this building process before, in a spiritual organization I had belonged to, where the founder worked first with a small group of people, giving great value.  He trained them to work with other people and so on, until it became a world-wide organization.

    The key is to keep the army moving in a positive direction.  Which both the organization and you have done.  I still feel a part of your tribe and not neglected, even though I was not selected as one of the promotion team just before the book came out (and it turns out it was a good thing I was not selected, since I didn’t really have time to do it well).  The army has to be (and has been so far) managed well.

    Thanks for giving us the practice, then offering the regrouping of the practice so clearly.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      you’re welcome, Sandra. and thanks for the kind words. like you said, I’m only copying what I’ve seen other geniuses do.

  • http://twitter.com/justinharmons Justin Harmon

    Another awesome post Jeff! 

    Building a small army/tribe/community/movement whatever we call it, is the key. Connection with people will take you where ever you want to go.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      thanks, Justin. well, it’s certainly a start.

  • http://joannahmiley.com/ Joannah Miley

    I’m just starting this whole journey. Now that I’ve jumped in the fear is wearing off and I find that I’m meeting great people, sharing big ideas, and generally having a good time!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      it can be a rush!

  • http://twitter.com/SammieBennett Samantha Bennett

    The idea of marketing and all that always seems so daunting to me, but this article opened it up for me a bit. I love that you keep it people-centered. Good stuff.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Samantha. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

    • http://twitter.com/DianaDHampton Diana D. Hampton

      This comment may have digressed a bit from your original topic of growing an army, but I was stoked to see someone using the “post-advertising” terminology.  http://Special4Projects.blogspot.com

  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry Carter

    Thanks Jeff. I love this info as I work toward a small book. I will usecthis kind of info.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      excellent, Larry. Good luck!

  • http://JaredLatigo.com/ Jared Latigo

    Great post Jeff! Though provoking as always…and great tips I’ll use for my next project launch. :D

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      awesome, Jared. good luck!

  • Beau

    Great Post! Very important and often overlooked or even taken for granted…people and genuine relationships.

    I am about to launch a blog and what I hope to be a new tribe of people talking about a very important issue!

    Release The APE:  http://releasetheape.com

    I am hoping to catalyze conversation about the roles of Apostolic, Prophetic and Evangelistic leaders in the world! We are really missing these people in the church.

    And as your post points out, you need to have a small army of evangelists to carry out a mission…well, unfortunately, the church isn’t doing a great job of enlisting these types for Jesus.

    The church isn’t propping them up, inspiring them or pushing them out to go viral. Actually, we tend to be embarrassed by them most of the time (some times for good reason).

    It is time to Release the APE into the world!

    thanks for the encouragement Jeff!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Looks like a great site, Beau.

  • Mikezserdin

    Advertising, marketing, the pitch, blah, blah blah.

    Friends telling friends about something they believe in. That’s marketing. Thanks for the step-by-step Jeff.

    -MZ

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Amen

  • http://twitter.com/Jon_Wilburn Jon Wilburn

    YES IAM READY.  But it takes a lot of work to get ready.  I mean on the back end.  I’m spending lots of time putting together the About page, and other pages that will be important.  Its hard, but I enjoy it too – so I’m not complaining.  I’m excited about what were doing.  This post is a great reminder to not “sell” stuff, but to pursue “helping people solve problems.”  Our project definitely passes the litmus test. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      you’re in good shape, then, Jon.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Jeff, two things define your approach to “marketing.” Consistency. Generosity.

    As for small army, I’m gathering mine a bit late (book launched in March) but, as they say (and you probably are a part of the ubiquitous “they”), the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best is today.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      indeed. good luck, Tom!

  • http://www.postadvertising.com Jon Thomas

    As the editor-in-chief of a blog called Post-Advertising (postadvertising.com), I can’t help but comment on your tweetable claim that “In a post-advertising world, we don’t believe marketing.” I think you’re making the same point we do when we say “Advertising is dead.” Though I think our definitions of advertising and marketing may differ slightly. 

    Marketing isn’t just the interruptive self-promotional ads we see in print, TV, direct mail, and even in social media. Well, it is, but it’s not only that. It’s also exactly what you mention in Army Building 101. It’s joining the conversation, creating content that spreads, and gaining/encouraging word of mouth. 

    What we (and I think you) also believe is that those aforementioned interruptive means of getting a message out are dying, if not already dead. We don’t answer the phone for telemarketers. We block spam. We fast-forward over commercials and we ignore billboards and banner ads. And more and more technologies are being created like satellite radio, iTunes, Hulu and more where consumers are opting to pay in order to NOT be marketed to. That’s why creating communities and content to tell your brand’s story is so important. 

    This comment may have digressed a bit from your original topic of growing an army, but I was stoked to see someone using the “post-advertising” terminology. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Jon. I agree with the idea that marketing is really just spreading ideas. However, I wrote this from the perspective of most people, which is that they’re tired of push marketing (i.e. advertising and SPAM). I still believe in marketing as the building of communities; I just don’t think the world is altogether useful or helpful anymore. Maybe we can redeem it, though.

  • http://www.soniawrites.com/ Sonia

    Great tips. Seth Godin, I think just recently raised a lot of money with the help of his tribe.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      yep. in like a DAY. crazy.

  • Tw

    Lots of good advice.   Thank you!
    http://atravelerspost.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.danieldecker.net/ Daniel Decker

    Very well said Jeff! It’s all about the people, the relationships, engagement and the mobilization (taking action). 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      yep. all lessons I learned from you, good sir. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/leigh.hudson.16 Leigh Hudson

    What an honor to be part of your tribe! Love the Margaret Mead quote. It’s one of my favs.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Mine, too, Leigh. Honored to have you.

  • http://twitter.com/themastersbard zita consani

    Yes, I’m getting ready.  Thanks for positive push in right direction.

  • http://twitter.com/AverageAdvocate ElisaAverageAdvocate

    Love what you said, but I feel like I’ve known the answer was “people” all along. I guess I’m a big fan of Tipping Point and am fascinated by social movements. 

    But i really liked the steps you put this in. For example, the idea of a “launch group” I found fascinating. I think I’ve tried this, but I don’t really have a “product” to give away. I am not actually selling anything other than a shared value- helping the oppressed/poor. If I have “a product” it is just giving people ideas and resources how to do that. How can I make “launch group” for this value? I talk with others who share this value, but ….

    Okay, I will stop processing your post in the comment section. I am at least thinking through this! Looking forward to hearing what more you have to say!

    (BTW, my computer malware keeps telling me this is an “attack site” as of 8/25/12 and doesn’t want me here because it affected 5 others. I don’t know if its being overly sensitive but just in case you were interested thought I’d at least let you know…)

    http://www.AverageAdvocate.com

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Elisa, the idea of a launch team works regardless if you sell something or not. Consider the nonprofit Invisible Children, which uses local street teams to spread the word about their advocacy events.

      And yeah, my site was attacked last year and those warning messages should be gone by now. Let me know if they’re not.

  • http://twitter.com/Arabedross Ara Bedrossian

    Oops. Edited.

  • http://twitter.com/Arabedross Ara Bedrossian

    I’m drawn to the way you describe marketing. I think it should be intentioned, but without deception. We know the healthy, non-manipulative way to socialize, and if we aren’t doing that in marketing as well, then we’ve got some insecurities that we should address, not only with our product, but with ourselves.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Ara. I like to think of marketing as spreading ideas.

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    It’s a pleasure, Lisa.

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    Nice!

  • http://proeditingservices.ca/ Rhonda Kronyk

    I have a very difficult time promoting myself. But, I love to talk about what I do. Your approach works perfectly for people like me, because it allows us to take the focus off ourselves and put it on the people we are trying to help.
    Thanks for the reminder that even introverts can be good marketers:)

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