What would your life look like if you could only have a significant impact on a handful of people? What would you do differently in your work if you couldn’t help everyone? You might actually do what you are here to do.
Most people with a big vision or dream tend to say things like, “I want to reach a million people!” They proudly proclaim to the world, “I want everyone to know about this and am willing to work hard to spread this message!” That's a nice idea, but in reality, often your efforts to reach everyone lead to diluting your influence to the point that you don't end up helping anyone with your m.
The way I see it, we have only so much time and energy to give to the world. And certainly, there are those who seem wired to give a little something to everyone. But most of us, I think, don’t work that way. What we want is to know we’ve made a difference. We want to know we changed something in the short span of time we walked the earth. We want to be George Bailey and know it really was a wonderful life.
Unfortunately, as with many things, the pressures and opportunities of life crowd out this desire, and we end up spending most days reacting to the urgent instead of focusing on the important.
Reaching everyone usually means helping no one
A few years ago, I launched a bestselling book, generated a million dollars in revenue for the first time, and felt more stressed than ever.
That year, I worked with 17,500 new customers of my online courses and programs. Seventeen thousand. Can you imagine? After speaking at an event, I would meet someone and they'd say, “I’m one of your students!” And I'd, “You are?!”
I didn't know the people I was supposedly helping, which was disconcerting. For years, I brushed this off. If you wanted to sell online courses and make a ton of money, I thought, you had to become comfortable with not knowing your customers. But this didn’t seem like a good way of doing business.
When I go into the local candy shop—and let me tell you, do I go there often—I want them to recognize me. And they do, because did I mention that I am in there a lot? I want them to know my name. That seems like the right way to run a business. I mean, if Starbucks can be thoughtful enough to put your name on a cup, you and I can at least recognize our readers, customers, and clients.
So this started to bug me, but not enough to do anything about it until last year when I realized success was not what I thought. Pulling back the layers of what I thought was important, I started letting go of the roles I'd been playing to discover my true self. What I learned was that I don’t want to be famous, don’t want to be stopped in every coffee shop and be asked, “Is it really you?” That’s the kind of thing that’s nice once in a while but after some time starts to feel odd (side note: please don’t ever feel weird about coming up to me in public and say hi; I am always grateful for the rare occasion when that does happen).
Over the years I’ve met people at events who have been students of my various programs, and I have been saddened to hear the original problem they had several years ago still hasn't been solved. This is not what I hoped for when setting out to change people’s lives.
Once, I heard an Internet marketer say about the self-help industry, “Do you want to know why I’m so successful? It’s because I preach independence but breed dependence.” Yuck. No thanks.
There had to be a better way.
A new way of doing business: Finding your Dream 100
As I mentioned before, the fact that I was reaching a lot of people and helping very few started to bug me. The more I learned about what real transformation looked like, the less certain I was about my own work.
Take, for example, Dunbar’s number: the phenomenon that says most of us can maintain no more than 150 relationships at a time. So, here I was: with over ten thousand customers and feeling frustrated I wasn’t really helping anyone. I decided to blow everything up and start over.
If my goal, as I once told a mentor, was to help 100,000 creatives launch successful businesses, what if I went in the opposite direction?
What if I limited my scope and intentionally created constraints for my work?
Could I do more with less?
That was when I thought of the number 100. If you can maintain 150 active relationships at any time, why not allocate 50 of those for friends and family and the rest for work, leaving you with what some have called your “Dream 100”?
In other words, what would your work look like if you could only interact with 100 of your ideal clients and customers? Who would you pick? What would that change?
As I began to consider this possibility, I grew excited and made the decision to work with only 100 people in the next year.
Using the power of constraints to do better work
Really, this is about constraints and how they liberate us to focus on what really matters.
When we stop trying to do everything, we are free to do something.
When we don't have to reach everyone, we can serve someone.
And don't always have to be striving for more, we are able to instead focus on better, allowing us to enjoy our work more and truly change lives.
This works for a few reasons:
- Constraints create passion. Maybe it’s not 100. Maybe it’s 10 or 250 or 10,000 or one million. But how does your work change when you limit who you can work with? My guess is you start thinking about how you’d have to go deeper or charge more or be more intentional. For me, it was exciting to transition from receiving hundreds of complaints every day from people who can’t log in to a membership site to eagerly reaching out the most brilliant people I know about their world-changing projects.
- Constraints create quality. If a restaurant only has to make one dish instead of twenty, it will obviously be much, much better. A consultant who works with ten companies a year instead of a hundred is going to be able to offer her clients not only more time and energy but a higher quality experience. When you focus on serving fewer people, what inevitably results is better and more meaningful work for everyone.
- Constraints create demand. When I started sharing that I was only going to work with 100 people next year, I began receiving unsolicited pitches from people who wanted to work with me. It’s interesting when you limit the number of people you decide to work with and it ironically leads to more people wanting to work with you. This is what Michael Port calls the “red velvet rope policy.” Nobody wants something everyone can have. But as soon as you introduce some scarcity, it feels more valuable.
Lest you think I’m doing this only out of the goodness of my heart, I should mention that by focusing on helping fewer people, I’m able to reduce my overhead while significantly increasing my profits, so I’ll personally make more money while helping more people. Fun, right?
For years, I longed to create an “impact” and leave a “legacy” while “making a dent in the universe.” But in reality, I was doing none of that. All I was doing was trying to be famous. Finally, I woke up, realizing my work wasn’t that important. As sad as it sounds, this reality liberated me, allowing me to enjoy my work. As my coach Casey Graham told me after hearing me bemoan the fact that my team wasn’t on board with my mission: “Jeff, you aren’t taking little old ladies in wheelchairs to visit the Grand Canyon before they die. You sell online courses. Get over yourself.”
By trying to reach so many people, I was leaving very little legacy or impact. People knew who I was. They were familiar with my work. But they were not actually achieving any kind of transformation. Eventually, I grew tired of swimming in the shallow end with the many and decided to go deep with a few.
Next year, the majority of my time will be spent on working with a handful of people through ghostwriting, running a mastermind, and speaking.
Already, as I’ve started to narrow my focus, I’ve seen the effect it’s had on my focus and fulfillment. I haven’t had to go find people who want to work with me; they’re lining up, asking me. I don’t have to haggle with people for prices; they’re willing to pay whatever I charge for the privilege of being one of the few I choose to work with. And because I don’t need to always be selling something, I am free to create more content for my audience without any strings attached (which means more free posts and emails and podcasts for you–yay!).
If you want to work together, feel free to contact me and we can explore a fit, but no pressure. I'll be sharing more about the mastermind community we’re building as I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever worked on, but that can wait. For now, I want to challenge you:
What is your number of ideal people with whom to work?
How many people do you need to work with to create the change you want to make? Is it 10? 100? 1000?
Have you considered what adding some constraints might make possible for you?
Share your number in the comments and reasons why. I’d love to hear it.