Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Why You Need a Small Army & How to Build One

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 am the best-selling author of five books, including the national bestsellers The Art of Work and Real Artists Don't Starve. Each week, I send out a free newsletter with my best tips on writing, publishing, and helping your creative work succeed.