How to be successful (even if you’re not popular)

How to be successful (even if you’re not popular)
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Or, why big lists don’t always mean big money

We all have that one business friend.

The one who started out when we did, but has now taken an elevator to the penthouse of success while we’re still puffing up the stairs to the mediocrity first floor.

I have that friend.

  • They have a gazillion followers on Twitter.
  • They have guest posts on all the big websites.
  • They’re an in-demand guest on podcasts.
  • They’re a popular conference speaker.

And of course, they’re buddies with all the famous folk.

This person is supremely confident, or at least seems to be. And they’re never afraid of relentlessly tooting their horn.

In fact, they probably know this post is about them. Or at least think it is.

And most of the time I’m pleased for them.

But sometimes I’m not.

Every once in a while, I look through their social media stuff to… erm, torment myself basically.

A 30-minute inferiority complex session where I question why I don’t have the followers, fame and opportunities they’ve managed to create for themselves.

But then I stop and remember I’m doing okay.

And that someone else’s success doesn’t make me any less successful.

We’re not all sucking from the same bottle of success pop. There are enough bubbles for everyone.

No. I’m not particularly popular. But I’m still successful on my terms.

And in this post I’m going to explain why popularity isn’t necessarily the key to success


Don’t believe the hype

Before I get stuck I’ll cover the three cliches first:
1) Comparison is the thief of joy
2) Not everything people state on social media is true
3) You can’t see behind the scenes of anyone else’s life and you don’t know what they’ve gone through to get to where they are today

Okay, got those? Great, let’s move on.


Every entrepreneur article tells us it’s all in the numbers.

The bigger your email list, the more followers you have and the more members you have in your community, the more likely you are to make oodles and oodles of cash.

Now I’m not saying I wouldn’t like lots of followers. That would be lovely. But it’s not something I’ve managed to achieve.

When I read about the big guys having 200k people on their list, I just shudder at the thought of their Active Campaign bill.

If you look at my follower numbers, you’ll see I’m not popular at all. 

Why not?

Well I like to think it’s because I’m a  Marmite kind of girl.

Some folk will love me, and others not so much.

I could try to be a little more vanilla ice cream, but how boring would that be?

I rarely use advertising, which means awareness is lower. People find me by organic search, stumbling across my podcast, or seeing me in Facebook’s recommended groups.

But most importantly, they find me through personal recommendation.

And that means that while my audience growth may be slower, it lasts a lot longer.

I don’t get the random likers and the ‘in it for the freebie’ types that build lists fast.

But my conversion rate is high.

For example, the waitlist for the latest round of my course was around 400 people, and 75 signed up.

If I was good at maths I’d give you a percentage, but even I can see that’s not a bad rate of conversion.


Being popular doesn’t matter

Popularity isn’t that important if you ask me. Here’s why.

My followers are loyal. Not only do they become advocates for my business, they buy from me—again and again.

A few people in my ‘Tooniverse’ have pretty much brought everything I’ve created—the templates, the book, the membership, the small courses, the big course and the conference ticket. And they renew their membership year after year.

Is it better to have ten thousand followers who buy one thing from you? Or a thousand followers who buy from you again and again?

For me it’s the latter, because when it comes to my customers I’m more into the long-term relationship that the one-night stand.

Why being less popular easier

A long-term customer is like the friend you’ve known forever.

  • You don’t need to dress up when they pop over.
  • You can be yourself and let it all hang out.
  • They get your sense of humour, the way you express yourself, and your strange habits.
  • They forgive your mistakes, and applaud your successes.

With new customers, there’s pressure to be on your best behaviour. To get out the nice conversion cutlery, and put out a clean marketing table cloth.

And it’s harder to get a conversation started. There are a lot of awkward silences, and jokes that fall flat.

Yes, long-term customers are definitely easier to have around, and to sell to. 

Why do my customers come back for more?

I think the reasons my customers come back for more are pretty simple.

  1. I listen to what they want. I regularly survey my groups about the products they want, the training they’d be interested in, and even the blog topics I should write.
  2. I make the things they want. I can make products that fit the exact needs of my customers. And if they don’t want it, I don’t do it (even if I think it’s a great idea).
  3. I’m not outrageously expensive. There’s a temptation to pump up your prices when you’re in demand, but I’ve never done that. Prices increase a little each year – inflation and all that –but I deliberately keep my products affordable for my core audience.
  4. I’m fairly generous with good quality freebies, so the step the paid stuff isn’t a massive leap. There’s a rule that says your free stuff should be better than someone else’s paid stuff. It’s a rule I live my business life by.
  5. I genuinely care about the people on my course and in my communities. I really invest in the businesses of those on my courses and in my community—mentally, and often emotionally. (Possibly a little too much, but whatyagonnado?) I still offer suggestions and ideas to people who did my course four years ago. Not because they’re paying me – they’re not. But just because.


Proof in the pudding 

But as is my way, rather than guess why my customers keep coming back I thought I’d ask them.

Yes, it’s a bit cringy to ask. And it’s tough for the person you ask to be honest and not suck-uppy.

But it’s worth it, because the answers you get are illuminating.

And not always what you expect.

Here are a few snippets I got back from my ‘customers’:

“I did my first webinar with Kate in 2014 and three years on have been a repeat customer of hers many times over. I did her Recipe for SEO Success course in 2015, joined her copywriting community that same year and have bought many of her templates to help me run my copywriting business more effectively in the intervening years.

Why do I keep coming back and spending more money?

Put simply, it’s because I get excellent value for money and what feels like personalised service and care. Kate might have many followers online who never actually engage, but for her repeat customers she REALLY cares and makes us feel important.

I feel like Kate is as invested in the success of my business as she is in hers.”

Angela Denly | Angela Denly Copywriter


“Three years into my freelance copywriting career, I stumbled into Kate’s Google+ group looking for guidance and relief from the isolation of working alone. The good vibes resonated from the start. I knew I’d enjoy learning from her and that her friendly approach was the real deal.

That was three years ago and since then, every piece of content she’s put out has had value written all over it. I don’t hesitate before buying her resources as I trust there’s always ROI to be had.

Community membership, templates, books, courses… whatever she’s sharing I’m grabbing. Frankly, there’s no reason not to. It’s value all the way.

My business and confidence have both grown with every investment I’ve made with her. As well as sharing her knowledge and experience, Kate shares her time which is a stand out for me. She’s insanely busy yet offers a distinctly personal touch that makes me feel like I’m not just another number. In short, she’s an expert in her field who’s generous, keeps it real and is wicked funny. What’s not to come back for?”

Lisa Cropman | The Word Nest

“I wasn’t looking for some shiny, big talking influencer when I needed help to kick off my copywriting career. I wanted someone authentic with a proven track record who was actually there at her computer responding to me (as opposed to generic responses and pre-recorded webinars that all the popular kids set up).

Kate has never stopped delivering the value she promised when I first met her. In fact, she has consistently gone above and beyond what she needed to. Since she sets the tone, all the people in her circle are equally good eggs and there’s no room for bullsh*t. And that’s a biggie. There’s WAY too much bullsh*t online these days.

Her network of fans and followers might be smaller than these supposed “influencers” but everyone I’ve ever spoken to that knows her can vouch for the fact that she’s played some sort of positive role in their life and/or career. And those are the important numbers if you ask me!”

Kat Rodrigues | Revenge Creative

Psst: Why not try asking your customers why they buy from you again and again?

My takeaways

Here are my takeaways about what matters and why my customers come back for more.

  • The personal touch
  • Generosity
  • Sharing knowledge
  • No bullshit
  • Delivering value
  • Good vibes

I have to say, this makes me pretty damn happy. And it’s exactly how I want me and my ‘brand’ to be interpreted.

I’d rather have feedback like this from three customers than indifference from thousands.

I didn’t start my business to be famous, or to become a zillionaire. I started it to make enough money to support myself, and occasionally buy frazzles in bulk.

And because I wanted to enjoy myself.

I’ve learned that big numbers don’t necessarily mean big bucks

I know people with 80,000 followers on their Facebook page who barely make $100 a week in ecommerce revenue.

I know businesses with 200,000 Twitter followers who launch a product, podcast or promotion and have it fall completely flat.

Of course, some do have large followings that are also loyal and keen and buy all the things.

But having talked to oodles of entrepreneurs I’d say they’re the exception rather than the rule.

So don’t feel bad that you don’t have a thousand people in your FB group.

Be glad you have ten. And love those ten hard. Encourage them, reward them, help them and, most importantly, listen to them.

Small is beautiful. And small can be successful. It has been for me. So why not you?

A post shared by Kate Toon (@katetoon) on

So finally

Have you managed to achieve success on your terms with a small following? Let me know if the comments below.

Did you like this post?

confessions of a misfit entrepreneur with Kate Toon

You might like my book ‘Confessions of a Misfit Entrepreneur | How to succeed despite yourself’ – buy it online here.

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