You and Your One Million Subscribers

by Ken Mueller on January 22, 2013 · 8 comments

One million subscribersToday’s guest post is from Lisa Gerber.

Goal-Setting Dissected: Stop The Frenzy

Imagine this: Your latest new business meeting and the client wants to achieve 1 million subscribers/app downloads in 6 months. The product launches next week.

Here’s part of the problem: What appears (to some) to be an explosion in social networks has created a sort of frenzy among startups. It’s distorting their reality in terms of defining success and setting goals.

More than a few times in the past few months, I have had potential clients come to me with projections based on what sites like Instagram and Pinterest have achieved.

So I’m here to let you off the hook. You don’t need a million subscribers to be successful. I know, I know, Facebook has over 1 billion, and Instagram is growing faster than <gasp> Pinterest and Google+ in the past three months.

Therefore, Rock Star thinks his projections for 1 million subscribers are conservative.

How do you handle the situation?

My first thought is, “Sir, you are no Instagram or Facebook.” But I don’t say that. I channel my inner diplomacy and say something like, “Those sites aren’t part of your competitive set.”

Let’s approach this more strategically, and scientifically. (And realistically.) Having achievable goals is necessary to determine your strategy which in turn, drives the tactics. If you get the first step wrong, the following two will fail you, and you’ll end up like the majority of start-ups; the ones you never hear about.

You can’t pick numbers out of a hat or based on business models that don’t match yours. For example, it’s rare that a service or product will target as wide an audience as Facebook or Instagram.

Also, they are considered viral. They were first to market and the adoption of these services is so widespread, it has been embedded in the very fabric of society. For every “Facebook” there are a million other copycats trying to attain that level of participation.

So let’s step back and ask the right questions.

1.     What is the business goal? This might be stated in dollars or donations. It might be monthly recurring revenue (if you are subscriber based), sales, number of transactions. What ever it is, it’s what drives the rest of the strategy development.

2.     We need critical mass to achieve the goals. What is the size of audience, and what is the conversion rate? If you are an established business, you might have benchmarks from which to track averages and how you intend to trend them upwards. If not, you’ll have to use projections and it might feel like you’re picking out of a hat. Here’s where you go to a the right competitive set, not Facebook, to conduct industry trend research. What volume of web traffic will you need to reach industry specific conversion rates?

3.     How are we going to build a critical mass? What tactics will you do to achieve the goals outlined above, and how will each tactic contribute to that bigger goal?

But let’s be realistic. Getting email addresses, app downloads, and the things you need to build a relationship to convert a customer take time, cost money, and are hard roads to climb. As a consumer, we’re very stingy and select with our digital currency.

Do the math; to reach your revenue projections, how many customers do you need? To reach that number, how many total subscribers do you need based on your projected conversion rate?

Look at that. I bet you don’t need 1 million subscribers after all!

Sure, it would be GREAT to have a million subscribers. We’d all like that. I’m not trying to drive the small picture. Go ahead and set up a Scenario B that promises to blow the numbers out of the water. There is nothing wrong for setting sites on uber success, but we don’t want to set up for failure either.




Lisa Gerber is a digital marketing strategist for mountain lifestyle brands with Big Leap Creative in Sandpoint, Idaho. She blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter @lisagerber.

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes

Sometimes people miss the big picture by not taking the time to break things up into little pieces. I once worked with a client who talked about wanting to have 10 million customers except they made a product that wasn't needed by ten million customers and probably never would be.

They had picked a number out of a hat and never thought it through.


I'm thrilled to have the subscribers I do. To aim for anything more would be setting myself up for disaster. I already struggle with marketing my books and my blog.


Always set up and strive for success, one step at a time. Incremental, manageable measurable changes result in results:) Cheers! Kaarina

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

@Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes That's the thing - they think they can have one million because it's conservative compared to.... but the product (in this case) is so targeted, the market is not that big. Even so, if you look at the revenue it would generate, they don't need that much. Again, we don't want to burst anyone's bubble - nothing wrong with something going nuts and getting a million whatevers, but you can't plan for that out of the box. :)

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

@girlseeksplace That's a great point! - "Are you even ready for what that means" (achieving those types of numbers)? "Can you even fulfill?" 


@Lisa Gerber From my perspective, it's a lot of self-induced pressure. We all want to be the next big singer, film maker, writing, artist, whatever, so we put a ton of pressure on ourselves and it quickly becomes unrealistic.

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