What Seth Godin meant by the size of your tribe

‘Tribe’ is a term I’ve borrowed from Seth Godin and it’s not about the number of people you have over for Christmas dinner.

When Seth Godin talks about a tribe, he means the number of people who really get you. People who are true fans of what you do. These are the people who will either buy something from you or recommend you to someone else. Both are valuable.

What you do resonates with your tribe in some way, often in an emotional way. Think about the people who will queue overnight to get the latest iPhone or wait will online to get tickets for Glastonbury. Or people who will always buy the same brand of a regular item.

Cigarettes were the classic example of this; you were a Marlboro smoker or a Silk Cut kind of person. They would all fix your nicotine craving and give you cancer, but people used to define themselves through what brand they smoked. I was a Camel Lights person once upon a time, but don’t tell anyone.

Why thinking of your potential customers as a tribe is important

I think the idea of your tribe is an important one to get your head around for a few reasons. It gets you thinking about potential customers as real people. Which they are. Too much traditional marketing talks about “users”, “leads” or “subscribers”.

When we start thinking about people as a tribe, then not only do we think of them as a group, but we also think of them as people who we care about. Maybe even people we have a responsibility to.

We can also think of them as a manageably-sized group, rather than beating ourselves up because we don’t have 10,000 people on our email list.

A tribe of people in anthropological terms isn’t usually zillions of people; it’s a few hundred at most. And a few hundred people who get you might be all you need. Maybe you only need ten true fans a year.

How to work out how many people you need in your tribe

I know that I need 660 true fans to be able to sell enough business coaching, books and programmes to live a good life. I sat down and worked this out. It was very reassuring to know that this didn’t need to be tens of thousands or millions, I just needed 660 people who liked my work enough to think seriously about buying one of my services.

Here’s how to work out the number of faithful fans you need:

First, work out how many customers you need this year.

How many customers you need depends on the price of what you sell. If you sell high ticket items such as £3k a day consultancy, speedboats, or high-end furniture, you might only need a handful of people buying from you each year.

Someone was telling me about a guy in his networking group who sold luxury yachts. As each one took 12-18 months to make, and cost a few million, the guy only needed to make one, maybe two sales a year. His tribe was probably about 3-5 people, and if I were him, I’d be looking to have my tribe already signed up to buy in two years. He’s probably an extreme example, but I have clients selling large consultancy engagements who only need ten clients a year.

If you sell smaller value items, obviously you’ll need to sell more of them.

Where to find your tribe

The first people we want to make sure are in our tribe are all the lovely people you’ve already done work for.

One of the quick wins I recommend is to go back to the clients you’ve worked for in the last 3-5 years and work out what else you can sell them. All too often, when we finish working with someone, we forget all about them and move on to the next person. Who we then forget about as soon as we’ve finished working with them.

These people are your number one fans. And they will probably need something else from you. Or they would love to be reminded of you, and what you helped them with, so they can recommend you to someone else who becomes part of your tribe.

Then think about all the people who made a buying enquiry and then either you forgot to follow it up, or they didn’t get back in touch after your first interaction.

I once went back to someone I’d met for a coffee and cake meeting three months later. He apologised for not coming back to me, said he’d meant to for ages, and could we start next week.


Other people who should probably be in your tribe but aren’t are those friends who understand what you do. Colleagues from when you had a real job, ex-employees, people you were at school with, all those people you’ve had coffee with after networking event.

Collect them all up and make sure you’ve connected with them on LinkedIn. Ditch any that you don’t like the look of – you don’t want to sell more stuff to the guy who didn’t pay his last invoice for five months, or the school bully.

We’ll go over what to do with these people to make them into real fans in a minute. But first:

How to get new people to join your tribe

Getting new people to join your tribe is the same as your regular kind of marketing. You get people to pay attention to what you’ve got, warm them up to be interested and to desire your thing. And then encourage them to spring into action with their purchase order or signing your contract.

You might look for people who are already in another tribe that’s similar to yours. I don’t necessarily mean calling up your competitors clients, but you might want to target people

Or you might want to look at the other people who are in the same tribe as you. You are going to be part of someone else’s tribe, someone whose products and services you’ve bought before. Look to who else is in that tribe and start introducing them to the thing that you do. 

From followers to tribe members

But when we’re thinking about marketing to our tribe, we want to put a bit more effort into the warm-up stages.

We want to get these folks to be our friends. Friends who wouldn’t dream of going to another supplier. People who we have already helped out for free. And above all, people who we are interested in.

We want to think about this like we’re making a new friend. Because clients are a little like friends, you might not go to the cinema with them, but you can certainly end up spending a lot of time with them and (hopefully) enjoying their company.

In the same way as making a new friend, you ask them questions about themselves and show an interest in them as much as they do in you. You build bonds with them.

On a very human level, we need a tribe to feel safe, which is why you need to nurture your tribe over time. You’re creating a community, and the safer someone feels, the more loyal member of the tribe they will become.

Which, in turn, means they will buy from you and recommend you to others. So when you next have a shiny new product or service to sell, you’ve got a good idea of how many people are going to buy it.

Some more ways to grow your tribe: 

How to work out your ideal customer avatar

Another great idea from Seth Godin, the Purple Cow and how to make your business truly remarkable

How to get testimonials

Would you like to be in my tribe?

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Photo Credits: Yacht by Diego F Parra on Pexels, Penguins and Coffee and Cake by Pixabay from Pexels.