I still enjoy reading The New York Times in print, so five days a week, a copy of the paper shows up on my doorstep, wrapped in a rubber band. A few years ago, I wasn’t sure what to do with all those rubber bands, so I decided to try to build a rubber band ball.
If you’ve never built a rubber band ball, the hardest part is building the core. You take a rubber band and slowly tie it into a few knots. Then you do the same thing with another rubber band, and then another. Eventually, you’ve got a few knots, and you push them all together into what will become the nucleus of the ball, and then wrap a few rubber bands around them to tie them tight. The core isn’t very big, so you have to wrap the rubber bands around four or five times to get them to hold firm.
At the start, the rubber band ball doesn’t look like much. In fact, it looks pretty odd. If you tried to tell someone that the thing you were building was a rubber band ball, they’d probably look at you funny. What you’ve created is a misshapen, half-inch-wide tangle of rubber bands, with rubbery ends sticking out at various parts.
But then you start adding to it. Every day, you wrap another rubber band around it. After a week or two, you’ve still got a weird looking ball. But over time, day by day, it grows a little. A month or two later, you’ve got something that roughly looks like a marble. Five or six months later, it looks like a gum ball, maybe an inch or two wide.
You keep adding to the ball, every day. The individual bands don’t seem to make much of a difference. But every few months, you look at it carefully and realize: This thing’s really growing. It’s not a single band that makes a difference, but hundreds of them, built atop one another, that have turned that tiny core into something real.
Trying to build an audience isn’t all that different. At the start, you’ve got some family and friends paying attention to your work. But you keep putting in the hours, every day, every week, and over time, things start to grow. You don’t always notice the growth — a few new subscribers there, a new fan there. The daily growth isn’t enough to turn heads. But you notice it when you look back every quarter, every year. The audience is a little bigger, a little more loyal than it was before.
You keep putting in the work. It’s rarely a case where one single step changes the trajectory of your work. It’s usually a series of small efforts, done over and over again, that build into something big.
An audience isn’t built from a single viral piece of work. Audiences are built by building trust with your fans, by doing great work that resonates over and over again. Building an audience is an act of patience, of repetition, of care.
In a way, you’re building a rubber band ball. Add to it every day, and give it time. It’ll grow.
That’s my rubber band ball, four years on and still growing.