As I researched the history of today's most successful creators, I found a pattern. Creators may have different amounts of luck, talent, and hard work. But one thing they all tend to have in common is a fan following before they make it big. Even if it's small, they at least have a lot of attention from a few people.

Before Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, he built a 'reputation as a programming prodigy' at Harvard. His apps were featured in his school newspaper, including one that Microsoft tried to buy.

Before comedian Louis C.K. won Emmy Awards and became 'America's Undisputed King of Comedy,' he built an audience doing stand-up comedy in Boston. That led to Louis writing for comedy shows including the Late Show with David Letterman and the Chris Rock Show. Louis then turned a Chris Rock Show skit into Pootie Tang, a film that had poor reviews but became a cult classic.

Even Apple, one of the most valuable companies ever, started out with a small, devoted fan base of early computer lovers in the 1970s before anyone had a computer in their home.

Market size won't matter without fans

To make it big, you'd think it'd be best to please many types of people. But in reality, it's the opposite.

Attention spans are shrinking. Competition is a click away. As Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired, wrote the best way to escape today's 'massive competition and endless downward pressure on prices' is to focus on fans. Rushing to please the masses right away may get a little of everyone's attention, but you won't get a lot of anyone's.

3 simple ways to create fans

Just like success, having devoted fans won't happen overnight. But you can accelerate the process. Building a fan base isn't complicated. You don't need a degree or a fan-building guru.

As a CEO of an online community, I've researched successful audience builders for years. Here's 3 simple things top creators do to build their audiences.

1. Involve people in your process. By involving people in your process and challenges, you become relatable. Your followers develop a deeper connection with you. Trust builds.

Louis C.K. shared his bank account when he sold his comedy special directly to his fans on his website for $5. Louis took over the internet for a few days. Blogs and mainstream media picked up his story. And Louis' sales topped $1 million. At our company, we've shared everything from choosing our company name to our investor updates. Let people see behind your curtain.

2. Write like a friend. Just because you're a business doesn't mean you need to sound like one. Words like 'synergy' and 'initiatives' don't connect well with people. Write like you'd write to a friend. Louis C.K. does this with his email newsletter. When he writes, you know it's him. He even has typos which make me connect even more. I don't open many emails but I open every one of Louis'.

3. Share things other than your work. It's not a waste of time to share something interesting that's not your work. It's another way to connect. Mark Zuckerberg's picture of his family dressed up for Halloween got ten times more likes than his post about Facebook two days later.

Building a following is a necessary precursor for whatever amount of success you want.

Once you have even a few thousand fans, you will be hard to stop. Your fans will handle your marketing. And they will create more fans.

Don't worry about being a mainstream success right away. Be an underground hit first.