It’s understandable to look at people or brands who have built up lots of followers or subscribers, or people who are creating content for a specific audience, and assume that what they’ve created is a community. But while it’s something they should definitely be patting themselves on the back for, community isn’t about the volume of people, or even interacting with lots of people.
Community is many-to-many value creation, benefitting your business, your community members and beyond.
If you’re looking for quick wins or marketing hacks, I’m going to disappoint you: it’s a long game BUT it’s immensely worth it.
I’m going to be cheeky and use the Leapers Accountability Pod — the monthly accountability group I co-host — as a case study. If you’re already part of other communities as a business owner, hopefully, you’ll notice the elements I’m talking about to back up my points.
They become a hive mind (offering value beyond the community itself)
Stepping briefly outside of the Pod into the wider Leapers Community, founder Matthew Knight has created an incredible knowledge base for freelancers, with the help of the community themselves. From the books that have helped their self-employed journeys to myths they wished they’d known were false when they started out, an engaged and appreciated hive mind can spread the benefits of the community beyond the space they hang out. Because the content is crowd-sourced, there’s an assurance that it is relevant to your wider audience to reach even more potential members.
Everyone learns together, better than they would alone
Charlotte Crowther made this point in her super insightful thread about Community Powered Learning, and if your business centres around courses or training, this is even more important to keep in mind if you want loyal and satisfied alumni.
The Pod isn’t a course, so there isn’t learning in the traditional sense of curated content about a specific topic. What does happen is sharing best practices and techniques for getting the work and the personal things we want to be done, learning from each other’s different approaches, and celebrating when we find something that works for us. Sounds like a super positive and supportive environment you’d want to hang out in regularly, right?
It becomes a space people bring their whole selves (when it’s right for them)
People sharing prompted other people to share. The good things, but also the bad things and the so-ridiculous-you-could-cry things in freelance life that might be harder to share with friends or family who aren’t on the same journey. Spaces that help us feel a little less lonely are important for our wellbeing, and the success of our businesses.
You can succeed, and achieve more with fewer people
There is already a brilliant essay by Kevin Kelly and a TED talk that speaks to a similar phenomenon by Seth Godin, so I won’t write for pages about this, but it might be the most important takeaway from this article for freelance-focused business owners.
When you have a supported, engaged community that values the space you’ve created for them, 1000 members can do more for your business than 10,000 followers. They’ll trust you and want to support you to keep the community going, so they’ll stay subscribed, buy from you when you launch something new and promote you to their networks (word of mouth — is still the best marketing tool there is). Read and watch the content I’ve linked above if you want to deep dive into the theory and evidence.
For freelance-focused businesses, these things may not be as easy to measure as sign-ups or engagement, but they’re the things that make a community, so keep them in view when you’re looking to grow.
Where should you start?
Every business looks different, so the first things to ask yourself before you set up your own community are:
- How much time can you dedicate to setting up and nurturing your community?
- Do you have anyone in your team who can pitch in or take responsibility for growing your community?
- Do you have money to invest in the right platform for your community, and other services that help support it (e.g. video conferencing, email clients, site hosting)?
If you feel like you’re not quite equipped for building your own community just yet, don’t worry. You can start by investing more time in the communities you’re already part of, by making quality connections with other members, asking and answering questions and listening to what’s important to the freelancers you want to serve with your own community.
Feeling ready but don’t know where to start creating the community you want for your business? Let’s chat!