Communities have been an enduring theme on my podcast and have been crucial to the growth of many of my guests’ businesses.
While I’ve taken a break from podcasting, I continue to listen to past episodes and learn from my guests, and it’s no doubt how important communities are to their success.
Being involved with or building a community can be an extremely valuable way to engage with people who may later turn into customers, partners, and friends.
No matter what stage your business is in — whether you’re just brainstorming ideas or in the millions of revenue — there will be communities that can help move you ahead.
Let’s see what these types of communities are and how they can help.
Local startup and industry communities
The first community that is very important when you’re launching a company is the community of startup founders, entrepreneurs, and industry professionals in your city or neighborhood.
For instance, if you’re a web designer in Raleigh, NC working on a financial technology startup, you should be part of and contribute to communities that focus on web design, fintech, and the general tech startup scene.
Being part of a local startup ecosystem can be a very powerful thing on many levels.
First, you’ll have a bunch of like-minded people with whom you can learn from and share your issues and concerns while you all are building businesses.
Regardless of whether you’re a solopreneur or part of a team, it’s always good to have an outsider’s perspective and an alternative point of view to solve your problem.
There is so much to do and to learn, and helping each other through the thick and thin is a valuable experience.
Next, you may be able to leverage your local network in order to gain customers.
Many of these entrepreneurs and small businesses are looking for products and services that you offer, and having that existing relationship gives you a foot in the door to make a sale.
You certainly want to add value before you drop the sales pitch on others, and being known as someone who gives before she gets is a great thing for business.
Finally, being part of the local entrepreneurship ecosystem opens the doors to many other networks, whether they are local or abroad, or directly related to your business or not.
By expanding your network, you may be introduced to future investors, partners, customers, and many others who may be able to help your business on one way or another.
If you’re a designer in search of a marketer, someone from your local network just may have a contact who is looking for that opportunity.
If your startup is ramping up and you’re in search for investors, a local entrepreneur may know just the person looking to make a bet.
As you can see, being part of your local entrepreneurial ecosystem can be extremely beneficial. But of course, it’s important to give before you get.
Volunteer your time at Meetups you’re interested in, provide some services for free, and be supportive of others in the community. Be known as someone who gives to the community and you’ll eventually receive benefits in spades.
Local communities are frequently spoken about on my podcast.
In episode 10, I chatted with Ron Schmelzer, the CEO of TechBreakfast, which is the largest monthly morning tech Meetup in the nation. If you’re into the technology scene, TechBreakfast events are great places to meet people like you.
In episode 14, Alec Hartman talked about how he is helping to grow New York’s tech scene by building TechDay.
In episode 16, founder Andrew Hyde and then CEO Marc Nager talked about how they launched and grew Startup Weekend to be a global phenomenon. Startup Weekend was one of the primary factors why I became an entrepreneur.
As you can see, there is no shortage of startup communities. No matter where you live, I’m sure that there will be a local startup or industry community waiting to welcome you, and being a part of these can pay off big time down the road.
Existing online communities
Existing online communities are the digital equivalent of your local community. The fundamentals of how they work are essentially the same, with the activity occurring on your laptop or mobile phone instead of in person.
Online communities will allow you to ask questions and garner answers from experts, provide your opinion and expertise to help others, make connections you wouldn’t have made otherwise, and potentially gain new customers.
But just like in local communities, you have to make sure to give before you receive. Blatantly promoting your wares won’t work, and doing so may get you banished from some of these sites. So make sure that you add value before extracting it from these online communities.
There are many community sites where you can interact with other like-minded people.
Reddit is the first to come to mind.
There are hundreds of thousands of “subreddits” (topic-based forums on Reddit), where people gather to share articles and discuss and debate different subjects.
Going back to that example of a web designer in Raleigh, NC working on a financial technology startup, you can join the r/web_design (153,000+ subscribers), r/startups, (109k+), r/fintech (1k+), and even r/raleigh (10K+) subreddits to have a huge built-in audience to engage with immediately.
For more info on how to market on Reddit, check out this post.
Facebook Groups are amazing resources as well.
When I started my podcast, I joined podcasting Facebook Groups like Podcasters’ Hangout and Podcast Community. I interacted with hundreds of fellow podcasters each day, learned from them, and picked up a bunch of listeners and reviews.
Quora is another great community in which to engage. Quora is the best question-and-answer site on the web, and many smart people ask and answer questions that span all kinds of topics. You can search for and share your knowledge about thousands of different subjects. It’s a great place to both learn and teach.
Build your own community
One of the best ways to engage your customers for a long period of time is to build your own community.
No matter whether you build your community in the real world, online, or both, you’ll have a population of people who want to hear from and engage with your content and offerings.
Again, the keys here are to offer value, give before you get, and don’t always sell.
In episode 1, John Von Tetzchner, the founder of web browser companies Opera and Vivaldi, built passionate communities around these web browsers.
At Opera, Von Tetzchner built the MyOpera community to a scale of 35 million visitors per month at its height. The users frequently gave feedback on the product, and many volunteers contributed their time to testing unfinished products.
At Vivaldi, John was able to build a community from many Opera users who shared the sentiment he did — that Opera was becoming more of a commodity browser and he believed that browser users needed something more powerful.
So he developed online forums that potential users could join to talk about what they wanted from a new browser. The company engaged this community and frequently asked them for feedback as they developed the new browser, which gave the community a sense of empowerment and connection.
In episode 12, Luis Congdon talked about how his private Facebook Group has helped him grow his podcasting audience and sell a lot of his product, a podcasting launch course called The Podcaster’s Secret Weapon.
I am a member of Luis’ Facebook group and I must say that he does a great job engaging and providing lots of value to his audience without being overt about selling his products. And even when he does push his products, he does it in such a way that helps his constituents.
As you can see, communities are critical to the growth of businesses.
Regardless of whether you’re just at the idea stage, in the process of building your product, or have sold millions in revenue, being part of or building a community can help you engage potential or current customers and partners and set yourself up for success.
What are some ways you’ve leveraged communities to move your business forward? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
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Thanks for reading!