Building An Online Community
You’ve probably heard the expression, “the money is in the list.” This is common marketing knowledge. It’s a smart idea to build your email list community, but you have to build it the right way, or you may struggle to grow your brand.
Amanda runs an online business designing WordPress themes. She has an email list community of over nine thousand people, and she emails them regularly. But she complains that she gets no feedback from her list, and they rarely message her looking for tips on creating and managing WordPress websites. She’s making some money but not enough to launch the business full-time. She’s frustrated and stressed because she’s having difficulty building an online community.
Monica also runs an online business designing WordPress themes. She has an email list community of just over a thousand subscribers. Like Amanda, she emails her list regularly. She gets plenty of feedback from her list, and she’s always answering emails and messages about WordPress. She’s making money, and next year she’ll be able to turn her side hustle into a full-time business.
You may be wondering what the difference is between Amanda and Monica. Why is one solopreneur seeing so much success that she can afford to quit her job while Amanda struggles with her profits?
We have printable worksheets available to help you when you're building an online community. It includes guided questions that will trigger thoughts and ideas to help you create a well thought out plan. Click >>here<< for the worksheets.
Community Building vs. List Building: The Down Side of Focusing on Numbers
The answer is simple Monica built her email list community differently from Amanda. Instead of focusing only on numbers, Monica looked for subscribers that matched her ideal client profile.
She carefully monitored the health of her email list community and removed subscribers that weren’t engaging with her content. She has a much smaller list than Amanda, but that list is far more engaged than Amanda’s.
If you only measure the size of your email list community and you’re not taking the engagement of your reach into account, then you’re making a big mistake. Low engagement can be a sign that you’re not connecting with your community.
It’s important to pause and ask yourself if you’re really clear on the flock that God has called you to serve. God may have called you to serve single moms, but if you’re building a list that mainly has married mothers, you aren’t likely to see the results you want. That’s because your flock is not aligned with your message.
Are Your Subscribers Buying Your Products?
After looking at your engagement level, you want to start looking at what types of content your email list community is taking action on. Of the subscribers who are opening your email messages and reading them, how many are taking action? How often do they go on to purchase your product or a product you promoted? Are they hiring you if you offer a coaching or content creation service?
If you have a new list or a small list, you may not see a lot of activity at first. But as your email list community grows into the hundreds, you should start seeing some of your subscribers taking action. If you don’t, it might be a sign that you’re promoting the wrong products or that your community isn’t connecting with your messages.
In these cases, it can be helpful to see what other entrepreneurs who serve the same flock are doing. If you serve artists and creatives, follow other Christian coaches or bloggers that help the same audience. Pay attention to what they’re promoting and sharing and how they’re building an online community.
Are You Asking for Engagement?
Some solopreneurs send out plenty of emails but never include a call to action. A call to action is the point in your content where you ask your reader to do something. For example, if you run a blog on adult coloring, email your list with a review of your favorite coloring pencils and ask them to try out the pencils, too.
Remember that if you want engagement, you have to ask for it. It doesn’t always have to be in the form of asking subscribers to buy something. You might ask them to fill out a survey that will help you create your next product, or you could ask them to leave a comment on your latest blog post.
If your flock does take the time to respond to you, whether by filling out your form or replying to your email, always take a moment to follow up. Let them know how much you value their input.
When it comes to building your email list community, make sure you’re filling it with subscribers that are genuinely interested in your content. This helps you grow a thriving community that loves your brand and engages with it regularly.
Flock Building Myths That Can Hurt Your Members
You want to build a flock around your message. You know you have a lot of experience to offer potential members, and you love the idea of helping others grow. But before you get started, you need to learn about the three myths that can derail your community if you’re not careful.
Myth #1: Building an online community is the same thing as building an online audience.
An online audience is usually passive other than offering applause or, in some cases, booing a performer. An audience won’t enthusiastically share your latest blog post or make video reviews about your products. They may like your services or products, but they’re not likely to tell anyone about them.
However, an online community will gush about you and your brand to anyone that will listen. That’s what happened to Coca-Cola. Two fans created a Facebook page for the brand that eventually became a thriving community.
Coca-Cola could have legally demanded the rights to the page. But instead, they embraced the community that was already there and treated the page owners to a special tour of the Coca-Cola museum. The result? Even more positive buzz about their brand.
It’s the same situation with your flock. Whether you’re an artist, writer, or ministry leader, there will be a core group of super fans. These people will help spread your message far and wide if you only embrace them.
Myth #2: Building an online community is organic.
While your flock may grow organically at some point, it usually doesn’t start out that way. Most solopreneurs and small business owners spend a lot of time and attention investing in building an online community. They start by hand-picking fans and inviting them inside. They also work hard to ensure their community is a safe place.
In the beginning, your community will likely be small and made up of people that know each other. This means your time investment in your community may be tiny at first. You may only spend a couple of hours interacting with your flock each week.
But as time goes on and more people join your community, you’ll find the time you need to invest grows, too. That’s why it can be helpful to have an informal code of conduct and a few moderators or senior members that can handle smaller issues, like forgetting a password or creating a signature. This frees you to focus on the conversations where your input is needed or requested.
It's not unlike what Moses did. In the beginning, he handled every disagreement and dispute for the Israelites. But this was taxing work, and his father-in-law, Jethro, advised him to appoint a team of people he could trust (Exodus 18:17-23) to handle the smaller matters. This allowed Moses to focus on the tasks that only he could do.
Myth #3: Building an online community will bring in big money right now.
It’s possible to make money from building an active, thriving online community. But if your goal is just to make a lot of money and you don’t care about your flock, you’re not likely to experience success.
Your members want to know that you care about and value them before they want to buy from you. This doesn’t mean you can’t make recommendations or even design products for your community. It does mean that you should never create or promote a product just to earn some quick cash. You’re likely to lose the support and trust of your flock if you do that.
Building an online community around your brand or product isn’t always easy, and it can take weeks or even months to grow your community into an active, thriving group. But keep promoting your small flock as often as you can, and you’ll start seeing results.
How to Start Building Your Online Community Today
There are people out there right now that need your skills, advice, and leadership. They want to learn from you, and they’d be happy to join your community…if only it existed. Don’t let your fears keep you from starting your flock. Here’s what to do right now…
Decide on the goal of your community.
The first thing you want to do when building an online community is decide what the goal will be. It’s a good idea to look at the end result your ideal client wants.
For example, if your ideal client wants to run a marathon, that could be your community’s goal. Other communities could focus on losing weight by following the principles of clean eating or raising Godly children.
Consider the culture.
Every community has its own culture shaped by the creator and members. When you’re thinking about culture, you might want to consider your personal values.
For example, if you’re building an online community around clean eating, you may stress the importance of healthy foods over calorie counting. That means that one of the community's values would be eating nutritious foods instead of focusing energy on calorie counting like other groups do.
Your faith will most likely impact your culture too. Suppose your flock is filled with entrepreneurs trying to start online businesses. In that case, one of the cornerstones of your culture might be making sound financial decisions or being ethical when creating products.
Walk alongside your members.
Some solopreneurs and small business owners think that in order to build a community, they have to be experts first.
But you don’t have to wait until you’ve lost 100 pounds to start a weight loss community. Start building an online community and share that your goal is to lose 100 pounds. Then invite others to follow along and share their weight loss journey with your community.
It can be more helpful if you walk alongside your members and let them see your journey. Don’t be afraid to share where you are right now in this moment. Your members won’t be upset. They’ll be delighted to find someone else that understands their struggles.
Find a co-host.
If you’re nervous about building an online community, look for a co-host. This is someone that runs a business or brand that complements your skills. For example, if you’re a nutritionist, team up with a fitness trainer who shares similar values and beliefs.
This setup benefits you by cutting your responsibilities in half, and it helps your flock by allowing them to receive support from two hosts instead of one.
Keep in mind that you’ll want to build your community with a co-host that you already know and like. You should also plan for what happens if one of you becomes too busy to participate or if one of you wants out of the community.
When building an online community, don’t get hung up on which platforms to use or which software you should buy. Your community doesn’t care about that. They just need your time and your support.
Be Vigilant: Problems to Watch for When Growing Your Flock
Many solopreneurs and small business owners have started excitedly building an online community. They work on it for a few weeks, or several months then they find it falls apart. They’re left wondering what they did wrong and why their community flopped.
It wasn’t because the solopreneur didn’t genuinely care about their community. It’s because they ignored small problems that eventually developed into big problems. You can keep your community healthy and strong by being vigilant and watching for these problems:
Problem #1: Negativity has taken over.
A flower cannot grow without the sun, and a community can’t thrive when the spirit behind it turns into negativity. Once members focus solely on negative people and events, bickering takes root. Then arguments begin breaking out, and pretty soon, your thriving community begins to wither and die.
Paul had excellent advice for communities in Ephesians 4...
31“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Not everything can be sunshine and roses all the time. But positivity is essential for building an online community—combat negativity by starting positive discussions. Encourage your members to look for the good in each situation. Challenge each other to random acts of kindness. Have a thread specifically for sharing positive personal news.
Problem #2: Members start moving on.
People go through seasons in their life, and sometimes, they outgrow a community. It might be that your community served its purpose. For example, if you run a weight loss group, you might have members leave that have successfully lost their excess weight. It might be that your community helps marriages heal after infidelity, and once the marriage is healed, members leave.
There are two ways to handle this problem. First, you should be promoting your community regularly. Talk about it on your podcast. Link to it on your blog. Share about it on social media. This kind of continuous promotion attracts new members, which keeps your group from becoming inactive.
Second, you should regularly reach out to older members. Follow up with them and see how they’re doing. Then ask them to participate in a particular thread or invite them to share what they’ve learned with the rest of the community. Make it clear that older members are welcome to stay and stress how much value they can add.
Problem #3: You’ve outgrown your community.
Just like members can outgrow a community, so can the creator. This doesn’t have to mean the end of your flock. It might just be that it’s time to rebrand your community. For example, if you build an online community of single moms because you were a single mom but recently remarried, you may find yourself re-focusing your community. You might choose to focus on families of all shapes and sizes instead of just single moms.
Your members will likely follow you during a re-brand if you've built a strong community. Just be open and honest about this change with your existing community and let them know what the new community will be like.
If you don’t feel a re-brand is suitable for your community, you can also entrust it to someone else. It might be that you know a mentor or coach that already loves the community and would be perfect to lead it. You may also find that one or several members are willing to step up and keep the community running.
Most community problems can be fixed if you recognize them in time. If you see a community problem and don’t know how to resolve it, reach out to a trusted mentor or coach for advice on keeping your community healthy.
Embrace a Thriving Community
Numbers don’t always tell the whole story when building an online community. You may be tempted to judge the success of your community based on numbers like how many members you have or how many posts are made each week. The true measure of your impact is the lives and hearts being changed for the Kingdom!
Grace and peace,
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