No one could have predicted what the past few years had in store. Still, entrepreneurs persevered. Entire businesses went remote overnight and teams rushed to adapt products and services to changing times.
Behind this inspiring resilience and resourcefulness is the power of community—communities of brand advocates, trusted friends and family, and entrepreneur networks. In a time when small-business owners have been more isolated than before, building community is especially important.
Ahead, explore ways you can build a community around yourself, your brand, or your cause. Learn why community matters all the time, not just when things are rough. And, hear from community leaders and experts on everything from generating social capital to building trust and value for a brand community.
Why does community building matter?
Community is important, even when we’re not faced with adversity. It combats loneliness, gives you a built-in sounding board for your ideas, and keeps you connected with the people instrumental to your success—customers, industry experts, mentors, and friends alike.
Building community as an entrepreneur
Without outside intervention, busy entrepreneurs may let themselves completely neglect personal needs. And without connection to a community of fans, a brand can lose sight of its mission.
Community can refer to two things for an entrepreneur:
- A group of trusted peers, friends, family, or fellow business owners who provide support, feedback, and ideas to keep your business humming.
- An online community of fans and customers of your brand who are connected by a shared interest.
Both types of community are critical to an entrepreneur’s success. For the first group, having an outlet and external perspective can ensure you don’t lose touch with the outside world. Close friends and family can give you honest feedback without having to be involved in your business. And industry peers offer a pool of knowledge and sharing to give you an expert view.
A community of brand fans gives your business credibility, repeat business, and a built-in focus group to launch new products. Online communities can rally around a brand—and the best ones become true partners in your business.
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9 ways to build community as an entrepreneur
We asked our own community: “How do you build a community around your brand?” We couldn’t have given better answers ourselves. Here are some best practices to help you build community for your brand, with advice from founders, marketers, community managers, content creators, and successful brands.
1. Be accessible and human 🤝
“Make yourself accessible,” says marketing director Heather Nix. When you’re just starting out, you have the advantage over larger brands of having direct access to your community and customers. Put your face at the front of your business and tell a brand story that’s relatable.
As a small business owner, you may be filling many roles, including customer service and social support. Don’t ignore your early brand advocates—they’re foundational in building your community. “Make time to get to know customers who reach out on social to say how much they love your brand,” says community manager Moly Milosovic, “and ask them what they need beyond your product.”
2. Collaborate often 👨🏻🤝👨🏽
This advice comes from the people behind clothing brand Local Laundry who tweeted, “Give your customers the ability to engage in your brand outside of the products they are buying from you. Also, collaborate. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. It’s important.”
Finding compatible or complementary brands to partner up with can be advantageous to you both: you can consolidate your communities and access potential customers that have crossover interests. Collaborate on products, campaigns, or social giveaways.
3. Tap into existing communities 💻
Why reinvent the wheel? Communities that could be a fit for your brand already exist. Find out where they’re hanging out and be an active contributor, says content creator and copywriter Nathan Ojaokomo: “Join an existing community. Add so much value to the community. Consistently create content that answers people’s questions.”
If you’re looking to build a community for yourself—for example a support group of other newbie entrepreneurs—look no further than Facebook groups, the folks behind DIOSA Designs tweeted: “[It’s] the best way to find like-minded people who can also double as a focus group for your product! Win-win!”
4. Put your heads together 🏾🏼
Seek out active entrepreneur groups or a collective of local businesses where you can find mutual support, knowledge sharing, and maybe that next big idea. Additionally, try cold-contacting people in your industry via LinkedIn or Twitter. Either way, community building is better when you do it together. Collabs with other brands can be an effective way to access active online communities that share traits with your own.
5. Be your authentic self ✨
The folks at active lifestyle brand Outdoor Tech offer this wisdom via Twitter: “Be authentic. Engage with everyone. Realize that not everyone will like you.”
If you establish a clear vision, voice, and set of values for your brand, you’ll more easily earn the trust of potential customers. Your community will stick around if they know what to expect. Be consistent and true to yourself when creating content and engaging with your online community. Build a successful community with authenticity and it won’t feel like an effort to maintain it.
6. Pick the right medium 🎮
Where does your ideal customer already hang out? What platforms make the most sense for your product and market? Consider your demographic—do you need to have a presence on TikTok to be relevant to a younger community or is your older customer more likely to be on Facebook?
On Twitter, Morning Brew shared four steps to building communities:
Step 1: Relentlessly focus on creating a great product.
Step 2: Build a massively powerful referral system that turns users into mini-brand hype. machines. Get that flywheel turning.
Step 3: Write pieces telling people exactly how you executed steps 1-2.
Step 4: Be funny on Twitter.
7. Show up in person📍
If you’re comfortable engaging in larger groups, you’ll likely thrive in an entrepreneur meetup with like-minded founders in your industry. Virtual events are also a great way to build community outside your region. Follow some of your favorite conference providers to stay abreast of their events.
For your online-only brands, find ways to connect with fans offline. Host a pop-up or studio tour, sell IRL at a market or event, or sponsor a meet-and-greet at a convention. Be open to meeting people and creating connections everywhere you go, from the local library to the grocery store to industry events.
8. Create community based on a niche interest 🎳
Engage on social and creative platforms like Instagram or TikTok, where you can connect with others with the same interests. Be conversational with your content and invite others to join, comment, and share. If you’re struggling to find your community: create your own.
9. Build a business around community 💡
If building communities is something that comes to you naturally, why not spin it into a business? Is there an idea that taps into the collective need for connection? Can you monetize your skill of bringing people together? Create opportunities around a community and you’ve already solved the hardest part of starting a new business: finding an audience.
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Community building Q&A: Blackstock & Weber
Chris Echevarria caught his entrepreneurial bug early, using his dad’s lawnmower to start a landscaping business. “There was no such thing as ‘allowance’ in my house.”
After college and a decade working in menswear, Chris says entrepreneurship came knocking again. “I knew I’d never get paid what I was actually worth by someone else,” he says. “So I had to go get it on my own.” He’s now the founder of Blackstock & Weber, a fashion brand selling modern loafers with “a grounded appreciation for traditional menswear.”
Chris has a track record of honing in on and moving relentlessly toward his goals. “The unwillingness to let my vision go or to keep pushing until it’s perfect can read as stubborn to some,” he says. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Here, we asked Chris to speak to his own experiences about the community he created around him and his business:
How do you personally use community to help you grow as a person and business owner?
Chris: The only group I’ll co-sign is Lean Luxe. My man Paul Munford has curated a really thoughtful group of people who are at the top of their industries to chat about the latest product or brand or marketing campaign in exceedingly thoughtful ways. Other than that, I don’t really subscribe too heavily to the era of digital networking. Let’s go grab a few beers, or whiskies, and talk shit.
How has “community” changed for you since COVID?
Chris: Me and my people connect regardless. I have a core group of friends I see weekly that have mutually decided to keep our circle tight. When it was warmer, we’d hit the bar for outdoor drinks. I’d say the pandemic has brought us closer together and forced us to be more intentional about the time we spend together.
What’s your advice to other founders to build community?
Chris: Don’t call it a community. Make dope shit. Create content your ideal customer will enjoy, then sit back and watch them bring you more people.
Thriving community, thriving business
Building communities—whether an online community for your brand or a group of supportive peers—is a vital part of your growth as an entrepreneur. Wherever you find meaningful connections, hold tight to them. Building communities requires ongoing effort to tend to relationships that are critical to your mental health and success.
Feature image by Pexels
Building community FAQ
Why is building a community important?
What is the key to building community?
Most communities that are vibrant and sustainable are those that are active. Foster continuous engagement with your target customer and enable them to make meaningful connections within a new community. Consider the community experience and be sure to foster a space that is welcoming, diverse, and offers a benefit to its members.
How do you build a strong community?
To build communities that are strong and thriving, there are a few best practices to get started:
- Be accessible and human—engage directly with your community regularly.
- Collaborate often with your fans and other brands.
- Tap into existing communities rather than starting from scratch.
- Be your authentic self.
- Pick the right medium. (Where can you access community members?)
- Understand the community identity and needs.
What are examples of community building?
Community building can mean many things. It may refer to networking with peers to find mutual benefit and learning. It can also refer to creating a group of loyal and connected fans around a brand, business, interest, or cause. For the latter, here are some examples of ways to build community:
- Start an online community through message boards and engage with members often.
- Host book clubs or other IRL meetups in your space.
- Participate in discussions with community members of groups with a crossover audience.