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Why a Thriving Community MUST Be a Part of Your Business Plan

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Okay – so let’s all agree that “community” has become an overused buzzword, much in the same vein as “authenticity”, “guru”, and “ninja”. It seems that if we throw the word “community” around enough, it makes us sound like a) we have one and b) we know what to do with one. From what I’ve seen out there, nothing could be further from the truth for most businesses.

Here’s the thing. For a business to thrive, communities cannot be a nice-to-have, touchy-feely, give-it-to-an-intern kind of thing. For a business to thrive, Community must be built into the business plan from the get go. (Actually I believe that Community must be the CENTER of a business plan, but that is the subject of another post for another day.)

A robust, active community, brings business advantages with it. Advantages that will put you above and beyond the competition. Because I’ve been building and fostering communities in some form or fashion since 1986, I’ve experienced the power of these advantages first hand, again and again and again. Here are a few of my favorites:

1) Research and Development

We know we are supposed to ask our “niche” (another over-used word) what solutions they want before we go and create them. But here’s the thing about that. As Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

But if you have a  group of people who are deeply connected to you and your brand, who are as committed to it as you are, you can do more than just ask them what they want. You can talk with them, empower them to help you tease out the REAL problem. You can give them stuff you’ve thought up to beta test and give you feed back on.

I’ve done this a TON with the Escaping Mediocrity community. I’m actually doing it right now as I work on my book. And every single time I go to them with a “something” and then let them take it where they will, it gets better. More important, I get better.  And most important, the “thing” gets better.

2) Raving Fans Who Will Help You Spread the Word

After your community has spent time and energy (read “invested”) on helping you refine your thing, guess what happens when you take it to market? They want to help you spread the word! They helped create the thing, you’ve given them ownership in the thing, so they want to tell their friends all about it.

I see lots of businesses try to create a community for this sole purpose. A free marketing department, if you will. And I’ve never see that end well. That’s kind of what Klout facilitates, right? They help companies give swag to a community of influencers in hopes that said community of influencers will spread the word. I think it’s safe to say that that model is working marginally at best.

The more successful strategy is to create a reason for people to gather or rally around you and your business. Give them ownership (noticing a theme here?!); empower them; treat them as a vital part of what you are up to. An invested heart is the greatest marketing asset in the world.

3) A Client Base Waiting to Gobble Up Whatever You Offer

In the end, a business needs people who are willing to trade money for their “thing”, right? If they’ve been involved in developing the “thing” from idea to offer, they will line up to buy it when it’s finally ready. Even if they haven’t been that involved (think Apple), a thriving community of loyal fans will count on the fact that you’ve created something awesome just for them, because that’s what you are known for doing.

Again, some business I see out there go about building a community for the sole purpose of selling them something. All I have to say is “Good luck with that.”

With all of these real, tangible, and (gawd) profitable advantages to be gained, why on earth would anyone not focus major resources on building, supporting and empowering a thriving community?

Yeah – I’m stumped. 🙂

What business advantages have you seen a thriving community create?

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