What are the effective ways to market a Consulting business?

Build An Online Community around your Consulting business

HOW TO BUILD AN ONLINE COMMUNITY

Here are five simple steps — consider it your foundation — you can take to build an online community from scratch.

Step One: Start small

Like most things, a community isn’t going to be huge on day one. The most successful communities often start as small email lists, friendly dinners, forum threads, etc.

They later grow into something significant as you learn more about its value, and as its members become autonomous ambassadors.

Starting small takes patience and doing things that don’t scale, but the effort pays off in the long-term.

Ryan Hoover started Product Hunt as a small email list for friends to share cool products they’ve found. After much market validation (positive feedback and word spreading), Ryan saw the opportunity for a real site and community.

In March of 2015, Product Hunt saw its 1,000,000th upvote and that email list of friends now has more than 43,000 subscribers.

To get there, they talked to their community members (Ryan was kind enough to get on the phone with me when my product blew up overnight), hosted brunches, made incremental changes, and kept their members in the loop the entire time.

By starting small, testing, and iterating, you’ll find ways to scale your community you would never see on day one. To illustrate, here’s my own experience.

I started a music discovery service called A Song A Day by total accident in 2014. I had an idea, built a landing page, bought a domain, went to bed, woke up, tweeted it, and it went viral.

I originally intended on sending a song to a group of friends every morning. After trending on Product Hunt for an entire day, I had hundreds of people expecting personalized song picks the next morning. Oops.

Although I tried to go at it myself for a week, that clearly wasn’t scalable.

Fortunately, there were plenty of people who loved sharing music and wanted to help. I started with a small ‘pilot’ group of curators to help me find and send songs. I chose about ten people: some close friends, internet friends, and a couple of wild card strangers just to see what happened.

With this, I was able to test different processes while we figured out what worked best. I communicated with them via a private Facebook Group and sent periodic surveys. Once we had a solid process and even more subscribers, I began bringing on more curators who matched our listeners’ needs.

Today, we’re a community of 45 curators sending songs to 3,500 listeners. More than 500 people have shown interest in becoming a curator! We’re a tight knit group always sharing music, insights into our processes, show announcements, industry news and more.

Many of our curators have become close friends and meet up regularly for get-togethers and shows. Some of them are even making music together! They’re what keeps me going whenever I’m overwhelmed. I hope to continue to scale this community as we continue to scale our process.

Here’s the resulting blog post of this conversation.

Action: Choose a handful of people to share your idea with. Get an email list going or create a Facebook group or Slack channel. Kick it off with a few conversation starters and see where it goes.

ONE MORE THING
Download: 9 Unexpectedly Brilliant Books About Building Online Communities

Step Two: Add a layer of exclusivity

Exclusivity goes hand in hand with starting small. Some communities keep membership low to keep quality high. Others find a way to grow and maintain that quality.

Going back to the Product Hunt example — when they first launched the site, they kept ‘hunter’ rights limited because it would’ve been too much to manage if they opened it up to everyone.

This made those with hunting rights feel special and it made more people want in. They eventually added referrals via invites so early members could invite their friends to join. This spread the word of PH and made the hunters feel special … again.

Quibb, a community for sharing quality content, has followed a similar path. Only members who have been invited or approved are granted posting rights.

This has helped the platform avoid becoming the problem it seeks to solve. Quibb started as a way to find quality content that was getting lost in the noise of Twitter. Exclusivity keeps quality and engagement high. Quibb is one of my first go-to sources when I’m curating content for clients for this exact reason.

We all want to be the first to try something. We all want to be the first to talk about something new. Call us vain, but it’s fun introducing people to new things — to be an early adopter.

Action: Invite a small, exclusive group to join your community while you gain a better idea of what value your first community members see in it. Tell them that they’re the firsts and that you’re keeping it exclusive — communicate what’s in it for them, and who else is involved!

Step Three: Instill an ethos of helpfulness

Your community members are there more for each other than they are for you. They’re looking for a resource — a safe place where they can connect over passions and interests.

By creating an ethos of helpfulness, you’re creating an open environment. A place where your customers or community members can learn and share. And once they’ve learned from others, they’ll be likely to return the favor.

Geckoboard recently created a community around helpfulness for developers who use their product. Geckoboard has several (over 60) integrations for creating KPI dashboards. For tools they don’t have an integration for, they found that customers were creating custom widgets.

They were impressed with what customers were building and assumed that if one customer found a custom widget useful, so would others. So they gave them a place to share and discuss the hacks, tricks, and custom widgets they’re developing.

Less than a month old, the community is already pretty active — impressive for a product-specific community

As a result, the community gives Geckoboard a clearer view into how their customers are using their product. They can now build stronger features more tailored to their power users’ needs. Plus, customers get to nerd out over data, engineering, sales, and marketing-related topics.

A less product-focused example is the community built around Vinyl Me, Please — a monthly vinyl club. As a consumer brand, VMP went a step further than encouraging social engagement (although, they’re good at that too).

They created a vinyl resource: an active forum where members ask and answer questions about vinyl, music discovery, hardware, and more.

Action: Add value for your customers by creating a hub for relevant information and research.

Step Four: Make connections and let go

Erik Martin, former GM of Reddit once said in an interview:

“You’re not as smart as your users collectively. Just listen more and trust that the people who are passionate about the subject matter are going to do interesting and unexpected and amazing things with control you give them.”

As the community builder and facilitator, it’s your job to connect your members — get the conversation going, then step away. You can always chime in to answer questions, clear up misunderstandings or share announcements. The point is to allow your customers or members build connections with one another.

It’s more difficult with forums, but with Facebook groups and Slack channels, your community can break off into smaller groups to discuss sub-topics and areas of interest. Or they can direct message each other to build deeper one-to-one relationships. If you’re worried about losing control, don’t be. Your community will be grateful for the relationships you opened up for them, and therefore remain loyal.

A great example is the #Nomads Slack community created by Nomad List where more than 10,000 digital nomads get together to discuss travel, work, new opportunities, and more.

As the facilitator, Nomad List has the opportunity to be their number one resource and in turn, learn about trends and interests among their community.

Youjin Do, director of One Way Ticket — a documentary on digital nomads — found her crew and most the people she interviewed on #Nomads.

Action: Bring a few customers together in a hangout and see what happens.

Step five: Spread the word about your community

Once you have a solid foundation — let’s say five to ten people engaging regularly and clearly getting value from your community — it’s time to enter stage two.

You’ve learned more about the value your community adds to its members’ lives. You have an idea around what sparks engagement and what doesn’t. You’ve developed and distributed guidelines based on past behaviors and lessons learned.

Now it’s time to add some members and work your way to scaling. There are several ways to do this, and the most effective will depend on the type of community you run. There are, however, several best practices that have proven effective for many.

A referral program: As mentioned, the Product Hunt and Quibb communities allowed early members to invite people to join. Ello did the same thing. The assumption is that if your early community members contribute to the community in a meaningful way, so will their friends. They’re only going to invite the best of the best.

Referrals are a way for members to share this cool thing they’re a part of while spreading word of your brand. The most effective referral programs reward referrers. Rewards might include swag, early access to exclusive features, event tickets, product discounts, partner discounts or freebies, etc.

Some referral programs use points systems. If your collective community has an ounce of gamer in them, they’ll get excited about a leaderboard. They might even get a healthy competition going, adding another layer of engagement.

Tiered-invites: You likely have Tier-A customers (hyper engaged, super loyal) and Tier-B customers (moderately engaged, loyal). When starting small, invite Tier-A first. Then, once you have processes and guidelines in place, invite Tier-B. And so on. This is slow and smart growth at its best. SaaS programs like Intercom (CMS) or NomNom (feedback insights) are helpful in identifying your most engaged customers.

Your newsletter: Don’t have one? Shame on you. (Just kidding — but seriously, here’s why you should have one and here’s how to build your list). Once you know you can manage a larger community, spread the word to your existing customers via your newsletter. Let them know the goal of the community and the value they’ll find.

Your social channels: Hopefully your social audience is relevant to your offering and pretty engaged. Once your community is running smoothly and you have a tight process in place, unleash the hounds! I mean, announce it to the world. Share highlights, wins, and insights from the community. Give your broader audience a taste of what they’re missing and why they joined. The Geckoboard community saw a big spark in interest simply by announcing their dev community on their blog and social.

Invite influencers: If your community is open to the public outside of just customers, it could be effective to get an influencer involved. Better yet, maybe one of your customers is an influencer. Find someone who’s relevant to your community and will truly add and gain value from being involved. When you reach out, make sure you communicate that value to them — what they’ll get out of it.

Here’s an example of an influencer outreach email I’ve sent on behalf of a client inviting them to join a community (given, I knew the person, which helps).

Very casual and mentions a different topic we’d been discussing, but ultimately, effective.

(very) Targeted outreach: If you’re trying to grow a massive community open to people outside of your customer base, outreach is an effective tactic. Identify relevant newsletters, publications, and blogs to share your community with (this Copyblogger article will be helpful).

Craft a short and compelling message communicating why their audience will want to get involved (a common theme here). There’s several tools available for identifying relevant outlets such as BuzzSumo (for finding the most shared posts about a given topic) and ContentMarketer.io (for finding email addresses).

Your personal network: Maybe you’re not building a community for an existing brand. Maybe you’re building a community that could turn into a brand.

That’s kind of what happened to me with A Song A Day. I had thrown a curator signup form on the site, which saw a ton of submissions when it went viral. But that’s not where I started. I started with friends and friends of friends and people who reached out proactively via Twitter or email.

Anyone who’s begging you to volunteer their help is at least worth listening to. Start with a call to your own network, then go from there.

ONE MORE THING
Download: 9 Unexpectedly Brilliant Books About Building Online Communities