Community-Led Growth: How to Build a Community from Scratch
A framework to help entrepreneurs grow their startups by building an engaged community around their company.
I've spent the past 10 years growing companies and I can say without a doubt that when done right, community building has the best short-, medium-, and long-term ROI out of all the marketing and sales tactics — and I have tried and tested hundreds of them.
Why is community building such a magical asset? Because it can touch on all the business metrics that matter, from churn rate to MRR and to cost-cutting. But more on that later.
For now, I'd like to focus on how you can build a community from scratch. Most entrepreneurs I spoke to have the same two objections when it comes to community-led growth: it's time-consuming and it takes too long.
Let's bust these two myths about community building, shall we?
How to build a community that fuels growth and authority
First off, let's make one thing clear: I'm not simply talking about building a Facebook page/group or a Slack channel where you post regularly, and...that's it because very few people actually engage with your posts. You can do all that on your own with ads.
I'm talking about an actual community, where people know each other, interact with each other (not just with your brand), and where valuable ideas are born. The following is a roadmap after which we can say that the community has reached maturity and the opportunities it offers are endless.
Plus, you don't have to wait for months to reap benefits from it. In my experience, you will start to see results in the first month!
Let's dig in!
Month 1: Ready for take-off!
The first month is centered around choosing the ideal platform for your community — usually a Facebook group, a Slack channel, or a full-blown community platform like Tribe. After the actual launch, we start building value for the members.
The best way to add value and get members is to organize weekly events. Masterminds, Q&A, AMA calls, or webinars — all are great starting points. The key here is finding topics that help your community members attain their goals. It can be anything from insider tips on growth to industry-specific know-how that is only tangentially connected to your solution.
The first two calls are typically led by the CEO or founder of the company that organizes the community. This is a great way to put a face to your brand and to "humanize" it.
You already start getting the benefit of talking to your ideal audience. The hardest step is done, now you build on top of what you already have and it gets easier as we go.
Month 2: Kicking things up a notch
During the first month, you can already start to gather some feedback on the first few events. You'll see how the community reacted to each of them and what was the most in-demand topic.
This is a great basis to build on and create even more engaging events. During the second month, I would work on finding, inviting, and interviewing experts that can turn into your long-term partners. The interviews will offer practical tips and how-to's that your community members can use to grow their business.
This month's events are broken into two sections: expert interview and CEO-led webinar or call. Thus, we can easily combine helpful, hands-on content with a pitch for your solution and with increasing your brand awareness by association with industry experts.
Month 3: Podcast launch
It's time to diversify your channels and reach out to new audiences. The expert call recordings from the previous months can be easily turned into podcasts that you can publish on various platforms.
So you take the recording from each session, cut out the first part with the expert presentation, clean it up, add intro and outro and use it as a podcast.
Starting with this month, keep a weekly posting schedule for the podcasts.
Month 4: Launch a YouTube channel
The expansion continues with the launch of a YouTube channel. Just like in the case of the podcasts, we will go with a weekly publishing schedule.
This is the beauty of content repurposing: a single expert interview can be a live event, a podcast, a YouTube video, and many other types of content (see below). With a minimal time investment, you create multiple types of content to appeal to different audiences with different preferences.
Month 5: Repurpose and republish
The repurposing of the content continues, but with a twist: we will focus on increasing your brand awareness by publishing your content to third-party, high-authority websites through syndication or guest posting.
Thus, you will reach new audiences and increase the size of your online community. Along with publishing on new websites, we'll start to set the scene for your first online (or in-person) summit. This is an example of an online summit that I organized for user.com, a marketing and sales automation software company. A two-day event featuring over 20 industry leaders and more than 2,000 registrants.
Months 6 through 9: Scale everything up and focus on the online summit
By now, a few milestones will have been hit:
- Your community has grown exponentially.
Thanks to the expert interviews, you have a high-authority network of partners and connections.
You have enough value-adding content to move to the next level.
The next level is organizing an online summit. We will use the connections you already have with industry experts (even some of the pre-recorded interviews) to create an information-packed online summit. We can organize a free online summit, where the main focus is on gathering leads for your product and for your partners/speakers, or a paid summit, where you will charge an attendance fee.
Whatever option you choose, the online summit will be an excellent way to pad your bottom line and to further establish you/your brand as an authority in the field.
Month 9 and beyond: the sky is the limit
Your content library is quite vast by now, so it's time to expand your reach even more. From this point on, you can further grow your business and your community through:
- Publishing a book
Creating an online course
Getting interviewed on other podcasts
Leveraging the power of your newsletters
Inviting higher-profile guests on your podcasts or blog
This list could go on forever because the sky truly is the limit now. You have all the resources and the connections to make anything you want to happen. You can also check other ways a community can help grow your company in my upcoming book, Community-Led Growth: How to Bootstrap your SaaS by Building an Engaged Community.
Does a nine-month journey seem too long for all of the above? In my experience, it's the fastest way to get from a brand-new company to an authority in your industry.
But this is about more than becoming an authority. It's about growth on every possible level, from the first week of going live on a call.
Here's how all of the above fits with your growth strategy and how it fuels it:
Online community by-products (outcomes that seem too good to plan for but happen every time!)
You'll see that every metric you worry about as a founder is accounted for below:
- Decrease customer support ticket volume and pay less for customer support agents. With a strong community in place, subscribers will find answers to their questions from their peers and reduce the work of your support department.
Easily build your product documentation/knowledge base. You have access to instant feedback from your community, so your FAQ section practically writes itself. Plus, you can easily test technical documentation types, formats, and verbiage.
Increase your visitor-to-lead and lead-to-paid conversion rates. An engaged online community makes for the best brand ambassadors. The community itself, along with the content you will be publishing, is a perfect mix of authority, helpfulness, and social proof.
Decrease churn rate. The sense of belonging to a helpful, value-adding, and strong community is a powerful deterrent from leaving to join the competition (even if they have lower prices!).
Easily identify product/market fit. You will have access to instant feedback on any new idea you have to grow your company, add new features, or launch a new product. The online community is your buyer persona aka the ideal client avatar. And it's right at your fingertips!
Easily identify your most profitable industry. You have access to plenty of them, so all you have to do is compare the numbers to see which industry you should focus your sales efforts on.
Build long-lasting partnerships with industry experts. Who doesn't like to be featured as an expert speaker? Just by inviting people to your webinars or online summits, you will have made friends for life.
Kick off the content generation machine. Content production is expensive! My system will show you how you can repurpose a single video into a dozen other pieces of content, each with its own ROI.
Create an evergreen lead generation machine. The live webinars can be turned into podcasts, recorded videos, or blog posts that will keep on bringing in leads for years to come.
Ongoing access to subscriber feedback. The success of a startup isn't determined by a killer launch, but by how you manage to stay in the good graces of your subscriber base. With the online community, you will have 24/7 access to honest feedback from the most important stakeholders. This way, you'll always know if you're heading in the right direction or if it's time to step back and rethink your strategy.
Identify bottlenecks. What hurts your growth the most? Find out easily and painlessly.
Launch new products with product/market fit certainty. Got an idea for a new startup or product? Your community can provide feedback from day one, so you'll know if and when you should be launching. This way, you'll avoid launching products no one needs.
Grow and scale your company the right way. Want to add a new product or feature? See if there's anyone who needs it first. Your online community can give you the feedback you need before you invest tens of thousands into development.
Boost your revenue. There is no easier way to upsell or cross-sell than to use an engaged community.
If you want sustainable growth, consider building an online community.
An online community does require time and effort, but yields results with no extra marketing budget.
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