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How to Build a Community From Scratch

Mar 05, 2024

 

I want to show you how to launch a community, step by step, in real time.

In past issues, I've talked about key decisions before a launch, what to prioritize as you scale, and why some efforts get zero engagement.

But every decision is contextual, and as we know, there is no one-size-fits-all community plan. So in today's email, we're going to take a hypothetical community niche, and I'm going to show you what I would do to get it off the ground, step by step. I am going to show my work as I make decisions about platforms, criteria, messaging, and more.

 

This launch is based on a real client, but the niche has been changed to protect their wicked good strategy.

 

Use this issue as a blueprint.


 

First, it’s important to call out the importance of building an audience. I’m a mentor for Techstars, and 90% of the time, I tell founders not to focus on building a community. At the stage they’re in, scrappiness, allocation of time, and cash flow are paramount. They need to get customers and ship product.

However, audience building is the first step to community building. It's where you build the trust and rapport that allows you to easily convert customers and fans into community members. So if you cannot focus on community today, focus on building an audience.

In this email, I am assuming that an audience has been built, and we have a meaningfully engaged email list as our core asset.

I have been tasked with helping a client launch a community for hobbyist jewelry makers who want to start generating revenue and turn a fun pastime into a business. We're going to call it the Handcrafted Collective.

I am going to follow a roadmap that includes nine key decisions and a few strategic pit stops, starting here:

 

1. Who will manage it?

The first thing I am going to do is think through the type of person who is best suited to manage this community and then develop a JD. This may be a full or part-time role depending on the resources available.

I am looking for someone with a track record of consistency, interpersonal communication, and demonstrable emotional intelligence. It's also important to hire someone who genuinely enjoys being in the weeds. Personally, I am not a good community manager because of my natural inclination towards future thinking and larger, more abstract ideas. This makes it hard for me to stay engaged on a daily basis. I look for people who are energized by connecting with members daily.

The interview process will have three parts, carried out over the next 4-6 weeks:

  • An application: This is where I ask them to submit a short introduction video. Here I am looking for the way they present themselves on camera and what info they choose to share. The community manager will be hosting virtual events, so a warm, articulate presence is necessary.
  • A community manager exercise: This portion is a simple Typeform I've created that poses hypothetical community posts and scenarios and asks them to respond as they would in the role. I want to know how they handle conflict, what they see as a valuable post, and how they think about community priorities.
  • An interview: Finally, we get together for a 30-minute on-camera interview to finish the process. (I am pretty bullish on short interviews).

 

2. Why should this exist?

Next, I want to be able to articulate why this community is a worthwhile investment of potential member’s time. I start by studying communities and forums where they are hanging out and documenting common topics and pain points that aren’t being addressed by current options. I also take note of posts that cause tension or get little-to-no engagement.

We are launching this community because we do not see any current options for taking jewelry makers from amateur to professional (the change we're promising) and often see the same mistakes repeated again and again. This tells us that a community + education hybrid is a needed solution.

 

3. Who belongs here?

This community is for people who are currently making products for friends and family, maybe even participating in the occasional craft fair but do not have the business chops to go further.

Given the type of change we’re promising, I don’t care about their demographics. However, they will be asked to submit a few photos of pieces they’ve made, because I don’t want folks in the community who are brand new to jewelry making. It would require a different approach to education and would likely slow down the type of people we wish to serve.

So far, this gives us three pieces of criteria:

  • Jewelry Makers
  • Who are experienced
  • And wish to go pro

 

 

4. What outcome does it drive for the business?

In this scenario, there are two primary reasons for launching this community in terms of business outcomes:

  1. My client is developing an online academy for scaling a jewelry-making business. This community will serve as a mid-funnel strategy and allow them to test and sell ideas.
  2. The company is also looking to develop a simple SaaS tool that helps source and track inventory, handle customer orders, and keep tabs on upcoming craft fairs and conventions.

 

5. What outcome does it drive for them?

The goal here is to clearly articulate how a member will be changed:

My thesis is that given a year in this community, they will be able to build better quality items, charge well for their time, and create a new revenue stream.

 

STRATEGIC PIT STOP

At this point in the plan, now that I've articulated the change and the value for members, it's time to implement a few strategies:

  1. Start building the landing page: This should be a simple page consisting of four key pieces:
    1. Above the fold: Who it's for and what it is, along with a call to action. (See examples here and here).
    2. The benefits
    3. The features
    4. FAQ
    5. Bonus: Testimonials or some other way to demonstrate our credibility
  2. Send a survey: My favorite way to warm up an audience for a community launch is by sending a one-question survey. In this case, I am going to send an email that lets them know we're working on a new community idea, and that I'd love to get just a minute of their time and expertise to answer one question: "What is the most frustrating thing about turning your jewelry making into a real business?"

The question I ask will change depending on the community context, but I am looking to accomplish three things here:

  1. Get some good intel on what they are really struggling with.
  2. Get on their radar; I've now soft-launched the idea in their head.
  3. Give them a sense of ownership over what's being created.

Back to the key decisions…

 

6. How might we get there?

It’s time to loosely shape the long-term programming. I tend to approach this by asking myself where I want them to be at the one-year mark. One year is long enough to create some meaningful change, but no so far out that a hypothesis becomes unrealistic or rigid.

If they are going to build better products at better margins, what are all the things they need to know?

A quick brainstorm:

  1. How to vet for quality materials
  2. How to create a portfolio and/or landing page
  3. What market rates look like for standard pieces
  4. How to price custom pieces
  5. How to evaluate when a booth rental is a worthwhile investment
  6. How to set up a booth to draw customers’ attention
  7. Packing and shipping options
  8. Staying on top of consumer trends
  9. Social media strategy
  10. Dealing with guarantees and returns
  11. Taxes and legalities
  12. How to manage inventory

Each of these pillars could loosely serve as a monthly theme, giving me 12 months of programming ideas. I am rarely prescriptive about this and don’t recommend being obvious about it. For example, you won’t see me saying “Happy March, guys, it’s taxes and legalities month!” Rather, these themes give my community manager a sort of template to use to ensure that we are moving people in the right direction at all times.

These subjects might be the foundation for what we post or what experts we bring in. Although I recommend keeping programming light in the beginning and focusing on conversations, collaborative courses, AMAs with experienced professionals, and mixers are always on the docket in that first year.

 

7. Where will I host it?

Here’s what I know so far:

  1. We’ll need a way to integrate a course or educational component.
  2. I don’t want a chat-forward community, so Slack and Discord are out. (Note: Platforms are generally feed-forward or chat-forward. In general, chat leads to lower engagement and lower quality conversations, so I stay away from those unless I know the bulk of my members are already hanging out there).
  3. There will likely be a visual component, as people will want to share pictures of their jewelry.
  4. I want to own all data and have access to rich analytics (so Facebook is out).

Given the above criteria, I am going to narrow down platform options to Skool, Circle, and Mighty Networks.

After creating a test account in each and poking around, Skool is out. While I like their simple setup, it’s not visually customizable enough for this particular community.

This narrows the list further to Mighty Networks and Circle. Both will accomplish the task, but I’ve found it easier to set up and launch on Circle, so that’s where I’m hosting.

 

8. What intel will I collect?

I’ve already got my survey out (I recommend doing this at least 60 days before the community launch), so about 2-3 weeks out, I am going to start sending an email marketing sequence driving people to the landing page to fill out the application. I want to know:

  • Their name
  • Email
  • Location
  • A few photos of their work
  • What sort of business they’re looking to build (side hustle? FT career?)
  • What they feel their strongest skillset is (in relation to the goal)
  • What they feel their weakest skillset is (in relation to the goal)
  • And what sort of medium they most work with (mixed metal, wire wrapping, etc.)

These questions will allow me to own basic contact data and collect some insights into whom I’m serving, where I might be able to tag them in to help others, and where I can best set them up for success.

I am also going to use the Typeform to reiterate launch day and ask them to mark their calendars for a welcome call. All applications should be acknowledged via email.

Every launch is different in terms of how to handle founding members, and for this launch, we’re limiting it to 300 people. This information will also be included on the application and landing page to introduce a sense of urgency. The application will close a few days before the launch event.

I will set up a zap that sends the Typeform application to Google Sheets so that all stakeholders can track applications. We’ll work together to select the first 300 based on application responses.

Those 300 will get an invite to join the platform a few days before the live event. The rest will receive a warm email that they are on the waiting list for future cohorts.

 

9. How will I welcome them?

The final piece is to build a thoughtful welcome sequence.

First, what containers are available? In this case, we can utilize:

  • Email
  • Circle Post
  • DMs
  • Video call

I am going to opt for a simple approach:

  • Welcome them via email with a simple CTA to join the community (there should be very little info in this first email. This is not the time to bombard them with links and CTAs).
  • Once in the community, they get a DM from the community manager welcoming them to the group.
  • They will also have an onboarding experience in Circle that simply shows them where to find key pieces and reinforces the path to value. There will be no prompt to directly introduce themselves, but there will be a dedicated post in case they wish to do so.
  • Finally, the community manager will invite them to a 1:1 call, if they desire. It’s important to go light on this stuff. Some people love getting on a call and some (like me) would rather visit the dentist.

At this point, all welcoming sequences and automations are set up. We’re ready to roll.

 

Launch Day

Every new community deserves to be celebrated via a live welcome call.

 

I usually keep a very simple agenda:

[2 min] Quick Welcome (I also ask easy questions that people can respond to in chat)

[3 min] Community Purpose—a quick note on why we’re doing this

[5 min] About the members—start by talking about them

  • Why are they important? How do they know they are in the right place?
  • What they can expect from their time in the community

[10 min] The Background

  • Why is this important to you (the business)?
  • Why are we so excited to be launching this?
  • Any personal experiences or stories that relate (it’s important to set the tone here. You can’t expect them to share if you don’t.)

[5 min] Our Community Culture

  • What to expect from our community in terms of behavior
  • What to expect in terms of programming

[20 min] Member Sharing

  • If under 11 people, do it as one group. If more than 11, use breakout rooms of at least three people.
  • Don’t ask members to introduce themselves. It will take too long. Instead, have a few prompts ready.

[10 min] Closing & ONE ASK

  • If you did breakout rooms, bring your members back. Have groups share the highlights of their conversations.
  • Close out by thanking them and asking them to do one thing. I like to create a discussion post specific to the event and ask them to respond to it. If you did breakout groups, asking them about the most useful or interesting thing they heard is a great way to get them to call each other out.

I use this template very loosely, because many times, serendipity will lead to all kinds of lovely conversations. The only real goal here is to reiterate the value of the community and build rapport among members.

Now that the key decisions have been made and we’re launched, all of the focus shifts to the daily activity in the community. Engagement is built in the day-to-day interactions, not in any grand initiatives.

 

A final callout on timing:

A common question people have is about how long it takes to launch a community. The answer, of course, is it depends.

Technically, the plan above can be executed in 60 days, because the only hard timelines are:

  • Sending a survey ~60 days ahead of time
  • Driving traffic to the community landing page ~3 weeks ahead of time

Some people can make these key decisions quickly because they already have a community manager or defined value prop. Perhaps they are obligated to use a certain platform or have assigned business goals. Some are slowed down because they have to make decisions by committee or get permission from stakeholders.

A nimble, well-informed team can launch in two months, and all of these key decisions can be made within a week. But team size, resources, and competing priorities will change this answer. There are no hard and fast rules.

Here at Wondry, we specialize in working with subscription-based companies, radically reducing churn and increasing LTV by converting their customers into a thriving, engaged community.

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