As a new entrepreneur, it is natural to think about growth, your next steps and scaling your business. The opportunity to leverage community as a catalyst for growth is often overlooked.
I have been fortunate enough to experience accelerated growth with a community-first approach. As the Founder and CEO of Luminary, an inclusive collaboration hub that advances women through community, we opened our doors nearly a year ago and already have several hundred individual members and dozens of corporate members.
Since then, we’ve delivered over 175 programmes, workshops and events, expanded our physical space and even launched a podcast – all by involving our community, taking feedback and understanding their needs.
Not only do we listen to our community, but we also integrate them into our business. Right now, over 50 per cent of our membership occurs organically through word of mouth from our members.
In fact, we credit our ability to scale and focus on execution to the involvement of our community. Here are a few ways you can use your community to help your business grow.
Community helps you hire the right team
You may not think your community has a lot to do with your hiring plan, but it does. When I began hiring, I leaned heavily on my network for the subject-matter expertise needed to identify the right candidates. This network assisted in writing job descriptions, interviewing and compensation benchmarking for those roles.
Without this community, I would have struggled to employ the right candidates and, worse, probably hired incorrectly, which would have cost me both time and money.
Your team sets the tone for the community you are building and the business as you scale. Each member of my team meets with, integrates and immerses themselves with our members.
They are equally a part of the community you are building within your business. Their commitment and passion for our community-first approach have helped us grow exponentially.
Hiring the wrong team is terrible for any business because it’s impossible to succeed without the right crew. Community helps you get this aspect right.
Community is the best market research
Your initial customers and early adopters are worth more than any consultant or influencer: They provide a tool for growth more critical than any advertisement. Buy-in from your followers demonstrates success and more opportunities for growth. After all, reputation is vital, and first impressions are everything.
Listening to your customers and your community will help you with crucial business aspects like product development, pricing strategy, acquisition approach and more. The feedback is especially valuable in the early days because you’re still trying to figure out how everything works.
While our staff are continually meeting with our members, we also ask that they participate in regular surveys that provide immediate criticism and suggestions for the business and to better the community we are building. From there, we quickly respond to the feedback and make changes that help us grow and be able to scale better.
For example, a month after we launched our business, we received enquiries about a less expensive membership for young women under the age of 25, to help them as they are starting their professional careers. We also heard from parents about gifting or sponsoring a membership.
In response, we launched our RISE Membership for this 25 and under the audience, and now all our memberships can be gifted or sponsored. While these might seem small, they were decisions we could act on quickly for our existing community and prospective members.
Expand your community digitally
With much of our focus offline in the physical space, we’ve had to learn to leverage technology to continue building our community online. In the case of Luminary, we believe it’s critical for our members to be able to connect in physical spaces and through digital communities.
When we launched, we leveraged an app that helped us get off the ground, but our community and their digital needs multiplied. Within three months, we had outgrown the existing app and had to find an alternative.
Again, we leveraged feedback from the community to help inform our decision on which technology we’d use. We heard they wanted more opportunities to connect directly with other members, provide more information about themselves, additional search terms when looking for a member in a specific sector or with a particular skill.
The data we gathered from our members became our guide to help us evolve our community through smart technology. These tactics enhanced the community experience, led to even more opportunities for our members to connect and has allowed us to grow faster and scale differently.
Your business may not need a community app, but I bet you, your customers would like the opportunity to connect with your business digitally. This connection could be as simple as claiming your Yelp Business Page or creating a Facebook Page for your business but allow customers to connect – the results may surprise you.
Growing through community is a worthwhile challenge
Growing through community is complex. It takes time and significant effort, which is why many businesses fail in building a supportive fan-base. Truth be told, it may not be the right growth strategy for every business. But even if it’s not the right customer-acquisition strategy for you, remember the value your community has in helping you find the right team and in doing market research.
For us, listening to customers and sustainably growing our business is paying off in many ways. Grand audiences don’t appear overnight, and it is OK for scaling to take a while. With our community-first approach, we can grow at a comfortable pace and ensure the focus is on the value of our programming, which is core to our business.
We even rely on our community to scale our content. With over 70 per cent of our programming community-led by our members at the forefront, together, we have a more significant impact. Many successful and highly profitable companies are in no rush to scale. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is never to lose sight of your mission, ensure you put your customer first and always listen to your community. It’s working.