Solopreneur is one of the most inappropriate titles out there. You may run your business without employees, but I have yet to find a successful business that is run without help from other people. There are all sorts of ways that other people contribute to your business. Your partner may be a sounding board to bounce off ideas. Your mom may be watching the kids while you work. Hopefully, you’ve realized there are certain jobs that aren’t right for you and you’ve outsourced them to someone like an accountant, a VA, or an attorney. There’s another group of people that are crucial to your business - your tribe, your network, your community. You can call it whatever you like. I’m going to take a stand and say this group of people are THE MOST IMPORTANT asset to your business.
Why do you need a community?
Your community is there to fill all sorts of needs. This group of people know you, like you, believe in you and they want to see you succeed. They may be potential clients or customers. They may be your colleagues, in the trenches with you and knowing at a personal level what you’re going through day-to-day. They may be your champions, singing your praises for all to hear, bringing you clients and growing your community with their introductions. You may have a started a business by yourself, but you grow a business with these people.
How do you find your community?
First of all, you already have one. Your friends, your family, your old co-workers - these people are the base of your community and within this group you’ll find some to be clients, some colleagues, some champions, or a mix of the three. Next, it’s time to start expanding your community. There’s a lot of ways to do this and no, it’s not only about going to the next big business meetup in town or joining the huge Facebook group.
Before you make a plan to expand your community, you need to think about how YOU connect with people. If you hate big crowds and small talk, then don’t waste your time going to a big networking event. If you crave in-person connection, then don’t waste all your time on Facebook. Your community is most powerful when you make meaningful connections so it’s important for you to find avenues where you are at your best.
Here’s a few starter questions to get you thinking about your connecting style -
- Do you prefer in-person or virtual meetings?
- When you have a virtual meeting, do you prefer a phone call or a video chat?
- Do you like small talk or more deeper conversation?
- Do you get energized or depleted from interactions? Are there certain interactions that leave you more energized or depleted than others?
- How many times do you need to meet a person before you develop a bond?
- Do you like big groups or more intimate settings?
- When attending an event, do you like a lot of structure (set agenda) or more free-flowing networking time?
Based on these answers, you can select the avenues that work best for you.
What avenues are available to build your community?
This question could take it own blog post. There are so many different ways to connect with people in our global, digital world. This is great news for those of us that dread going to a big networking event where we don’t know anyone (yes, I’m one of those people!). Just with everything else in your business, building your network is about getting creative and finding the best way to accomplish this for you. So whether you need in-person or virtual, big or small, one-time or ongoing - there’s definitely an avenue out there for you.
- Local Ongoing Events:
- The big networking event. Yes, this one is the old standard and it may work for you if you’re an extroverted person who thrives on meeting lots of new people all at once.
- The small group meetup. Search through Meetup and find the groups that meet over coffee or lunch. I stumbled across a group that met monthly at a breakfast place. It was interesting to see the difference in interactions between sitting around a table sharing a meal and the standing/mingling/drink-in-hand vibe of most networking events. Personally, I found the strangers around the table became friends much quicker than the strangers standing in a semicircle.
- Social Media:
- The big Facebook group. These groups have a large reach with a target audience and you can grow your community quickly if you’re committed to being active.
- Smaller private groups or Slack channels can provide that intimacy that is hard to capture over social media. Find groups that provide the amount of structure and facilitation that works for you.
- Conferences and workshops.
- The big conference gives you reach, but you have to be more extroverted.
- The workshops are more intimate and may help the introverts to make connection. (I personally love small workshops to really get to know people in an intimate, structured setting.)
- Masterminds and memberships:
- Membership programs are often set up to teach, but the best ones also have a strong community component. Some of the larger ones will force you to be more active and extroverted just like those big conferences and Facebook groups.
- Small group masterminds provide the intimacy and friendship-building qualities of smaller, ongoing events because they are a small, ongoing event. Meeting on a regular schedule through video-chat, these groups allow you to connect, build community, and grow. You can search out for the ones that are a fit for the type of community you’re building and the amount of structure and facilitation you want in each meeting.
I’ve been meeting with a group of women weekly via video chat for over a year. Our numbers range weekly from three to ten participants, and while we’ve never met in person I call each and every one a friend. From this group, I’ve found clients, I’ve found inspiration, I’ve found drive and accountability, and I’ve found confidence by sharing what I know and watching it help someone else achieve their goals. This group was my inspiration to start the MomMinds. Not everyone connects in the same way, but I’ve found that a small group setting, meeting on a regular basis is one of the fastest ways to build real connection for most people.
The MomMinds give mompreneurs a chance to connect with five other women all at similar stages of raising their kids and building their businesses. By meeting on a regular basis with a small group, everyone is able to build those deep connections that are so important.
Whether a small group mastermind is for you, or you know a different avenue works better, my advice is to get out there a build that tribe/network/community. This group will grow your business.