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Why This Isn’t About You

Lesson 4 from: Build a Community & Grow Your Standout Business

Tara McMullin

Why This Isn’t About You

Lesson 4 from: Build a Community & Grow Your Standout Business

Tara McMullin

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Lesson Info

4. Why This Isn’t About You


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Why the Market is Primed for Your Community


How Community Can Transform Your Business


Why This Isn’t About You


What Community Means for Your Business


Take Advantage of Network Effects with Mighty Networks Founder Gina Bianchini


Interview and Q&A with Gina Bianchini


Craft Your Community Vision


Lesson Info

Why This Isn’t About You

We are talking about building a community and growing your business, right? And we're talking about building a community around your business or on the side of your business or with your business. But there's a difference between creating a community that's based on your product, your service, or your brand, and creating a community that also happens to serve your business or your product or your brand. And I'm gonna try to walk this very fine line with you here, because it's sort of something where when you see it, you get it, but when you are talking about it, it can sound a little strange. So, I've got some examples, I've got some ideas for you, but this I just want to say is so, so, so, so, so, so important, and here's why. Because a business centric point of view is still one of the top reasons businesses get stuck. It doesn't matter how much I talk to you about your ideal client, your ideal customer, your target market, your virtual focus group, however you want to talk about it,...

I still see this as a huge sticking point for small businesses, where they think business first, customer second. Product first, customer second. Brand first, customer second. We all do it, so if you're sitting there thinking, "Oh no not me, I know exactly who my target market is", I do it too, you're not immune. (laughing) So community, community, community, it's not community unless it's not about you. It's not community unless it's focused on members over brands, members over products, members over services, members over businesses, all right? And again, you'll know it when you see it. You know when there's a support community that's really just about selling something, about marketing something. And you'll know when you see a community that's really there about the people who belong to it. And I want you to have a community for your business, with your business, alongside your business, that's about the people who are there, because I promise you, I guarantee you, it will serve your business. You may end up making decisions that feel like they're almost counter to your business interests, but in the end, that community is going to serve your business so much more with so much more value for so much longer than if you tried to build a community that is all about your product or all about your service or all about your brand. I'm going to kind of quote from a couple of books that have been really transformational for me in my own process, in my own understanding of what community is all about over the course of this class. And if you've RSVP'd for this class you actually have access to a resource guide right there on the class page that gives you the information about what these books are. But I'm about to quote from two of them right now. In quick succession, the first one is called The Membership Economy, and I actually read this a number of years ago before I'd made the decision to pivot my business completely back to having a community focus. It's by a woman named Robbie Baxter. It's a brilliant book, it's a quick read. Very, very, I wouldn't call it tactical, but it's very, it's very real. Where as I can be really conceptual, and a lot of the books that I read are very conceptual, this book is so real. So many great examples from so many different perspectives. If this is interesting to you and you're just looking for a completely different way to approach, or maybe you just want to break out of the way your industry does things and try some other industry models, this is a phenomenal book for you. But anyhow, in The Membership Economy, Robbie Baxter writes, "The Membership Economy is all about putting the customer at the center of the business model rather than the product or the transaction." The customer is at the center of the business model, rather than the product or the transaction. And really, this is what I was just talking about. No matter how much we say it's all about the customer, the vast majority of us, at least from time to time, are focused on our product, our service, our offer, our brand, the transaction, instead of the customer first. We make decisions that serve the product, instead of making decisions that serve the customer. When you are building a community-driven business model, and that's really what we're talking about here, you're building a person, a people, a human-driven business model and the customer has to be at the center of that model. All decisions that get made, get made in the service of that customer, what they need, what their experience, what experience you want to create for them, how they need to solve their problem, what their interests are, what their values are. Now on the flip side of that, that's talking sort of about this technical idea of business models, and you know I can geek out on that, but let's also geek out on the community side of this as well. Another book that has been hugely inspirational to me over the last six months is called The Art of Community by a guy named Charles Vogl. And I think a lot of you know I have a background in religious studies before business, and so this book draws on faith communities, and you know ancient faith community traditions in order to create a framework for community building across industries, across different types of communities, so he talks a lot about faith communities, but he also talks a lot about brands and companies and the communities that they build as well, as well as activists or advocacy communities too. This book is incredible, everyone should read it. That's my plug for this book, but I'll continue plugging it. And I love his definition of community here, too, because this in a nutshell is putting your customer at the center of your business model. He said, "I define a community as a group of individuals who share a mutual concern for one another's welfare." If you make the center of, the focal point of all of your decision-making on creating a space, creating an opportunity, creating a context for your customers to care about each other, I guarantee you, you are putting your customer at the center of your business model. And that's what we're really talking about when we're talking about community building here. I am not advocating for you creating a community in which your customers care more about you, care more about your brand, care more about your product. That's a side effect, I guarantee it. It's one of those side effects in the prescription drug commercials that they have to say kind of slower than all the other ones because it's kind of a guarantee, this one's a guarantee; if you make your first focus helping your customers create a mutual concern for each other, helping your members create a mutual concern for each other, they will have a greater concern for you, for your brand, for your product, for your service. And you will reap the benefits of that, but you have to do it in the right order. If you do it in the wrong order, you're gonna create more work for yourself, you're gonna to create more problems, you're gonna get in a load of stress. You don't want that. You don't want that hurt, okay. So make this your first and foremost definition. Now I told you that this is something that you kind of, when you see it, you feel it, you get it. And when it's off, you also know it, but to explain it is kind of hard, and I feel like already I've done a terrible job of this, so let's get to the example. This is a fitness app that I use and love, and all the CoCommercial members in the audience are like, "Yes Tara, would you stop talking about Aaptiv." I frickin love this app. All you do is you stick your headphones in and you start a workout and the personal trainer tells you what to do and it plays great music and you don't have to watch a video, you can just focus on what you're doing. That's my pitch for Aaptiv, everyone go start your free trial. But Aaptiv is a product that you pay for on a monthly or an annual basis. It's an app, we're all familiar with these kind of business models. But Aaptiv has a Facebook group. And you're like, "Okay Tara, sure. My product has a Facebook group too, but you're not using me as an example", you're right. Aaptiv has this private Facebook group where members can join, and the awesome thing that happens in the Facebook group, and lots of things happen there, but one of the coolest things that happen is people share sweaty selfies on a daily basis, right? Or they'll show screenshots of the confetti that comes down when you finish a workout, and they'll tell the trainer that did that workout how much they loved it. They'll say, "I didn't think that I could finish this, but I finished it, and oh my gosh I'm so excited!" And then the whole rest of the community is like, "Yeah go you, that's awesome!" The trainers say, "Yeah that's awesome, go you!" And the people who run the app are like, "Yeah, that's awesome!" And so it creates this mutual concern for other people who are using the app. Their social media is driven by this, and this community is driven by this. And so they are constantly elevating the experience, the stories, the needs of their members, their customers, over their own brand. So even though the Facebook page is Official Aaptiv Facebook Group, it's not actually about Aaptiv. It's about the people who are working out, it's about their victories, it's about their gains, it's about their frustrations or their injuries sometimes. It's about what they need help with, and it's about the community coming together to help them and creating that access to those trainers and to other people who have gone through similar things. This is a really simple, very straightforward, very accessible example of what we're really talking about here. There's no fancy platform, there's just a Facebook group. There's no fancy software, there's just a Facebook group. There's no fancy onboarding, it's just a Facebook group. And I would say this is kind of at the lowest level of what we're talking about creating here, but it is an incredible example of what's possible when you build a community that's not about you, that's not about your brand, but instead is about people's mutual concern for each other, and their success. Now we do something really similar at CoCommercial, where CoCommercial, which is the fluff-free social and support network that we run for small business owners, my company. In the past, I have tried running communities that were about access to me, right. Well access to me doesn't scale, and also, it sucks. I don't like it when people expect me to answer things at three o'clock in the morning on Sundays, right? Nobody likes that, it's not a thing you want to set yourself up for. What's more, is it's not actually helpful. I only have on answer, I only have one set of experiences. I only have, you know, I have a lot of knowledge, but I don't have all the knowledge, okay? So at CoCommercial we've actually created a guru-free zone. So we have a long post, it's not actually that long, we have a post at CoCommercial that talks about how I'm not the expert, I'm not the guru, I'm a superuser. I'm in CoCommerical on a daily basis. I'm answering questions on a daily basis. I'm providing my experience, I'm sharing what I've seen work for other people, but my answer is not the end all be all. And there are a lot of times when somebody has an answer or an experience or a story that's a heck of lot better than mine. There are times where I will tag people in and be like, "I don't have an answer to this, but so and so might", or "these three people might". It's not about me, CoCommercial is about small business owners building a business in the digital age, and it's about the member's mutual concern for each other. Over the course of the class I'm gonna be talking a lot more about what we do at CoCommercial, but this is one of my absolute favorite things that we do. For me it was a complete turning point in understanding what the brand behind CoCommercial was. It was a complete turning point in understanding the workload of CoCommercial, and it was a complete turning point for me in understanding the value proposition behind CoCommercial. So when I say we're talking about foundations right now I mean it, this is so foundational, and I want you to get this piece drilled into your head right now before we move on to anything else. What we are talking about in this class is not building a community that's about your product, about your brand, about you as an expert, about you as a leader, a trainer, a teacher, this is about building a community where you are connecting people, giving people access to each other in a way where that access and those member experiences create something more valuable than any amount of access to you could possibly provide. That's what we're doing here, nothing else. It may end up, again, that it's free, that it's paid, that's it's on Facebook, that it's on Mighty Networks, that it's on Slack, that it's your core offer, that's it's marketing, that's it's a supplemental offer, that it's a follow-up offer, but the heart of what we're doing is creating value by connecting people to each other, in creating that mutual concern, and not about connecting them to you. It's question time, that's perfect! (laughs) (class laughs) So I know at CoCommercial there are different levels of membership, I don't know what you call them, but there's the regular membership and then there's the leadership circle, so I know you have this guru-free zone policy and I don't know exactly the differences between the different levels of membership, but with the leadership circle there is access to you in a different way than with the regular membership. So how do you jibe or whatever the word would be, the guru-free zone policy with the more access, and I'm asking because I want to do something similar with my own community. Yes, I would say that it's temporary. Right now we have Q&A calls twice a month where they're live and people get on with me right now, but we've had other people then me staff those calls, right? I got a climbing injury back in September, it was a mild case of whiplash, but I was unhappy and not capable of sitting in front of my computer to take questions from people. We were looking at my calender and literally, we could not reschedule these calls, there's nowhere else to put them. So Rosie had the brilliant idea of, "It's okay, I'll ask Lena, I'll ask Megan, I'll ask this person, I'll ask this person, let's get some other people to play you", essentially. And it was so easy and people loved it, and they loved it, and it was again one of those ah-ha moments of, "This isn't about me, those Q&A calls aren't about me. Sure, they're about my perspective in that hour", but really people get on those calls to talk to each other in the chat, they get on to, I'm gonna talk about this when we talk about community management, but anytime we're creating content, and a Q&A call is content, when we are creating the content the goal is not to answer questions, the goal is to inspire additional conversation. So it's also a different way that I've started approaching those calls is, it doesn't really change how I answer a question, and this pertains to any community in which you are giving that kind of access to you as well, or creating these kind of experiences, my goal when I'm answering a question isn't to give the answer, it's to be like, "Okay, this is my instant comment on your question, now you go start another post or follow-up with us or someone share your experience with this person as well", and so it becomes a catalyst for additional conversation instead of shutting down the conversation. That's a cultural issue that takes time to fix as well, and so I would say for the last six months we've been super mindful of making that cultural shift in all aspects of the CoCommercial community, where my answers aren't the end-all-be-all answers, they don't shut down conversation, they start conversation. So I would say if this concept of it's not about you, is like, "Ya, you're right, I'm all about this, but I also don't know how to do that", that's one of the cultural changes that you'll need to make, and you'll want to make that as intentional and well-communicated as possible, whereas, when I answer a question, it doesn't shut down conversation, it starts conversation, okay? That's huge. Again, it effects decisions you make in your business, it effects the way you communicate with your membership, it effects the overall cultural of your membership, and you wanna communicate that very clearly whenever you have the opportunity. Does that make sense? Ya, that makes a lot of sense, and then also just a logistical point, I guess this is maybe a question for the very last segment, but There's gonna be so many questions in the very last segment (laughs) I'm just curious about the difference between your membership levels; the basic membership is the community purely, there's no live, none of the live interactions or calls or any of that stuff. Is that accurate? We do have some events for the basic membership. It's community month right now, we've got some community month events that are whole membership events, but all the weekly flash masterminds, the weekly co-working hours, the monthly Q&A calls, the work and learn days, that's all the leadership circle. Is there any place to see the breakdown of the differences? Yes, if you email Shannon she can give you the breakdown. Sorry, Shannon. (laughs) Any other questions here at this point? Now I know we've got a couple of questions online, Pamela says, "I'm launching my own apparel brand and I wanna begin building anticipation for the initial launch. Any advice for initial community building before a product launch?" Yes, okay, this is a place, Pamela, where you can get really stuck on that it's all about me, or it's all about my brand, it's all about this initial collection when you're building that community, so you wanna think about who is the right person for these clothes, and I'll give you a really good example of this. Brass Clothing, and I've used them as an example before on Creative Live, but Brass Clothing their founders are huge on community building and emotional intelligence, so they have again, a free Facebook group that customers can join and they're really focused on creating clothing for that customer, and the way they highlight their customer is incredible, it absolutely has that mutual concern element to it. As I said, I would get really focused on who that ideal person is for your clothing collection and think about some of the challenges or the things that they have in common when it comes to dressing, when it comes to looking their best, when it comes to utilizing the way you look to get where you wanna get or to feel the way you wanna feel. What is the one thing that ties those kinds of people together and build some community around that because otherwise, and this is totally fine, community building may not be the right solution for this, otherwise you're just building an email list. And I'm gonna talk about that in just a second too, and why that is not the same thing as community building. There's nothing wrong with just building an email list and getting people who are on the email list excited about the clothes that are coming out. Nothing wrong with that at all, but it's not community building. If you wanna focus on community building focus on your customer first and on why your new brand is gonna be perfect for them based on the attitude that they have, the emotion that they want to feel when they get dressed, the way they're gonna connect with other people, how they might be missing that connection to other people, use that to your advantage. Next question, Lydia says, "I launched a community a few weeks ago I don't have a huge following or gigantic email list. Did I launch too soon or what can I do to make the on-ramp faster for folks?" Okay, so when you launch a new community and don't have a huge email list, you don't have a huge in-pouring of those initial members, that is going to take more work on your behalf, because you're gonna have to be in there more often inspiring conversation, connecting people together directly, being the one that keeps things moving. You've gotta be the fuel initially. Now, the challenge there, of course, is balancing that with some of the cultural things that I was just talking about. But the other thing that you can do is actually get your community members invested in helping you grow the community, and the way you do that is, again, not by focusing on you, or your brand, or your product, or your service, but by focusing on them and selling them on why actually adding more people to the community is going to make that community more valuable, why connecting with more people in that community is going to make that community more valuable. That is exactly what Gina's gonna be talking about in two lessons, so stick around for that for sure, because it's something we can quantify, but Lydia, the absolute best thing you can do right now is get more people involved in helping you, get your members involved in helping you grow that network quickly. The quicker your network grows, the quicker your community grows, the more valuable it becomes, which is counter intuitive, and so we're gonna talk about that then. I think there was one more, Kristin says, "How can we be authentic and real without oversharing and opening ourselves up for internet trolls?" Okay, so we're gonna talk about boundaries in an upcoming lesson, Kristin, and boundaries are really important. You want to create a boundary in your community. In other words a step that people have to cross, a threshold they have to cross to belong in the community. One way that you can create a space where you can be transparent and open and honest and real and authentic is to create that boundary and have people do something in order to join; answer a question, pay something, fill something out, agree to something. That's gonna help you create that safe space where then trolls aren't going to belong. We are also going to talk in a much later lesson about dealing with misfits and bad eggs because I know that's a tough question for people. I've got some real life, let's get real about this kinda stuff to share with you on that as well, so that's gonna come up in a little bit as well.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Build a Community Workbook
Sample Community Policies

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Build a Community Resource Guide

Ratings and Reviews

Ayelet Marinovich

This class was exactly what I needed. It clarified, confirmed, and connected SO MANY more of the remaining dots for me. Tara, as always, is brilliant, energetic and a general joy to watch as she shares her immense knowledge and helps others get to "the nitty gritty" - thank you Tara, and thank you Creative Live!!

a Creativelive Student

Like I said on air... "Wow!" I've been building an online community for about 4 years now, based on what I thought I wanted to my business to be. Now I realize the value of creating a community around my VISION, then building the business based around the community needs and values. What I thought: 1) What people needed from me was my expertise. 2) Members will naturally bond with and engage with one another based on their shared interests and needs. What I learned from Tara: 1) Members rely on me to FACILITATE conversation and sharing. 2) It's my role to be the a connector and mediator. Tara has an amazing presence on stage and is super skilled at drawing out your vision as a business owner/entrepreneur. She makes community building easy to understand. I'll definitely be watching more of her courses. This one alone has changed the way I think about my business and my plan for building in monetization and community building.


I went from a vague idea of wanting to build a community to having a clear path to take to start building it. I appreciated the focus on the member vs the business model. Tara presented a clear path for creating the plan first, from vision and purpose to creating the experience for community members, to helping members take the journey to how to monetize in many different ways. My brain is full and I'm excited to take action and launch a community that consolidates my current varied business offers. The presentation was thoughtful and well presented. Excellent and highly recommended.

Student Work