Brittany Hodak is the co-founder of ZinePak, a custom publication company that creates fan packages for entertainers, brands, and athletes. She holds an M.S. in Marketing from CUNY Baruch’s Zicklin School of Business and a B.A in Public Relations from the University of Central Arkansas. In 2010, she was named to Billboard’s 30 Under 30 List. More recently, she and her co-founder Kim Kaupe were named to Advertising Age’s 2013 40 Under 40 List. Follow her @brittanyhodak.
Recently, YEC spoke with Brittany about her experiences building a community for customers and stakeholders in her business, and what others interested could learn about the process. Her best advice is below.
Surround Yourself With a Strong Group
Having the support of a strong community can absolutely be the difference between success and failure for an entrepreneur. Few things in business are more important than surrounding yourself with a strong, diverse network of people who are personally and professionally interested in your success. Members of my always-expanding network, or community, have been responsible for introducing me to people who’ve become our customers, employees and mentors.
Customers and subscribers can absolutely make up an important aspect of your community. However, it’s bigger than that. Your community also includes your employees, advisors, investors, friends, family, vendors, and everyone else who is pulling for you.
Have a Game Plan
Be smart about when and how you engage different parts of your community. Although your customers and your vendors are both part of your community, they are about different things and should therefore be receiving different types of communication. An all-or-nothing approach to your marketing (or email blasts) will lead to lots of unsubscribes and an under-engaged, under-informed, and ultimately under-utilized community. By treating each sector of your network individually, you can build up a strong, diverse, powerful network.
Use Available Tools and Software
Invest in a CRM tool like HubSpot that will help you segment and separate your community with ease. HubSpot helps you easily sort all of your contacts (even if there are hundreds of thousands) and choose exactly how to communicate with each group.
If I had to do it all over again, I would start using HubSpot from day one. ZinePak just made the switch after four years, and while I’m glad we’re finally up and running, I regret that we lost thousands of opportunities to capture and market to people who could have become part of our community of pop-culture superfans. From simple things like segmenting emails to more sophisticated tools like A/B testing and controlling which visitors see what images/information, HubSpot takes managing diverse community profiles from daunting to doable!
Become a Matchmaker
One of the most valuable things you can gain from your network — and one of the most valuable things YOU can do for your contacts — is make connections to people outside your existing community. I love connecting people I know with others who may be able to utilize their products or services, and I’m never shy about asking members of my network to return the favor. I just returned from a business trip where I met with ten new companies, all of whom I had been introduced to from two of my existing contacts. Those meetings could likely lead to tens of thousands of dollars in new business, and the introductions cost me nothing. It’s impossible to overestimate the importance or potential value of a strong, diverse community.
Never Underestimate the Power of Introductions
Never be afraid to ask for referrals or introductions to new people. A warm introduction from a mutual contact beats cold-calling EVERY time. Product recommendations from friends are always more meaningful than pop-up ads. Word of mouth was the original viral marketing. Build trust within your community, then leverage that trust to help your influence and network grow organically.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.