An entrepreneur and connector, John Rampton is the founder of Palo Alto, California-based Host, a hosting company specializing in helping businesses with hosting their website for free, for life. Follow him @johnrampton.
Recently, YEC spoke with John about his experiences building a community for customers and stakeholders in his business, and what others interested could learn about the process. His best advice is below.
Start With a Strong Foundation
Nothing can compare to building a community around you. It’s your network that will really help your business to take off. Having a community where entrepreneurs can meet, talk and help each other is fundamental behind growing your business.
A community is a group of people who are using your product because they want to, not because they have been added to a list or signed up for your service. They are passionate about what you’re doing and willing to tell others about it. Communities are made up of people who have had amazing experiences with your brand. They are people who actively come back to be part of something much larger.
Offer Your Assistance
The best way I’ve built a strong community is by helping people in every way possible without expecting anything in return. This is how the best leaders are born. This is how the best communities are born and survive. It’s not by getting (though you will always get) — it’s around truly helping. Help them solve their problems. Help, help, help.
Leave Management Up to the Community Itself
Let your community manage itself. In most large communities there will be leaders who grow from within the community and become the police and editors. They will do this work for free as they are very passionate about the community and helping it grow. They know it can’t grow without them. Let these people shine. Help them to develop their leadership. The best communities are managed from the members themselves. This will also help you to scale your network to something a lot bigger than anything you could mange by yourself or with a small team.
Focus on Specific Members
Focus on the key members who are driving the whole community. You will have several people stick out. Reach out personally to these people. Give them advice as well as free products. Help them in every way possible. It’s the personal touches that will make the big difference.
When I first started my community, I reached out to everyone. Tried to be everything to everyone. After time it became increasingly hard to reach out, as I was doing all the work. It wasn’t until I focused on the 5 percent who represented 60 percent of the community’s voice that I realized I needed to focus on the key members and have them be the driving force.
Foster Real Relationships
The more you give, the more you get. If you’re helping your community, they are going to give back.
Over the past year we have been 100 percent focused on helping our members with any issue or problem that they’ve had. Instead of pitching them our business or services, we pitch them on what we can do for free. We help them in any way possible: introductions to people, company building, etc. Over the past year we have grown about four times in size. The previous year we hadn’t even grown by 15 percent. It’s all about helping people grow and fostering real relationships that don’t have an economic value.
Don’t Force Community
Give up trying to push your business on your community. Take off all the ads. People in your community already own your product or service. Instead give back your time, advice and skills.
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.