(Editor’s note: For those of you who don’t already know, Scott Fox is the creator of what he likes to call the “friendliest” small business coaching community online, ClickMillionaires.com. Like us here at BizSugar.com, Scott knows the value of small business communities not only as a way to help others but as a small business model in their own right. We were glad to have a chance to sit down and talk with Scott about communities and the benefits they provide. Be sure to check for a special offer from Scott below that we hope members of the BizSugar community will appreciate too.)
Click Millionaires is what I call the “friendliest” online marketing coaching community on the web. Our friendly forum helps members learn to grow the online revenues of existing businesses or create new lifestyle businesses online. It’s for anybody interested in building recurring revenues online from their own interests, expertise, or hobbies.
The community is based on my expertise in e-commerce business strategy and online marketing, but what really drives the community is the members from all over the world. We have carpet store owners from England, dentists from San Diego, housewives from Seattle, inventors from Tennessee, engineers from Florida, students, retirees, and lots more. Some have existing million-dollar businesses they’re looking to grow and others don’t even have a website yet.
What Click Millionaires all share is an interest in working together to learn to make money online independently on our own schedules and own terms. We do that in the forum I mentioned but also through members-only webcasts that I host, teleseminars, email exchanges, chats, etc.
Why do you think building a community is so important for small businesses and entrepreneurs today?
Today’s biggest business challenge, especially for small businesses and startups, is simply getting the attention of your target market. On top of all the traditional competition in the business world (price, service, quality, etc.) today we are all deluged with Facebook friend requests, Tweets, blog posts, etc. It can be overwhelming.
But as I talked about in my second book, e-Riches 2.0: Next Generation Online Marketing Strategies, building a community gives you the opportunity to inexpensively create an “attention-collector” focused on exactly the topics that benefit your business.
Like hosting a party, you can invite the people you like, offer them some entertainment or useful business information, and encourage conversations. Those conversations build relationships and can lead to all kinds of positive things, including sales, ad revenues, consulting offers, speaking invitations, press interviews, and especially new friendships.
Your online community may support sale of your existing products and services, or if you can grow a critical mass of members, it can easily turn into a fun and profitable business of its own, too.
What first steps would you recommend in building an online community around your business or brand?
I’m not sure it’s a good idea to try to start a community solely based around your business unless you have a really sexy brand or media property. You’re more likely to find success by identifying related customer needs first.
Start by finding problems, interests, or needs common among your target audience that aren’t being well served. Then create a friendly forum or social network that helps those potential customers connect with each other to explore those interests and business needs. As you do that it also gives you the opportunity to position your brand appropriately.
I would also be sure to have plenty of activities planned. There’s nothing more boring than an inactive forum, so you need to be ready to lead by example and give your members fun things to do. For example, at Click Millionaires I regularly run “Web Site Tune-up Community Clinics” where members critique each other’s sites, I take marketing and strategy questions live via webcam during “Video Office Hours”, we run polls, contests, etc. – all to encourage people to participate and share their own expertise, too.
What do you think are the major pitfalls to avoid while building your community and how can entrepreneurs best avoid making these mistakes?
I think you need to come up with a mission that is larger than just selling your stuff. If you start with your heart in the right place, people can tell and that will attract members who share your interests and then they will help you grow the community, too.
Also, don’t be embarrassed or discouraged if it takes a while to build your group. It takes a critical mass of members before any community is self-supporting. But you can’t get 10 members until you have 2 first, and you can’t have 1000 members until you have 100 first.
What are the major tools you’ve used yourself or would recommend small businesses use to build community online?
I’ve produced multi-million dollar community businesses using custom software but today that’s not as necessary. You can start a group for free on Facebook, install membership plug-ins on WordPress, pay a little to use a hosted service like Ning, or even just use your blog’s comments or an old-fashioned email list service to connect people.
Ning is my favorite platform today but more important than the technical tools you choose is being clever and consistent in facilitating the connections between your members. You can always change or upgrade platforms, it’s the relationships that matter.
Anything else we could add?
Sure. Thanks for interviewing me today. I hope this was helpful to your readers. I think online communities are a great business opportunity that is still under-appreciated.
And, if some of your readers are interested in joining me at Click Millionaires.com to see how we run that community, I can give a few memberships away here, too. How about we offer a drawing for 3 free six month memberships ($234 value each) to anyone who comments on this post below?
Thanks so much for talking with us, Scott, and let’s hope we get plenty of comments from the BizSugar community!
(Shawn Hessinger is community manager and blogger for BizSugar.com, a social media site providing news and information to the online small business community. For more on BizSugar community how to submit your own small business content to the group, check out our “about” page or visit our BizSugar signup page to create your free account today.)