Download: MP3 (63.8 MB)

e306-full-video-preview

We believe in community at seanwes.

That’s not just because we have our own thriving community.

We believe in the concept and future of independent communities.

That’s why we made CommunityTalk. We built our own community messaging system and it’s been the glue to our membership site for years. Now, we want to make this available to others so they can build their own communities.

But building a community requires much more than just having a messaging system.

Today’s episode explores what’s required to build a community and what makes a community thrive.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • Publish content consistently if you want your community to thrive.
  • If you find a community that already exists that aligns with your values, invest and contribute there.
  • Build a community in response to existing demand if you want a good chance of it succeeding.
  • If you always see the people who do the same thing as you as competition, you’ll never have community.
  • Community is better than competition—partner with people doing the same things as you instead of seeing them as the enemy.
  • Running a community is anything but passive.
  • The best way to start a community is to leverage an existing audience.
  • Focus on the people already within your community, and they will become your brand ambassadors.
  • The amount of value you provide should be ten times the price.
Show Notes
  • 01:36 Sean: A community seems similar to an audience, but like we touched on in the last episode, the difference between an audience and a community is that an audience is one to many, a community is many to many. If you have an audience, you don’t necessarily have a community, unless they’re talking to each other.
  • 01:58 Ben: I was thinking about this last week. For some reason, on my way over here, I thought that the community episode was the one that we were going to be doing. I was already in that mindset last time, and then I was like, “Oh, we’re just talking about building an audience. Okay.”
  • In order to effectively build an audience, you need to have the mindset of building a community.

  • 02:28 Try to orient people around a specific thing to where they don’t just connect with you, but they feel that they share a commonality. They feel a connection to one another. I think the people I’ve seen be the most successful in building and growing an audience, a thriving, quickly growing audience, are the ones who focused on the principles of growing a community. I think that’s a nice positive side effect of focusing on the principles of growing a community. Those are the same things that are necessary to build a really strong, well-connected audience.
  • 03:29 Sean: Yeah, they kind of go together. You can have an audience that’s not a community. You could be a part of a community that’s not your audience. They’re related, but they’re not the same thing exactly. We’re really passionate about community here at seanwes. All the people on the team are, and it’s not just because we have our own thriving Community.

Should You Build a Community or Join One?

  • 03:50 Sean: We are passionate about the concept and the future of independent communities. That’s why we built CommunityTalk. It’s what we believe is the best community messaging system in the world. We built this for ourselves, and it has been powering our membership for several years, successfully.
  • 04:15 We modeled this around in-person interactions. It’s the closest thing you can get to having an in-person conversation with someone. It’s a hybrid between real time chat and evergreen conversations. It’s as easy to use as any messaging app, where you type your message with an emoji and hit enter. It’s that simple. You can also write something longer form. It supports Markdown.
  • 04:40 You can format it, make it look nice. It’s something you can search and go back to and find. We feel like we made something really great, and we’ve been hoarding it for ourselves. We’re in the process of making that available to other people to use to build their own community. That’s CommunityTalk.com. I know that building a community is more than just a system.
  • 05:05 It’s more than software. There’s a lot more that goes into it. That’s what I was wanting to talk about today. What does it take to build a community? Before we even get into that, I thought David had a really good question here. He says, “Do I really WANT to manage a community? Why can’t my brand and business just be part of an existing community instead?”
  • 05:27 The question it brings up is, should you build a community or should you join a community? I don’t think everyone needs to build one. Certainly, some people want to, and we want to help enable that. I would say, you don’t necessarily need to create your own community if you can find one that aligns with your values and contribute to it.
  • If you make yourself valuable and contribute in a community where you feel ownership, you can end up being a significant part of that community.

  • 06:15 It’s to the point where you’re not just a significant part, but you may even be in charge of running it. As we grow here, Cory Miller is responsible for a lot of things. He does a lot of different things, but our goal is to have him focus more on the people, the Community, making sure people feel taken care of and helping them succeed. He was just a member in the beginning, but I noticed that he was in there all the time.
  • 06:48 He was contributing, participating, and helping people. That lead to hiring him full time on the team. As we grow, eventually, he’s going to be the main person in charge of running the Community.
  • 07:02 Ben: I have a question to tail on David’s. When you first started out, when we first started doing this podcast and made the chat available, was it always your intention, from the beginning, to build an online community, or was that something that you chose to do because you saw a need there, out of necessity? I know that was part of it. I know part of the answer.
  • 07:40 I know that these conversations are happening, so you said, “Why don’t I create a place where I can facilitate that and these people can connect with each other, instead of just connecting with me?”
  • 07:50 Sean: It was totally the latter. It was solving a problem. That problem was that we were doing a podcast, and people were having all kinds of great experiences and sharing that feedback over email, but it was one to one. It was only with me. I had a relationship with my audience, but they didn’t talk to each other. I kept getting all these incredible emails, and I thought, “You should talk to each other!” We didn’t have that, so we built the Community for that reason. It wasn’t something where I set out from the beginning with this idea that I was going to create this community.
  • 08:33 Ben: That kind of also answers David’s question, in part. Building a community isn’t necessarily something you set out to do, but as your audience grows and you have meaningful dialogue with them, it might make sense to connect them with one another. That makes it happen a lot more organically.
  • 09:03 Sean: I’ve got four points in my mind, and I’ve got to get them out. First, if you find a community that already exists that aligns with your values, invest and contribute there. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Like we illustrated, you can eventually come to run that place if you prove yourself to be invested and to care about people there.
  • 09:32 People want to give responsibility to those who take responsibility, those who seek it. You don’t even necessarily have to build it from scratch, and trust me, it’s tough. We’re talking about years of investment. I think David knows. He doesn’t necessarily want to build his own community. If you don’t want to, don’t do this. If you want to, maybe still don’t do it, because you don’t even know what’s involved.
  • 09:58 If you have any kind of hesitation in your mind, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’re probably not the person to build a community. It is so much work. It takes so much outpouring and investment, and it doesn’t come back in the short term. Eventually, it does. Eventually, you realize that it’s worth it, but you have to believe that even before you see the results. Find a place that aligns with your values and contribute there. If you don’t see that place, if it doesn’t exist and this really matters to you, you might be the type of person to build your own community.
  • Build a community in response to demand if you want a good chance of it succeeding.

  • 10:40 Are there a lot of people who are reaching out to you one on one who you could connect together? It’s not this idea, “Maybe I can build this and go find people.” Find the people first, and then work on the community. Building a community is a lot of work. Know that going in, but also know, like we illustrated here, that other people can and will help you. Eventually, if you’re willing to put in the hard work at first, other people can help you run and manage it.
  • 11:15 Ben: One of the points you made is really important for people to realize. I think folks who haven’t tried to build a community but maybe want to, they look at what they’re paying for membership for something, and they think, “If I could get that from some number of people every month…” It seems really appealing in that sense, too. You do want it to make money for your business in order for it to be sustainable.
  • 11:48 There is so much investment that has to go in upfront, and it does take a long time for it to actually pay for itself. That’s a really important thing for people to realize before they set out to do it.

Core Pillars

  • 12:04 Sean: Like you touched on in the beginning of the show, Ben, it has to be built around some kind of commonality, some core pillars. I don’t know what those necessarily are or should be for you, but here are some questions to think about:
    • What do you stand for?
    • What are your common values?
    • What are you against?
    • What are you publishing consistently?
  • 12:29 What are the common values you have with the people that you spend time with? What matters to you? Sometimes, people can build a community around being against something. I’m not necessarily saying that you should be anti-something, but maybe you don’t like how many people are hungry in the world or how many people don’t have clean water, so you’re against hunger. It could be something like that. It can still be framed positively.
  • 13:03 I’m trying to get you to think about things from a different perspective. Maybe you’re publishing consistently and maybe you’re not, but this is something you’ll have to do if you want the community to thrive.
  • Publish some kind of content consistently for your community to thrive.

  • 13:29 Yes, communities can survive on their own, without some kind of common content coming out regularly, but there’s a difference between surviving and thriving. Think about the community on a subreddit that just posts every once in a while. Someone adds a post, and maybe it’s interesting. Maybe it’s not. Sometimes people comment, and it’s kind of self-driven.
  • 13:56 It does alright. It’s alive. Then, think about the prominent YouTubers that you subscribe to and how they come out with a video every day. When you go to the comments, there are tons of comments. Everyone is there. They’re always showing up. They’re replying to each other. It’s thriving. It’s alive. I’m not necessarily saying that someone or a person needs to lead a community, but I am saying that there needs to be consistent publishing of content that people can essentially circle around.
  • 14:33 It’s like these meeting points. If it’s a tribe and there’s a bonfire every night, people circle around the bonfire. They reconvene. Maybe they spread out and do their own thing during the day, but it’s like the shows we have inside the Community. We stream them live. People know when they are. It’s on a schedule. Yeah, a lot of people do hang out during the week. A lot of people are there at all times of day, they’re starting conversations, they’re talking. When there are shows, everyone reconvenes.
  • For the seanwes Community, the podcasts are the heartbeat that keeps everything alive.

  • 15:08 Ben: When you talk about orienting around a common thing, I think about it in terms of, maybe, a goal. A goal of this community is to grow a sustainable business. Did I say that right?
  • 15:29 Sean: Yeah—build and grow an audience-driven business.
  • 15:32 Ben: Build and grow an audience-driven business! Just about everything that we talk about is geared toward that goal. That’s so powerful. When you get people together, they’re going to have conversations and talk about what’s going on in their lives, and they’re going to talk about things that are peripheral to the main thing. But when you keep them pointed at a common goal, putting out consistent content feels like the marching rhythm. It’s like Sean said, the heartbeat.
  • 16:12 It’s bringing them back to that commonality and encouraging conversation around that so they can continue moving forward toward that goal. They’re marching toward that together, instead of a conversation just happening to come up between a few members, and that’s great. Or, maybe, you’ll post something or ask a question… Those interactions are great, but having that solid content that they can pick apart, discuss, and try to apply to their own situation is really powerful.
  • 16:47 Sean: And even disagree with, too. That’s okay. Sometimes, I’ll be polarizing on purpose, because it stimulates discussion. If someone disagrees with me, it helps them reaffirm their own values.

What It Takes to Run a Community

  • 17:04 Sean: I wrote in the chat, “Money or marketing?” I’m asking people to star what interests them more. We’ve got a lot of questions that I want to get to, but let me know, when it comes to building a community, are you more interested in making money from it, or are you more interested in how to get people to it, how to grow it? I’ll come back to that.
  • 17:37 That regular content doesn’t necessarily have to be live, although that’s great for engagement. You need some kind of consistent content. There was another question that comes up a lot, and that is, how much do you really have to work at this? Can it be passive? Everyone who runs any kind of community will tell you that it is anything but passive. It is so active. If you want it to stay alive, you have to continue investing into it.
  • 18:09 I don’t think it’s a great move for getting a bunch of passive income. In the future, yes, you can have people that help out, that you delegate to. It can become a source of revenue, but it’s going to be a number of years in almost all cases, and you have to be willing to put in the work. Commit to publishing content consistently. I’m not just talking about for a membership site that is a paid thing. I really do mean for any kind of community that you want to thrive, not just survive, you have to be putting out content consistently.
  • 18:44 Ben: I wonder if you’re going to get to this, but one of the common misconceptions is that the recurring community membership is the most significant form of income you can get from building a community. There are many other ways that you have used the relationship that you’ve built with these people and the relationships they have with one another to find much more meaningful and valuable ways, not just to sell products, but to give them something that’s going to help them reach that goal.
  • 19:25 In the long term, it blows the membership income out of the water. The more meaningful thing is what you’re able to do now that you have these people who are very committed, who feel that now they are a part of this group, who have ownership.
  • 19:48 Sean: That can lead to a lot of other good things. The poll is neck and neck. Money was leading, but then people started voting for marketing. If we get a chance, I’ll talk about money.

Marketing

  • 20:03 Sean: If you want to grow your community, how do you do that? How do you get more people to be a part of this? Obviously, you can do different kinds of outreach. You can go to where other people are that you want to reach. Certainly, that’s a good idea. Partnering up with other people is another way. There’s community and there’s competition.
  • If you always see the people who do the same thing as you as competition, you’ll never have community.

  • 20:35 Remember that. The people you want to buy your products or become a part of your community, they are in other places. They are in other places where, oftentimes, different groups, companies, or organizations offer something similar to you. If you’re always seeing them as the enemy, as competition, as someone to fight against, you miss out on the benefits of community. In so many cases, it’s not a zero-sum game. It’s not about your community vs. another community, it’s about the cause.
  • 21:08 It’s about the goal, the movement. It’s not a zero-sum game. Oftentimes, if you shout someone out on your social media, are you losing? Are you giving up your followers? Do they have to unfollow you to follow someone else? No, they don’t! To a very small degree, there is a finite amount of attention, and you could argue that you’re giving up some of that, but I disagree, especially if you’re creating a symbiotic relationship.
  • 21:41 If you shout someone out and they shout you out, you both grow. You’re both growing, and you’re ensuring that the people that you’re trading are probably watching both of you. It’s kind of a good thing. In most cases, community is better than competition—partner with people doing the same things as you instead of seeing them as the enemy. If you go to these other places, they have the people that you want—your customers, your members. Go to these places and provide value, no strings attached, and walk away, a lot of people are going to follow you when you leave.
  • 22:20 Ben: But they’re not going to follow you away from that other person, they’re probably going to follow you in addition to that other person.
  • 22:26 Sean: That’s a good point.
  • 22:27 Ben: The powerful thing here, too, is let’s say that you and this other person are trying to orient a community around the same goal. There are some people who will follow this person based on their personality, their leadership style, and a whole list of different things that make them a better voice, a better leader to follow toward that goal. There are people who will see you as a better choice for reaching that goal. There’s all of this overlap.
  • Your voice matters.

    The way you see the world, your perspective, experiences, and ideas are different from anybody else’s.

  • 23:21 If there’s a goal that’s worth reaching and people need to be lead to that, there are probably people who need your leadership, your specific voice to get them there. I think that makes a good case for not worrying about competition.
  • 23:45 Sean: I don’t think you can build a community if you have a mindset of competition. They’re at odds with each other. The other thing is, rather than go all out on promotion, advertising, or anything like that, focus inward. How can you invest more in the people you already have? Focus on the people you already reach. Invest in them. Those people will become your brand ambassadors. This cannot be overstated.
  • 24:18 This is so important. Focus on the people you already have, and they will become your brand ambassadors. That is your best form of marketing! A community is made up of people, so if someone is looking to join a community but they’re hesitant, they’re going to look at the experience other people have had. They’re going to look for other people’s opinions, reviews, and the things they have to say.
  • The people who join your community next are probably going to come from the people you already have spreading the word.

  • 24:50 They’re telling the stories. How can you make them feel incredible? How can you give even more to them? That’s how you’re going to grow. Instead of focusing outward, I’m not saying that it’s all or nothing, but your investment of time and energy is so much better spent focusing inward.
  • 25:08 Ben: I think it’s good to be transparent about that stuff. Some people might worry, “If I appear small, that’s going to be a deterrent.” There is a certain type of person that joins a smaller community and a type of person who will only join a larger community. The type of people who join smaller communities are the type of people you really want in the beginning, that you can actually go deep with, that will be enthusiastic, excited, and help you get to that place where your community is big enough that it takes off.
  • 25:46 Those early years are the golden years, the sweet years. That’s the time when you actually have the time and the availability to really invest in people and go deep.
  • 26:02 Sean: The times where I have engaged in other communities, and they are too few and far between unfortunately, have always been beneficial. I would comment on almost every #AskGaryVee video that he did. I would comment, and not just saying, “That’s great,” but for a while, a couple of years ago, I would leave really long, valuable comments. A lot of people ended up following me from that. They would subscribe to me, they would check out the site.
  • 26:41 They would check out the show. They ended up becoming members. That was hugely beneficial. Other communities, conferences, Facebook groups, membership sites, forums—there are still a lot that I am a part of, but during times when I focused on being there, I was providing value there, kind of like I already do on my shows and my platform. I was doing the same thing there, and it made me stand out.
  • 27:08 People were like, “Woah, I like this guy. He’s just providing value.” They ended up checking out what I’m doing, and they ended up following me, every single time. It’s super valuable to not just say, “Okay, the competition isn’t the enemy, they’re community,” but go there! Be a part of their events!
  • Contribute value in the communities of your “competition.”

  • 27:29 Don’t even ask for anything in return. Just go there and help people, and the benefits are huge.

Where Is the Conversation Happening?

  • 27:41 Sean: Scott says, “When your community is small, is it better to funnel the conversation to one spot (like your website), or is it better to spread or fragment the conversation across various social media and other platforms? My concern is that the conversation will appear sparse when it is spread out.” Yeah, it will appear sparse, but it’s also going to confuse people. People are wondering, where does the conversation happen?
  • 28:07 This is why we don’t have comments on our website. A lot of people have comments on their website. They tell people to reply on social media. They say, “We’ve got a forum, we’ve got a Slack, we’ve got a membership,” but there’s no clear place where the conversation happens. For us, we say, “The conversation happens in the Community.”
  • 28:27 We stream this show live, we take questions beforehand, we discuss the shows afterward. This is where the magic happens. This is where the conversation is. When that’s very clear, people know where they need to go to be a part of the conversation. That doesn’t mean, “Oh, don’t post on social media because they have comment boxes!” Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do.
  • 28:50 If someone replies there, try to engage them, but think about where you’re telling people the conversation is. If you want that to be on Facebook, I would advise against it, because it’s not your own platform. If you want it to be there, say that’s where it is, be there, and be present there.
  • 29:10 Ben: I’m thinking through the times when I’ve read content, watched a video or something, and I can already think of ways that I have biases about where certain conversations happen. This is an important thing to consider if you’re going to build your own community. There are some places where I will not go look at comments, because I know the kind of conversation that’s happening there is not what I want to see.
  • 29:42 Then there are places where I feel like, “This is a little bit safer.” One of the things I love about the fact that this is a community that exists on your website that’s membership based is that the quality of the conversations here is stellar. I know, any time there’s a piece of content that’s going to be discussed in this community, it’s always going to be great conversation. It’s not just the thought that people are sharing, it’s also the way that we speak to each other, and how we treat one another even when we disagree.
  • 30:32 You can probably think of a list in your head that you will not go to have a conversation because people are spiteful, ugly, and rude. That’s really important to think about.
  • You’re not just providing people with a place where the conversation happens, but you’re providing them with a place where quality conversation happens.

  • 30:56 Sean: We did an episode a while back called Why I Don’t Allow Comments on My Website. There’s more to this discussion if you want to listen to that. The people who have pointed others to their comment section—“If you like this podcast episode, go over to the comments!” They’re constantly telling people to go to the comments, and that is their “community.”
  • 31:26 You’re going to have a really hard time building a separate community, much less charging for a membership, if you do that. You’re splitting or fragmenting your message. “The REAL real conversation happens in the Community community.” People are like, “What are you talking about?” You’ve got fragmented messages, and you don’t want fragmentation in your community. Some people are in one room, other people are in another room.
  • 31:54 That’s not community. That’s cliques. You’ve got to get your messaging right. Some people are saying, “Can you leverage website comments to lead back to your community?” “Oh, thanks for commenting! Yes, we do X, but there’s more in the community!” Good luck. Go do it. Go try it. I don’t think it’s going to work. What is community? Community is people talking to each other and having conversations. Forget the technology. Yeah, we made the best community messaging system in the world.
  • 32:27 CommunityTalk.com. We made it. It is the best experience, but people don’t know what’s best. They know what they experience. You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know what you’re missing out on if you haven’t experienced it. If all you know are tweets, Reddit threads, or website discussion comments, that’s all it is. If it’s text message, that’s all it is to you. That is your community. If you have comments on your post, that is your community.
  • 32:59 You’re telling your community that you have told to participate in comments, either explicitly or implicitly. Implicitly means you turn the comments on and you didn’t turn them off. That is implicitly telling people that this is where the conversation happens. You are saying, “This is the community. This is where the conversation happens.” The people who comment there are, by definition, your community, and when you tell them to go to your community, you’re telling your community that they’re having their conversation in the wrong place, and it’s the place you told them to have it.
  • The difference between having comments open on your website vs. the comment section on social media is that they’re going to your website.

  • 33:49 Ben: If the comment section on your article is on the same website where your community exists, that’s where it gets really confusing. Now, they’re in your environment. If you were to think of it like a house, the house has a foyer area and some outer rooms, and then there’s the inner room. The inner room is your website, and that’s where you want the conversations to happen. It’s almost like you’re partitioning that room, purposefully or not, and confusing people as they walk in. They’re not sure what to do.
  • 34:33 Do I go over here? Over there? You’re constantly having to walk back and forth and lead your guests over to the “right room.” That’s why it’s confusing, because it’s in the same environment.
  • 35:08 Sean: I encourage you to prove me wrong. When I say, “Prove me wrong,” I just mean that you should go do it. I want you to. I don’t make the rules. Do whatever you want. When I say, “I don’t think you should try and use donations, advertisements, sponsors, Patreon, membership sites, mugs, and all of the monetization methods at once, because it’s not going to be as effective,” that’s a similar place I’m coming from when I say this:
  • Make sure where the conversation happens is ultra clear.

  • 35:46 I’ve observed a lot of other communities and I’ve tried things out myself, so what I’m sharing here is based on my experience. I want to help you succeed. I don’t make the rules. It’s totally okay. I want you to disagree with me. I want you to try things out. I want it to work better for you. I don’t want you to try something different and fail!

How to Know if You’re Ready

  • 36:10 Sean: Garrett says, “How do I know when I’m ready to launch my community? Assuming all the hardware/software is in order. Should I have a certain amount of email subscribers? A certain amount of content?” I think the way you know is this: you’re ready to launch your community if you have enough conversation happening that it’s happening through other channels and other methods. For instance, maybe you’re getting lots of emails in response to something that you put out, and they’re similar emails. You’re like, “I wish these two people could talk to each other!”
  • 36:36 That’s a really good sign. Depending on the infrastructure you use, you may need a certain number of people before it becomes financially viable. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t start before it’s financially viable, if you’re willing to put in the money yourself, if you believe in the mission, you have capital, or you want to use a free platform. I don’t think Facebook groups are all that great for building a community, for different reasons, but that doesn’t mean that it’s worse than nothing. It could be something you could start with.
  • 37:08 Ben: I think there is something to that numbers question, too. You don’t want people to show up, and there’s nothing happening for long stretches of time. I’m thinking out loud here, but maybe in that case, you have all the infrastructure in place, and you set it up to where the community is live and available during certain times. You set that expectation with people, and that way they know, “Okay, during this time, when there’s a live show, or from this time to this time, the community is always live.” You give them specific times.
  • If you’re not super consistent and clear about when your community events are live, that can be confusing and cause people not to engage.

  • 38:08 Sean: David said, “If you build a community on someone else’s platform, make sure you can take it with you when it’s time to outgrow the platform.” That’s a very big point. If you build a community on Facebook, expect to get 5% of people to come over to your own platform. Now, the money you’re making from a free Facebook group, if you have 10,000 people, is $0. The community is the product, because it’s Facebook.
  • 38:41 Everyone using Facebook is the product. Their attention is being sold to the advertisers. I don’t know if ads are in groups yet, but I do know it’s planned, if it hasn’t happened, it will. Facebook will monetize the attention. The point is, you’re making $0. This is something I want to do at CommunityTalk.com, I’m recording a new podcast called CommunityTalk. It’s a new podcast that we’re doing. Also, I’m going to be putting out educational content on CommunityTalk.com.
  • 39:31 We have this software. We’ve built the best community messaging system in the world. It’s a hybrid between real time conversation and evergreen conversation. It’s a mix. It’s both. It’s everything together on every platform, every device. It’s beautiful. It’s the glue to our membership. It’s the best out there, and we’re making this available. We aren’t just providing the software. We want to leverage our unique advantage, which is education.
  • 39:58 We’re really great at that, so I want to provide free educational material there—guides, courses, giving stuff away. Definitely go subscribe there, CommunityTalk.com, if you’re interested in hearing more about that. One of the guides I have planned is how to take your free Facebook group and turn it into a paid membership site on your own platform. I have different methods of doing this, different strategies—urgency, rewarding loyalty, introductory prices…
  • 40:29 I can pretty confidently say you’re going to get about 5% of your members to join. It involves doing some things you may not want to do, like close your Facebook group down. “But Sean!” That’s a topic for another time. If you get 10% of your 10,000 free Facebook group people to join your paid membership, these are your best people, your ambassadors, and you’ll build back up in no time, trust me—that’s 500 people.
  • 40:56 If your membership is $49 a month, and I won’t recommend charging less than that if you use CommunityTalk, because the experience is so premium, you’re talking about $24,000 a month. You’re taking a free 10,000 member Facebook group and turning it into $24,000 a month. That’s a little teaser.

How the seanwes Community Came About

  • 41:22 Sean: John says, “I’d be interested to know how the seanwes Community came about. How you handled initial low numbers, was it mostly friends and a small collective. Maybe free. Then layered up over time as the podcast grew it’s audience?” John, it was not free. It was a lower price in the beginning. It was the early people, and I wanted to reward that loyalty. It was initially low numbers. I ran a beta. I had a sign up list.
  • 41:58 Then I invited that sign up list to join the beta, and I can’t remember, but I think I charged an absurdly low amount, 50% of what we were going to debut at. That was for people to join the beta. It was a small group. We launched publicly, and then it pretty much grew from there. What am I missing, though? What other questions did you hear in what he said, and what can we open up?
  • 42:32 Ben: One of the disconnected pieces for me would be, where did the beta members come from? I think the beta members were key to having that growth. Another key to having that growth was the popularity of the podcast as it was going out regularly, and people were hearing about the Community. Sean, you were just talking about it into a lot of different channels. Where did that initial group come from?
  • 43:12 Sean: The initial group came from, pretty much, the newsletter, which was largely the podcast. Podcast people signed up for the newsletter, and then I invited them to join the beta.
  • 43:25 Ben: How many episodes into the podcast were we when we first opened up the chat?
  • 43:32 Sean: Were you there when we launched?
  • 43:34 Ben: Yeah.
  • 43:36 Sean: I couldn’t remember. It was pretty early.
  • 43:36 Ben: Did the chat open up? At first, it was just you and me in a room.
  • 43:42 Sean: No, at first, it was me and Aaron.
  • 43:44 Ben: I know. I mean, before the Community.
  • 43:49 Sean: Yes, we would record. We weren’t streaming live. There was no video, no Cory, no Community, no questions. This is how people podcast, Ben. It’s insane.
  • 44:06 Ben: I don’t think I could do it the other way.
  • 44:10 Sean: Remember when we used to feel all nervous. Now we would probably feel nervous if we did it without the Community.
  • 44:17 Ben: I think so. I kind of like having that real time feedback.
  • CommunityTalk is going to change the podcast game for a lot of people, because it has built in audio and video streaming.

  • 44:29 Sean: It’s just so good. You can hop on and engage with your community. It’s pretty cool. Back to John’s question. I think the best way to start a community is to leverage an audience. First, build an audience. That’s why we made the Audience Building Course. Go sign up. It’s free. We want to help people build audiences. Once you have an audience, turn that into a community.
  • 45:03 There’s only going to be a percentage of people that are going to join. I said that I wouldn’t recommend charging less than $49 a month if you’re using CommunityTalk. That would be the recommended price point, because it’s such a premium experience. You could charge less. There are different markets. Different people have different amounts of money to invest. It’s a premium experience, and I’m saying that you can charge more for it.
  • 45:32 That’s especially true when other people are using things like forums. I know that John said he would have to listen back to the recording, but I hope that answers his question.

Bridging the Gap Between Customer & Community

  • 45:43 Sean: Joe says, “Do you have any tips for bridging the gap between someone being a ‘customer’ and a ‘community member’?” This presumes that you have other things that you’re selling on the side. You sell a product, you have a customer, but they’re not a community member. How do you bridge that gap? You have to connect the dots. What is the product? How does the product connect to the person? That’s the first set of dots.
  • Connect the dots between the product and the person, then connect the dots between the person and the community.

  • 46:20 Who is this person? What can you derive about this person based on the product they bought, and how can you connect the dots of the story to the community you have? You bought a Hustle shirt. Why did you buy a Hustle shirt? You work hard. You’re not alone. There are other people like you. You bridge the gap through story.
  • 46:43 Ben: You bought a wood dye cut ampersand. Once upon a time, you bought one of those, because you’re a person who cares a great deal about quality. Quality is important to you in everything that you do, so you should be in this group of people who also feel the same way about quality.
  • 47:07 Sean: The short answer is, consult with Ben, because he can connect any two points with story. That’s what you tell people now.
  • 47:22 Ben: You know the “seven degrees to Kevin Bacon” game? I do it in two every time, no matter who it is. I’m that good at making those connections.

Making membership More Valuable

  • 47:33 Sean: Sarah says, “How do you make your members keep buying from you, and at the same time value their membership by rewarding loyalty?” I was like, “What do you mean? Can you tell me more about this?” She said, “When you spoil your members like you spoil us, how do you keep us buying?” I have three points, a three point answer to this:
    1. I don’t worry about it too much.
    2. There is the conference. It’s related, but a deeper level.
    3. My main focus is getting them to stay longer. Tell a friend.
  • 47:58 Yeah, we do have other products. Some have been around since before the membership. Some of them we’ve made since, but more of our energy is going into the membership. I’m not necessarily trying to upsell people a ton. That’s the first point. The second point is kind of counter to that. It’s a natural enhancement, a next level, that we have the conference. We’re not actually making money on the conference, so again, it’s more of an experience thing. Any amount we make, we’re putting into the experience.
  • 48:37 That’s maybe not a perfect example, but we do have the conference, which people can sign up for. The main third point is that we are not focused on maximizing the amount of revenue from our members. Maybe that’s not the greatest short term business decision. We could be making more money if we were really prioritizing pushing upsells. When you sign up, it’s like, “And you should sign up for this other thing!” How do we upgrade people? We could make different levels of membership with different access to things and charge more…
  • 49:11 We’re just not focused on that. For us, we are more focused on the membership and the Community experience. Our initial flagship programs, we still have those, but what we’re doing more and more now is that as we create new things to sell, we’re including it in the membership. We do a live training? Eventually, we’re going to sell recordings of those for $49. Include it in the membership. A mini course on Podcasting With Garageband? $99. Included in the membership.
  • 49:42 30 Days to Better Writing, build a writing habit in 30 days, $99. People sign up for it every day. They pay $99. Included in the membership. Getting Started With Video, another mini course coming out.
  • We’re going to be cranking out stuff this year, and it’s all included in the membership.

  • 49:58 Ben: What it does is that it makes the membership make so much more sense. People could pay the price of the mini course, or they could pay for a month of membership and get access to all of it. The membership really becomes a value pool, and you want people there because there’s a lot of value. Yeah, the membership makes money, but it also drives sales. You’re holding this thing up that has so much value. It wouldn’t make sense for them to buy this other thing, because they could get the same thing and all of this other stuff.
  • 50:53 Sean: Would you like just this, or this and everything else, for the same price? It makes a lot of sense. Our energy is going into making the membership amazing, because we believe if we invest in the people, they’re going to tell other people about it. What we’ve seen happen again and again is other people saying, “I know someone who wants to get better at writing. They want to build a writing habit.” My natural recommendation would be to go to 30DaystoBetterWriting.com.
  • 51:30 Also, I’m in the Community, and I know they should be in the Community. They’re not necessarily convinced. If I say, “Hey, we’ve got this really great mini course. You can buy it here, but it’s also part of the membership. There are so many other reasons you should be in here. You should just try it.” It gives people more resources to help recruit other people that they know would be a great fit. You invest more in them, and that helps everything else.
  • 52:03 Who asked that? Sarah. “How do you keep members buying more from you?” If we get someone to buy more, we make more revenue, but you’re taking for granted that they are a member and that they’re going to stay a member. They stay a member when the value is there. The more we add to that experience, the more value we add to their resources, the longer they stay. That is a way of getting more revenue, basically.
  • 52:32 If we reduce the churn rate and people stay longer, we retain them, that’s more revenue. At the same time, it has the double effect of making the membership that much better for them to recommend to others. They’re staying longer and recommending more people. Customer lifetime value is extended and growth is increased.

3 Things Sean Wishes He Had Known

  • 52:57 Sean: David says, “What three things do you really wish you’d known about building a community, before you actually did?” This was a later question, so I didn’t prepare or anything. It’s a lot of work. I thought it was a lot of work. You think you know it’s a lot of work. You’ve heard me say it’s a lot of work. You know it’s not going to be passive. You think it’s going to be a lot of work, but you don’t know how much work it’s going to be. Triple? Five times? It’s a lot more work.
  • 53:32 It’s still not a significant source of revenue for us. We have very little in the bank right now, and membership is not anywhere near, on a monthly basis, what we need to pay payroll. We’re doing a lot of other things to make up that revenue. We’re four years in? A little over three years in, and this is our full time job. We have a huge team that does nothing but make this amazing, and we’re three years in. When you think about just yourself doing this, prepare yourself.
  • 54:15 I didn’t charge enough. When we announced seanwes membership, we converted what was only a Community membership, into a seanwes membership, which includes the Community, but also tons of other resources in the Vault, over 500 podcast episodes, learning paths, mini courses, live training recordings… tons of things. Go to every conference I go to. When I take notes from a conference, I put all my notes in the Vault. There’s tons of value there.
  • 54:49 When we announced seanwes membership and the price, Justin said, “What price would you be comfortable with setting and leaving for five years?” I was like, “Five years! That’s a long time!” It made me think longer term.
  • You don’t want to always be changing or increasing the price of your community membership.

  • 55:09 As you increase the value, Ed asked something like, “What price should it be, when should you increase the price?” The price should be one tenth of the value. The amount of value you provide should be ten times the price. When the amount of value you provide is more than ten times the price, you should increase the price.
  • 55:35 Ben: But don’t do that too often.
  • 55:38 Sean: There you go. It’s a rule of thumb. If you get to 15X or 18X the value, it doesn’t mean you should immediately increase the price. It’s just, you know, check yourself every couple of years or something. Make sure you’re along that. You’re probably undercharging. We teach Value-Based Pricing, which is logical, mathematical equations to come up with the perfect price that will be a no-brainer for your client and amazing for you.
  • 56:10 Both of you will be 100% happy. No other pricing method guarantees this except Value-Based Pricing. We’re all about calculated pricing. No one really does understand Value-Based Pricing, because we had to develop pricing calculators. People think they know, “You figure out the value, you price a percentage of that.” It’s not that simple. If you send a price to a client and you don’t know that they’ll say yes, you’re not doing Value-Based Pricing.
  • 56:39 If you send a price to a client and you’re kind of not happy with it, but you think they will be, or you’re happy with it but you’re not sure if they will be 100% sure, you’re not doing Value-Based Pricing. I say all that to say that we are big on scientific, Value-Based Pricing, mathematical, logical, no question. What a lot of people say when you have a price is, “A good rule of thumb is that you should double your rates. Whatever you charge, charge more.” While I don’t agree with that when it comes to client work, that sentiment applies to community.
  • The price you think you’re going to charge for your membership is too low, so increase it.

  • 57:26 You probably want to increase it 50%. In most cases, I would say 100%. That’s going to sound insane to you, but I promise, that’s what it probably should be. You should start there and reverse-engineer it. Instead of saying, “This is the price. Okay, it’s probably good enough. I hope it’s low enough for people to sign up,” start big. Start with what feels too big, because very quickly, in three months, you’ll be like, “I am working way too hard and providing too much, and it’s too cheap.”
  • 57:59 You can’t change anything then. It should make you feel uncomfortable now. Use that discomfort. Channel that energy into providing enough value. You’re like, “That’s way too much. I can’t charge that much.” The reason you can’t charge that much is because you don’t have the guts to provide that much value. Get uncomfortable, and let that discomfort fuel your energy to create more value for people. Hopefully I delivered on the three things I would do differently.
  • 58:29 Ben: I think so.

In-Person Community

  • 58:43 Cory: This might be a little bit different from what we’re talking about, but I think about in-person communities. In San Antonio, I know several people who do meetups and stuff. Obviously, this is a free thing, but if there were some kind of paid membership, in person, it starts local, and you said that you need to have regular content if it’s online. You could do shows, videos, give exclusive content.
  • 59:18 Sean: Charge for your membership. I didn’t even get to the mistakes. These are mistakes people make with a community—not having the conversation in one place, not charging, discounting, free trials, and that’s good for more people, but it’s not good for getting the best people.
  • 59:38 Cory: You said that there needs to be regular content to keep it live and thriving, so what if that was meeting up, doing workshops, or for me, I do film, so it would be some kind of film making community? I know people, local to San Antonio, who do this. What if I started in person, not online, and I dominated after several years? What if I dominated San Antonio, to where if people are anywhere within a five mile radius and they’re into film, they’re like, “Oh, Cory McCabe.”
  • 01:00:11 I’m thinking big. What if I dominated San Antonio, and then I wanted to put it online? That’s why we have the conference. People like in-person interactions. They like meeting with people. The SaaS app, CommunityTalk, is the closest you can get to that. People do value the in-person interactions. I’m wondering if you could start local and in person?
  • 01:00:42 Sean: If you start it online, it can automatically be international. That’s pretty nice. You have people who meet up in their own location, and it’s automatic. If you start local and you go online, the first thing it’s going to be is that it’s going to be an online version of a localized community. “This is the San Antonio community group’s online component.”
  • 01:01:12 Cory: You probably wouldn’t call it that.
  • 01:01:13 Sean: No, but I’m saying, that’s what it would be. That’s where it would start, the first stage. You will then have to work to make this more internationalized. You’re going to have to work to reposition the group, even with a new name. The name doesn’t do it for people. They’re going to know, “That’s the San Antonio group. He’s the lettering guy.” No, I haven’t done lettering since 2013. It doesn’t matter.
  • It takes years to reposition what people have in their minds about the identity of your community if you start in person and then move online.

  • 01:01:44 I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m just saying, that’s the first stage. You’re going to have to work to expand the general public’s notion of what this group is. Initially, it will be seen as the online component of a localized community group. The thing that’s your advantage that you can leverage is that unlike a community that started online, you know what’s required to host and put on localized, in-person meetups. That’s something that the online communities don’t have, and they have to work for.
  • 01:02:18 If you can codify that, systematize it, create processes, and employ or empower other people, give them the resources, train them, etc., to be able to host these in-person meetups in different areas, as you do that in San Fransisco, New York City, Chicago, London… then, the group will take on that more internationalized meaning and identity. That’s the approach you would have to take if you started local.
  • 01:02:54 Ben: I know that in certain industries, there are challenges to doing something online vs. doing something in person, in terms of how you’re able to communicate, what you’re able to demonstrate, etc. I like the idea that attempting to overcome those challenges vs. saying, “Those are the challenges, so we’ll do it this way instead,” that becomes a catalyst for invention. Maybe you find some new, innovative way of having community online around video stuff that nobody has ever done before.
  • 01:03:34 You had to have some component that, normally, people would just write off, like, “We can’t do that with an online community the same way we would be able to do it in person.” I like how that might fuel invention.
  • 01:03:52 Cory: It’s just the thought. We were talking about building a community, and I was like, “What if it started in person?” Maybe it can.
  • 01:04:00 Sean: It totally can.