Think about your online community as a business

Building an online community is easy, right?  You just press a few buttons on some great new bit of technology and everything happens for you.

Everyone is doing it.  Hundreds of thousands of online communities are springing up everywhere due to the enhancement of technology and our use of social media.

But there is a wasteland of inactive online communities out there, that had so much promise.

They thought they would get members, engage them and make it self-sustaining and just like the underpants gnomes from Southpark whose business plan was

  • Phase 1: Collect underpants
  • Phase 2: ?
  • Phase 3: Profit


They failed.  But why did they fail?

At least the underpants gnomes had some sort of plan.  Most online communities start with none and try and make it up as they go along.

If you were to start a business that would be crazy.  Yes, you would be learning as you go along.  But if you did not have the basics in place it would be a waste of time and effort. Don’t let this happen to you.

Let’s start to think about building your online community in the same way you would start a business.

Could you answer these questions before you start?


1: Am I ready to start a business?

Are you ready for the time commitments and attention that you need to make it a success? Will you have too many distractions that will take you away from working on it, then perhaps it’s not the right time


2: What value am I providing?

You need to provide value otherwise no one will want to take part. You provide value by solving a problem or filling a need.


3: Who else is doing what I’m doing?

Your competitors are the second most important factor. While you have obviously started with an idea, you don’t want to do it exactly the same as someone else. Figure out how you can do it better and/or different than your competitors.  This will help you stand out from the crowd.


4: What contacts do I have in my industry?

Building a strong network is extremely important when starting. You can’t do this on your own. Build relationships with your industry and work out the ones that will participate and the ones that need to know.


5: What is my growth plan?

There is no shame in starting small and growing organically. In most cases, it will limit the amount of time you need to get started. It also gives you a chance to work out any kinks in your planning before you start scaling up.

Regardless of whether you are starting big or starting small, you need to set out a growth plan to ensure you hit milestones to indicate success. Start by identifying what you ultimately want to achieve and then work your way backwards to the beginning to figure out how you will get there.   And be realistic about your goals. It’s highly unlikely you’ll take over the world within the first 6 months.


6: How do I resource my growth?

Once you figure out what your launch looks like and when and how you will grow, figure out your resourcing needs. Only indicate what you need, regarding time, people, content and resources. This may change throughout your growth, so look at options for each milestone.


7: What are my hard stops?

One of the most important things is to know when to call it quits. It doesn’t mean you can’t move on to a new idea, but sometimes, what you are working on just isn’t working. Be realistic about your limits right from the start:

  • How many hours are you willing to put in each week before things get going?
  • How much resources do you need to help you make this work?
  • How long can you go without any engagement?
  • What is the minimum number of members you need to sustain activity?

The list could go on. Determine what is important to you and what you are willing to give up.


8: Is a plan really that important?

Yes. You’re not getting finance from a bank or other investors.  But a plan will help lay out your strategy all in one place. It will act as a roadmap for you to achieve success. And if you feel things aren’t working, then you can go back to your plan to figure out alternative strategies.


9: Do I believe in my idea?

This is possibly the most important question you could ask yourself. Believing in your idea doesn’t just mean “it will work.” You need to have a bit of passion for what you do because you will be spending a lot of time with that idea, shaping it and growing it.

Starting a business is never an easy thing to do, even if you feel like you “just fell into it.” It takes hard work and passion to get the idea off the ground, but it also takes sound strategy.


That’s nine tips on how to start a business.  How many have you thought about when starting your online community?

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