Building a community is essential for any business, but for a side hustle it’s especially important. Having a group of people who can act as brand advocates will help you raise awareness and grow sales.
A community is a group of people you bring together who share the same values as your business and have an interest in making it succeed.
While it’s famously hard to decide where to spend your time as an early-stage business, it’s well worth putting the effort into nurturing a community. It can help with everything from customer research to marketing, and even help you fill recruitment gaps as you grow.
We look at the different community-building tactics that side hustles can use to their advantage and where you can go to get help.
1. Ask customers for feedback
When your business is new, feedback from potential customers is one of the best ways to make sure you’re developing products and services that people want.
Asking for feedback also has the added benefit of making people feel like part of your journey, which is a great first step in building a community.
Here are three options to try:
- Talk directly to customers. This works well if you have regular face-to-face contact with your target audience, perhaps at a market or events. Develop a short set of questions and remember to also ask those who don’t buy so you can understand what’s stopping them.
- Create a focus group. As your customer base grows, approach loyal customers to take part in a regular focus group. This is a useful tactic if you’re launching a range of new products or making lots of changes to existing ones.
- Form a digital group. This is one of the easiest ways to get feedback on a regular basis. Try a tool like Slack or set up a WhatsApp group. Remember not to bombard people in the group with questions; keep updates or requests succinct.
2. Be clear about your values
It can be hard to build customer loyalty in the early days when brand awareness is low. This is why you need to set out your vision, mission and purpose in a way that taps into what your target audience cares about.
If they believe in what you do, they’re more likely to use your business again and tell people to do the same. Use the customer feedback tactics above to find out if your purpose resonates with your audience and adapt it where necessary.
Once you’ve nailed it, communicate it clearly in your brand messaging, design and marketing. It could make the difference between potential customers choosing your business over someone else’s.
3. Find brand advocates
There’s nothing more powerful than real customers talking positively about your products or services within their networks. People want genuine, honest recommendations and this is where your advocates come in.
Put simply, these are your most loyal customers. The ones who understand your points of difference, believe in your purpose and care about your business growing. Take time to find the right people and nurture their involvement – make them feel special through praise, incentives and exclusives.
Encouraging social media ambassadors
Social media is a great place to start with finding ambassadors. If you’ve made a decent number of sales then, chances are, someone is already posting about your business.
Identify potential ambassadors by searching your product or business hashtags and regularly checking your mentions. From there, you can encourage people to promote your business in lots of different ways, from sharing your posts to recording videos of them trying your products.
Give them lots of creative ideas and assets to use, but make sure they have freedom to speak honestly so they remain authentic.
4. Keep customer engagement high
Real-life customers can be like gold dust when you’re running a side hustle, so try to develop a relationship with the people who have bought from you.
Celebrate customers and clients
Make sure that all the hard work you spend nurturing your communities is visible to the outside world. Celebrate your customers and clients and reflect how much you appreciate their custom by:
- Publishing case studies and testimonials on your site and social channels. This highlights the positive experiences people have had working with you, and also showcases the kind of clients you have won.
- Sharing online reviews. A feed through to the product pages of your website is a great idea to nudge potential customers into buying.
Reward regular customers
Starting to build up a regular customer base of people who are making repeat purchases? Don’t miss the opportunity to reward the people who spend with you regularly. Try these tips to ensure you keep their custom in the long term:
- Create an email list of repeat customers
- Send them exclusive offers and deals
- Offer them incentives if they introduce new customers
5. Develop your own community
In addition to building communities around your customers and clients, don’t forget how useful it is to have your own community to tap into.
Connecting with other businesses is a powerful way to find support, talk through challenges and get referrals and recommendations.
Start building your community by:
- Finding online groups and interacting. LinkedIn and Facebook can be great places to find relevant business communities.
- Contacting membership bodies. They often have online forums and run member meetups where you’ll meet people in the same industry. Enterprise Nation has a large community of side hustles and early-stage businesses.
- Attend business networking events. Local events allow you to meet people face-to-face and online events can help you make connections further afield.