Most founders work long hours to bring their business to life. It’s no surprise that few have the time or energy to focus on growing their network.
Even if you do have a spare afternoon, the thought of networking can seem less than appealing: stuffy events, small talk by the truckload and awkward cold introductions.
The thing is, a community of peers, business contacts and loyal customers isn’t just a nice-to-have. Many entrepreneurs would argue that it’s critical, especially if you want to raise investment in the next few years.
And the good news is that building this community doesn’t needn’t involve a single plastic wine glass or soulless function room if you don’t want it to.
Here are some of the benefits of building a community around your startup, the impact it can have when crowdfunding and how to get started.
Why build a community?
Having a solid network of peers, industry pros and fellow entrepreneurs has lots of benefits, both professional and personal.
Professionally, your community can help with everything from staying up to date with trends to potential collaborations. It can be a key source of insight and guidance; you might be surprised at just how generous people in these circles are with their knowledge and experience.
On a personal level, having a community also provides support and camaraderie. Starting a business can be a lonely gig, particularly if you’re a solo founder. A strong community can prove invaluable when you’re dealing with some of the challenges of growth.
Then, there’s the public community around your business too. Your startup’s community might be made up of engaged customers, employees, influencers and partners – in other words, people who will act as advocates for your product or service.
Your next investors
For companies at seed stage, there’s a particular benefit to having strong connections and an engaged community: investment opportunities.
A huge part of raising funds is building a buzz around your startup, and it’s much easier to do that if you already have a vocal group of fans. The people in your community could be your next investors – and if not, they might well be able to introduce you to them.
So, whether you’re thinking of seeking out angel investors or raising cash through crowdfunding, community really is king.
How to build a community for your startup
If you’re in the early days of your business, the thought of creating a network from scratch can be daunting. But rarely do we actually have to begin at ground zero. The chances are you already have some valuable connections – you might just be overlooking them.
Reach out to family and friends
Friends and family may not strike you as the most obvious people to call on when you’re looking to widen your network, but are always a great place to start.
Whether they’re in the same industry or not, it’s worth putting the feelers out, introducing your business and explaining that you’re looking to make connections and grow your circle. They might have some relevant contacts of their own to introduce you to.
The same goes for former colleagues, classmates from university and even old lecturers in relevant fields. Go through your social media accounts and make a list of people you could call, text or email, then hit them up.
Professional communities for business owners and leaders are thriving in the remote working age – so seek them out and get involved.
Facebook has some really active groups for different industries and LinkedIn is an obvious place to hunt for like-minded contacts and helpful pages to follow.
There are also paid-for groups which often run their own networking events, workshops and talks for members.
Once you’re in the fold of a group, don’t be shy. Get involved in conversations, instigate and attend IRL meetups, respond to others’ questions and call on the hive mind for advice and opinions.
Value your customers
Building your customer base and gathering new followers is something you’re likely already very focused on as a startup. But it’s not just about quantity – make sure you’re focusing on quality too.
A small but engaged customer community can be surprisingly powerful. Here are some ways that you can start cultivating that engagement and nurturing a sense of community among your customers:
- Personalise the customer experience. Customers who enjoy dealing with your brand and get a tailored service will feel seen and valued
- Create dialogue. Keep in touch with your customers and communicate with them through their preferred platform (social media is an especially great tool for this)
- Be transparent. Letting your customers in on what’s happening behind the scenes or sharing regular updates will help them to feel like insiders
- Ask for their opinions. Give customers lots of opportunities to tell you what you could improve – and then act on it so they know their opinion matters to you
- Reward loyalty. Let your customers know first about new product launches or give them access to exclusive deals
How to leverage your network to find investment
There are lots of different options when it comes to funding. The best fit for your business will depend on the stage you’re at, how much you want to raise and the type of product or service you sell.
Talking to other founders will allow you to learn from their experiences and see which is the best route forward. You might even be able to strike up a deal with a few to look over your pitch deck and offer feedback, or even share some of their own contacts.
Crowdfunding for your startup
Equity crowdfunding platforms give customers the chance to own part of your business. This can be a great way to capitalise on that stellar community you’ve built.
With crowdfunding, anyone from the general public can invest in your company. However, if you’ve already got an engaged community, these people are likely to be the easiest to convert.
You can also gauge interest before you go ahead with a campaign. Reach out to your community to see if they would want to invest and, if so, how much and how quickly they could move. From those replies, you could probably expect anywhere between 10% and 50% to actually invest when the time comes.
You can read more about preparing to crowdfund and what makes a successful campaign here.