Launching a new community can fill you with equal parts enthusiasm and uncertainty — especially if it’s your first time.
You need a smart strategy and you need to execute it well. There is a lot to think about and a lot to do.
Nothing I write here will make your launch easy, but what you’re about to read can help you bring some much-needed clarity to the process.
The three principles below do not constitute a roadmap to a successful launch; that would need to be much more extensive and detailed. But if you understand the 7 Principles for Belonging described here, and then keep the simple steps from this post in mind as you plan your launch, you’ll put yourself in a good position to develop a thriving online community.
Let’s break down how to seed, serve, and solve your way to a successful launch for your paid community launch.
1. Seed your community with discounted (or free) cohort of members.
If you’re thinking about launching a formal paid community, then presumably some kind of informal community has built up around your content. This might take the form of Twitter discussions, comments on YouTube, or even just a series of one-on-one exchanges you’re having with email subscribers.
No matter how big or active this informal community becomes, it’s a big step to transition to a formal community. Don’t just assume if you build it, they will come. This isn’t a movie. It’s real life, and people have significant demands on their time and attention.
Your community has to be able to cut through those demands to prove its value, especially if you are going to charge money for it.
But herein lies a conundrum.
Communities are valuable because of the shared enthusiasm, generosity, and experiences that individual members bring. But how do you get members to show up and engage when they’re the first ones to the party?
One proven method is seeding your community with a group of members who join at the same time, enticed by discounted (or even free) membership.
This solves two major problems for you:
- By getting a group of people to join at once (minimum 10-20), you provide the opportunity for immediate connection. No one is alone, typing into the void, which is as sure a way as any to kill a new member’s immediate enthusiasm.
- By offering discounted (or free) membership, you provide an enticement for folks to invest their valuable time and attention in helping you build your community. They are giving you something of value, because their presence will make your community more enticing to future paying members. So you should give them something of value (a discount) in return.
I know this strategy can present its perceived challenges.
- If you’re going to get at least 10-20 people to join you in a community, you probably need an audience (usually in the form of an email list) of at least 100-200 people. That might mean you need to be patient while your list develops.
- And it can be difficult to justify giving discounted (or free) membership to the most engaged and likely-to-pay audience members you’ve painstakingly built.
But trust me: if you commit to this kind of strategic patience and generosity, it will make your strategy for building a paid community so much more likely to succeed.
Which brings us to the second principle for a successful paid community launch …
2. Serve your initial members like they’re paying a premium.
Once you’ve seeded your community with an initial cohort of members who aren’t paying you much (if any) money, it can be tempting to immediately turn your attention to getting your full-price paid offer ready. And sure, you should absolutely be thinking about the offer you’re going to make.
But here’s the key point to remember:
One of the most important elements of the offer you’re going to make to potential paying members of your community is that they will be joining a thriving, engaged community that will help them transform in some meaningful way.
So you have to make sure that your community is, in fact, thriving and engaged. Otherwise, you’re offering little more than snake oil.
And the most important factor in creating an active community, especially in the beginning, is active leadership. That means you.
Yes, you eventually want to create a community in which some significant portion of the engagement is member-driven, and in which you may even have member leaders and moderators emerge. But that takes time to develop. Assuming it will happen right away is a recipe for failure.
You need to execute a smart content and conversation strategy from the get-go. Don’t hold back. You may bristle at investing time serving a community that isn’t yet generating any financial return, but you have to get over that. (Or get out of community building.)
In fact, you should flip your mindset. Engage your initial cohort of members like they are paying you double. Because the reality is that these members can still end up being some of your most profitable members.
Not only can these early believers become ambassadors who bring in future paying members, they are also prime candidates to purchase paid add-ons (like advanced courses or events) that you might add in the future.
Your attitude and actions during this stage are everything. In the immortal words of Ben Affleck’s character from Boiler Room: Act as if. (Warning: profanity.)
Act as if you already have a throng of paying members who you are obligated to engage and serve. Then perhaps someday you actually will.
Now that we’ve gone over why you need to seed and serve your community, let’s talk about the third key element to a successful launch.
3. Solve a meaningful problem quickly.
When people join your community, they are looking for something. Ideally, you will understand what this something is before you ever launch your community.
This is one of the main reasons why it’s smart to be patient before launching your community: it gives you time to develop a deep understanding of the people who will eventually become your members. This understanding, and the empathy that hopefully accompanies it, is what makes you equipped to lead the community.
You should channel what you know about your members into offering something that solves a meaningful problem quickly. There is no better way to convince a member they should stick around and invest more time in your community.
So how do you do this?
One proven method is with a course.
There is an old adage in online education and community circles that goes something like this: people pay for education then stay for community. The reason for this is pretty simple.
The most straightforward and compelling offer you can make is one promising an immediate solution to a pressing problem. Online courses are great at delivering on this promise. But once you’ve consumed the course content … what’s next? You got the sale, but how do you extend the relationship and ensure that the people who take the course actually take action on what it teaches?
This is where community comes in as the perfect complement.
Consuming course content may help someone out mentally or intellectually, but what about the emotional and even spiritual elements required for someone to actually follow through on making a desired change? Sharing the experience with other like-hearted and like-minded members can help people follow through on their intentions.
So a course-plus-community strategy is a textbook way to solve an immediate problem while establishing an ongoing commercial relationship — especially if you’re looking to charge a premium for your community. This is how we structured the Unemployable Initiative and 7-Figure Small Intensive ($499 per year).
But course-plus-community isn’t the only way to go.
Your community itself can provide an immediate, meaningful solution, though you likely won’t be able to charge as much as you can leading with a course.
For example, the community I set up for my audience of Indiana University basketball fans solves an immediate problem by giving members a private space to discuss the team without the negativity and distraction of Twitter or Facebook. It’s a meaningful problem, enough for people to pay $24.99 per year or $3.99 per month, but not important enough to warrant a higher price.
The most foundational step in any successful community launch is approaching it with a sense of pride. If you don’t feel confident about your ability to host an online community that will be attuned and attentive to its members needs, how on earth are you going to convince anyone to join it?
Once that pride is in place, let humility guide you.
Without it, you run the risk of your pride morphing into the kind of hubris that can lead you to wonder why you’re giving membership away for free or investing so much time building engagement without paying members. You might forget that your job is helping your members solve meaningful problems, not just banking their recurring payments.
Keep your pride and humility in balance, and you’ll increase your chances of creating a strong foundation for your community with a methodical, effective launch.
Now here are some additional links on this topic …
Put these launch principles into action
My advice above is pretty high-level. This post from The Membership Guys gets a little more granular with some specific launch strategies you can try.
Breaking Down the 6 Different Types of Membership Launch | The Membership Guys
Find your rocks
If it seems like I’m always linking to FeverBee … well, that’s because I am. I’m finding that I really relate to the way Rich Millington views community building. In this short post, which I didn’t read until after writing mine, he echoes the standard number of 10-20 people you should have to seed your community.
Seeding Your Online Community | FeverBee
A 9-step plan for a successful community
This post goes beyond principles for a successful launch and illustrates how you devise a broad plan for a successful community, from business alignment and values to budget.
Thank you for reading this issue of Primility.
Please consider forwarding it to a friend who wants to be a better servant leader and build a strong online community.
Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash