I’ve always thought of a community as being like relationships. Some come and go, some stay for a while, and some are forever. Communities give us a place to belong, a place to understand who we are, and a place to be ourselves.
A group of like-minded people navigating similar experiences is a powerful concept. Understanding where these communities are and the right ones to invest time into is hard to find. Today, I’m going to tell you how.
HOW TO BUILD A COMMUNITY BASED ON ONE YOU ADMIRE
While there is A LOT of talk about how to build a community for yourself or your company, there isn’t much discussion about building relationships within a pre-existing community.
In this article, my goal is to share personal experiences about finding a pre-existing community that was right for me, and how it has changed my trajectory over the past three years.
Two People Who Built An Amazing Community
When entering Next Gen, I never understood how befriending founders Justin Lafazan and Dylan Gambardella would lead to the following:
- Best friends in the entrepreneur community, at a time in my life when I was looking for my personal “home.”
- An introduction to their advisor and my current client David Schnurman helped transform our business from the ground up. He has been teaching us how to productize our services and has been a huge referral source for new business. Simply stated, he is a true mensch.
- A feature on Thrive Global’s website and newsletter through Next Gen’s content partnership
- An introduction to branding expert and Next Gen Board Advisor Rich Keller, who is helping us behind the scenes as we craft our brand identity around our “Core Value.” Now, we can more clearly communicate our company’s reason for being
- My first two paid speaking engagements, recently held in Minnesota and Ohio
However, none of this would be possible without the relationships I’ve built with them and their community. I share more in-depth in this article about the science of leveraging a community — the right way.
The Next Gen community has fundamentally shaped my career path, and it can for you too. I’m sharing this article to help you work with their community or others you belong to in a similar light.
REMEMBER WHEN BREAKING INTO A NEW COMMUNITY:
Give Before You Take
A common mistake people make when breaking into a new group is making asks or pushing sales right away. Once they find a group that fits their business model, they’ll look at its members as potential leads or consumers instead of people.
Taking without giving will make anyone in any community feel wary of you. First of all, this will make community leaders take a skeptical view of your membership. If you seem like a “taker,” people will definitely question your true intentions and wonder what you’re really doing there.
Ask yourself this question when you join a community: how do you add value for the rest of the group? Focusing your initial efforts on giving back to a community that welcomes you in will ensure you never come across as selfish. What can you share that relates back to the reason it was created?
In the book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, Adam Grant discusses this symbiotic relationship. Notice how it’s *not* titled “Take and Give.”
Communities exist to help people through a common experience, but the value you receive and the value you give should be equal. I’m a firm believer in this sentiment, too.
On the flip side, the best way to make a positive impression when you enter a community is a personalized introduction. Share a little about yourself, including what you care about and how you can help.
Let people get to know you for who you are; the real you is always the best version of yourself. Communities are like pizzas. Each slice is made up of different personalities with all flavors of thinking and types of interests.
Each of these silos is built around a common promise: what the community stands for. Next Gen, for example, centers on building momentum for its members, a premise every kind of entrepreneur can relate to on a personal level.
Lastly, remember that communities work from the top down. Forming a true friendship with the person who runs the community is the most valuable investment of time you can make.
My relationships with Justin Lafazan, Dylan Gambardella, Rachel Leigh Gross, and former director Haley Hoffman Smith have paid dividends not just in my professional life, but also my personal one in the form of lasting, lifelong friendships.
Yes, my “internet friends” have actually transformed into the IRL kind — and yours can, too!
FINDING YOUR TRIBE WITHIN A GREATER COMMUNITY
When I first introduced myself on Next Gen’s Facebook page, I shared about the business I was starting, which you now know of as Wish Dish. I posted that I lived in Atlanta and was looking to learn more about media.
This single post led to some incredible relationships, like my friend Case Kenny. At the time, he was building PRSUIT, a similar platform as mine, with a few key differences.
We began having weekly phone calls to go over metrics and analytics to better understand content performance. Just recently, I visited Case in Chicago after three years of keeping in touch virtually via texts and phone calls.
I also established a hyper-local relationship with Partha Unnava, founder of Lasso, who was living in Atlanta full time. One night, I met Partha for whiskey with a few of his friends, and he connected me all around town. We’ve been close friends ever since.
Lastly, another profound relationship I’ve made is one with Tom Worcester. He’s like a more unfiltered version of myself. We can talk about life in a way I just can’t do with the average person. While I’ve helped him with launching his Kickstarter and planning, he’s helped me become more free and look at life from a unique perspective.
Communities exist to give all sorts of people a place they can call home. Just like when you enter someone’s real house, the way you enter a community is equally important.
Put your best foot forward by crossing the welcome mat with an attitude of respect and generosity. Paired with an open mind, this approach will help you organically build the right relationships internally with people who care.
Just one Facebook post shared in a personal way helped me spread my wings and attract the right people within the Next Gen group.
The Power of a Community Advisor
Strong communities and brands have advisors above them that can guide the people leading the community. They share different experiences, where the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Next Gen has made been the place where I’ve started very important relationships:
When I launched my business, Justin Lafazan introduced me to David Schnurman, CEO of Lawline, and then-future (now present) Author of The Fast Forward Mindset. Justin gave me a call almost a year to this date and said, “I want you to meet our advisor David. He is very pro-business building and has taught us so much. He is launching a book and I told him about you.”
Within a month of meeting David, he became an early client. I’ll never forget when he said this to me: “I believe in what you’re doing, and I want to help you build your business.”
When I first met David in New York, and he asked me, “Do you want to build a one-man consultancy, or a real business?” At the time, I was terrified of scaling beyond myself while keeping quality high. But working with David, all fears eventually diminished.
Within a year, David helped us lay out a roadmap to build a six-figure business, with two full-time employees, tons of talented subcontractors, and inspiring clients including Rick Smith, the Founder of TASER (now Axon), Nir Eyal, Mark Green, Joel “Thor” Neeb, and Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
One relationship from Next Gen completely gave us the lifeline to understand how to build a business, and work with other clients, which is a skill in itself. This is especially critical for a service-based business that’s learning how to productize.
As our company has expanded, many thanks to the introduction to David and our #2 Carson, we have outgrown our initial shell, and were then introduced to branding expert, Rich Keller, who spoke at Next Gen Summit 2019.
Rich left the corporate world, where he crafted identities for iconic brands like Godiva and Planters, to dedicate his time to working with young entrepreneurs. He helps founders understand that their personal brand’s core value and their business venture’s core value are one and the same.
Why? Because people buy human connection, making the young entrepreneur the brand (Think Howard Schultz and his success with Starbucks and Sara Blakely with Spanx). Working with Rich has completely reshaped how I’m thinking about communicating the core value we are offering our clients so they succeed.
Using Rich’s process, we have built a purpose statement (+much more), and have really bought into how we are selling belonging, and have started the process of a structural rebrand/pivot, which will carry over into the design of our assets + visual identity, and future content.
THE VALUE RELATIONSHIPS ADD IS UNLIMITED
These relationships alone have contributed towards six figures of value in the past 12 months. Forming them has proven to be instrumental in taking our work to the next level, thanks very much to the springboard Next Gen provides.
A community isn’t just about the relationships it can offer; it’s about giving back, too.
I’ve tried to teach Dylan and Justin the frameworks to how to build and scale a global community around the right people. The key ingredient in this effort has been introducing them to potential community members, partnerships, and scalable processes to make them more valuable to their brand partners. They are doing an incredible job in this department.
Relationship building with the right people should always start from a place of authenticity. Position yourself in peoples’ lives based on their needs so you can help them accomplish their goals.
As the saying goes, “When you help people get what they want, they help you get what you want.”
WHY FOCUSING ON THE INTERNAL MAKES EXTERNAL NOISE
As I’ve become increasingly entrenched in Next Gen’s brand, I’ve tried to help them build relationships within their community and be an advocate for their brand. In return, they have extended the olive branch twofold.
When I launched our website, Dylan and Justin featured us with prominent placements in their newsletter and a feature on Thrive Global.
As my first major press piece outside of traditional podcasts or radio recordings, this exposure helped legitimize my prior work while carving out space for new opportunities in the future.
I truly believe that having a stellar piece of PR to share our internal foundational work has been incredible helping put us on the map.
Ever generous, Justin and Dylan invited me to speak at their event on a panel where they aligned with Target in Minnesota. I laid out the essential concepts of Marketing 101 to a group of people just getting into entrepreneurship.
Just recently, I received an email from Justin out of the blue. The message it contained blew my mind: he had booked me a confirmed paid speaking opportunity in Ohio to help influence and educate 450+ youth entrepreneurs.
Community First: Why Next Get Matters
Dylan and Justin have built a platform that puts their community first. They aren’t improperly monetizing the group they’ve built. Instead, they’re focused on providing the community, education, resources, and mentorship their members need to succeed.
What Next Gen is building is special. One day, I know their message will touch hundreds of thousands of people as they establish an even greater scalable structure.
Chapter one of Your Story Begins Here
My story with Next Gen can be your story, too. All you need to do is to invest and give back within this community. I can say with full confidence that they can play a key role in helping you win big with your long-term entrepreneurial goals.
I’m proud to call Justin and Dylan two mensches. These two founders who are obsessively passionate about connecting, curating, and bringing young minds together around a shared purpose: FREEDOM.
Their momentum is just getting started, and I can’t wait to see what they will do.