Selling Community in 2023
4 min read

Selling Community in 2023

Some challenges and ideas for building a sales and marketing strategy.
Selling Community in 2023

If you’re hoping to grow a community business in 2023, a lot of what you might be hearing right now is not optimistic:

  • With the winding down of the pandemic, people are finding other social options to occupy their time.
  • We are spending less on things that feel optional because of inflation and a pending recession.
  • Many of the communities that were started in the last few years are now either ghost towns or defunct.

We are living in very different social, business, and online media environments than we were just a couple of years ago. That is a big challenge, and it’s also a huge opportunity to learn to design for growth that can work long-term, regardless of any one outside factor.

If you’re looking to build a long-lasting, resilient business that helps people connect, it’s time to get strategic about how to grow this year.

Almost all of the community business builders I work with are looking to build a business that gets them paid well without compromising their values.

I’m sharing here the most popular growth challenges I see and what I usually recommend in each case.

Challenge: I’m starting from scratch and am overwhelmed.

Solution: Build 1:1 relationships with potential members.

If you’re starting with a small audience, get really focused on getting to know who the community is for before you think about what the community will be. Find 5 of those people to chat with 1:1. Ask them about the topic of the community and just listen. Once you’ve found a handful of people interested in learning more, build a tiny, short-term experience that is a microcosm of your community (a weekend virtual retreat, a workshop, a one-week challenge, etc). Make it a paid offer and share it first with the people you’ve already talked to. Worry about marketing only after you’ve sold your first few seats 1:1.

Challenge: I’m just one person (or a small team) and we can’t be full-time marketers.

Solution: Pick 1-2 platforms.

A lot of early-stage community business leaders feel like they need to be everywhere… they’ll make YouTube videos, take clips and put them on TikTok, think of short ideas to spread on Twitter and records Instagram Reels. Social media channels not only take longer than we realize to do right, they also tend to drain a lot of our creative energy. Especially if we’ve chosen a channel we’re not comfortable in. Pick 1 or 2 places to show up online consistently and ignore the rest.

Challenge: I’m scared to grow an audience on social media platforms whose futures are uncertain.

Solution: Add partnerships as part of your strategy.

This is a sentiment that is becoming more and more valid. Twitter ownership is a mess, TikTok could get banned in the U.S., Instagram algorithms change all the time. Those are all still valuable platforms if that’s where you and your potential members are comfortable. A way to balance the volatility of social media is to combine your social media strategy with a repeatable, more stable, partnership strategy. By “partnership” I mean anything you can do to get in front of someone else’s audience. This could mean being a guest on podcasts, doing free workshops for other groups or communities, co-hosting events with others, guest posting and many other creative ways to find more of your members. Building and improving your partnership strategy is a great way to balance out our reliance on big volatile social media platforms.

Challenge: I’m uncomfortable marketing and selling the community I’m building.

Solution: Make friends with other community business leaders.

Selling is vulnerable and it brings out many of our deepest insecurities and fears including unworthiness, rejection, abandonment, and loneliness. Feeling uncomfortable about it makes sense! I find the best way to get comfortable with it is to surround yourself with others who are also out there feeling the feelings and trying to figure it out. Find a small group you can trust to share these (very common!) feelings with. (BACB is a great place for this!)

Challenge: We focused all of our marketing on a big launch and our results were disappointing.

Solution: Find a way to acquire and nurture your potential members all year.

The purpose of your launch is two things: for new potential members to find you, and to give people who are already interested in what you’re selling a small incentive to buy now. The new potential members who find you via a launch, many times won’t be ready to buy during that launch. If you only think about marketing 1-2 times a year, you’re limiting the pool of people who are ready to buy during a launch. Instead, find a sustainable way to periodically check in with your audience all year.

Challenge: I built a free community as a marketing effort, but members aren’t converting to paid.

Solution: Re-think the free community.

I’ve written more about why free communities don’t tend to be a good path into a paid community here. Communities require member investment to work. Free communities tend to give away too much and take away any incentive to invest in a paid experience. Your efforts are much better spent on other channels. For example, instead of having another ongoing community space, consider hosting free events every month for those on your list. You want to design an experience that is less effort for you to maintain and that is a small first step into the paid community.

I believe that you can build a growth strategy that feels good to you and works to build a wildly successful community business. It doesn’t have to be hard, it doesn’t have to compromise your values.

If these challenges and solutions have gotten you thinking about your marketing strategy for the next year, I want to tell you about something I’m working on!

Over the next year, I’m hosting a series of workshops and mini-courses that address the challenges I mentioned here + others. These will be paid, but significantly less investment than the year-long BACB community experience. The price will start low and increase with every 20 signups. If any of these interest you, you can sign up for the waitlist below to be first to hear when they’re available.

Vote: which of these would you attend? Click the link (s) and I’ll let you know when we schedule the workshop you’re interested in:

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