Community Building 101: Why Having an In-Person Tribe Will Change Your Life
This is the first post in a series about building an in-person community in your geographical location. There is a metric ton of information about how to build a community online, but online communities often don't fill the void of entrepreneurial loneliness (which is a real thing), and I want us to have support as we go out there and change the world.
August 2014 was quite possibly the hardest month that I’ve ever had professionally (and when you work for yourself, professional sort of becomes personal, so it could be said it was the hardest month in recent memory).
I remember lying face up on my bed daily, staring at the ceiling, in the middle of the work day, alternating between crying and dry heaving into my kitchen sink. As a relatively fresh business owner, I debated quitting, moving back home to New York, and finding a “real job” like everyone else I knew, almost before my business even got out of its infancy.
I had just broken up with my long-term boyfriend, was struggling to finance, well, everything, I was thousands of miles away from family, and I felt totally directionless.
The people who were normally my support system listened, but as non-business owners, had no practical advice to give.
My colleagues from back in New York sent me online job postings.
My brother even offered to pay my moving costs from Montana, where I was living, back to New York.
Instead, I took a six-week road trip around the east coast to get my bearings and truly make a decision about my next step (because if nothing else, I knew that a six-week road trip would be an excellent plot point in whatever my story became).
Somewhere along the way, I stopped in a small town in North Carolina to attend a conference that I had heard about online. The agenda was vague and the premise wasn’t clearly defined, but I’d heard good things from people I trusted. Most of the attendees were in various stages of business ownership and despite low expectations, when I walked out of the hotel three days later, I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging that I hadn’t felt in my nearly one year of captaining my own professional ship. These people had been to the front lines of life. And they came back to tell deeply personal, yet valorous stories about their experiences.
I knew these were the sort of people I needed more of in my life. But I wanted them to be there every day, in person, instead of a million miles away.
On my way north to Washington, DC, I drafted an email to 10 other women I knew that lived in my town.
“Hey,” it read… “I want to get together to talk about how hard it is to be a business owner. To create a group of people we can bounce ideas off of. To feel supported when it’s hard. Would you want to be a part of it?”
Why I Needed to Find My Community
Humans, at our very core, crave connection. Even before social media, we’ve been looking for ways to simply be around other humans, within the boundaries and culture of our time period. Think about bowling leagues of the fifties and Tupperware parties of the eighties.
And while Facebook groups can be a great source of connection to those of us who are isolated in small towns or lonely in big cities, there’s not a lot that a Facebook group can do when you’re lying face up on your bed, alternating between tears and dry heaves.
We want to know that our loneliness is not unique, and the only way we can do that is to get positive proof from others that they at one point or another have felt the way we feel too. So when I proposed the idea of an in-person-business-owner’s-consortium-of-sorts, I wasn’t surprised when every single person emailed me back and said yes.
Over the course of the next two years, our Creative Lady Club met regularly to discuss our growth, our challenges, our frustrations, and our triumphs. We became much more than a group of business owners — we helped each other promote our services, we attended each other’s events, we became each other’s clients.
We’re each other’s first line of defense against all the icky things that life can throw at us. And man, it’s a nice feeling to have a team of people in the foxholes with you. And while this phenomenon is not new (think of every professional trade organization ever…they all have chapters to do exactly this), there’s something different about the way this particular generation approaches community-based groups.
Communities today are a place for total honesty. They’re a place for people to feel like the walls can come down, where they can be themselves, and where they are encouraged to share the truths of their lives, their businesses, their missions, and their dreams.
My own business mission is "to create spaces where people feel that they truly belong." I firmly believe that your network is your net worth and if you can be the person who works to build that community, who creates those safe spaces, who works hard to create consistency (which creates safety and belonging), it will change your business and your life.
Over the next week, we are going to talk about why building a tribe of people who have your back is the single greatest thing you can do for your business, and why every successful company has one, from a HUGE community to a very small, personal board of directors.
In this series, we’ll talk about how to find the right people, how to approach them, and how to keep your meetings productive and actionable. We’ll talk about the nitty gritty behind structuring meetings and troubleshooting sensitive discussion topics.
But for now, here’s an action step (and the exact first step that I take when I do…well, anything in my business and personal life) to help get you started before the next post in this series:
Make a list of 10 people in your city, state, or town that you would want on your company’s or life’s hypothetical steering committee.
Make sure they're accessible in-person. Maybe they can even meet you for coffee once a week or once a month.
That’s it. Just write the list down. Identify women and men across industries and across generations. Pick leaders who you someday want to be or ones in whom you identify enormous potential. Pick your peers that you respect and people whose legacy you admire.
Write it down. Tape it on the wall. And then tune in next week to read about what to do once you have this list of badass people at your fingertips.