Posted on 22 March, 2018  |  3 min

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea” — Quote from The Little Prince.

Being asked to write a blog for 9 Spokes is such a pleasure and a privilege, knowing their commitment to small business and their clear mission to assist in the engagement and productivity of this sector.

This blog is devoted to the subject of “building community” around a product or idea. This concept creates an insightful brief to help businesses engage better around the transactional goals they hold.

Since the late ‘90s, it has been possible to build online communities and the obsession with it has grown each year. Ecademy, to my knowledge, was the first social platform to enable this, called ‘Clubs in early 2000s. Since then, Facebook and LinkedIn have made community building relatively easy to set up. Twitter #tags also enables instant community conversation around a topic.

What lacks within some is the culture and skills to make a community successful. Building the ‘place’, adding a logo, writing posts within it, these can all be done as ‘head-based’ tasks. 

Running a community takes heart. 

I like to use the analogy of a pub. Anyone can run a pub, stock it with booze, provide food and issue a set of tasks to staff to deliver a service. It takes a special landlord to make you feel welcome loved and that you matter to them and the other pub-dwellers and ensure that you want to return again and again, and make it your ‘home’.

With the advent of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), we are all going to need to build community. Our ability to write to strangers and hope for a conversion to a sale will be massively impacted. I have never been an advocate of this method of marketing and so I welcome this change. Those that will struggle will be the task-based, process thinkers and doers, giving rise to the ‘people-based’ engagers. The naturally ‘social’ people within organisations know it is better to create an environment where “people come to buy rather than you go to sell”. Bring on the Community Builders and Managers!

So what does it take to build community? A place where people belong, feel loved, share in common values and thoughts and seek to raise one another rather than achieve their own goals alone? 

It takes a mindset of ‘us’. 

A leadership skill that is best studied in the teachings of ‘Servant leadership’ and the Self Actualisation of “Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs” when we achieve level 5 and want to help and inspire others.

To begin the process of community building, you must know your WHY. The reason you do what you do, sell what you sell and get out of bed in the morning. Then your WHO: who is it that you seek to serve and love. WHO else wants to do this, WHO else seeks to help the people you want to help. This is a common set of drivers, much like what drives me and what drives 9 Spokes. We all seek to serve the small business—we share the same values and intention, yet we do it with different products and services. We are collaborators.

WHAT, HOW and WHEN are the ‘head-based’ decisions and for this blog I am not focused on this. I want to focus on you being a ‘honey-pot’ that attracts people into your community due to your WHY and WHO. The only point here I must say in big bold letters: 


If you have a product or a service and you are passionate about the person you seek to serve, then you can be a Community Builder. Study the 10 features of Servant Leadership. Become a Leader, not a salesperson, lead them with love, inclusion, diversity and openness, and as I said in my first quote of this blog: "if you want to build a ship, don't drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea”.

Make sure you focus your thoughts and deeds on the vision you have and the view you want them to see, don’t focus your thoughts around the results and task, and never focus on a transactional outcome as that will stop people chatting, caring and loving you and more importantly, loving each other.

servant leadership

I had around 1,000 words as a brief. Mapping HOW to build community is impossible in such a small blog. I would be in danger of writing an article. However, if you would like to join The Business Cafe's Global Group on Facebook that I run, hopefully, you can learn from my example. 9 Spokes is a sponsor of The Business Cafe and part of our ‘Making Business Digital’ strategy, so we have great synergy in our missions.

I want to close by saying that the most powerful way to build a brand is to share your own journey, be open, vulnerable and be one of them. Leadership is not about being brilliant, being a guru or being looked up to. It is about all the people you seek to support and grow, they will value you more for your humanity and kindness and they will trust you for your weaknesses as much as your strengths. Be brave and be you—it is the best you can be.

Finally, there are two awesome days in your life. The day you were born, and the day you discover why you were born. Building a community might just give you that day.

Penny Power OBE was awarded her OBE in 2014 for Services to Entrepreneurship in the Social Digital Economy. She is the Founder of three trailblazing companies in the digital sector: Ecademy, Digital Youth Academy and now The Business Cafe. Follow Penny on Twitter @pennypower, Instagram at pennyfpower and join her community on Facebook. 

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