For small businesses, sometimes that's a really hard ceiling to break. Whereas in community, it gives you the opportunity to really amplify things to really make people feel like they belong to something which is even stronger than, hey, I really like this brand and that's where the resilience comes in.
It seems like everyone is adding a community or a membership to their product lineup these days. It's a great idea because it diversifies your revenue stream, allows you to be in direct conversation with your customers, and it scales pretty easily, but is having community right for your business and what makes a good community anyway? I'm Susan Boles, and you're listening to Break the Ceiling. The show where we break down unconventional strategies you can use to save time, boost your profit and increase your operational capacity.
We've been talking about risk and resilience this month. How you can manage risk and build resilience into your business, and one of the ways to make your business less risky is to build in more than one way you make money. Add some additional revenue streams, so that if something happens to one of those sources, the other ones can flow to you for a while so you can figure out what to do next. In the last episode, I talked to Joanne Holmes about how to leverage your intellectual property to create additional revenue streams like courses, licensing or books.
Harnessing your IP isn't the only way you could add additional revenue, or build resilience into your business. Today, we're talking about another option, building a community product around your business. Having a community as part of your business model can help create or fortify your sales pipeline. It can create another revenue stream, or it can just get you directly in touch with customers so that every product or service you create can exactly meet what your customers are looking for.
Communities build all kinds of resilience into your business, not just your income streams. If you're going to create a community, according to my guest today, you better make sure it's got a job description. Meet Sophie Bujold. She is an entrepreneur and consultant with more than 18 years of experience in online community building, customer experience and digital strategy.
As the founder of Cliqueworthy, Sophie helps creative entrepreneurs gather with impact through outstanding online community experiences. Today, we're talking about if you should create a community for your business, where that community should live inside your business model, and how to create a great one. Hey, Sophie, thanks so much for being here today.
Thanks for having me. I'm really excited.
So we're talking a little bit about where community belongs in your business model, but I think it's important to start at the beginning and talk about what is community. What does that mean to you? What does a community mean?
I think, thank you for asking. Because in the work that I do, definitely, that's one of the biggest misconceptions in terms of like, what am I actually building. So what I get as a community strategist very often is, can you help me build up my Facebook or my Twitter or whatever else, and that is when I have to come in and really start explaining that what they're trying to build is an audience and not a community. So for me, a community is a place where people naturally gather around a common circumstance, interest or cause and it's a lot more organic than let's say an audience that is following you on social media.
So if you think of social media as being a stage where you can be the person on stage speaking to a crowd, maybe there's a couple people in the crowd that are speaking to one another, but generally speaking, once you stop speaking people exit the room and go on their merry way. With a community, it's a lot more decentralized. You are no longer the person on the stage, you are in the room with everyone else.
You might be the person who organized the event, but you are definitely part of the crowd, and everyone is interacting with one another. There's a more organic nature to it and really, the hallmark of a really good community is if we take the leader out of it, will people continue to want to communicate with one another and connect with one another, and can the community survive on its own without having that central leadership piece? That's something that a lot of people don't realize when they're thinking about community because community has been used for so many things over the last little while.
I love that and I think that really captures, at least my experience being in some communities and the ones that I loved the most were ones where I originally joined for access to the person, but the value that I got out of the community was actually everybody else and interacting with them. You're right, if you took out the host, I didn't really notice it much.
That's not to say that they weren't amazing people or leaders or that I didn't enjoy interacting with them as a member of the community or value their expertise, but that they had created such an engaged community. They had curated it where the people that I wanted to interact with were there, and it wasn't just them. It was everybody else that was participating in the space.
Yeah, and you said a word there that's really important and that is the word curation. I think for the type of communities that I've helped build, that's been one of the hallmarks is that the person leading the community has been the expert curator. So if I go back to my example of being on stage, when you're building an audience, you're the person on stage with the spotlight on you.
When you're building a community, you have this amazing opportunity as the leader of that community to shine the spotlight on other people. The communities that are the strongest are the ones where the leader can do that really well and really bring out the talent that's already in the room and the insights or the input that is already in there, and giving them a place to speak and place to shine.
I love that. So, in our conversation before this interview, you mentioned that if you're going to have a community as part of your business model, that it should have a job description.
Can you tell me a little bit more about that.
Yeah, absolutely. This is, especially in the context of business. It's completely different if you're starting a crafting community or something related to one of your hobbies. In terms of business, I think what I've seen over and over again, is people coming to me and saying, I've built this thing, and it's grown into something, but I'm spending hours upon hours nurturing it, and it's not bringing anything back to my business.
For some of them, they're fine with that, and that's okay, but for others, they're like, I built this community as a part of what I do in business and that's where I think the job description comes in. So for me when I'm helping someone build a community that's going to be intertwined with what they do business wise, I tell them, let's actually create a job description for your community. The reason that that's important is because you wouldn't hire a team member without getting really clear on what their job is.
The reason that you do that is because you need to be able to evaluate whether or not it's doing its job effectively for you. So if you're not clear on what the community needs to do for you as much as your membership, you're kind of building something blind on one side and that usually leads to building something that ends up sucking up your time and not being something that you end up enjoying, because it's not generating anything for you as well.
So that brings up an interesting point about, when you are considering building a community or building that kind of a part of your business, when you're thinking about expanding your business model to include that in some form or fashion, how should your business model inform or determine the kind of community, if any, you should be building?
There's not a single answer to that, but definitely, if I think of the process I go through with clients, for instance, the first thing we do is we get clear of on, what do you need this community to do for you, and what does your customer or your existing tribe need to get from it as well? Like, what's the value exchange between the two?
Then once that's done, we can actually map out, at what point in your business do people need that connection the most. For each person, that's going to be a different point. Like some people say, you know what, people really need it before they work with me because they need to work through a couple things and they need to connect with other people who are working through similar things to help them percolate and formulate a plan before they are actually ready to consume any of my more advanced services. For other people, they say no, that the help in percolating and creating the plan is what I do.
So, it would benefit people or it would benefit my clients to have this tight knit community around them as they're going through the process with me, and I can do that within a group setting or whatever else. That's where like group programs and things like that start, really being the thing that people latch on to, but at the same time is if you can think of that as your guiding posts, like where do people need to have connection in order to be able to benefit from what I have to say or benefit from what others have to say and contribute and really use that as the measuring stick for where your community actually is.
It's pretty funny because working with clients, I have a visual exercise that helps us lay out that whole process. For me, it becomes very instinctual once we have it all laid out. Typically, clients will tell you I have a moment where I'm like, this is where your community lives, in your home business. This is where it needs to be and they go, how do you even zoned in on that? I think part of it's experience, but also, it becomes really obvious once you lay out everything you do in your business, where are those points of, I guess, communing, I'm going to invent a word this morning.
It gets really obvious where those connection points need to be and how you can support people through it. So really let what you're offering and how you want to guide people through whatever service or product or whatever else, you have to offer guide where that point of community really lies.
I like that. So thinking about the different places where community could be in your business, can you talk me through some of the common places that that might live, that people might think about putting a community in?
Yeah. You've got a couple places. For some people that community lies, like I said, pre service and that's where they're gathering people in something like a free Facebook group or a Slack community or whatever tool you want to be using that it doesn't really matter, but it's an entry point into what they have to offer. It's an entry point because they're using the community as a way to spark conversation and usually, it's used as a tool to help people work through things that they need to work through before they need to access the service. Or to create a quick win or that kind of experience.
Other people will find that people will benefit from the experience of others throughout everything that they want to teach or everything that their mission is about. So, for some communities and I know you've been part of some, like the community is the product. You pay to access it, because the person's mission warrants that they create a space to bring people together around a common theme, and to then share content and share experiences that help people learn through their journey and go along the path of that mission and that becomes the central piece in the business.
Then for others, the community kind of lies within one of their offerings. I'm thinking specifically of communities that are attached to specific courses or online experiences that have a learning journey that goes along with the path of the community. Those tend to be the three most common models that I've seen in business anyways, but obviously, there's a million and one ways to set up your communities for whatever your mission is really at that point.
So, community, we're sort of talking about, let's talk about paid sorts of versions, I think. Maybe I'm wrong there, but how do you see having a community as part of your business, kind of building resiliency into that business? How do you see those interacting?
It's a really interesting question. It's something I've obviously been talking about a lot recently in light of everything that's going on in the world, and I think where community really lies, it ends up being similar to an audience in that the more you can help people see you as a valuable piece of their puzzle, the more they're likely to stick around. That's kind of a very basic concept of marketing and building trust.
With community, the opportunity that you have is, because you've put yourself at the center as a curator, and if you're very good at bringing in the right people, the value doesn't go away as easily as if you just stop the Facebook ads. Because you've built people who believe in whatever you're building, you've built people who believe in your mission, you've built people who believe in one another.
If you do it right, especially like, because we're I'm focusing on the paid side or the membership side, let's say, if you do it right, even when the going gets tough, people tend to stick around because those are the people that are supporting them. Whereas if you're just doing a marketing campaign, that selling product or that is promoting you as a brand, they might stick around if they believe in your brand and communities have formed around just pure brands more than once. You think about the Nikes and the GoPros of this world.
They have very strong communities around them, and they can but that is a lot of work. It's a lot of investment and for small businesses, sometimes that's a really hard ceiling to break. Whereas in community, it gives you the opportunity to really amplify things to really make people feel like they belong to something which is even stronger than, hey, I really like this brand and that's where the resilience comes in, I think.
It's in that feeling that people want to stick around, because they're getting value out of it, they're getting support. In some of the times, especially right now with when the going gets tough in the communities that I've seen that have been able to build this sense of belonging, they haven't had as much problems with attrition and people dropping off because they realize that they need the people that are around them.
I think that's the key, is being able to create that space where they feel like this is where my people are, and this is where I'm going to be supported and that's where the resilience really comes in.
Interesting. For me, I guess I had always kind of thought of it as an additional revenue stream. So from the financial perspective, I'm going, oh, it's not a bad idea to have different versions of the ways that people can interact with you or work with you so that if something happens and people need a lower price point, there's an option. If they're ready to do a higher price point, nothing goes away entirely, but I'd never really thought about it as inside the community, creating such a great environment that people aren't willing to leave it, which I've definitely, I have done that where I'm like, I will cut other things I'm not [inaudible 00:18:31].
I will cut my Starbucks before I cut this community. Yeah, that's happened.
Yes. I've been in those communities where I'm like, I will cut other things. I will cut a lot of other things that will hurt a lot more than giving up my community. I think that's a really, I'd never really thought of resiliency in that way and I just love that.
Yeah, and I think the other thing too, there's a gentleman in the community space. His name is Richard Millington. He is the leader of Feverbee, which is a huge consultancy for communities. One of the things he likes to explain to people is that a lot of people join communities because they're typically looking for an answer to a problem they have, or they're looking for, they have a question that they need an answer to but that's not why they stay long term.
What they stay for is really for, they'll stick around if the community is really good to speaking to who they want to become. I think that, especially in the context of business, is really important to understand is that for most communities, people will come in to them in the business context, because they do have that one question. How do I get more clients? How do I do this? Why is it important for me to do these things and they'll typically stumble across the community because they're googling something or whatever else.
The reason they stay around is because that community is speaking to the person they want to be, and that could be because the leader of the community is shining the spotlight on success stories that are happening in the community and helping them understand how they can get there as well. It could be because it speaks to something they want to add in their business that hasn't been there before.
Generally speaking, if you can do that, the journey of your community member will be a lot longer, and I think that falls into the resilience conversation as well in terms of like, if you're thinking of it strictly from a revenue perspective, of asking yourself as the leader of that community, how can I speak to who my user wants to become and help them along that journey in a way that is visible to them and really valuable in terms of helping them get there.
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Talk me through the evaluation process that you should go through if you are thinking about whether or not building a community into your business is the right choice for you right now.
I think the most important question and it's one of the simpler ones is asking yourself why you feel like community is a good thing. Like, why does this community need to exist for you? Not just for you, but for other people as well. So I always balance on both sides of the coin, because I do think a community needs to serve both the community leader and the community and the experience that you create lies at the intersection of that.
So really think hard. If your answer is, well, I just need to sell more of my thing. That typically is not the right answer to start building your community. If the answer is more at the intersection of I really want to connect with the people who believe in my mission, or I want to create connection between the people who think that what I have to offer is valuable, you're on a better track.
Then I think the following question is, do I have the time to invest in nurturing this community? I'm going to use another analogy because that's my thing, but think of your community as a dinner party. If you invite people to your house that don't know each other, for the first like, probably half hour to an hour, you're going to have to be the entertainer.
That means you're going to have to start conversations, you're going to have to give connection points to most people so that they can start conversations on their own, but you're going to have to work the room a little bit to get the conversation going to a point where you can step away and check in on whatever you're serving for dinner without the room going completely quiet. So in community, it's the exact same thing. If you're starting from scratch, you need to think about, for a period anyways, I need to really focus on creating a solid content strategy that will help people and facilitate those conversations really easily.
It may be something that I need to do long term or it might be something that I go, okay, I need to double down on it for the first little while until people pick up and I see people raising their hand to volunteer to help or it could be something that I just need to sustain. Do I have the bandwidth to do that, and does the bandwidth that I have to do this warrant the effort that I'm going to put into it, or the results that I get out of it?
If the answer is yes there, then that's another pretty good check mark that community might be a good thing for your business to build. If the answer is no, I have limited time and I need this to work quickly and that I need it to work on its own, chances are that, I never want to say 100% that it's not going to work because I always get proven wrong somewhere down the line, but chances are that your community won't be as successful and you'll end up either spinning your wheels or just building something that doesn't really serve you. So those, while they're basic questions, they really help guide, if this is even in the realm of possibility for you.
So, say we've gone through our evaluation process, we've decided that we're going to build a community someplace in our business model. What are some of the more important things to consider as we are looking towards building that community?
So there are a couple things that every community needs at its core, and if you don't have those things, chances are you're going to start limping around. One of them is, there needs to be some aspect of ritual to your community and that always sounds ominous when I say it. What I mean by that is there needs to be stuff that is happening on a regular basis that community members can count on, and that become part of the identity of that community.
That can be anything and one of my favorite things is to get creative in this area so that communities don't end up all looking the same. It could be things like having podcast interviews that got published on a regular basis, or member Q&As or social nights or whatever you can think of that gather people for something on a regular basis, and it doesn't need to be weekly. It can be monthly, you pick the frequency at which you're doing those things, but that actually starts training people to know like, oh, on the third Thursday, we're always doing that thing.
Then they can start counting on that and showing up for it. So getting really clear on that is definitely one of the first things you need to do is like, what are the things that we are going to do on a repeated basis? Can they end up changing and morphing into something else? Absolutely, but rule number one, what is our schedule, for lack of better word? That sounds really clinical, but what are the things that we will be creating to gather people and to bring them together under one topic or one guided experience?
The other one is content. So we talked a little bit about it when I was talking about the considerations of even building a community. Whether you like it or not creating content is part of your job as the leader of that community. Your content and your rituals can absolutely intersect. So it could be, I use the example of publishing a podcast. You're creating content for that, but the ritual could be that you're releasing it once a week, every Tuesday.
So you see how they start playing together and really start shaping the whole experience of the community. The other two things are a little bit more technical, but you need to define clearly what roles are available in that community, both for yourself, you don't necessarily need to post it as a job, but what are the things that you do as the leader versus what are some of the things that, once you bring on moderators, what are some of the things they can help you with, and what are some of the things that maybe you decide that there's a content creator opportunity, and what does that role look like and what is the role of the member in the whole thing?
The reason you want to do that early is because you can then start looking within your community for helpers that are naturally willing to do those roles and step in and that serves a couple purposes. One is that helps your most valued members feel valued, and two is it starts alleviating the load on you as the community starts growing. Then the fourth element that I mentioned is just kind of rules of engagement. What does the community stand for? What will you not tolerate in the community? What is the space being held supposed to be?
They don't need to be super strict rules, but they definitely, you need to define what is acceptable, what is not. Kind of just like when you invite people to your house for that dinner party. You don't need to stand in front of the room and read them the rules when they come in, but there are things that you can emulate through your behavior and the things you stand behind and the way you intervene when things aren't going well, that speak to what will be tolerated and not in that space. I think you need to be clear on those things in order for the community to even know how to operate. It's all about boundaries, and sending them really early.
So I think those are the four key pieces that start shaping that experience and that in terms of, what am I creating, and where do I want to bring people, in terms of the experience I'm offering, those are the four things that I would start with. Obviously, there's always more nuance to it, but those, at the core would be where I would start. I think the word community has been commoditized by a lot of marketers, really, at this point. They seem to have figured out that putting people in a group and then marketing their services to those groups is a good way to go. It's starting to not be a great way to go because people have caught on.
Really, I would argue that those are not really communities at that point. Those are just gathering an audience, you're building your theater and attracting people to it and then using that space as a promotional tool. So you're still on stage, you're still on stage selling, even though you think that you've gathered people so that they can commune together. Really, at the end of the day, when you look at those groups, it's very clear that the intention is for people to be able to just talk about their services. If you're wanting to build a community, that's just not the way to do it in your own business.
Yeah, I think at least in my observation of having been in a lot of different communities and watching how the person curates the community, how they create engagement, and I think it's such a challenge really to create that true community, feeling that like, create engagement within the people in your community. I think that's, at least from the outside looking in as a participant in communities, for me, it's a real challenge in that there are some communities, like I said before, where I would never leave the community because it's so valuable.
The people that have been, I'm not sure filter is necessarily the right word, but there are clear filter setup before people join the community that attract the right kinds of people. That sounds exclusive, but in a way that's like filtering the right people out creates a unique space of really valuable insights.
I think it goes back to that whole conversation we just had about boundaries and content and really thinking of the experience. Just like anyone would do with their own messaging, and we've heard it a million times, if you're speaking to everyone you're speaking to no one.
In community if you can be really clear about what the community is about, what the content your offering is about and what you want to help people with, that curation starts happening naturally because people opt in or opt out. It's not a matter of being exclusive and not welcoming everyone, but it's like, do you want to have this conversation or are you better served somewhere else? I think if you do that, that naturally starts happening.
Yeah. I love watching how people do that. Especially the really successful ones, that once you're in the community, you are there and everybody that you're there with, you're like, oh, wow, I can't believe I get to hang out with this person now.
The thing is, is that people are getting really smart online. Some of the tactics that used to work just don't anymore because people have gotten smart to the fact that some of them are just there to get their attention. There's nothing wrong with that as long as you're being transparent about that, as opposed to hiding it under the guise of, hey, I'm building this community and then you end up in the group and you're like, actually, you're just talking about your stuff all the time and there's no value for me. Every answer is, well, I do that in my paid program, for instance, or, it becomes really clear really fast that the group is not built for the benefit of everyone who's in it and just built for the benefit of the person building it.
We've all had our examples of different tactics that have just been used in the wrong way. I think that's one thing. Building a community in itself is not a bad thing. It's just this idea that some people just use it for the wrong intention. That's where things start getting hairy, but I would say that from any type of marketing tactic, from like list building, to webinar to anything else, there's people using it really well and then there are people that are really taking advantage of the medium for things that are not as great.
Yeah, I absolutely agree with that. I think, there was a phase of digital courses being a magical thing and it seems like community is now having its heyday of this is something that you should do and all the big people are doing it. It's a great way to go about it, but I think it's also something where, as a business owner, you really need to question, is this the right choice for you, for how you want to work, for the kind of business that you want to run.
Because running a community is a really different business than consulting with clients one to one. It's just a different structure, your day to day is going to be different. What your team looks like is going to be different and I think those are important considerations when you're thinking about community or really any other additional revenue stream is, is this going to take me in a direction that is helpful to the people that I'm working with? Also, is it the kind of business that I actually want to be running day to day.
I think with community especially, there needs to be a piece of you that says, I'm building this for other people. It doesn't need, like with any relationship, it's not 100%, I'm building this for other people but there needs to be a component in it of you saying, I really want this experience to add value to other people's lives just as much as it adds to my business and if you can actually find that balance, that's where the magic can really happen.
We've talked to a whole bunch about different aspects here. Is there anything you think that we should talk about or touch on that we haven't talked about yet?
Yeah, I think, for me anyways, when I'm looking at either starting a community from scratch or helping someone rethink and reshape the experience that they're offering, one of the most surprising parts and where we actually spend the most of our time is in really defining the transformation you want to be creating for people. The common answer that I get at that point is no, but I want people to stay forever.
Which is like, yeah, we all do, but the reality of it is, is that in order to create that value exchange we were talking about at the beginning, you need to be able to be clear on where your role starts and ends in their journey, either as a business person or as an artist, depending on what type of community you're creating, but what is that? Like, when people are entering the community, what are they singing, thinking, doing and feeling. Where are they at? Once they exit, and that could be in years from now, but once they're no longer getting value from the community, how are they leaving? What kind of person are they when they leave?
Then in between, what milestones are they going through in general? Obviously, you're kind of speaking to your average person, but what are some of the milestones they typically go through on that journey that you can actually help facilitate? The reason I do that is because that actually helps you define what rituals and content you need to be offering. It also helps you define what kind of people you need as helpers, and getting really clear on that transformation makes it a million times easier for you as the leader of that community to start making decisions when it's time to say do we add this thing or do we not, do we need to change this thing?
What do we need to offer to keep people engaged and keep offering value so that they feel like this is a space for them? People skip that step really often. They just think, okay, here's my community, here are my rituals, here are my content, and let's go. What ends up happening when they do that is they end up throwing a lot of spaghetti against the wall. They end up testing and retesting what kind of content works and not work and there's nothing wrong with testing, but sitting down and really getting clear on that transformation can eliminate a lot of that testing around, just by getting clear on what do people even, like where are they at and what are they going through?
It can really transform what you end up offering. I can give you a concrete example of that. I worked with a community once that had a learning platform and then they had obviously the community where people could ask questions and connect and share their work and whatever else. It was for a design community. They were struggling with attrition in the community.
So they were losing more members than they were gaining and they were wondering why. Once we started thinking about the transformation, doing a little bit of like user interviews to find out what people were thinking, what we found out is that the content they were offering was not organized in a way that people can make sense of it. So people would log into the learning platform and be like, where do I start, and they would miss half of the value that was being offered in the community.
So our job then became not necessarily what do we create is how do we organize things and how do we curate what's being offered in a way that helps them. What we ended up doing to help the community is really just rearranging their content in tracks based on their journey. So we found out that users in this particular community were entering because they wanted to start learning Photoshop, and they were leaving as design firm owners and successful business owners.
So we just organized things in tracks saying, hey, here's the beginner track where all the Photoshop courses were. Then the more advanced tracks had more like, here's how you run a business. Here's how you set up your studio. Here's how you hire people. Within a year, the vibe in the community totally changed and the attrition rate completely reversed. They started gaining more members than they were losing and that wasn't a matter of reinventing.
It was just a matter of getting clear on where were people at when they're joining and giving them that first, which then in the community itself, prompted much better conversations and discussions. That's how like you were asking me earlier of where community can fit into the business. That's how they work together. Sometimes it's a matter of tweaking the information they have access to in order to generate conversation in the community, and sometimes it's vice versa. Getting clear on that transformation that I was talking about is where those decisions come in and where you can make them a lot easier.
I love that. I think that's a great place to wrap it up on. Where can our listeners find you if they want to connect or learn more about what you do?
Yeah, two best places. One is my website, and that's cliqueworthy.com, with C-L-I-Q-U-E or if they want to connect with me personally, I tend to hang out on LinkedIn these days. So they can find me there.
Awesome. Thank you so much for being here and for sharing your expertise with us. I took a ton of notes personally, super valuable. So I appreciate you coming and sharing with us here.
Well, it's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Ultimately, deciding whether or not a community is right for your business is up to you. Maybe it totally makes sense and you can create a really valuable experience for your customers. I've been part of some amazing communities and I credit a lot of my business success to the stuff that I learned in them and the friends that I made, but it's also a really different business than offering one to one services.
So make sure you take into consideration what the day to day of running a community actually looks like. My favorite point that Sophie made is to think about the transformation you want to create in your customers and clients and to start there. Maybe delivering that transformation as community is important, or maybe for your customers, another method of delivery is actually better.
Next week, I'm talking to an entrepreneur who actually made the shift from one to one work to creating a community, Margay Thomas. We'll talk about what drove her decision to switch business models and how she approached creating her community. So make sure you hit subscribe in your favorite podcast player, so you don't miss it. Break the Ceiling is produced by Yellow House Media. Our production coordinator is Sean McMullin. This episode is edited by Marty Seefeldt with production assistance by Kristen Runvik.