When you decided to start your own business, did you feel scared? Alone? Like you were operating in a vacuum and nobody around you understood how you felt or why you wanted to do this?
Yeah. Me too.
I remember when I decided to start my own business, before I had done anything other than dream about it and read about it. It didn’t feel real. I hadn’t actually done anything, so I guess it wasn’t real. I felt like I was staring at a show on the internet, seeing all these people running online businesses, and that it didn’t apply to me.
Having nobody to talk to about it didn’t help.
I mean, I could talk about it in the abstract with my mum and my friends, and they were all very supportive. But I knew they didn’t really understand what I was feeling.
I was teetering on the precipice, preparing to dive headfirst into the unknown waters of starting a business. And I’d look back to see my friends and family, waving joyously, smiling wide and wishing me luck. But none of them were coming with me. They didn’t know why I wanted to do this, but they were very happy for me.
Some people don’t even get that – the happiness. They face resistance, ridicule and resentment instead. Which can only make things more difficult, right?
And that’s why you need a community. You need to start talking to other people who want the same things you do – to people who already have those things. Then you won’t feel so alone. Your world will open up before you and everything will feel possible. EVERYTHING.
I didn’t start doing anything until I’d found my people. If you’re still waiting to get started, maybe a community is what you need too. No – scrap the maybe. It’s definitely what you need.
But even that is scary. How do you push yourself into this world? It feels intrusive. You don’t want to be the annoying kid at the party who sidles up, clueless and with nothing important to say, to the people already engaged in an enthralling conversation about the things that fascinate you. About this mystical world you so desperately want to be a part of.
You wouldn’t be welcome there, right?
So what the hell are you supposed to do?
I’ll give you a clue: it’s not making friends with the ‘internet famous’ people, the bloggers who have already made it, the ones who’ve inspired you to do this in the first place.
No. Your place is with the people who are standing beside you. They’re where you are, not in some distant future land that you have to squint at because it’s so far away.
You need people who are slightly further ahead, and others who are even more slightly further ahead, and, yes, eventually those who are behind you too, watching in admiration as you do the things they dream of.
At the moment you don’t feel like there is anyone behind you, because you’re still at the very beginning. But there will be. Because once you find your community, things will start happening. More to the point, you will make things happen, because suddenly it will all seem real.
Okay, enough of the froof. Let’s talk action. Here’s what you need to do:
How to Find Your Community
There’s really no substitute for meeting like-minded people in person. To have a flesh and blood conversation, to look them in the eye, hear the cadence in their voice, and to hand them your business card – or a scrap of paper with your email address on – at the end of it, because you genuinely want to stay in touch – and not just so you can wheedle some cash out of them in the future.
Check out groups in your area on Meetup.com. Search further afield for events and conferences that appeal to you. Don’t be afraid to travel internationally. The first conference I ever attended was thousands of miles away, and it was fucking life-changing. Find something you really really WANT to go to, and find a way to get there.
Join Online Forums
You can’t just join them though. You need to actively participate. No, you won’t feel like you have anything of value to say in the beginning. But it’s okay. You can just start by asking questions, and talking about your progress. As you learn things, you can share your wisdom. Remember, there are people behind you now. They will want to hear what you have to say – to see what’s possible from somebody within gazing distance.
A quick Google will help with this, and if there are forums tied to any blogs you devour, you might want to consider getting in on that action.
Join Groups on Facebook
Know the great thing about Facebook? It’s easy and there are no expectations. It doesn’t feel as formal as an event or a forum, so people chat more quickly and easily. People can respond to you just by hitting their enter key. And you can do the same. You log onto it every ten minutes anyway, so why not use it to add some value to your life and business?
If there are Facebook groups related to subjects that interest you, blogs you read, events you attend (or want to attend) or forums you’re part of, join them. It’s free, so you’ve really no excuses.
Add People on Facebook
This was a revelation to me. A pretty new one, actually. Previously, I’d used Facebook exclusively for ‘real life’ friends. Now, I add people I’ve never met, save for in the online world. The people I talk to in forums. Those I meet in passing at events, and even those I don’t meet in passing but who run in the same circles. (Yes, I really just said ‘run in the same circles’, DAHLING.)
The beautiful thing about Facebook is that you get to see a different, more personal side of people. And THAT is how you get to know people – become friends, even. Not by leaving arbitrary comments on their blogs in the vain hope that they’ll want to become friends with you, or even respond at all.
Things You Don’t Need to Do
Comment on Blogs
I’ve seen this advice touted far and wide across the web, and not once have I heeded it. ‘Comment on blogs so people learn who you are!’ and blah blah blah. I’ve always been terrible at commenting on other people’s blogs and it’s never done me any harm.
Because let’s face it: the people whose blogs you’d be commenting on are those internet famous-types we’ve already established you don’t need to get to know. Commenting on blogs is a one-way street. Building a community around you isn’t a case of getting your name seen in as many places as possible. There needs to be feedback coming in your direction too, otherwise you’ll still feel like you’re in that vacuum we talked about.
Get On ALL the Social Media
Social media is fantastic for getting to know people. I mean, it’s in the name, right? But you don’t need to join every single network out there. Choose the ones that make more sense to you. Here’s my take on social media.
Of course, that’s not to say you can’t do these things. If you enjoy leaving comments and tweeting, and all that other stuff, then have at it. No harm in it. But if you suck at that stuff, don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter. Focus on building relationships in a real way instead, using the methods outlined above.
The Final Thing You Need to Do
The final step in all this – after you’ve found your communities – is to actually TALK to people. This is non-negotiable. Because until people see you around, recognise your name, and get to know you, they won’t even realise you exist.
It’s up to you. People aren’t gonna come looking for you, but if you find the right people, they will welcome you with open arms. You won’t feel like an intruder any more. You will be where you belong, and everything will seem possible.