“If you want to go fast… go alone. If you want to go far… go together.” – African proverb
By Sumeera Rasul and Sheila Iverson (Founders, Madesmith)
We created Madesmith to tell the story of the makers who are producing well-designed goods locally and sustainably. We know that this is a very ambitious undertaking that demands a lot of resources to do it well and ensure that it thrives. In the short amount of time since we launched, we have received an overwhelmingly positive response from makers, designers, customers and everyone we’ve met. In the process, we have also created many close friendships with our community. We strongly believe that any new venture needs a very strong community to help it survive and prosper.
Here are some of the tips that will help you form and build a strong community to support your business, no matter what stage you’re at.
Stand for Something
Make sure your business has a well-defined purpose. Make sure that this purpose is in line with your own personal values and those of your audience. For Madesmith, our purpose is to promote ‘mindful consumption’ and the stories behind the people making our things. We both strongly believe in consuming less, buying less, and knowing where our stuff comes from. This is not a philosophy that came about overnight, rather an important part of our lives well before we formed Madesmith.
Once, we formally started working on Madesmith, we made sure that we say this philosophy out loud to all the makers, our friends, our family, our audience and anyone who would listen. By doing this, we’ve formed a strong community of others who think like us. Perhaps, not everyone (as much as we would have liked to), but it is a very strong community of active advocates who want to make sure that we succeed. This community is helping us shift the mindset of others as well. And, that gives us tremendous strength on a daily basis.
An important thing to note is that if you are not getting a positive response from someone you potentially want to partner with, you have to learn to not dwell on it too long and take your energies elsewhere (after you have tried a couple of times). Try to find out the reasons so that you know how to address the issue in future. However, you and your business must keep moving forward,
Create In-Person Relationships
Whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, it is important to understand that your business is bigger than you. This means that we have to look past ourselves and things that hold us back to get out there in order to service our partners and customers. Despite being quite happy cultivating friendships via email and social media, we both make sure to invest in relationships around us. We often schedule regular tea times, lunches, brunches, and drinks with our makers and friends who believe in us.
Another thing we try to do as much as possible is to make sure that we attend events that are important to our makers, supporters and customers. We want them to know that we value them and that we are there to share these important moments with them. In return, this tight-knit circle has become a very strong foundation and some of the biggest advocates for us and our business. We’re very proud to say that many of our friendships with these makers and supporters go beyond business transactions. And, that’s important to us.
Be very generous, and make sure to introduce your business connections to each other. Let go of any reservations or fears around creating competition, or that someone will get ahead of you somehow through these introductions. At Madesmith, we often introduce our makers to each other through various small gatherings. We’re even planning a big summer dinner this August to bring everyone together.
There are two important reasons why you want to be the connection hub. First, people will find each other whether it’s through you or not, especially through networking events and increased use of social media these days. Secondly, by creating introductions and helping people find useful connections, all you risk is becoming popular, increased loyalty from your circle, and promotion of your original cause through the creation of a strong community.
After all, don’t we all want that for our businesses?
Women 2.0 readers: What tips do you have for building a community for your startup?
About the guest bloggers: Sumeera Rasul and Sheila Iverson are the founders of Madesmith.com, a website devoted to telling the stories of designers who make sustainable, handmade objects in America and sell featured designers’ limited edition products exclusively to the readers of Madesmith. Prior to launching Madesmith, both women worked in corporate digital advertising and bonded over a shared interest in sustainable community growth and a love of all things digital. Madesmith is a culmination of their life long passion with handmade things, good design and story telling. Follow Madesmith on Twitter at @madesmithco.
Photo credit: Joe Mabel.