How to Build a Community that Grows Your Business
When I moved to Colorado Springs 23 days after I graduated college in Nashville, I didn't know a soul. (Well, that's a lie, I knew my real estate agent that I had met on my trips to the Springs to scout out a place for the studio). If you're unfamiliar with my entrepreneurial journey and how I started my Pure Barre studio, you can scroll back to the 2014 and 2015 archives of the business section of my blog and read all about it. It was unconventional, to say the least.
When I applied for my franchise, I had visited Colorado Springs one time, 2 days before my final interview. While I never lied to Pure Barre corporate during the process, I definitely left out the fact that I, a 22-year-old college student, only knew about the Springs through my market research that I had spent the past 9 months compiling. Fake it til ya make it, am I right? The strange pull I felt to come to Colorado Springs, a place I knew nothing about, and the fact that I was approved to open this business was nothing short of an act of God. In fact, Pure Barre typically requires that you're from the market you apply for or have deep roots there, and if we're being honest, I had none.
Needless to say, when I finally arrived in Colorado in May of 2014, I did so with a big dream and a bigger lump of anxiety because, despite all my well-laid plans, I actually had to begin.
When I was faced with the seemingly insurmountable challenge of opening a business in a brand new territory where I had no connections, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I built a community.
But first, I need to take you back a bit. When I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, for college, I left a thriving community of friends in Lexington, Kentucky, the only place I'd ever lived. Friendships are my life blood, so I made it my mission to recreate what I had grown up with in my new city. I joined a sorority, which I eventually became President of by my senior year. I said yes to every campus organization I could commit to, I performed in countless vocal ensembles, and I studied organizational leadership. I worked for tech startups and Pure Barre Nashville, and my life was full of coffee-shop dates and post-church brunches. It didn't happen over night, and it didn't happen without a LOT of effort on my end, but I found the right people and built a beautiful network.
People say that community building is easier in college because everyone is actively looking for friends, and when you step into the post-grad life, most people are already "settled". I used to believe this, and it really hindered me during my first year in Colorado. Because I was young, I bought into the belief that everyone else was settled in their community except for me, and you know what? It's a big fat lie.
If you want to build a community that will in turn grow your business, you first need to recognize that everyone around you is hungry for connectedness, no matter how secure they might seem.
Many people struggle to grow a community in their business because they think that people need their services, but not their support. As humans, we need connection first and a solution second. During the first year of business, I was so hung up on the technical details - my sales, my attendance, my ability to provide a good product. While I made small efforts to build my community, I was impatient and started to believe that it just wasn't going to happen for me.
But in years 2 and 3, I shifted, and I'll tell you how - first, I changed my mindset, and then I changed my processes.
Changing my mindset was the worst part. I literally had to set rules for myself to stop focusing on the technical details, only check my numbers once a week, and even delete the app from my phone to quit micromanaging. I began to thank God for His abundance and the small wins I was seeing in people's lives, rather than crying over the things I didn't have. Changing my mindset didn't fix all my problems, but it did provide a healthier mental space from which to work.
Changing my processes went something like this - I changed my voice and content on social media, I integrated my personal brand with my studio, and I created a two-fold marketing plan: one that served new clients and my current clients equally. Let me break it down.
When I first opened the studio, I only took pictures of my "bigger" classes, I advertised mostly about class times and price, and I talked about the benefits of Pure Barre. None of these things are inherently bad, but they are sales pitches, not community builders. If you look at our Instagram feed now (@pbcosprings), you will see the faces of our real clients and their stories, team photoshoots, and humor. You will not find stock photos, corporate shots, or a perfectly groomed feed. But you know what? It's worth it for the sake of connectedness.
my personal brand
If you're a business owner and don't leverage the value of your own platform, you're missing the boat. I've always loved to blog and write, but in 2016 and 2017, I started to really get vulnerable and share my heart about business, my love for health and fitness, and my passion behind what I do. In a lifestyle business, you as the owner ARE THE FACE, and you better believe that people are watching. I have clients regularly tell me that they found my Pure Barre because of my personal Instagram/blog or from the studio's social media. That is pretty cool in my book.
Year 3 was really my big marketing year. You see, Colorado Springs is majority military, which means that people move constantly. I don't have the luxury of a steady client base that doesn't leave, so I have to bring in new clients faster than I lose old ones. But, if I'm not careful, my urgency to attract new clients can leave my loyal people feeling neglected. So, every month, I focus on marketing events that serve my current client base AND attract new ones. For instance, this month, we are:
- Having a "Bring on the Men" class with drinks after - this will serve my current clients and have them enjoy time with their families and meet new friends, too!
- Hosting a Charity Class for the Little Black Dress Initiative for Junior League - most of the women who will attend this class are not current clients, so they will be exposed to Pure Barre while supporting a good cause!
- Doing a pop-up class at a big community space called Ivywild - this will attract new clients who have been too scared to come into the studio, even though I know my current clients and staff will attend, as well.
Maybe these are things you already do, especially if you own a Pure Barre, but if you really look at it through the lens of serving both new and old, every single month, it will bring awareness to the holes in your plan and the times when you neglect one party.
Lastly, community building hinges on authenticity, and what I'm about to say might make some entrepreneurs very uncomfortable:
If your clients ever feel your panic and can recognize that you are desperate for a sale, you cannot undo the damage.
Even in my first year of business, when I literally paid myself $0, I made sure that my clients never saw me sweat. I tried to keep the same policy with my staff, though I know they saw my vulnerability a bit more. There is nothing wrong with a humble beginning, and I would still call my studio a slow-grower, meaning I never had that magic moment where things were just easy and smooth sailing in the finances department. I worked, I budgeted, I bootstrapped, and I have been fortunate to see growth in my revenue and profit year-over-year. But hear me when I say that no part of that was easy to keep bottled up inside, but that is the job of an entrepreneur. Find people you can be vulnerable with, but DO NOT dump your stress on your clients. It will make people feel indebted to you, rather than willing to contribute to your growth.
Maybe your business story doesn't look like mine, but I would venture to guess that, if you're an entrepreneur, you too have had that "oh crap" moment when you realize that you don't know how to move from dreaming to doing. Community is key. It's the secret sauce that takes your business identity from numbers on a page to something that impacts the people around you, but there's no shortcut. Lasting community is built through authenticity, intentionality, and time. You have to trust that the work you're putting in to growing your community will be returned through enthusiasm, word of mouth referrals, and so much more, but it's the daily contributions that get you there.
If you're a business owner, I'd love to hear your advice on growing a community, leave it in the comments below!