After studying some of the one million business owners who use Shopify, we discovered that founder types tend to fall into one of five personality types. Which one are you? Start with our quiz.
Well, Stargazers, the end of 2020 is near (did I hear a collective sigh of relief?). For small business owners, the race begins to ship holiday orders in time to land under trees everywhere. For the rest of us, this is a time to begin reflecting on the year. And what a year it was!
At Shopify, our data scientists help us anticipate trends—but even we couldn’t predict what 2020 had in store. Still, we persevered. Our entire workforce went remote overnight, we rushed to adapt our product to changing times (hello, curbside pickup!), and we watched with pride as more than one million independent businesses on Shopify showed amazing resilience and resourcefulness.
In a time when small business owners are even more isolated than before, building community is especially important.
Where would any of us be, though, without the support of our communities? In a time when small business owners are even more isolated than before, building community is especially important. How do you build a sense of community during a pandemic? How do you find your people when you can’t be near people?
Here, we’ve consulted our own community to explore ways you can build a community around yourself, your brand, or your cause. We’ll talk about why community matters all the time, not just during a lockdown. And, you guessed it, we have advice picked just for your Founder Sign. 🌟
Building community (👟 jump to section)
6 ways to build a community—according to our community
We consulted the experts (not the stars) for this one. Earlier this year, we asked our own Twitter community: “How do you build a community around your brand?” And let me tell you, Stargazers, we couldn’t have answered this better ourselves.
Here are some best practices for building community for your brand, according to founders, marketers, community managers, content creators, and successful brands.
1. Be accessible and human 🤝
“Make yourself accessible,” says marketing director Heather Nix. When you’re just starting out, you have the advantage over larger brands of having direct access to your community and customers. Put your face at the front of your business and tell a brand story that is relatable.
As a small business owner, you may be filling many roles, including customer service and social support. Don’t ignore your early brand advocates—they’re foundational in building your community. “Make time to get to know customers who reach out on social to say how much they love your brand,” says community manager Moly Milosovic, “and ask them what they need beyond your product.”
2. Collaborate often 👨🏻🤝👨🏽
This advice comes from the people behind clothing brand Local Laundry. They say, “Give your customers the ability to engage in your brand outside of the products they are buying from you. Also, collaborate. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. It’s important.”
Finding compatible or complementary brands to partner up with can be advantageous to you both: you can consolidate your communities and access potential customers that have crossover interests. Collab on products, campaigns, or social giveaways.
3. Tap into existing communities 💻
Why reinvent the wheel? Communities that could be a fit for your brand already exist. Find out where they’re hanging out and be an active contributor, says content creator and copywriter Nathan Ojaokomo: “Join an existing community. Add so much value to the community. Consistently create content that answers people’s questions.”
If you’re looking to build a community for yourself—say a support group of other newbie entrepreneurs—look no further than Facebook groups, say the folks behind DIOSA Designs:
“[It’s] the best way to find like-minded people who can also double as a focus group for your product! Win-win!”
4. Be your authentic self ✨
This advice comes from the people at active lifestyle brand Outdoor Tech. “Be authentic. Engage with everyone,” they say, “Realize that not everyone will like you.”
If you establish a clear vision, voice, and set of values for your brand, you’ll more easily earn the trust of potential customers. Your community will stick around if they know what to expect. Be consistent and true to yourself when creating content and engaging with your online communities.
5. Pick the right medium 📍
Where does your ideal customer already hang out? On what platforms are you most comfortable? What social media channels make the most sense for your product and market? Consider your demographic—do you need to have a presence on TikTok to be relevant to a younger community or is your older customer more likely to be on Facebook?
Morning Brew shared their four-part advice on building community:
6. Do…nothing? 🤷🏿♀️
Well, not exactly. Blackstock & Weber founder Chris Echevarria says if you’re doing it right, your community will build itself: “Don’t call it a community. Make dope shit. Create content your ideal customer will enjoy…sit back and watch them bring you more people.”
👞 For more wisdom from Chris, skip ahead to read his story—he’s our featured Mountaineer this month!
Building community during COVID
Community is important, even when we’re not faced with adversity. It combats loneliness, gives you a built-in sounding board for your ideas, and keeps you connected with the people instrumental to your success—customers, industry experts, mentors, and friends alike. Maintaining these connections takes more deliberate effort now that we’re not naturally congregating.
For some of you, building virtual communities was already part of your day to day, whether you run an online-only brand or you’re more comfortable engaging from behind a screen. But for others who thrive in the IRL company of others—looking at you Mountaineers, Trailblazers, and Firestarters—this year has probably been tough.
People are craving connection right now.
What’s important to remember is that while you may feel isolated, we’re all isolated together. Founder Jovana Mullins told us that building community for her new brand, Alivia, was possibly easier because of the pandemic. People are craving connection right now. She was able to gather people from the disability community around her cause.
So maybe you can’t meet your coworkers for coffee or rub elbows at a networking event, but building online communities has actually never been easier—it’s all we’ve got, friends.
How to find your people, based on your Founder Sign
How you like to connect with other people depends on your personality type. Before you dig in to our advice, we’re curious: how are you currently reaching out? Let us know in the poll below.
It’s our last monthly edition of The Founder’s Zodiac for the year. If you’ve signed up for the Zodiac newsletter, though, we do have one more surprise before you slip into thick socks and sugar cookies. If you haven’t joined, enter your email address after casting your vote below. We’ll occasionally send quizzes, stories, and insights picked just for your personality type.
Now, the good stuff. Skip to your Founder Sign for tailored advice and ideas for building community picked just for you. (Don’t know your Sign? Start here.)
👟 Jump to your sign:
Feature sign: The Mountaineer
You’re too stubborn to give up on your goals, Mountaineer, even though the current situation has made it extra challenging. On top of that, you’re a social creature. You likely had deep community roots before the lockdown, and no one is going to take that from you—we know you’ve been working hard to stay connected in other ways.
If you’re starting a new business and looking to connect with partners and collaborators, do what you do best: network. Join online groups and be your authentic self. Others will be drawn to you because of your confidence in your vision. Same goes for building a community around your brand. Put your face at its forefront and people will be drawn to you.
Where Mountaineers can connect—at a distance
Being comfortable engaging in larger groups, you’ll likely thrive in an online entrepreneur group with like-minded founder types in your industry. In the absence of networking events, try proactive outreach on Linkedin to meet people who have interesting resumes or complementary skill sets. Virtual meetups and events are popping up, too. Follow some of your favorite conference providers to stay abreast of virtual versions of their events.
Featured Mountaineer: Chris Echevarria
Self-professed hustler Chris Echevarria says he’s particular about the opportunities he’s chasing. “I’ve only done things within verticals that have made me happy,” he says. Chris caught his entrepreneurial bug early, using his dad’s lawnmower to start a landscaping business. “There was no such thing as ‘allowance’ in my house.”
After college and a decade working in menswear, Chris says entrepreneurship came knocking again. “I knew I’d never get paid what I was actually worth by someone else,” he says. “So I had to go get it on my own.” He’s now the founder of Blackstock & Weber, a fashion brand selling modern loafers with “a grounded appreciation for traditional menswear.”
A true Mountaineer, Chris has a track record of honing in on and moving relentlessly toward his goals. “The unwillingness to let my vision go or to keep pushing until it’s perfect can read as stubborn to some,” he says. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
We caught up with Chris after a busy BFCM weekend to get his thoughts on building community.
Zodiac: How do you personally use community to help you grow as a person and business owner?
Chris: The only group I’ll co-sign is Lean Luxe. My man Paul Munford has curated a really thoughtful group of people who are at the top of their industries to chat about the latest product or brand or marketing campaign in exceedingly thoughtful ways. Other than that, I don’t really subscribe too heavily to the era of digital networking. Let’s go grab a few beers (or whiskies) and talk shit.
Zodiac: How has “community” changed for you since COVID?
Chris: Me and my people connect regardless. I have a core group of friends I see weekly that have mutually decided to keep our circle tight. When it was warmer, we’d hit the bar for outdoor drinks. I’d say this whole thing has brought us closer together and forced us to be more intentional about the time we spend together.
If there’s one thing we love about you, Trailblazer, it’s your ability to find creative solutions to any problem. You were the first one in your circle to rally friends around virtual brunches and plan Google Meet happy hour for colleagues. You snagged an outdoor heater before they sold out and rigged up your patio for safe distanced hangouts. If community was important to you, you’ve found a clever way to maintain it.
As someone with boundless optimism, you’re not one to dwell on the impacts of 2020. But look around you: are there others struggling to find community or connect with something? This is your opportunity to put your natural leadership skills to good use. Create communities where they don’t exist and use your passion to attract others with similar interests.
Where Trailblazers can connect—at a distance
Engage on highly social and creative platforms like Instagram or TikTok, where you can be creative and connect with other creatives. Be conversational with your content and invite others to join, comment, and share. If you’re struggling to find your community: create your own.
As more of a lone ranger, Cartographer, the shift to virtual-only connections hasn’t been as hard on you as it has been for some of the other signs. You’re happy for the most part with the increase in quiet time, allowing you to dive head first into your work.
At the best of times, though, your downfall can be failing to draw the line between work and life. Without outside intervention—say, a group of friends urging you to come to brunch—you may let yourself completely neglect your personal needs. Balance is a good thing, Cartographer, so try to push out of your bubble every once in a while and connect with your community.
Where Cartographers can connect—at a distance
You’re passionate about what you do, Cartographer, and you’re most at home when you’re immersed in it. If joining or engaging in an online community is outside your comfort zone, pick a niche group or club that is specific to your passion or craft. You’re the most confident when talking about that one thing and more likely to engage with people who share that passion.
Like the Cartographer, you’re nonplussed about this new reality—you’ve been riding solo since “the before times.” In work, you like it this way because you’re not interested in change that might come with letting others in. You’re happy with your business staying small (but reliable and consistent) if it means you can fill all the roles yourself.
Find balance in your personal life, though, Outsider. Having an outlet and a little external perspective can ensure you don’t lose touch with the outside world. You still need to evolve with the changing times—at your own pace, we know. Close friends and family can give you honest feedback without having to be involved in your business.
Where Outsiders can connect—at a distance
Keep it tight, Outsider. You don’t need to be a member of several Facebook groups or joining friends for Zoom drinks every second day. You’re not really one to hang out in front of a screen that much anyway. Find one group that is related to your work or craft—you’re more likely to engage when you can nerd out over the details of woodworking or whatever it is that makes you tick.
As a person who everyone wants at a party or event, it must have been a rough year for you, Firestarter. You’re energized by a full social calendar, by working the room at a conference happy hour, and scrawling ideas on cocktail napkins over a bite with friends. With your IRL community suddenly unavailable to you, you’ve had to hustle extra hard to make and keep connections. And you have.
Building community is something that comes naturally to you, Firestarter. And since we’re all craving community and belonging these days, seize the opportunity to build your next business. What’s sitting in your idea bank that really tackles this problem? Can you invent the cure for pandemic loneliness?
Where Firestarters can connect—at a distance
Seek out highly active entrepreneur and mastermind groups where you can join and lead conversations and share ideas. You can also replicate some of that elbow-rubbing by cold-contacting people in your industry via LinkedIn or Twitter. In the meantime, work angles on some of the best ideas you’ve had since the pandemic hit—which one will allow you to most easily tap into the collective need for community? Build it.
If you’ve yet to determine your Founder Sign, take our quiz, then sign up for our newsletter. The Founder’s Zodiac runs every month and offers up advice and relevant content curated just for your type.
Illustrations by by Alice Mollon