The BS-Free Guide to Building Communities That Last More Than 3 Months

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One of the biggest reasons communities don't work out is because frankly, like just the value prop of being part of the community isn't compelling enough for, but if by being part of this community, I get some really important outcome, like I really feel the benefit day in, day out, well then all of a sudden everything's a lot easier.

So you kind of got to start there, right? So, what, what I always, think about is like, what are the two or three signature gatherings to start? You'll be really tempted, if you look, by the way, at like, Pat Flynn's community or Jay Klaus's community, they have ten different things that they offer in their community, but they didn't start like that.

You nail, like, three signature gatherings that are incredibly valuable to your ideal member. And you'll ideally start with, like, thirty founding members. And you'll set expectations upfront with them. Hey, this isn't just like you're signing up as a customer, and now, you know, the customer's always right.

This is a two-way kind of buy-in here, right? And so like, here's what you're going to get, but here's also my expectations of you, if you're part of this.

Louis: Bonjour, bonjour, and welcome to another episode of Everyone Hates Marketers. com, the no-fluff actionable marketing podcast for people sick of marketing bullshit. I'm your host, Louis Grenier. In today's episode, you will learn how to create an exclusive and engaged community without giving up on it after three months, four months, five months, six months.

I can talk about my own story very soon about this. Anyway, my guest today is the co-founder of Circle. You might have heard of it. It's the community platform with more than 10, 000 paying customers. gazillions of users. I'm one of them. Fantastic tool. Even better company. I like the way they are running it.

I like the way they've grown it. So yes, Andy Guttormsen, welcome.

Andy: Thanks for having me. I have been looking forward to this for so long, so it's so fun that it's actually happening to this day...

Louis: They all say that. They all say this. They all lying to me.

Andy: Yeah. I believe it. I believe it, but it's true.

Louis: Everyone likes the idea of community, right? When I say everyone, like people in our space, like the creators, the marketers, the business owners, right? They like it because it's sexy, right? It's like, yeah, like you're doing one-to-one coaching. Imagine if you put them all in a group and they all pay you monthly.

And you know, it's easy to start. You just manage it online. You just show up once a week and then boom, you're a millionaire, right? Everyone loves the idea of it. Give me reasons why one shouldn't do that. Shouldn't start a community. What are the profiles or the reasons why you shouldn't start one?

Andy: So my biggest pet peeve on the planet is when, and by the way, we have competitors who do this, but when people in their marketing, like platforms, they write, you know, the community will just run itself or you'll set it up.

And heck, if you need a community, if you have a community, heck, you'll have all the other people doing all the work for you. Like it's just, it's insane. Like it absolutely makes no sense. In order to do it right, you're going to start and then you're going to have all of these people who have this better relationship with you, but they'll have higher expectations of you.

You need to deliver value to them over and over and over and over and over and over again. You need to figure out a new tool. You need to make the case for why. They should come to your environment when there are so many different other things that they could be doing out there. You need to compete with television.

You need to compete with the other communities in your space. You need to compete, by the way, if you get it right a lot of times, you'll struggle. You'll like, you have to, you might charge 20$ a month for your community and people will be like. Is this going to be worth the value, but then they go to the bar and they buy a Manhattan for 21$ at a New York City nightclub.

I don't buy 10 of them, you know? And so it's like, there are all the reasons not to do it, but then the people who really get it, right? It's the biggest competitive advantage on the planet. And we can talk about that. Yeah.

Louis: So that's, that's a too political answer. Now, let's go back, to what you started to say, which was, if you expect that community to run itself, if you've been promised that by whatever guru tool software company out there telling you this, then don't start a community.


Andy: Oh yeah.

Louis: That's a good criteria, right? What else? Like if you think like, what else? That it runs itself that's not good. What are the beliefs that you shouldn't, that you, that if you have them, you shouldn't start a community?

Andy: So when you start a community, the thing is you're gonna be really close to the members.

Like these are like your real people. So like, what are the things that, yeah, yeah, yeah. You're going to be talking to them, right? You'd be interacting with them. And you know, there's a lot of nameless, not named nameless, but a lot of faceless, you know, course creators or people who build membership sites.

And they kind of know that they're always an arm's length distance from. The people who are buying the product that doesn't happen with the community. So you can't hide when you have a community, right? And so there are a lot of people kind of who are in that space. And you know, you know, Louis, like what that, what that is, where it's like people who I'm just going to print this course, I'm gonna make a whole bunch of money.

And I don't really care about the outcome that my students get or that my members get or my community folks get. And so that'll, that just gets found out immediately when you run a community, because it's real people. You're going to talk to them. You're going to have office hours with them. You're going to have conversations with them.

You're going to bring in an expert and be alive in a chat with them. And then you have to, you have to deliver.

Louis: And that's one of the biggest things, the biggest reason I'd say that I started a few of those communities over the years and why I've never been able to keep them up, right? It's not because I'm selfish and I don't, you know, I, I only want to sell stuff and not talk to real people.

It's just always felt that I, it wasn't my thing. My skillset, right? I'm not good at like a longer, long-term thing. I'm quite intense. As a person, right? I don't know if you've noticed quite intense. So I like short-term stuff, right? I like to work with people one-on-one for one hour and a half, you know, like, you know, like one day, but that's it, you know?

So this kind of longer stuff always felt like a big weight on my shoulder and always felt like I can't fucking hike it. I think I found the solution to this. We can talk about that. I think I found the right approach. But I would say as well, it's to answer my own question that if you, if you'd get drained pretty quick when it comes to like talking to people online or replying to comments on social media, whatever, if this is something that feels against the way you like to work, which is more like me, which is like short bursts and whatever, maybe don't start a community either.

Andy: Totally. And I think a nuance to that, is so, so we have this concept where we call these signature gatherings, right? So like, if you have a community, you can tailor the experience that you provide your members to your personality and what you like to do and don't like to do. Right. So, you know, it's the same thing with like social media, right?

Like I may be great on video. I may do a lot more video, that kind of stuff. Or maybe I am much better, you know, more of a writer, right? More thoughtful, long form, whatever it is. We do the same thing in a community. So, I'll give you a great example of this. One of our communities is run by a woman named Dr. Becky, who runs one of the most successful parenting communities on the planet. She is amazing on camera. And so, she does a lot of, like, live teaching and office hours and group calls and all of that. That would be tough for me. I'm not used to being on camera all the time. And, you know, if, if you then look in her community, there's a lot of discussions and people asking questions and replying and all of that kind of stuff.

But otherwise, there's not that much like written content. She leans into what's great for her. And I think everybody can kind of figure out and do a kind of a check. So I'll give you another example. There are people who are much more introverted and one of my favorite business communities run by a guy named Pat Flynn is they have a book club actually in the community where they all read a book together one of, you have 20 different things that they do but there they can go in and that's much more their speed. You might have different versions of your signature gatherings that appeal to you to make it more sustainable for you

Louis: Okay.

Andy: By the way, the other thing I just want to make one last point, which is the communities themselves don't have to be these evergreen, ongoing, never-ending membership sites.

Some of the best communities that exist are ones that are literally 30 days. We are all on this mission together. I learned something, have some transformation and I'm done. And I think a lot of people are, by the way, some of those, so we have this benchmark report where we literally interviewed thousands of people.

We have product data from thousands of our customers. The biggest, one of the biggest surprises is that some of the most profitable communities, the ones where like revenue is the main goal, because a lot of communities revenue actually isn't the main goal. Those ones are kind of cohort-based short-term, 30 days, 90 days.

And they're over some big outcome and we all move on.

Louis: Yeah.

So I ran four of them before. So I ran a cohort-based course. I had to, I used Circle actually fully for the last. a version of it, I think. And yes, like this kind of, it started this way. Everyone follows the same curriculum, same, the same goal.

I wouldn't, in my head, I wouldn't, when I think communities online, I just think ongoing, never-ending. When I think of those, I think more like cohort-based courses or like online challenges or stuff like that. So, I mean, it's good that we can define. You know, for you, you don't necessarily just mean ongoing, never-ending.

Andy: Yeah. So it's a great point. It's like, there's definitely this, everybody's using the word community now, basically, since 2020, it was like this whole kind of trend that happened really overused. I'd say like the most surface-level differentiation is when you think about like an audience, it's one too many, right?

It's followers. I have a relationship with the people in my audience, my followers, but they don't have a relationship with each other. A community, we kind of think of it as it's a relationship between your followers. Everybody's kind of on a mission together. They help each other. It's not just you. But then if you go one step further, there are membership sites, right?

Like a membership site often in the past, it's been, I get access ongoing access to content, but maybe it's not community, right? Cause I'm not necessarily talking to the others like people have bought access to the membership and the content. You can add a community component to the membership where like now there are all these kinds of signature gatherings and different community components that elevate the experience.

And so, yeah, I mean, it's, there's definitely different definitions and nuances, but we think of it kind of more broadly just because that's what, that's what we do. What we're seeing in people, there's so many different versions of this available.

Louis: Okay. So let's go through a little exercise. I think we've set the tone a bit, the context of it.

As I said before, I'm actually very curious about it and selfishly curious about what you're going to say because I tried. And tried and tried. I've been thinking about a model like that forever. And I managed to keep like, when, when it was a fixed term, like a base, I managed to do it. But then I would be drained pretty much for like six months.

I would need the energy to go back, but I'm actually good at interviewing. I don't mind doing, doing interviews, or going on videos. You know, I can do that all day, every day. That's not a problem, but like. When it comes to the people asking questions and I need to answer on community managed, like, you know, that term for me gives me nightmares almost, which is like making sure they don't, they don't feel like they are posting in a void, making sure like you are there to answer.

I mean, this is the grind of a community to me. That's when I start getting anxious already, you know, just picturing this. Like I, it's not for me. Like we have a, you mentioned Pat Flynn. So Jake Lause, who used to work for Pat Flynn, who now runs a kind of a creator private community that I'm part of that is obviously on Circle.

And he's pretty much, he knows, he knows you guys pretty well as well. I know, I know how long it takes him every, every week to do this. Right. And by this, I mean, yes. Every time someone posts a question, he answers, he would send DMs. If you're not super active, like this is a full-time job and more on its own.

Right. So I'm just curious. You know, selfishly, then let's try to put some creative restrictions into kind of a fictional example. We can come up right now because my people are like me in that way. I'm pretty sure they don't have, they feel they don't have the time to do this ongoing grind of community management.

They have other stuff to do. They might do coaching, consulting, the amount of software business, or whatever. So can't spend that much time. And, another restriction, I would say, is that, as you described earlier, they are either maybe massively introverted, very good at writing, but not that good at doing what we're doing now, or the opposite, like, you know, like a personality type that is quite far out in one direction.

So, personally, let's start maybe with those criteria that are a bit more, you know, specific, and let's try to build something. Let's try to come up with a concept together. So what comes to mind? We can do, we can do as close to me as, as possible, or we can go very far about like, I don't know, cheese, like a blue cheese producer who wants to do community for other blue cheese producers in the depths of France countryside.

Andy: You know, let's use you. Let's use you and if you're okay with that, so, you know, the first, the first thing that I always think about is like, what, what is the goal? Like, why am I doing this? Right? Cause obviously you could spend your time in plenty of places, the most sacred, you know, resource that you have.

Should you even be doing this at all? And for me, the lens that I look through is like, what is the size of the opportunity here? And the opportunity can be bigger, by the way, than just revenue. And in fact, I would say it needs to be bigger than just revenue, you know, for the math to work, right? And by the way, we have communities that do millions of dollars, some that are doing, you know, their tens of billions of dollar businesses right now.

But when I think about your community, what it could be. So like here, here's where my head would go. There are other ways to benefit from a community. So there's the direct revenue that you get from it if you charge for it. Right. But I would also be thinking about things like, I'll give you an example.

If I was an investor and I wanted to invest in businesses or acquire businesses, and I had a bunch of businesses in my community, what would that look like? If I had a community for marketers, and I wanted to connect marketers with job opportunities. There might be another kind of like business within that.

For instance, we pay 25, 000$ to a recruiter to go out and find us somebody great for our role. Maybe I would pay 5, 000$ for you to connect me with an amazing marketer for a role. There might be other ways businesses within the community that the community kind of enables. Another, you know, thing I would think about is, are there, are there ways to take the community and, and the members and that group and connect them with other people?

Is there something there for me? So like, there's all these different, other kinds of ancillary benefits you can get if you're creative. Once you are kind of like, you're like the sun, like everybody's like attracted to you when you're running this community. So I would think if you're going to run a community of, of let's say it's marketers, right?

And by the way, maybe it's something different. Maybe it's, I have this amazing course or this experience about how to watch a podcast that's really popular or whatever, but let's say it's a community for marketers to share ideas. Is that like viable as...

Louis: No.

Andy: Is that, yeah, you wouldn't do that.

Louis: Right. So, let me give you some context.

So I've tried to create, I created a Facebook group four years ago around the podcast. Cause a few listeners said, Oh yeah, I'd love to connect with other listeners. And then it died out. Right. We've got like 2000 members. It was free, obviously, but, and then died off. Cause I just, I just couldn't bring myself to manage it, to community manage it.

Right. And I, no one else could do it because they wanted me. Right. Like that's normal. So that failed. Then the code-based course after the fourth iteration, I was like, okay, let's create an ongoing thing after, like once people go through the course, then they want to connect with each other, share progress, blah, blah, blah, blah.

I managed to like do that for a few weeks to like keep up and saying, sharing your wins every week and you know, all that stuff. And then I just give up on it because it's just not me. Right. So that's, that doesn't appeal to me, but I will tell you what appeals to me. So we're talking about here, but choosing the topic, right?

So let's, maybe let's spend some time on this to make sure that we also reverse engineer what you started to say.

Andy: Yeah. The topic and then your goals.

Louis: So the goal for me, let's talk about the goal. The goal for me would be to genuinely help as many marketers as possible, not to be burned or stop being burned by those bro marketers promising the moon, telling you that there's this new framework, new fucking thing, new blah, blah, blah.

Well, nothing is new under the sun who desperately need help because, you know, marketers are the most markety people in the world. They are marketed by very clever, creatively manipulative marketers selling them stuff they don't need. They are at the forefront of social media. They're always on their phone or whatever.

They are always exposed to the newest trends. There is AI as well as threatening their entire livelihoods. It's like a perfect storm of overwhelm for marketers, right? And I know that because I talk to them every day. I know exactly what they're going through. And I coach them as well, one on one sometimes.

So I know exactly what it feels like. And I'm not going to say I have the solution for it, the perfect solution, but at least I think I found a good way to help them, you know, fight this overwhelm, find clarity, feel like they're doing something worthwhile in connection with who they are. So they don't feel yucky going to bed at night.

Right. So I would do this so that I could help more people. at the same time, right? Like the idea would be this. So I do a lot of one-to-one stuff. That's very helpful for me. I love doing that. But you know, I wish I could do more to help more people. The last thing I would say for context, one of the most popular formats I've ever run, are hot seats.

So I've done a couple of hot seats in the past. And all I need is people telling me their issues. And I can coach them live. I can really help them live without the bullshit. I can give them the tools and that helps them and it helps the others on the call. So that always worked really well. Right. So I'll stop here and see if that answers your question.

Andy: Yeah. It's a really helpful context. So one of the biggest reasons communities don't work out is because frankly, like just the value prop of being part of the community isn't compelling enough for, but if by being part of this community, I get some really important outcome, like I really feel the benefit day in, day out, well then all of a sudden everything's a lot easier.

So you kind of got to start there, right? So, what, what I always, think about is like, what are the two or three signature gatherings to start? You'll be really tempted, if you look, by the way, at like, Pat Flynn's community or Jay Klaus's community, they have ten different things that they offer in their community, but they didn't start like that.

You nail, like, three signature gatherings that are incredibly valuable to your ideal member. And you'll ideally start with, like, thirty founding members. And you'll set expectations upfront with them. Hey, this isn't just like you're signing up as a customer, and now, you know, the customer's always right.

This is a two-way kind of buy-in here, right? And so like, here's what you're going to get, but here's also my expectations of you, if you're part of this community. And there's, there are strings attached, right? And so, I would, knowing that, I would then really try and figure out, what are the three signature gatherings that, I'm most compelling.

And by the way, we have like 15 different ones that we recommend to people all the time. Hot seats is one of those.

Louis: Okay. So let's go through them. Let's go through them. Give me the 15.

Andy: All right. I'm going to try and I'm going to try and rattle off as many as I can off.

Louis: Well, you can take your time and I find them like it's, you don't have to just answer straight away, but anyway, hot seat is one.

Andy: Hot seats is one. Another example would be bringing in an expert to teach. You can do this on a weekly basis, bi-weekly basis, or monthly basis. Somebody external, right? And by the way, they're, they're like really great examples of this. Like in a gardening community, as an example, you might bring in like a true expert about how to do like a backyard garden layout, something very specific and valuable that people couldn't get access to anywhere else.

And so, like, you should be really specific about the topics. And by the way, you'll record it. That will go into the library. People can access it anytime. It's searchable, all of that, right? And even more community-first approach to that would be, because you have really high bar, high-quality people in the community, who are the experts in your community?

Have, nominate them. Like, say, hey, like, let's vote. What do we need help with from the community? Then. Get, say, all right, here's like three or four people I know in the community who could, you know, teach on this thing. Let's all like vote, like who do we want to do this? How can we get people on the counter?

That's one example. Another, by the way, if you're doing that every, every week, that can be really valuable. I know we have an HR pro community, like a community of HR professionals. There's like 600 of them in there. They're all executives. That's, it's really unique to get access to that kind of group.

And so there's a version of that for you. Another example might be, I mentioned earlier, a book club, right? Book clubs are really common, probably lower value, right? So when we talk about creating three really valuable signature gatherings, I would not put a book club in that list. I would put a hot seat in that list of like something that's very valuable.

You can, you know, Charge a lot for people will have to come back for it. Another example would be any sort of challenge. So challenges are great challenges. The whole group can rally around them. They can just be a specific amount of time. It can be 10 days. It can be 30 days, you know, whatever it is. And there's a really popular community out there.

And it's kind of more of actually a cohort based course with a very active community component. It's from Dickie Bush. It's his name, it's called ship 30 for 30 and they go through and they publish a piece of content every single day, community, you know, component, another example might be, there's a woman and by the way, this isn't like saying to me, but like, there's a group that kind of would post their, gosh, it was like, they would like give themselves a high five in the mirror and then like share kind of something that they were, they had a lot of gratitude for and all that.

And, you know, it's like. She literally had tens of thousands of people doing this, right? There's other challenges around, you know, weight loss, health, you know, all that kind of stuff, you can imagine. Another example would be getting feedback from the community on your work. So we see photography communities do this all the time where, you know, they might have like pictures or art, you know, where they get feedback from their peers.

Another example, one of my favorite examples of a community, which is also a cohort-based course, is David Perel and Tiago Forte. They had, Building a Second Brain and Write a Passage, where, you know, if you're in David's course, you're creating work. You're creating, like, a body of work, and you're writing, and you can get feedback from other people who are on this journey with you who are also great writers.

There's, kind of, experts in there, alumni who've gone through it before. But man, if I'm like creating some type of work and I have these really respected peers and they're with me and I'm getting feedback from them, that's really valuable. Like I can, I can pay for that and feel great. So that would be, you know, another example.

Other examples would be kind of more like, It's more like a, like a marketplace dynamic, which we touched on earlier, which, so there is a great marketing community that I'm a part of that, that runs on Circle called Exit Five from Dave Gearheart. So what they do is they, they have, they connect exactly like marketing leaders with great job opportunities.

Right. And so there's, it's amazing what can happen in the DMS of a community. You know, there's so many people who build relationships in there. It's imagine if you have a community where all these friendships and connections are being formed, that people are starting to like share ideas and opportunities with each other in the background.

So what you might see as, as engagement or lack thereof in the community, a lot of it is not front center. A lot of it's happening in the DM.

Louis: So let me repeat the ones you said so far. Hot seat, which is like, for people not familiar with it, like you have someone on the hot seats being coached, being challenged on the problems they have, whatever on others.

The beauty of it is that others listening benefit as well, because no one is really unique. The problems are always the same and seeing someone else's problems being solved in front of you is always kind of quite interesting. So an expert to teach specific classes, book clubs, specific challenge that have like a time attached to it.

I don't know if it was part of the challenge category, but the gratitude thing where you just high five your mirror, whatever the fuck that that is. Right. So that's, that's a challenge. Getting feedback on your own work, right? Like you, you do that thing and you get feedback from the community and then this kind of marketplace.

So two sided thing where two sides benefit from each side benefit you from the other. Whether it's like a kind of a job board or hiring or whatever the fuck. Okay. Now I'm very curious. I need to know the others or else I'm going to have a fucking canary. No, no, no. I don't need to now, but if you can search for them now in the next few minutes, that'd be great.

And then I'm going to rant on something for a second, just to give you more context. If you can do both things at the same time.

Andy: All right.

Louis: I love all of this. So, so signature gatherings. I love that. Never heard of that term before. I think that's a really great way to think about it. I'll tell you, I'm a contrarian, right?

So seeing communities with a certain model that tends to be the ones that I can't do because it's not me, I can't do it. It's just, I know myself way too well now that I can't do it. Forcing me to think about, you know, are there other ways I can flip this to my advantage to really make it work. So the hot seat stuff that's always come back to me.

Another thing that always, always come back to me is I don't know if you've seen it. There is this event that Rand Fishkin and Amanda Natividad run with Spark Toro. A few months ago, they do it every year now called Spark Together. And the concept is fucking, I love it because it's, it creates, there's restriction to it that brings the value higher.

Right. So you have to attend live in order to get the thing. Right.

Andy: Yes.

Louis: And it's not a gimmick because people who are going to share their stuff live are going to share things that they've never really shared before because it's sensitive information, transparent or whatever. So this is why also it's not recorded, right?

So I love this kind of creative constraints added to something that brings the value up, right? Another one, and then I'll stop, is this concept of an exploding offer. I don't know if it's in the, you know, the HR world where it's like, I have to accept within 24 hours or, or the deal is gone. Right. And I like that concept I did to what a team solo from Ahrefs, which is a SEO software did, or still does, which is you have to watch the record.

The recording is only available for like three days or four days, and then it's gone forever. Sure. So I love those stuff because I like those short bursts of stuff and it's gone. That, that brings value up. So I have an idea behind it, right? Something I've been thinking forever. But yeah, I wanted to add more context.

Have you found the 15 signature gatherings?

Andy: Yeah. So I found a few. So you know what we did? We actually, we shortened it to 10 in our last presentation, which is a deck that I have. I'll share you, you know, what I have over here though. Cause it was going too long. Oh, okay. So let's see, we have actually literally the number one one that we had was hot seats and live workshops is another one similar to like expert chats, except, you know, you can do like a more Q&A version of which requires less prep from the guests, more onus on the presenter, but then you can also do like literally live trainings where it's kind of much more actionable, more educational.

And I think there's. I also think the, the interviews can be a little bit more entertaining at times too, but you can differentiate between the two. The other one, which is a great one is accountability. So where you kind of have this broader community, but you start to break people into kind of smaller accountability groups, super common, especially, you know, if people are, they're, they're kind of like doing common goals and things like that.

And by the way, a lot of times that just happens in a private message. Like a group DM or something like that. Other times, you know, of course it can be more formal. People go through like a cohort based course. Another example, one of my, one of my absolute favorite communities on Circle, it's run by a guy named Josh Hall, who he has maybe a hundred people or 120 people in the community members paying.

It's definitely more premium. It's all freelance. Designers and, and designers who kind of like, they own their own agencies and they have clients, but imagine for a minute, they're kind of learning how to like go through a proper proposal and quoting process. And then they get some feedback from a potential client and, you know, they've all said, Hey, you know, I know I'm trying to work on charging more and charging what I'm worth.

So then they're in their little group together. And Hey, that quote's too small. You know, Josh, you said you were going to charge what you're worth. And it's got like, there's versions of that that happen all the time in these communities. So accountability is a great one. Office hours is another one.

Office hours are the best. And by the way, we have a very active community of circle customers and office hours are super popular. And obviously we do it because we really believe in it, but we also should eat our own dog food, right? And so, you know, office hours, I think get overlooked because a lot of people, like for us, we might get, we got 10, 000 people in our community, all very active and all of that.

We might only get 20 people or 30 people at our office hours, but those people that are there so much of, they get so much value. And actually most of the value from office hours is just people knowing that they're available to them if they need them. It's like, it's kind of my insurance policy. So I sign up for whatever it kind of, I'm going to get that value prop out of the community and it almost like upfront, it helps acquire the member and make them feel comfortable and then they just kind of know, Hey, if I run into some problems, I'm going to get to go there and kind of like get this issue solved.

Love office hours. And then they're very simple. to do. Another example. So community-powered courses, are a big category, but there are courses that are very clear that community first. They often people use cohort-based courses. I don't think cohort-based courses is a very like, why they use the word actually, like outside of Twitter, as far as I can tell, I never heard anybody say cohort-based courses anywhere.

So I started using community-powered courses is like what we say. So people know what we're talking about. The other thing you can do, and this is actually ties into what you were, were talking about a little bit. It's a version of it, which is monthly kind of themed content, weekly themed content, quarterly themed content, but going in deep on a topic.

For a specific period of time and then moving on, just moving on, like you're moving on to the next thing, like you really have to be active and engaged, you know, around that topic, you have to show up to the workshop, you have to come to the office hours, you're going to get feedback if you submit by this date, but then you're going to go like, kind of, um,

Louis: It's an overarching theme inside the community that you would apply to the other format, right? It's not a format on its own.

Andy: Exactly. It's more, it's more around like building excitement for a topic, right? So, you know, going back, I started playing more golf over the last year because I was on this computer all day and I was, you can see how pale I am. So I was like, I'll go out and get some sun, I'm going to learn golf.

I want to do something more tactile and real. And there could be a golf community that I join and, and this week or this month, it's going to be all just about, you know, the long game and hitting your driver off the tee. And maybe the next month is all about putting, um, and the next month is all about shipping and kind of, you know, bringing people on that journey in a certain order and going deep on those topics.

And, uh, and that's what I got. I mean, there's, and by the way, the other thing is, you know, there's different nuances to all of these, right? Like, and here's what I think is the most important thing is that for every single one of these ideas, these signature gatherings, there's the thoughtful, creative, high signal version of it.

So if I'm creating, let's say like, I want to offer feedback in my community. If I have a rating community. And I'm asking my folks to submit a writing piece, and then we're going to go through, I'm going to get feedback from all the other writers, and it's going to be really well thought out how I get the feedback and how I learn.

Like, that's a great execute, like great implementation of feedback. What's not great is, and what there's room for, is I have a question, Hey, what do y'all think about this? People post, ask discussion, incredibly valuable. That's not really what we're talking about here. We're talking about like almost feedback as a product.

You know within the community.

Louis: That's, that's all very interesting. So just to repeat, and hopefully I won't forget any, that's a hot seat, expert to teach, book club, challenges, feedback as a product, the marketplace thingy, where both group gets value, accountability groups, office hours, community powered courses, and then topic focus for the, for a month.

That type of shit.

Andy: Totally. And by the way, you want to know what, what the cheat code is? Just Google it.

Louis: Give me the hack.

Andy: Okay. I'm going to give you the hack. Okay. So go to the, go to the three or four like communities that you really, really respect that exist that have really happy members that are super engaged, all of that go to their land, go to their landing page.

You scroll down and look for the section, which says, what do you get? What's inside the community. They have the screenshots and all of that. And you'll see a list of all the stuff you get. Those are really just signature gatherings, at least like, you know, for the communities that, that do really, that do really well.

Louis: So let me add another layer. So we understand the people we're serving with this community. They are community doubt. Like I can't, cannot count the number of people who told me I'm part of the fucking like LinkedIn group on Facebook group on WhatsApp groups, fucking Circle communities, whatever.

And it's private forums on whatever. And the expectation is always like to engage, you know, like you need to like introduce yourself and then you fucking need to reply to comments. And then you need to do, you know, so as you said, at the start, like you're competing with TV and going for a run and whatever else, or like, I know, I know that the people that I'm serving compared to the average are way more exposed to all of this, than the average, right? And so I cannot, I just cannot bring myself to do yet another J Class community, yet another Pat Flynn community. And I, I don't, I'm not throwing shade, uh, to them at whatsoever, but my people, I know they are fucking, they are done with it, right? So they want to come in, get their shit solved, go without, you know, all this noise.

At least that's my big, uh, I mean, I don't know if it's an assumption. It's quite, it's not just an assumption. Like I'm hearing that a lot. So what could we do then around those parameters?

Andy: So where you're going with this is the place that I would go personally with this. If I were starting a community, which there's kind of like the always-on communities where like, there's like people, and by the way, discord is really popular, right?

People are like hanging out on Discord. They're hanging out in the community for me. And by the way, I think most of the communities that circle people are not hanging out in the communities, right? I'm coming with some intention to solve a problem or get value, right? It's not a hangout friends area. Some there's of course, some of that.

And so, you know, if you choose, it's all about expectation setting up front. So if you do it right, most people, by the way, even Pat and I'm, and Jay and others. They did this, they talked one on one with every single new member. Now, you set the expectations of what this is, and you can just tell you. This is not an always on, we hang out in here community.

These are the signature gatherings, like, this is what you get. By the way, you don't say, hey, here's our signature gatherings. Here's, like, what you get. But, um,

Louis: I would never say that in real life, ever.

Andy: And we, we didn't invent the, the language, signature gatherings. I, I think I...

Louis: Oh, that's a nice way to, like, dissociate yourself from, from that term.

Andy: I don't, no, I feel bad. I feel bad saying that because we use it all the time and

Louis: You don't feel bad. You said it 20 times already. You love it.

Andy: Yeah. I, I stole it from Noel Flowers who ran the community at a company called Teachable, and then...

Louis: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Andy: She is a, is a friend of ours, so she's the one I think who made it up anyway.

I could be wrong, but the signature gatherings are, you could just have it like, Hey, here's, you get a hot seat. Right? Super engaging hands-on. We do one of those a week. We rotate through it. There's a group of five people here in this group. And we're going to rotate through each one. And by the way, you don't have to be the one.

Okay. So the, I'll give you an example in the SPI community, they do hot seats, but Pat's not the one solving all of their problems the way, the way that they organize it, they might have, they have hundreds of members. You get put into a group of six to eight people. And those six to eight people, it's very highly curated, very well thought out.

Matt and the team, they do an amazing job. Like to make sure you're with the right people in your group for kind of your peers, same level, all of that you're in there with six or eight others. You're excited to be in that group with those people each week, one person kind of goes on the hot seat and then they'll kind of say, Hey, I'm going to bring this problem.

They'll maybe share it in advance. And we're going to talk about, I'm going to talk about it for 20 minutes or so. And then we're going to spend the next hour and a half just going deep in the other five people in the room are there to help solve that person's problem, collaborating.

Louis: Gotcha. Cool. Okay.

Yeah. Okay. So, because in my head, when I think hot seat, I think people can come in and one experts would kind of solve those stuff, but. What you describe here is a more of a smaller group. There's no expert per se. They're just, everyone helps each other. And it's, there is a rotation every week, for example.

Andy: Yes. And that's only possible though, if you have a high bar for, you know, who joins the community. So not everybody can get in, which is why it's so different. Like, by the way, you asked, what are the reasons not to do a community? This is one of the reasons is because like, it's not like selling another product where you just sell to anybody who wants it.

Like, you know, you do have to be pretty thoughtful about who a member is sometimes there has to be a bar. So, and what are the expectations during onboarding? And I do want to tell you, I think Pat and the SPI team have done the best version of onboarding I've ever seen with the community. And we should talk about that in a couple of minutes cause I think it's really valuable for the lesson.

Louis: I choose what we talk about.

Andy: I know I clearly you're in charge. I'm just a dancing monkey, but, um, the, the signature gatherings though, they can be ones where you set expectations up front and we do a hot seat. We do a hot seat. You'll be put into a group.

Once a week, by the way, it doesn't have to be, that could be your version of a hot seat too, but once a week you show up for the hot seat, it's an hour and that, and we do it once a week, or we do it once a month or once every other week, whatever it is, that's the one thing you do. And in between, you're not hanging out.

We're not in the community. There's no expectations of nothing. You're done. Also once every two weeks or once a month, we bring in. An expert to speak and as a community, we nominate who that expert is. And we're going deep an hour and a half on a topic that we're all super excited about. And it's going to be really valuable.

And by the way, we have high expectations for whoever's going to do that talk. And you might get tapped on the shoulder one time to do that talk, but it's an hour and a half and it's going to be very relevant to us. We all look for whatever. So that's the second thing. And by the way, So that's happening, you know, the hot seats this week, next week, we do have this expert talk, by the way, it's on the calendar.

And then the third thing might be some other signature gathering where it's, you know, I can show up and I don't have to do anything in between. Right. So those are on the calendar for the month. That's what we expect, you know, from everybody. And of course, you don't have to come to all those things, but like, it removes your burden in between.

Right? There's less to organize. It's not always on. I'm not hanging out in there. As a member, you're not hanging out in there as an admin. Now, you could say, Hey, we're going to create an extra space for people who want to ask questions, you know, or whatever it is, and they can, you know, share questions, share answers, all of that.

Or you might just want to be like, I don't even want to open up that channel for people because I don't want to spend time in there. But the first version of this, there are maybe like three signature gatherings. I show up, I attend them, I get tons of value. And that's enough. Like, that's enough for my whole community.

And I'm still meeting people there. The members are all meeting each other while we're live.

Louis: Yeah. One thing I've learned over the last few years is that you gotta, you gotta stop babying your audience and trust them. Like, if they want to connect with each other, they will, right? They don't need you to fucking do the work for them, right?

And that happened so many times. I've organized Like recently I've done a workshop in Paris and we were, what, 12, it was limited to 12 people. And then it was so nice to see during the day, like friendship being made in front of your eyes, right? Like people connecting with each other, helping each other.

And then at the end, you could see that they gave each other the number and whatever. And now they're Yeah, like they have these connections and I'm not involved and I don't need to be. That's something I learned over the years, right? You don't have to fucking pre-eat the food. You know, it's like those, the birds that get directly fed from the mother after digesting the food and just poof in your mouth.

People are smart enough to figure out their own shit. So you don't need to do anything for every single need. The other thing I would say here is that is very dangerous that I've also failed to do properly at the start is it's very easy to start building what people ask you to do, what they ask you, right?

It's like, Oh, it's nice to have this office hours. It's nice to have the hot seat, but like, I really want to be able to ask questions and engage with others and make friends or whatever. And then boom, you start like adding stuff and adding stuff. And then it becomes a Frankenstein and then you burned out.

Andy: A hundred percent.

Those are products. Like when you add that space for people to start connecting and asking questions, like that's a product. So you just added a, it's like at Circle. If we add a whole feature of our software, now we're going to have to support that feature forever. And it added all this complexity.

Louis: And that's the key, right?

You just said it. I wanted to say it, but you said it when you add things, you have to maintain them. Right. It's a big lesson. So if you start a community where all with all the bells and whistles, yes, you're going to be energized for the next 30 days and your adrenaline will be up. And we'll have a new community.

Then, are you going to be able to sustain that pace in the next six months, 12 months, three years? Unlikely, right? So it's like my criteria now is, am I going to be able to do that thing when I haven't slept last night because my daughter has been sick? I got into a fight with my wife because we're all in bad moods.

I didn't eat. Am I still able to run the bear min for today? All right. If the answer is no, then I can't, I don't do that thing. Does that, this is wisdom, right? That I've gathered over the last few years. You can see the scars, the mistakes I've made over and over again.

Andy: Yeah. Hard, a hard one experience for sure.

You know, one thing that does come to mind though, is like, You can, I always think through the lens of like, how can we kind of like de-risk things and take a little bit of the pressure off? And I think one thing that the best communities do well, and if you're thinking about launching your own, It would be to give yourself permission to start some start of some part of the community to turn things off when they're not working and to set the expectation up front with some of the members like, hey, by the way, if we find this isn't working for us, like, we'll just end it like that.

That is one of the thing that's great about these communities is like you can always add this new thing on or turn this thing off as long as you set the expectations up front. People, people get it.

Louis: Yeah, I completely get it. I agree as well with that, with that way of doing, but yes, it's knowing what to remove is as important, if not more as knowing what to add or knowing what not to do is as important, if not more than knowing what to do.

So I'm sure that people have burning question like about the stuff we mentioned. There's one thing that I know they're thinking about, which is. It's all well and good, but how the fuck do I find my founding members? Maybe you can briefly define what you mean by this, just to make sure we're on the same page.

Andy: So the founding members are the brave, daring, maybe a little crazy people who are going to join a community that literally doesn't exist, has no proof of working, no proof of delivering like real value yet, right? Like it's the first 30 people or so, it could be 20, it could be 50, whatever. Who are, are signing up, knowing that they're not just signing up for like a product, they're actually going to help you build the product, like, cause that's what they're doing.

And so the founding members are people who I personally believe you should talk to literally every single one of them one on one deeply understand what they're hoping to get, you know, very tactically though. I like to be very clear about what the signature gatherings are and what's the value prop of the community.

I believe, and everybody listening is a marketer, so it can create an amazing landing page. They have great positioning, copy, all of that. A lot of people will say, Oh no, you don't need that kind of stuff. And that's fine. You need a great landing page and it increases your chance of success. You put everything on there.

And that's kind of like where you're going to start to send people, but you're not going to do what you're not going to do some big launch. I'm going to go out, right? Let's assume you don't have some massive marketing list and, and you're not some big company. Even if you were the best thing to do is to still talk to 30 people.

So in some ways, if you're starting from scratch, like one of the advantages is that you can give a lot of attention to these first 30 people. Cause it's kind of like product market fit. Yeah. It's like, if you build a product that isn't good yet, you try and scale it. It just never, never works. Everybody's going to turn out.

So you need to really nail it with the first 20 or 30 people. And I would look everywhere. So, you know, there's of course a hierarchy, but what this could look like. Is you start, let's say you have an email list, right? Of course you can reach out to your email list. What I wouldn't do is say, Hey, memberships open, come in, you know, join, sign up and you'll get access.

What I would do is say, here's what I'm thinking about. We're looking for our first 30 founding members. You can see the page. Here's everything that you're going to get. We want the right people. We'll make things wider later, but right now we need the right people. If you're interested, you think this is a good fit.

Go here and apply, we'll hop on a call, 20, 30 minutes, we'll ask you some questions, get to know you, all of that. And then, you can make the call on if you think, like if both people think it's a fit, right? So then the question becomes, alright, well like how do I get people to that page, like who's gonna, how do I drive applications, and all of that.

And again, we should talk about onboarding, but the, I would look through things like, like, let's say it's your community. It's actually way easier for you, right? You have a following, you have, you know, customers and all of that, but let's say you, you don't, you might look at who's bought, you know, your products before, who are your like first degree connections on LinkedIn?

Who's literally in your cell phone? Who have you been exchanging emails with? Cause anybody can create a list of 20 to 30 people who they would think would be great members. And honestly, if you can't, you probably shouldn't start that community.

Louis: Yeah. That's another criteria.

Andy: I would send them each individual emails.

I'd send them texts.

Louis: Yeah.

And that's something that people really struggle with in ours, in my industry, like the marketing industry in particular, where like, you know, they just picture this, like creating this fucking thousand member community and they want to scale. Thinking about this grand fucking plans when they haven't nailed the first step, which is she can't name, as you said, 20, 30 people who would be genuinely interested into this, then start over, you know, getting like, get a job, build contacts in the industry, be patient, play the long game, stop trying to be influenced by people who are selling you the dream of financial independence, within 30 days, just because that's not how it works. Right. But yes, the way I always picture it is like a series of concentric circles. Right. It's like the very, the very kernel of it is like people, you know, that trust you who fit exactly the criteria of like the best customer that you have in mind and start with them.

Right. And those could be, founding members. Now, do we charge them? Do we say it's for free in an exchange for feedback? Obviously the answer is nuance, but what do you tend to see?

Andy: So I like charging. If my broader kind of like vision for the community is that it's going to be like a paid membership community where the main purpose of it, main goal from a business perspective is to drive revenue, then yeah, I think.

Part of proving out that it's valuable for people is, you know, charging, you know, and getting them to pay for it. Then you deliver the service. It's just good business. And it requires us to be then honest with ourselves about whether we're able to deliver the value. The, and by the way, those members will also be more active and engaged and they're making a bigger commitment.

So you, you, you want those people in there. That said though, you know, most of the time for the founding members, people offer some sort of really material incentive, it's typically just like a discount, it could be like, it's, Hey, this is what it's going to be, you know, three months from now, we're going to have these five signature.

And the price is going to be X. Right now, we have these three signature gatherings to start, and the price is half of X. It's 50 percent of X or whatever it is. And you know, we were looking for the right people.

Louis: Okay.

I could talk to you about all of this for hours, but I've just realized it's nearly been an hour that we've been talking. So we do need to wrap things up ever so slightly. I'm just going to try to summarize what we said so far. So don't start a community if you don't care about people, don't start a community if you're too early on, you don't have a network. Don't start a community if you think you're going to reach thousands straight away.

Or if you don't, if you can't see yourself doing this in six months time, or if like, if maintenance and community management is not something you ever want to think about. Signature gatherings are the things that the key things that you do as part of a community. Community doesn't only have to be like ongoing to be other stuff, but we talked about a hot seat, expert book club challenges, feedback, marketplace, live training, accountability, office hours, community borrowed course.

And then you can like wrap topics around it, like every month or whatever, if you want to anyway, pick those that fit you as well as your audience. You need to be selfish that way. At least that's what I understand. Yeah. Your founding members, contact them one by one. You know, if you can't get them to pay even with this kind of incentive, like a discount, you probably have a problem. So that's me trying to summarize everything we said in a few seconds, but did I forget anything major you wanted to say?

Andy: I really think you nailed it. And I think like the theme here I want to reiterate is like, you got to do the work. Like there's no way around doing work to create these communities, too many people just go, go fast. They buy a community platform, they send out an email, they add people to it and they have no idea, you know, what's going to be required to make it work. But if you're willing to do that work, you will be so rare and so differentiated. And if you do the work, it's just like the best payoff ever when it really goes well.

Louis: That's why I like you, the company you run, because that sense of authenticity and non hacky shortcut kind of messaging is really coming through, right? Like you don't promise the moon, you promise what the tool does, like the straight benefits to it, but you don't go to a level of hierarchy that is like, Oh yeah, grow a business, build a life you want, make six figures through community.

You don't do that. Right. And I want to recognize that because it's rare to actually stick to that and not promise stuff you can't make promises you can't keep. So thanks for doing that. Thank you as well for taking the time to answer all my questions and all of that. Before you go. I have one or two questions, I always ask, what do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10, 20, or 50 years?

Andy: So two quick things come to mind. Uh, first, I, I am, I am just such a fanatic of amazing, like, great copywriting. I, to me, it's like the thing that is such a prerequisite. It's like the every marketer needs to be a great copywriter.

I'm sure tons of your guests say that. I think probably they also say what I'll say next, which is like right now, I think I'm very interested in how AI can help great marketers get a lot more leverage on their time. And I think that is going to be a really great investment for folks who are willing to invest some of their time.

They're just like learning and like being a kid again, and like, really like getting excited by the technology.

Louis: Okay.

What are the top three resources you recommend listeners about the topic of today or it could be other stuff?

Andy: Three resources about, so let's say like community building. So, you know, one resource, uh, resource in quotes would be if you're serious about doing this and doing it right, the best dollars you can spend would be to go and sign up and find, two or three great communities that exist, go sign up for them and literally like take screenshots across the entire funnel, see what they do, how do they do their onboarding, what's like your experience when you first get in and what are the different cadences, signature gatherings, all that, like take screenshots and really like document it, just make sure you choose the right two or three examples.

Like choose like the top of 1 percent in terms of the ones who are most successful. Another example would, sorry, another, you know, resource is the, so actually I'll plug ourselves, we do a big virtual summit where we bring in all like the best community folks, you got to come and sign up for those. Those are, they're totally free, but like you can go out there and Noelle Flowers, for instance, I mentioned earlier, she writes on this stuff a lot.

She's been one of our speakers before. She has a great blog where she kind of, like, she's just been in the weeds doing this stuff and she's very, you, it's not like surface level advice. It's like very specific, actionable, this thing was really painful. We tried to make a big migration from this tool to the other.

Everything failed. Here's how we fixed it. Like that kind of stuff. So those are the two places that I would, that I would go.

Louis: Okay. That's, that's very thorough. Once again, Andy, it's been really fun. Thank you.

Andy: Thank you for just for, for having me in. You're such a great interviewer for all the curiosity. I really, really appreciate it.

Just, uh, A lot of fun to do this. I'm not just saying that it's truly like one of the most fun interviews I've done.

Louis: Thank you.

It's on record.

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The BS-Free Guide to Building Communities That Last More Than 3 Months
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