by Steven Van Yoder - In 1997, David Steele was making the transition from a professional therapist to relationship coach. Part of his strategy was to become a center of influence and THE Relationship Coach for his community.
David decided to launch his own virtual community as a weekly "Friday Night Social" singles gathering. After a one-month pilot program and some market research, he designed a community for the singles in his area, unlike any other setting available, that would meet their need to meet other singles in a safe, fun setting.
The community also furthered David's mission to provide relationship education and position his firm prominently within his target market.
Almost seven years later, his Friday Night Social continues to be a vibrant singles community that supports the practices of the four coaches who collaborated to make it happen. "It is a lot of fun, and the time and effort needed to make it happen is minimal," says David.
"We feature a guest speaker each week, a local professional who is usually a good referral source. We've become well-known in our community and have a loyal following of singles who sometimes continue to attend with their partners when no longer single!"
From Therapist to Singles Guru of Silicon Valley
Slightly famous entrepreneurs are learning that in today's world, given that most of us have an unmet need for community, one of the greatest services you can offer your clients and prospects is simply to get them together.
The goodwill, contacts and status David has developed as a leader of a niche community has boosted his business. It has minimized the need to aggressively market his services by transforming into a guru and center of influence and trusted advisor to his target market.
Why does this work? There is a basic human need for community. We survive and thrive in relationships. We are social beings and cannot be fully successful or happy alone. Ever since we lived in caves our social environment largely determines our fate.
In today's world, given that most of us have an unmet need for community, one of the greatest services we can offer the clients and prospects in our niche is simply to get them together.
Think about it. A niche is a group of people that share common situations, needs, and goals. When these people get together, they immediately feel a common bond; they understand each other and can easily provide mutual support.
Targeting The Right Niche with the Message
Like David, you too can establish yourself as a trustworthy resource whose reputation and work is beyond scrutiny. The secret to success is targeting a group of people with specific interests. And that group of people can be your target market!
Examples of groups that would be attracted to, and benefit from, participating in a niche community include:
Fortune 500 CEO's
Real Estate Investors
Singles Over 50
Tai Chi Practitioners
Small Business Owners
Unemployed/Laid Off Tech Workers
Ph.D. Candidates Working On Their Dissertation
Women in Transition
You get the idea...any niche you can think of for your practice is a candidate for a niche community.
How a Niche Community Can Benefit Your Business
Once you establish a niche community around your business, you can enjoy the following benefits:
Increased visibility. Community participation is a low cost marketing strategy that can yield enormous exposure for your business. Virtual communities provide free or low-cost gatherings that attract more people and create more prospects.
Increased credibility. The success of your niche community reflects upon your abilities as a service professional. It provides a chance for you to "show your stuff" and impress prospects who don't feel like they need to ward off a sales pitch.
Word of mouth. Virtual communities stimulate conversation. They get people talking. Participants tell their friends more readily about your business as a "community resource" than a private service.
Transform a "practice" into a "business". By reaching more people through your virtual community, you will develop a platform to sell more products and services. Your community can open the door to multiple income streams through group mentor programs, information products and other passive revenue streams.
The first consideration is how you will structure your community and bring people together. You have two choices: create a "live" community that meets in a physical location; or establish an online community that meets virtually through telephone and the Internet.
Live communities are straightforward. Taking David's cue, develop a statement of purpose for the group. Then, market the group to niche market prospects within reasonable physical proximity to one another, choose meeting times and a location, and bring them together around a structured agenda.
Whereas live communities are more limited by location, virtual communities offer the possibility of attracting members from all over the world.
Online or virtual communities gather people in an online 'space' where they come, communicate, connect, and get to know each other better over time. The idea is to bring members of your niche together virtually where you combine on-line interaction (e-mail, web forums) with telephone conference calls and classes, as well as information and support services.
Online group interactions do not always 'happen' spontaneously. They require care, nurturing and facilitation.
The core of facilitation and hosting is to serve the group and assist it in reaching its goals or purpose. Some describe this role as a gardener, a conductor, the distributed leadership of jazz improvisers, a teacher, or an innkeeper. It can be this and more.
If you take the plunge, be patient. Online communities don't happen overnight. Often they take time to coalesce and form themselves into something valuable and sustainable. It's crucial that patience is exercised, since it WILL take time for momentum and a critical mass to develop whereby the community becomes solid and established.
Steven Van Yoder is the author of Get Slightly Famous: Become a Celebrity in Your Field and Attract More Business with Less Effort. Visit http://www.getslightlyfamous.com to read the book and learn about 'slightly' famous teleclasses, workshops, and marketing materials to help small businesses and solo professionals attract more business. [email protected]