You Have the Right to Make Money | A Case for Online Community Builders

I am an online community builder.  I help people make connections, I support local professionals and I am passionate about helping others learn how to do these things online.  It’s something I believe is a valuable service and, when done correctly, I believe it’s a service people, those who understand the core value of community, connections and relationships, are happy to pay for.

About two-and-a-half years ago, I created an online community for the local business professionals in Lakeland, Florida called the Lakeland Business Leaders.  As a member of the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce and a weekly leads group, I discovered an opportunity for the members of the networking group to reach more people than the 10-20 members who attended the leads group each week.  As it was, members would stand and give testimonials for other members.  Depending on how many were there that day, 10-15 people heard the message.  I suggested that we write reviews on Google Places pages, I mentioned the value of an online review that lasted and could be seen by the public.  Trouble was, not everyone had a Google account and not everyone had a business and not everyone had a Google Place page on which to write a review.  What about the non-traditional businesses?  The professional who worked for a big company and whose reviews might be lost on a corporate website?

Join people where they already are, don’t force them somewhere new.

It was my observation at that time that almost everyone in the group had a Facebook account and, on some level were familiar with how Facebook worked.  I asked why we didn’t have a group with which to communicate, and then I created one to help facilitate the communication within that particular group.  But this was not enough.  I knew, if we were going to bring real value to the members of the leads group, we needed to reach more people.  We needed to bring the community together in a bigger way.  A way that would allow the very segmented community of Lakeland to join together and bring their great ideas to a place where people would listen, respond, engage and give feedback.  I approached several people at the Chamber of Commerce, suggesting this would be a great way to build community for Lakeland.  I knew they had the best interests of the city at heart, but I also knew their business model was to serve only their members, and they did not have the skilled staff immediately available to begin this project. They encouraged me to Start – and so I did.

Lakeland is a city on the brink of greatness.

The group was free to anyone who believed, as I did (and still do), that Lakeland was a city on the threshold of something great.  You see, I believe everyone has an important part in a community – any community, big or small.  I don’t like to see people passed over because they lack the pedigree or last name required to be “someone” in a community.  I was “no one”, I knew how it felt to be an outsider in a community that seemed to exclude (or include) people based on where they went to school, what kind of car they drove, who their father or mother was (or was not).  It was a cold reality for the outsiders who were trying to survive in one of the most difficult economic declines in history.

Managing online communities takes a lot of time and dedication, maybe even a little craziness.

There’s a lot that goes into managing and moderating a group like this.  It’s a time investment most people would never consider, especially not for FREE.  But I believed it was important.  I welcomed everyone who joined with a personalized message – because I believe everyone is important and I personally am not a big fan of canned responses.  So, I went above and beyond because everyone mattered.  I asked questions to get people talking about themselves.  I made people feel comfortable.  I allowed myself to be laughed at and mocked for my idealistic dreams and I kept putting my heart and soul into the project.  I did this because I believe in Lakeland and I believe, with all my heart, that people are inherently good. I wanted to focus on the goodness in our community.  I wanted a place where people, no matter who they were, what “group” (Chamber, BNI, LDDA, DLP, CRA, Non-Profit, Leadership Organization, business, etc.) they represented, they could bring their information to the group and bring VALUE to their organization by getting the word out to a wider, broader audience.

This has not been easy.

At some point, I realized it was going to be necessary to charge people for the service I was providing.  It was a value that many people encouraged me to charge for.  They argued with me and cajoled me and supported me.  I was scared.  I was afraid it would defeat the purpose.  How could I charge people for this?  Well, it had to be done, because my time invested in the group was not paying the bills it was either charge, or shut down the group.  It was making a difference and the members of the group were benefiting – growing their businesses, generating solid leads, selling products and services, and most importantly, building real, genuine relationships, based on this community’s effort to focus on, well,  real, genuine relationships!  It was working! I know the value of the service I provide.  I know my members.  I listen to every conversation, I remember when people mention something about their business.  And, when someone asks, I can recall the obscure details of something shared months ago and connect them with the right person, or the person who can lead them to the right person.

Free is not Free

I am trying to wrap this up in a tidy little bow, and I know I cannot.  The value of community building is not tangible.  Some people don’t get it. Or, they just don’t care enough about the community.  Maybe they are scared, or maybe there’s something else entirely.  But, now I charge for the group.  I hear about people who disagree with this.  (Funny, most of them don’t tell me directly, they just discuss this in their free time.)

“i suppose you wouldnt care about that if it isnt monetizing for you. “

When I receive messages like the above quote, I am troubled, but only for a moment. As an online community builder, I recognize the value of the community.  I realize there are Facebook groups out there that have a bunch of people who aren’t paying attention, who often don’t even realize they are a member of that group. People are only looking out for themselves.  A community builder looks out for the entire community.

As Seth Godin says in his book Tribes, “Twenty percent of the population of Canada now uses Facebook. Many of those users have the false impression that joining a group somehow matters. It doesn’t. (And Canadians are not the only ones with the same impression.)  Sending in your resume, showing up at the networking reception, hanging out at the singles bar – these are dumb ways to lead the tribe, and they’re not even useful ways to be seen as a valued member.” I wrote about this in another blog post, All Groups are Not Created Equal.

My hope in moving forward is to let other community builders who are leading Tribes, and building communities know, you have the right to make money doing what you do. And So Do I.


Your Life Called… It’s Waiting For You to Claim It!

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a local seminar series called Yes Yes! YES!.  The topic was Claim your Life.  I had fun preparing for the talk and the experience was both liberating and invigorating.  Today, I have renewed energy to share my passion for claiming the Awesome! that I believe is in everyone.  I wanted to share the high notes with you – in case you aren’t local. I think the message is important and I want to share it with whoever needs to hear it. If you’ve already claimed your Awesome! maybe you know someone who could use a little pep talk!

Are the voices you are listening to saying the right things?

As I prepared for the seminar, I had to take care of some of the negative thoughts that still try to come in and convince me that I am “fooling myself” and not “good enough” that “my message isn’t special” and even harsher, “people will think you are a joke.”  It’s difficult to be productive when you have this noise in your head.  Fighting you and ambushing you when you are in the middle of being Awesome!  No matter how far I have come, I still deal with the voices.  But I now know that I am in control of them and I get to tell them what I want them to say.  So, in the middle of my preparation, I stopped, got up from my desk, went into the restroom, looked in the mirror and said (Yes, I literally did this): “Chrissanne, you are Awesome! You will say exactly the things you need to say because you are Awesome!

And then the thoughts weren’t jammed in my head. Because I stopped listening to the self-destructive thoughts, the thoughts began to flow.  The most amazing part of this though, was that I was relaxed.  If there were any more of the dark side voices, I can’t remember. I wasn’t listening.

As children we listen to the trusted people in our lives.  They want what’s best for us.  Their job is to keep us safe.

Awesome is not safe.  As a child I was very close to my mother.  My mother is beautiful, inside and out.  She was a model for L.S. Ayers in Indianapolis.  I remember (in that cloudy childhood fog of memory) having a conversation with my mother in the car as we were going home from school.  She was telling me how pretty I was.  I didn’t shrug my shoulders uncomfortably as I began to do as I got older.  I believed it when she said it.  I asked her, “Am I pretty enough to be a model, like you?” Her answer wasn’t no.  But it also wasn’t yes.  As I recall her answer was an explanation of the difficulties for models. The expectations, the demands for skinniness and height, etc.  It doesn’t really matter what she said though.  From that moment on, I didn’t think I was pretty enough. Who cares that I never never wanted to be a model!  I was a tree-climbing, rough housing tomboy who loved sports and tackling.  But the seed had been planted.  I was average.  Ordinary. Being ordinary is safe.  It’s average. Everyone is doing it.  But everyone can do more, can be more. If they are willing to be Awesome!

Ordinary is hard to overcome because that’s what society tells us we are.

Growing up, I compared myself to the stars on TV.  The girls that I saw in my adolescent eyes as Awesome! didn’t live in a box like I did. They didn’t feel insecure, or tell themselves they weren’t good enough. They were pretty enough, talented enough. In my mind, everyone was confident, except me.  Everyone knew what they wanted, except me. Everyone was destined for greatness, except me.  If I ever thought there was something Awesome! about me worth sharing with the world, something would stop me.  The voice inside told me it was arrogant to think that about myself. Who was I to believe I was special? Is there anyone teaching us to believe we are Awesome!? Classrooms are filled with budding Awesomeness! But are we encouraging it?  By the time kids arrive in middle school, they are already certain of their fate. (even though it’s not true, they believe this is who they will be for the rest of their lives.) They are either confident and enthusiastic about themselves and they know where they are going; or they have been given too many doses of ordinary and they are lethargic and intimidated by the suggestion that they too have Awesome! within them.  As a teacher for 10 years, I saw their eyes, as they glanced at the kids who “had it”.  Their expressions seemed to say, “I am not good enough.  I am not as good as them.” I saw myself in these expressions.  The oppression of the feeling of ordinary is very real.  And society says, “Not everyone can be Awesome!

I call B.S.  I say HOGWASH!

The messages we hear are not in our control as children.  But they certainly are when we become adults.  The trouble is, that the tapes are already on autoplay in our minds.  We play the same messages over and over.  Believing it’s our fate, buying into whatever messages we’ve heard all our lives.  But I have discovered the secret.  It’s not really a secret, but I agree it’s tough to get out of the habit of telling yourself the same things you’ve been saying (and hearing) for 20 or more years.  There’s only one way to change.  It’s not just changing the voices, it’s changing the actions that we take as a result of the voices. It’s doing something different than the voices are telling us. It’s acting in spite of the voices.

Whatever we are telling ourselves is going to dictate how we act, how we treat others and how we treat ourselves.

I recently wrote about self-help books in a previous post because the autoplay messages were coming from a consistent source that was keeping me stuck.  I was reading books that told me I was OK as I was.  I needed to accept myself and be happy with the status quo. But I was depressed!  Accepting that was certain death!  I needed to break my mental chains and the books I was reading didn’t describe how this was possible. The Self-Help book is a distinctly different book than then Personal Development book.  When I changed the messages I was reading, I discovered what Awesome! felt like.  It wasn’t all at once, and I have had setbacks, but I practiced the principles in the books I was reading.  I listened and became willing to try something different (because what I was doing was not working! The results, as you can see, have been nothing short of Awesome! and I believe anyone, EVERYONE is capable of becoming their own version of Awesome! There are no exceptions.  It’s simply a matter of doing the work it takes to place yourself in a different context.  The people we surround ourselves with, the things we tell ourselves, the actions we take are the fabric of who we are.

How do you eat an elephant?

Nothing happened overnight. Taking the small steps, one step at a time (like eating an elephant, one bite at a time).  I knew I had a lot of work to do, but I didn’t focus on how far I had to go.  I focused on the steps I was taking each day and before long, I realized I had made progress.  I actually had moved from ordinary into a path that created momentum and joy.  It allowed me to celebrate success, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t done yet.  (I am still not done. I still have a long way to go) Actually, the way I look at Awesome! is that you are never done.  The Awesome! road is the road you choose to stay on for the rest of your life.  But you have to get started and I hope you will. When I started, I read a book called the Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.  The principles in the book are not anything you’ve never heard before.  But the changes I made in my life by practicing the Slight Edge Principles are all I needed to convince me that anyone, with the right tools, and the passion to accomplish something will, in fact become Awesome!

The Slight Edge Principles are Powerful.

  1. Show Up – Woody Allen said 80% is just showing up.  Do you know why?  Because once you are there, you can actually beAwesome! You can’t be awesome from your bed.
  2. Be Consistent – When a friend of mine stopped me one First Friday Downtown and told me she admired my consistency, I knew what I was doing had turned into a habit.  I wasn’t thinking about my past patterns anymore.  I had become a consistent person.  Someone people could rely on.Awesome!
  3. Be Committed for a Long Period of Time – If you aren’t ready, get ready.  There will be bumps and bad days.  There will be less-than-awesome people on the road who will be there simply to challenge you commitment. Don’t Let Them!  Be ready to give it everything you have, becauseAwesome! is waiting for you to claim it!
  4. Have Faith and a Burning Desire – Passion. Find that something inside of you that, no matter what you will fight for.  That’s your passion and somewhere around there, you’ll find yourAwesome! You won’t break away from ordinary if you aren’t passionate and if you don’t really believe in it.  Start small if you have to, because you’ll find it when you start looking!
  5. Be Willing to Pay the Price – You’re going to have to make sacrifices, you won’t win every battle you try to fight on the path to claiming yourAwesome! You’ll have to stop listening to people who don’t recognize that there is more to life than the status quo.  People might laugh at you, they might ignore you, they might hate you.  That’s the price.  Be willing to do it anyway.
  6. Live with Integrity.  Ask yourself, “Is this the right thing to do?”  “Will I feel good about this when I am finished?” “Is this supporting my path toAwesome!?”  “Is it going to hurt someone else?” “Can I do this another way that will still accomplish the objective without hurting someone else?” Do I believe in what I am doing?”  If you aren’t living with integrity.  If you’re cheating, or stepping on others, you’ll know it.  And you won’t feel very Awesome! As a matter of fact, you won’t get too far before you’ll wind up back on the ordinary road.

Everything I did was up to me.  It was my responsibility to pick myself up and get myself on to a new path, a new road. And now, it’s such an incredible feeling to look back and see how far I have come.  I was stuck in an ordinary box, feeling unworthy.  But I changed that.  And you can too.

I leave you with a quote because you need to know that the world is waiting for you to claim your life and begin being Awesome!

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson