This post has been written by Darren Rebeiro, CMO of Capital Cell, for thisisOliver* | *Crowdfunders.
Building a community for your business is, for us at Capital Cell, about as important as regular access to oxygen.
Maybe we would say that. Capital Cell is a crowdfunding platform after all – Europe’s first equity crowdfunding platform specialised in life sciences – and crowdfunding can’t happen in a vacuum.
Even so, we firmly believe that no business in 2018 can operate in glorious isolation, however ingenious its proposition. Let’s say an angel investor takes a look at your company. Your ideas are brilliant and your pitch deck slickly informative. But your company has no followers on Twitter, no LinkedIn profile, no Facebook, no updated Crunchbase profile and no email newsletter list.
You’re looking like a ghost town. And it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Why, the investor might ask, does nobody appear to like this company? What isn’t it connected to anyone? Why doesn’t it have friends, supporters and cheerleaders? Why doesn’t it want to tell the world about what it is doing? What, in short, is wrong with this company?
Maybe that sounds unfair. It probably is unfair. But this is the way the world works and probably already has.
However confident we may be in our judgement, the vast majority of us feel significantly more self-assured when other people agree with us. That’s why we look at Amazon star ratings. That’s why we pay attention to Trip Advisor. That’s why we check out online feedback before choosing a restaurant, booking a hotel or going out for a coffee.
More generally, that’s how a service like Facebook works – its algorithms draw together people who think in the same kind of ways.
Would you buy from an Amazon seller with no star ratings and no feedback? No? Then why would you invest in a company that exists in similar isolation?
So how can you build a community for your business? And where should you do it?
We suggest starting with the humble email newsletter. It may not be shiny and new but email is hugely convenient. Maybe 20% of your contacts are on Instagram and 60% on LinkedIn. But 100% of them – or close to – have an email address by which you can reach them.
The other advantage of email newsletters is that they are very easy to produce. You can take advantage of a simple tool like MailChimp to do professional looking mail outs. Or you can put together an email list from your contacts and get in touch that way.
There is, frankly, no excuse not to.
Social media is hugely important too. Potential investors won’t know the size of your email list unless you see fit to tell them. But they can very easily see how many followers you have on Twitter or friends on Facebook. Your company needs to be visible and social platforms give you an easy way to do this.
Building a community should not be a one-way street.
This may seem bit intimidating. The number of social media platforms keeps on growing and keeping up to date with all of them seems like an impossible task.
The good news is that you don’t have to. In fact, to do so would be counterproductive. Far better to choose a couple of social networks – three at most – and concentrate on them. Which ones depends on the particulars of your business.
Have a look at your competitors: where do they have social media accounts? That is where you need to be. Each social media has its own attributes – Instagram is image-based, LinkedIn professional – and you should be careful that this fits with your company’s aspirations.
Once you have opened a social media account for your business, please keep it updated. That may not seem particularly important. But nothing screams abandon more than the desperate site of a neglected social media account.
The same goes for your newsletter. Keep it regular. Don’t let the months slip by without getting in touch with your contacts. You may not think you have anything particularly new to announce but there is always news to be told: a new hire, maybe, or an interesting visit to a trade fair. Tell your community about it.
Building a community is the essential first step to creating the right circumstances to making your crowdfunding campaign a success.
However, building a community should not be a one-way street. You should listen and respond to members of your community when they get in touch with you.
Encourage debate. Ask people what they think. Make community building into a conversation rather than a lecture. By doing so you will engage with the very same people who will be buying into your company later.
All of these steps mentioned above are digital. But community building can also take place in the world of flesh and blood. It is important to get out and about, to meet people, to introduce yourself and help them put a face to a name.
If things are going well you might even think of holding your own informal get together. Maybe you could invite some people down to see what you are working on and take them out for a coffee? Even if only a couple of contacts come down, learning how to talk about your company to relative strangers is an exercise that is well worth doing.
Being realistic is important too. Your company isn’t Coca-Cola. You may not even be consumer facing. So your social media contacts will number in the hundreds, maybe the thousands if you are lucky. But that’s fine. 100 highly engaged contacts is better than 500 who don’t really care who you are.
By building a community you are also giving your company the best possible opportunity to succeed. Luck is as important in business as it is in life itself. But you can, to an extent, make your own luck simply by connecting with people and opening your business up to opportunity.
Nothing may come of it. But if you don’t try, you will never know.
But be realistic: you aren’t Coca-Cola.
And then there’s crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is not an easy way to make money. But it can and does work in the right circumstances. And building a community is the essential first step to creating these circumstances and therefore to making your crowdfunding campaign a success.
That may sound cynical. But we’re not suggesting you build a community just to make money from it not that you should exploit your contacts for financial gain.
Instead, crowdfunding should be a win / win for you and for your community. That’s not an easy thing to do in any circumstances. But without a community, it’s impossible. Just like breathing without oxygen.
Darren Rebeiro, CMO Capital Cell