How do you actually make money from communities?
It’s the question everyone wants an answer to, yet it often it feels like a myth.
Can you really make money from communities? Yes, but it involves opening your mind to what community means.
Does it mean you are selling out on member relationships? I don’t think so. It's more about understanding the inputs and outputs. As community businesses, we need to understand that outputs are key to seeking financial sustainability.
The problem with making money in community right now
The challenge I feel we have with community is that we keep talking about it from the relationship perspective. And how we have to create belonging. That we must respect the conversations. Then alongside all of this comes the difficulty to monetize the relationships and belonging.
We are made to feel it is wrong and unethical to make money based on the relationships that others have invested in. Or we are told to do things for free for the good of the community, to the extent that we are often shamed if we don't. So many people keep expecting things for free without understanding the immense work that goes into creating communities that truly make a difference.
On one hand, to build community, we need to have conversations, build relationships and deeply respect each other's needs. I’m definitely pro that.
On the other hand, progress comes with doing something about those conversations and relationships. We can’t forever be talking. People get tired. And overwhelmed. As a result they’re leaving communities in droves. There simply isn’t enough value. Hence my emphasis on the need for outputs.
I’d like to argue that focusing on creating a financially sustainable community helps us as community builders to keep striving for and bringing the value that members need. By focusing on outputs we can better find ways to charge money for them.
What do we mean by financially sustainable?
- You are taking a long-term view
- Growth and income happen predictably
- Making educated decisions and focusing on what works
- Taking the time for community discovery
- Talking, working and growing with your people
- Working on something valuable and meaningful
- Building trust and confidence with each step you take
- You find confidence in the direction you are going
- Reinvesting into the community and ecosystem
What much of this comes down to is that community builders are entrepreneurs. Community is part of who we are and often it is invisible. We can create value and sustainability by giving more focus to solving problems. We need to solve problems and ensure we can fund them.