153. To Build a Digital Business Start by Building a Community

How can we turn our small idea into a successful business with a reliable income? In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss how to build a digital business from scratch through an online community.

Kate Toon is an award-winning businesswoman and SEO strategist who has helped more than 10,000 businesses demystify digital marketing, grapple with the Google beast, and grow their success. She was named the Business Woman of the Year at the National My Business Awards, and she is also the author of Confessions of a Misfit Entrepreneur and the host of the Kate Toon Podcast and the Hot Copy Podcast. While Kate’s digital business is very successful now, she had to start from scratch and build her way to success. In her journey, one of the first things she did was build an online community.

Build a Community

One of the first steps we should take when starting a digital business is to build a community.

“My whole business has been built on creating what some people would call a tribe. I like to think of it as a Viking Horde — a big horde of people . . . who are there for you and who support you through your business journey. They’ll be the first to listen to your podcast and the first to buy your products,” Kate said. “Community is really the foundation of everything I do.”

Before we start a podcast, create an online course, or launch a SaaS product, we should begin to build a following and community. That way, when we release a new product or service, we will already have a group of people who are willing to use it. We can begin by selecting a social platform to post frequent content on. From there, we can slowly build our brand and community on our own platform, such as our own email newsletter, before we offer any products or services.

Kate began her career in advertising and eventually moved to digital marketing. When she got pregnant, she realized her current job wouldn’t be a good fit for her new lifestyle, so she gave up her job and started her own business in SEO. Near the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey, she spoke at an event in Australia: ProBlogger. They had 10-minute slots for audience members to get up and speak, so Kate gathered her courage, got up on stage, and spoke about SEO to about 600 people.

When she got back home, she went online to a Facebook group for the ProBlogger community. She left a message saying that if anyone wanted to learn more about SEO, they could come and join the personal group she had created. That short, 10-minute speech became one of her greatest home runs because it gave her an opportunity to build her community. Her group now has 10,000 people in it.

“From that group, I started building all the courses and resources that I now have and the podcasts and everything. It came from that one little speaking opportunity that I was brave enough to do,” Kate said.

Once we have a following, we can launch all of our products and services into that group, and then we will have an instant audience which can lead to instant sales.

Build Engagement

As we build our communities, we need to remember to constantly engage with our audience.

Kate said her best monetization secret is to not waste any money on paid ads. She doesn’t spend any money on Facebook or Google ads. Instead, every marketing campaign she launches is through content marketing and organic SEO.

“It’s really about that top of funnel awareness, so having the podcasts and being very present on all social media,” Kate explained. “Be present and really work on engagement. . . . No comment gets left behind, that’s actually part of my company mantra.”

Instead of spending money on ads our customers likely won’t trust, we can engage with them directly in our communities. We should take the time to engage with everyone that comments on our posts. As we build those customer relationships, we help direct them through our marketing funnel and lead them to a purchase decision without ever having to launch paid advertisements. As we respond to our customers, they will be much more likely to comment again.

One of the most important parts of building a business is building relationships. If we aren’t engaging with the community we have created, we aren’t getting to know our customers. And if we don’t have good relationships with our customers, we aren’t going to have a successful business.

In Kate’s business, she personally responds to each comment her followers or group members make. She doesn’t have social media managers reply to comments for her because she wants her customers to feel like they have a personal relationship with her and her brand. She wants them to feel valued and cared for.

“We all want to feel seen and heard and listened to. We want to feel valued and if you can give your customers that feeling, genuinely, then I think that’s a beautiful thing and way better than spending money on Facebook ads,” Kate said.

Be Unique

In our businesses, we need to focus on being unique and personal. We should strive to develop our own personal brand and create our own voice and personality.

It can be hard to avoid comparing ourselves to our competition as we build our own digital business from scratch. Yet, we should remember what Theodore Roosevelt said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If we constantly compare ourselves to competitors who are more successful than us, we’re going to feel like a failure. We shouldn’t compare our beginnings to someone else’s years of progress, and we shouldn’t obsess over trying to be exactly like them.

The biggest failure Kate made in her journey was obsessing over her competition and comparing herself to them too much. When she did this, she felt inferior to them and it brought her a lot of self-doubts.

“You really have to rely on your own skills. Not everybody’s going to like you and that’s okay. There’s always going to be competition, and everyone is always going to have choices, and you just have to focus on why they’re going to choose you, not worry about why they’re choosing other people,” Kate said.

Instead of focusing on our competition, we should focus on ourselves. We need to determine how we can offer a unique value to our audience that other competitors won’t have. Instead of trying to be like everyone else, we should focus on being ourselves. We should be personal and unique.

Be Authentic

In our communities, we need to remember to be authentic.

One of the biggest tectonic shifts Kate sees happening today is the increasing popularity of audio. “We are really craving community and connection in a way that we never have and that’s partial because [of] this collective trauma we’ve all been through in 2020,” Kate said. “I think the future [is] trying to make smaller communities. I think we need that right now in the world.”

She continued to explain that audio, such as podcasts or Clubhouse, is a great way to build community. Clubhouse is an audio-only communication platform. A host can open up a room and invite others to participate and have an audio-only discussion.

In order to take full advantage of the opportunity Clubhouse provides, we need to take control. “You can’t be a passenger, you have to drive your journey on Clubhouse so you can’t sit in other people’s room hoping they’re going to bring you on stage and you might get two seconds talking to Grant Cardone. You need to be your own Grant Cardone,” Kate explained. “You need to set up your own rooms, bring across your personality, your knowledge, and speak to your people. Don’t try to find lighthouses, be a lighthouse and have people come to you.”

In audio platforms, it’s hard to hide. The real you will come out and hopefully, that will be a good thing. Personality and authenticity help us connect with others as we relate to them. People are tired of having to look and be a certain way. When we listen to a podcast or engage in a discussion on Clubhouse, we don’t have to care about looks, we only get to focus on ideas and conversation. It gives us a chance to talk and listen to real, authentic people, without being distracted by the worldly visual status cues we look for.

“I have image fatigue — the Instagram perfection fatigue of just having to look a certain way, be a certain way, and being judged on your sex or your color. I think Clubhouse is the great leveler,” Kate said. “I can’t see you. I have to take you not on face value, but on voice value. . . . I think it’s a more intimate relationship and it feels more honest than some of the other channels like YouTube and Instagram. It feels less produced and more raw and more honest.”

By removing the visual aspect of our content, we may be a little less pretentious and more authentic. We don’t want to create a performance whenever we interact with our audience and community. We want to be real and authentic. When we are, our audience will really start to connect with us. As we build our communities, we want to remember to engage with them, provide unique value, and stay authentic. As we do this, our small startup will start to gain traction on the path to success.

Key Takeaways

Thank you so much Kate for sharing your stories and insights with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

1. One of the first steps we should take when starting a digital business is to build a community.

2. Once we have a following, we can launch our products and services into that instant audience, which can lead to instant sales.

3. Instead of spending money on ads our customers likely won’t trust, we can reach them through SEO and content marketing and then engage with them directly in our communities.

4. In our businesses, we need to focus on being unique and personal. We should strive to develop our own personal brand and personality instead of trying to be like our competitors.

5. We want to be real and authentic. When we are, our audience is much more likely to connect with us.

Connect with Kate

If you enjoyed this interview and want to learn more about Kate or connect with her, you can find her on LinkedIn or visit her website at KateToon.com.

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Nathan Gwilliam helps entrepreneurs and digital marketers transform into better digital monetizers with revolutionary marketing and monetization strategies.