Understanding who your community serves is crucial, but your community will lack the necessary structure and value to effectively serve and retain these members if you don’t carefully craft the right benefits, features, and programming. In this session, Circle expert Tom Ross will guide your creation of features and benefits that will resonate with your community members and generate their enthusiastic support.
Tom’s Learn.Community is a community for nearly 200 community builders just like you. You can learn more about engagement from Tom’s weekly blog articles and his free Community Manual.
In this session, Tom Ross, a Circle expert and the founder of Learn Community, shares his knowledge on creating compelling features and benefits that community members would find valuable. The session revolves around the four pillars of value: help, action, learning, and connection—each being essential to any thriving community.
Tom kicks off the session by emphasizing the importance of clarity. He says, “Before you can build a community that serves, you need to have a clear understanding of who you’re serving and what value you’re bringing to them.” This is a crucial first step in shaping a community that not only meets but exceeds member expectations.
He then discusses how the four pillars of value can provide assistance, spur action, foster learning, and cultivate connections within the community. One attendee noted, “The focus on action-oriented features was an eye-opener. It’s not just about providing information, but also facilitating ways for members to apply what they’ve learned.”
A significant part of the session is dedicated to validating ideas. Tom shares that this could be achieved through various methods such as member requests, one-on-one conversations, and surveys. He suggested, “Use a voting approach in surveys. It’s a democratic way to determine the most in-demand features and benefits.”
The key takeaways from the session were:
You can expect to gain valuable insights and strategies for building a community that effectively serves its members. It’s not just about creating a community, but about crafting one that meets the needs and desires of its members. This leads to increased engagement and satisfaction, which is ultimately the goal of any community. The session provides practical advice and actionable steps for community builders at any stage of their journey.
As one attendee succinctly put it, “This session was a masterclass in community building. I walked away with a clearer vision and concrete steps to improve my community.”
Emma Catranis: Thank you so much for joining us today. For those of you who I haven’t met yet. My name is Emma. I’m on the community team here at Circle and focus specifically on Community Education.
I am joined today by the wonderful Tom Ross. Tom is one of our Circle experts, he shares so many wonderful insights around community building and what he’s seen from his own experience in our community in events like these, and he’s also the founder of learned Community, which is a community for Community Builders.
Tom has a really exciting, really wonderful session plan for us today. I think no matter what stage of the community building Journey you’re at, you’ll get something from this session today. So with that, I will go ahead and I’ll pass it over to Tom.
Tom Ross: Thanks so much, Emma. Let me share my screen. But yeah, thank you everyone for joining and if you’re watching the replay, I hope you find it helpful too. Also, Emma, I think we have time for Q&A at the end, right?
Emma Catranis: Yeah, if you are games do Q&A I would love to do that. I love Q&A. I would love to help as many people as possible.
Tom Ross: Okay, perfect. Yeah, so if anyone has any questions that come up during the session feel free, I’ll be doing my best to respond in the chat. But if you have anything specifically for Tom, sit tight on that question and we can get to it in our Q&A section at the end.
So I can’t see the chat while I’m sharing Emma. So feel free to like stop me and show anything out for sure.
Emma Catranis: I got it. Okay, can everyone hopefully see the slide? Okay. Wonderful. That’s a good start.
Tom Ross: Okay, cool. So this Workshop is all about how to build features and benefits that your community will love and Emma. Thank you for reaching out and suggesting this and helping organize it with me.
So first of all a little bit of background, I am the founder and CEO at design cuts, which is a Marketplace for designers and we recently crossed a million members which is exciting. So that is my main business but it’s also far beyond just an e-commerce business. It is community lead.
So everything we’ve done from day one is kind of being all about the community. It’s been our secret Source it helped us kind of break through initially and so on. Yeah, I love running that business. But as Emma said I also run the community community for Community Builders. I wrote a community book. I consult Community. I do workshops like this. Basically, I’m just a big old Community. I love this stuff and I love joining people like you to really dive in so yeah.
I am here to help I want this to be the most valuable session possible. I want to help as many people with your questions at the end. Whatever you need. I’m here. Serve all of you today. So let’s get right into that.
First of all before you think about Community features and benefits. You need to try and answer these fundamental questions. Who does your Community Serve? And what value does it give those people? You really have to start there because if you’re not clear on that you’re going to struggle to kind of conceive really compelling features and benefits, right? You need Clarity on these things.
So this can definitely be a whole Workshop in and of itself, but maybe let me know in the comments, you know, do you feel clear on this or better? Yeah, you know comment. Who are your members? Who are you serving? And what value do you think your community brings them?
And I’ll give you a little example here. So at learn Community our who is Community Builders just like you and our what is that we provide support and resources to help people either launch or grow that online community. So we’re pretty clear on our who and our what and the reason why I’m sharing this is again because it helps inform everything that follows.
So your community value? Will inform your features and benefits. I’m just going to pause for a second and I want to check out any comments that coming in. So yeah, you do take a moment because this is like I want this to be quite interactive. So who is your community serving? And what value…Tom Ross: Are you trying to bring these people? David says we serve corporate refugees, cool! And I’d love to know what’s the value? And you’re trying to bring those people. And I can see a few people typing so I know this can be a hard question. Don’t worry. If you haven’t got like the perfect wording lined up or anything like that.
Sally: We work with clients you have worked with us on psycho-educational evaluations.
Tom Ross: Awesome and again, it would be really good to understand, you know. The what like, what are you helping those people with within the community? Sessions and so on.
David: We help them start running and grow their own businesses so they can do more of what they love and get paid what they’re worth.
Tom Ross: Love that David.
Glenda: I’m serving spiritual mamas guiding and supporting their children as Spiritual Beings and the value is connection and resources for both Mummers and kiddos.
Tom Ross: Amazing. We got real estate agents teaching them how to value and sell businesses. This is what I love about Circle, right? There’s so many varied communities. Amazing. Yeah, keep them coming. I’m trying to trying to read through as many as I can but these sound great so it sounds like a lot of you, you know, kind of know who you’re serving and what value you’re trying to bring those people.
So let’s get into the next steps. How do you cook up some great features and benefits based on this? In doing this Workshop. I was kind of coming up with all the different features and benefits that I’ve looked at and I was like these really seem to fall under four main categories is four pillars of value. So there is the type of features and benefits that help your members, the type that Inspire them to take action, the type that educates them, you know helps them learn something and the type that are going to help them connect with each other with other members and your community and you can get almost all features and benefits to kind of fit nicely into at least one of these four groups if not multiple groups.
So let’s start with help again what features and benefits allow members to get the help they need. And I hope everyone’s feeling like, you know woken up. If not, let’s do a little stretch. Let’s get the blood flowing and I would love to see you know, your all type in the chat as we go here. What are some best guesses, you know features and benefits but members can use to get help. What do we think? Before I reveal a couple of answers and ideas here.
Audience Members: Q&A, AMA, Lubbock, Clarence, yeah, Q&A forums is Rusty. Oh good to see Rusty by the way. Yeah. Yeah some great answers so far webinars with experts special guests. Awesome. Yeah, I guess in like in a Q&A capacity as well. Like we’re gonna do it at the end absolutely get some direct help. Workshops cool.
Tom Ross: So I think some of the ones being given a potentially more the learn bucket, but we’re gonna we’re gonna break this down. So this is not an exhaustive list, but this is just a few examples. I think in terms of members getting direct help you can have a space or spaces for questions and answers. So, you know, they can post if they they need help with something if they got a question about something and get the answers. They need you and their fellow members.
Office hours. I know Circle does this in their Community. We do it and learn Community. I love a regular office hours cool because you can just jump on and literally serve people for that hour and answer as many questions as you possibly can. And also things like reviews and critiques. This is something a lot of people don’t think about I don’t think I saw this in the chat, but I love if there’s a space where people can you know, like share their work. So I have this in learn Community. It’s like share your community and get a critique but also at design Cuts we use Circle for our community there and there is a space where people will post their creative work and they will get feedback and critiques on that as well. So they’re share and be like, what do you think so they get direct help in that way, too.
So next we got action. What features and benefits help encourage members to take action? It’s going to prompt them to do something. This is a little bit harder maybe to think about but let me know in the chat. What do you think? In fact, I’m gonna I’m gonna prompt you to take action but in the chat. Very matter Sandra. Yeah challenges pretty sure you’re gonna see that on the next slide competition rewards polls sharing a resource. Post your goals. Yeah, loving these guys.
So Exactly right action. It’s this kind of stuff. So we got challenges and the Cadence is up to you can have a weekly challenge monthly challenge quarterly challenge Sprints. This is something pretty cool. So I I don’t have Sprints currently, but I’m in J classes community and I think he has like a monthly Sprint, which is cool because it’s almost like a cohort people like, you know, you work to achieve the same goal. It could be like, I’m gonna launch an email list or something like that. You know, that might be a Sprint for one month.
Progress logs. This is something I shared in the circle community. And I think it’s it’s logged somewhere how I set that up. But at a space where people can like literally update their progress log and and post what they’re working on and it would go to the top of that space group. And competitions that’s a really good one, you know, it’s like an incentivize way to encourage people to take action. So a challenge, I mean, it’s kind of semantics right?
It’s a Clarence asks, what’s the difference between a Sprint and a challenge? They can be quite similar, but honestly a challenge could be something that was perhaps more short-lived. So often a challenge will be like go do eggs and participate whereas for me as Sprint is something where it could be over the course of four weeks. Perhaps I’ve seen even though that’s like, you know, the notion of a Sprint is very quick. It could be something like that where it’s like we’re just gonna Focus for February on like working together to achieve this goal.
Whereas a challenge we have a member who runs one of the biggest base forums and one of their challenges might be like submit a cover of this song, you know, it’s kind of more media way to be part of that. And goes in progress. I love this one. I’m gonna do a live demo of you know, the different types of value we have in our community to show you these things in action, but goes and progress is like absolutely one of my favorites. I think it’s really good for accountability and you know people getting inspired by each other’s goals.
Learning this is always a pretty fun one. But what features and benefits help members to learn. And again, hopefully we’re getting into the Rhythm now and some great comments so far. What do we think? Mastermind that’s an interesting one. Yeah breakout rooms. classes videos absolutely Sally What is everyone else think? assignments and you can see how some of these overlap right? Yeah.
Emma Catranis: Emma says resources templates how to guides. Love all of those. In fact, I think you include some that. I didn’t Emma. So yes templates is such a great one. Some of these are overlap. They’re right because it could be something that you know people learn from but it also inspires them to take action and that’s fine. You can kind of combine these different pillars of value.
Tom Ross: But yeah, this was just like a few ideas. Please add on top of this some other ones from the chat but a video library, you know Circle have a really great one. We have one in learn Community. It can be a really powerful thing to have all these videos organized and stored. And knowledge base as well. So again our demo this at the end, but we’ve kind of done it like a learning pathway so you can actually work through things in a sequence and that’s been really, you know, one of the hubs of value in our community.
Courses psychological courses a Love Circle for that and working on our Flagship course right now our community course, but yeah love that you can now incorporate courses into your circle community. And then workshops.Tom Ross: A few of you mentioned this in the chat, but these can be really fun to play with. You know, I’ve done workshops like this where I will be the host. But also we’ve increasingly got into member-led workshops, which have been amazing. Like I highly encourage you to give the microphone to your members more like every time we let members host something it blows me away how good it is and they always talk about stuff that I wouldn’t have thought of.
And then a hybrid as well. This is a new series which again are demo live at the end. But we started doing community showcases where I just thought it would be interesting for members to show off their communities and what they’re doing particularly well in them so our kind of like co-host like are kind of half interview half just keep them company so they don’t have to do all the talking but we will co-present this and they will talk us through their community and that’s been like unbelieved the well received which has been great.
And then the final one connection. What features and benefits help members to connect with one another. What do we think? Sandra on the previous learning points of posting your podcast episodes. Yeah, I think that’s really cool as well like repurpose content and organize it in the community.
Emma Catranis: Mastermind. Yes, small groups, Clarence says, yes, hundred percent. One-on-one introductions. You guys are on fire. I’m pretty impressed. Sometimes I do these workshops and it’s like pretty silent in the chat. But yeah, really, really good answers.
Tom Ross: So let’s go and let’s go to the next one. There’s quite a few here. Right? And I’m sure there’s many more than I’ve included that we’ve got connection calls. So we will do Live Events like this one where basically it’s nothing to do with community building. The only purpose is to get to know each other and build relationships.
So we will have icebreakers, we’ve gone into breakout rooms, and had like really deep questions. We’ve worked through and everyone comes out the call being like, oh, wow. I feel like you know, I really connected with these people. I got to know them as people I built a depth of relationship I didn’t have before because before it was kind of more about business and less about the personal so again top tip, if you don’t have one try and just set up one like trial that do a connection call and jump on with your members and just make it fun and personal and you’d be surprised how popular they can be and how much people enjoy them.
Off-topic chat, you know, you might want to have a space where people can you know chat about stuff that isn’t the core value of your community and they maybe just want to get to know each other. Facilitation of one-on-ones someone mentioned that for sure I think being a good facilitator is the role every Community manager or Community leader. So important, you know always look for those opportunities. If you have two members that you think would really hit it off or bring value to each other you should be reaching out and like, you know do a group DM and introduce them.
So powerful to do that on a regular basis. Like say just for fun events, so our connection course quite deep but equally you could have stuff that was more like entertaining or silly or like just do some fun kind of Challenge and I often think of work teams as a form of community. I think they have all the Hallmarks of a great community.
And for example, our team at work, we have like, you know our Christmas party, we have Retreats and stuff just like the circle team but we also have digital get-togethers. So because we’re remote and we’re all over the country like on Friday. We had a huge quiz we’re doing like a version of family fortunes with the team like this stuff has nothing to do about work that everything to do with connection.
Emotional support, you know business this can be a big thing. So again, we try and create spaces and encourage, you know areas where members can reach out and just like support each other. It doesn’t always have to be technical like how do ITom Ross: Integrate this automation with my community or something? It could be like, you know what like I’m really burnt out or I have a real mindset blog with this particular thing. And work through it. Mastermind a few of you mentioned these can be great. We haven’t introduced them yet, but I’ve been part of masterminds and part of communities that do them. Definitely a powerful way to kind of build Connection in smaller groups.
You can do this with one-on-ones as well. So you could set up accountability buddies and you know pair people up that can be really powerful you can have groups with similar interests. So I’m a huge fan of leveraging tagging and data. And I think we do this pretty well on our community, which means that I can then go do a group DM and be like, hey like you six people are building a community in the same sector. I thought I’d Loop you into a group. Yam. Like maybe you can talk and feel free to you know, leave this group if you don’t want to but it kind of kick starts that that group conversation.
And then the final one is the old flow and access to Networks. and what I mean by this is this is like a great cherry on top if you ever join a community and the community leaders, so invested in your success that they start saying like, hey, I’m going to introduce you to my contact to like help progress your career, whatever it might be that can be incredibly powerful so you can actually connect with people outside of the community just by the leader facilitating it or other members making interest
So that’s kind of an overview of the four pillars. I can see you guys knew like a ton of these and thought of some great ideas in addition, but you know really feel free to like watch the replay or screenshot these I’m going to go through them one more time. You don’t have to do all of these but maybe there’s one or two. You’re not doing. Oh you haven’t thought about doing you can just cherry pick them and think about how to bring them into your community. So I’m just gonna go through these very quickly again.
Then we’ve got action. Maybe this one or two here you’re interested in. learning and connection And got a emo. Do you mind if I do like some Q&A as as we go here?
Emma Catranis: Yeah for sure.
Tom Ross: Cool. So Trish says when you group people with similar interests, how do you do that? How do you create a space just for them where they they can post? Or sorry she said do you create a space just for them where they can post you charge them for this to you join the group you can do just group DMS to be starts like a really simple accessible way. So I’ll look at member tags and just shoot a DM to like seven people and be like, hey don’t you should talk. You’ve got a similar interest like you be surprised how that little prompt they might not have done by themselves. But when you set that up, it can lead to some amazing conversations.
So how do you validate what your community will love because we got a bunch of different ideas here. But if you’ve seen any of my content before you will know that I am a huge fan of validation which basically means like proving that people want something before you do. So let’s get into how to do that.
You should validate by looking for patterns and unprinted member requests. So what I mean by that is our members continually coming to you and saying we really want this thing, please can you build this thing? That’s a really good sign. So if you’re not even suggesting it and again and again and again they come to you about this idea this thing they want it’s pretty good indicator that they’re actually going to want to use it.
One-on-one conversations with members. So, you know, you should not just be setting up your community as like an empty vessel that people are gonna float around in you should be talking to them and you know as well as being active in our forums. My DM inbox is like constantly pretty busy because I’m having one-on-one conversations. I’m getting to know members and that’s really powerful because it provides a place that you can just like share ideas or listen toTom Ross: What they’re working through and that might trigger ideas and you can say, “Hey, you know, it seems like you’re stuck with this. If I built this feature or benefit, would that interest you?” And you can just sneak it in. Often, I will use live cycles like this one in our community. And maybe at the end, I’ll be like, “By the way, I’m kind of toying with this idea. What do you think?”
The power of that is you don’t just get like quantitative responses. So it’s not like, “Oh, three people put their hand up and said they’re interested.” You can actually see the reaction because you can see if people get excited. Sometimes, I’m like, “By the way, I’m thinking about this,” and everyone’s like, “Yeah. Yeah, I guess I’d use that.” So even though they kind of affirmed, they weren’t enthusiastic. Whereas sometimes, I’ll say an idea and like every person, their eyes light up and they’re like, “Yes, please build that!” And they get visibly excited. Okay, maybe that’s an idea I should explore.
Of course, leverage surveys as well. So I think they’re really, really powerful to send out periodic surveys to your members, and I’m going to break down how to do this. Well, in just a second.
So yeah, here we go. Survey tip. What most people do is, “Hey, do you want this new feature?” And most people then respond like, “Yeah sure. I’d love that,” and it’s not a fair representation of the demand because most people will just say yes because it’s easy. You’ve been quite leading in your question, “Do you want this?” Most people will say, “Yeah. Sure.”
So a different approach is to try and come up with like three to five feature ideas. So maybe you take three to five from those previous slides. And then in the survey, you basically say, “Pick the one you want most.” Or you could say, “Pick any that interest you,” and have like multiple choice. And by doing this, you will get hard data on which are most in demand. Because most of them will get at least a few votes, but there will be one or two that like clearly stand out as the most popular. It’s like, “Cool, start there.”
I used to make this mistake all the time. I would always be like, “Hey, are you interested in this?” and then I’d wonder why it didn’t work out. But this voting thing has really created more attraction in the features and benefits that I’ve actually gone on to implement.
In terms of volume. Like I say, most decent ideas will get a level of approval from your members. It’s pretty rare that members will turn around and be like, “No, that’s a stupid idea. I want nothing to do with it.” They’ll generally be like, “Yeah, I like the sound of that.”
So instead of just going based on people approving it, try and think about a volume of approval that would make this thing feel validated to you. For example, you could say, “Hey, I’m thinking about doing this new series or this new event as part of this community. If you’re interested, register to be part of it via this form.” It could be like a quick Google form or something. And then you could have your own internal thing or you could tell them and say, “I’m only going to build this if 20 people register interest.”
And that’s a huge difference because it’s very easy for members to be like, “Yeah. Sure.” But if members are actively signing up or putting in a bit more work, or you can just see there’s a ton of them being really vocal about this thing again, it’s a better indicator. So try and actually think about the volume of members applying because it will be different. You know, if you do this several times throughout the year and ask them some ideas might get 10 times the level of Interest as others again. It’s a pretty clear indicator, which for those is going to come to be successful.
Emma Catranis: Tom. We have a question here from Noel and she’s asking if you have a focus group of members or if there are like priority members you go to specifically for feedback.
Tom Ross: It’s a really good idea. You certainly can to be honest. I tend to just extend it to everyone. So I’m very, very like I guess we have our regulars on Live Events so often I will kind.Tom Ross: Of course, I run stuff by them first because I enjoy that live feedback and often we’re discussing it in real time and I can flesh out the idea. So yes, in that sense, I do. But when I am sharing it in the announcement section or I’m sending out a survey, I just send it to everyone because I don’t want to miss anyone out. Often, there’s people that might not be really active members or part of the core focus group, but they’re still valid, right? I still want to serve them. They may be a little quieter but still really benefit from that future. So yeah, that tends to be my approach. But good question. Thank you, Noel.
And as I say here, you can validate until the cows come home, but actually the only real validation is uptake. So often you’ll go through all of this work and you know, certainly increases your chances of success, but I’ve launched several features and benefits and I was sure it was going to work and it just struggles to find traction with my members. Like damn it and I say to them, “You told me you wanted this and I went and built it for you and you didn’t use it.” But it’s just the way it goes sometimes and you have to realize that’s normal. So don’t beat yourself up if not every single feature and benefit gets used. That’s natural.
So what can you do about that? Well, my approach tends to be there. So I would do initial validation through these things I’ve said. I’ll do it in multiple different ways. That won’t just be like one question like Sam. I do a survey and an announcement and discuss it online course. I try and sufficiently validate it. Then I will test it. So I will launch the thing. I’ll announce it and I will see the response. And then based on the response, I will either keep it and tweak it and improve it over time or I will remove it.
And what will happen sometimes is I’ll launch it and it’s like crickets and I’m like damn that didn’t work out. Other times it might launch with a bang be super popular and then fizzle out and have no longevity. And then other times, my start a little bit slow, but show promise and build over time and go on to be really popular. But whatever happens I’m going to do one of these two things. I’m either going to keep an improve it or I’m going to cut it.
And I have cut plenty of features and these are you know things that were good ideas. Maybe they were very popular at one point. But yeah his four and I will I’ll share why so weekly challenges very popular when we first launched. But they were too much, maybe we’re going to do monthly in future but like it was too hard for me to think of them every single week. So they felt rushed members just became apathetic because there was too many of them. They told me they were like feeling pressured to keep up doing a new challenge every single week and they just didn’t feel right in the end.
Progress logs again these were popular for a time. But I think some of the mechanisms of how they worked. I just didn’t love them because the whole point was for them to have visibility and because they were happening in the comments. They got a bit buried and therefore members didn’t get the support and cheerleading that I hope from other members. So we pivoted and now we’ve got a goals and progress space which I love and it’s working out much better.
So often you can take something that kind of worked. That’s all that cut it and then try it again in a different format. Deep Dives these were where I was helping members essentially with one-on-one coaching on the call and other people could attend and watch that live. And their members loved it who were getting help but attendance was relatively small. And I’ve seen you know, deep dives and hot seats and variations of this and communities in that tends to be how they play out.
So whilst I loved these I was like hmm. There’s got to be a different way to like, you know connect with members and power members and help more people. So we started doing quite recently this Community Showcase idea and I’m like, this is even better because like we’re getting the insights into members communities, but they’re way more popular, you know, one of them most popular things we’ve done and people are finding them super helpful. So again, it was like a better variation on the failed idea. And then weekly workshops. This was you know pretty popular, but if you can imagine I was putting together a workshop like this every single week and I was burning out like I didn’t have time. It was really really hard. So it wasn’t that the members didn’t like it. It’s just it was unsustainable for me.
And you need to think like it has to work for both sides. So your features and benefits are not just about endlessly serving your members and destroying yourself in the process. You need a sustainable Cadence. So, you know with this now, we actually have a richer and Fuller and busier event schedule, but we have more member letter events. We have more amas. We have more Community showcases and these things I generally don’t have to do here huge amount of preparation for but they’re more inclusive they involve our members more and people love them. So it’s kind of Best of Both Worlds.
Tammy I’m gonna I’m gonna actually demo some of my community at the end. So I’m I’ll show you in depth like how some of the stuff works in practice. But do you remember you know what works for one Community including mine may not work for another so you should not look my community when I demo and be like how I’m just gonna copy that and and do all the same features and benefits these have been engineered and it’s iterated to serve our members, you know, they’re based on their feedback the patterns. I’ve seen the member Persona we have so it’s going to be different for every single community.
Another tip launch features slowly. This is something that I kind of had to learn the hard way, but I think it’s easy to get swept up and very excited and be like, oh I could do this and this and this and what happens is you don’t really do anything properly. So I would always advocate for quality over quantity particularly in the early stages of your community, you know people often see in fact one of our members said recently they were like, oh I’m like planning some of this stuff for my community and and you have so much in here. It feels quite overwhelming and I was like, yeah, but I started with like the simplest set up in the world.
It’s just that we’re a year and a half or so. I’ve gradually added to over time in a very sustainable way. And you know, you’re gonna overwhelm your members. If you pack too much into early, it’s gonna actually be confusing for them. It sounds counterintuitive because everyone wants to like value stuff. And but really start simple stuff basic and just have a few things that people love.
And if you do this, you can actually spend more time planning and executing features properly because these things do take planning like every failed feature. I had either didn’t validate it properly or I didn’t actually put enough resource behind it. I just like the idea so I jumped in and before I knew I was like, huh? Actually, you know, I really haven’t thought through what’s involved in doing this to a high standard. No ask as an overwhelm receive different to each person’s unique Journey 100%
So yeah, how how do you make a manageable because you might be seeing this stuff and you’re like, okay, it’s exciting. I think my members were like some of this but how can I do it? So to avoid feature burnout and your features and benefits carefully so some tips for this you should quantify the setup work involved and the ongoing work because you will have both so there’s gonna be like More work up front. You might have to build and set up some spaces and plan things out and structure it but you’re going to have ongoing work so you can have to create something every single week presumably you can have some time that you need to cover every week. If you do not block this into your calendar in advance. It’s gonna fail right the time has to come from somewhere. so I recommend you really think this through – overestimate how much time you need. You might need to block out a whole weekend to set this up, take a day off work or whatever it might be. Block that time and then ongoingly, every Tuesday and Thursday, I have a one-hour live event on those days. Other days, when I have to go make something or template something or plan something, it’s all in my calendar.
So then make sure you’re clear on the budget, time and effort required as well. Are you going to have to pay a designer for this? Are you going to have to integrate some third parties? Whatever it might be, you need to be super clear on what’s actually involved.
Then do an audit regularly. I genuinely do this like monthly now. I will be ruthless about cutting stuff. And to the extent that I don’t think I’ve seen anyone cut as ruthlessly as me but this is just experience now because I used to do the classic thing. I would just add and add and add and I would never take away.
A previous business mentor had a great term for this. He said this is called “frankensteining” because if you keep bolting things onto your community, you’re going to end up with a monster. And it’s so true. What most people do is they don’t think about it. They just have a cool idea, they launch that new event, they launch that weekly challenge and before they know it they’re like, “why am I super stressed?” It’s because you’ve added 25 features and benefits. Some are working, some aren’t but you just kept all of them.
Generally, you should cut ruthlessly. I almost have a rule now where to introduce something new, I have to remove something else. This can be really effective because if you do that, you’re basically losing one of the weakest things and introducing something new.
Avoid overwhelming members by offering too much and don’t feature stuff from a place of insecurity. This is more of a mindset tip. I’ve seen this so many times – people come to me in the community and they’re like, “I’m really scared. My members won’t find this valuable. I’m scared my members are going to cancel. I’m scared I won’t live up to my promises for my members.” So their answer is to put 500 articles into the community and a thousand videos. They just add and add because they’re scared.
That is not good. Remember, it’s much better to have quality over quantity, to deeply listen and understand your members and to show up and try and serve them each day instead of just packing more stuff in and confusing everyone.
Just before I do a quick demo, if you would like to learn more, I have a massive free book that I spent three months working on – community manual.com, which has got some great feedback and I’m very grateful to say. Now I want to show all of this in action if I may, Emma. I personally prefer learning from reality, not just tips.
Emma Catranis: Wonderful, go for it.
Tom Ross: Awesome. Thank you for the kind feedback everyone. My internet is spinning of course, but we are getting there. I can see Pedro in the house as well and dozens of people here since I started this workshop. So hey to everyone that’s joined throughout. Let me share my screen and can everyone see this hopefully?
Emma Catranis: Awesome, so welcome to the wonderful world of our learning community. I want you to look at this through the lens of these four pillars that I was just talking about. We have obviously upcoming events and you can see here, we’ve got aTom Ross: Community Showcase. So this is an example where you’re going to learn from someone else. You’ve got office hours. You’re going to get the help that you need someone. and ask a question, of course, that’s where people go and ask questions and get help with stuff so you see here as an example, you know people like I’m relaunching like what do you think of this or like value proposition? How do I clarify this or planing a workshop how to do a you know integration all this kind of stuff right? It’s very direct help.
Tom Ross: And then we got get community feedback. I’m not gonna click into all of these because we’ll be here all day, but people get feedback and reviews on their Community monthly goals like this has been so much fun. Because you know people literally share their goals in depth. And then you can get inspired by what other people are doing and like cheer them on and all this kind of stuff, which is awesome.
Sharon Chat, this is where people can like share tips. So again, it’s more of a learning space the course we’re working on. So that’s going to be a learning space and then we’ve got all of this learning here as well. So, you know workshops and guest experts Community Showcase and the whole knowledge base.
Going on there as well and then we don’t store the replays of the connection course because they’re like quite private and intimate and so on so we don’t record this. But you may start to see a balance as well. So I look at this and I think okay cool. We’ve got a ton of learning stuff. Especially with a course coming soon. We also have quite a bit of you know help there’s a lot of opportunities for help whether it’s in the Forum or the labor events and so on but it’s a personal goal of mine for this year to be like, we need more connections stuff.
So it’s like we’ve got the connection calls and the stuff that happens behind the scenes, but you know, I’m gonna be working on a space group that’s all about connection because I believe in that so much. So when you start to understand these different buckets, it’s like you can kind of see you know, where you may be lacking and where you may be excelling and you can try and strike on this balance in your features and benefits.
And again, I will go through this on a pretty regular basis and be like, you know, what like that one isn’t working that needs a tweak. I’m going to cut that. I’m going to introduce something new. So this has probably changed in a year and a half like the combination here like at least 20 times. And it’s fine. It’s organic. It’s living. It’s breathing. It’s constantly evolving and improving it is not getting perpetually bigger and busier. And it’s not just sat there stagnant. It is something that is adapting based on the the actual behavior of our members. It’s pretty cool.
Again, you can see the final thing. I want to share. Like when something works, you should totally lean into it. So. Let me just go back. Yeah, like I’ve been really happy with how it’s going with this new series. And so you capture it like get really really good reviews from people try and recycle them get people, you know involved and like Saying they enjoy it like all this stuff is great like when something works. It’s it’s like gold dust Caesar double down on it do a better job. And equally if it’s not working Beaver ruthless cut it out completely. That would be my tip.
So I want to jump into some Q&A, but hopefully it’s kind of helpful to see how some of this stuff can be structured and play out in real time. David says well the slides be shared. I’m sure that I can send them to Emma Emma’s happy to share 100%
Emma Catranis: Yeah, for sure Tom if you send those I can upload them with the recording.
Tom Ross: Awesome, we’ll do but yeah, I am here to serve for the remaining time like any other questions. I know we’ve covered Summers we’ve gone I’d love to help. And hopefully that was a helpful workshop for you. cool Thank you Susie. You share them. Yes, I do. Let me know and try and think like in fact I’m gonna ask you a question. What is your current biggest like struggle concern blocker when itTom Ross: Comes to the features and benefits of your community? And Emma. Would you like to field questions? Shall I I’m very easy.
Emma Catranis: Yes. Definitely. Um Clarence is asking if you can speak to the launch of a community, um specifically what is the easiest way to generate energy?
Tom Ross: I would love some more clarity on that Clarence. So do you mean the actual Logistics of getting the community live giving how to launch it with a bang and like, you know promote healthy engagement early on let me know. I just want to clarify before I jump in an answer.
Emma Catranis: In the meantime, we have a question here from Erica around how many features should we start with in a new community? I have a ton of ideas, but also don’t want to be overwhelmed.
Tom Ross: So I did this and I’ve helped many of our members do this. I think even like three works. Like that minimal and I see people building out. 30 spaces from day one and it’s so so much I think with three and I’m glad three star durable Erica. I think with three or it could be three to five or whatever you are making sure that you pick the three that you know, people love the most and it’s the classic like 80/20 rule if you’ve heard of that so I guarantee there’s gonna be a few that people kind of care about but like if you pick the ones that the majority of people really feel passionate about and like that’s ultimately the reason they’re gonna show up the community and like keep paying for it. If it’s Key Community start there and then you can build out the support of stuff over time.
Emma Catranis: Awesome! We have another question here around the best features for starting up new communities. which I think you sort of just spoke to I don’t know if you have anything you want to add on that or we can move on.
Tom Ross: Again, there’s no one size fits or so. If you haven’t launched yet do a lot of the research and the validation with your your pre-launch. So with potential members, maybe have a waitlist or like a network or wherever you’re you’re, you know people you hope are going to become members live do the work up front to deeply understand them because to some communities it might be like networking events other communities. It might be AMA course or what workshops or any other stuff from this Workshop. It’s going to be completely different but I promise if you put the work and the listening in before you actually launch you’re gonna make those early members so much happier than just like guessing and you know piling a bunch of stuff in there.
Emma Catranis: For sure. Um, we have a question here from Susie around lack of participation and engagement Susie. It might be helpful. If you could share a little more info around where specifically you’re seeing that lack of Engagement. Um, Like what you’ve included in your offering and where you’re not having the engagement that you’d hoped for.
Tom Ross: Oh so say with engagement it’s always good to kind of frame it realistically. Right because I feel like people get really down and then when they actually tell me they’re engagement numbers. I might you’re doing just fine. Like maybe they’re doing great. So, you know, I love Circle events. But how many people do we have here right now like 35. I know some people left after the presentation, but I think maybe it was like 50 people but there’s 5,000 or something right in the circle community. And I think there’s a lot of people that expect. 20% of their members to show up every time they do a live event and it’s like it doesn’t work like that. Like people watch the replay people have different time zones. This is super super common, right? So if you do stuff particularly live expect a tiny minority of your members generally to show up but those are the people that want to be there. They’re engaged. They’re the people that like the, you know, live learning and and participating and showing up on video. That isn’t for everyone. So if you’re worried about engagement realize this so much engagement that happens in different formats, and I’ve got a whole Workshop in the the video library and circle.Tom Ross: About engagement. Try and cater to everyone quick side tangent, but I call it the engagement ladder. So you cater for the people like you or some folk who enjoy this live experience in a very active. But you also cater for the majority which will be passive members and that’s through stuff like video libraries and knowledge bases and learning Pathways where they can go through individually on their own time, and they’re still engaged but you just don’t see it in the same way.
Emma Catranis: Awesome. Chris is asking about I think he’s looking to make a move from having a free community to a paid community and wants to survey his 115 members. To validate that idea and he’s asking should I test this with them first and in return they get to stay free for 12 months in the community or some incentive like that, or do I need a bigger group to survey?
Tom Ross: So you might not want to hear my answer. I promise I’m not like a crazy capitalist, but I think there’s a few points to note. So generally free members don’t convert that well to pay Members because they’re two different types of people. It’s the same way when I worked as a designer is very different. Trying to get a $50,000 client versus a $50 client, right? It’s not gonna be the same person and you’re not generally going to convert one to the other so you will get some conversion rate. Someone want to stick around.
But generally if you want paid members you want to go find some new people who are the type of you know person that’s willing to invest and and want to invest in something like this. And so that’s Point number one. I also I’m a huge believer in paid communities. I’m kind of semi-pivoting my brand like specifically help solopreneurs and small businesses because I think it’s fine having like a free community or maybe a hobby Community if that’s what you want to run but I think a paid Community is so much more sustainable.
I think it lets you sharp and serve your members consistently and ultimately they’re going to benefit more to you. So given that I would not be tempted if I were you to offer a continued free membership for 12 months because all that’s going to happen is you’re going to probably burn out because you’re going to be showing up and serving those people and getting nothing in return for your time. You also will create a weird hierarchy because you’re going to have people who are paying you. And they’re going to be seeking your help and you’re gonna be over here helping free members and feeling bad about that. It’s gonna feel imbalanced.
So I know it’s tough, but I would just have the honest conversation. I always say wouldn’t validate by asking because if you ask a bunch of free people like hey, do you want to pay for this maybe like that? Not really but if you say I’m taking this and this direction and here’s why it’s because I want to do this, you know full time or whatever. It might be. I want to show up. I want to pour more resources. I want to make this more valuable than ever and I have to pay, you know, make a paid to justify that. So do you want to be part of this?
A tiny minority will you’ll go find additional people who will too and they go all in on helping those people as much as you can and there will be a bunch of people who can’t afford it or it’s not for them. And that’s fine. You know, you can recommend other places you can serve them through your free content, but I feel like a lot of people get stuck in this guilt trap and then they end up like resentful and burn out and bitter and the whole thing falls apart despite their best intentions, so I want to help you avoid that.
Emma Catranis: It’s a great response. Thanks, Tom. Um, I love this question re is asking if you are using circles chat feature and do you recommend using something like that in real time?
Tom Ross: I think it depends and I’m always honest so Emma like I’m gonna be honest about my perception of please. Yes. Yeah. I haven’t found huge success with it and I think I know why. I think it’s because chat is best used in a synchronous way. And I think what often happens isTom Ross: Circle communities are used in an asynchronous way. So people will come in, get something they need, come back and it’s beautiful for that. But what they’re not doing is just like hanging out there throughout their entire day like you would in like an old school chat room or something like that. And because of that, the chat becomes asynchronous and therefore doesn’t work because you leave a message. No one’s there to immediately chat with you and have that exciting real-time conversation. So it may as well be an asynchronous space.
Where I have found chat can work is either it’s for really light touch stuff where people wouldn’t feel comfortable creating a post. So for example in our coming soon course space, I made that a chat space because I can just give quick informal updates. I don’t want it to be a full announcement like hey, what do you guys think and a few people let me know and so on. So it’s kind of good for that.
Something else I want to try is to make it more synchronous by having scheduled chat times. Because again, we don’t have enough people that they’re just going to be living in the chat room and there’s always going to be someone in real time. But what we could do is have a live event like this and then be like right everyone to the chat room. We’re gonna continue this and then you got a bunch of people chatting in real time and getting that benefit.
But I think what a lot of Circle users do is they set up a chat space and sit back and expect it to take off and it just doesn’t work because they don’t have enough members online at the same time you happen to be in that space. You have a clear reason for using it you won’t just set it up and it’s gonna work like magic in my opinion.
Emma Catranis: Yeah, no, I think there is a place and time for a chat space and to that end. We are working on a post or I think this month where we’re kind of outline a couple different use cases for chat spaces just to share some ideas. So if you’re interested in chat spaces keep an eye out for that, but to Thomas point I think there are some use cases where it’s certainly better suited than others.
Going back to Clarence’s question about generating engagement early on he says right now we are offering one Workshop a week with an assignment which includes a short video and audio meditation to prompt reflection. We are thinking of doing a challenge but want to keep it simple. And I think was the original question around like how to get good how to generate engagement spark?
Tom Ross: Yeah sparking engagement right after launch. Of course, so I think I think there’s a few things like I quite like launching with a bang. So when we launched our community, we had a launch party. And we got all the people on a cool live like this before we open the doors. Which meant that right at the end of that call I was like right I’m opening it right now like go go go leaving introduction post like go do this and that was like a flurry and a burst of activity from day one instead of be sending out an email and be like, hey it’s open and people trickle on it so that that was like a fun technique.
But I think Clarence to the specifics of your question if you have like an ongoing event that you’re you’re working into your schedule. Then just a lot of behind the scenes manual work, which is inherently part of an early stage Community. It’s unscalable. You won’t be able to do it perhaps in future a much bigger scale but early on it’s so powerful. So I’m talking about like one-on-one conversations in the end with every member understanding their needs and then directing in hand holding them and guiding them to the appropriate thing.
So if you are chatting with someone and they’re like I’m really struggling with this and then you’re saying cool. I highly recommend this upcoming event which deals with exactly that or this offers hours and I guarantee I will work through and help you with that. What you can’t do is just post an events calendar and sit back and hope people are going to register and attendance.
Engagement is going to be crazy. David Spinks talks about this actually, it’s kind of the life cycle of community. Stage one is the seed stage, then you have the growth stage, maturity phase and so on. The seed stage is basically where you’re trying to get this thing off the ground. Which is where, on the surface level, it feels a little bit quiet, but hopefully picks up steam behind the scenes. You, as the community leader, are working like a madman spinning all the plates and like facilitating things and guiding people. Most people can’t see that activity, but it’s there. This is what most successful Community Builders do and again, it’s the stuff we don’t see, but that behind-the-scenes frantic work, you’re driving that engagement. You’re not hoping it will happen, you’re driving it one person at a time. There’s nothing wrong with that early on.
Well, we have a question from Tammy around, “Do you have suggestions for pricing new communities?” Yes. I underpriced by the way, so we all make this mistake, but most people’s tendency is they weigh underprice, like unjustifiably. I think it’s fine to not make your community the most expensive it’s ever going to be from day one. My approach is I actually periodically increase the price every time it goes to like a next level of value. So we’re going to go up $10 in our monthly fee when we release our course because I’m like, it’s justified, right? This course is going to be insane and you know, it’s gonna add so much value and it takes so much time. Every few months we will go up in price which is fine. But what you don’t want to do is say I’m so scared. Normally, it’s from a place of fear, “I’m so scared, I’m not going to get any early members and I’m gonna have crickets. I’m gonna throw out the most ludicrously cheap price to try and sucker people in.”
What ends up happening is you often will go on to resent those members particularly if it’s an ongoing subscription. I don’t mean resent the people, I mean resent the price. You value and love those members obviously, but you can resent the price where you see it showing up alongside like more suitable price point and you see it and go, “Damn, I wish I hadn’t done that two years ago and that person still being four bucks a month for the community because back then I was more insecure and naive.” So that would be one part but I think I actually posted today, I either did a workshop or posted a pricing guide. There’s certainly one on my website and there’s a bunch of different considerations about how to price your community and I think again, that’s a whole workshop in itself.
But invest the time to really think about this stuff, don’t just pick like a cheap price out of thin air and run with that. So some of the stuff I teach and talk about, especially in Land Community, is like how to think about your financial goals for your pay Community, how to reverse engineer them into time frames projections, factor in churn, do the market research of what else is out there. Look at your credibility in the market, look at the amount of demand you can drive up, think how quick you want to hit your goals like all this kind of stuff. You need to actually run the numbers. And again, I think what most people do is they don’t do any of that groundwork. They skip very cheap price out of fear, please sign up and that’s where it’s harmful.
We might have time for one more question. So I’ll read off here from Heather who was asking, “When you are testing something, how long do you devote to doing that test typically? Like what is a suitable amount of time to run a test for?” You’re gonna hear me say this a lot. And I know we got some more workshops lined up as well, Emma. There is no one size fits all so it would be very bad of me to turn around and say three weeks. Then everyone’s gonna be like three weeks, okay, I guess that’s how long I’m gonna test for. So it depends, and for me, it…
Generally, it comes down to gut feel. So I said before, I’m pretty ruthless about cutting stuff, probably do it quicker than most people. And Heather, I want to get more specific here. It depends on how it plays out. There will be some things like I say where maybe it works well initially, so maybe it’s six months later and I’m like this really isn’t working anymore and it doesn’t sit right with me.
There will be other stuff where almost immediately it’s like crickets and I’m like, “I wish I never did that, that completely bombed” and maybe I cut it like three weeks later because I’m like, I can already see it’s not gonna work out. Normally, it’s something in the middle. Right? So it’s like it’s kind of working and then actually yeah, like for me I would say if it’s something that’s weekly, I now cut like four weeks in maybe. I really don’t hang around much. I don’t want to be sitting on this thing for three to six months knowing it’s not working.
So if my gut’s like this isn’t working. I’m like cool, tried it, it’s gone, on to the next thing. I’ve helped.
Form capture for main CTA