Successful agency business owners take every opportunity to mitigate risks and learn from others’ successes and failures. Business coaches, conferences, and local groups have traditionally been where information is sought and connections are formed. Going forward, however, online business communities are the most convenient and reliable place for like-minded business owners to compare notes. This resulted from digitalization and was accelerated by COVID as traditional live and in-person meetings were put on hold.
An online community is a place where all of your questions about building or scaling your agency can be answered. They are accessible, becoming more abundant, and the people involved in them want to work together. They can be private social media groups on platforms like Facebook or branded online communities such as the Vendasta Conquer Local or The Spotify Community where platform users can collaborate.
The difference between social platforms and branded communities is most prominently the intent of the users. Engagement is higher in branded communities because members have the intent to grow professionally. According to higher logic, branded communities have community management tools built-in to foster engagement, making the community experience better for members. They also provide more security for users than a social media community group.
Agency owners join online communities for many reasons, support that they can’t find locally, gaining connections, and the drive to learn are a few. With a community, you can build a business with assistance from others who are trying to do the same thing all over the world. Online communities are incubators that foster new ideas into fruition and are a safe space to ask questions, brainstorm ideas, and receive feedback.
“We knew that people wanted to learn from their peers, but we needed to figure out how to provide a platform for that. Imagine that you’re starting an agency and you feel like you’re on your own island. This is especially difficult when working with a white-label platform. You don’t know of other partners who have already been in your position and from whom you can learn.”
1. Build connections
It’s difficult to keep up with everyone you meet after attending an in-person conference. Limited time for face-to-face discussions and the physical inability to greet everyone in attendance helped facilitate demand for online community spaces.
“We saw tremendous demand from partners to help them network with each other,” says Sthankiya. “We took that and figured out a way to scale up and shape the community. We wanted to help them keep their momentum going and keep our partners connected with one another. That was the driving force behind launching the community.”
Business owners who work alone or with a small team crave community and connections with others who use the same software or partner with similar businesses. The creation of online communities was born out of this demand.
2. A safe space
Most online business communities are hosted on a member-only based platform. The likelihood of being trolled in this space is low to null. You can ask questions freely without being judged by those who don’t have the whole picture. Everyone in the community that you choose to join has similar goals and interests. The best part is that if you aren’t getting what you need from one community there are many other options available.
“There’s a very natural part of learning where people want to collaborate with one another. In reality, most of the learning we do is informal. Whether that is talking to peers or trying something out on your own. A very small part of how we learn is actually through taking a course,” Sthankiya says.
3. Learning opportunities
In an online community, agencies have the opportunity to join or start discussions in the forum and even take a step back to just see what others are doing with their business. Some communities like Vendasta’s Conquer Local have weekly hosted learning sessions where members can learn about new product features or learn how others are using a platform. From a host perspective, Vendasta has taken the opportunity to learn from our partners in the Conquer Local Community.
We can enhance the user experience of our platform by learning how partners use our platform, products, and services. This is also a great opportunity for agency owners to voice what they have been struggling with so that a solution can be found.
4. 24/7 support
One of the best things about an online community is that time and space aren’t necessarily factors. Burning questions can be pitched to the community any time of day or night and an answer should pop up shortly regardless of where in the world a business is located.
“Everyone in the community has become familiar with each other,” says Colleen McGrath, managing director, Conquer Local, Vendasta. “They connect with one another outside of the community sessions to talk about different strategies. This is amazing because that is the whole purpose of the Conquer Local ecosystem.”
5. Save money
The demand for getting businesses online gives agencies a way to help smaller businesses scale and succeed. Agencies using a white-label ecommerce platform can also save money and scale their business by joining a community.
Sthankiya believes that communities are an excellent training tool. “Every business wants to be online,” he says, “so with the demand for agencies that help SMB’s to do that there are two options -- You can hire in-house web designers and ecommerce specialists, or upscale and train your existing workforce. The second option is more cost-effective and I believe that is causing more people to move in this direction. Naturally, this creates more demand for a community where people can ask how to grow their businesses.”
6. Find niche groups
There is a sense of security in having a network that understands what your business is dealing with. Online communities serve niche markets, which means engagement is high. Everyone has similar struggles or can help solve a problem because they’ve already dealt with it themselves.
Online communities also make you aware of global best practices. You can sit in a small town in Australia and learn about the best in class tools or ideas being used by businesses in New York.
“We found that all of our partners have the exact same problems no matter if they’re in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, South Africa, everyone was having the same struggles and everyone was sharing the same purpose to help local SMBs succeed. Creating an online community was our solution to helping those partners continue networking and problem solving beyond our annual conference.”
7. Accountability groups
Within large online communities, you can form small breakout groups called accountability groups. A common concept in weight loss or workout programs, this is a great way for business owners to check in on one another’s progress. “It’s very valuable to sync up with someone you don’t know on a personal level,” McGrath says. “The objectivity of accountability groups fosters a different way of thinking about products and strategies.”
For these meetings to be successful, everyone needs to set SMART goals that they want to achieve. This means goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. These groups are formed by members who have connected with one another within the community. Those members can then help each other reach their goals through encouragement and brainstorming.
Digital marketing online community options
There are many available communities for marketing agencies. Simply create a free profile to join in the learning, discussion, and virtual events.
- MOZ started out in the SEO sector and has since branched out to include digital marketing tools and an online community. They offer a Q&A forum, virtual event in lieu of their annual conference, and all members can contribute content to the Moz Blog.
- Hubspot community has separated its forum into eight categories. They have different spaces for topics like CRM and sales, marketing, and they have a place to submit ideas specifically for improving the Hubspot platform.
- The Conquer Local Community lives within Vendasta and offers a forum where you can connect with others and subscribe to the categories most applicable to your business. There are also weekly live community sessions hosted by a Vendasta team member who works to personalize the experience for everyone who joins. Also, a part of the Conquer Local brand is the Conquer Local Podcast, Academy, and Conference.
- Active Campaign has a community that offers a forum, help documents, and online courses. This platform features the latest forum and blog posts on the community homepage.
Vendasta Conquer Local Community
The Conquer Local Community has just under 9,000 members who communicate, collaborate, and connect with each other every day. “We saw our community sessions audience more than double in a year since starting,” says McGrath. “Conversations have evolved in a way that we bring in many outside voices. For example, we brought someone in from Google to give a 20-minute presentation about Google My Business. Everyone asked questions in the chat and the presenter chose the most relevant questions to discuss.”
Weekly community sessions encourage participation by bringing in topics from the forum as well as internal and external experts. These sessions usually begin with a presentation and morph into a discussion around the topic. The community is also closely linked with the Conquer Local Academy where courses around Vendasta’s offerings exist.
When asked what aspects of online communities they find valuable, Conquer Local members responded with comments around growth, collaboration, and learning. An important aspect is getting feedback and insider tips from others in the industry, especially for newer businesses. They see it as a huge benefit to be able to collaborate with others around the world. Many see it as a networking opportunity where they are able to build business relationships. Online communities are a safe place to develop relationships with others who have different skills so you can learn or help each other.
With enough business to go around it’s clear that Conquer Local members value collaboration over competition. The support of an online branded community is a strength that all business owners can participate in and share.
“I would encourage anyone who is interested in this space to jump into existing communities, don’t be afraid to contribute or share knowledge. Online communities and academy learning are both exciting spaces to watch for in the years to come.”