2000 independent consultants in 2 years

COMATCH: 6 tips on how to build and maintain a valuable community

In the last two years COMATCH received around 4000 applications,conducted over2500interviews and put a lot of thinking into community building. Which media is read by potential community members? Do referral campaigns work? In which cities shall we organise real life meetings?
We have recently seen the 2000thsuccessful memberregistration.It feels like there is no master plan of how to build a valuable community. It takes time and hard work, and much of the right procedureis deduced through trial and error. But we have learned some fundamentalsof community management that are worthhighlighting.They were crucial for us and may help your business as well.

1. Speak the language of your community
Every community starts with its founder.You should qualify as the number one member of your community. If you do not know how the potential members of the community think, act and feel,youwill not be able to understand their needs and offer them real value-adding services. Building a community of independent consultantswas much easiergiven my own background as one. I could understand the challenges of life as a consultant very well and could also contribute own experiences to conversations.Obviously every community is different and itsmanagers must adapt accordingly,butwhichever community you would want to buildyou have to speak their language. That way you should be capable ofbecominga respected advisor and not a pure service provider.

2. Invest in getting to know the community
Start-ups are often in a hurry to build the largest possible community within the shortest time. However,if you really want tobuild a community and not just develop a database, thenyou should get to know your users.Invest in having conversationsand building up relationshipsto understand their motivations and aspirations.At COMATCH,understanding the consultant is crucial, as this is linked directly to the service we offer.If we want to match the project with the best consultant we have to know everything about them – from hard skills to soft. That is why we have invested more than 2000 hours in phone calls –that is nine weeks of talking around the clock. Of course that is neither implementable nor necessary for every community, but again: try to get to know as many members of your community as possible; whether you are using your phone, social media or a survey. A personal relationship might also be helpful if leakage is a problem for the service you offer to your community.

3. Leverage your community
There are several ways to get a community growing: social media, advertising and PR.
We for example received a lot of media coveragein 2016, but only after media for managers and entrepreneurs published articles about us did the consultants who applied suit our requirements.Our learning: to target the right audience,adjust the choice of media to the characteristics of your community.
However, the biggest boost to get a community growing comes when you manage to trigger yourmembers to recommend your community. This is not only a nice snowball effect but allows you todirectly target the right people, as likeminded people often know each other.
When it comes to peer recommendations, we learned that they are not triggered so much by a referral campaign but much more by happy and convinced community members.

4. Put quality over quantity
Establish a set of quality criteria and stick to them. This might slow down thegrowth of the community, but it will be in the interest of all members of your community. Andon top it will also create a feeling of exclusivity. Very often you can also usethe quality aspectas an argument for promoting your community.Obviously this results inyou havingto say the occasional no– if you do, be respectful and make your reasons for rejection clear.
Given that we are working in the consulting business establishing quality criteria and sticking to themis a crucial aspectfor both our service offer and for the consultants in our community.I am aware that not every community is that selective and restricted. But evenfor more open platforms it helps to establish rules and quality criteria, to get the best out of it.

5. Use bothonline and offline channels to engage the community
To create a sense of communityspirit among your members use different channels of communication. Building social interaction into your service is letting them know that someone listens and cares, whereas spreading news and business insights helps them to identify with your company.But to meet somebody in person can still not be replaced by anything yet. At COMATCH we havecreated four ways of communication:first, there isa monthly newsletter (do not overwhelm them with daily news) for sharing information, introducing single members and providing special offers.Secondly, we send out a survey at least once a year to learn about consultant preferences and needs. Thirdly, we publish articles, written by a consultant of the pool, on websites and in the mediato let them share their experiences. Last, but not least, we organize get-togethers in different cities to link our members both with each other and with us and to show our personal side.

6. All of this only works if the members get what they are looking for in the community
Every community has its purpose and if the members are not getting what they came for, they will show less and less interest until they disappear or become members, who exist only on paper. It must be a coretask for every community related business to really provide the members what they are looking for. In our case: exciting project proposals on a frequent basis.

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