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Early Exit #7: Building Community
Little interactions add up to big opportunities, if you put yourself out there.
You’re part of the Early Exit Club — a community for growing solopreneurs by Nick Lafferty.
New Milestone: 2 Month Anniversary
It’s officially been a full two months since I quit my job to start working for myself.
I’ll save you the long winded LinkedIn-style post about how it’s going and give you a visual answer instead.
I had been thinking about quitting my job for a while, but the few weeks before giving notice I wavered between nervousness and excitement.
I was pretty confident of my choice until I had to tell my boss.
The actual conversation went great and both my manager and the co-founders of my last company were super understanding.
But then reality hit me in the face: what did I just do??
I quickly climbed out of that hole but it was a solid 24 hours spent seriously questioning my decision.
2 months later and I’m honestly doing great:
I’ve added new clients and increased scope with my existing clients.
I’ve taken several Fridays off to spend quality time with my wife.
I’ve created a ton of content, including 8 editions of this newsletter.
But the best thing I’ve done isn’t finding new clients or make money.
Those are outputs to the biggest input I’ve ever built.
Not a formal community like a Slack group, but just community.
Community helped launch my newsletter to my first 567 subscribers.
Community helped me find work, both full time and freelancing, over the last 10 years.
Community introduced me to some of the kindest, hardest working people that live halfway around the world from me.
Community is everything to me right now.
Much like starting a freelancing business, building community doesn’t happen overnight.
Here’s how I think about community, how I built mine, and how you can start building yours.
A community isn’t a place
Thanks to reader Emils for dropping this gem on me in a call we had last month.
I’ve had some great calls with my subscribers lately and each time I try and ask one question about community.
I’m gauging interest in setting up a more formalized community where you could interact with each other to get feedback, ideas, and build connections.
And Emils responded in a way no one else had.
The community already exists. It’s everyone subscribed right now.
And it got me thinking about my broader community.
In addition to this newsletter, my community is also:
Anyone who follows or has interacted with me LinkedIn.
My former colleagues at Magical, Loom, Mailgun, and Modernize (so many companies that start with M!)
The guests I had on my Notion podcast (currently on hiatus)
My friends and family (hi, Mom and Dad!)
If you abstract out the communities I mentioned above, they start falling into two buckets:
I am much better at building community on the internet.
I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, playing my first video games online with complete strangers on a dial-up AOL connection that made weird sounds as you connected.
So my focus here is more on building that kind of community, but local communities are just as valuable (you can’t ask your LinkedIn friends to bring your trashcans back up the driveway..).
Building community isn’t transactional
My approach to building community is this: give a lot before asking for anything in return.
That’s why there’s no paid option for this newsletter right now.
I want to provide tons of value before I even think about asking for money.
I declined two consulting opportunities that came my way last week.
But because of the community I’ve built (and my Solopreneur directory), I was able to make two introductions to people who could potentially help.
Throughout my life and career I’ve massively benefitted from introductions and people putting in a good word for me.
This is maybe too idealistic, but I want to help build a world where people do nice things because they want to be helpful, not because they want something in return.
I’m fortunate enough that my consulting and affiliate income helps support the creation of this newsletter so I can focus on creating really good content instead of squeezing you for a couple bucks a month.
How you can build community
My guess is you’re building your own community right now, whether you realize it or not.
But here are some tactical ways you can get started and they all come down to putting yourself out there.
You can’t build community sitting by yourself in your apartment, never sharing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences with the world.
So here’s what you can do.
1) Create content on social media
You knew this was coming, right?
Posting on LinkedIn over the last few years has been one of the best returns for my time.
I somehow attracted over 6,000 followers and they showed up big when I announced this newsletter: LinkedIn is my largest source of subscribers.
Posting regularly on social media is like building muscle.
At first you feel awkward but the more you do it the easier it becomes.
Here’s some ideas to get you started:
Share something you achieved recently
It can be even a small win from last week.
Share a challenging moment or conversation in your life or career
These type of posts often do better than posting about your wins and highlights. People respond to vulnerability, honesty, and transparency.
Share your life story
Were you laid off recently?
Have you struggled with a bad boss or toxic work environment?
Did you just quit your job? 🙋♂️
You’ll be surprised who your story will reach and resonate with.
2) Make/Join a small Slack group
I recently joined a small Slack group of other marketing freelancers and it’s been really fulfilling to chat with people going through the same struggles I am.
Here’s a snapshot of the discussions I’ve had since joining:
What are you struggling with right now?
A lot of talk about how to structure your freelancing rates and deals
A lot of talk about posting on LinkedIn consistently and getting over the idea that people might disagree with you
Asks for references for freelance writers, CPAs, and financial advisors
Asks to be interviewed on a newsletter (wait that was me…)
Finding a small group of people in a similar situation as you can quickly add a ton of value and make you feel not so alone.
If you don’t have access to this right now, consider starting one!
Find a few of your current or former colleagues, send them a DM, and pitch an idea of a small community.
It just takes one person with the initiative to set it up.
3) Cold DM someone on LinkedIn
I send and receive a lot of messages on LinkedIn.
There is a right way and a wrong way to message a stranger on LinkedIn.
Which one of these two messages are you more likely to respond to?
Option A) The Transactional Message
Option B) The Compliment
I responded to the second one, it was from someone just starting their career.
They took time to record a Loom explaining their background, how they found me, and what they wanted to talk with me about.
But here’s my point: I’ve met some amazing people because they cold messaged me on LinkedIn.
I got this message from someone just like that.
We met because he messaged me first on LinkedIn.
We exchanged a few Looms back and forth and then a month later he kindly reached out after Loom went through their first round of layoffs to see how I was doing.
This is community.
Solopreneur of the Week
Before I wrap up, I wanted to start highlighting some of the amazing members of The Early Exit Club.
This week’s feature: Anna Sonnenberg
Anna is a freelance writer for B2B SaaS companies who’s worked with Social Media Examiner, Agorapulse, Customers AI & divbyzero.
She’s been doing this for nine years, almost as long as I spent working a 9-5 job.
She specializes in long-form articles packed with first-hand experience & expert insights.
Anna and I first connected when I submitted a quote to an article she was writing.
That led us to hopping on a call a few weeks ago and learning that we have some shared financial goals.
Follow Anna on LinkedIn and give her a shout if you need some freelance writing help.
Want to be featured next week? I’ll randomly pick someone from my Solopreneur Directory, so submit yourself for a chance to win big!
Thanks to everyone who submitted themselves and provided feedback on the directory so far. I’m listening to all your feedback and will keep building this out.
Much of my early success as a Solopreneur is a direct result of the time I spent building community on the internet.
All the random conversations, LinkedIn posts, and Looms I’ve exchanged with complete strangers all add up.
I should add that none of this came easy to me.
I’m introverted as hell, y’all.
I don’t operate well in groups of more than like 4 people in public.
Despite that I’ve found myself really enjoying all the one-on-one conversations.
I love connecting with people and learning their story.
And it’s made all the difference for me.
See you next week,
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