From Zero to 17’000 – Some Thoughts on Building Community…

One of the most frequent things I get asked is: ‘How did you build your following?’.

It’s a fair question.  A few years ago I started as everybody does, with pretty much zero support and 5 followers (2 of which were my mother who had signed up twice to make sure she didn’t miss anything).  Today I am a 100% audience-supported artist; I have a blog that is read in 170+ countries by a community of almost 18’000 subscribers, and a Twitter following that is sitting somewhere around 88’000 people.

All of which was accomplished from the ground up with zero external media or paid advertising.

How?

Read on, and I’ll tell you…

Human beings crave community, it’s a deep down thing.  A fundamental need which has likely endured unchanging since the first of us crawled up from the darkness of the ocean floor and out into the light.

But what exactly is a community?

A community is a group of people built around something of value and maintained by connection, service, and mutually beneficial exchange.

There are 3 things you should be aware of if you wish to build one:

The first is your motivationWhy do you want to?  Because if you are doing it for glory, fame, or some other kind of personal gain it simply will not work long-term.  A self serving motivation is by definition diametrically opposed to the growth of any kind of group that is fed and nourished by contribution.  If you walk into a garden and suck all the water from the ground nothing can grow.  But if you visit that same garden daily with your watering can in the spirit of service, at some point you will likely be surrounded by a myriad of flourishing blooms.  If you truly wish to build a community the very first step is to shift from thinking of it as something you can gain from to something you can give to.

The second thing to be aware of is that communities come into being and orbit around some kind of value.  Value is the lightning rod, the tiny piece of grit around which the pearl of community can coalesce, given the right conditions.  Value can take many forms and be presented thru many avenues, but both avenue and form are secondary to the true quality of whatever it is that you bring forth.  Say something true, and say it as best you can with all the craft, sweat, blood and tears you can muster; then put it out into the world as a gift for the people who can benefit from it.  Then do it again.  And again.  The response will let you know if you are adding value.  Your answer is in the echo.

The third and final thing to be aware of is that you now have a responsibility to honor any exchange that comes from the giving of value with your best and most genuine self.  This is where you strengthen or weaken the proffered connections that can ultimately become community.  Treat any relationship that arises with the same care and attention as you would a relationship with your beloved, and always remain aware that public communities are fractal, meaning: if you are talking to a single member you are also talking with the whole so, no matter what the provocation, do not be an asshole.

In summation, to build any kind of worthwhile and long-lasting community you must:

Do it for the right reasons.  Be freely adding value to the world.  Honor any exchange that comes from it in the spirit of service to a larger whole.

The really good news?  If you sincerely do these things you will not have to seek out an audience; instead, people will flock to you in droves.

We are social animals, skin hair bone and breath.  Communities are the places we go to connect; to give, to receive, and ultimately to know ourselves.  Built and tended for the right reasons they can genuinely impact and benefit the world.  Personally, I count my relationship with the community of people that has grown up around my work as one of the greatest blessings in my life.

I will continue to do my best to honor it.


If you enjoyed this you may also like: my post about the beauty to be found in darkness, my essay concerning the 3 things you should know before you quit your day job, or  my love letter to the mountains of Scotland.


I’m Working on some Cool New Stuff.

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134 Comments

  1. This is how I see it. If you can’t help the people around you, what can you offer the world.
    The other day I read this quote by Buddha and thought it was quite fitting. I hope you do too.

    “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by not being shared.”

    I loved this article. It was very thoughtful.

    Nikki

  2. I hope your days and nights are filled with the awe of magick, the utmost fulfillment and happiness, and a return of the positive energy you have so unselfishly given to others. Though we have yet to meet in person, I am honored to have corisponded with you and consider you a trustful friend. In other words your on of the “good” guys, lol.
    😻, Robert

  3. ” If you walk into a garden and suck all the water from the ground nothing can grow.  But if you visit that same garden daily with your watering can in the spirit of service, at some point you will likely be surrounded by a myriad of flourishing blooms.” Beautiful analogy. The point is very clear. Thanks.

  4. I think, you have just revealed here the original mystery about blogging. After reading so many articles on blogging, I have found the actual tips on it. Blogging is not different from our living. Your every tips are very much helpful for blogging and living also. Thank you for sharing.

  5. James, I really appreciate this post and the honesty that comes through. After 30 years of doing pretty much the same thing (engineering), I started a post a few weeks ago to try something new and open up another side of me. Instead of writing technical documents, I’m trying to be more creative and express my views on various topics. My sincere hope is that others will enjoy my posts and share with those around them. Like you, my family has signed up and are giving me pats on the back for my posts. That is awesome, but I hope to have a broader impact. I’m just starting to grow my following (still extremely small compared to yours), but I really needed to read this post from you. It’s timely and reminds me why I started this just 3 weeks ago. I hope to stay true to myself and my community. w/r, MichaelJ

    1. Hey there Michael,
      Thanks a lot for taking the time to write to me. Really glad you found something of worth in the post – this is exactly the reason I wrote it, kind of like ‘what would I have wanted to know when I started out?…’ You have taken the first steps into a brave new world (heh 😉
      Keep going, the main thing is just to keep doing the work, no matter what.
      Hope you are well, feel free to keep in touch,
      – J

  6. Thank you for liking my page today, I appreciate your visit. One of the things as an art teacher that I do is put out my website, my daily blog, to keep my students informed about what’s happening during the day. In addition as it goes out to Twitter and Facebook LinkedIn, I hope to touch other educators and those who support the Arts. I’ve been using this blog for about 7 years now, I haven’t developed quite the following you have but I know that I am helping others and nurturing the Arts and Society in my posts. Thank you again for visiting my site, I look forward to reading more of your posts also.

  7. I appreciate your take on the topic. Although my blog has far more modest stats, it still amazes me that people from all over the world visit it. I think remaining in that state of wonder on some level also attracts people to our blogs.
    All the best
    Moshe

  8. Spot on! I loved reading your views. Writing / creating art purely for the love of writing / creating is fulfilling for the writer, the reader and the world more generally. Sharing and swapping ideas and views is liberating and fuel for a higher self and community! I completely subscribe to your viewpoint and thanks for articulating this so clearly. I am now very excited to be following your blog and will wait with anticipation for further posts. Best wishes.

  9. Hey! I told you I’d let you know what I thought…you’re right on! Especially the part about “don’t be an @$$hole.” That totally cracked me up (because it’s so true). Thanks for posting this.

  10. Thank you for sharing this truth! I resonate with it. My vision has to be greater than me, when I realized how much we are all united, it shifted everything for me. My success is yours, and yours mine. This is how the world is changed.
    I appreciate your support of my blog 😀

  11. Hey James,

    As a new blogger, this makes sense to me. Your style of writing is what I too try to emulate in my posts. Combine that with your content, and bing-bing-bing, you’ve got a new follower 🙂
    Additionally, thank you for the like on my article. It’s always good to be appreciated by someone who’s got a lot more experience than me.

    Have a pleasant day ahead.

    1. Hey back 😉
      Glad that you found something of worth in the article. It’s a question I honestly get asked a lot, so I decided to codify it, and it seems to have gone across well.
      Keep up the good work my friend, ‘practice, practice, and all is coming’ as they say.
      And Thanks a lot for reading, and for taking the time to write – it really means a lot to me.
      Have a good one,
      – J

  12. This is such good advice, and what I’ve tried to live by where all my blogs are concerned. My sister just created a blog, hoping she can help people who want to — or need to — travel all by themselves — since she does a lot of that. She feels that desire to reach out and freely offer people something valuable that can make their lives easier and better. I’m going to make sure she gets the link to this post.

    1. Thanks a lot, both for your kind words and for sharing the post. Word of mouth is kind of invaluable to me and I really appreciate it.
      And thanks for dropping by and taking the time to write this.
      Hope your day is going beautifully,
      – J

        1. Hey there,
          This is really cool to hear, thanks a lot for reading and for taking the time to write – glad you liked it.
          Next blog should be up on Sunday, hope you are having a good night,
          Be well,
          – J

          1. One of my favorites among your posts is ‘Redamancy’. I am mesmerized by the vividness of your words, I feel like I’ve entered another’s soul while reading it. I can’t help but admire your work.

                  1. Oh, I’m sorry. Thank’s for the correction. Now I remembered it, it’s the one that I reblogged last month, ‘Why I don’t Whine Like a Bitch in the Internet’. My bad, I got mixed up. Thank you for being honest.

  13. Hey James!
    Just wanted to comment on your article about community and say it was a well written piece that really had me happy somebody has a similar thinking process especially with on the subject of community. Also with value, I am really really glad to see that someone has really put such emphasis on value.
    The clarity and beauty of your post really had me a little stunned because I been looking for people who think like this.
    Anyway, I don’t want to bombard you with my comments on your piece. Overall I give it a five star and keep up the work! Appreciate people like you!

    1. Hey there,
      Thanks so much for your kind words. I love connecting with like minded souls, really glad you dropped by and thanks for taking the time to write this to me – I really appreciate it.
      Feel free to stay in touch – no pressure, but anytime you need me you know where I am,
      Have a good one,
      – J

      1. No Problem! Definitely will be looking forward to more posts. I read a few other articles from your page and feeling pretty inspired already. Keep it up I know there are other people saying or thinking the same thing.

  14. Thank you for your advice James. I had a book Tumblr for a number of years that gained followers but no real feeling. I’m having another go on WordPress and your advice is spot on! Only time will tell if people join in with me, but if not at least I feel reassured that I’m sharing my thoughts for the right reasons 🙂

    1. Hey there,
      You are most welcome – really glad I could be of some help.
      The right reasons are the key 😉
      The best of luck with it and, if there’s anything I can do for you / any questions you have, be sure to let me know,
      Have a good one,
      – J

  15. James, that was awesome! Thank you so much – community is everything, whatever its configuration, it is why we are here, after all……I LOVE reading affirming material, I LOVE writing positive material too, and appreciate your ‘like’ of my radio shows

    1. Thankyou very much for this – I am glad that you found some worth in it.
      Thanks also for taking the time to reach out – it is truly appreciated.
      Keep up the good work, and I’ll see you soon,
      – J

  16. This is a wonderful insight. Like a modern explanation of humanities through the internet. Community is something we seem to fear, even through the internet there is something holding us back from allowing one to build up. Thank you for this, it is beautifully worded.

    1. Well, thankyou for reading it, and for taking the time to write. Both mean a great deal to me and I am happy to see you here.
      I hope you are having a beautiful time, wherever you are, stay safe,
      – J

  17. Reblogged this and commented:
    I found this post when he “liked” my first Three Day Quote Challenge and I decided to check out his blog. It says a lot about how to become part of a community, something which is especially of value to newbies like me.

  18. Thank you James. As someone who is still trying to figure out this whole blogging concept and developing my own path I found this post very helpful. I think we are all trying to find that group of people with shared interests/ideas, interaction and insights that may not be as easily available in our physical community. Reposting this to share with others. Have a beautiful day!

    1. Hey there,
      Thanks a lot. Yes. Yes. Yes. This is exactly why I wrote this.
      There are many bismirchings (this is totally a word, spellcheck) of the internet – but as a tool to find, build, and connect with communities of people around something of shared value on a global scale, it is tough to beat.
      Big love to you, and all luck and power in your work,
      – J

  19. Couldn’t agree with you more. I aspire to all points made in this post and even though my following is small, I try to honor all readers of my blog and hope that others will find their way to my page. Namaste!

      1. You’re very welcome. 🙂
        It was exactly as I called it. And being a new blogger, it addressed my concerns a bit more than the more technical articles out there.
        Hope you have a good day too.
        – Ruth P.

  20. 2 days ago I had a dream in which a friend told me that it will come to me, I won’t have to go out and seek a new job. Today I was led to this article. Confirmation. Thank you.

  21. Hi, James! Thank you again for a very thoughtful post, your words have been echoing through my head as I sorted out what blogging means to me and what I might be able to share with my readers each post – the image that came to me (finally!) is that each blog is a world unto itself and we (the writers) are inviting others in to experience and sometimes savour these worlds. I love it when someone reaches out to “like” or comment and plan to do this more often – to create community as I go along and be open to the mystery of it as well. Today I am writing to you after a heavy morning rainstorm, the sun is shining now and a ramble down to the ocean is calling me. I hope this note finds you and yours well.

    1. I find your comments to be invariably beautiful. This one is after rain? How was the beach?
      You are welcome for the post – thanks for the kind words, they made me smile, tho it is late at night/morning here, so it is a sleepy smile.
      Today smelled of spring. The weather is warming in Scotland. I went for a run earlier, and enjoyed the air on my skin.
      Be well, you. Don’t be a stranger,
      – J

      1. Again, your words…and here I am thanking you as well on a cloudy afternoon with Spring all around. The beach was beautiful; the sun was shining and people were sitting outside at the beach-side restaurant drinking glasses of red wine (a very Vancouver thing to do!). I find I sometimes carry your words with me and no doubt, I will do the same today…until next time, Kim.

        1. This is really nice 😉
          ‘Vancouver’ things sound like cool things to me – as long as there is music as well. Red wine, beach, music – all that’s left really is fire and good company and you’re just a little left of heaven.
          Hope you’re having a good night,
          Definitely 😉
          – J

          1. Hey, you just described the evenings spent at Third Beach where so many of us gather to hear the drums and I’m glad of the reminder – I spent part of last Summer enjoying the music and dancing there, everyone is welcome and it is a very tribal experience. People make their way to the beach in the early evening (it happens once a week) and things wind down after the sun sets which is greeted by a roar! To walk back home on the dark seawall with only the stars and the rising moon while still hearing some drums beating in the background is magical. I just came back from a walk to Second Beach and can hardly wait for the sun to get higher in the sky and hear those drums again. Thank you again, James and hope you have a good night as well.

              1. I guess there is no hiding behind ‘anonymous’ with you…your words have made me smile and have added to an already great day that included hot chocolate and now a chai tea as I wander through the internet. I know this will find you well, Kim.

                  1. I could do with a hot chocolate now – the wind is howling and yes, it is raining… but with a whole evening ahead of me and a book to read while the raindrops hit the window, I’m O.K. with this Winter storm. Hope you are having a good night, K.

  22. Thank you for your thoughts on building a better community. Adding value to your content was also a great point. Sharing information is key to building a stronger community. Thank you also for liking my blog.

    1. Hey there,
      You are most welcome – really glad that you liked the post, it is indeed.
      Thanks for taking the time to interact – it all strengthens the message, and good luck with all you are doing,
      – J

  23. This is great James. First, congrats on your following and social audience. Being a newbie blogger, I have my good days and my frustrated days. I love what I blog about, and sometime there is uptake and sometimes there is not. I have so much to learn. Your three approaches to blogging were so on point, and written so wonderfully.

    1. Hey there,
      Why, thankyou very much – I appreciate it greatly.
      I am really glad that you found something of use in the post, I think it’s a really important thing to be (and keep) aware of with what we do.
      Hope you are well, and I hope you are having a great day,
      – J

  24. I love this post. Beautiful thoughts – and true. You are absolutely right about thinking of community as something we can give to, not take from. Thank you for sharing your insight (and your beautiful writing) with us!

    1. Thankyou very much – I am really glad that you found something of worth in there.
      You are more than welcome – Thankyou so much for both reading and for taking the time to comment.
      Have a great day,
      – J

  25. Thanks for sharing. I’m guilty of not always commenting on a post after reading. Sometimes is just laziness which is terrible,mostly its because I can’t comment from my phone( don’t know why) and I read a lot from phone when I’m waiting in car for appointments. I will try harder because I know how lovely it is when someone comments on my blog. 😉

  26. Reblogged this and commented:
    This post by James Radcliffe ignited a fire within me to better understand the importance of blogging and the community I want to nourish. Thanks James.

  27. I find your post compelling, and will reblog it, if you are okay with that. The thought about community and value opened some mental doors for me. In fact, it led me to think about using this community topic as the foundation for a nonprofit board I am on to use for their strategic planning session. Thanks.

      1. James, as a musician you may know about The Bugle Boy, a listening room located in La Grange, Texas . We have live shows every Friday and Saturday nights featuring singer/songwriters. Most shows are televised on Concert Windows.

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