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.

If you’d like an email when I release something new, click the link below. I won’t email you for any other reason or share your address with anyone else.

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283 Replies to “From Zero to 17’000 – Some Thoughts on Building Community…”

  1. Hiya James > I just wanted to say thanks for your awesome post. What it’s shown me is exactly where I’m at right now. I started my blog years ago but WP is blocked here in China. Although I had a VPN it was always being hit by the Great Firewall so getting used to blogging was really difficult. After that I went back to the UK but found nothing of real interest to blog about so it went kinda flat. Hey presto now I’m back in China I discovered a miraculous VPN site which loads up the moment I start up my computer.So far it seems unbreakable > touch wood. Its also meant that I can really start to enjoy what blogging is all about. Cheers big time for the post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey there,
      First, thanks for taking the time to write to me – really appreciate it. I have to say that I love your characterisation of ‘The Great Firewall’ of China – made me smile.
      I had no idea that WP was blocked in China. I am aware of some of the censorship issues (which I, for the most part am not in favour of) but had not heard that they encompassed WP. Well done for finding the workaround, best of luck with it. ;-)
      Have a good one, and keep up the good work my friend,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent blog post, thank you. I came here because you visited my blog, and there you go – a tiny connection has been made.
    My ‘problem’ is that I am sometimes still stuck in the thoughts of “I have nothing of value to give…who would be interested in my thoughts…I have nothing important to say…” etc. So, sometimes I just have no idea what I could give to my readers…but I keep trying. :) Do you have times like this? Cheers to you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Why, thankyou very much ;-)
      If I am honest, not really – but let me explain. I don’t have any schedule other than ‘I’ll put something out when I have something of value to give’ and I work in a LOT of different mediums (music, words, visual etc etc) so I am generally always working – also, I am creating for at least 6 hrs a day so, you get a lot of things. Stuff comes, if it becomes finished and is of value then I put it out. It’s very much like gifting for me.
      So, my advice would be: do not force it. The world doesn’t need a million blogs a day, it needs really good and beautiful blogs of value. Don’t worry about your readers – especially do not feel beholden to them. If you are doing good work, you will be fine.
      Hope that helps, if it doesn’t or if there’s anything else, just hit me up.
      Until then: keep up the good work,
      Big love,
      – J

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you for your answer. That explains a lot. Proably I am leaving a lot of my “value giving” at work. (I work in a social area where you do a lot of good and not get paid a lot for it.) And I like to think that sometimes my words might not seem of value to me but maybe it is exactly what somebody needs to hear or read that day. See you soon!

        Liked by 2 people

        1. You are more than welcome. It sounds like your work is indeed a value giving one.
          And you are right about the words – I can’t tell you how many people have reached out and said that same thing to me about something I’ve written. If you are a writer, you must write.
          Good luck with everything, best wishes, and keep up the good work.
          – J

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Building community is one of my themes for this year. This is Avery timely post!

    I don’t want to build community for its byproduct. I just want healthy relationships.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. An excellent post, and though my little blog is much smaller, I noticed a dramatic upsurge a year ago when I started applying the principles you outlined. It’s all about relationship – it’s “social” media, after all. My ongoing challenge is giving every follower the attention and appreciation they deserve. :-)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks a lot for sharing this – it really helps me to spread the word and is greatly appreciated.
      Thanks also for your kind words, I am glad you liked the post and you made me smile. ;-)
      Have a good one,
      – J

      Like

  5. Hi James. I really like your mission. Like you use the word ‘community’….I generally say ‘villlage’…..as in the people that have come to live in our hearts and feel like they are, in some way, missing pieces. Of course we will always continue to find the missing pieces…as to always grow and be alive. This pertains to all aspects of our life. I have been part time blogging for a few years, but my goal is to post every day of 2016…with my art, a quote, or a new topic. I am at 260 followers. peace.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hi, James!
    I liked your post. It is all about communication here. I started my blog 4 months ago and I understood this. I love what I do and I want to do it very well. Right now my community is almost 500 followers. The problem is that sometimes I have no physical time to chat with all my followers (friends) and I ask you: how do you manage this? I want to make all of them happy and I really don’t know how!!!
    Thanks for reading!
    I will be happy if you will give me an answer.
    Monica

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey Monica,
      First off – congratulations! It is really cool that you have 500 followers already, that is a huge achievement.
      As for your question: It’s a very personal choice you make about how much you want to interact with your audience. For example, there are two main parts to my job as an independent artist, #1 is that I make good art, #2 is connecting, interacting and exchanging with the community of people who, quite literally, pay for me to live. Although it takes pretty much all of my waking hours, I don’t mind because I really love the process of making art and I really love connecting with people – it is literally my whole life. If you are finding that you don’t have time then it sounds like you have different priorities – this is not a bad thing; I do what I do in the way that I do it because it suits me, you need to find the best way for you. Your thing is obviously growing really well, it took me a year before I reached 1000 followers, so maybe you don’t need to change anything.
      Hope that helps – if you want to ask anything else, or if you want me to clarify anything feel free to hit me up again,
      Have a good one, and keep fighting the good fight ;-)
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey, again, James!
        I really love to write and blogging. I have no time because I have to go to highschool and to my training. I practise taekwondo.
        You said something interesting. This community of people who, quite literally, pay for you to live. How come? How can you do that?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. So there you have your answer ;-)
          Yes, my audience is full of beautiful people. I make music, and art, and when I release it people pay me. Sometimes way more than the asking price. And thus, I make a good living ;-)
          As for how I can do that?
          Work Really Hard. ;-)
          Have a good day, taekwondo girl.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Thanks for your quick answer, James. Now I understand. You’re a very talented artist.
            I like to work hard when I like what I do. And blogging is what I love now. Maybe, someday I will make a career in journalism (like my Dad), or in internet marketing or politics… Who knows? Blogging can be the beginning, right?
            Thanks again!
            Have a beautiful day, James! :)

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Anytime. You are very kind.
              Blogging can absolutely be a beginning. If you want to get good at anything you need to do it deeply and consistently, and the discipline required to write regularly for an audience is pretty much the best way.
              Good luck in it, and thanks for taking the time to write. If there’s anything else I can help you with just let me know.
              See you,
              – J

              Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this and commented:
    A wonderful post about Community from James Radcliffe talking from the heart and soul just like his beautiful music! I wanted to share this because I can relate with it and because it is very motivational and inspiring!

    Have a great Sunday!
    -CR

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi James this is a wonderful post you did it once again! ;-) Talking from the heart and soul just like your beautiful music! I loved to read it line after line very inspiring words and motivational also I loved it because while reading was like seeing myself in the mirror, you described with your beautiful and precious words what I am thinking about my intent to give to this world and community with my Art and Blog, as an Artist I love that everything I express and bring out to the world come straight from my heart and soul and my aim is to give others happiness living a trace into their hearts. Thank you for sharing your experience I will reblog this <3

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey there,
      First, thankyou so much. I am really happy that you liked the blog, I really appreciate the fact that you shared it, and I love that you have taken the time to write and tell me – You Rock. ;-)
      Really glad that you got something from it – The feedback I have been getting from people has been truly incredible. I love that there are so many souls out there in ‘the village’ who are focused on making things that are of benefit and giving them to the community, it is a beautiful thing indeed.
      Feel free to hit me up anytime, I love hearing from you and, ’til then
      Be well,
      – J x

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for another great post James. Reading it was like having an affirmation of my own intent and purpose for blogging. Those with whom it resonates will find their way, connections will be made and friendships formed. I am finding this is so already, even though I am not all that far along on this road.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a beautiful comment.
      Thankyou very much for taking the time to write this to me, it is truly appreciated. I am glad that you liked the post, and that it was of some help to you. I love hearing from you so feel free to hit me up anytime.
      Hope your day is going well, mine is very sunny,
      See you soon,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  10. James, a kindred spirit you are for – thank you for your concise, energized clear message and for sharing it with the world. I encourage you to continue, and would love to collaborate sometime :O) I am about to embark on a MEME MAKER journey – a bit tired of the usual messages floating around – and thinking it is time to flood the scene with something out the box :O) Love your words, it is as though you are speaking from the heart and mind and spirit at the same time.
    I have a little saying: If it is true – you will know what to do :O) if you ever need a boost, message me – I am here. :O) YOU ROCK!
    will for certain visit your site again – thanks for checking out my gnomes :O)
    if there is anything I can offer to assist you… besides money (I live in the forest – not much of that around here) but I can offer images, conversation…. that sort of thing for sure.
    Love and Light
    Leah

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there,
      Really glad you liked the site and my words. Thankyou very much – I really appreciate you taking the time to write and tell me this, you made me smile. Good luck on the meme thing, sounds cool. ;-)
      Feel free to boost away – every share of my stuff helps me out, it’s like digital currency and I fully welcome it. And Thankyou.
      Anytime. You know where I am – feel free to hit me up.
      Big hug,
      – J

      Like

  11. Excellent content! I am 100% in sync with the message you are trying to get across. I’m currently on my second blog attempt. My first one I attempted a couple years back and I was naive, went at it with a completely wrong angle. Going at it again but this time purely as a documentation of my life as someone who believes he has developed quite a different mindset from the majority by 19yo and is pushing towards making an impact. Right now and planning to always be for pure enjoyment and if people wanted to follow my journey they could join in and provide me with feedback along the way. Not a pitch right now,I had just noticed you liked one of my posts so had to stop by and check you out! Good Stuff!

    Liked by 2 people

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  13. Really liked your post. Your approach to blogging is quite different and you believe in giving back to the world way more than you actually want. Your helping approach is reason behind your such vast list of followers. I’m glad I read your article, it changed my thinking towards blogging and gaining followers.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hey man- I found these words very profound and they helped guide me. I’ve been blogging daily for two months and hit the, “Are you blogging for likes, to promote your story, to be authentic to thought?” place in the road. The universe does speak- I’ve been interested in your words and dedication to the journey. Even earlier today thought about reaching out to you- then I saw you liked a few of my thoughts. I just wanted to thank you for stopping by and sharing in the spread of words on my blog. I look forward to more shared wisdom…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there, you are most welcome – carry on doing what you think is the best thing for you, it’s all good work.
      Thanks for the kind words about my posts, I am glad that you find value in them.
      Have a good day my friend – thanks for stopping by,
      – J

      Like

  15. Great post James. I like your philosophy. I agree we have to not be seeking fame and fortune. We have to do what we love and share it with the world. I imagine some people start out with that intention, but then they get caught up in the money and popularity and lose sight of why they started working on their dreams in the first place. We’ve seen the tragedy of famous people who fall. Alanis Morissette did an interview later in life and when asked what fame felt like she said empty. But she got tangled up in that in the beginning. I wonder how people can stay the course like you? Going to my women’s healing circle is a great community. We all give and receive to each other every week. Thanks for sharing your sectets😉
    Traci💕

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Reblogged this and commented:
    A great post by James Radcliffe on building a community. I especially like this “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.” Read on, like, and share. But share the original post. Give credit where credits due.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks a lot, both for sharing this and for your kind words about the piece.
      I also really appreciate your plea for correct attribution, as you know, to an artist this is golden.
      You can come back anytime ;-)
      Have a good one,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Great article James. This is the kind of motivation, inspiration we sometimes need to keep going when it feels like your “community” is not going anywhere. Thanks my friend. Have a great day.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Enjoyed that a lot. Very helpful and I feel like you hit the nail on the head. Especially your points about understanding why you want to build a community and the value of saying something truthful. It made me think about precisely why I started my blog to begin with, fearing that there wasn’t one. Surprisingly I realised there was a very genuine reason, that may have been lost along the way with trying to write good ‘content’. So my question now is, knowing the why and the truth you want to share, how do you express that? Is it a case of being as honest, sincere and genuine as possible? I may have already given myself the answer :)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you have, or at least, you have halfway ;-)
      Yes, it is a case of being as honest, sincere and genuine as possible – it is also a case of saying whatever you have to say as well as you can. This means two things, first, pick the right platform (something that suits your natural expression – if you are a writer who enjoys short form stuff, blogging is a perfect fit), the second thing is the level of craft. Always be getting better at what you do. In terms of writing this means: reading, getting your stuff read and reveiewed by others, being brutally honest with yourself etc.
      Hope that helps, really glad that you liked the post, and thanks for dropping by – if there’s anything else I can help with, just let me know.
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I like your perspective, James. There are plenty of comments about the downside of social media (trivia posting, time-waster, socially isolating), but as a new blogger, I am feeling support from other bloggers, and learning a lot of valuable things from their blogs, so I find the time to be well-spent.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Why, thankyou very much.
      The blogging community is indeed a very supportive one (or at least, I have found it so).
      I’m glad you connected with the post, and thankyou for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it.
      Feel free to hit me up anytime if there’s anything I can help with,
      Have a good one,
      – J

      Like

      1. So kind of you, James! Thank you. I am slowly making progress, learning one or two important things each day. I always appreciate suggestions and ideas, though, so if you ever have one in response to anything I have posted, feel free to share it with me!

        Liked by 2 people

  20. Thank you, James, for sharing this wonderful post. All of it resonated so strongly with me, perhaps because it is aligned with the intention of my blog. You obviously realize that we must “give” first, and be of service. We are all One, and I thank you for lifting us!

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I liked this post. Another authentic and considered one. :-) A couple of points I might add is how important it is to care for yourself during the process of communicating with a community. Sometimes belonging to too many social media platforms (if you attempt to reply to everyone) can be a full-time job in itself. And identifying what platform best suits your personality or authentic self sometimes takes a little time. Have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankyou very much – Yes, these are all really good points and I completely agree. It is always important to care for yourself and, as you say, you will find it much easier to build a community if you pick a platform which suits the way you naturally express yourself.
      Thanks for this, really good comment ;-)
      Hope your night is going well,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean, the internet can feel like that. But you are not alone! And you are now talking to at least one person. ;-)
      Thanks a lot for sharing this, I’m really glad you liked it, and I’m really glad to hear from you.
      Have a great night,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with growing your community, I have taken note of everything you have said, I have recently experienced an increase in my followings that I am very grateful and happy about, I am now looking forward to hopefully help more people in my humble way within my community.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad that you are well on your way – that is truly great to hear.
      Keep up the great work, and I wish you much success in the future. If there’s anything I can help with just let me know.
      All the best,
      – J

      Like

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