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.


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.

Click Here For EmaiL

285 thoughts on “ From Zero to 17’000 – Some Thoughts on Building Community… ”

  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.


    Liked by 1 person

  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

    Liked by 1 person

  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.

    Liked by 1 person

  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.

    Liked by 1 person

  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

    Liked by 1 person

    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.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there,
      You are most welcome, thanks on return for stopping by – I really appreciate it.
      Yours sounds like a worthy goal, the best of luck with it,
      Have a good one,
      – J


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