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

  1. 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.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. 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 :D

    Liked by 1 person

  3. 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.

    Liked by 2 people

    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

      Like

  4. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

    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

      Liked by 2 people

          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.

            Liked by 1 person

                  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.

                    Liked by 2 people

  5. 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!

    Liked by 1 person

    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

      Liked by 1 person

      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.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. 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 :)

    Liked by 1 person

    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

      Like

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