Building a community - do the opportunities outweigh the challenges?

Lara Sheldrake

Last week, I was invited to speak at a networking event run by Hatch Enterprise, the topic of the evening was community - my favourite thing! So I wanted to distill my notes into an article.

What’s the difference between customers and community?

The definition of a community is - the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.

But in the context of business;

Customers are people who buy from you

A community is a group of people who speak to one another within a space you have created, with shared values and common interests

The latter provides you with a whole new dimension of people to engage with, beyond the initial sale.

Why is it so important to build a community when building your business?

About 90% of my business comes from within the F&F community. From my power hours and consultancy sessions to my community programme cohorts, the majority of people I work with already know me and are already bought into the idea of working with me because we have an existing connection through the community I have built.

So where did it all begin?

What started off as a need to build a community of “like-minded people” after having my son Bodhi 4.5 years ago and being thrown into the cluster of emotions that come with running a business and juggling a baby, quickly evolved into a full blown business. At first it was identifying a problem I had - loneliness and lack of support - the solution? A community and a range of events, where I could learn from women who had the experience I was looking to build over time, and as a result feeling less alone, connected and inspired.

Quickly, I began to realise that loads of people felt the same as me and this was more than just a group of women meeting up every so often for brunch and to hear founders share their success stories, it was my calling.

So over the years the business has evolved as the needs of the community have. Found & Flourish is and always has been designed around the needs of the community within it. Otherwise, we’d be wasting valuable learning opportunities to build something with real purpose and impact.

We’ve pivoted a few times but after years of trial and error, we’re now clear on our mission and offering. Our primary purpose is to eliminate the feeling of loneliness and to connect and inspire freelancers, business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs through our events, online platform and a range of benefits including our co-working days and signature Hugs & Brunch events.

Sometimes people start a business to fix a problem they’ve identified, then they build a community around their business. Some people (like me) build a community to solve a collective problem and as a result, develop a business idea that can further solve that problem, in my case, Found & Flourish, more specifically our online platform.

Whether you build a business first, OR you build a community and create a business around your community, the fact is, we ALL need to be a part of a community and what better way than being a part of one you get to build yourself?

So, why is community important when running a business?

One of the most powerful ways to establish your brand and build trust as an industry leader is to build a community.

According to Marketing Insider Group, 88% of professionals believe communities play a critical role in achieving their company’s mission, and 64% believe that online communities have helped them improve business decision-making.

You can also build your product or services around the needs of your community, you can test and iterate as you go while receiving direct feedback from those who matter most, your existing (or future!) customers.

By building a business and developing an offering around your community’s needs, you have direct access to your target audience and ideal customers, you can find out what keeps them up at night and as a result you can start to provide insight and tips to support and nurture them. This is how you create a ‘know, like, trust’ relationship with people and in turn build deeper relationships.

Picture form our IWD event 2020, by Anja Poehlmann

Remember: People connect with people so rather than focusing on your product or services, focus on your values, your why, the value you bring to people’s lives and the impact you want to have as a result.

Top tip: It’s important you lead with the right intentions, ask yourself why you want to build a community, what are they going to get out of it and perhaps more importantly what will YOU get out of it? I say this because it’s just as important you are clear on how your community will serve you, as how you will serve them. It takes time, patience, nurturing, love and passion to build a community. It’s a long term game, so to know what you want to gain from all the hard work you plan on putting in, is essential.

Why do you want to build a community?

Ask yourself this question and first answer why you want to build it for YOU. How will having a community allow you to move the needle forward in your business? Then, answer the question with your community in mind, what’s in it’s for them?

Knowing both of these will be key to your success.

What are the key challenges and opportunities when running a community?


  • Creating a sustainable model
  • Building systems and processes
  • Protecting your personal space
  • Avoiding burnout
  • Establishing what value to provide your community
  • Creating a vision that is aligned with your company’s values
  • Deciding how to run, curate and manage it
  • Onboarding process, how to engage and retain your members
  • Incentivising and encouraging participation
  • Engagement - how will they engage with one another


  • These are endless and it depends on your business
  • Insights & Data
  • Connecting with people
  • Business growth
  • Direct access to your target audience
  • Feedback from your existing and prospect customers

Despite there being many challenges that come with building a community, I believe if done correctly and with the right intentions in mind, the opportunities far outweigh the challenges. By having a 'go to community' strategy, you are building trust and a deeper level of understanding when it comes to your ideal customers, who as a result of being nurtured turn into your community aka true fans.

What are some trends in the Community Building space?

🌎 With everything happening in the world, speaking to peoples human side and showing empathy is going to be essential. Being sensitive to what’s going on and responding to meet the needs of your community will show that you are listening and you really care.

💀 Facebook (as we know it) is dead and people are becoming wise to their lack of integrity. Not to mention their overall user experience which is totally flawed. Community builders are now prioritising more authentic ways to connect with people, on platforms that have community at the heart of their growth strategy.

🤖 Closed community spaces like Circle, Discord, Geneva will be the preferred choice of networking (away from social media, ads and other distractions).

🫶 Micro-communities are the future. These are where you put the power in the hands of your community. Encouraging smaller communities to evolve and take place without you at the helm.

💻 Hybrid activities such as events IRL with an online option will be the way to bridge the gap between those who want to experience face to face events and those who simply can’t due to geographical boundaries.

🌐 Web3 will be huge as it has established a decentralized digital highway for people to meet and connect with communities that fit their needs and beliefs. More here.

✍️ Community strategy will be a part of most brands wider considerations. They will have a Go to Community strategy as well as a go to market strategy.

🤸 Staying agile and responsive is key - we don’t know what lies ahead of us so being able to respond to the current times whilst leading with good principles will be essential for success.

Want to go deeper on community building and the chance to develop your very own community building strategy to supercharge *your* business?

Sign up to the waitlist of my next programme here.

About the Author

Lara Sheldrake

Is a speaker, mentor and the founder of Found & Flourish, an online membership, media and events platform for women in business. She is on a mission to make business accessible and less lonely for entrepreneurial women. After having her son and struggling with feelings of isolation she decided to create the safe and nurturing space she craved when she was embarking on this new journey of motherhood and entrepreneurship. Through the power of community and collaboration, Found & Flourish empowers women to upskill, connect and truly flourish. Find out more here.

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