Within the overall web design and development communities, there are endless communities within them. Within each freelancer, designer, developer, blogger, or otherwise, there is a community based around that individual as well, and a community based around each agency, big or small. Within a field that is constantly evolving, and has one of the highest rates of independent workers, a community is needed.
As much as it's needed for us all as a whole, having a community based around your work and your business can help your business grow, while it's also giving back. For a business (freelance, agency, or otherwise) to be successful, it must have some sort of following, which can help lead it to new clients, projects, and help it grow in a variety of other ways.
In this article we'll cover how one can build a network and sense of community around their work, and then we'll also look into some larger networks and communities within our niche, and what they bring to the table.
Why a Community is Important
A community is what brings us together, keeps us together, and helps us all grow individually and as a group. There is a community surrounding every niche, and fortunately there is a very strong community for us web designers and developers. Let's look more into why it's so important.
For Your Personal Development
The community created for web designers and developers is full of tutorials, forum posts, social networks, questions, advice, tips, snippets, tools, resources, and more. Whether you went to school for your profession or not, chances are you learned the majority of what you know from the community somehow. Someone took the time to create that resource for you, and someone else took the time to answer your question on Twitter.
A blogger may have taken time to contribute to the community by writing a useful blog post, and the community surrounding that post added more input for you to learn more and to provide you with the resources to grow your business and to grow yourself professionally by adding comments.
In a field where we're always having to learn something new, study new trends, and discover new best practices, there is always a community behind developing those technologies, trends, and best practices. There is also always a community to help you learn in a constantly changing environment. Beyond that, there is a community behind the personal development side — you've learned productivity tips, marketing tips, and organizational tips for yourself and business from the community as well.
For Your Business
Frameworks, tools, resources, and more. Beyond learning more technical skills from your community, which also help you with your business in return, there are several things that are created from members of the web design and development community, many of which are very high quality, and free for you to use. Even the premium resources that are made cheaply can contribute to your business's well being.
Think of things like WordPress, Drupal, HTML5 Boilerplate, CodeIgniter, and more — all of which are open source and given to the community. How many times have these resources helped your business? How much of your business is based off of these gifts from the community?
Community is also important in helping your business obtain more client work. You can get referrals from others who follow you, get recommendations to others you may need to outsource to, and even meet new people that you can work with and join forces with. If you give back to the community a lot too, not only are you doing a great thing, but you can also showcase your expertise in your field.
Types of Communities/Networks
There are many types of sub-communities within the overall community. Each web professional can create their own to improve their business, and it can be up to you to how far you take it. A lone freelancer that shares a few resources or advice, and connects with others through social media is a community in itself. It may be small or big, but it's a type of community.
Other types of communities are more formally constructed. Think of a large blog, or any blog dedicated to a particular niche within our industry. Getting bigger, think of a network of other blogs, covering a wider range of topics (Fuel Brand Network). Other types of communities may be marketplaces, forums, social networks, portfolio sharing sites, and so on. Many freelancers or agencies may then take it to the next level, creating a network of various types of these communities, such as how Envato has done.
No matter what size you want your network or simply the community that surrounds you to be, you can gain a following by getting more involved in the community, and therefore creating a sense of community yourself.
How to Gain a Following
Starting a blog, web app, website or otherwise that is meant to promote a community is relatively easy compared to actually getting people involved and active. A community in and of itself is not the social network it runs on, or the forum software behind it, or the blog or blog posts that promote it. A community is people together, and a network is comprised of many successful communities.
So how does one build a community around their business or themselves? Anyone that has any sort of successful community around them knows the real answer is to be a real person. There's really no smoke and mirrors, or secret success tips behind it — it's merely getting involved, being helpful, and growing with others. It's value.
Below are a few additional tips:
Using Social Media Effectively
The first step to creating a solid community is to first get involved with social media, and then also uses it effectively to gain a following. A following is not just a number though — a good following consists of a community that provides value overall. Use social media in a way to share useful tips, links, resources, and to ask for help when needed. Actively engage in the community around your social media presence, and the numbers will follow.
Blogging (it doesn't have to be a full-time job)
Blogging is a very easy way to gain attention and create a community around you or your brand. While running a professional level blog can take up all your time, having a blog on the side doesn't need to. Professional bloggers may treat it like a job, but simply having a blog and updating it even once a week will make a world of difference. However, if your community grows to a larger size, you may want to consider blogging more often as it can be an excellent marketing tactic, and an excellent way to keep your community alive and thriving.
Get Involved in Other Communities
Creating a community around your brand shouldn't be seen as another piece of competition to the many communities already out there. Many individuals within this industry follow many people, and are a part of many communities as a whole. Use forums, blogs, and networking sites that already exist to help out your own. Comment, leave insight, and get involved.
Be a Real Person, and Be Personable
Don't be a robot, testing which types of posts, links, times, or frequencies get you the most clicks, sales, or whatever else. Focus on providing quality, share what you know, and what you're interested in. Be friendly and helpful, it will attract the crowd. While you may see a bigger boost initially with sleazy marketing tactics, true communities are based off of a real person that leads to or creates that community.
Don't Hoard Your Knowledge: Share Tips, Advice, and Help
Share what you know. People are always looking to learn more, and it's easiest to learn with others. Provide quick tips, and always answer emails. You never know when answering a seemingly helpful email will turn into a prospective client, or a very dedicated member. Those who learn from you will respect you and follow you; they will love being a part of your community, as they will see it provides true value in helping them learn something new.
Provide Something for Free
Give away freebies, content, and resources. It's great marketing, but it's also giving back to the web design/dev community as a whole, and gives your personal community a great reputation.
Provide Something for Sale
Provide freebies, but also feel free to sell quality content through your community as well. If it's a great product, then not only will you make an extra buck or two, but it's also great marketing for your community.
Build a Network of Niche Communities
Finally, if you end up (or it's your ultimate goal) to create several communities, keep them separate and organized, yet still connected by creating your own network. You can have a network of blogs covering your many interests in the same field, or many different types of sites within the same niche — say a logo design marketplace, logo showcase site, design blog, etc.
There are obviously a lot of network sites already, all of which provide their own unique value to the overall web community. Below is a look at a few, and one can see that they all may be structured a bit differently, have different goals, members, and activity, but all in all they allow us as professionals to come together and better ourselves.
Smashing Magazine Network
The Smashing Magazine network is simply a feed of several of the top design and development blogs within the industry. They see other blogs as not competition, but as an entire network as a whole. Unlike many other networks, Smashing Magazine doesn't focus on owning all of these sites or building more communities on their own, but rather includes other independent sites as a part of their network.
In terms of their marketing method, they do not consider their job board, directory, shop, and other main site sections such as "Wordpress", "Coding", and "UX Design" as a part of the "SM Network", but in a way it still is a part of their overall network structure.
Envato is a network of a variety of website types, including marketplaces, blogs, and tutorial websites (the Tuts+ network). This is one of the biggest networks in the industry, comprising of several smaller communities, a few of my favorites being FreelanceSwitch, ThemeForest, and PSDTuts.
Fuel Brand Network
Fuel Brand Network is a network of simple blogs under a variety of niches relative to the creative industry. There are blogs such as "Fuel Your Blogging", "Fuel Your Venture", and "Fuel Your Coding". All of their blogs have the same layout, logo, and overall branding, except each community separates itself from the other via its name and primary brand color.
One Mighty Roar
This is an example of a smaller network, or a network that's just starting out rather. Build Internet is a popular web development blog, and shortly after its success the owners opened up their own web design and development agency, which soon followed with a small collection of other sites. Some are related to the industry, while others are fun websites that they're happy to include in their portfolio. Either way, they market their collection of sites as a network, and surely enough, each of these sites has its own community based around it.
Building a network comprises of building a successful community first and one that is a part of the entire web design and development community as a whole. Anyone can create an empty network on un-thriving communities and call it one, but a successful network built from the ground up will be most beneficial to your business, and to the overall design/dev community as a whole.
First and foremost, it's about providing quality. It's about influencing your followers, friends, and community members to provide quality. It's also about managing that quality and collecting it in one overall place for everyone to enjoy. What you do with it beyond that is ultimately up to you.