I work with entrepreneurs who start “free” or “freemium” models before they decide (not with my advice) that a membership revenue stream is a good idea. But they do so with little or no actual valuation or differentiation of benefits to their members or consideration of how one can reasonably compete with Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. How can these networking models scale effectively, without capital infusions?
Liz D. Weinmann, Founder, CEO, The DARE-Force Corp. (B2B2C), thedareforce.com
I’m with you that attempting to get people to pay for what has already been delivered for free becomes nearly impossible, and scaling the network first assumes you have a community to grow.
One thing keeps surfacing related to your question in social media commentary and in research by my master’s degree students: You simply can’t force a community into existence. In all the various models being used, the foundational premise of the creator has been to build the home (brick and mortar or in the ether), drive some traffic (with as little cash as possible) and assume targets will come — and fall in love with the place. This generally doesn’t happen. Plus, this approach has also failed countless times even with big capital infusions.
The failure of these precisely crafted spaces for the gathering of those who legitimately need consulting, coaching or other services likely stems from the “smell” of sales in the fabric of the space. That’s a healthy degree of cynicism for a business person.
By comparing the activities of similarly sized organizations attempting to build a community, my students who have researched best practices along these lines have consistently been pointed to one path: engage in the communities where those prospects gather naturally rather than attempt to attract them to your own. For the service provider, this means good old-fashioned networking in those communities.
About the author: Mike Porter, director, Master of Business Communication Program, University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business