Online community building is at the heart of a thriving freelance career. Without the support of a dynamic group of professionals, it’s hard to find work (and have fun) as a full-time independent contractor. The more I invest in making meaningful connections across the industries I work in, the steadier my work — and the more I enjoy my job.
Despite its importance, it’s difficult to build an online community from scratch, especially because there are so many voices in the space. To cut through the noise, I sat down with Monika Kanokova, a freelance community manager based in Vienna. Not only is Kanokova a cherished part of my own freelance community, but she boasts 72,000 Instagram followers and has written three books about the freelance community. Her newest, Work Trips & Road Trips, will be released this summer.
Here’s Kanokova’s wisdom on finding your niche and growing your audience online:
Offer Something of Value
Kanokova believes that, to establish relationships and build an audience, you need to offer something authentic and completely your own. “In 2017, the internet is about transactions. Whenever you’re communicating with anyone, you need to make sure you’re responding to a need,” says Kanokova, “Always focus on how you can help.” Instead of trying to be all things to all people, try to do something specific for your community every day: Solve one problem, or create one primary benefit.
For example, Kanokova loves a Berlin-based Instagram account that shares photos of the best coffee shops around the city. Not only are they beautiful photos, but they bring immediate value, showing her the new spots to visit on her next trip. She continues to follow the account because it enriches her life on a regular basis.
Offering value may mean sharing your own insights, but it’s also being the first one to say “thank you” or share the work of your peers. By practicing generosity, you set the foundation for reciprocal relationships built on trust and mutual appreciation. These kinds of relationships are pivotal to success as a freelancer. As Kanokova says, “You cannot know everything, and you cannot do everything. When you have people who look out for you, you get work through referrals.”
Develop a Clear, Consistent Brand
The two pillars of a successful brand are clarity and consistency. Kanokova says that one of the biggest missteps freelancers take is a loose approach to your brand values and offerings. “If your offerings are vague and people don’t know what to expect, then it’s hard to keep them around,” she says. The most effective community-building offers an audience more of what they love rather than a buffet of assorted (and unrelated) options.
If you’re not sure where to start, think of what you need. What would you like more of? What would really benefit you right now? To Kanokova, asking these questions leads you to the most authentic brand. By honing in on what makes you unique — and how you can share it with the world — you’re more likely to resonate with an audience. From there, share your work and reach out to others, building a community in a consistent way. Although people really want to go “viral,” steady growth is more sustainable.
Speak Directly to Your Audience
When you offer a valued service and maintain a consistent brand, speak to the people who already follow you. As tempting as it is to dilute your purpose to widen your community, this approach can have the opposite effect. Instead, ask what your current community would like more of, and see if there’s a way you can provide them with additional value.
Kanokova writes, “When the first Harry Potter book came out, I was 11. When the last book came out, I was 18. The final novel wasn’t written for young children — it was for those fans who had grown up and were ready for a deeper, darker book. J.K. Rowling kept writing for the same audience, and that’s how she grew her community.” If you’re looking to expand your reach, take the Harry Potter approach: Stick with your community and evolve with them, rather than artificially trying to reach a widened audience.
These techniques are more than a simple formula for online community building. Instead, they’re markers that can help on the road to developing a supportive group of followers. Start by giving yourself the time to reach out, forge new connections and consistently offer value to your community through online channels. We know you’re busy — but it’s worth the investment.