How to Build a Loyal Community from the Ground Up.

An Interview with Danny Iny, founder of Firepole Marketing.

In a short amount of time, Danny engaged a community of thousands for his blog, newsletter and training courses. Danny took some time to share his insights on community building for small businesses and startups with us.

C-LEVELED: What does the term “engagement from scratch” mean for small business marketers and entrepreneurs?

DANNY: Engagement is a deepening of your relationship with your customers and potential customers. Marketing is a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum you have people who have never heard of you. On the extreme other end you have people who are completely loyal to your business and can’t imagine life without you. Engagement from scratch is the process of moving your audience from the beginning of the spectrum to engagement.

To do this, you have to remember that customers are people and the first place to start in building loyal customers is to relate to them as people. As a start-up, you need to figure out who your customers are and get to know them. Then reach out and get involved with them. Business loyalty is an emotional investment. How are you going to appeal to their emotions?

A good example of the right way to approach customer-building through engagement is Aweber Communications. They are an email marketing software company that offers free trials. At the end of a free trial, they reach out to the potential customer over the phone to ask them about their experience. In this case, people who were just lukewarm about the product are very impressed and become more engaged. They have made a human connection with the company and are now more emotionally invested.

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The cover of Engagement from Scratch by Danny Iny.

C-LEVELED: Why did you decide to write Engagement from Scratch?

DANNY: Everything on the market I could find on engaging with customers presupposed that the reader already had an audience. There wasn’t anything on the market for someone who was starting with nothing. When I first started out, my listserv had two email addresses and one of those was my other email address. Today that listserv has more than 22,000 recipients and growing. I figured out a method of building and sustaining an audience from nothing and I wanted to teach that to others. So I decided to write this book.

C-LEVELED: The book is an ensemble of different business marketing experts, each offering advice on how small businesses can establish and grow a loyal following. What made you decide to incorporate so many other viewpoints in your book?

DANNY: Something interesting I noticed was that a lot of other entrepreneurs had been successful, like me, but had done things differently than me. Clearly there are many paths up the mountain and I wanted to offer my audience the benefit of all these different experiences. Some things about engagement emerged as clear universals while some, more tactical things, worked differently for some than others.

C-LEVELED: What are some of the universals and some of the disparities that you noticed when the different authors started sharing their stories?

DANNY: Well, a clear universal, no matter what method you choose to build your following, is that you have to do the work. There is no magic pill for success. Also, you have to know your audience and genuinely care about them. It takes time to connect with them. Relationships are very important.

The methods used to build these relationships varied among all participants in the book, whether they depended on blogging, Twitter, email marketing, cold calling, advertising or a combination of these or other things. The point is to find the marketing path that is right for you.

When you read the book, whatever resonates with you is what you should do.

C-LEVELED: What worked for you in building Firepole Marketing?

DANNY: I focused on two things: content and relationships. I created a lot of content, did a lot of guest posts on other blogs. I shared information that I knew people needed and that got me discovered by the audience that needed me.  In addition, I communicate with my network on a very personal level. Everything I produce is delivered through email and it is always useful information I know my customers need. My emails are written in a very friendly tone, are personalized through an automated system and come from my personal email address, as opposed to a “no reply” email address. Most importantly, I respond to each email I receive. In this way, I become a real person, not just a business and people become engaged with me.

C-LEVELED: What’s the biggest small business marketing mistake you see?

DANNY: The biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs make is forgetting that it’s all about people. People are going to make or break your business. Another mistake is thinking that marketing is an add-on to your business. Marketing should actually be at the core of your business strategy and not an after-thought. If you know the needs of your audience and can align them with a product that offers a solution, your marketing will be easy. Marketing isn’t about blogging or Twitter or Facebook. It’s about working with people.

C-LEVELED: Any final words of small business marketing advice?

DANNY: Oftentimes, entrepreneurs wonder if they should do the smart business thing or the right thing. I would tell them that these two things are the same. You can be a nice guy and a business savvy person at the same time. I don’t run a profitable business in spite of doing the right thing by my customers; I run a profitable business because I, first and foremost, am a person. And I remember that my customers are also people first.

Engagement takes time and work but it’s worth it. It’s what drives long-term profitability.

Purchase Danny’s new book, Engagement from Scratch: How Super Community-Builders Create a Loyal Audience and How You Can do the Same  from Amazon for your Kindle or downloaded for free at http://www.engagementfromscratch.com/.