Need Community? Build It Yourself.

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Building community doesn’t mean being the loudest voice or the most confident presence at the table. It simply means bringing people together—and letting them do the talking.

Artistic activities can be a lonely endeavor. Add to that the myriad duties of entrepreneurship, and you’ve got a recipe for total homebound isolation. It’s a good thing that many creative entrepreneurs (me included) are introverts, otherwise how would we get our work done?

Even so, loneliness is a constant unwelcome companion.

Most of us crave community nearly as much as our daily portions of sustenance and sleep. But how is an introverted writer or artist to go about finding such community? Let’s face it: sometimes the community you need just doesn’t exist.

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Yet stepping up to create that community feels even more challenging than finding a community built by someone else. After all, community-building requires all the skills that feel so alien to an introvert: Writing for public consumption. Public speaking. Meeting and talking with other human beings. 

A community leader has to be out in front, creating that visible presence for others to follow . . . right?

I thought this way for a long time. But this past week, I was reminded that stepping up to create relationships I need really doesn’t take much more than the initiative to get something going. Once people come together around an idea or cause, the community tends to take on a life of its own.

It certainly did with the Ladies in Business Afternoon Salon.

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As many of you know, in my “day job” (and arguably one of my artistic creations!) I am a brand strategist and storyteller for entrepreneurs. Over the last few months, conversations with other entrepreneurs and clients helped me to see that many in my audience understand branding and marketing differently than I do. I knew it was time to go out and do a lot of listening to understand how I might serve my audience better.

While reading Playing Big by Tara Mohr (more on that here) I was challenged to take a “little leap” to get the answers I needed. So I decided to host a gathering of women entrepreneurs, many of them as “scrappy” in their approach to creativity as I am.

The idea was not for me to give a talk or a workshop. It was simply for me to gather them together, stir the pot with a few questions, and let them do the talking. My role would be to listen and take lots of notes.

Simple enough, right?

Funny how even the simplest of acts gets complicated by an overactive imagination.

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After inviting about 30 women entrepreneurs I know, I spent this last week planning questions, making little thank-you favors and arranging the extraneous details. In my nightmares, I had visions of no one coming at all. Or of the group sitting around, staring at each other with nothing to say. Or of people leaving and saying, “Well, that was a waste of my time!”

But as usually happens with our fears . . . none of them came true.

The day of the event was probably the least flurried I’ve ever been ahead of an event I was running—so that was a plus.Ten women came, and a number more wanted to be there, had it not been for scheduling conflicts. I laid out a few questions to get things going. From there, with a little guidance, the conversation ran itself.

And what a conversation it was!

I learned a few things myself along the way, not the least of which was that sales conversations and selling were a far bigger topic of concern for everyone than pure marketing per se. (Got to think on that one for awhile …)

Perhaps more importantly, I was reminded and reassured that my challenges are not bizarre or unique, but normal to every other entrepreneur in the room. I was also reminded of a quote by the amazing business storytelling expert Annette Simmons, who once said:  “[People] don’t need more facts. They need help finding their wisdom.”

I felt that at the Salon, we did just that, collectively. Wisdom had a chance to peek out from the places where we tend to hide it, to be heard and seen among us. Several women expressed afterward that it was refreshing to come into a safe place to really talk with other women and get their perspectives.

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Almost everyone asked if we would do this again. Originally I had no plans to start a meet up . . . but it looks like I just did.

Bam. Instant community, introvert style.

Which brings me back to the issue of creating community in the first place. Anyone with passion and commitment can do it. Just because we don’t have access to huge structures of funding or support for our work doesn’t mean we lack support at all.

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Creating that support is as simple as reaching out to those around us, inviting them to come together, open their hearts and share the wisdom that is already there.

The real key? Remembering that the community is not about meIt’s about us.

That’s a message even an introvert can share.

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Are you a woman entrepreneur in the Milwaukee area?
Contact me to get on the list for the next Salon.

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