Selling: The Surprising Secret Sauce that Builds Community

Wouldn’t it be great if self-employment meant enjoying the support of a committed community? Consider this: to leave isolation and loneliness behind, sell to your just-right clients more overtly and more often.

What Makes a Community?

Community begins with shared ownership of things tangible and intangible. In order for a community to grow up around your business, your just-right clients need to share ownership with you and with each other.

It’s fairly simple to attract people who will resonate with your message and work into a community:  invite them by giving away something of value. That sets up a low risk, low commitment way for people to test the waters.

If your give-away is valuable to her, and if it open lines of ongoing communication, your prospective just-right client may hang around. If you keep giving away valuable content, eventually she becomes part of your community. Right?


How Free Gets in the Way

Community begins with shared ownership. If you train people to expect that they never have to pay for what you offer, you limit the extent of their ownership.

In order to develop real community around your work, you have to offer ways for them to step up their level of commitment. You have to give them ways to take ownership with you.

That means selling. Not marketing, but actually asking just-right clients to invest in working with you.

Until you ask your prospective customer or client to buy, you haven’t given them a way to invest—let alone to more fully engage—in a community of shared interests.

A Case Study

For eight of the first 13 years that I wrote my free ezine, I also gave away one-off teleclasses, ebooks, reading lists, and other goodies. I marketed like crazy and had heaps of fans, but I didn’t sell. I never sent stand-alone emails asking people to register for a program or buy a product. I was afraid to risk disapproval.

Finally (I can be a very slow study) I realized I needed to sell to my readers if I was going to stay in business. This scared the pants off me. What if people got pissed off and unsubscribed?

And sure enough, as I began to send sales emails, I got pushback. Some people complained, some unsubscribed. But as wise friends and colleagues pointed out, the people who weren’t willing to receive the occasional sales letter amidst a stream of useful content weren’t just-right clients.

So I bucked up and continued to sell. And an interesting thing happened. The people who stayed on as subscribers got more engaged with my business. Those who invested in something formed a core community founded on a bigger commitment than consumption of free content. And because the just-right clients who bought from me were more intimately engaged with my work, they actively influenced the content, design, and delivery of that work.

I realized that when we avoid selling we keep customers at arms length, turning them into strangers. I’m here to tell you, neither you nor your business can survive by relying on the kindness of strangers. (And why should strangers take care of you, anyway?)

When you sell, everything changes.

When you sell services or products and a customer buys, the whole world changes. Does the customer love what they bought? Wonderful! Find out how else you can help, and sell them something else. Not to milk them, not to take advantage of them, but to help. (That is why you’re in business, isn’t it?)

Is your customer dissatisfied? Excellent! Find out why. Ask how you can improve the product or service, and they’ll tell you exactly what you need to do to make them happy and to attract more people just like them.

More customers mean more people taking ownership, and that is the basis for a community. Yes, there’s more to growing the community than this, but you won’t have one to grow until you start selling.

Don’t Just Take It From Me

Here’s another case study demonstrating how selling creates community.

(Reprinted by permission from the author, Sean D’Souza)

[W]hen we first started out on the Internet in 2001, we had a website with great content for a good year or more. How do we know it was great content? Because we had thousands of subscribers who signed up for the newsletter, even though the only incentive was the newsletter itself (which it is, to this day).

The point was, our community grew only once we sold. Once we started selling our first product called the Brain Audit—that was the first time we started getting a real response. That’s when we started getting evangelists. Even today at the Psychotactics site, we give away loads of product on website conversion, and other stuff. It all helps to create a factor of trust. But you don’t get raving fans and you don’t get community. And you certainly don’t get a cent in el banco.

If you really want a relationship factor involved with clients. If you really want to separate the yak from the customers, you’ve got to sell.

Talk is cheap.

The Rest of the Story

A core community changes everything. Because it focuses your attention, it gives you more bandwidth to take care of your just-right clients. You are more comfortable in your own skin because you’re not striving for the approval of the masses. You actually look forward to feedback, both positive and negative, because it strengthens your business and lets you serve more and better.

That’s what selling can do.

Photo credit: Molly Holtzschalg

About Molly Gordon

Molly Gordon is the owner of Shaboom Inc., a company devoted to helping Accidental Entrepreneurs who are allergic to business develop the skills they need to prosper. She’s an artist, writer, marketing consultant, and coach -- as well as a paddle-boarder, cyclist, singer, and grandmother. She lives in Suquamish, Washington with her husband, two hens, and Bolivia the Wonder Cat. Molly blogs at, where you can also sign up for her weekly ezine, Authentic Promotion.

  • Alice Brock

    It’s funny, I’ve always known that I need to sell to fill my healing practice (and I’m okay with that). But I have never seen so clearly, until I read this article, that community doesn’t happen with my tribe until they buy in. Literally.

    This has been really helpful, Molly. Now I know that if creating community and selling are the one and the same. It’s a whole different viewpoint.

  • Annie Kennedy

    Great article Molly.

  • Ana Melikian

    Very true. I totally agree. in any case, to keep on track, I’ve to keep
    reminding myself that “the people who weren’t willing to receive the
    occasional sales letter
    amidst a stream of useful content weren’t just-right clients.”

  • chenyen

    So true, Molly…well-written article. It is also a disservice to your clients not to sell because they aren’t offered the opportunity to work with you at a deeper level. And they are not as invested in their growth when it’s free or at a low cost. I didn’t get to experience this first-hand in a big way until I invested heavily in a high-end mastermind. The level to which you participate & demonstrate your commitment to your growth is different when you have more money invested is than when it’s free.
    The holistic health practitioners I teach to attract clients easily could benefit from reading this article. Will share it with them.