I have watched dozens of folks try and fail to build community for their business, non profit or movement. "How did you build Moms at Work?" is one of the top questions I get asked from grassroots organizers and small business owners.
So for the sake of saving everyone time I will share my best tips and lessons learned here - so here we go!
- You need to give a sh*t
If you are starting a Facebook group to sell people webinars be prepared to fail. Community is built by creating shared experiences, trust and consistency. Think of all the things you respect in people and in relationships. Those are the same things you need to build in a community. When I started Moms at Work the first thing I did was set out clear boundaries and rules.
- There is no advertising or self promotion
- Jobs can't be shared without salary (because pay transparency matters)
- Kindness matters - if you can't be nice scroll on by
- We are feminist, pro choice, inclusive and kind
Seems simple enough right? But you need to enforce those. I have removed HUNDREDS of people from the group. No warnings, no arguments, no feet stomping. I have raised toddlers - I'm really good at boundaries - especially when it comes to adults.
At the height of the pandemic I was spending 25+ hours unpaid a week managing the Facebook group and organizing. Why? Because I give a sh*t. Your baby group didn't organize to meet with the Prime Minister. Your community group didn't do over 100 media articles and demand a reduction to EI hours (which we got). Moms at Work did. Because I give a sh*t
2. It takes YEARS!!!
Moms at Work started as a Facebook group in 2017. It went through name changes and growth. It wasn't until 2020 that it blew up and went from 1K to 16K people in 18 months.
I had years of experience trying things, failing at things, getting to know group members, setting up boundaries (see how often I say that) and tweaking to make sure we were doing the things we needed to do. But that is 3 years of unpaid community management. Over 1000 hours.
3. You need to learn to both ignore people and embrace people.
I don't respond to private DMs on Facebook - I get dozens a week and many of them tell me how much they dislike me, that I didn't post their post etc. We say our rules and how to get in touch with us (email email@example.com or DM on Instagram) so if they didn't read that 100 reminders then we just keep reminding people.
I love Moms at Work. All of it but managing the expectations of 16K isn't realistic. You can not please everyone and 16K no longer feels like a community. It is now a resource and education. The Collective which we run on Circle is our off social media community.
I am not ok with only working with people as a 1:1 coach - I love that in the Collective I can DM with people, support them, answer questions etc. I put in WAY more time and effort into my members and I hope it shows. I have taken programs and the moderators and staff were so inaccessible it made me sad. I promised I would never run my community that way!
4. Lead by example
You will never be able to copy someone's formula to build a movement. There are tips and ideas but creating something new and genuine means you have to love it and believe in it.
You don't get plants to grow by screaming GROW at them. You water them, give them sunlight and protect them and tend to them. Same with community. Trust isn't built in days or weeks. In fact MOST people who end up in our Collective group have been following up for YEARS, were recommended by a friend who has been following up for YEARS or have worked with me for YEARS. It is a long term commitment.
5. Change is ok
People ask me if I am going to close the Facebook group down ALL THE TIME. In 2022 I had my life threatened via DM more than once and I almost threw in the towel. I am transparent and honest. I don't have a master plan. The world moves so fast and so does our team which is why we can do so much so effectively. We are a team of mothers and we have so many people who scream our name, mention us in passing that it makes it easier for us to get into places!
My goal is to create three layers of change:
Individual Change - you get a better job, earn more money, you share back in the community
Group level Change - Company level change, policy change, impact ERGs and women's groups
System Level Change - Pay Transparency Legislation, EI changes, shifting opinions and processes around maternity and parental leave.
If I am trying to make change then I have to be ok with that and so does Moms at Work.
6. I don't want to run my company or my community like you
I met with the Team at Circle which is the platform where I run the Moms at Work Collective. They were impressed by our set up and the things we were trying to do. I explained how involved I was and they looked - stunned.
Yes I answer all their DM questions, do office hours, show up for in person events. I asked about features that would make access to me more easy and I think that is when I lost them!
I realized that I don't run Moms at Work like other moms groups, women's groups or work groups and it shows.
Will everyone love Moms at Work? No
Will I fundamentally change many people's lives? Yes
Will I activate thousands of women to ask for more, get better jobs and build a network that people are jealous of? Yes
Will I commit to trying with everything I have to change the world for you? Damn straight.
7. You can't be perfect.
That is it. People will be disappointed. People will tell you "you should" or "why don't you do x." I can't do it all - but the things that I do choose to do will be amazing. Not perfect but amazing.
Allison Venditti is a Career Coach, HR Expert, salary negotiation whisperer, and pay transparency and equity advocate. She is the founder of Moms at Work Canada's largest organization committed to helping women earn more money, land better jobs, and build community. All with a LARGE HELPING of advocacy baked in.
Allison was named The Globe and Mail Report on Business Top 50 Changemakers 2022 and is a regular speaker and media expert with over 100 interviews in 2022. Find out more about how you can work with us and create change for working women everywhere by sending us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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