Small biz meeting big visions through a Ning community

Alyssa Gregory is a small business collaborator and founder of the Small Business Bonfire. For the past 13 years, she has consulted small business owners, written about small business topics, worked on bringing entrepreneurs together, and spoke to groups about starting, managing and growing small businesses. In 2011, Alyssa was named one of 100 small business influencers in North America by Small Business Trends and Smallbiztechnology.com.

On a typical day, you can find her right on the Small Business Bonfire Ning Community, or sharing business tips, advice and resources on About.com, Small Business Bonfire Blog, Twitter, Facebook and Google+. For more information, please visit AlyssaGregory.com.

Alyssa’s Ning site, The Small Business Bonfire Community, has been invited to participate in the Local Resource Café during The NYT Small Business Summit on June 25 in New York City. We wanted to pick her brain and learn about her community’s success.
 

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a small business collaborator, which is a fun term I use to describe my passion for small business and the power of collaboration. I’ve been a small business owner for 13 years, and I use my “in the trenches” experience to help others by consulting fellow small business owners, writing about small business topics, and bringing entrepreneurs together. In 2011, I had the distinct honor of being named one of 100 small business influencers in North America by Small Business Trends.

How did you get started with the Small Business Bonfire Community?

I created the Small Business Bonfire in 2011 to provide entrepreneurs with a social, educational and collaborative community where they can network, share knowledge and learn from their peers. There are a few different components of the Bonfire, including the Small Business Bonfire Ning Community, our small business blog, the Red Hot Tool of the Week email, and our quarterly newsletter, The Spark.

How does the Small Business Bonfire Community fit amongst your overall social media and content strategy?

We do a lot with social media, particularly Twitter (@smallbizbonfire) and Facebook. Our Ning Community site makes it easy for us, as well as our members, to post updates across these platforms and engage with each other on other sites.

There is also a lot of discussion and interaction that takes place in the Community that often turns into content for our blog. For example, one of our writers, Emily Suess, uses a group in the community to start discussions, conduct research, and ask members for their input on specific issues.

What’s been the most interesting thing to happen within your Ning community?

What I find most interesting in the Community is the way our members have jumped right into networking and collaboration. It’s not a sales-y or overly self-promotional place, like so many online communities are (although we are all for helping our members promote their businesses, products and services!). Our members really “get it” in terms of helping each other and being open to learning from each other. I’ve seen our members enter into bartering relationships, guest post on fellow members’ blogs, help each other on a daily basis, and get lots of new business and referrals from each other.

What are people sharing within the community that they aren’t sharing anywhere else?

The biggest thing shared on our network that isn’t typically shared elsewhere is individual entrepreneurial challenges. Our members frequently explain problems they are experiencing or challenges they facing, and ask other members for advice, new perspectives, and ideas. These discussions can have a tremendous positive impact in the Community, not only for the member asking for help, but everyone who may be reading and learning in the background.

What features are you and your members using most?

Member blogs and the discussion forums are very popular in our community.

You have 600+ members. Do you have a sense for how they ended up joining your community? Word of mouth? Other sites/communities, offline events, etc?

Our members come from a number of places — word of mouth, social media and our small business blog are the biggest sources.

Tell us about the New York Times Small Business Summit.

The New York Times Small Business Summit is a one-day annual event in its 7th year designed to help small business owners improve their businesses. The Summit provides small business owners with the opportunity to mingle with the brightest and most innovative thinkers; brainstorm with “think tank” professionals; pitch directly to investors; build new entrepreneurial connections; consult one-on-one with today’s technology experts; discover the language of the press; and walk away with immediate tips and tools to help small business owners establish greater loyalty, gain new customers that can help boost profitability, and more. It’s taking place on June 25 at the Grand Hyatt in NYC.

What panel are you speaking on and what are you going to cover?

The Small Business Bonfire Community has been invited for a second year in a row to participate in the Local Resource Café during the Summit. Showcasing organizations in the tri-state area, the Local Resource Café provides a central area where attendees can mingle, pick up reference literature, find out about recent industry trends and talk directly with business experts. This year we will be participating with Constant Contact, Square, Batchbook, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, SCORE and a few other organizations.

What’s the 1 piece of advice for someone looking to start their own community?

The best advice I can give to someone interested in starting a community is to have very specific goals that outline what you want to accomplish. It’s very easy to get distracted by the latest shiny thing and lose sight of what you set out to do. Instead, set goals and break them down into manageable phases. And use the resources available to you! Ning has some excellent resources that can help you set up your community, customize it, promote it, and manage it. Bookmark the Help Center and the Ning Creators network, and you’ll be able to get your community up and running very quickly.

About the Author:

Jason Rand – who has written posts on Ning's Official Blog on Social Networking Sites.