Is it easier to build a business or start a movement?

start a movement

There is a quote in my new book that is gripping and profound, but I’m not sure I fully understood it until this week. This quote is from Boss Mom CEO Dana Malstaff: “It’s easier to start a movement than build a business.”

Dana is a visionary business leader, and when she speaks, I listen.

But what does this quote really mean? What does a movement have to do with business and customers? It seemed a little woo-woo to me. Are you going to walk into your supervisor’s office and tell her that you’re starting a movement this week?

As I was helping a client with an exhausting sales problem, the truth finally sunk in. I understood how a “movement” can connect to business success, and I wanted to pass this insight along to you, too. Here’s what happened …

The spark of an idea

I love doing my one-hour coaching calls. Anybody, anywhere can sign up, and I get to meet the most fascinating people from all over the world!

A recent call was with an artist who specializes in a practice of music therapy. He teaches people how to play musical instruments in a way that helps them calm down and heal — certainly something needed in the world today. I liked his idea, but he struggled to keep his business going.

He had some limited success using Facebook ads to drive sales of his classes, and he had read every book and blog post he could find on sales funnels and lead generation.

But after many years of endless ad cycles and experiments, he barely made ends meet and was exhausted. He had read my book Belonging to the Brand about the link between business and community and wondered if community-based marketing could be his answer.

As we talked about a possible business strategy, the meaning of Dana’s quote finally lit up for me.

Start a movement or build a treadmill?

I think the missing link between sales funnels and community is the emotional bond.

A lead magnet can attract clicks and maybe people who like free stuff, but it’s a treadmill that never ends. Keep advertising, keep promoting, and keep them clicking. Even with the help of automation, this focus on filling a pipeline with strangers can wear you down, and my friend was feeling it!

But what if you had a community where people feel something as well as buy something? They’re part of a community because they love you and believe in your mission. That is how you start a movement: enabling people to achieve something, to build something, to change something. And Dana’s right. That’s also a sustainable business strategy with a lot less wear and tear.

Building momentum for a community requires time and patience. And my friend did not have time or patience. Every time I urged him to create content with consistency and build an audience that leads to community, he reverted to his addiction to sales funnels. It’s fast. It can create leads tomorrow. He was tethered to the treadmill and was afraid to jump off.

But as we talked through his alternatives, he began to see that he had to change or the sales funnel exhaustion would never be over.

Start a movement, start a business

I don’t think a community is necessarily the right strategy for every person or business, but it was for this man. He truly could change lives, and the people in his circle loved him and wanted to follow him. But he couldn’t see this as the start of a movement. He saw his followers as sales leads.

Dana Malstaff

Dana Malstaff

I explained to him that if he had a community of hundreds, or even thousands, of people who believed in him, the treadmill could be over. His community would sign up for his classes, workshops, and events because they believed in the movement — music for healing, music for peace.

Eventually, their bond would not just be to him. It would be to each other as friendships and collaborations bloomed. They would belong to the brand. I’m happy to report he is exploring this new path.

Dana’s Boss Mom community now has 80,000 members, generating about a million a year in revenue. She has no sales team, no sales funnel, no ad budget, no lead magnet. She created a self-sustaining community, a movement of people who want to grow as mothers and entrepreneurs.

When I interviewed her for my book, I kept asking her for the monetization strategy and the measures of ROI. Over and over again she insisted that her only focus was the movement — creating successful mom entrepreneurs. If you have a movement, the business will take care of itself.

That seems so much more fulfilling than the sales funnel, right? Organic growth and customer advocacy instead of SEO and ad cycles. The movement nurtures and heals. The movement drives the business. The movement IS the business.

This is why I made the bold claim in my book that community is the last great marketing strategy. Content, ads, and SEO will always have a place, but these ideas are becoming dramatically less important in a streaming, AI-driven world.

But we have always needed community, and we always will.  Have you thought about enrolling people in your movement instead of moving them through your sales funnel?

Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak at your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram.


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