When you're starting up, there's no substitute for finding your tribe -  a committed network of engaged customers and fans that can inspire you on to create the best product possible. Finding your champions isn't just good business sense - it's also amazing for supporting you in the (sometimes lonely) world of entrepreneurship, and making connections. And with people expecting more of a personal touch from brands now too, building your tribe has never been more important. We asked John Auckland, founder of crowdfunding consultancy TribeFirst - helping people build a loyal crowd of customers through crowdfunding - for his tips.

John Auckland, Tribefirst - Ways to research your startup market

Why it's so important when you're a startup or freelancer to find your 'tribe'? 

I first came across the concept of a tribe (as opposed to a client base, community or crowd) from reading Seth Godin. In his book, Tribes, We need you to lead us, Godin explains how tribes are everywhere in a connected economy, and that they’re eagerly awaiting connection to the causes they care about. It’s never been easier to seek out people who share your values, such as influencers, stakeholders or customers. Tribes are no longer a luxury for a business - they are now essential.

The fundamental difference between a tribe and a crowd is the time you take to nurture them. A crowd is indiscriminate. They buy, but they may never buy again. Sometimes crowds gather, but it’s a fleeting occasion that’s not often repeated. They certainly never tell their friends about you.

A member of a tribe, however, is impassioned in their beliefs and will shout about you from the rooftops, for free. They will turn up, time and again, and fight for what they believe in.

So, let’s hope they believe in you.

A few good indicators then, to tell whether you have a crowd or a tribe (or indeed, which one you’re currently building):

  • Crowds are bought / tribes are earned

  • Crowds = you spam them / Tribes = they choose, and even pay to be a member

  • To a crowd you are one voice in many / to a tribe you are a leader

  • Crowds have no common features / tribes are identified by clear commonalities

  • Crowds can grow big, but they disperse just as quickly / tribes start from humble beginnings, but are in it for the long-run

Time might be at a premium, but building a tribe is undoubtedly the most valuable way you can put this precious resource to use.

Where to start looking for and building your tribe?

The best place to start is by listing the common features of a member of your tribe. What newspapers do they read? What are their political tendencies? Who are their influencers? At TribeFirst, we run an exercise that helps us identify the features of our client’s tribes. We ask the question: if x is a high street shop, which one would it be? You can replace a high street shop with all manner of things: car brands; celebrities; movies; songs etc.

The next step is to take this information and research the places you’re likely to connect with your tribe. If you follow the same people, and hang out in the same places, you’ll adopt the same vernacular as your tribe. So find out where these people spend their time, both virtually and in-person, and really take the time to meet with them, engage them, speak their language and become respected in their communities.

Finally, find the most passionate and vocal people in these communities, treat them incredibly well and give them the ammo they need to talk about you.

Why fund your business with a Start Up Loan?

What are your top recommendations for events, clubs etc?

Find the events and clubs in your industry. Virgin StartUp does some great industry-specific events. Another tip is to look on Eventbrite and Meetup. For us, we go to lots of pitch events, startup events and technology conferences, such as Web Summit and Tech Crunch. The good ones do cost money though. The tip here is to become a recognised leader for your sector in your own right, since it makes these events get a lot cheaper. You have to pay full price for the good events, but if you speak or sit on a panel you get to go for free (eventually you might even get paid).

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking, then I recommend getting media-trained. Again, I revert back my point about tribes having leaders and crowds having many voices. If you can’t speak to a group of people, you’ll struggle to earn their respect and buy-in.

If you're not in London or another major city, how can you find your tribe?

Online communities make it so much easier for tribes to connect through their common interests. I don’t think you need to be in a major city to build a solid tribe. Of course you might need to engage some of your industry influencers in-person, occasionally, to earn their trust and friendship, but so many forums and community pages now exist online that you don’t need geographical ties in order to succeed. Just be active in participating in conversation, and make sure you’re saying something useful!

It sounds obvious, but LinkedIn is extremely good for this, and it’s the tool we spend most of our time on. You can set extremely accurate search criteria around the identifying features of your tribe. We’re always looking for angel investors for our clients. That’s easy, because most angels put this on their LinkedIn profile. But we can be cleverer than that, by honing in on their likes and dislikes. Our client is a health app = we only connect them with investors who express an interest in health and fitness on their profile.

How can you nurture these relationships when you're really busy starting-up?

This is the hard bit. The reality is that it takes time to nurture these relationships and build trust with your tribe. There are no shortcuts, but the effort is worth it. My best advice is that there’s no time like the present, so start now. The longer you leave it, the harder it gets. So don’t try and launch the perfect version of your idea. Launch the version that works then improve it over time.

Any other tips?

I suppose my biggest piece of advice is to build a business model that appeals to a tribe that already exists and that’s already seeking something in-line with what you’re building. There are a million marketing and PR companies out there, but virtually no one built a company for a very specific audience: startups that are looking to crowdfund. Almost immediately people came seeking TribeFirst out, and even though we actively try to play down our marketing, these people still find us. It’s much easier finding a solution for a tribe that already exists, than trying to get a crowd to change their culture so they can take on the characteristics of your ideal tribe.

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