The Power of Communities

In spring of 2015, I was asked to keynote the AGORA Conference at Red Deer College. Now that Tad Hargrave of Marketing for Hippies, the inspiration behind my talk is coming to Red Deer on Thursday, I’ve finally been inspired to put it into a blog post. Here it is…


When I was first asked to speak here I was mad…then excited…then full of insecurities. I mean I’m not an expert in anything really, what the hell can I share? Ya, I’m an entrepreneur, I’m passionate about business, marketing, social media and volunteering, but I’m not leader in any of those mediums.

So I sat down and started writing with the intention that I’m going to inspire you guys to walk out of here and change all the things. To be leaders. To make an impact on the world.

You’re off the hook 🙂

My goal today is much simpler and truer to who I am, and it’s been the foundation of every single thing I’ve accomplished and am proud of in my adult life.

My goal is for you to walk out of here I don’t know…maybe inspired isn’t the right word, but compelled to find your communities and get involved. In something. Anything. And in any capacity.

The Power of Communities.

What’s the first thing that pops into your head when I say communities?

When I asked on Twitter I got #12SeasonsandaMovie. I also got similar responses – groups with a common interest, support network, and my favourite:

“Community, to me, is a by-product of the decision to be involved, to participate, to reach out to others, it’s the inevitable result.”

My first thought that comes to mind when I say communities, is my hometown. I grew up in Munson…which is a tiny dot on the map. A small village between Drumheller and Morrin. Our little farming community ate, slept, breathed community. We played sports together, went to school together, had concerts, potlucks and even a lot of our parents grew up together. Everybody knew Everybody. Which is awesome right? Until you’re a teenager, then not so awesome.

I still feel deeply rooted in that community, it’s my base, my hometown…that I never want to go back to, but take comfort in knowing it’s still there. That community is invested in me too. Have a baby, get married (or vice versa in my case) they’ll throw you a shower and celebrate. And they’re there for the shit parts too – the deaths, the hardships, the losses – they’re invested in you and genuinely want to witness your life play out. I think because that sense of community has been so instilled in me my whole life, I always search out communities to be a part of in any capacity.

Where do you find your people? Your communities?

Let’s start with online.

Online Communities

Favourites – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn groups, maybe you find your people on Tinder.

Man I LOVE the social media. My husband doesn’t think 40K tweets is worthy of much, but I’m here to tell you it IS worthy of something…it gave me connections, a community to build my business.

How many here are on twitter? DO YOU LOVE IT? DO YOU FOLLOW ME? @BrendaSarg … go tweet me.

You can find ANYTHING on twitter. Marketing experts, Big Brands, educators, moms, start-ups, seniors, even Grumpy Cat is on twitter. Even if starting a business isn’t in your future plans, it still has its benefits. Connections. In various avenues that you may not even have thought of, or may not even be of value to you…yet. Ya, there is a ton of bullshit to sift through, but there is a ton of opportunity to learn…about your city, town, your politicians, your non-profits and even what events are happening  – locally and globally. Twitter is my google, I’ve gotten to trust some of my community enough that if they recommend a business or service to me, I trust it’s a good recommendation.

Opportunity. I can’t say it enough…all communities bring opportunity. Knowledge, growth, support…and tons more.

Shortly after I started twitter I was considering a career change, I had tweeted back and forth with a guy who owned his own web design company. I tweeted him one day (never met in real life) and asked him if I could meet with him and pick his brain. Once you feel part of a community…you open the opportunity for asks.

I was working at a civil engineering firm and had offered to do a site for a gym owner…NO CLUE what I was getting in to, zero experience, no skills. And I did it. Then I did another one for a few bucks.

Two websites. Two.

My 3 year old was in daycare at the time and I was just really needing to get him out of there. I came home one Friday, stood in front of my husband’s moving lawn tractor and shouted “I WANT TO QUIT MY JOB AND DESIGN WEBSITES”.

Well, he didn’t run me over and for some crazy reason agreed that I should pack in my 10 and a half year, well paying career and try to be a web designer.

Because you know…2 websites.

I took to twitter. Set up a business twitter account so I could continue being a smartass on my personal one and reel in the customers on the other.

I lasted one week I think. Couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be dry and super professional or I’d be building a false community, a community of people I probably wasn’t even going to enjoy because they were attracted to fake always-super-sweet-and-positive-don’t-disagree-with-anyone me.

Change of plans. I decided at that moment that I’m my brand. I wasn’t confident enough to really pimp my services anyway so I just connected with people AS ME. Engaged. Talked about stuff I was interested in. There is ALWAYS someone on Twitter that has thought your same thought, has been through what you have, or who can offer valuable advice. In time…your community builds. Your support system grows. You have that base…people invested in you who want to see you succeed and will be ambassadors for your business. Sales people that you don’t have to put on payroll – awesome!

I always say twitter built my business. And it did. It taught me a ton, helped me figure out and target my demographic, to meet local industry leaders, and build mutually beneficial relationships with them, and put resources in front of me I never knew existed.

That community built Unlimited BS. By referring me, investing in me with their businesses themselves, and maybe they got something out if it too…being a part of a new business making it. That feels good to be involved in. My online community supported me.

Can’t bring yourself to jump in and talk to perfect strangers online? Ya…it’s weird. I get that.

How about build your own community? You know what you like, what gets you jacked up. Volunteer somewhere. There are a million opportunities to volunteer. Seriously…ridiculous amount of opportunities. Check out Volunteer Central. Or just think of what you like doing, and do it with, or for, someone else. Boom.

I guarantee there are others out there that want to be part of whatever that is. GUARANTEE! And the great thing about volunteering…you’re only going to do it if it’s something you believe in. And others will do it with the same motive.

Why is that awesome? You will be making connections with people that are in line with your values. You never know what kind of opportunity that will bring. In your personal life, your career, your life.

When Ronald McDonald House opened in Red Deer in 2012 my girlfriend asked if I wanted to help her put on a dinner there. They have dinner groups that purchase supper for the families staying there, cook them supper and clean up after. To give them a break in their stress-filled days. She had stayed at another RMH when her daughter has having surgery and said it took a load off. She could focus on her daughter and not providing dinner for the rest of her young family.

So we put it up on Facebook to see if we could get 6 other people interested. HOLY! Ya..I think we had around 40 people wanting to help.

That community of cooks to prepare meals, sponsors to pay for dinner made itself. Before the first dinner, we had decided to form a facebook group named – Real Housewives of Red Deer, a place for people to sign up to join us to cook every time we had a sponsor step up with the money. Three years later, we had over 200 members, and most I’ve never met. It’s individuals who want to be involved, but either are new to Red Deer, don’t have the funds to put on one of their own, or just aren’t able to round up 7 other people to cook with them.

These strangers…these people I’ve never met, built our community. Without people signing up meal after meal, or sponsors offering to send money to purchase a dinner, RHRD would not exist. Us Real Housewives of Red Deer would be sitting at home watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills instead of offering up a reprieve to hurting families and making a difference.

A community of volunteers.

Networking Communities

Like it or not, in the business world, you’ve got to embrace networking. Ugh. Networking to me has always meant suits blowing smoke up one another’s asses while looking at their phones.

But you have to do it. You have to make connections to move your business forward.

Is anyone familiar with Social Media Breakfast Red Deer?

So what we do is we get together for 2 hours once a month, have a speaker, and it’s attended by local business owners, marketing and communications managers, city employees, and everything in between. Generally people wanting to hear what works and what doesn’t for others in their city and industry. Sharing of ideas. And not just small business either, bigger corporations and non-profits also are involved. A community doesn’t have to be the same demographic… all you need is one common interest or goal.

After its second meeting, I was asked if I’d like to join the Steering Committee. I did…super hesitant, but felt like I needed to get involved to get more connections…and get my name out. I joined and then they all quit…one by one. And ya, I’m delusional enough to believe it had nothing to do with me 🙂 We went through a number of challenges, committee members, and I nearly shut it down twice because it was just too much. I wanted this community of people, but didn’t feel like I was giving them the value I should have been. FINALLY we got the right group. There are 3 of us now and we just work [5 now!]. We’re inspired, we’re motivated, we’re figuring out who’s talents lie where and how to trust those talents.

We just held our 24th event on Thursday and it was awesome. [40th now!]

And our community is making it blow up.

Me by myself? I would have packed it in, without a doubt. Yes, we were still getting the people to the events, but the value was slipping. Thankfully…that group of people had faith in us and wanted this to work…now, we’ve got this. We’ll supply value again. We’re invested in them, and they are invested in us. I think that is what makes a community a community. Being invested.

So I’m going to wrap up with this post I came across on the Marketing for Hippies blog.

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He prefaces the story talking about the woman born over 100 years ago. She was a teacher, a wife and mom to 3. At that time, female teachers were not allowed to work while they were married, so she had to give up her job. She was heavily involved in the church and instilled deep levels of self-respect in her 3 children.

Tragically, the church that held and heard the voices of her father, husband, and son – who all served as pastors there – also echoed the sudden, loud, sickening sound of the gunshot that took her life inside its walls six years after her son was murdered for speaking not only his mind, but the minds of so many others.

He then goes into how there is so much pressure to change the world, that everywhere we turn there are messages, speakers, pinterest posts with inspirational quotes on some majestic backdrop telling us we are meant for bigger. BE BIGGER. Impact the world. And ya, I see that all the time. Spend 2 minutes on Pinterest or Facebook and you’re inundated with it.

That you need to be a hero to affect social change.

Bullshit. You need to be a part of things…communities, not a part from.

We’re told, constantly, that one person can make a difference.

Implied in this story is that Martin Luther King Jr. was the spokesperson and only person who really mattered in the civil rights  movement. That Gandhi was the the movement for India’s independence. That Nelson Mandela was the leader of the anti-apartheid movement, etc.

But that’s historically inaccurate. There were MILLIONS of people involved in those movements without whom all those mentioned above would have been lone and lonely voices.

One person can’t do much, really.

That’s what communities are for. That’s what movements are for. And any of the big names you could mention of positive change makers (and there are, thankfully, many) were outgrowths of a movement, not the leaders of it. They served the movement, not the other way around.

So who was that woman I talked about?

Well, she was born Alberta Christine Williams. But she died Alberta Christine Williams King.

Her husband was Martin Luther King.

Her son was Martin Luther King Jr.

Her name is not well known and yet, through her son (and in many, many other ways we may never know), she blessed this world.

Without Alberta, there would have been no Martin Luther King Jr.

The lesson here is…

Who’s to say what might or might not happen because you and seemingly small, mundane or common things that you do? With a community behind you, your voice matters.

[you can read the full blog post here: “Why Stop Playing Small is Bullshit]

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So no, I’m not a leader, nor do I feel any pressure to be one. The goal isn’t to be bigger than, or a part from…the goal  is to be a part of.

Start building communities. It’s the premise for all movements, all successes, and it opens you up to a world of opportunities.

 

Tad Hargrave is holding a Workshop – Marketing for Hippies 101 – in Red Deer at the Scott Block Theatre this Thursday, July 21st from 10am – 5pm. It’s an awesome opportunity to learn from a skilled, successful, community-minded marketer who I clearly admire A LOT. You can register here:

 

Customer Service MATTERS!

Last week I was feeling meh. Solution? Shopping.

I started at muse clothing. If you haven’t been…go. Like RIGHT NOW. Awesome selection of clothes that aren’t the same old stuff you see in every second store. The owner, Michelle was there and was super helpful and friendly.

I wanted to give her my money. I felt connected, even a little invested.

Next…I went to Best Buy to purchase a new laptop. I won’t go in to details, but within minutes I had told my salesman I had to walk away because he was irritating the shit out of me…mature, I know, but I was fuming. The new guy sent to help me was fabulous and within minutes, we had decided what fit my needs and I purchased it AND a warranty.

He gave me the interest, the knowledge, and the connection I needed.

Next…GAP at the mall. I had 2 bags in my hands and about 4 items on hangers. I asked the girl for a change room so I could look more. She looked at me…my full hands and responded “They’re at the back”. Geez, thanks. I later heard her tell another shopper that she was actually going on lunch so she couldn’t help her. BRUTAL. Luckily the other girl was super sweet there and smoothed things over.

Customer Service MATTERS.

If you don’t give it, someone else will. We are inundated with options these days…we don’t NEED you. You should feel like you need us…because don’t you?

I think that is where a lot of small businesses rise to the top. A lot of the time, it’s the owner behind the counter or wiping the table. They care.

They cared enough to venture into this crazy world of starting or running a small business, they certainly care whether or not what they have risked so much to bring you…is delivering.

Social Media doesn’t rule the City…or I’d have a cape

Soooooo, now that the Red Deer election is over I’m going to comment. I kept my mouth shut and bit my tongue a LOT which if you know me at all, you know I struggle with that. I’m not a resident of the City of Red Deer (I’m Red Deer County) so here is an outside looking in perspective of what I saw go down.

Twitter and facebook were insane. Good gawd people, I’m ALLLLLL about social media, love it (most days) but would it really be a deciding factor for who would make the best leaders for a community? Ya, ya, I get it, it’s a great way to communicate to the people but let’s remember our Red Deer twitter community is not full representation of the entire city. You can tell me there are 1,000 Red Deer tweeps, but how many of those are active? How many of those interact with candidates or even follow them? Not enough to win an election. Not yet anyway. We are still a small crew in the grand scheme of things.

Being on social media does not mean that person is transparent. FAR from it. You can be whoever you want to be on twitter! I’ve seen it…it sometimes makes me sick to see the phoniness of some trying to come across as kind do-gooders when what they do behind the computer is far, far different.

I saw tweets of people calling out candidates because they hadn’t responded to a tweet within 24 hours of them sending it. Really?? REALLY? Come on. And candidates being cut down for not participating on a facebook group page. Maybe they are out in your community actually DOING things. Or maybe their child is sick and they could care less about twitter or a facebook post at that moment. Or maybe their internet crashed. Using that to discredit them is unfair and immature.

I love the twitter and yes, even facebook…but let’s get real here people. It’s not face-to-face, eye contact, connection and honesty. It is whatever the user chooses to make it.

Perspective. Our small community doesn’t rule the City. But if we did…we might want to consider group capes.

 

Best Day in the History of the World

Don’t get all judgy…yes, the birth of my child and my wedding day all come first.

There..now on with my post 😀

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Sometimes I just can’t figure stuff out. And then I stew over it. And then I write a blog post to air it out 😉

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