Part 2: Whose business are you in? Meet your tribe

Last week I talked about one of the three reasons my first business failed: I was in business to serve my muse, not my clients.
If you missed the article, you’ll find it here.

This week, let’s look at the second reason Mollycoddles failed, the belief that the people who can afford your work are not your tribe.

What’s a tribe?
Marketer and blogger Seth Godin defines a tribe as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.”

In the case of your tribe of just-right clients, you are the leader, responsible for giving them care and guidance. Not in a patronizing way, but to the extent that they depend on you to do good work and to lead them toward things that match their needs.
You and your just-right clients are connected through your work, the way you market that work, and the sales conversations you have. (Selling is a conversation. But you knew that, right?)

Finally, you and your tribe of just-right clients are connected to an idea. That idea could be the core values behind your work. It could be how your work matches what they want. It could be the difference your work makes in the world.

The trouble with tribes
The trouble with the notion of tribes is that many Accidental Entrepreneurs don’t feel like they are in the same tribe as the clients they want. Here’s a sample of issues you may relate to:

  • The clients you want don’t really get you or your work.
  • You can’t relate to the people who can afford your work.
  • It’s hard to get their attention.

They don’t get you
When you love your work, you naturally want your just-right clients to love it, too. But it can seem like they just don’t get you.

Do you get frustrated when potential clients seem to miss the beauty, subtlety, or utility of your offers? Do you get cranky if you’re asked to explain yourself? Do you feel indignant or defensive when questioned about the value of your products or services? And does the idea of offering a guarantee set your teeth on edge?

The reality is it’s not their job to get you; it’s your job to get them.

Get your tribe before asking them to get you
Stephen Covey said it years ago: Understand before seeking to be understood.

It’s okay to want your tribe to get you, but if you want them to hire you or buy your work, it’s your job to help them understand what’s in it for them. And to do that, you need to understand where they are coming from.

That’s not as hard as it might sound. Ask the people you want to work with what they think. Ask them how they like to be treated. Find out how they like to get their information or receive products and services.

Yes, it takes homework, but for the sake of your tribe (and your livelihood), isn’t it worth it?

You can’t relate to people who can’t afford your work
This one’s a doozie. If you sell a premium product or service, one that costs more than you typically spend, you may feel like you and your just-right clients are on a different page when it comes to money. This can alienate you from your tribe.

But does money really need to separate you?

The point of a price is to establish a shared value. The price you sell is the value your work represents to you. The price your just-right clients pay is the value it represents to them. So long as that value matches, your respective incomes aren’t an issue.

When you connect with your tribe around the value of your work, instead of obsessing about whether or not they have a different lifestyle, money stops being a barrier.

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But how do you get their attention?
Perhaps you are convinced of the importance of understanding your tribe before asking them to understand you and your work. You’re willing to concede that the financial gap you’ve been seeing doesn’t need to be an issue.

The question remains: How do you get the attention of your tribe?
Too many Accidental Entrepreneurs expect their tribes to form around them just because. Because they do good work. Because they have a lot of training or experience. Because they have the best interests of their tribes at heart.

But you’ll never get the attention of your tribe by sitting around waiting for it. You have to earn their attention by giving them something valuable.

You earn your tribe’s attention by serving them
The best way to get the attention of your tribe is to do something for them. Give away your best ideas in your blog or ezine. Write tip sheets or how to columns for your local newspaper. Visit the places your tribe hangs out online and off and answer their questions.

Again, it takes homework to find opportunities to serve your tribe. But your peers are doing it everyday. Notice what successful people in your profession are doing and follow their lead. Stamp your offerings with your own personality, and before long you will stand out.

Your tribe is waiting for you
The best way to get a continuous stream of income from your work is to form a tribe around your business. That means looking for the values and concerns that you hold in common with your just-right clients. It means not letting surface differences like income level get in the way. And it means serving and selling to them so they can come to know, like, and trust you.

Now you know what to do. Do it. Your tribe is waiting for you.

Talk about your experiences with creating, reaching, and having a profitable relationship with a tribe in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Molly Holtzschalg via Flickr


  1. Kim

    This article resonated with me. As a pastel artist who paints mostly pets and children I need to connect to my clients in a most intimate, personal way. Communicating properly is key – to both earn their trust and to explain my process. Sometimes I forget that they don’t understand all that’s involved. They also don’t always want to understand the emotions that come up, especially when the pet is deceased. I’ve been asked more than once if I’m also a counselor – in a half-joking way, but it really is part of the job. Thanks for a great article Molly!

  2. Evelyn Kalinosky

    What you’ve written is so true! It’s our job to learn as much as we can about the needs and challenges of our tribe – our prospective clients – and in learning we come to understand. There is a connection that instinctively happens between people when they feel they are understood, and that understanding becomes reciprical.
    Thanks for another great post!

  3. Meg Siddheshwari Sullivan

    When I read the article it made sense – to a point. I totally agree that you have to understand your tribe, and receive value for value. What didn’t resonate is the idea of having to give something away for free. I have an acupuncturist who does no marketing whatsoever, no special deals, and she is always booked – often with a long waiting list. I figure that if you’re that good, word of mouth will keep you with lots of clients. Comments?

  4. Molly Gordon

    @Kim: It’s so great that you get this. People often feel intimidated by art, as though they don’t know how to evaluate it properly–and sometimes that is true. The artist who will be a patient guide is a real gift.
    @Evelyn: Thank you. It really is all about connection.
    @Meg: I hear you. Some people have practices that grow like Topsy with no apparent effort. But they are the exception, not the rule. It’s not that you “have to” give something away, but if you don’t give people a way to come to know, like, and trust you, how will they find you, let alone hire you?
    Word of mouth needs to start somewhere, and it is our responsibility to plant the seeds.


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