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5 Common Mistakes of Online Community Builders and Entrepreneurs

After years of consulting with online community entrepreneurs, here are the most common pitfalls I see (and how to avoid them).

Almost everyone I know who works in the community industry has a similar origin story—they all say something like, “I got into the community industry by accident,” or, my personal favorite, “I tripped and fell into being a community manager.” This was the case for me, too—I started working in the community industry not because I sought it out with intent, but because I was looking for something in the tech industry to “pivot” into where I could use my skills as a former classroom teacher. 

The upside to this origin story is that the community industry tends to be full of a lot of vibrant people with diverse professional backgrounds—something I really enjoy about my colleagues! But, the downside is that a lot of folks start working in community without much of a roadmap, and the status quo in the industry for a long time has been to learn by doing, and by making mistakes. 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing–we’ve gotten a lot of best practices and learnings in the community industry this way. But at this point in the development of the community world, it doesn’t have to be this way. 

The community industry has grown astronomically since I started working in it almost eight years ago, and I’ve made it a bit of a personal mission to break down some of the informational siloes that force community builders to reinvent the wheel over and over again. That’s what motivated me to start writing my blog and sharing my learnings, it’s what motivated me to become a consultant, and it’s what motivated me to build my first self-paced product: an On-Demand Coaching bundle

After spending years working 1:1 with clients–mostly early-career community builders and entrepreneurs building community-based businesses—I finally decided to build out a product that would distill the most common challenges my clients bring to me in a format that’s comprehensive, self-paced, and more financially accessible than working 1:1 with a coach. 

In today’s blog post, I want to talk about some of the common mistakes and challenges that motivated building this product and how it was ultimately structured, so that whether or not you end up enrolling in On-Demand Coaching, you can spot these pitfalls and try to avoid them. 

Mistake 1: Putting off thinking about how your community will make money 

Most people get into community building because they’re either passionate about the subject matter they’re building their community around, or they’re just passionate about connecting with other people. This is especially true with my clients who are community entrepreneurs—even if they conceive of their community project as a business, they are really motivated by spreading their love of knitting, exercise, pets, financial freedom, what have you. 

But, no matter how much you love your subject matter, community building is really hard work, and because it’s so people-facing, it’s a profession that has a really high risk of burnout. I’ve had many clients come to me when they are just on the brink of burnout because they’ve spent such a long time overserving their community without making enough, or any money. This risk is present for professional community builders working at larger businesses, too—after a year or so of running a program, they start to face significant pressure from executives to justify the cost of keeping the community running. The number one reason I see communities shutting down is because they reach a point where the investment—either personal or financial—isn’t justified by the output. 

How to fix it: While you can of course start to address these challenges as they emerge—as I mentioned many of my clients come to me when they are already struggling with burnout or unclear value prop—the absolutely best thing you can do is create a proactive plan for how your community will be monetized at the beginning of your community building journey. 

To be clear—monetization can take many forms, and does not always mean your community has a direct price tag (i.e., costs $x/month to access). Sometimes monetization means that the community reduces costs significantly elsewhere in a business, or impacts bottom line metrics like customer retention or acquisition. What’s important is that the cost (including the time of staff or a single entrepreneur) to run the community is adequately recouped by the impact the community has on the business from a dollars and cents perspective. 

This is why Goal Setting and Business Alignment is the first coaching topic I work on with my 1:1 clients, and the first coaching topic in my new On-Demand Coaching bundle—my process and template for goal setting is all about de-risking burnout and shutdown through setting goals that address financial solvency. 

Mistake 2: Not asking your perspective members what they want before you build

Since community building so often comes out of a passion for the subject matter of the community, it can be easy to assume that because you’re excited about it, your prospective members will be, too. But, I’ve seen a lot of community builders accidentally pour hours and hours of time, and sometimes lots of money, into building communities that nobody wants to use when they launch. 

How to fix it: This can usually be fixed pretty easily just by going through a validation round with your idea before you spend much time actually building it. With my clients, I usually suggest a combination of user interviews, surveys, and competitive and exemplar analysis. These steps help you not only to ensure you don’t build a product that your prospective members aren’t excited about, but helps you answer deeper questions about price point, what forms of community interaction are valuable to members, and what type of marketing and framing will be likely to resonate. 

It’s well worth the time not to skip this step, but it can be a bit of an art form—that’s why the second section of my On-Demand Coaching Bundle focuses on guiding you through user research rounds, and includes a question template for interviews to help you get started. 

Mistake 3: Not prompting engagement proactively

Many community builders approach community building with an “if you build it, they will come” mentality—meaning they’re relying on their members to do the heavy lifting of sparking and sustaining engagement. I used to think this came solely from a misunderstanding of how communities function, but I now think there a few other factors as well—

  1. Big, established communities that community builders are part of as members may tend to rely less on proactive engagement prompting from admin because members are already habituated; so community builders may think this approach will translate effectively to brand-new communities

  2. The type of community engagement that’s appropriate at different scales of community building can change a lot as you grow from 0-100 members, 100-500, 500-1000, and 1000+ members, so it can be hard to tell which engagement strategies are right for your community phase 

  3. It is time consuming and emotionally exhausting to run community engagement programs, which can cause community builders to avoid them even if they know they should be doing them 

Regardless of the cause, if your community isn’t already getting a ton of engagement and isn’t in a phase of community maturity, it’s likely you need to use proactive engagement strategies to prompt and sustain engagement and build habits your members can then take over on your behalf. 

How to fix it: The primary way I fix this challenge with clients and in my own projects is by deploying community content programs that rely on predictable, valuable content cadences, and through engagement calendars that help builders proactively plan engagement prompts that ladder up to clear community themes of engagement.

I’ve done some writing about this on my blog in the past, with a guide to community content calendars, and in my new On-Demand Coaching Bundle I’ve deepened this work even further with more comprehensive templates and video instruction on proactive engagement and content techniques. 

Mistake 4: Trying to pick “the best” platform instead of the best platform for you

Many of my clients come to me either asking what the “best” community platform is that they should choose for their project, or having chosen a platform they end up hating because they “heard it was the best one.” The common denominator, and mistake here, is thinking that there is one definitive community platform that is best in every community building scenario. 

And while there are certainly platforms that stand out from the rest in areas like feature density, member familiarity, and UX, the reality is that different platforms have different strengths and weaknesses that make them more or less appropriate for different projects. (I’ve written extensively about how this idea impacts the decision to use owned community platforms versus big social platforms like Facebook, and done some writing about platform comparison, as well.) This means that trying to choose your platform based on empirical information rather than subjective information is often a big mistake that might leave you locked into a platform that isn’t serving your needs. 

How to fix it: Generally, I think it’s unskippable to do a specific platform comparison analysis for every new community project that you launch. This means outlining the specific technology end program needs of your project and using that as a measuring stick to evaluate three or four different community platforms against. 

I have a process and spreadsheet I use to do this with my clients that gives you a head start on which features and platforms to compare, and that I’m offering now as a part of my On-Demand Coaching Bundle. 

Mistake 5: Not anticipating dropoff during your launch 

When my clients are launching their communities, I often see them making the mistake of over-estimating their conversion rate from invite to community member. They may build and launch their community products too early and end up having failed launches because they mistakenly think that 50 contacts in the subject area of their community will translate to 50, or even 25, community members. 

And beyond that motion from invite to community member, many of my clients misunderstand that there are many potential drop-off points in the journey to becoming a community member, let alone an engaged one. Not understanding this can lead to mismatched expectations about your project that cause you to invest in the wrong areas of your business. 

How to fix it: Making a marketing plan that anticipates drop-off points and realistic conversion rates at each step in the journey from contact to engaged community member can help you back into the audience size you actually need in order to launch a community project that meets the needs (think back to the financial needs in the first section of this post!) of your project. My On-Demand Coaching Bundle includes a section on community launching and rollout to help you anticipate these motions and make a marketing plan that will meet your goals. 


If any of the above have applied to you in your community building journey, I hope this blog post has helped you spot these challenges and figure out your first steps toward fixing them.But, if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably picked up on the theme that I built my new On-Demand Coaching product to solve all of these problems—these are the things I work with clients 1:1 to solve every day, and that I now want to spread further so that folks who don’t have it in budget to hire me as a coach can still get these insights. 

So, if you want more help avoiding this mistakes, including video instruction, templates, and live group coaching, I highly recommend you enroll. On-Demand coaching is a self-paced product with five core sections: 

  • Goal setting & business alignment: understand how your community fits into your business overall, how it delivers value to your members, and how it makes money

  • Research & validation: understand what your prospective members actually want, evaluate competition, and audit your existing efforts

  • Content & engagement: understand the relationship between these two, provide adequate value in your community, and engage your members

  • Platform & technology: learn to select technology based on the dimensions of your project, not just based on sales tactics

  • Launch & rollout: learn to plan a community launch that takes into account audience touchpoints and marketing assets

Each of these five sections includes: 

  • Video-based instruction on the topic—think of these like a download of all the core info on the topic I’d tell my 1:1 clients

  • A template to help you put the topic or skill into practice

  • A template walk-through video

  • Three coaching scenarios to help you understand how the skill or topic applies to more specific challenges 

Plus, ODC clients get access to some bonuses: 

  • Your first quarter membership in my exclusive client community, The Community Center, comes free with your purchase of ODC (after your first quarter, a membership costs $200 USD/quarter). Inside The Community Center, you get:

  • High quality conversations with other highly invested community members, facilitated by Noele

  • Quarterly special events for community members—think things like expert workshops, masterminds, and challenges

  • Early access to new content and templates 

  • Bi-weekly group coaching calls with Noele 

  • If you decide you want to deepen your work, your purchase of ODC comes with a discount to your first 5 1:1 coaching sessions with Noele 

All of this comes with a one-time purchase of $500 USD. 

Ready to enroll? I’d love to see you there:

Still have questions? Shoot me an email at and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. 

Want to take any of this a step further?

I hope this post has been helpful for you and given you a strong start to creating a community onboarding sequence that will truly impact your community and your business. That said, I understand that this can be complicated stuff, and sometimes you need a hand to help put it all into practice. The reality is that no matter how comprehensive a guide I try to make, there will still be lingering questions that apply to specific projects. I work with clients every day as a strategic coach for online community projects, and community engagement is one of the most common topics my clients want to discuss. If you would like to work together 1:1, you can learn more about how I work and get in touch here.

It’s also my hope to make this the most comprehensive guide to community onboarding available—so if you noticed anything you think is missing, or have any questions, shoot me an email at and I’d love to continue making updates and will likely add an FAQ section soon. Thanks again for reading!

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