Laura Petrolino: Small Business Community

(Why does your small business need a community or need to be part of one. Here at BizSugar, of course, we’ve got some very definite ideas about how small business community can work for you. Small business communications and strategy consultant Laura Petrolino is a longtime member of our community and helps her clients with advice and education through a community of her own and talked to us recently about why it’s so important.)

1. Hi, Laura. First tell us a bit about 365 Days of Startups and your other company, Flying Pig Communications.

365 Days of Startups is a one stop shop for entrepreneurs. We work hard to provide the advice, education and expert know-how necessary to create and sustain successful businesses. My company, Flying Pig Communicationsis a strategy and communications firm, supporting the needs of startups, small business and non-profits. I also serve as Chief Communications Officer for Ignite Venture Partners, which brings together consulting, capital, and concept incubation to build value in businesses of all sizes and stages, and across industries.

2. Community building is sort of part of your business and ours too but can you tell us why you think building community is so important for any small business?

Small businesses face many struggles that large, better financed corporations can easily leap frog. Name recognition, brand building, reputation management, and so on….a small business needs to be creative when it comes to their communications outreach, since, in general, their budget will be limited. Community building helps to even the playing field. 

Consumers are bombarded with so many ‘sales’ messages throughout the day, they begin to inevitably tune out. Therefore, if a small business tries to ‘sell’ the same way a large corporation does, the small business will lose out to the big guy’s bigger budget and greater reach. The biggest mistake I see small business owners make is trying to emulate the, “big boys.”

Instead, small business owners need to stop thinking ‘sales’ and start thinking ‘relationships’, aka, community. Building strong, trusted  relationships with your consumer takes a small business out of the head-to-head competition with the large corporation. Instead of being seen as an unknown, simply trying to take the consumer’s money, with the right execution the small business (YOU) begins to be seen as a trusted option.   Being positioned this way is the key to separating yourself from the pack and avoiding the losing battle of direct competition with large corporations. This is how your competitive advantage will be sustainable!

3. I know you work with business startup and development. When it comes to creating a community around a brand, product or service, where do you start?

You start by understanding two very important things about your business, and then you build the rest from there. Those two things are “who” and “why”. 

The “who” is your market, your consumer. Who are you talking to? Who is your business for? It is essential to know your market. Know how, where and when they consume information, know what motivates them and what doesn’t and most of all know what it will take to keep them happy. Know as much about them as possible and then keep learning and tweaking to meet their needs.

The “why” is your reason for being. Why does the consumer need you? Why you and not your competitor? In the end, without a consistently compelling and sustainable why, your business will fail. The message here: Have one!

4. What is one piece of advice you would probably give a beginning entrepreneur about building and maintaining a community for their business?

Always make it about them (the consumer). When building a community you need to see yourself as a moderator  to extend your brand, on a personal level. Your job is to facilitate the discussion, guide it, educate, continue to fuel it……but never, ‘sell’  it. As soon as you turn the switch to ‘sales’ your community will feel deceived, they will lose trust and interest.  You must be perceived as a thought leader, an expert, and an educator who is always providing value. If you fulfill this role they will naturally chose to do business with you.  So, remember, just be an authentic advocate for your brand, a guide to your consumer and they will see the value.

5. Anything else to add?

In the end, there is no great secret to successfully building a vibrant community other than a true understanding of people (your people-think like they do) and a commitment to meet their needs. Always plan ahead and over estimate how much time the development and maintenance of a community will require.

The ROI will be worth it!

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(Shawn Hessingeris chief moderator and blogger for BizSugar.com, a social media site providing news and information to the online small business community. For more on BizSugar community how to submit your own small business content to the group, check out our “about” page or visit our BizSugar signup page to create your free account today.)

13 Responses to “Laura Petrolino: Small Business Community”


  1. Joel Libava says:

    Nice job, Laura!

    Keep on doing what you’re doing!

    The Franchise King®

    1. Thanks Joel! And ditto! The best part of what I do is how it has allowed me to connect with amazing people do amazing things for small business owners and entreprenurs(yourself and the bizsugar boys included) :)

    2. Thanks Joel! And ditto! The best part of what I do is how it has allowed me to connect with amazing people do amazing things for small business owners and entrepreneurs(yourself and the bizsugar boys included) :)

  2. Kirsten Peck says:

    I love working with startups and am currently putting together a more formal “community”. Thanks for confirming all of my suspicions about why we do what we do!

    1. Glad this was helpful for you Kristen! Keep us updated as you put together your community! Best of luck!

  3. Laura, this is a terrific interview. I especially love this point:

    “Always make it about them (the consumer). When building a community you need to see yourself as a moderator to extend your brand, on a personal level. Your job is to facilitate the discussion, guide it, educate, continue to fuel it … but never, ‘sell’ it.”

    It’s so counter-intuitive and yet so true: if you stop thinking about yourself but instead think about who you’re trying to attract to your community, in the end it will “promote” you — without you having to promote yourself. Because your community will see you as so valuable they will sing your praises for you. You will not have to praise yourself.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your insights, Laura.

    - Anita

    1. Thanks so much for your comments Anita, and yes, what you said nails it exactly. Any of my clients will tell you that across the board I’m fairly anti- “advertising” and “selling”. Instead I believe in teaching and building relationships, both of which are highlighted when you create and foster a community. Advertising breaks down trust with the consumer, whereas community building creates it.

  4. Kathy says:

    I love your comment about building relationships. Relationship implies trust, wanting to help each other and a partnership in business.

    1. Exactly! Thanks Kathy!!

  5. Nicole Fende says:

    Laura thanks for reminding all of us the value of community. Most importantly I appreciate you stating that people don’t need to do a hard sell to be successful. Building a community and network with trust will pay off in the long run.

    1. Thanks Nicole! You bring up a great point here as well. With community building and any part of business…..it is all about the ‘long run’

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