When I started my business four years ago, I thought that because I spotted a gap in the market this would be the key ingredient in making my business a success. I discovered that growing a diverse community that is committed to the mission of our business was actually the key factor of our success.
Black Ballad had one aim when it launched in 2014 – to produce lifestyle content for and by black British women.
The conversations about diversity in the media were just getting started, but as a journalist who had the fortune to work across a range of different titles, it was clear to me that black women were missing from the pages and from the office.
After seeing that no mainstream women’s lifestyle publications were catering to black women, I decided to create an online publication that would tell the stories of black British women in the most authentic way possible. I thought that the combination of spotting a gap in the market and producing an excellent product wouldn’t just be essential, but enough to make my business a success.
Of course, that was naivety speaking.
In the past four years, I have found out that growing a community that is committed to the mission of our business is a key factor in making sure any start-up can survive its first year, see it through financial challenges and stand the tests of time.
To make it work you need to ensure you are completely up to scratch with at least four things.
Firstly, you have to understand the diversity that exist within your audience.
When I first started Black Ballad a majority of our writers, like myself were British-Nigerian millennials, from London. Many of us were Christian and all of us were straight and able bodied. I began to notice that all the content was sounding the same. I had to remember that there is no one single voice in my target audience or in the community I was trying to build.
So I looked for black female writers with disabilities. Put out advertisements in our emails and on our Facebook page asking for black female writers from outside of London to pitch their ideas. We have featured the voices of women who don’t identify as heterosexual and we have a growing catalogue of content by black female Muslim writers. I also made sure black British writers from other countries in Africa and the Caribbean were writing for the site. Understanding the different intersections and identities among black British women started more conversations and provided an online home for different black British women from different backgrounds.
Being personal is also essential.
After two years of building our community, myself and my co-founder, decided that putting our content behind a paywall and creating a membership would be the best way to ensure financial sustainability for our business. To launch this membership, we ran a crowdfund campaign. I spent over two weeks sending direct messages to over 3,000 Twitter followers in the hope that they would contribute. In these messages, I explained our vision and why this was the next and right step in the Black Ballad’s lifespan. It paid off! Many of the people I sent direct messages to joined our crowdfund and many have stayed on as members two years later.
Likewise, followers on social media want to talk to a person not a brand.
When we first started Black Ballad we had no distinct voice on social media. So on Instagram, I used phrases and ‘keywords’ used in the Whatsapp conversations I had with black female friends to create captions for pictures. On Twitter, we started posting GIFs, memes and phrases commonly used by our community to create a more personal tone and relationship between us our followers.
And lastly, creating spaces where your community can talk to each other is also vital.
A community brand is not just there for itself, but for everyone.
By adding events to our business model, black women are allowed to take the conversations started on social media offline into physical spaces. The events helped to cement the bond not just between us and our subscribers, but between different members of our community of black women. Furthermore, by having a private Slack channel, Black Ballad members can discuss topics and articles that have been addressed on our website and provides a less toxic and pressured environment for conversations to thrive and commonalities to be found.