Are you prepared for a bigger community?

This is a guest post by the wonderful artist and teacher Tara Leaver. This essay originally appeared as part of the Redefining Community project which ran throughout April 2019. You can find out more about the project and download the ebook here.

You might say I embraced slow business before it became a thing. ;) 

It’s currently six years since I released my first online course into the world and officially began my little online business, and this past year is the first in which it’s shown real signs of significant, sustainable growth. In income yes, {although we’re talking low five figures here friends - just about livable but I won’t be buying a private jet any time soon}, {or ever}, but also in community - my main email list is nearing 9000 and my Instagram following recently reached 12k. 

The benefits of growing slowly

Impressive sounding numbers, but it took over five years of sustained effort to get here, and that’s an awfully long time in internet terms. And while it can be hard to not compare with those shiny ‘six figures in six months’ businesses, there have been many benefits to staying small and growing slowly, not least of which is the community aspect.

The online world is full of shiny marketers touting six figure businesses, huge Facebook groups, massive insta-followings and email lists numbering the tens of thousands, and while that’s a thing you can have if you want it, I think for many of us, the cost of gaining those things is too high, and it’s actually not what we’re really after anyway. 

Your community is the heart of your business

And of course there are other ways. Slower, quieter, less numerically focused ways. And the thing no one seems to talk about is what happens to your community - to what could arguably be called the heart of your business - as those numbers increase.

Initially, my online community was very small. I’d been blogging for five years before I created my first course, and had a fairly close knit and cosy group of blogging friends. Those were the days when you’d hop around your friends’ blogs, having conversations in the comments {Instagram wasn’t invented when I started out}, posting whenever you felt like it, with nary a thought for SEO or scheduling or platforms. Numbers just weren’t part of it. 

And lest you think I’m harking back to the good old days, yes I think the focus on numbers is unhelpful and divisive - something I’ve been experiencing more than ever recently on Instagram - but there are many things about community online now that I love and value too. And without the growth, I wouldn’t have a business. There is no black and white here.

As my business grew, so did my community

And so as my fledgling business grew, the community I found myself creating started to grow. The first few times I ran my first course there were very few participants, sometimes less than ten. Still all very cosy, if not very profitable! As I created more courses, and learned the ways of online business, more people started coming, and this brought both more income and new challenges. 

It’s a double edged sword, when a community grows. 

More people are finding and benefiting from your work, and so more money is coming in and you’re making more connections, often with kindreds. But more people means more eyes on you, which can feel like a greater pressure not to make mistakes, and you have to deal with any issues you have around being more visible. 

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries

You also have to make sure you’re very clear on your boundaries, what you’re prepared to share and when, and how much time you’re able to devote to the community side of your work. 

You have to learn to deal with disgruntled or demanding emails graciously, and increased volume of both emails and admin. Helping people recover lost passwords and resolve tech issues can take more time than you might think. And if you don’t have a team, you’re doing everything. 

And there’s the change I’ve been finding hardest to navigate - the loss of cosiness and manageability a smaller community offers. Someone told me the other day that they feel intimidated by larger accounts on Instagram and are less inclined to reach out to them. And while that’s a huge shame, and I hope that no one feels that way about me, it’s also true that the larger your community, the harder it is to keep up with everyone who wants to talk to you.

Don’t get me wrong; I continue to be grateful and astonished by how many people enjoy or find benefit in what I put out into the world - it’s a reciprocal gift which is what makes it work. But I’m having to learn to navigate more incoming energy, while making sure I maintain the connections that make the work both valuable to others and sustainable for me.

It’s a learning curve, and I don’t always get it right. I often feel guilty about not being able to keep up with everyone who keeps up with me. The nature of community has changed with its size. It’s contains joys and difficult bits, just as the tiny group of blogging friends I started with did; it’s just different. It requires some careful navigation in order to continue to do my best work, connect with people who will benefit from what I offer, and maintain a relationship with those who already are.

Nothing stays the same

What I’ve learned about community is this; nothing is what you think it’ll be, and nothing stays the same. 

Small isn’t bad, and neither is slow growth; it gives you time to learn the ropes and make mistakes in relative anonymity. It allows you to build real, solid relationships, one person at a time. Small can be profitable too; I know of people who run thriving businesses with less than 100 people on their email list, and artists making a healthy income with tiny Instagram accounts. 

Large tends to mean higher income, but it isn’t the answer to everything; it comes with its own challenges, and doesn’t guarantee financial success. The nature of community shifts according to its size, and learning to navigate the undulations and what they require to keep things genuine is an ongoing process. 

Bigger is not always better

We’re taught that in business bigger is better, more is better, louder is better, because more people hear you and buy in. But I think more and more of us are working and living beneath the radar - we’re looking for other quieter, slower folks to connect and work with, and while growth is in some ways inevitable, if you stay conscious and intentional, you can create and sustain the kind of community you want to be part of.


Tara Leaver is an artist, teacher, and creative encourager living in Cornwall in the UK. Her work is about helping you find clarity, consistency, and confidence in your process and expression as an artist. She makes and sells her own work to collectors around the world, and runs online courses that focus on uncovering and developing what's unique about your artistic voice.

Find Tara online: Website | Instagram