The Benefits Of Building A Community Spirit For Your Business
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Tim Fouracre is the CEO and founder of Clear Books, a cloud business software provider based in Hammersmith. In this article, he explains the benefits of actively involving your customers in the running of your business.

At Clear Books, we place great emphasis on the value of community, and it’s something we believe is becoming an increasingly important aspect of modern business.

We are proudly based in Hammersmith, and have always had our roots in the area. We offer discounts to local businesses owners and entrepreneurs through local advertising, and we also actively recruit from the local area, with several permanent members of staff as well as work experience placements and apprentices joining us from the surrounding areas.

It’s not just the physical aspect of community that we see as important though. When I first established Clear Books in 2008, my vision was to have a business where customers were truly integrated into the fabric of what we did. We’ve all been in a situation where a company we’ve dealt with has treated us with disdain. I didn’t want that situation with my venture.

Seven years on, ‘community’ has become a core ethos of Clear Books – not only do customers play a big part in our product roadmap, but many of them are investors in the business.

As technology has advanced and evolved, so too has the concept of marketing. Companies have increasingly seen the benefits of engaging with their customer community, becoming more open, more transparent, more ‘two-way’.

A hundred years ago, people made products and sold them, and there were no proper systems in place to gauge the satisfaction of customers, let alone on an ongoing basis.

During the 20th century the first signs of modern marketing appeared when companies began to research and understand exactly what their customers wanted, and what their needs and desires were.

This enabled them to design and produce products and services that their customers liked. To ensure they always kept on top of what their customers wanted, they also began to put in place customer satisfaction surveys. These were initially annual, but have become more frequent over time.

Now, in the 21st century, we have an abundance of global communication tools that enhance the importance of this two-way relationship with customers - not just blindly marketing to them but also continuously listening to their feedback.

Companies may not be able to satisfy every individual customer’s specific requirement, but they can adopt an approach that is open and says: “we want your suggestions, and we want what we do to be better for you and ALL of our customers”.

Last year at Clear Books, for example, we launched a community forum for customers to collaborate, network, raise questions and post ideas for the improvement of Clear Books products. This is a hub spot for individuals and businesses to collaborate, raise suggestions and build the wider community, both within the company and externally.

Through this we establish our product road map and prioritise development requests. The developers at Clear Books are always looking at ways to improve the software in an attempt to streamline our customers’ workflow and increase their efficiencies. The best way of doing this is through collaboration - our customers are the ones who use the software, and therefore often have the best perspective on how to improve it. Along with new innovations from our team internally, this is how we continue to create the best products possible.

We also provide an online Custom Accelerated Development service that enables customers to fast-track ideas to developers, allowing them to commission features for any Clear Books product.

Through collaborative working and by using the tools that are available to businesses and their stakeholders, companies can tweak and fine-tune their product or service offering on an almost daily basis.

It may seem like more work than it’s worth, but in highly competitive industries it can be the difference between losing and keeping customers, or even gaining more business from them. even increasing their business.

Funding is another area where our community ethos has played a hugely important role in the direction and operation of Clear Books. In 2013, we created our own crowdfunding platform and turned to our own community of customers to raise the funds needed to continue improving the software they use each day. In our first two rounds of crowdfunding, we raised over £1.5m.

“Fanvestors” owning a part of your business means they become an extension of the team, and advocates flying the company flag. Customers ultimately become a part of sales and marketing through their word of mouth recommendations.

Crowdfunding may not be the right option for all companies, but for those who do it successfully it can bring a strong sense of community to a business. That sense of community becomes contagious and more people want to get involved.

In summary, the way businesses operate is changing. It’s no longer us and them. Companies able to build a successful community spirit will have understood and locked into modern marketing as it now looks in the 21st century.

For more information please contact Chris Storey at ClearBooks plc


March 4, 2015